I was interested in looking more into how graphic artists have influenced the imagery of protest. One such artist of recent times is Patrick Thomas, who with his book the Protest Stencil Toolkit sought to provide activists with ready-to-go icons to use in protest banners and materials, or even street art. This builds on the relationship street art now has with social consciousness and bringing art to a wider audience – catalysed by Banksy (see below).
Banksy has long portrayed environmental concerns in his street art, but has credibly been attributed a mural that is linked to Extinction Rebellion in 2019. The use of child-like handwriting and depiction of children underlines the importance of protecting future generations – a key message of Extinction Rebellion. That his artworks are generally to be found in public spaces means that it is truly art for the masses, and speaking directly to them (without the curation of an elite art world). In this way, it may break down the artifice and engage with people more meaningfully than other art might – and so potentially be more persuasive.
The environmentalist movement may well have started in the 1800s, by Alexander von Humboldt. He was the first to come up with the notion of an inter-connected natural world, unleashing the basic ecological awareness that our modern understanding has roots in. Since, in viewing everything as connected, he understood also that should some part of it fail, the whole may be at risk. Read more about Humboldt here
Today, the ‘Green Wave’ is picking up speed. The evidence of climate change is now apparent for all to see, but this can also be attributed to the loud voices from the modern environmentalist movement.
One who has influenced global dialogue most is Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden who now famously began striking from school to protest the inaction of adults to address the climate crisis. Millions around the world now join her on ‘Fridays for Climate’ strikes, and she has used the same candour at the marches and gatherings she has attended, as the most senior political arenas she has been invited to speak in.
They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop then we must stop the emissions.
Greta Thunberg , speaking at Extinction Rebellion in London, 31st Oct 2018
Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black and white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.
Greta Thunberg, speaking at World Economic Forum in Davos, 25th Jan 2019
Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.
Greta Thunberg, speaking at UK Houses of Parliament, 23rd Apr 2019
Extinction Rebellion is a grass roots protest movement which seeks to use the direct action method successfully used by the Suffragettes, in gaining women’s emancipation, in order to drive greater public awareness of the climate crisis and force politicians to act.
They seek to rebel in order to disrupt business as usual, and welcome arrests as this helps to demonstrate the ardour with which they support the cause, and encourages others to be outraged also. In April 2019, after shutting down 5 iconic London landmarks over a fortnight, 1000 people had been arrested. The next day, the UK became the first country to declare a state of climate and ecological emergency.
They use incendiary language and imagery in their posters and campaign literature, making key use of the skull and egg timer running out of sand to indicate the direness of the situation as they see it.
The science is clear: we are in the sixth mass extinction event and we will face catastrophe is we do not act swiftly and robustly… Our air is so toxic the United Kingdom is breaking the law. It harms the unborn while causing tens of thousands to die. The breakdown of our climate has begun… The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored… We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… We refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now.
Declaration of Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion 2019
They acknowledge that this is emotionally charged territory in the introduction to their book This is not a Drill (2019). That it may make the reader feel ‘sad, or empty, or guilty, or angry, or frightened, or numb’. They counter this with the idea that for them the book is about love for the planet, and for humanity.