The XR Rebellion phenomenon

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Extinction Rebellion is a new social movement which has grown in numbers surprisingly fast in the last few months. What is their secret? And how do students think of it? First-year University College Utrecht student, Claudia Ionita takes a look at how Extinction Rebellion came to be so popular and the mixed feelings that UCU-dwellers have about it.

It all started, as many interesting things do, neatly and quietly, with a poster placed on a notice board of an academic building. Then, one poster became two and two became more. Soon, announcements for various events had started to bloom across social media and around the campus. This is the story of the quick rise of a social movement which many might already be familiar with: Extinction Rebellion.

Founded in October 2018, Extinction rebellion (usually abbreviated XR) is a social movement which aims to raise awareness of the effects of climate change on biodiversity by encouraging non-violent forms of protest. While it initially started in the United Kingdom, the movement has spread at a surprisingly fast pace in multiple countries across Europe, North America, Africa, and Oceania.

One of the countries in which XR has tapped into since November of last year is the Netherlands. What is interesting about this movement is the manner in which it has managed to thrive in such a short timespan. A potential reason for its success might lie in the clever and purposeful targetting of one particular group of people: students.

Perhaps it is the belief that young people, particularly those who are fresh out of teenagehood are more prone to rebellion against societal norms or perhaps it is the fact that younger generations are to witness the more profound impacts of a climate crisis. One aspect, however, is certain: in the past couple of months, XR has succeeded in marvellously promoting themselves among students, including those of UCU, through posters calling for action and information sessions.

These sessions brought attention to the impending environmental crisis through a multitude of colourful graphs and depression-inducing statistics. The presenters, UU or UCU students themselves, certainly managed to make more than just a convincing point: they truly brought about change in attitude.

Students who had previously not seen climate change as an urgent issue or something which could possibly affect their own well-being went through a process of mental metamorphosis and came out more knowledgeable and outspoken regarding the need for change, be it in person or on social media.

The fact that UCU is a diverse community might translate into a more receptive and open audience. Many of those involved with XR Netherlands are foreign students, who might be taking advantage of their first opportunity to join such an organisation or who might have faced climate change in their home countries before, hence the desire to become involved.

But, as is the case with most social movements, the emergence of one comes with the birth of its critics. Not all students are ready to embrace the XR way of protesting, and there has been a criticism of the group, both online and in the UCU newspaper, The Boomerang. Some see their style of marching on streets or protesting within the headquarters of companies which they consider damaging to the environment as too radical and somewhat futile, and the result too often a police fine, rather than change.

While the effectiveness of XR on actual environmental policies remains debatable, it is fascinating to see how in less than a year, this group has galvanised a great number of young people into joining them. The potpourri of active social media pages, information sessions, and promotional materials and the goals promoted by the movement have definitely found resonance within UCU. 

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