“You’d better think, (think, think) let you’re mind go, let yourself be free”, to paraphrase Aretha Franklin.
A very few of us handed-out over 1,000 leaflets yesterday, and another thousand the day before that. We were advertising the climate conference COP26 protests next weekend, Here, in Glasgow and Everywhere. We have thousands more yet to distribute using a handful of hands.
To me its an imperative, simply because, if the protests are small, the passivity will breed further hopelessness. If they’re larger we will have won the argument that things can happen and things can be done to collectively reduce the extremes of the climate catastrophe.
Handing out leaflets to those who will grab them voluntarily is not a challenging or exhausting job. Some say no or no thanks, and we say thank you in reply. Others are glad we’re here, and many apologise that they won’t be able to attend the protest due to family, work, physical or mental restraints or they simply “don’t do protests”.
But then there are those who oppose. Yesterday whilst half-a-dozen of us gave out fliers, a group of around 40 adults marched around the City Centre with placards declaring both COVID and Climate Change as hoaxes manufactured by a conspiratorial media and political class intent upon limiting our freedoms and declaring a global totalitarian government.
This is not the Blog with which to unpick the matrix of conceptual, historical, political and philosophical contradictions underlying these libertarian conspiracists.
They had their own free newspaper with adverts for the next meeting to be addressed by David Ike, a lead article from a health worker declaring she refuses to wear a mask, and other warnings about the NHS as a form of social control.
I was ready to sell my own party’s paper for a quid, identifying collective protests against oppression and exploitation globally, with pictures from this week’s mass protests against the military coup in Sudan, and build-up to international protests at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow.
In Plymouth’s City Centre, I brandished a banner demanding “Strike for Climate”. Across the square, another man, dressed, were anyone to be fooled by crass caricatures, like an environmentalist at a peace camp, held his hand-made placard declaring the coming “End of Days and ensuing Rapture, standing arm-in-arm with climate deniers. The apparent contradictions were tied tentatively together by the common threads of opposition to Big Government and demand for individual, I would suggest individualistic, freedoms.
So the experience felt to me like Left versus Right, performed on the stage of a public amphitheatre experienced by an unsuspecting public out on the first Saturday after pay-day to “do shopping”.
Most people wanted to go about their business unhindered by any of us.
Those of the general public who wanted to stop and talk wanted to stop to tell us what they believed, rather than listen to anything we had to say (which is fair enough apart from blocking our ability to hand out leaflets to anyone else). And most of those proselytisers were clear, with evidence, that 1. “They” (meaning governments) have known about climate change for decades and done nothing; 2. The big carbon corporations are beyond our reach and won’t change; and 3. Global heating has gone too far and there’s nothing we can do. One man actually walked off in all seriousness shouting, “we’re doomed”.
A number of old people said they were old so it didn’t matter to them. One self-professed grandmother said it won’t be an issue until their grandchildren are old so why should she worry… I pointed to the morning floods in Glasgow caused by extreme weather, where a month’s rain fell in Cumbria and the North overnight. It’s now.
I am surprised at the general thinking amongst those who declare themselves in one way or another, “left-leaning”, once confronted with the scientific facts, conclude that “its too late to do anything”. It is difficulty to discern whether this is pessimism or passivity, or how to calculate the proportion of each.
The threat of climate collapse is so big it makes the individual feel powerless. The demand to “Act Now” to force change is confronting to the point of causing offence. And, as likely, its all very frightening.
In the Zoom talks I’ve offered around the country, I start by quoting the gay Black civil rights writer and activist, James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” I read his book, “The Fire Next Time” in 1967, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. He developed the theme: “People find it difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.”
In a polarised society where confused ideas are being paraded and screamed-out in city centres, its hard to know what to think. The continuous political “line” from mainstream media and politicians adds to the conundrum. It is the “They” who expect us to rely upon them to solve it all. What to do?
To me, Baldwin’s struggle against racist apartheid at the heart of imperial empire, and to demand the legality of homosexuality by the Ultra-Orthodox Christian State, make today’s struggle appear relatively mild and easy. No-one chases us away, attacks us physically, or organises lynch mobs. So why so little activity?
One possibility is a temporary social and political pacification caused by the COVID pandemic and lockdowns over the past 18 months. We have become afraid to congregate and even afraid of each other. Thinking about it, this has been built upon the years of a childhood schooling that demands deference to authority, and the development of micro-management in the workplace that ensures you behave precisely according to your supervisor’s direction and the timed-deadlines of the electronic conveyor belt.
We are not encouraged to think for ourselves. And actively discouraged from taking action. Lobbying the Climate Emergency Conference being held at the Plymouth Guildhall yesterday, teenage delegates asked we leafleteers outside whether they were “allowed” to go inside – inside a public building, paid for and owned collectively by the tax-payer! They even had written invitations. Have we become wholly acquiescent to authority? Are the conspiracy theorists correct after all?
In every big lie there is a kernel of truth. Otherwise the lie would be easily exposed. The complaints of the conspiracy theorists are gathering strength because of the sensations, the feelings and emotions attached to contemporary life. We’re being done-to, lied-to, coerced and produced and feel a continuous anomie, as an Object for others to manipulate rather than a Subject with a voice and power in a democratic society.
I would conclude that the individualist far-Right will succeed in picking-up on this mix of passivity, alienation and ennui to develop a mass movement for the survival-of-the-fittest – the petit-nationalist white-supremacist closed minds that have led us towards this suicidal path.
At the moment there appears little to stop them, given the silence of the Left. It is imperative that the collective, human-loving socialist Left get onto the streets and into the workplaces in numbers and start to offer solutions that empower and activate all.
We’ve all had plenty of time to think. It’s now time to act.
System Change not Climate Change.