A Very British Rebellion

There are several videos of Extinction Rebellion (XR) protestors, ascending the tops of trains using ladders propped up against the sides, the gentle manner of the protester looks like he might be taking a purposeful task of clearing leaves from a gutter. Minutes later he’s been pulled down by the ankles and the crowd is attacking him. It’s easy to be cynical. In a city where we hear delays due to “a person under a train” and people respond in a mutter ‘selfish’ rather than acknowledge the reality of a violent suicide — could they have expected a different reaction? But, the group is more interesting than they might at first present themselves.   

Formed just 11-months ago, XR is an international movement intended “to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse”. By no means the first group to bring up the issue of climate — there has been a steady discussion of the topic. The movement having been birthed through Britain’s Industrial revolution in the early 19th century; then raised again during the 1970s through Earth Day!  and again in the 1980s with Thatcher as one of (if not the first) global leader to address the matter in her address to the Royal Society in 1988. But, it’s only recently in the 2000s that we have witnessed this explosion of activists groups and interest in our environmental health. XR cites the early Occupy Movement, among other both grassroots and major movements for civil liberties, as a source of inspiration for its development. But, the group will hopefully dodge some of the racist, anti-semite and disorganised criticism which dogged the Occupy Movement and eventually led to it running out of steam with little long-term impact.          

Prior to the disruption to the Jubilee train line, XR piqued my interest with its posters of “We’re Sorry” days before the ankle grabbers got at the protesters. It struck me as a very British thing to apologise for the inconvenience of planned chaos. But, the movement has looked internationally for its structure by operating as a Holacracy. 

A Holocracy is a form of organisation which focuses on the distribution of decision-making and is intended to be more agile and faster than traditional organisational models. Within a holocracy each person, team (aka ‘circle’) and level in the organisation has a purpose which are closely aligned. Each circle has people that fulfil roles, each with accountabilities and, more importantly, a set of decisions which the role may make. Because of this focus on accountability and the localisation of decision-making specifically to the individual, rather than on a collective level, these are often quicker and more nimble. 

Like XR, other more modern or experimental organisations have tried the holocracy model. Both Zappos and Medium are some notable adopters, though Zappos lost nearly 15% of its team (voluntarily) and Medium later abandoned the concept citing that the method did not work for cross-functional collaboration. For now, XR has been able to successfully use the holocracy to quickly and effectively diffuse its message. Whether this message is actually taken up widely by the public is quite a different story.

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