Sunday, 3 January 2010

Selling crisis? Or solving it in the background?

I've been involved in some way in environmental politics for 5 and a half years now, but in the last few months my perspective has changed measurably and now I feel rather lost as to how I feel the movement and the Greens should progress.

I was very unusual when I joined the Green Party aged 16. I had never been involved in campaigning before and was not a member of any NGOs or other activities that members tend to come from. I had been concerned about the 'greenhouse effect' for some time but was at this getting interested in politics proper. I had looked through the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru for a home but after seeing Jean Lambert on the TV and reading more about the Green Party decided that it's policies just made sense and actually attempted to tackle the roots of the problems our society faces.

My first active involvement after going to a few local meetings was delivering leaflets for our candidate in the 2005 general election - I can't remember a single thing it said. I also ran the mock election campaign in my school (my friend was the candidate). Our strategy was a clumsy poster with a list of about 10 policies that addressed everything.

I think the main issues I was interested in aside from climate change was promoting local business and Iraq and top up fees. I don't know if I thought very hard about how we should engage voters or what issues we should talk to them about. I had known for a long time than I was left wing but hadn't thought about what issues we should focus on in getting the votes in, as opposed to just expect people to see the truth and vote for it.

There were no elections in 2006 in Wales and I went off to university in Exeter. The following spring we were working on the Assembly Elections back home which I only really delivered leaflets for again. The freepost leaflet was a crass depiction of "Caerleon-on-sea" etc and I think I began to realize that this is not how you get people elected.

I also stood myself for the first time for the Council in Exeter. I wrote a paragraph to go on an election leaflet that advocated congestion charging and I don't think much else. I was very happy to beat the Labour candidate and get 3rd place because a lot of my friends at uni voted for me. Sadly the incumbent Lib Dem councilor lost her seat by one vote to the Tories, a few people said I 'helped' split the 'liberal' vote, which may have had some truth in it considering how shocked she was to lose.

By the time 2008 came around with the onset of the financial crisis I had developed a more concrete vision of social justice and thought that the Green Party should shut up totally about climate change and take the ground vacated by old Labour. We would get in on a social justice mandate and sort out the climate on the side. I heartily approved of Sian Berry's focus on the cost of living.

That's what I thought we should stick to for most of this year: renationalising select industries that were being inefficient in their need for profit, solve the recession by creating green jobs and sort out climate change. Climate change was almost an excuse to restructure society in an updated democratic socialist direction. We didn't need to convince the public that acting against it was an emergency because we'd win their support by making their lives better.

Then I started an internship with Stop Climate Chaos, the main UK climate coalition consisting of hundreds of NGOs and community organizations. This non-partisan territory was new to me and I was looking forward to seeing what it was like doing climate change without the politics. As I hoped, it put me on a path to reconnecting with the emotional trauma that an awareness of climate change brings, not just a fact that is part of an ideological arsenal for elections. I actually remembered in my HEART that hundreds of thousands of people are dying every year because of climate change and countless more in hardship because of it. Mobilizing for The Wave became a desperate outcome rather than wearily turning up to the annual demo that got smaller each year. This demonstration would matter and we had to put the pressure on for a fair and ambitious deal at Copenhagen. I lost much of the cynicism towards the establishment I had because of the emotional need to do something. Copenhagen was the last chance.

When I went to People's and Planet's annual gathering in November I broke down while watching a film about the tar sands. This was the most I'd ever *felt* it.

Despite being responsible for 50 students going to London in December, I didn't turn up myself. I'd booked for a music festival before I even knew about it. Part of me missed being there but I'm glad in hindsight I didn't since it would have sent me further on the rollercoaster.

I believed the line I was parroting that it was US, the people who would decide whether Copenhagen counted, not the politicians. I had to go there myself, and be part of the people's movement that was going to take back the power. I wanted to get there and stay for the length of the talks, be part of the temporary anarchist communities that we set up and perhaps even be at the brunt of the police. Being very low on funds and not having enough time to hitch, I settled on going with Friend's of the Earth for 2 days proper in the city and a lot of hours on a bus.

The main activity was the 100,000 strong march towards the Bella Center on the Saturday calling for justice and for the rich nations to give up the pursuit of profit at all costs. For the first time I felt the people around me were not angry enough, that this marching was a charade and wasn't going to do anything. We got as far as a big road somewhere near the centre and a big stage where some people were making speeches. It was bitterly freezing.

We spend the following day at Klimaforum, or the People's summit which was far more up my street, discussing how WE confront the climate crisis. The Global Greens session was inspiring and made me feel like ordinary activists may actually see as as a proper wing of the movement rather than an obscure far left project.

I came home, slowly preparing myself for what was going to be an agreement with inadequate targets with offsetting rendering it useless. We didn't even get that, we got virtually no money for developing countries and no targets, just a scientifically dubious commitment to a 2 degree ceiling on emissions. I said to myself that its time to brush the politicians aside and sort this our for ourselves, but I'm not I'd thought exactly what that meant, how were we to do it? I could feel my politics radicalizing more.

For most of the holiday I sank into a vacant self-centered daze, thinking very little and trying to forget about climate change. I some how came to the conclusion that my assumption about not mentioning climate change couldn't be more wrong. How are we to sort it out of if it's just not a priority for most people? How can we make the controversial decisions even in government if the population is not signed up? But if we're not going to get into power soon do we need to use our platform to agitate popular action on the climate?

The Green Party is doing exactly what I said about sweeping the politicians aside. We are ordinary people desperate to take action on this issue, we will be electing our first MPs in 5 months but how will they take the issue on?

I wasn't sure what kind of conclusion I would come to when I started writing this: do we campaign for election against climate change or the excesses of capitalism? The people of the south need us in the north to get our leaders to get their heads of their arses and be fair, this issue is now very emotional to me and not just that it all makes sense. Can we get anywhere by raging on about climate change? What do we do?

1 comment:

  1. I think the story you tell there really shows that the answer is not reformism of appealling to the system to change its ways, but one of a social revolution towards a society that can be run in the interests of people and the environment