How 28th March Started Changing Everything
We’re living in a broken system: the war on terror, the Great Recession, the climate crisis and a definition of democracy no one believes in anymore. And our generation is living at the tipping point of planetary history.
Rainforests and farmlands are being reduced to desert and acid rains from the sky. Every hour, three species of animal become extinct. Our food, water and air are being polluted. Over the past 40 years, Co2 emissions have skyrocketed by 80% and natural disasters increased fivefold. Of the last 13 years, 12 have been the hottest on record.
Leading scientists are warning that without radical change, entire islands and major cities will be swallowed by the sea while mega-storms, droughts and pollution will make great swathes of the earth uninhabitable, triggering resource wars and a global refugee crisis. Of course this changes everything. The question is how.
“It’s a civilisational wakeup-call. A powerful message, spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions, telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.” – Naomi Klein
That’s the clarion call at the heart of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s also the message that brought a thousand people together with campaigners and academics for a mass participatory gathering last weekend to discuss some of the most urgent questions facing our generation: about the crises we face; what a fair and sustainable alternative might look like; and what kind of movement it will take to get us there.
The event, which took its name from the book, was packed out. It attracted a young and diverse crowd mostly ‘new to politics’ and an international audience for the livestream. People are already planning their own This Changes Everything events in Bristol, Brighton, Nottingham as well as France, Germany and the USA.
Appearing via skype at the beginning of the day, Naomi summed up her argument: “We’re on the road to catastrophic levels of warming. It isn’t too late to get off that road… to do that we have to change everything about our corrupt political system and our profit-driven economic system… our leaders aren’t going to be the ones to grab the wheel and swerve because they’re embedded in that logic, they’re products of it, and so it’s going to have to be social movements that lead from below… the work you guys are doing is why I wrote the book.”
For many of us, September’s People’s Climate March was a catalyst. The sound of 40,000 pairs of feet hitting the streets in London while 400,000 joined the historic march in New York and actions took place in over 160 other countries around the world shattered any notion that the climate movement couldn’t mobilise, that people didn’t care or that it was too late to act.
The Copenhagen Summit’s failure to change anything had renewed commitment to the idea that this fundamental change we were calling for would have to be fought for and won from below; that those who could force the system to change were those disillusioned and exploited by it – not, as some environmentalists would have it, by cupping our hands for concessions from those at the top, who have everything to gain from perpetuating business as usual.
This Changes Everything was organised by a growing, independent network of activists. It brought leading figures from organisations like Friends of the Earth, War on Want and the Green Party around a table with students and activists from groups like Occupy, Join the Dots and Brick Lane Debates. That diversity was echoed on the day itself with a symphony of radical voices: leading environmentalists in Asia and Africa spoke with radical economists and campaigners. The closing session heard from Russell Brand and Francesca Martinez alongside leading voices from the climate justice and trade union movement.
As Mark Sertwotka, General Secretary of the trade union PCS told the assembly: “We will not fall for the lie that says if you are pro environmental issues you are against the interests of workers. If we all unite, if we get on each other’s demonstrations, we can rock them to their core. That’s what my union wants to see.” In the UK, the absence of organised labour on the People’s Climate March was a gaping hole. Also felt was an absence of meaningful political content. There were the people – but where were their demands? We all wanted to save the planet, but how could we actually do it? What was the vision? Who were we holding responsible? In whom should we put our faith? These were the great unanswered questions This Changes Everything set out to ask.
On 28th March the answer was deafening. In the morning a mass, interactive assembly heard from leading progressive voices about the crisis we face and visions of how a fairer, more sustainable and democratic economy could work for both people and planet. In the afternoon, everyone joined in with participatory workshops to share ideas about how we could meet a joined-up crisis with a joined-up movement. In the workshops people talked honestly about the difficulties of uniting different struggles and identified the key strategic fights where we can come together and win. During the final session, key ideas from all the workshops were collated into a single consensus that was presented to everyone and met with applause.
The conclusion, in a nutshell, was this: climate change changes everything, but it’s part of a deeper crisis of the system. And the solution isn’t just about Co2 – it’s about justice, not just for the planet but for people here and across the world who were losing their jobs or their land for the same reason they were losing clean water and clean air, losing access to welfare, healthcare and education; living in fractured communities, working longer for less and feeling evermore disempowered: a system that divides and conquers, cultivates violence, exploits the whole world and puts profit first every single time we let it.
More than anything, that’s what 28th March was about. People weren’t debating the science of climate change. They weren’t debating whether war, inequality or austerity was part of the problem. 28th March was about taking the next step – trying to understand how all these things are linked, to sketch a vision for a common solution and start talking about how we come together to create it.
Now, on the basis of the consensus we reached together, groups of people are coming together throughout London, the UK and beyond. They’ll be working on a broad spectrum of fronts: from media and education to protest and direct action, on a range of related issues from fracking, food sovereignty and fuel poverty to green social housing and democracy in the workplace. For many this is the first time they’ve tried to change anything. For others we hope to create new spaces for joined-up action and mutual support for all the great work already being done in the movement. The door is open for a whole new layer of people to get involved and take ownership of what we’re building.
There is one thing we have in common. We know that justice for people and planet will be won together, or not at all. The democracy movement has become part of the struggle to survive. We know progressive politics has ecology at its heart and that the climate movement needs the courage to get radical, now.
If you want to find out more, you can check out our website, like us on Facebook and follow @TCEuk on Twitter. You can also drop us an email at thischangeseverything2015(at)gmail.com.