When I was in Grade 4 my class did a project on the suffragettes. At first, my friends and I were not impressed. ‘What even are the suffragettes?’ we said.
Half an hour later we loved the suffragettes! We couldn’t believe women weren’t allowed to vote. We thought the hunger-strikes were brave. We were sure we would have been suffragettes ourselves.
For school dress-up day, we came as suffragettes, and carried placards that read ‘Purple Green and White, We will Fight!’ We marched around the school chanting and the boys teased us. Since then I’ve admired progressive social movements and felt very angry at people who try to stop them.
In first year uni I went to my first non-historical re-enactment protest. A close friend was involved in protesting the World Economic Forum in Melbourne (S-11) protests so I went along to the blockade. I really didn’t understand what the protest was against, but I joined in, because people I liked were doing it, and it was pretty obvious that big corporations aren’t nice. The protest was intense, police on horses tried to break-up the blockade, people were arrested and injured.
A few days later I told a friend I’d been at S-11, expecting him to be impressed but he vehemently disagreed with the protest. I argued inarticulately and insensitively about it, he said all the protesters were feral hippies, and after that we weren’t friends anymore (it’s okay we’re friends on Facebook now).
Later, I was ashamed of my involvement in the S-11 protests. I realised was ignorant, I felt foolish. After that, I barely went to a protest in twenty years (one exception was the Iraq war protest but everyone went to that).
In that time there were lots of social movements I felt strongly about but I didn’t join in with any form of activism. I feared being inarticulate and insensitive again. I did nothing because I knew my something wouldn’t be perfect.
I’ve been a quiet Australian. Because I’m wealthy and white I had a very nice life tut-tutting while watching Insiders, tending my worm farm and liking Benjamin Law’s tweets. I acknowledged injustice in the world, but I didn’t try to change it. I behaved like this because I could. It could be argued that I was selfish and indulgent.
It was comfortable but sometimes I would think about the suffragettes and have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have joined them. Dr Phil said the best predictor of future behaviour is past relevant behaviour. And the best retro-dictor of how you would have behaved in the olden-days is your relevant behaviour in the non-olden-days.
About six months ago I decided to get involved with climate activism when I realised governments weren’t planning to act on climate and people are suffering and will suffer more as result. I’m aware that I’m very late to the party, not that useful and could be making embarrassing mistakes.
Even so, I’m having a go. What do I actually do that’s different from before?
- I go to protests. I often feel nervous and worried about annoying people or getting in trouble, mostly it’s just a bit boring but sometimes it’s fun. And you meet some great people.
- I call politicians’ offices about specific issues. I write emails and letters. This is very easy.
- I make changes in my local community like getting solar panels on the local kinder. This is very rewarding.
- I talk to people about the climate emergency and climate activism. This seems small but it’s what makes me the most uncomfortable. Being honest about the likely impacts of global warming feels very rude and I don’t want to make people feel anxious or sad. I also hate recommending climate activism to people in case they think I’m naive, or they have a bad experience that I’ll feel responsible for.
So I’m reluctant to say this (because it’s not perfect and there are valid concerns about tactics and structure, and you may have personal circumstances that make this inappropriate) BUT:
If you’re worried about the climate emergency, but you’re not yet involved in climate activism, join Extinction Rebellion. It’s where I started and I’m glad I did.