Local activists bring global movement Extinction Rebellion to Seattle

Seattle activists have joined the international climate movement called Extinction Rebellion, which stages disruptive protests like this “die-in” at the Amazon Spheres. (Photo by Kamna Shastri.)

On an afternoon in May, about 150 people marched from downtown Seattle to the Amazon Spheres, then laid down their bodies and their hand painted signs onto the ground next to the giant glass balls. The protesters started a “die-in,” getting down prone on the fresh grass, breathing quietly in silence for 11 minutes. A few Amazon employees came out to watch, capturing the bizarre scene on their phones.

The “die-in” was organized by the Seattle contingent of the international group Extinction Rebellion (Seattle XR). The recently formed local group joined a worldwide climate strike. The local action aimed to represent the kind of death that would come from catastrophic extinction events due to climate change.

More than 150 people came to the march  — ages ranged from parents with young children riding along in wagons and bikes to elders and seniors to students who skipped school.

The England-based Extinction Rebellion aims to address a climate crisis that is affecting everyone on the planet with high profile protests. Organizers want to spur large scale government and industrial shifts to mitigate the effects of a changing climate on human societies and natural ecosystems.

Extinction Rebellion’s Seattle group started its protest at Westlake Park, and marched to the Amazon Spheres, then to KOMO Plaza near Seattle Center to protest broadcast media’s insufficient coverage of the climate crisis.

Conservation biology student Kiara Milcoff was eager to share and connect with fellow protestors. She is deeply passionate about protecting all forms of life on this planet.

“It is the most amazing thing in the entire world because we are living on the only planet we know to have life in this giant universe and it expresses itself in a million different forms. It just blows my mind,” she told The Seattle Globalist.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate change looks grim, noting the world is already feeling the effects of a one degree Celsius increase in global temperatures. Another recent United Nations study says millions of species will go extinct within the next 11 years. That same study also found climate impacts will compound and worsen through 2050 and beyond unless serious action can be taken.

That news is heartbreaking for Milcoff. “The loss of all of this, the culmination of millions, billions of years of evolution just wiped out in a thousand years by humanity crushes me,” she said.

The Extinction Rebellion movement isn’t about getting politicians to act. The movement is a call to nonviolent action and disruption through a show of collective power including arrestable acts of civil disobedience.

In a video on the Extinction Rebellion  website, co-founder Gail Bradbrook says “our complicity really is our silence and our separation from each other… it’s time to really come together and express our power.”

The international movement, in principle, invites participants to choose any act of protest that feels appropriate to them, as long as it is nonviolent. The main goal is to create some kind of disruption — no matter big or small — of our current economic or political system that profits from environmental exploitation.

The larger Extinction Rebellion marches in London were more disruptive, including cyclists moving slowly to halt traffic, and protesters glueing themselves to the entrance and exit of the London Stock Exchange.

Brittney Dodson, media liaison for XR Seattle said that as a movement in King County, the local chapter looks to the work of the county’s namesake as an inspiration for acts of civil disobedience.

“Decades ago was Martin Luther King Jr. who took to the streets with the civil rights movement to fight for a just future and we are essentially doing the same thing here … we are essentially fighting for the future of all life on earth because this is an unprecedented situation,” she said.

While there are various Extinction Rebellion marches happening around the world, Dodson says the Seattle chapter wants to take over the streets and provide participants with family-friendly actions. Not everyone can afford to join a blockade and risk imprisonment in the name of activism. And while people can take any (nonviolent) action that works for them, it is central to the XR movement’s principles that actions must be visible enough to rouse others to engage with some kind of action, either with the movement itself or with some form of climate-related work.

The movement’s strategies are meant to challenge the lethargic pace of policy and legislative change. Though policies like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have been around for decades and Dodson, an engineer in physics, says they haven’t resulted in reversing carbon emissions.

“It’s not like carbon emissions have declined,” she said. Instead carbon levels are dangerously high — more than four hundred parts per million. “All of these are reasons we want to do this through direct nonviolent action and not through policy and implementation.”

Young People Lead the Way

Standing tall beside the towering Amazon spheres with a bullhorn in hand, one student led the protestors in a chant: “Shame, Amazon! You’re poisoning the land we are on!”

Student energy was palpable throughout the march. Many had skipped school, swapping their backpacks for crafty, handmade signs. Some students made a statement by wearing respirator masks as they marched along, to exemplify a new climate future without clean, breathable air.

A portion of the youth activists were from Seattle’s chapter of Fridays for Future campaign, an international movement led by Greta Thurberg in Sweden. Every Friday, a dedicated cohort of Seattle students step out of class to rally in front of City Hall, demanding tangible climate action.

After finishing their weekly rally, the students shared prepared statements about the immediacy of making shifts in economy, policy, and society to save our natural world and to make sure disproportionate impacts on environmental justice communities of color and low-income communities can be mitigated.

A sister and brother, aged five and seven, came up to the podium. The seven-year-old boy shared his dream of becoming a police officer one day, but he feared mass extinction would come first. “But I can’t do that if there is pollution in the world. Like think of the children, the precious children!” he said. “ I want everyone in the future to be safe.”

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