I was browsing through facebook today, something I do less and less of. (Sorry, Mark, I’m slowing weaning myself of an addition and can’t effectively contribute to your ever-growing empire). So I saw this post somebody lamenting the fact that he and millions of students have been going on strike with Fridays for Future for the past six months and nothing has changed. The demonstrations are designed to bring attention to the seriousness of climate change.
This post encouraged me to record my thoughts on this form of activism.
Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion and other such forms of public protest need to engage in concrete political dialogue and action. They must formulate concrete demands and make clear to whom their demands are directed. The demands must be realistic and doable. I am not saying they should limit themselves and their proposals to the confines of Realpolitik, rather the people or institutions have to be able in some reasonable way to realize their demands.
Demands have to make sense, their effects have to be clear and understandable. This is also necessary to build public support.
You need public support. If you can’t build a political majority you will have trouble turning your demands into public policy.
Address decision-makers eye to eye. Realize that we the people are the foundation of the state, we are the sovereign, we are the creators and the makers of our democracy. Politicians and other leaders are simply our representatives. We are free to define new representatives. If Greta Thunberg or the hundreds of active students in your city are able and willing, then you, the people, can decide right now that they are your representatives. They may not be elected officials but that doesn’t matter. Elected officials are only one of many ways that the people’s will is being translated into public policy.
Go with your new representatives to the city hall, to the mayor’s office, to the police chief, to your boss, to the CEO of your company, to the principal of your school. Demand a conversation, demand that they listen. If they refuse, make it public. If the mayor won’t sit down with you, then let your local newspaper know about it. Get it out there on social media. Tell your friends and families and colleagues and fellow students at your schools.
Prepare these meetings well. Clarify your demands, as mentioned above. Put it on paper, find articulate people among you who can clearly and passionately state your demands. You don’t have to be confrontative, but you must be clear and passionate and articulate.
Make the consequences of your demands crystal clear. Tell them what you expect them to do. Make deadlines, name milestones.
Make it easier for your elected officials or whomever you are addressing. They are just people too and they don’t have all the answers. They don’t always know what the people want. They need your help, even if they won’t admit it.
We have to tell them what we want.
Be present, get in their face, be persistent, be patient.
Don’t just go to your city council and say “We demand you meet the declared reductions in CO2.” You might hear back from them “Thanks, kids, come back when you’re grown up.”
It’s more powerful if you say, “We want the city to meet its CO2 goals by increasing the number of electric and hybrid busses and by building more bike lanes and we want a report on your progress.” They might still react in a paternalistic fashion. But when you step back in front of the council in two months and you ask them exactly what steps have been taken and the media is present and they know exactly what you are demanding, they might still react in their arrogant fashion, but it will be much harder for them to blow off your demands. You will also make it much easier for the city council members who are on your side, to help you realize these demands.
Public strikes and demonstrations are important and can be very powerful. They do, however, take a ton of energy and time. If they are not successful, they have the potential of draining energy and undermining the movement.
Recent demonstrations in Taiwan were an exception. Not only were they gigantic but they also had a very clear and simple demand: no extraditions.