Today’s (semi-) awful #climate event #2: the activists have their turn #Manchester

300px-Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statueSometimes the universe throws up (in every sense) a compare and contrast.  At lunchtime I went to an event where one of our lords and masters explained his plan for dealing with climate change.  It was, of course, dreadful.  Then, in the evening I went to an event where activists explained their plans for dealing with climate change (and fracking). It was less dreadful, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent.

This blog post is in four parts. The first is a factual-ish (I wasn’t always paying super close attention) about the meeting yesterday. There doesn’t appear to have been any filming of it (perhaps we could ask GCHQ to share their footage?), and going on previous experience, nobody else is going to do a blow-by-blow blog. Next up, I score myself against 13 predictions I made about how it would play out (spoiler – I am Nostra-bloody-damus, me). Third, how – with the same space, budget and time –  it could have been done differently (better, against criteria of ‘how do we help networks form, engage people, make it less easy for them to go ‘nah, not for me’).  Yeah, then I editorialise: skip that.

First – What each speaker said

The entire panel was made up of women. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a climate event like that (excluding ones that were specifically about gender) before. So, progress of a kind…

There were about 65 people present, mostly old (over 55) but about 10 or 15 student types. Not much in between. A smattering of BMEs (i.e. a bit better than usual for a climate meeting).

PCS union person spoke for 12/3 minutes, recapitulating recent events (three activists jailed, IPCC report on 1.5 degrees), the lost injunction on fracking, the starting of fracking during ‘Green Great Britain Week’, with Tory Government akin to Trump.  Says there was an ‘astonishing’ amount of NVDA during COP21 (perhaps, but to what effect?).  IEA report shows emissions rising again. “Capitalism has to be brought down, at least in some sectors.” Trade unions not united – e.g. some unions supporting nukes, airport expansion etc.

Tina from the anti-fracking campaign (spoke for 9 minutes).  An excellent public speaker she talked about NOT being disheartened on the day that Fracking started, looking around at the faces of intelligent, articulate, dedicated people by the roadside.  It had taken 22 months for fracking to get going, whereas the average in the US was five months.  Shareholders in the company were getting antsy, while the CEOs and banks were happy.  System change needed.  Tina then acknowledged that ‘becoming an activist’ can be intimidating and difficult, but (imo) glossed over how we might make that less difficult  She argued that ‘once you go through the door market activist, it’s a sheer drop’ (as in, you can’t go back – but many do in fact drop out, burn out etc). The government thinks it will ‘solve us’ by fining us, scaring us, imprisoning us, but no – what choice do we have? our children’s futures are at risk…   She closed with a plea for people to attend the demo on Saturday 20th, even if only for an hour.

Fossil Free Greater Manchester (spoke for 12 minutes) about the investments of Greater Manchester Pension Fund in all sorts of nefarious activities – including investments in a company (Schellenbuger Schlumberger ) doing the fracking. Had submitted a petition to the Fund, got a 14 page reply full of obfuscations.  Demo on Friday in Tameside.

Shell Out (spoke for 6 minutes) campaign set up to contest the Manchester Science and Industry Museum’s acceptance of sponsorship by Shell – initial setting up organised by Carbon Coop, which had been part of the Museum’s Science Festival.  (fwiw, I don’t think that Shell has been actually funding climate denial per se, since it left the Global Climate Coalition in about 1997. But I could be wrong.)   Several partners have pulled out of the festival, a petition with 57 thousand signatures has been presented.  Upcoming meetings at Partisan etc.

“Extinction Rebellion” (spoke for 5 minutes). This speaker was the only one to get a feel for ‘who was in the room’ – she asked who had taken any form of civil disobedience – about a quarter of the room stuck up their hands (going on a march didn’t count). So, ER was set up in July, aims at peaceful civil disobedience, inspired by other successful efforts (three cited – US Civil Rights in 1960s, India (Gandhi) and Right to roam/kinder scout).  On 31st October there’ll be a ‘declaration of rebellion’ in Parliament Square, addressed by George Monbiot.  Then two weeks of peaceful non-violent direct action (NVDA) and on 17 November a ‘high profile’ event. Meanwhile, ER groups are spreading around the country. On Monday 22nd (venue was not mentioned, presumably Partisan) there’ll be a talk  (please god let it be less soul-destroying than the last one, a few weeks back), and on Monday 29 NVDA training.

Then there were a series of questions (aka speeches), more from men than women. Mostly about nuclear power.  People left at the start and during the Q and A, which was unstructured and uninspiring for the most part (some nuggets during, but needed to be actually facilitated and concise so not to be soul-destroying).

So, I made a series of 13 predictions. Last time I did this I made 11 and only got 8. This time I scored a solid 12 out of 13. So, that’s progress.

“It will be based on the information and hope deficit models – the assumption that what is stopping people from being active/more active is information about the state of the world, or hope that it can change (therefore) those who attend will be ego-foddered by sages on the stage. The primary exhortation will be to support the prisoners (obviously – though the meeting was arranged before they were sentenced) and to attend the demonstration in Preston on 20th October”  (for the most part, yes, though the ego-foddering was not as bad as I’d feared).

A series of specific predictions


Amirite or amirite?


There will be no initial ‘turn to the person next to you, find out their name/why they came



There will be no specific time limit for each speaker, of if there is, the chair will not keep them to it

Correct – None stated, and the first speaker was given a ‘2 minutes’ bit of paper and then spoke for a further 3…


Between each speech, we will not be invited to discuss among ourselves what we’ve just heard



The speeches will highlight that capitalism is unfair, wrecking the planet, that the British state is corrupt and violent



The speeches will not address in any meaningful way the failures of the climate movement over the last 10 (let alone 30) years, the failures of movements to recruit and retain ever-larger numbers of people



The total time of the speeches will run to at least 45 minutes (of a 90 minute meeting)

Correct The final speech finished at 8pm, so we had an intro, a song and then solid speeches for an hour.


There will be no ‘turn to the person next to you, get help in honing/forming your question’



Three of the first five questions will be by men



Three of the first five questions will be speeches (i.e. more than 4 sentences)

Correct – tended to be details of nuclear nefariousness. (I asked question number 6)


The organisers will not ask for more than names and emails – e.g. won’t ask for skills and knowledge people might have



The organisers will not lay out means by which people can engage in ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ (being involved in campaign without coming to meetings/marches

Correct, but a couple of the speakers said there were roles for everyone, so half points


The organisers will not provide a handout which explains the basics of climate science, climate policy and fracking, and what people can do along a spectrum from tweeting to prison

Correct (though if you went to the table there was stuff about fracking, so half points.


By 8.30 at least 10% of those present at the outset will have left


How it COULD have been done, and what the rationale for each bit is. (just for the record. I don’t expect that to actually happen, of course.  Social movement organisations are fantastically and peculiarly resistant to innovation, in my experience.)

Before the meeting

Have the powerpoint slide above the speakers actually working, and saying something like “You’ll hear great inspiring speeches, but a network is built by people turning strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into allies – please introduce yourself to the people around you while you’re waiting for the event to start! Thanks!”

At the very start of the event say

“We need bigger networks and movements. Information won’t deliver that on its own. Please turn to someone you haven’t spoken to and introduce yourself. Just your name and why you’ve come. We won’t feed this back, it’s not some horrible corporate icebreaker. Who knows, in a week’s time, you may bump into that person on the tram, or in the street, and be able to say hello.”

“I know some of you can’t stay to the end – we’re going to have a proper break at 8.10 so people can speak to the speakers or other people they want to catch up with. Then after that we will do some more small group work.  Please try to stick around till then. “

“Each speech is being filmed and will be put up online soon after this event.”   [or even, gasp, live streamed]

“The twitter hashtags for this meeting are #climatebreakdown and #climatevictories”

“”Between each speech, we’ll get you to compare thoughts with the person next to you, and will have time for two super-short questions, with more time at the end. Halfway through the six speeches, because your brains will be filling up, we’re going to have a song interlude! We’ve got 6 speakers. Therefore, each has agreed to keep to six minutes at absolute most. I’ve asked each to keep their talk to things that you probably don’t know, or to make concrete suggestions about what we need to do differently than we have been doing. I’m going to give them each a one minute warning, and then exactly at six minutes, I will start to applaud and you join in. Let’s practice that now. I’ll start applauding, you join in, and when that applause dies down, our first speaker’s clock starts ticking…”

First speaker – applause at six minutes. One minute for people to share thoughts.
Do we have any factual questions, in one sentence, to the speaker?

Second and third speaker, ditto, asking people to turn to someone else where possible.

Song (but 4 mins)

Fourth, fifth and sixth speakers, with discussion and poss short questions…

“Right, before we go into questions, which can be dominated by the most opinionated, please  just spend two minutes with the person next to you, honing your question or growing it. There’ll be a prize for the best question. The shorter the question, the more likely it is to be the best! I’ve also asked the speakers to keep their answers as short as possible, as much for our energy levels as for time.”

[Note to chair – if you do it like this you will then be able to say ‘we will have that woman, that man, that woman’ and just change the dynamic, rather than be presented with a sea of hands of the usual suspects (usually mostly male)].

Make sure the questions are short and the answers short to.. The point is to get a conversation going and share ideas.

“Right, it’s now 8.10pm.  I know some people have to go.  Thank you so much for coming. If there’s something you wanted to ask the speakers or other people you wanted to say hello to, now’s the time.  We’re going to start again in five minutes, with the second, shorter,  half of the evening.  We’re going to ask people first to get into groups around issues they care about –  divestment, fracking, nuclear, local government, international solidarity, so people can share news, experiences, ideas.  Then we’ll try to get into geographical groupings too…”

[And then you need to facilitate that so groups are not dominated…]

Ideally you’d also have someone writing a blog post, making a ‘vox pop’ film etc etc… so that people who weren’t there get a sense of what happened, the energy and momentum.  And the blog post would of course include ‘ten ways to be involved without coming to marches/demos/meetings;’…

MCFly says:

At the beginning of the meeting the chair of the meeting said that we need ‘hundreds of thousands of people demanding action on climate change’ and that the meeting (70ish people) was ‘a good start’.  Near the end of the Q and A (I did not stay for the bitter end) the chair added that the best way of dealing with police infiltration/violence was to have huge numbers of people.

Okay.  But over ten years ago I heard socialists in the same room (the main hall of the Friends Meeting House) saying they’d have a quarter of a million people demonstrating at Copenhagen.  There was going to be a ‘mass movement’…  So as per Ganotis’ speech which said his summit had ‘started the debate’, there seems to be this (wilful?) denial of the past failures (policy and activism) around climate change.  “I’m here to talk about the future.” Indeed.  And that means we don’t look at why our methods haven’t worked. We just double down on them…  In another blog post I’ll explore the reasons behind this further, and what we might, in the precious few years left to us, do about this.



About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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