Zoe Cohen’s peaceful actions with Extinction Rebellion have led to her arrest. She explores whether coaches being in active civil resistance is at odds with our work, or simply a natural evolution of it.


I’m one of a small number of practising coaches and coach supervisors in the UK engaged in active civil resistance alongside their professional practice.

So what do I mean by ‘civil resistance’? I’m conscious it’s a strange term in a ‘business as usual’ world. And yet if you’re curious enough to be reading this article, chances are you have at least an inkling that business as usual is over.
It’s four years this week as I write since I first became active with Extinction Rebellion (XR). These years have been a journey of personal transformation, and of dedicating more and more of my time and energies to speaking, training, mobilising and taking action – initially with XR, then Insulate Britain and more recently, Just Stop Oil.

Non-violent interventions
This has been a shift from one-off legal ‘protests’, to protests that risk arrest followed by going back to ‘normal life’; to being part of a community of hundreds/thousands in ongoing resistance against a state and a system whose actions are ultimately genocidal.

I realise that this language may not sound very ‘coach-like’, and yet for me it’s entirely consistent – just another form of nonviolent systemic intervention. For example, when the state is intending to go ahead with more than 100 new oil and gas licences, going against globally established peer-reviewed science, then as a coach I have choices as to how I respond.

I can ignore this and continue with my life and my business, which is of course a choice in itself; or I can accept that this is ‘in the field’ and consider fully and deeply what interventions are open to me for me to live congruently with that acceptance.

As an executive coach I’ve worked with many hundreds of leaders one-to-one, in groups, teams, executive teams and boards over the last 14 years. I see an action such as peacefully blocking the entrance to an oil depot, or nonviolently cracking a Bank’s HQ window as analogous to a carefully considered challenging coaching intervention. Just as I would offer a client some frank feedback, or help them face the question they are avoiding, these direct actions are also underpinned by love and compassion, and, too, invite a response.

While 66% of UK public polled recently by Omnisis (http://bit.ly/3xrOpA6) support direct action, and an even greater proportion are concerned about the climate emergency and want more government action, so far the state’s response has been mostly negative and repressive.

Democratic rights
The government (system) has responded to the systemic ‘poking’ by citizens taking direct action, by arresting thousands and imprisoning over 130 ordinary people (myself included), and passing increasingly authoritarian laws clamping down on protest, and our democratic rights.

The state cannot arrest or imprison its way out of this polycrisis. When will it realise? Or will the current system collapse before then? As poet and novelist, Ben Okri, asked recently: “Why is it easier to punish people who are trying to save our world than to face the causes of the environmental disaster hanging over the human race?” (http://bit.ly/3EbGbjb)

As I’ve been speaking about for some years now, including with my coaching professional colleagues – this is the rest of ALL of our lives, and our children’s lives. As (and if) we allow this realisation to sink deeper into our mind, heart and body, we will necessarily return month after month, year after year to the question of how to live in these times.

Just as we might, or might not, have overcome our fears to start mentioning the ‘C word’ (climate!) in our coaching conversations, what might it take for more of us to overcome our fears of direct action and get up off the sofa?

About the author
Zoe Cohen is a highly experienced executive coach, supervisor and former NHS director, who strives to live congruently in these times (and often fails!). Connect with Zoe at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zblsvcohen/

Cohen was interviewed last year on coaching and the climate crisis: https://bit.ly/3JhoGO2

References and further information


Extinction Rebellion: