“Everywhere I have been the situation is more or less same. The people in power, their beautiful words are the same”. These were the words of Greta Thunberg in her Friday address to the estimated 300,000 attendees of the New York climate strike. “The number of politicians and celebrities who want to take selfies with us are the same. The empty promises are the same. The lies are the same, and the inaction is the same.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap of armchair activism or ‘slacktivism’, putting up a temporary profile picture or signing a spicy petition from the comfort of your home. Whilst these things are worthwhile (and accomplish a nice chunk of virtue signalling) sometimes, deeds, not words, are needed to make those in power take note.
1. It’s Free! Taking to the streets doesn’t cost you a penny. Cobble together a banner from that cardboard that’s been cluttering up your house and the world’s your oyster.
2. Show some solidarity. One of the ways that the powerful remain in power is by creating a discourse in which critical voices are labelled anomalous and extreme. The physical banding together that protest culture necessitates makes people realise they are not alone.
3. Vote with your feet! In an electoral democracy, majority rules, meaning that the rights and voices of minorities can be maligned in favour of dominant public opinion. Not to forget everyone under the age of 18, whose future world is being decided by those who will not be living in it too much longer. Protests are the best way for young people of any age to exercise their democratic rights. Yay for political engagement.
4. Unexpected Victory: Sometimes we Win! When the UK government introduce the flat-rate Poll Tax in 1990, huge numbers of people protested and refused to pay the tax. It became clear that prosecuting everyone who refused would be impossible, chaos threatened, and the government abolished the tax. A climate emergency has also been declared in the UK, and widely attributed to the success of the Extinction Rebellion protests.
5. Visibility- Policy debates can be abstract and may even seem irrelevant to the people not most directly affected by them. In contrast, protest events put warm bodies and heavy feet out into the world, representing an issue in a way that can’t be ignored.
Pick a placard and a climate pun of your choice. As Greta says, 'Our House is On Fire' . You have your marching orders.