Extinction rebellion protest arrests
(Image: AAP/Tony McDonough)

Extinction Rebellion, which wrapped up a week of festivities, protests and occupations across the world, had succeeded as soon as it was mooted and, after a few wobbles in Melbourne and Sydney, gained organisational stability. From then on it was just a question of what sort of success it would be.

In Melbourne, from a base in Carlton Gardens, they ventured out for non-conflictual protests, as well as more challenging ones. More than 100 arrests in all. Thousands passed through the base camp, with hundreds there at any one time.

That is less, of course, than the mass marches that have preceded it. It was cause for some of the predictable centrist commentary — about turning-off “ordinary” people — while the right predictably sneered at the more carnivalesque aspects and called it a “cult”. Four articles in the weekend Oz; identikit “cult” articles in the UK Times and Telegraph, and so on.

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The right’s reaction is simply part of the movement’s wider success. Extinction Rebellion’s point is to make a non-violent but absolute refusal of the business-as-usual that is leading us to catastrophic climate change. If the right-wing media could, they’d ignore the protests altogether. But their commercial demands are in contradiction with such a political imperative, for they need to provide red meat to their snarling, ageing, dwindling base.

That’s perhaps why they’re treating the pretty standard carnivale-feeling of the movement like it’s a Be-In from 1975. It’s been half a century since the carnivale spirit first re-entered the West. There’s currently two Spiegeltents running in Melbourne; the whole music festival wave is a permanent feature of life. The youngest person who saw Woodstock is 65 now.

Carnivale is the lingua franca of social life now. How do its critics not see how hopelessly out of date they are? Simply, because they are the cult; a weird group of people who engage in the ritual production of “newspapers”, sort of a printed-out internet, pretending that stories about politics and the economy can be written as if the environment didn’t exist. They believe in trusting the science of the doctors they consult, the engineers who make the buildings they work in — everything except one corner of atmospheric science, in which none of the same principles suddenly apply.

Now that’s a cult.

Whether the occasional centrist will be turned away by the wacky stuff is unknowable, but the decision to body-forth the absolute nature of the challenge in absolute actions is simply necessary. The right have added their oppositional energy to the carnivale, but the true spirit has come from the refusal — costumed but unconcealed — to consent to one’s own extinction.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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