Extinction Rebellion:

Navigating Covid-19

By Tatjana Edle von Peter | June 7, 2021

Cover Illustration: Before the pandemic Extinction Rebellion was known for their protests, now they need to find alternative ways to attract attention. Markus Spiske / Unsplash


Metro Reporter Tatjana Edle von Peter explores the impact of COVID-19 on the worldwide Extinction Rebellion movement and how the organisation has adapted to current social distancing restrictions.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a global environmental movement with branches all over the world. The main strategy they employ is nonviolent civil disobedience, to raise awareness about the climate and compel governments to stick to and even improve their climate goals.  However, when relying on large protests in order to function effectively, how do these types of organizations navigate the current COVID situation? Machiel, a member of XR, provides us with some insight into this.

As expected, it has been a difficult time for the movement. Many members cannot be as active as they would be in normal times. In the past months, it has been especially hard to organize demonstrations in the streets of Amsterdam due to the current restrictions. Without an audience for protests, it becomes difficult to exercise public disobedience and have an impact. Considering the civil disobedience strategies adopted by XR and the nature of their protests, fully shifting to an online format is not a feasible solution. So, how does XR still make a difference during COVID-19?

Here is where affinity groups come into play, according to Machiel. Affinity groups are often composed of around ten people who organize small-scale civil disobedience. While it is currently impossible to amass hundreds of people for protests, affinity groups provide some solution. These groups are organized by a representative and have a lot of freedom regarding how to pursue XR’s goals, working to disseminate information quickly and efficiently. They have created quite some traction, even with the Ministry of Environment in The Hague. In the weeks leading up to the elections, Extinction Rebellion also organized outreach actions in Amsterdam to encourage citizens to keep the climate in mind when casting their ballot. 

While XR’s work has been restricted in multiple ways by the lockdown measures, the movement has adopted a hybrid strategy with some online events, but continues to focus on protests. “There is no denying that the aim for a mass movement is very difficult to reach when you restrict it […]”. To ensure the safety of the protesters, face masks are required and social distancing measures are strictly implemented. With the rollout of the vaccines, there is hope that mass protests will resume in the future. Until then, you can expect Extinction Rebellion to continue with more innovative and smaller scale ways to fight for climate justice.

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