I just came back from an action that, quite frankly, makes me despair of civil society. How can we be pointing fingers at negotiators for not getting their act together to create one unified text to combat climate change when, when it comes down to it, we can’t even come together under one banner for half an hour? Youth Policy’s Ellie Hopkins criticises the youth constituency and their tactics following a failed action this morning.
I just came back from an action that, quite frankly, makes me despair of civil society.
Today is the last day of COP 18 (although this ‘day’ sometimes drags on over nearly 72 hours!) and in honour of this, civil society decided to come together in a central space to perform an action.
The initial plan was to replicate - on a smaller scale - a Belgian action from September where hundreds of thousands of people came together to ‘Sing for the Climate’.
But even before the action started, people were gathering to discuss their intention not to take part, and trying to work out ways in which to hijack the action for their own purpose.
Inevitably, what ended up taking place was a messy, self-defeating event that achieved nothing but laying bare our own our faults and foibles. What took place was embarrassing.
Instead of sending a message out to the waiting media and negotiators, participants ended up in an inward facing circle, singing and chanting… at each other. Those of us on the outside, watching the spectacle unfold, couldn’t hear what was being said despite the now ubiquitous ‘mic check’ method being employed.
We thought it was bad. It got worse.
As the second round of singing started, some activists went back to the chanting they had been using before - over the top of the music and singing. In an effort to ‘reclaim’ the action, they drowned out the music with call and response phrases like “Our strength lies in your strength: Don’t back down”.
Inevitably it looked and sounded like a mess - even more so for the people standing around on the outside of the huddle with red dots on their mouths (symbolizing their unwillingness to take part in the singing), while others stuck a4 pages displaying letters to their t-shirts. Even those wearing the letters didn’t know what they were supposed to spell out when put together.
So instead of a unified action to mark the end of COP, what we had instead was a group of people standing facing inwards toward each other, shouting competing messages, while other people milled around the edge wondering what on earth is going on.
As I stood there, all I could think was what a metaphor we had enacted of our own failures as a movement. All too often environmental movements are paralysed by disagreement over messaging, branding and tactics, and here we were playing that out in front of the world’s media.
We - especially in the youth constituency - proclaim ourselves as the saviours of this process, the uncompromising voice of equity and ambition. We hold ourselves up as an example of how inclusiveness, communication and consensus can work.
How can we be pointing fingers at negotiators for not getting their act together to create one unified text to combat climate change when, when it comes down to it, we can’t even come together under one banner for half an hour?
Since posting this blog I’ve had several conversations with people, some of whom disagree and some of whom agree (as is everyone’s right). I should make clear though that I didn’t enjoy writing this post. Rather, I felt it was necessary to write the blog because as a movement, these are the sorts of conversations that we continue not to have, to our own detriment.