In the short history of new political party and non-violent direct action movement Beyond Politics, they have caused a fair amount of controversy and attracted polarised messages of support or criticism on social media for their pink-themed actions. By targeting the four major political party headquarters with pink paint and property damage, last week’s protest attracted the most news coverage so far. But it garnered condemnation not least because the Green Party suffered the greatest damage after activists entered the office early on Thursday morning breaking glass partitions, spilling and spraying pink paint, and daubing the walls with slogans before handing themselves in to the police.
House of Lords Green Party member, Jenny Jones, who was herself briefly arrested and then released at an Occupy protest back in 2014, tweeted that the “vandalism” would slow down their “crucial work on limiting and mitigating the #ClimateEmergency”. A spokesperson for the Greens pointed out they’d been “at the forefront of climate action for many years”.
As well as the predicted accusation that Beyond Politics were hitting ‘the wrong target’, they were also variously accused of middle-class white privilege, eco-fascism, and even of being police provocateurs. But other voices agreed the ‘wake-up call’ was timely, and that the Greens should be using their base for much more radical calls to action given the extent of the emergency. Social media of course encourages polarised responses, discouraging genuine debate and analysis, but there were far more nuanced reactions and even some support behind the scenes in private messages with party members, activists and officials.
One party official admitted that in internal discussions during the 2015 election period, policies were watered down as the Greens were anxious to avoid being seen as extreme. They sought popularity through messaging the benefits of action on climate rather than highlighting the dangers of inaction, and they even entirely abandoned a policy on Universal Basic Income. There was acknowledgement that as with any institution, self-perpetuation might have become a motivating force, leading to a dilution of original aims. Also an admission that under our current system it was simply naïve to believe that voting Green would halt the climate and ecological emergency, so that in claiming otherwise the party could be regarded as complicit in the coming catastrophe.
A letter left at the four HQs by Beyond Politics accuses the British political class (including the Greens) of treason, appeasement and criminality in not stopping the emission of greenhouse gases despite knowing of the looming disaster and the inevitable deaths of millions (mainly black people) as tropical areas become uninhabitable. The group are asking Greens, large NGOs, and other public bodies, to tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency, and to recommend massive civil disobedience to their wide memberships in order to bring down the government and replace the current political structures with a Citizens Assembly.
The party’s demands are not that dissimilar to those of Extinction Rebellion, and although it is a separate group, its membership is partly made up of XR activists. Its co-ordinating committee includes Roger Hallam, who is an organic farmer and social scientist and who was a co-founder of XR, devising a large part of their formative strategy.
Greta Thunberg’s School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion’s global movement did much to shift the Overton Window, but despite their calls for system change, there are signs that both groups over time are gradually drifting from escalating radical activism and towards a self-sustaining search for popularity. Hallam, who has been researching a doctorate in radical mobilisation at Kings College London, points to a ‘herding instinct’ which inevitably draws groups back towards a less radical centre ground.
XR’s planned large mobilisation in spring this year was of course scuppered by the coronavirus, but currently the next wave of rebellion in August/September is set to be an almost symbolic blockade of parliament, a letter to the Prime Minister, and a call for the Green’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill to be tabled. However, some greater surprise actions are still promised too, so there are no signs that Beyond Politics will be painting the doors at XR quite yet.
Real Media covered the Beyond Politics launch last month when they removed food from a huge supermarket branch in North London and handed it out to homeless folk from the next-door refuge.
The group followed this up with small actions highlighting the cost of travel and housing in London, but they have no policies on any of these problems, because unlike other parties they don’t want power other than to carry out their one election promise to install, with the help of experts in the field, a truly representational Citizens Assembly and hand over all power to them. And with elections currently suspended or not timetabled for years, they would prefer to ‘bring down the government’ sooner and get on with transferring power to the people now.
Beyond Politics’ actions are intended to provoke psychological disruption – they want people to wake up to the magnitude of the world’s crisis and start talking about systemic genocide rather than environmentalism. They pose the question “If you were a small political opposition party in a government whose policies were actually genocidal, and you looked and sounded like the Greens, might not history judge you as reformist or even complicit?”
The slogans they sprayed and the letters they left at party and NGO HQs recently, call on politicians and campaigners to act appropriately to the crisis, engaging in, or encouraging supporters through their huge mailing lists to engage in, non-violent direct action, civil disobedience, property damage and hunger strikes. Social history shows that these techniques can bring about huge changes (almost always for the better), but that marches, letter-writing, petitions, and even the ballot box, rarely do.
The old anarchist slogan that ‘voting never changes anything – if it did they’d make it illegal’ is particularly pertinent considering we’ve known about the impending crisis for 40 years, but no government has been able to respond remotely effectively to date.
Citizens Assemblies have been extremely effective wherever properly trialled, and given the shit-show the current UK government has made of the pandemic let alone the climate and ecological crisis, is it too far-fetched to suggest a random selection of citizens could do any worse? The theory is that this form of direct democracy would better represent the interests of the people. Currently the “one percent” have enormous power over governments and they aggressively promote destructive but profitable extractivism and exploitation over social justice and long-term safety. In a Citizens Assembly, the one percent would still have their voice but they would have just 1% of the influence.
Despite polls still showing support for the Conservatives, when you talk to ordinary people, shopkeepers, couriers, friends and neighbours, there’s a sense that a huge swathe of the population would agree food, housing and travel costs are too high, public services are underfunded, education is impoverished, homelessness is unacceptable, and that our current systems are unfair, corrupt, and controlled by elites. There is also a widespread agreement that corporations and the super-rich should contribute to society fairly through taxation and yet the UK continues to enable the majority of the world’s tax havens.
Those same shopkeepers, couriers, friends and neighbours realise there are problems with carbon emissions, plastics, pollution and resources but most are not really aware of just how bad the situation is, especially across the developing world, or how radical a shift in society we need, to have any hope of surviving it. If the Greens really are diluting their messaging in order to get more votes, then maybe Beyond Politics have a point. Isn’t it time to tell the truth and act appropriately?