Proposal for a XR Belgium strategy

Summary : a new strategy for Extinction Rebellion Belgium

XR finds itself at a critical growth moment. The initial momentum for large scale escalation actions to achieve our demands is now lacking. This is largely due to the COVID situation but it is also a result of our movement’s own evolution and maturation. In the present context, rather than focusing on organising big national actions, we will give priority to reinforcing the movement's basis, in order to be ready and stronger when the next wave of momentum arrives.

In the coming 6 months, we will work towards strengthening XR in Belgium. We will improve our capacities, our organisation, our communication and we will reinforce our movement’s resilience. We will also make XR more attuned to the specific context here in Belgian.

On the one hand, national circles will focus on the internal life of XR by organising training programmes, organisational changes, and developing more non-action activities.

On the other hand, while no national action is being organised, we will foster more and stronger actions by local groups that are linked to locally relevant struggles.

Finally we will seize the political crisis in Belgium as an opportunity to advance our third demand and make a strong push for the implementation of legally binding Citizens' Assemblies on the ecological and social crises.

1/ How does Extinction Rebellion adapt to a changing context?

The well-reported climate impacts of the summer of 2018 sparked a wave of climate activism, in particular driven by youth activists from Fridays for Future. In the same period Extinction Rebellion came into being. Taking advantage of this wave of popular and media interest in climate issues we grew quickly towards the strong, diverse and global movement we are now.

In Belgium we developed an escalation strategy, with the ambition to mobilise more and more citizens on the streets of Brussels with each civil disobedience action. We partly succeeded: hundreds of people took part in civil disobedience, earning us attention from the media and those in power.

But after two years of growth, we have now reached a point where our movement is entering into a new phase. As with any popular trend, the momentum for climate activism has waned and attention has turned towards new external events: the COVID crisis, Black Lives Matter, and the failure of Belgium to assemble a functioning government to respond to these crises.

On top of that, the measures in response to COVID have halted all mass gatherings, forcing movements to move mobilization, training and meetings online. This has significantly impaired our ability to build community and to organise actions and demonstrations.

This context forces us to question ourselves. The hype is over, but the ecological crisis remains. How do we consolidate what we have built without becoming bureaucratic? How do we best contribute to systemic change within the current context? And what challenges, resources and opportunities lie ahead of us as we try to achieve this change?

2/ Where do we stand now as XR Belgium?

  • We have built a robust movement. A few hundred people are active across the country and form a strong community. A few thousand people are supportive of XR and follow us via the mailing list and social media. Almost 20 local groups are organising activities, actions and campaigns at local level.

  • Our name has become a strong brand. Those in power know we exist, other organisations and movements see us as an important player. We have gained access to politicians, but we are also increasingly attacked (by for instance the car lobby) and more closely watched by the police.

  • We have a well designed organisational structure at the national level that allows for autonomy of local groups and is not too bureaucratic.

  • We have gained a lot of experience with civil disobedience and know how to effectively take public space and get attention for our message

  • We have developed a well-thought out proposal for citizens' assemblies as an alternative to the failing democracy of Belgium.

  • We have started an internal process to decolonize XR and are working on a culture of being self aware of our privileges.

3/ What is missing in our movement?

  • We have not become a mass movement but are a relatively small group of predominantly white intellectuals with radical thinking in terms of methods and narrative. Our organisation is not easily accessible to newcomers.

  • We have very little racial, cultural or class diversity in the movement, and we have failed to establish a thorough awareness within the movement of oppressive behaviours.

  • Our long term strategy does not acknowledge the specific context of the Belgian nation state and Brussels as the capital of Europe.

  • We lack continuity and commitment at the national level, leading to local groups being badly interconnected and new rebels struggling to get onboarded.

  • We are not well connected to the international dimension of the ecological crisis and to XR international.

  • Regenerative culture is not implemented well in our practices, in terms of habits of participatory facilitation, emotional space, and communal bonding.

  • We are not a reliable and consistent source of information about the ecological crisis. We fail to maintain a steady presence at key political, ecological, societal events as well as in between such moments.

4/ What is needed now?

  • Collective acknowledgement and understanding that the first wave of momentum and exponential growth of XR is over and we are entering a phase of steady growth where we need to focus more on reinforcing what we have built

  • Update our narrative and move beyond beyond the focus on climate emergency (1st demand) and see the upcoming crises in a broader social-ecological perspective, see this document with the proposal for a new beyond CO2 narrative

  • Develop better practices to communicate our narrative to a broader spectrum of people, by updating our communication materials (like the XR talk) and more consistent use of social media as an educational tool.

  • Take advantage of the current prominent crisis of the failing Belgian political system - and the wave of public interest in direct democracy - to push for our 3rd demand for a citizens’ assembly as a transformative political structure

  • Build a resilient community with a regenerative culture that goes beyond action resilience and allows for exchanges on future-proof ways of living

  • Reinforce the capacity of local groups and the national structure, to be ready for the next wave of momentum on the ecological emergency - meaning public and media interest combined with social unrest - when it arrives.

  • Stage targeted local actions driven by local XR groups to continue to drive attention to the ecological emergency and to reinforce and train activist capacity, by protecting territories and preventing more ecological destruction.

  • Build resilient connections with other movements and organisations to inspire and be inspired by others, show meaningful solidarity, join forces when needed and to be well aware of new waves of momentum emerging.

5 / What are we going to do?

For the coming 6–12 months the national structure of XR Belgium will focus on the following three main goals:

1) INTERNAL - Building a resilient activist community

  • Empower and support local groups to become more autonomous and ambitious in their local campaigns and actions and provide support for local actions. For example:

    • an experienced rebel from the national action circle temporarily joins a local group to help organise an action or develop a campaign strategy

    • the national circle mobilises Belgium-wide for a locally organised action

    • messages of local actions are amplified via XR Belgium communications channels

  • Radicalise rebels’ ecological and political awareness and establish stronger connection with and understanding of civil disobedience to foster deeper commitment. For example:

    • develop a new standard XR talk in line with decarbonized narrative and specifically adapted to Belgian and local realities

    • organise webinars or discussion groups on specific topics to build on the decarbonized narrative

    • Co-organise workshops with local groups in order to discuss XR’s theory of change, main strategies and tactics

  • Empower and support local groups and national circles to implement a strong regenerative group culture. For example:

    • Reinforce group dynamics in local groups and the national structure by organising trainings on the SOS system, sociocracy, inclusive facilitation and participatory decision making

    • the national regen circle organises exchanges between local groups

  • Collectively explore and practice future-proof alternative ways of living. For example:

    • a monthly visit to a permaculture project of a rebel

    • establish a physical co-operative space for retreat and resilience work

    • explore concrete ways to practice solidarity within the movement (for instance, a mutualisation fund to help rebels free time from work to engage more in the movement)

  • Establish, develop, reinforce long lasting links with other movements, organisations and communities in Belgium. For example:

    • join actions by other movements to show solidarity and take part in joint moments of action organised by relevant coalitions

    • provide practical and financial support and expertise to support other movements

    • provide consistent presence and link to most relevant organisation and movements in Belgium

  • Develop XR’s activities and presence outside of actions

    • XR’s social media feed to become a consistent source of information about ecological and social crisis

    • organise debates around key ecological and social topics open to rebels and general public

    • organise neighborhood solidarity actions

2) EXTERNAL - Organising actions that are locally relevant

  • Engage in locally relevant struggles to prevent further destruction of ecosystems under the current system and draw wide public attention to ecological crises

    • Local groups autonomously decide what local campaigns they want to engage in. For instance: Ineos in Antwerp, Groene Delle in Limburg.

    • National circle provides expertise and support where needed.

    • National circle coordinates local groups to join each other’s actions.

    • National circle publicizes local groups' struggles in the context of the overall narrative.

    • Local group coordinators and rebels increase skills and capacities to organise large scale actions

3) EXTERNAL - A national push for citizens' assemblies

  • Campaign for the implementation of citizens' assemblies (3rd demand) at the local and national level

    • Collectively gain experience in people’s and citizens’ assemblies by training more facilitators for these assemblies and supporting local groups to organise local people’s assemblies

    • Engage with and put pressure on politicians, both at national and local level, to implement citizens' assemblies -> see campaign plan of the citizens’ assembly circle

    • Use people’s assemblies as an action method, by organising them at symbolic places without permission, for instance political party headquarters or local parliaments.