Eyewitness report • A view from inside the Extinction Rebellion

October 7 marked the beginning of the “Extinction Rebellion’s” week of revolt. Activists around the world put their bodies on the line to draw attention to government inaction and capitalism’s culpability in the ongoing climate crisis. The movement has arisen in response to mounting evidence, especially over the past year, that the depth and timetable of the crisis is much worse than originally thought. The escalation of tactics comes as a reaction to a global system which is not only failing to dig ourselves out of the hole our rulers have dug us into, but in fact continues to still dig us deeper.

The global rebellion hit 60 cities worldwide, with over 700 participants arrested on the first day. In New York City, where I took part in the events, Extinction Rebellion activists first met at Battery Park at the southern tip of the island. Hundreds of people converged, carrying signs with the names of murdered environmental activists and holding cut-out tombstones with pictures of animals approaching their extinction. Activists dressed as skeletons danced to a slow beat played on a snare drum. People dressed in funeral attire and carried black coffins painted with white letters reading “Our Future.”

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As the march moved north, the first two stops for direct action made a clear connection between the environmental crisis and capitalism. First, the Wall Street Bull — as clear a symbol of American capitalism as can be — was covered in fake blood while activists covered in the same fake blood staged a “die-in” beneath the bull. A woman climbed atop the bull and waved the flag of the movement. Marching further north, activists staged another die-in outside of the stock exchange. According to Noah, a protestor still covered in fake blood that I spoke to after this action, the group chose this spot to draw attention to the fact that “capital is guilty in the climate crisis.” The group then moved on and blocked the intersection of Pine Street and Broadway Avenue, with roughly 50 members of the group lying down in front of a double decker tourist bus, clogging up traffic for the better part of an hour.

The saturation of books, articles, and media about the deadly and immediate impacts of the climate crisis can produce a certain amount of emotional numbness. Most people are aware of the stakes we face, but we rarely feel that we can do anything about it. On Monday, as I stood atop a fire hydrant on Broadway, shouting at the top of my lungs and watching friends and comrades being dragged away by the police, I was overcome with the feeling that a better world is possible. That this movement filled me with this feeling is a testament to its power.

The Extinction Rebellion is helping channel the immense amount of spontaneous anger most people feel about the environmental crisis we are facing. We must do everything we can to develop our understanding of capitalism’s relationship to nature, to strengthen our strategies, refine our targets, and build a mass movement so that we can realize the better world that Extinction Rebellion is proving is possible through its actions.

Thomas Hummel