On Tuesday, Beyond Politics activists threw shocking pink paint over the doors of four London NGOs and pasted letters to the organisations on the wet paint. They knew their action would cause controversy and distress and would attract condemnation and threats. So was it a juvenile prank, an ill-judged act by deluded extremists, or was there some logic behind their harsh message to these organisations?
The science is clear. Mankind has embarked on an experiment, injecting warming gases into the atmosphere at an accelerating rate, and despite shared decades-old knowledge that this will end up killing millions, possibly billions of us, we have continued to organise our societies in such a way that those in control cannot or will not act remotely fast enough to prevent indescribable suffering. We’re also destroying our ecological infrastructure in a myriad of other ways: industrial farming, deforestation, pollution, ocean plastics, over-fishing, bee extinction, etc.
Around the world, power and money have concentrated around ever smaller groups of elites (closely entangled with the very extractive industries decimating our planet), and the political influence and the quality of lives of the rest of our populations is diminishing.
When an elite minority set out to cause the death of millions, it is normally recognised as genocide, but in the self-styled democracies of the modern world we have systems in which a handful of billionaires control our social media, our television, radio and print news, and our consumer choices. They offer us just two flavours of the same brand, two sides of the same coin – straightforward capitalism, or marginally more caring capitalism, and the reality of our genocidal path is disguised.
Economists, politicians and their media continue to speak of endless economic growth, but while big science and technology may be able to offer some ways to alleviate future disaster, the planet will not sustain our insatiable desire for more of everything, and our actions are already causing changes which are hurtling us towards exponential and irreversible consequences.
Large NGOs are full of very committed people who work hard within our systems to promote positive changes. A handful, including Greenpeace, might even commit occasional “illegal” acts to garner publicity and attention for a cause. But there can be no question that what has had the most effect over the past two years has been mass mobilisations such as the School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion, so what is the role of an NGO at this time?
Greenpeace, Amnesty, Christian Aid, and Friends of the Earth, have all amassed considerable financial resources as well as good faith and trust from their huge member and supporter networks. They could, and many would argue should, be offering unequivocal solidarity to mass protest movements, pooling resources, rallying their supporters, and challenging those that hold power over our futures. But, in the name of a ‘balanced approach’, ‘the interests of stakeholders’, ‘having the ear of governments and business’, all too often these organisations act as gatekeepers, achieving small PR victories and pleasing their funders, while effectively rearranging the deckchairs as the Titanic sinks.
The Greenpeace UK website is asking people to ‘take action’ by signing up to “Tell the government to create green jobs”. Given that Rishi Sunak’s recent mini-budget offered very little other than a carbon-friendly ‘back to normal’ it doesn’t look like this campaign is having much effect. It will of course sign you up to endless begging letters to support Greenpeace’s work. Meanwhile the powerful elites hardly notice, or perhaps laugh all the way to their banks, and the world burns.
By attacking the NGOs in such a visceral manner, activists want to spark debate about their role, wake their supporters up to the urgent need for radical action, and recognise that in the face of mass genocide a balanced approach is wildly insufficient.
Beyond Politics wants to create a direct participatory and representative democracy – a Citizens Assembly. There is a whole swathe of research and plenty of evidence that representative assemblies come up with ideas and solutions that put people first, answer the most difficult of issues, and might just stop mankind from committing suicide. They’re not the only ones. The idea is supported by the School Strike movement and is one of the three demands of Extinction Rebellion.
When you ask a panel of ordinary people if they want to see their children or grandchildren starve or whether they’d like to come up with ways to stop it from happening, the answer is fairly predictable. So, although it requires we ‘bring down the government’, it’s not actually that radical.
The question is, do you want to achieve real lasting change and help steer the world away from catastrophe, or do you want to pay £3 per month to ‘tell the government to create green jobs’?
After sending their message to NGOs the four Beyond Politics activists gave themselves in at Brixton police station. They were held there for a total of around 44 hours appearing in court by video link before being released on bail before a trial set for November 3rd.