Extinction Rebellion: a new form of governance?

This comes to the Next Century Foundation from Evelyn Hull:

Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience group, demanding immediate action to address our climate emergency, has gained both attention and support over the last few weeks. Starting on the 15th of April, the group organised 10 days of protest in London, causing disruption through, marching, blocking roads and even gluing themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange. Their extreme measures have sparked debate and some have condemned their actions as causing too much disruption, and even as counter-productive. However, the group’s message that the real disruption will come if we fail to make drastic changes to address climate change, is compelling. Extinction Rebellion, by name, comments on a seemingly taboo subject; the reality of climate change and, as one of their demands, challenges politicians to face the facts and tell the truth.

Indeed, the group has shifted the boundaries of debate, demanding representation and forcing politicians to engage in the conversation. Serving as a wake-up call, the protests have, for the very least, sparked unprecedented levels of discussion about climate change. In a very short period of time, their first demand, has on paper, been met. After deliberations in parliament, led by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Government has declared a climate emergency. This could be seen as a ceremonial response and is not legally binding, thus its significance depends on sustained political will. However, the progress made is impressive and discussions with Michael Gove, the Environmental Secretary, even suggest a relative openness to the idea of developing citizen assemblies, the second demand of the group.

Perhaps the most interesting impact of Extinction Rebellion is the way in which it is questioning the legitimacy of our current democracy. The movement calls for democratic evolution through the creation of collective decision making facilitated by citizen assemblies. The group uses a crowdsourced strategy to brainstorm ideas and offers an environment to promote open and inclusive discussion. Many have commented on the way in which the group has served as an emotional outlet, giving legitimacy and empathy to their concerns and further providing practical means of initiating change. The group has engaged many people because it offers a feeling of hope and allows citizens to feel the importance of action. This feels particularly pertinent at a time when political disillusion is high.

Populism and Nationalism vs. Globalisation

We are living in a world where globalisation and cosmopolitanism are the greatest. However, there has been surprising advancement of right-wing populist and nationalist parties such as the increased parliamentary representation of Marine Le Pen’s Front National. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are similar phenomena. These clear manifestations of social exclusion within the western world prove that immigrants and local residents are not living in harmony and that this dichotomy is threatening our democracy. In order to better respond to the threat, we must clearly understand the reason behind the recent insurgence of populism.

“Make America Great Again” is a campaign slogan used by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. I’ve always wondered what specifically President Trump and his supporters want to “make great again”. Since the supporters disfavour immigrants inflow, does this mean bringing back racial segregation and restoring complete white supremacy? What exactly are his concerns about the immigration? According to research provided by the CATO Institute, Americans feel alienated from their own government and community and feel that they are blocked from resources and opportunities. The CATO Institute further argued that immigrants are usually the target for blame for the alienation because their cultural unfamiliarity gives a sense of negativity which distorts perception of reality.

With the help of the right wing who sees this social chasm as an opportunity to further their political interest, many Americans and Westerners claim that they are discriminated against in favour of immigrants and minorities and that they are being treated unfairly. However, their claims of experiencing “reverse racism” are in fact very misleading and are becoming a huge hindrance when dealing with reality. Then what is the reality? What forced people into this alienation even from ones’ own country?

The answer is financialisation, and the shareholder value model.  As financial capitalism develops more and more, corporate business structure, governance, and strategies have been transformed to maximise shareholders’ profits regardless of social costs. The problem is that when the debt-to-equity ratio is increasing, there is less money available for the real economy. Inevitably, real income for all households in America decreased whereas corporate profits increased tremendously.  The feelings of alienation Americans and westerners are experiencing are real, but the causes are not from the immigrants, but from the careless advancement of capitalism.

Globalisation definitely has increased the wealth of every nation, but a fair spread of wealth allocation was not realised, unfortunately. Stagnating middle-class income and increasing income inequality are causing social unrest giving rise to nationalism, protectionism, racism and you name it. Therefore, to protect our value of democracy and promote social tranquillity, we must seek to modify economic structures altogether rather than focusing on the advantage of one social group. Although Clinton’s “Stronger Together” lost the battle against Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, we must promote social inclusivity and make globalisation great for everyone.