Was it really Friday the 14th of June, 2019. Has it really only been two months since the Extinction Rebellion actions in London forced climate breakdown into the minds and mouths of those who would prefer to ignore it? Two months since Greta Thunberg spoke of Britain’s creative accounting? Two months since the parliamentary (as opposed to governmental) declaration of a ‘climate emergency’? So much has happened since then – so many friendships formed, so many plans hatched (and some executed), so many networks strengthened. And all of it at a fever pitch, unsustainable emotionally, physically and also at the level of logistics, of organisational capacity..
Now, on this night at the Sandbar, here to celebrate the outcome of the competition “When September Ends: What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?” which had closed on the 6th and been swiftly judged, it feels like a moment for a needed pause. As you look around the room, you see so many new friends and acquaintances (and others who you may never particularly come to like, but will work with because the cause (The Cause) matters more. Almost to a person, everyone has that shine of adrenaline that masks, just, exhaustion. You suspect everyone is more or less thinking of the gnawing need to slow down, to having some kind of rest over summer. You know that there are “only 11 years left to save the world”, but you know too that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Fortunately, thanks to a new emotional literacy and courage – mostly brought to the movement by Extinction Rebellion Manchester – there is space to have those honest discussions.
Because the question of how to maintain morale and momentum over the summer is not about how to sustain high levels of (very) public activity. Momentum and media attention are not synonyms. Neither is momentum and activity. There is an awareness that not all activity is in fact action, and that action is not always about bodies on the streets, or in the Council Chamber, or outside the banks and the BBC. There is an awareness that there is a granularity to social movements, that they also serve who sit and write, who lobby their councillors, who research and propose.
There is an awareness beyond this, even, that summer can be a time for joy, for connection, for stopping to smell the roses and for the forging of ties between individuals, between groups, for the sharing of skills, the honing of knowledge and perspective. And, also, for getting more signatures on the Climate Emergency Petition. Fortunately, thanks to a diligent and resolute band of volunteers, who have been at events, door-knocking, collecting signatures outside libraries and the like, well over half the necessary signatures have been collected. Meanwhile, people making videos about having signed, and encouraging their friends to do the same.
As you watch the videos that were submitted for the “When September Ends” competition, you think back just over a month to the fundraiser held in the same space, on Friday 11 May, the result of an enormous amount of hard-work by very determined and skilled people. Earlier the same evening there had been two events which exemplified the growing momentum – a talk about XR to a room full of MMU students, and a climate grief workshop at University of Manchester. Earlier still, dozens had gathered at Fridays for Future outside the Central Library, in what was becoming a super-useful weekly gathering of committed activist and “new” people. The following day had seen a die-in action in Manchester, and a film showing – put on by GM Unite Community Branch’s climate group – of “This Changes Everything.”
The following Tuesday (14th) had seen an “End Climate Chaos” evening in Didsbury, the much-less fun-and-inspiring reappointment of some very unimaginative people to important roles on Manchester City Council the following morning. , Then, on the Saturday, a more uplifting Eco Fest at St Edmunds Church in Whalley Range, complete with a compelling talk about solastalgia by the convenor of the new Christian Climate Action group in Manchester.
The following week had seen a large public meeting on the Thursday the 23rd at the Friends Meeting House: ‘What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?’, with speakers from Youth Strike for Climate, Rising Up! Manchester Families, Climate Emergency Manchester and Unite Community Branch climate Group and Extinction Rebellion all giving short sharp speeches about what their groups were going to do next, and the kinds of help they needed, the things that new members would find themselves doing The meeting began, learning from XR, with an active listening session, where people turned to a person near them and listened intently for two minutes, before being listened to in turn. Those watching the livestream, or the recording afterwards, were bemused but also sad they’d not been there, but were able to text and tweet in questions and suggestions in the extended discussions that followed the speeches.
The following day’s Climate Strike, organised by youth activists, was yet another huge success. On the Saturday people had gathered in Platt Fields for another Envirolution festival, and on the following Tuesday, the 28th, to hear about “Winning a Green New Deal in Manchester”. The following Friday had seen a bigger than usual Critical mass bikeride, and the Saturday had seen two events – Friends of the Earth’s Groundswell and the “Carnival Of Creatures”. On Sunday the 9th, many had taken the opportunity to visit local farms, and understand better where (some) of their food comes from, while others had joined the Land Army to help grow that food.
Throughout it all, people had been encouraged to enter the essay/youtube competition, or at the very least think about how to sustain momentum and morale over the summer, after the recovery, after tonight’s celebration and stock-take.
The summer is not a blank slate – there is the GM Pension Fund AGM in July, various groups’ meetings. There are the regular Fridays for Future gatherings as a way of connecting/networking, (and, natch, gathering signatures), and in August many would be commemorating two hundred years since another non-violent demand for basic rights.
In September the Brexit carnage will grow again, and the Conservative Party – should it still in fact exist – will meet in Manchester. The media will probably have “tired” of climate change, an issue it had never dealt with adequately. The activists gathered tonight know that the route to transformation is not one of shortcuts, via the media or via academics, often deeply complicit in the system that needs naming and changing. The activists know that it is simply about the ground game – in the schools, the communities, the conversations. They know they have to act fast and act smart And that the future is one of extreme peril, no matter what. They know that their best chance lies in understanding past failure and plotting different courses. For now, though, the overwhelming need is for celebration and a week or two of relaxation….
[This the third in a series of “back-casting” blogs. The first was about May 2020, the second about October 2019. This is about June 2019. The next one will be about the world 5 minutes after the blog is published.]