What might allyship with young #climate activists look like? #YouthStrike4Climate #oldfartclimateadvice

What does it mean to stand in solidarity with youth who are on strike for their futures? How do old farts who have been failing (or doing nothing) on climate change behave usefully in the coming months and years? What to do about the POG problem? I don’t exactly know (or rather, I don’t know AT ALL). But this essay, drawing on how white people can be allies in BLM struggles or, men in feminist struggles might be a useful starting point for some people, besides the author. If you disagree with what is below, or you have something to add, your constructive criticisms will be very welcome (pure ad hominem will get deleted because signal-to-noise ratio).

I’ve recently written two pieces, one on this website, one on the Conversation. In both I tried to get existing/ex-activists to reflect on how we might usefully support new-to-climate change activists. The silence was relatively deafening. Perhaps because folks don’t think I’m the right person to kick this off (though I’ve not seen/been told about useful conversations anywhere else), or perhaps – worse, because people feel they have nothing to say? (That’s a fairly damning indictment of their ability to reflect, to make sure we come back and do it better next time. But reflexivity is hard, and not rewarded within activism (or, frankly, any society).


So, first question to ask is “is this a New Thing, or are there similar situations we can draw provisional lessons from?” I think we can learn from the enormous amount of hard work that people of colour (poc) have done trying to get white people to understand what solidarity means (there are other people – e.g. those living under the Soviet Union – who did the same [e.g. Vaclav Havel] but fwiw, the poc writing is newer, and imo smarter.
There are heaps of great writing on this.

See here – Kristina Wong 2018. Six ways to be a better ally. New Internationalist, 15 March.
Paul Kivel – Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies Adapted from Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice
Kesieno Boom. 2018. 100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating For People of Color. Broadly, 19 April.
Anon. White Anti-Racism: Living the Legacy
[Let me know your favourites, I’ll add them to the list]

I’m going to draw on five key (for me) pieces of advice.
a) Put aside any notions of being a white saviour.
b) Sort your own subcultures shit out
c) Signal boost poc thinkers
d) Make sure you’re not centering yourselves
e) Actually use the privileges you have

So, what does that mean in practice, for interacting with young people?

a) Put aside any notions of being an “adult” saviour.
If we had been behaving like adults, the kids wouldn’t have to be going on strike to sort this out, as many of the placards have noted. I call this the “Piss Off Grandad/Gramdma” problem – what credibility do we ‘established’ activists actually have? What successes, victories can we point to? That’s not to say we disappear into convenient self-recrimination (see b and e below.) If we have experience about how the youth movement is being gaslighted, we should say it.

This, from @bridgetmck is good –

I’ll add another bit of #oldfartclimateadvice to new activists: Find out what others know before taking up a lot of conversation time lecturing with new-found knowledge. Climate is complex and can take up hours of talk time. Find codes to simplify shared understanding.

b) Sort your own subculture’s shit out
When it comes to being a white ally, that means that white people are in a better position to confront each other’s unconscious/casual/actually meant racism (everything from asides to ‘jokes’ to advocated bigotry) than black people. Ditto for men and sexism. I think it’s a slightly different thing for climate activism. I think it means that one of the best ways older climate activists can support the youth is by having actual functioning groups, not little desperate cliques of rusted on activists who haven’t innovated in years (decades), who run dreadful dreary meetings and ‘campaigns’, who can’t even, after several months, sort out having their own websites, for example (I can think of two outfits here in Manchester that are guilty of that of late). Older people, with experience, ought to be demonstrating better ways of doing things, not repeating egregious half-assed ‘activism’ (of not even being able to book a room in the building of their own organisation, of perpetrating endless sage-on-the-stage ego-foddering and emotacycles and so on).

c) Signal boost young climate thinkers
We don’t do this enough. And so we stay trapped inside extremely Northern, technocratic thinking that imagines the climate catastrophe isn’t already here (pro-tip it is).

So, some PoC thinkers I like on climate and signal boost.
Mary Annaise Heglar  see her blistering Climate Change Ain’t the First Existential Threat
Jerome Foster
see also here and here.
[Let me know your favourites, I’ll add them to the list]

In terms of young people. When they put speeches online, publicise them. Ask them if they are up for interviews. If they are gracious enough to say yes, ask them questions, then publicise their answers. I’ve done that with Emma Greenwood and Green-fingered George, but could/should have done it more.

d) Make sure you’re not centering yourselves
That’s kinda obvious I guess? But can be tricky in the moment. Sometimes, if people are doing something that could have serious consequences for themselves, then well, there are circumstances in which the whole loco parentis thing might kick in.

e) Actually use the privileges you have
So, for example, if you’re a student at a university, you have access to information (stuff behind paywalls, your lecturers’ time and expertise), the training to do research. So do research that young people tell you would be useful, and then deliver it in a timely fashion, in formats that are digestible and transmissible (videos, graphics, animations etc). That’s a research collective right there (even if it only lasts a couple of years).
If you have experience of stuff that young people feel might be useful, flag that, and make yourself available (that might be getting arrested/charged, it might be experience of previous rounds of co-optation by our lords and masters, it might be of being a media darling. Whatever).
Here are some additional things that I think, then, that

So ultimately, the things that I think we old farts need to do

  • we need to share what we “know” freely, while not pretending that our experiences are the same as what will happen in the future, in our home countries or in others
  • we need to do this in formats likely to be shared
    and most of all,
  • we need to admit that our complicity in the system, by taking the elite bullshit seriously, is actually awful. We need to admit that we have been either willing fig-leaves or unwitting fig-leaves. Spatial Framework this, Green Summit that. It’s all frankly worse than delusional, it is complicity with fatal delay, in exchange for feeling good or important. It’s at best contemptible, at worst criminal.

Fwiw, I think I have something useful to say about the UN climate process’ history (will get help to make a video) and also about social movement dynamics.  So things I am going to do today
Write and post about ego-fodder and its consequences
Write and post about the emotacycle

UPDATE- these comments from Twitter

Signal boost, yes & we need to bridge worlds – I need to know what’s happening in insta so my insights are put through a teen filter to become useful. I need to have a discussion about what adults need to know and help with the messaging that might work with the over 40s crowd.

Teach at the Parliament House weekly climate strikes? R-12 carbon maths, climate science, critical thinking, whatever strikers think would be worth learning. I don’t know if that’s useful but there’s a heap of knowledge and skills- including activism done well- that might help.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
This entry was posted in Unsolicited advice and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What might allyship with young #climate activists look like? #YouthStrike4Climate #oldfartclimateadvice

  1. Pingback: Ideas for individuals – Bury Families Concerned about Climate Change

  2. From Stuart Capstick-

    Hi Marc – thanks for reflecting on this. I think one starting point for how we can try to be allies to young people through this, is in being more aware of our reactions to it. I’m worried that a lot of people’s responses to the strikes could be summed up as: “Yay, aren’t the young people great! I’m *so* glad they’re doing this! Thanks so much for taking this on where we terrible adults (soz!) have failed. More power to you!”

    The trouble with this is that it effectively is a form of warm glow/ therapy and makes us feel better because the next generation are rising to the challenge. God knows I’ve felt a surge of relief to see the crowds on the street and feel like young people’s voices are rising. But this is happening because society has failed so badly. If we feel glad, proud, whatever, we should also feel awful, ashamed – and then motivated to do more. Maybe this is a different slant on the ‘adult saviour’ thing – that some of us, perhaps, are expecting them to be ‘young saviours’ and sort *us* out.

  3. Pingback: Sharon Adetoro: How to Make the Movement More Inclusive? Do the Work! - Resilience

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s