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Extinction Rebellion One year on

We have an environmental movement that is stronger and more essential than ever.

At the beginning of 2019 the climate crisis was not a priority story, relegated by most media outlets to the lower echelons of their websites or the science section of the broadsheets. We were speeding towards climate catastrophe while our eyes were focused on anything but the future of our planet.

In the first few months of the year, this began to change. Extinction Rebellion groups began to form and organise, youth strikers who had never skipped class before took to the streets and a movement started to gain momentum.

On 15 April 2019, the news exploded as Extinction Rebellion took to the streets of London and blocked roads at five iconic sites across the city.

As a fresh-faced northern 19-year-old who could count his protests on one hand, I found the scenes unfolding in our capital surreal. As I tentatively stepped off the pavement and into the road at Marble Arch, I could feel the rules of everyday life loosening a little. This continued over the next few days, as Waterloo Bridge transformed from an arc of pollution stretching over the river into a peoples' garden bridge, while Oxford Circus, a haven of consumerism, turned into a free-for-all disco. The jarring sight of the red rebels parading down the street caused raised eyebrows even among Londoners.

Meanwhile, the climate and ecological emergency shot up the agenda. Search engines reported massive increases of interest in a variety of terms and the future of our planet was discussed in newsrooms and at dinner tables around the country.

The next week, back in Union St, our numbers skyrocketed. Arriving late, I was stunned to have to squash into the room. Our numbers had doubled. On a high, I was certain that something important had begun and that a movement had been born.

So where are we now?

A year later, we have a government whose leader refused to attend the climate debate before the election. As a country, we're on track to miss our weak goals for 2050. In Sheffield, our council have failed to deliver the Citizen's Assembly that was promised or take other meaningful action.

Fortunately we have an environmental movement that is stronger and more essential than ever before. I am not, however, an uncritical supporter of Extinction Rebellion. It still has a long way to go in appealing to the working class and ethnic minorities, and in becoming truly non-hierarchical. A series of much discussed gaffes have damaged the movement and our ability to effect change.

I believe that to achieve our aims and appeal to a broader base, we need to change some of our tactics and make our protests high profile, dramatic and targeted towards the big polluters while working with communities to tell stories of a better, greener world.

This means supporting communities vocally and practically in times of crisis, whether that be after flooding or during a pandemic. This is a change that's taking place in the Sheffield group and across the country and so, while XR is far from perfect, I can look back over the past year with pride and look forward to the coming year with determination. We've a lot of work to do.

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