It’s been incredible to read many of the reflections during this month’s Climate Generation series, and I’m honored to have a chance to think about the movement and where we stand now. I’m so grateful that so much of my history in the movement has already been shared in the telling of our history in this series – from meetings in college basements to meetings on Capital Hill; from the hundreds at the Northeast Climate Conference to thousands at PowerShift; from Stepping it Up on campus to stepping it up worldwide on October 24; from first singing “It’s Hot in Here” while marching in Montreal to a vigil of thousands in Copenhagen. I am so grateful to have shared the growth of the movement with you.
It’s also been wonderful to read about what the movement here in the US has been mulling over the past two years, while I’ve been on the other side of the planet, working in India with the Indian Youth Climate Network and the early stages of so many other international youth movements on climate change. I have been so lucky to learn so much from my peers globally and to have been forced to rethink all assumptions, particularly about how change happens. In many ways, our theories of change differ dramatically worldwide, as do the tactics that feel most natural to create change. If we want to continue to build a global movement, we must continue building our respect for these diverse approaches and diverse tactics.
I think a respect of true diversity of tactics will allow our movements – wherever we are – to be so much stronger. Just as we recognize there is no technological “silver bullet”, I think we must accept that there is no silver bullet tactic, no one single approach to change that can transform the world.
Copenhagen shook many into the realization that change will not come from the top-down, nor always from effective grassroots demands for a better future. Change comes from local policy makers demonstrating political will, from innovative technology creators and distributors, from individuals living as examples, from positive examples and powerful campaigns. Our generation must not only recognize these diverse approaches but truly respect them.
Learning Globally: A Diversity of Tactics for Change
I have been fortunate to witness the growth of our global movement and the beauty of this work worldwide. In my work with the Indian Youth Climate Network, I’ve been forced to challenge my own conceptions of where change comes from – utilizing technology, music, art, direct action, corporate engagement, children’s education and political lobbying – by doing them all in a day’s work. The IYCN team includes musicians, engineers, artists, academics, activists and young professionals, working together in such different ways towards a common vision.
Need for difference approaches:
I learned the hard way that not every government operates the same way. While I was working with city legislators to implement green building codes in Hyderabad, a fast-growing city in central India, a friend was working in Newark, New Jersey, sharing notes. We both faced the same challenges of convincing politicians of the benefits of such a system, but I found a much greater need to work with businesses. Indian politicians listened even more closely to business leaders; if major businesses were ready to follow new laws, politicians considered it.
After three months of internal lobbying and as we were close to regulations being passed, the head of the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority left his post; he serves the government and Indian civil servants are moved at the will of the state. Had we only been lobbying, I would have (and did, momentarily) lost complete hope. Our work was wasted! However, as we had been working with businesses to convince them of the same needs, we were still able to make a positive impact. We couldn’t and didn’t lose hope – more green buildings were coming up, whether the government changed or not.
There are so many incredible examples of youth organizing for long-term political change who are building their solutions in their own communities. Shwetha is running a powerful lobbying campaign in Bangalore to get rid of plastic bags, but she and her colleagues are making their own cloth bags to sell at their events while others distribute newspaper bags as plastic alternatives to stores in their neighborhoods.
Clinton has transformed the way waste is managed in Goa, a state in southern India, first by changing his own house’s waste stream, then his neighborhood’s, later convincing his town’s government that waste management would save money and resources. The district capital city government hired him to redesign their waste stream, directing more than 90 percent of waste out of landfills.
A team of young ornithologists in Vietnam are educating young people about biodiversity and petitioning the government to protect more land, but are also raising funds through sale of their photographs of birds to buy their own forest land.
In India, I have seen a recognition and an acceptance of this diversity of approaches. Engineers who are organizers, organizers who are entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs who are lobbying their cities and states to put in better policies to support clean energy and green businesses. Yet, in the recent White House youth meeting, there was only one young entrepreneur representing our generation’s commitment to renewable energy and clean tech. Can this change?
Building Confidence, Maintaining Optimism
In many countries, where governments are just so slow to change or people are so disempowered that they feel (or know) that they cannot change their leaders through words, it doesn’t mean we have to give up tactics many of us are used to — lobbying, organizing our community members to ask leaders for change, demonstrating in front of Capitol buildings. In combining our own direct actions that have immediate impact in our communities with larger scale campaigns, we can not only demonstrate to our leaders what the future looks like, but build that future while they wake up!
International Collaborations: Respecting Diversity of Tactics
In Poznan, during the UN climate negotiations in 2008, I was lucky to witness one of the most beautiful moments of our global movement, hundreds of youth from around the world joined to talk about how we could create one – most powerful – action to end COP 14. While dozens of individuals, primarily from the global north, from Australia, US, UK and Canada, had come up with a powerful idea to non-violently die-in during the final plenary of the UN, many of the youth from Asia were reluctant, not only to be involved, but to have the action happen at all.
With a beautiful eloquence and strength, Midori explained that in Japan, youth were working hard with their governments and were building the respect they needed for governments to listen to them. They believed a disruptive (even if non-violent) action would set them back in their work, whether or not they participated, because it would degrade their perspective of youth. In respecting Midori’s work, and that of the youth she spoke for, the youth present designed another kind of action to share our message the following day, the global movement showed enormous recognition for our diversity of tactics.
The incredible organizers of 350.org‘s global day of action on October 24, gave a common platform to youth worldwide, but in giving us the flexibility to organize what was most relevant to our local conditions, allowed for a beautiful diversity to emerge. In doing so, this encouraged all organizers to celebrate their own strengths. We saw engineers designing and showcasing their solar cookers; foresters publicly planting hundreds of trees; artists creating incredible masterpieces; organizers bringing together thousands for marches and aerial art; and lobbyists reaching local and national politicians with global messages. By giving a flexible platform that respected the diversity of tactics need to make change in different countries, 350 was able to engage more global youth than ever before.
In Copenhagen, at the failed UN climate negotiations, more youth than ever before were working within their official government delegations, drafting negotiating text and attending closed door meetings. Particularly those working with African nations and small island states were able to share what exactly their nations needed in order to protect their survival – mostly, they needed youth to amplify their voices. In a recent interview, a representative of Tuvalu said that activist support, including a youth-led demonstration, “was very helpful, I think, in highlighting the fact that our concerns couldn’t just be swept under the carpet.” While even this didn’t create a fair, ambitious or binding deal in Copenhagen, it showed what we could do when working in new ways, in collaboration.
On the very last day of COP15, amidst the failures of governments to act and the lock-out of civil society, there were fewer than 15 youth inside those final plenaries, with hundreds outside. But because of our personal connections, SMSing and tweet-ing updates from inside allowed those “wonky policy people” inside to connect with the “crazy activists” outside organizing demonstrations were able to create accurate responses. We needed to respect that inside and outside, our strategies depend on each other.
Moving Forward, Together:
In the post-Copenhagen world, I see so many young people questioning what is next, questioning the fundamental assumptions that have characterized our movement. In the United States, as Andrew explored in his recent post, we have often assumed that there is one “equation” for change — a certain number of actions on a given day, a certain number of petitions, or a certain number of partners on the inside. I am grateful for the explorations, as it may force us to question what our assumptions are about theories of change. How can we recognize that diverse tactics and diverse theories of change more accurately represent the transformation we need?
We may disagree with each other. We may believe we have a solution that is faster or more effective than another route of change. But we must respect that to build our future, we need our diversity to make change. It is only together that we can make the transformation our generation deserves.
It’s possible that I left Copenhagen with more hope than I entered, actually. I saw diverse tactics in use that can help build our movement through the tough road ahead. I saw more young people more committed than ever to building change in their own communities rather than waiting for governments to act. And, I saw youth able to learn from each other about what works in various communities. Cultures and countries may have different theories of change, but there is so much we can share about what can work that we may never have thought of! As our movement grows globally, our power will grow locally.