XRLA Red Rebel Brigade
Photo by Tony Pierce

Meet Your Activists: Extinction Rebellion

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XR aims to raise awareness around climate change and save the world one demonstration at a time.

Their methods might be annoying, controversial and illegal, but this group believes, along with the majority of scientists around the globe, that now is the time to drastically change how we do things on this planet — or catastrophe awaits.

Extinction Rebellion is an international environmental activist group formed in the U.K. in 2018. Their message has spread quickly, amassing them a substantial number of members and online following. They have made themselves known in Los Angeles in a few dramatic ways.

Last Earth Day, four of its members were arrested after they climbed the globe at Universal Studios, dyed the fountain’s water red and helped a protester super-glue himself to a railing.

The syndicated entertainment show “Extra,” which taped at Universal Studios from 2013 until recently, watched it go down. Then-host Mario Lopez asked the group what they were protesting. One of them walked over and explained to him that they were calling attention to the climate crisis in a “peaceful, non-violent way.” Lopez posted the exchange on Instagram.

The four men were booked for felony vandalism and criminal conspiracy charges, while the two globe-sitters were charged with misdemeanor trespassing.

One protester handed out flyers calling out the Hollywood elite. “Hollywood, where are you?” it read, stating that “the wealthier and more influential you might be, the greater your responsibility to society.”

The spectacle was captured by various news choppers that circled overhead and watched as police officers eventually removed the protesters from the rotating globe and fountain.

More recently, the group made news in September when several dozen members took over a busy intersection on Sunset Boulevard in front of the CNN building. The group, which goes by XR for short, targeted CNN because they felt the news network did not spend enough airtime on the climate crisis.

Members from the climate advocacy group Extinction Rebellion protested outside the CNN building on Sunset Boulevard in September. Protesters brandished banners that read “Tell the Truth Now” and “Act Now.”

Even though protesters shut down traffic on several blocks around Sunset and Cahuenga Boulevards during rush hour, no arrests were made, despite a standoff between them and the LAPD that lasted around for two hours.

“I’m thrilled about Extinction Rebellion and what they do,” R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe told ITV in October. The singer is donating the proceeds from his solo single “Your Capricious Soul” to the activist group.

“Extinction Rebellion gave me the incentive to push the release and not wait,” the Grammy Award winner posted on his website. “Our relationship to the environment has been a lifelong concern, and I now feel hopeful — optimistic, even. I believe we can bring the kind of change needed to improve our beautiful planet Earth, our standing and our place on it.”

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg expressed support for Extinction Rebellion after London police banned the group from protesting after more than 1,600 of its members were arrested throughout two weeks of demonstrations. Image: Instagram.

After police in London banned XR from continuing its two-week protest in October, Greta Thundberg, the renown Swedish teenage activist, came to their defense on her Instagram account, writing, “If standing up against the climate and ecological breakdown and for humanity is against the rules then the rules must be broken.”

Earlier this month, a high court in London sided with XR and deemed the ban unlawful. “Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if coordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly under the meaning of section 14(1) of the 1986 act,” Justice Dingemans wrote. “The XR autumn uprising intended to be held from 14 to 19 October was not therefore a public assembly … therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it.”

The group also made a stand in downtown L.A. from the primo location next to the stage as Thundberg spoke to an audience of students and adults at the Climate Strike earlier this month. Manning the XR tent were several members, including Alan Tornack.

Los Angeleno was at the strike where we caught up with Tornack to ask him more about XRLA.

Extinction Rebellion member Alan Tornack says that just because some members don’t mind being arrested, that is not a prerequisite for volunteering. There are openings for people who want to work on social media, various liaisons, create artwork, give support at meetings or donate to the cause. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Your symbol looks like an hourglass. Is that what it’s representing?

The Extinction Rebellion is all about being of the essence. We only have a certain amount of time before climate change becomes irreversible. The circle is, I’m guessing, some unity symbolism there. We all need to be one. And the circle also [stands] for the Earth.

Can we expect more types of demonstrations like what we saw at Universal Studios earlier this year?

What we do is non-violent, direct action, civil disobedience. We are very focused on implementing art in with our activism because we like to have really striking imagery that serves as both a recruiting tool and it provokes thought with the people who we are targeting.

Were you at the CNN rally?

Members of XRLA shut down the intersection of Sunset and Cahuenga Boulevards to get CNN’s attention. Photo: XRLA Instagram.

Yes. When we did that action we only shut down one of those streets. We had people who were safety officers, traffic liaisons, if you will.

When we stopped the traffic, our target wasn’t the general populace. We understand the amount of vitriol people have when they get stopped by protesters, so their job was to safely redirect traffic. We didn’t want to stop them, we wanted to create a ruckus in front of the building at CNN. The other three streets could still operate in the exact same way. But when the police showed up, they actually shut down the area surrounding us.

Weird, huh?

Strange, yes. They did not arrest us. It seemed very careful. Our police liaison did a very good job. And we ended up having a standoff with them for about two hours. We remained in the intersection and then we negotiated a way to leave without any arrests. We never strive for arrests. That is not our purpose. Our purpose is to communicate our message and advocate for direct, immediate action for the climate. If we get arrested in the process, then that’s what happens.

Today you’re focused on Gavin Newsom, which makes sense since he’s the governor and he can get things done. But what was your issue with CNN?

We would like them to tell the truth about the climate crisis. We had a list of about eight demands for them. What we were trying to do is have a major media outlet here in the United States treat the climate crisis for what it is, which is a crisis.

For example, 9/11 was the most widely covered event in American history, but we could easily make the case that this is a global catastrophe and therefore deserves the same level of constant media attention.

Police standoff with XR protesters and direct traffic down Wilcox Avenue, way from the CNN building. Photo XRLA Instagram.

Do you not consider MSNBC a major outlet?

We do. By targeting just that one, CNN, that’s not saying that we consider the others shining examples, it was simply [that CNN was] our target for that day. That’s not to say we won’t target others in the future. It is to say CNN was our direct one, mostly because of their involvement with the presidential elections and debates and how there was a talk about a climate debate, specifically. So it seemed like there was an intent to maybe go in that direction and we wanted to incentivize them.

We wanted to say, “Listen, if you want to do this, we encourage you. We would love to work with you on that.” It was not a public shaming.

Did CNN meet with you guys after your demonstration?

No. They made no public comment on the event. Other news outlets were there on the scene. We had about five choppers in the air at once. But CNN made no mention of it whatsoever.

It seems like, despite them, you have a lot of support.

Members of XRLA’s Red Rebel Brigade, a pantomime part of the group in DTLA. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Extinction Rebellion is one of the largest environmental organizations in the world. There are over 400,000 members … It’s almost like the Catholic Church, It’s a very loose number because what we are is just a unity of average, normal people. We assemble when we need to and we disassemble when we need to. There’s no hierarchy here. There’s no boss, there’s no whatever. There are some people in charge of email, some in charge of press.

When it comes to support, mostly, people are supporting what we have done. This isn’t a youth-only thing. This is not a lobbying thing only. We like to include as many people from as many walks of life as possible.

But it’s also that we are brash. We are communicating messages and we aren’t afraid to get arrested. Our goal is not to be arrested, but we are willing to risk it.

What if the reason these TV news networks don’t cover climate change is based on ratings? What if they see bigger numbers from another panel on Trump’s impeachment than on the environment?

I would say they would need to try it first. The sample size is not large enough, so how would they know? I would think that if you covered a pertinent issue that affects life on Earth as we know it, and presenting the facts as they are, and also making it a non-partisan issue, then I think they would be surprised at what kind of a draw they would have.

Currently, people are disenfranchised with the current media situation in America. That is not to just speak to Trump’s “fake news,” but it’s also a lot of people from the other side of the spectrum who feel like there’s not enough attention being given to people in marginalized communities speaking to the real issues. So I think if there was more coverage to the climate crisis, they would be seen by activists and by a lot of people as heroes for finally speaking the truth and doing something about that.

Los Angeleno