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Extinction Rebellion: Art's Power to Communicate Social Urgency

By Cory for Boston Compass (#127)

September 28, 2020

Hey all,

Cory here.

How are you?

I'm worried. I'm also an artist, Earth dweller, and member of the Arts Working Group of Extinction Rebellion Boston (XR). XR is a decentralized, global activist organization fighting for environmental justice, honest reporting on climate change, people-centered decision making, and immediate action to curb climate destruction. In this column, I mostly write about art's power to communicate social urgency. I also try to share some of my feelingwaves and learningburps in activism.

It's mid-August and I'm typing this on a sunscreen-greased laptop sitting in the grass. This is one of those eerie, beautiful summer moments when nothing seems wrong. Temp mid-70s, sky light blue, slight breeze. Greenery dry but still mostly green. People on the street taking it slow. A pervasive feeling of ease. I am very, very uncomfortable.

I don't think most of my neighbors know how much danger we're in. The next house over still has maskless parties that wind up indoors. This area hasn't had a lot of infections, and we haven't experienced major storm damage in a while either. Grocery stores are well-stocked.

COVID-19 is largely invisible until you or someone you know starts suffering from symptoms. Climate change is largely invisible unless you've been hit by catastrophic weather events or food system failures, and have the information to connect these things with fossil fuel emissions, colonialism, and abuse of farmland by Big Agriculture. Yet, these emergencies are everywhere, right now, permeating our lives and foretelling global disaster within our lifetimes.

Art has many powers. One of its strongest is the ability to manifest an idea. Images, songs, sounds, and forms can show solutions and force people to look at existing problems. Show not tell.

Extinction Rebellion was founded upon the view that environmental organizing aimed at and through politics has failed. We need active resistance to corporate control and the status-quo-nosedive of governments. It needs to come from the people, at every level of society and culture.

I look around me. There are several nice lawns, American flags, a Ring security system, and general, gentle hubbub.

What's next?

If you'd like to help us manifest some beautiful disruption, check out our "Emergency Everywhere" campaign. It's a spread-out push within Massachusetts cities and towns to force declarations of climate emergency and fossil fuel divestment. Each local effort will hinge on art and public messaging—flyering, wheat-pasting, singing out sleeping senators at 6 a.m., demonstrating with pink boats and big puppets, etc.

The clock is ticking on human survival—it's why there's an hourglass in our frickin logo. I'd rather see THAT symbol on my neighbor's lawn. It's dire, but it's honest, and reality is what I want to fight for.

<3 Cory


Check out all the art and columns from September's Boston Compass at


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