It was my friend’s fault (1). She was the reason I even went to this god-awful event, which was even god-awfuller than I thought it would be.
Several hundred people (four hundred? maybe five hundred?) gathered and were told things they either already knew, didn’t need to know, or speeches they probably largely didn’t agree with. The local situation, with Manchester or even Greater Manchester, was not touched on by any speaker that I listened to (2). These people, overwhelmingly white (3) with many of them grey (as in, 50 plus) milled around, wisely not really listening to the speeches.
There were more banners for the Revolutionary Communist Party than XR, which seems to have “finally” (in less than three years) given up the ghost.
After almost an hour of this, they went for a “march” before coming back – in reduced numbers (150?) – to hear yet more speeches about the need to build a movement. These speeches were being delivered to the backs of dedicated activists who had heard enough, and didn’t feel the need to get wet listening to the same worthy words people have been spouting on climate change for 30 years.
I sat on the steps of the cenotaph in the rain and didn’t cry, because I knew this was coming. It’s why, until the day before, I wasn’t going to come. Two and a half years ago, the school strikes drew thousands. Today there were at most 500. On a day when COP was in the news, after weeks/months of exhortation, and with lots of different groups invited to give speeches in the hope their supporters/members would turn up. On Friday the 5th, the “school strike” drew 50 people, tops, and very very few students among them. Check this picture.
What happened to all those people, all their concern, all their energy and hope? How could the existing organisations be so very shit at helping those individuals convert short-term fear/panic into long-term involvement in meaningful and sustainable action?
All this was predicted, this failure. At least some of this failure was avoidable. But avoiding failure requires acknowledging the past as something that might be repeated. It requires just a smattering of strategic nous, of humility, of willingness to innovate. But innovating is apparently something only governments and corporations have to do. The perfect social movements don’t need to give up on soothing and stupid rituals, of offering up attendees as ego-fodder to a small group of speakers who have nothing to say, but whose presence allows the organisers of the event to feel like they’re ticking the right boxes, and Being Important.
Innovation might unsettle the incumbency, and we cannot be having that, now can we?
What next for the “COP26 Coalition” in Manchester?
There is, hilariously, no meeting planned for people to learn what happened at the COP, and to meet with other people to discuss what needs doing locally. That, surely, was a kind of no-brainer for organising so you could tell people who came to the rally about it. They may try to organise one, but Christmas is coming, and we are probably looking at another lockdown in any case. If it gets pushed to January, well….
More generally, these so-called “coalitions” are usually short-lived and can only agree on the most basic repertoires (marches and rallies chief among them). There is a huge amount of work needed to manage all the disparate groups and their needs. Most organisers of such “coalitions” don’t even know that this IS work, or understand what it would entail, so won’t even try to do it They tend not to have the skills, in any case
So the coalitions fracture, as member groups defect or even wink out of existence. The “coalition” staggers on for a short time, with one or two of the larger groups maintaining the fiction that there is still a coalition because it suits their political or psychological needs to pretend. Sooner or later another issue comes along, the kaleidoscope is shaken and a new colourful pattern is stared at for a while.
More broadly, the climate issue may well largely lose what little salience it has. COP26 will end in a battle over “failure” vs “success.” if the former view prevails, people will say “no point getting involved, which is hard anyway, because that was our last chance to save the world” and if “Success” people will be influenced by the enormous amounts of corporate propaganda about net zero this, reducing emissions that that they will think that by changing their shopping habits all will be well and so “there is no need to get involved.”
Meanwhile, there is an enormous amount of work that needs doing. The only group in Manchester consistently trying to hold Manchester City Council to account across the whole range of climate issues (beyond geographically specific areas) is Climate Emergency Manchester, which I am no longer a member of, but wish every success. If you’re interested in trying to do something local, beyond the smugosphere, beyond the emotacycle, then get in touch with them on firstname.lastname@example.org
- What’s the point of being a white middle-class man in the patriarchy if I can’t blame my own failings and mistakes on a woman?
- The organisers seemed not to want to name local names, because the local names are people they get along with, and derive benefits from a cosy relationship with. Mmm, feel the power of the brave social movement organisers!!
- This is NOT a criticism of people of colour not turning up. Why should they? Almost everything they’ve heard about the environment movement, from the media and from those few poc who’ve tried to engage, would have given them the (largely correct) impression that their concerns and realities would not be acknowledged or understood. Ditto for class.