Fridays on my mind. #climate #movements #unsolicitedadvice

So, the Greta Thunberg thing is continuing. Thunberg is the 15 year-old Swedish schoolgirl who, every Friday, is on ‘school strike’ for the totally incomprehensible reason that she thinks the “adults” have been screwing up the planet and show no signs of stopping, so why should she study and prepare for a future that might be a lot more nasty brutish and short than she’s been told.   I know, crazy, huh?

There are moves to come out in sympathy (replicate the repertoire), and I went to one such thing here in Manchester today.  While I am cautious about the whole ‘children will have to save us’ thing, there is surely an opportunity here for climate activists here. Thus I have Fridays on my mind.

However, if we’re not careful and clever, it’s one we will probably screw up or allow to be screwed up for us.  Again.

So, this blog of unsolicited advice  is about the things that we could (and, to be ‘normative’) should do.  I go into as little detail as is sensible about the why and how for each of those as I think. Then I turn to things that could go wrong (and what we could – okay – should do about them, before, during or after they happen).  Comments welcome.

The very first thing organisers and dedicated supporters of the organisers need to do is ask “Why are we doing this?”  No, seriously. In a detailed way, beyond “why not?” or to answer the infantile “well, what are YOU doing?” question from brittle idiots on Twitter.

  • To get out of the house on a Friday because there’s nowt on the idiot box?
  • To meet some new people?
  • To virtue signal?
  • To recruit for my tedious vanguardist groupuscule
  • To keep the gnawing horror of the imminent and probably inevitable collapse of everything you hold dear and the grisly excruciating death of your loved ones at bay.
  • To build a movement of people that might be able to soften the blows
  • To sell newspapers
  • To keep getting paid by your corporate/state paymasters by derailing the process
  • To identify the ones who can be co-opted, those who will have to be dealt with in, ah, different ways.
  • To learn new skills
  • Some/all of the above
  • Something else?

And of course, these motivations shift over time, as new opportunities/problems show themselves.

Things you could do, what skills you would need, and why you might (not) want to do them

Take photos and put them online
Pros- Gives us permanent record, shows people not there that something is indeed happening.  “Raises profile” (and perhaps morale?
Cons – some people don’t want their photo took.  We’re doing the state’s work for it. We’re so busy taking self-regarding photos that we don’t engage the people watching, who think it’s a wedding/cult/weird self-regarding thing

Live tweet from the event
Pros –  raises profile of event
Cons – might attract trolls, who are not to be fed.  Takes you away from ‘the moment’, so perhaps only do it for a few minutes, or have tag team tweeting.

Make video interviews of willing participants and put online
Pros – raises profile, gets people into habit of making films, being interviewed
Cons – can be time consuming.  Opportunity for ‘capture’ of the brand of gatherings by trots/randoms (life is too short to worry much about this though).

Have an expectation that people will meet others  (build those Granovettian loose connections)
Pros –  actually builds those
Cons – can seem weird and culty.  Also, some people are introverts, and won’t necessarily appreciate being forced to chat with strangers.

Have an opportunity for people to do (time limited!) public speaking
Pros – great for giving people a ‘toe in the water’ opportunity for public speaking
Cons – can get captured by trots and other de-railers.  (ergo have time limit that is crowd-enforced via the clap clinic method)

Writing up a blog post after each protest, by different people
Pros- keeps a permanent record/profile. Gives an experienced blogger/writer a chance to do some brief mentoring/support of a less experienced writer.
Cons- time, availability

Rituals that might work

This is a new social practice, and in the early weeks, it might be possible to create some healthy ‘normal’ things…

Read out messages of support form people who can’t be there
Pros -Will raise morale (esp if small turn out)
Cons- Makes it easier for people to feel they’ve ‘done their bit’ without actually, erm, coming

Read out climate impact from different parts of the world
Pros- Informs people of latest news.
Cons-  depressing (and people know – they wouldn’t be coming if they weren’t mildly terrified)

If people staying for a shorter time, have them ‘thanked’ en masse as they leave
Pros- raises morale perhaps?
Cons – can get cult-y (this idea comes from a mass arrest of anti-nuclear activists in California in the 1980s.  They were all held for days. Some had to leave (work etc), and the slow diminution of numbers could have lowered morale – the suspicion is that the state was allowing some to leave for precisely this reason.  So a ‘leaving’ ritual was invented. Morale was sustained.) Probably not necessary for a short meeting.

Formal close to the event, with something ‘upbeat’  (see peak-end effect)
Pros-  Tells people when it’s over and they have “permission” to go
Cons-  How to enforce? Capturable/disruptable

Things organisers need to think about in general

  • How to deal with inevitable plateauing of numbers (it’s a work day, so there is a limited pool of candidates, who won’t  come very week.
  • What are the skills that would go into making this successful, at what level they are needed, and how distributed they are.  (See separate blog post about this, coming soon).
  • Who else would be able to step in to the organiser role if you step down, step in front of a bus, turn out to be a police spy?
  • Be clear what you’re going to do about Friday December 21 and Friday December 28…
  • What are the reasons you might call a halt to the Fridays?

Things that could go wrong, and what might be done about them.

(in no particular order of likelihood or severity. Actual circumstances may vary. Always read the label).

Dickheads with megaphones
Have and enforce a no megaphones rule (dickheads can’t, sadly, be legislated against), including the organisers’ mates.

Dickheads with newspapers to sell
See above

Dixon of Dock Green
Police with cameras that have lenses longer than a list of all the undercovers who have abused women, abused trust and undermined democracy, who are at first in the background and if the protests continue and grow will start talking about ‘public order situations’ and ‘need to protect xyz. What is your name’ etc.

Counter-protestors/trolling/doxxing
Unlikely, at present.  Most climate denialists are rich geriatric males who won’t be up for coming out to be outnumbered and outthought.

Issue creep/capture
Attempts by various groups to turn the regular meetings into recruitment opportunities for their own specific subsets of the (climate) problem, each of which is likely to be worthy and urgent, but if indulged fully would probably kill the protests.

Yeah, the organisers need to have the moral authority and guts to say ‘no’ to individuals and groups wanting to do this. That authority comes partly from leading by example, by not granting favours to groups they are involved in.

Media smears/hit-jobs
Unlikely in the short term, but you’ll get called rent-a-mob probably (though the Daily Mail is under a new editor who isn’t a complete climate lunatic, so who knows).  How to deal with it? Putting out own media etc, I suppose. This one is a hardy perennial.

Boredom
Coming and standing around for two hours every week while the world burns, sorry, turns, eventually loses its novelty value.  The way to keep it fresh, I think, is to have explicit opportunities for people to learn new skills, new useful facts, meet new people.  You might even therefore have the occasional training session/meet-up after the gathering.

Weather  (Winter is coming)
winter is comingOn particularly cold, wet and miserable days, have cake and coffee available?  An army marches on its stomach.

If it becomes huge and there unwieldy…
Oh, for us to have such problems…

Final thoughts

In a nutshell – and I know it is difficult, it goes against how we’ve been taught, how we’ve been working and perhaps against our brains’ architectures, but  we have to try to

  • Think systems, not individuals (what the people of colour keep telling would-be white allies – stop centering yourselves).
  • Think processes not one-off events/series of one-off events (beyond the emotathons).
  • Think dialectically (how things might unfold, what the internal tensions are etc).

Most of all, make a distinction between mobilising and movement building.

How, specifically, is this “building a movement”?  What are the metrics? What does success look like after 6 weeks? 6 months? A year?

In these efforts we will surely fail, often.  We will need to be compassionate with ourselves and each other, but also insistent on coming back, doing it better next time, or as soon as we can…

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About manchesterclimatemonthly

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