Why I wouldn’t go back to Climate Camp

I attended Climate Camp at Blackheath in summer of 2009. I was attracted to attend because I wanted to find out about alternative political movements, and to find out what sort of grassroots political actions were happening in response to the financial crisis, the environment, and the apparent national democratic deficit.

I felt that discussions and activities were open to everyone and I felt comfortable attending. I learned some new things from the workshops that took place. I was sceptical about some of the anarchist principles behind the organisation of the camp, such as the way meetings were organised. This was supposed to be inclusive and democratic and to allow everyone to express their views, but I don’t feel it achieved this as the more outgoing people obviously took command of discussions and events.

I was disappointed with the lack of cohesive vision or strategy behind the actions that took place as part of the event. Many of them were stunts (such as people gluing themselves naked to buildings) which were designed to attract media attention, and although they did this, the attention was fleeting and the action did not seem to communicate any obvious political message. It seemed to me to reinforce the view that the activists were a load of young people messing about.

I would not attend further climate camps mainly for this reason. A more coherent political vision and organisational structure, with more clearly political actions such as marches, would make me more likely to attend. I would like the political left to organise around a vision that integrates issues such as class, workers rights, identity, and the environment, rather than the fragmented movement that climate camp appeared to be.

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The coming months for “Ending Activism” – help wanted!

So, now that the launch event is done, and now we know there is interest in the topic – over 20 people came, with many others sending their apologies – we need to figure out how to most effectively and efficiently take the “Ending Activism” project forward.

One of us is leaving the country soon-ish, and t’other has quite enough on his plate, but is still up for working on this, in collaboration with other people.

There are a series of practical, specific tasks that we would like people to take on.

a) Encouraging people to fill in surveys. These would include

  • i)people who are still active or who are no longer active.
    ii) organisations that are still going, and the members (both ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’) of groups that are no longer active.

b) typing up surveys

c) analysing the answers, and creating short briefing papers etc.

d) holding workshops with groups about the project and the results and how the project can be useful

e) encouraging climate groups beyond Manchester to undertake whatever version of reflection (we are under no illusions that there is One True Way to reflect, or that ours is the best from the possible ways for any groups

  • i) personal contacts with individuals
  • ii) guest-posting on their websites
  • iii) articles in relevant magazines and publications (Peace News, Red Pepper, etc etc)

f) encourage groups active on other issues (peace, globalisation, human rights etc) to undertake a similar process (with the same disclaimer

g) keep the website ticking over with new content (different survey questions, observations, summaries of academic articles about these topics

h) conceivably – if there were the appetite for it – hold a similar event late 2012 or early 2013.

i) other stuff that we haven’t written down, or we haven’t thought of!!

If you have any comment on the above, or any availability, we’d love to hear from you.  If you have ideas about groups or individuals we should approach, please get in touch.  endingactivism@gmail.com

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Another reader; “I don’t believe direct action is the best solution”

Thank you again to another reader, for their thoughtful and thought-provoking answers.  Please fill in the survey, here.  We are going to make a booklet for the launch on Friday (but don’t worry, the conversation goes on after that!)

Why do people get involved in (climate) activism? And how?
-because they are truly concerned about climate change and want to make a change.

or

-because they like the image of being an activist and get involved in any campaign going

Who stays involved and why?
People who enjoy the lifestyle, fit in socially.

People who are passionate about the cause and think they will make a difference.

Why do people stop being involved? Give as many reasons as  you like!

Because they become apathetic or give up hope.
Because they are frustrated at how things are run.
Because their ideas are not as radical as those around them
Because they have other commitments
Because they find the activism stressful

What are the barriers to becoming involved (or re-involved)?

I don’t believe direct action is the best solution, I would need activism to be less framed around this.

I would find it easier if there were not so many different organisations and they all worked together.

I don’t fit in with the ‘image’ of an activist I am much more quiet and thoughtful than most of the ones I have met, I would like to be able to make my contributions without having to change my personality.

Better thought out campaigns with hard evidence behind them, such as peer-reviewed literature on climate change and its impacts and ways to reduce these and mitigation. There is a lot of peer-reviewed literature around on this such as from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

A lot of the leaflets seem like propaganda in the way they are written, I would feel more comfortable getting involved if they were written in a more factual, less emotive manner

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What steps would need to be taken to avoid ‘cliquyness’ and involve new people?

Below are the scribbled notes from a discussion at the June 15th launch event. We voted the “cliquyness” question was the one most people were keen to discuss, . (Here’s the complete list of questions submitted – the hosts short-listed down to three).

Obviously we want more discussion.  What didn’t get mentioned?  Comments please!

(And apologies for any mangling – I was scribbling as fast as I could! If I have done violence to your comments, please send a clarification…)

  • We don’t want to end up like church/dragging people in to convert them. It isn’t our job – we would end up being “too professionalised”
  • Team up new and old people, in a “buddy system”
  • There’s a [natural] hierarchy of those who do the most
  • Skill people up so not on defensive
  • Drop language of “openness” and “equality” – it’s clearly not true
  • Decrease the pressure on new members to make decisions before they feel they know enough – they [new to the organisation members] struggle with the pressure
  • Church people have this discussion – distinguish between ‘newbies’ altogether and people who have previous experience/other political perspectives.  Someone with different political perspectives might want to ask questions.
  • OK cafe – people involved straight away into the core.  Short term goals.  Big churning of people (coming and going) – not always.
  • Never clear what it is to “get involved” – equal burden of organising, or turning up as a minion at an event?  Never clear what you’re signing up to.
  • Different groups have different structures and methods of working. Maybe be able to say “there are these other groups you could go to if we don’t meet your needs…”
  • Double edged sword when you have a “crew” – fun and tight, but also cliquy
  • OK if there’s a broad spectrum of ways of being involved
  • Organisations need a way of handling new people
  • Tale of two groups – one expressed willingness to sit down, find out how involved I wanted to be, what skills already had, what skills I wanted.  Contrast with another group where floated around and not asked.
  • Not just “jobs” – vibrant social life. Need socials too.
  • Cliques have uses. So do affinity groups. So do friendship networks. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Choose the right one for the tasks at hand – you wouldn’t try to drive a nail into a plank of wood with a saw…
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Launch of “Ending Activism” goes off well

Last night over twenty people came together in a room above a pub in Manchester, to talk about “whatever happened to the climate movement?”  The gathering was also the “official” launch of the Ending Activism website.

After a welcome and introduction from Mark Haworth, we did a “who is in the room” exercise (“hands up if you…”). This was followed by a general Q and A about the project and where it might go. We then broke into pairs and small groups for mingling, reflecting and devising one question for all of us to discuss.

We gathered again to vote on which of the suggested questions should be asked.  After two rounds of voting we came up with “how do we combat the cliquyness that puts off newcomers?”  This generated a whole series of interesting comments and ideas (which were captured, and will appear on this site in the coming days).

The meeting finished on time, and there was a palpable sense of excitement (alongside the relief from the organisers).

written by Marc Hudson

Who came
There were about 24 people there at the meeting’s peak, with about 8 or 10 of them women.  Age and ethnicity balance not as bad as many a meeting, but still nothing to boast about.

What they thought
The comments on the feedback forms were as follows;

  • Friendly. Not too hierarchical. Food nice. Got better as the evening progressed.
  • Agenda beforehand. Great having the website resources for after.
  • Liked that it was short and focussed – I didn’t leave feeling exhausted.
  • It was very good having a space where critical reflection was welcome – hence also the low appeal to newcomers
  • For what it was it was very good. Many of the limitations were inherent to the type of event. Which is OK! Critical reflection always needed.
  • Good
  • Food. Great food. Makes you want to come along on a Friday night.

What we would have done differently (re: the launch)

  • The food was great and the venue was lovely, but it is absolutely not disabled-friendly.Should have thought of that.
  • Clashing with a match of nationalistic toe-marbles was a bad idea, but then we also clashed with a house-warming party of someone who has been active for yonks.
  • We could have had a scribe to capture more of the comments and questions, and a photographer too. (the photos above were taken with consent).

What next

  • We type up and publish the feedback forms and the other surveys.
  • We publish the booklet that accompanied the launch…
  • We ask people to submit guest posts.
  • We encourage groups to keep reflecting.
  • Other actions as time and energy and intelligence allow
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Survey: “I get frustrated when I feel the group is no longer achieving anything.”

Tonight’s the night!! Please do come to the launch at the Lass O’Gowrie if you can. But don’t worry if you can’t – we will blog it and generally give an account of what happened (no names!).

There’s lots more content going up on the website in the coming days and weeks, including more surveys like the one below (including some sent to us earlier – if you wrote one of them, please don’t think we’re snubbing you – it’s just all a bit chaotic at present…)

Why do people get involved in (climate) activism? And how?
I’ve been involved with activism for numerous reasons. On reflection a common strand is probably having the opportunity to take collective action that has some effect on issues that I feel strongly about. Again I’ve done this in various ways with groups of friends, finding active campaign groups, turning up a protest camps, going to meetings and talking to people amongst others. The initial step usually involves finding or helping create a group of people who are also passionate about the same issues.

Who stays involved and why?
Being facetious but never the less true, I find being a white middle class male who can’t get their privileges validated elsewhere keeps me involved. I suppose you could generalise this and say people stay with groups as long as they continue providing them with some form of validation.
I suspect that generalisations aren’t much use when applied to groups and you need to look at the specificities of each situation.

Why do people stop being involved? Give as many reasons as  you like!
I get frustrated when I feel the group is no longer achieving anything. I might stay engaged for a time out of loyalty to friends and because of a senses of obligation in the hope that things will change. However I think it would be healthier just to move on.

If you are no longer involved, what would it take for YOU to get involved again?
I’m not sure at the moment but I’ll keep looking.

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An activist reflects on why they didn’t get involved in Manchester…

What have been your key experiences with environmental campaigning groups?
I attended a meeting with the old campaigns collective in Manchester and then attended climate camp with the Leeds group.
What initially attracted you to attend?, Did you feel included into discussion, activities etc?
With the Manchester group I was interested because I had done a lot of campaigning before university and the meeting was advertised as an introduction.
I didn’t feel particularly included in discussion as there was a number of strong groups there and the environment felt overly competitive.
At climate camp I went with friends I had in the Leeds activist scene. I found the atmosphere with this group far more relaxed and inclusive. I was involved in a number of actions because of this.
Based on this experience did you wish to attend further events, meetings etc?
Both when I came to University and after climate camp I felt I definitely wanted to get involved again but both times i was put off by the Manchester scene.
What, if anything, would have made your experience more enjoyable and encouraged you to stay involved?
From my experience its cliquey nature of the Manchester activist scene that’s the most off putting. A more open atmosphere at meetings and less of an emphasis on direct action would be far more inviting I think
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