This my list of things to do to help climate change, for the month of January and beyond!
Meanwhile, what a good day to call Kevin Rudd!
It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, and after freaking out in the last post, I am inspired again by the past, the present and the future. While it's important not to keep the grief and fear and tiredness about climate change bottled up, it's equally important to keep feeding our hearts and spirits with encouragement and the real examples of positive social change we can all draw strength from. And to remember our own contributions.
Here are some links, articles and videos to inspire you too.
From the past...
This is today's editorial from the Washington Post. I took note of the parts about the liberal northerners not being out-and-out racists, but being comfortably well-off with the status quo of segregation, and also the way that the historic March on Washington where Dr. King gave his "I have a dream" speech "not [all at once] chang[ed] history but, rather, confirmed that it was on a new course."
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Like the civil rights movement and so many other people's movements for positive change that lasted for years, it is so important to view the climate justice movement as a lengthy campaign, and therefore to pace ourselves and not get overly swayed by the highs and lows of the different events along the way. We need to push hard at those points, but also keep breathing in between.
I think my last post gave in to a bit of post-Copenhagen despair, because I forgot the fact that the movement had built and was building and that, though the door still remained closed (literally to many activists at the conference) we were continuing to push against it, and that it would eventually give way. Hence the long-term perspective and the looking backwards to lengthy movements such as the Civil Rights, anti-apartheid and so on. In fact, Lester Brown mentioned his hope in this regard at the end of the interview I linked to last time, but unfortunately I had tuned out by this stage and was already too busy panicking and eating cupcakes to take it in.
So, from the present...
Here is the Movement Action Plan
It was written by Bill Moyer and describes the stages of change in a long-term movement for positive social change. The fifth stage, which I believe we have entered now, is the "Perception of Failure", and this usually comes after a big push from below and no immediately obvious change from above. Activist burn-out, disinterest and depression is common at this stage, however when you read on to stages 6-8, you realise that, though you can't see it, the snowball has started to roll by now, and that it is time to celebrate, and keep pushing!
(Snowballs, barred doors, tortoises and hares - I notice when I write about the climate justice movement the metaphors abound. I think my favourite one is the birth metaphor. No one expects labour to be over in minutes, but I can't wait to see this baby.)
Do check out the Movement Action Plan if you have a chance - it really transforms those feelings of powerlessness and despair into a sense of excitement and energy.
I found the MAP available as a resource on the website of The Change Agency, a group who provide practical skills and tools for progressive activists. I've done some training with them and they are bloody fantastic.
I also found another article on the Change Agency site, by Anthony Kelly, and reading it was like an energy bar, stabilising the chemicals in my body after the rollercoaster workout of the Copenhagen highs and lows. I wish all activists could read this article today. You can read it in the title link in its entirety, and I've pasted the most relevant bit below that.
Anticipating and Avoiding Demobilisation
Perception of failure
U.S. activist-educator Bill Moyer's Movement Action Plan or MAP has provided valuable insights into key trajectories, trigger events, factors and influences impacting upon grassroots social movements. It is based upon the analysis of dozens of contemporary social movements and has been widely utilised as a training and analysis tool by movements throughout the developed world.
If the second or third post COP 'Outcome' outlined above come to pass, the Australian climate movement's may find itself in what could be called a 'Perception of Failure’ stage. This is often cited as a ‘Stage 5’ following a movement 'take-off' period' and often seen to be preceding a period of mainstream acceptance of movement goals.
According to Moyer, the characteristics inherent in this stage include: the widely held belief amongst movement activists that its goals remain un-achieved and power-holders remain unchallenged. Numbers are down at demonstrations as people feel that repetitive and formulaic actions are ineffective. Despair, hopelessness, burnout, dropout are common, membership, particularity active membership of groups declines. Numbers of 'negative rebels', those activists willing to take high risk actions without movement support emerge and garner negative public attention, which further alienates concerned people.
MAP as a whole seeks to alert activists to the common dynamic which Moyer labels a 'culture of failure' within social movements. In The Practical Strategist, Moyer writes:
Belief in movement failure creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and produce the following unhealthy movement conditions:
Discouragement, despair and movement dissipation
Movement participants and leaders who believe their movement is failing become increasingly discouraged, hopeless, despairing and burned out. This leads to a high drop out rate and lower levels of energy to carry out projects.
Reduction in recruitment of new members
The depressed state of the movement discourages new people from joining. No one wants to join a group which is negative and in a state of collective depression.
Getting stuck in “protest” mode
When activists believe they cannot achieve change, they can get stuck in the role of the protestor or dissident, without balancing this role with strategies and programs for positive change and alternatives.
Attitudes of anger, hostility and frustration lead to activities that turn the public against the movement
When activists believe that their movement is having no effect, frustration and anger at injustice can spill over into acts of desperation, without realising that such activities hurt the movement by alienating the public.
Inability to acknowledge and take credit for success
Failing to take credit for success deprives activists of a major resource for energy, enthusiasm and hope. It also allows opponents to claim movement-created changes for themselves, furthering the perception that the movement is powerless and that opponents control everything.
It appears likely, if not somewhat inevitable, that the Australian Climate movement will experience aspects of this perception of failure in the months following the Copenhagen conference. Whether these dynamics appear immediately or whether they exist for months or years depends somewhat upon how the movement prepares for and responds to the dynamic.
The Australian grassroots climate movement may be perfectly able to minimise the negative consequences of a post COP demobilisation, however it would be extremely difficult to avoid it altogether. Moyer's MAP pays scant attention to the pervasive role of the mainstream media in highlighting and shaping public opinion.
How the international and Australian media frame and portray COP and its eventual outcomes will largely determine public perceptions of success or failure of the climate movement in Australia. The intense media interpretation and framing of COP outcomes will also shape and influence the perceptions of new and even experienced movement activists. The role then of movement leadership, communicators and activist educators is to provide alternative, realistic and long-term movement views for engaged activists, new recruits and the interested public.
What can climate groups do to avoid the doldrums?All the action groups, networks, organisations, and institutions that make up the ‘climate movement’ in Australia are diverse and operate in different contexts. Each of the suggestions below may be more or less relevant depending upon those differences. Groups should be able to analyze their own post-COP situation and develop unique approaches to avoid de-mobilisation. Ideally, maintaining and building upon the past decade of movement building would be a widely shared and mutually reinforcing goal.
Don't put all our eggs in one basket:
Campaigners can be forgiven for trying to get everyone to focus on their action or initiative but in this context placing all our resources and garnering the efforts of so many people on a single event is potentially dangerous.
Campaigners need to develop and communicate realistic outcomes of COP and refuse to paint it as the ‘last, best hope’. It’s not, and to get people to think that is self-defeating. Despite the urgency around the climate science, movement leadership has the responsibility to provide clear, realistic and untainted information to its membership and constituents particularly of the long term nature of social change struggles.
Whilst providing an opportunity to mobilise people, immediate issues and one-of events such as international conferences can divert and diffuse efforts towards longer term structural change aiming to transform economies and institutions. Making sure other campaign strategies, projects or initiatives are kicking along is vital in the lead-up to December.
Highlight genuine successes:
It is vital that we celebrate what we have done, not what political elites have told us we should be celebrating. In the context of the Australian climate movement trajectory over recent years, the mainstreaming of climate science and media coverage of climate science events and news, the emergence of Australia wide grassroots climate activist networks, the first nationally organised direct actions and events, the coal industry's own admittance that coal is a 'now a much maligned product', all point to tangible and strategically relevant 'successes' for the movement.
These represent real successes but not dependent upon political statements, policy positions or as yet unfulfilled promises by elites. Clear strategy and planning helps groups to indentify these objectives and recognise them when they are achieved. In this way the movement maintains control of successes and refutes elite attempts to paint successes as theirs and the movement as less or not responsible for it. Each movement success identified can be highlighted in a variety of ways. Although articles, news stories, positive reports and other pro-active communication strategies are important, in particular, large public and participatory celebrations are most effective for challenging negative attitudes of movement failure.
Celebrating anniversaries, (“Ten years since the first climate action arrest in Australia”, “12 months since Australia’s first Climate Camp”) are one such way of marking progress and successes.
Locate the movement:
Movement leadership and spokespeople need to encourage and assist people to locate themselves along a movement trajectory that is longer than 2009 and goes far beyond Copenhagen in December.
At conferences, rallies and within all internal communication systems, movement spokespeople need to highlight the years of struggle behind and in the years ahead. Spokespeople should deliberately highlight the fact that the climate will not be 'saved' by an international agreement and it is only a large and viable social movement that wields enormous political power that will. Key movement figures should place more realistic timelines on movement activities.‘10 years to continue the campaign’; ‘This organisation has a 15 year goal’.
Plan and act beyond COP:
Already, movement groups should be speaking about, planning and highlighting actions, events and initiatives in 2010, sending a clear message that the movement continues after COP. Although it appears important to mobilise all available resources to target COP delegations and influence the outcome, having people actively planning and preparing for 2010 activities is equally important at this stage. It is strategically vital that planning and resources goes into viable and effective initiatives in 2010 and beyond that will inspire and maintain momentum in the post COP period. Activists who are engaged about future post COP events will provide much needed enthusiasm for other activists.
Develop tactics and strategies that don't rely on elites:
Numerous activists have highlighted how the climate movement in Australia has been heavily dependant upon lobbying strategies aimed at influencing policy and government action. Postcards, online petitions, office occupations or vigils, hunger strikes, marches, rallies, human signs, bike rides and other tactics adopted by the movement have all largely sought to generate public concern in order to influence decision-makers. Even the majority of coal infrastructure direct actions have focused upon influencing government policy. The development of tactics and a strategic framework that does not rely upon elite endorsement of the movements’ policy objectives is a vital process, particularly in the context of a widespread perception of failure in a post COP period. As Brian Martin and others have often pointed out, the limiting impact of relying purely on lobbying tactics can lead to movement entropy by itself.
This does not mean that movement's actions do not influence government policy. In fact the tactics deployed within a framework of strategic nonviolence should aim to undermine the both the power and will of an opponent in order to make it impossible to actually carry out a negative policy objective and force the adoption of favourable policies and behaviour.
Lobbying and associated protest actions are a form of political action that seeks the 'conversion' of officials and decision-makers with logical or moral arguments without any tangible threat, beyond those of the ballot box. Strategic nonviolence, however, recognises that opponents often do not change their policies unless 'coerced' to do so economically or politically. Nonviolent tactics are designed to provide that coercion.
The historically demonstrated insights of strategic nonviolence can play an increasingly influential role in movement strategy over the coming years. Large scale tactics of non-cooperation and intervention can gradually replace pure protest and lobbying action as movement activists become more experienced and the engaged and concerned citizens become more willing to take higher levels of risk. History has demonstrated that mass-based movements rise most powerfully when there is a widespread recognition that elites and mainstream institutional processes have failed to bring about the necessary changes.
It may be that the widespread perception of the failure of international institutions after COP could generate a renewed urgency and more effective political action. Hopefully we may see the Australian Climate movement develop effective tactics such as boycotts, strikes, mass occupations and interventions that will mobilise and engage the renewed activist energy in the years and decades after COP 15.
Anthony Kelly, June 2009
Finally here is a beautiful video from our favourite climate justice organisation 350.org
I dedicate this post to the lovely John. xxx