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Nothing’s Happening: On Throwing Paint at the doors of NGO

Aug 1 2020 5:20AM

During my childhood, I went to the Methodist church each Sunday. My mother was a local preacher there, and after coming home, she would have me count up the money from the various collections for charities she was raising money for. More often, it was Christian Aid or Amnesty. I was made to understand there were terrible things happening in the world, and the best way to respond to this was to support charity work. My mother walked her talk. For fifty years she tirelessly raised money for NGOs because she was heartbroken by the injustice and unnecessary suffering in this world.

It is the betrayal of those millions, then mainly women, who built the NGOs over the later decades of the last century that lead me to throw paint, with three other Beyond Politics members, at the doorways of NGOs this week. These organisations promise to make a better world, and they dominate the public space of ethical civil action and yet they are refusing to take proportionate action in response to the outrageous injustice of the climate crisis.

It is now clear that if governments continue to put carbon into the atmosphere, all the work of those past generations of people of goodwill like my mother will be lost. It will have been for nothing. Our children will enter a pit of hell from which future generations will never return. The government is committing the greatest crime in the history of humanity through their inaction. It has recently been advised to adapt to 4C of extra fatal heating – that’s 10C inland, over 20C of excess heat on a “hot” day; this will make whole continents uninhabitable and trigger feedbacks in the earth’s systems which are likely to take the human race to extinction. Let’s be clear about what this precisely means: the indescribable suffering of billions of people – from rape, starvation, and slaughter. None of this is new information. We have been told since 1990 that ecological collapse will lead to social collapse. It is now starting to take place.

When I arrived in London five years ago to study campaign mobilisation and civil disobedience for a PhD at King’s College I had the naïve belief that the professional classes running our liberal and charitable institutions would be up in arms at this violation of everything they claim to believe in. For sure, my mother would be turning in her grave. I was consistently met with a psychotic inability to emotionally connect with the magnitude of the suffering and injustice we are facing. In short, I got nothing other than bland excuses for inaction. 

My research lead to me helping to found Extinction Rebellion in the Spring of 2018. Based upon the theories of the effectiveness of mass nonviolent direct action XR transformed the conversation on the climate catastrophe in a matter of weeks as it engaged in the largest episode of civildisobedience in UK history in April 2018. Eighteen months after a bunch of us met in a café in Bristol, XR had become the no1 influencer in the world on the crisis. The reason is not difficult to work out: we break the law.

As the XR Declaration of Rebellion makes clear, the social contract is broken. When a government plans to have its citizens die then it the right and indeed a duty to rebel against that government. This is the core proposition of our progressive political tradition. This is what the new political party Beyond Politics has been set up to do – to remove our criminal political class and replace it with assemblies of ordinary people.

NGOs have been ignoring their duty for thirty years. They have ignored the overwhelming evidence that mass participation civil disobedience works and they have continued to dominate the public sphere with their bland assertions of “concern” about the radical evil we face.

This is betrayal. Hence the paint.

Nonviolent action, properly understood, is a specific form of disruption which aims to bring into the open the violence and injustice of an opponent. It is not “reasonable”; it has to be shocking because that’s how it works. But it intends not just to condemn wrongdoing, but also to open the space for dialogue and thus resolution which brings about social progress.

So far, our actions have been met with an official silence from the NGOs. The cold logic of public relations is overruling the desire for emotional connection. But we know, and I sure plenty of people in these organisations know, they cannot go on the way they have. We also know that our actions are helping some to gain the courage to act. They owe it to my mother’s memory and to the many good folk who funded their success to face up to their responsibilities.

We demand NGOs immediately organise mass civil disobedience against this genocidal government – if for no other reason than to regain their self-respect.

Roger Hallam

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