Activism and government

Fridays For Future press conference on Africa and the climate crisis

In today’s press conference about the climate crisis and Africa organised by Fridays For Future International, one of main concerns was getting the message about climate change across and creating wide-spread awareness. Activists do not seek to govern, especially not the young. They see their role as using actions like strikes and demonstrations to force those who govern to act appropriately. In addition, putting their faith as they do in science, their activism seeks to shift scientific knowledge from the laboratories to the hands of activists and policy makers in a quest for urgently needed solutions. The fact that some elected leaders refuse the idea of climate change and deride science is just a further indication that we need to revise forms of government including the way leaders are chosen, how decisions are reached and how policies are put into practice.

Much was said in the press conference about the way mainstream media sidelines the discourse of all but the few. This raises the question of whether effort should be put into convincing the media to cover such subjects or if other relays might be appropriate. This ties in with a comment by Naomi Klein in a webinar also organised by Fridays For Future about developing multiple channels of communication so as not to be dependant on a limited number of media platforms that don’t always have our interests at heart.

At the same time, the very nature of this multimedia press conference and the discourse of the young people taking part underlines the need to have the best possible narrative. In other words, not only do the neglected stories need to be heard, but also the narrators need to present their stories in a way that can be heard and adhered to.

Both my books, Stories People Tell and the sequel, Local Voices, are traversed by these themes. The following extract from Local Voices illustrates that, even when you’ve got the ear of those in power, many factors conspire to make action difficult. Annie, the young head of a nation-wide movement of girls and women, is talking to Underwood, the Prime Minister, and Dillinger, Deputy Prime Minister. Alice, mentioned at the end of the extract, is a surrogate grandmother, an elderly professor who acts as Annie’s mentor and friend.


Dillinger took a seat next to Annie and looked expectantly at Underwood who in turn looked at Annie. She took a deep breath. She had started this, so maybe it was up to her to end it. “You want to know how to abandon your healthcare initiative without losing face.”

Underwood winced, saying, “As direct and to the point as ever.”

“I don’t see how we can abandon one of our main manifesto promises without losing face,” Dillinger said. “The opposition will slaughter us.” If the news on TV was anything to go by, the opposition had them backed into a corner and three-quarters done for already.

“Go on TV and announce you have heard the concerns of the healthcare community. Invite the unions to London for talks. Channel their energy into official discussions. At the same time, send all your MPs out to their constituencies and have them talk to the people. Send out civil servants. Send scientists. Send everybody.”

“Hold constituency surgeries, you mean?” Dillinger asked.

“No. That would be too limited. Not just your voters. Everybody. Find out what difficulties people are having with healthcare. Include mental health and social services. Explore local initiatives, collate findings and begin to look for ways to help without necessarily intervening. Leave the initiative to the local community, wherever possible. Talk publicly about your findings, praise what people are doing locally, but promise nothing.” Halting to catch a breath, she added, “And brace yourself to cease your drive for austerity. It’s hurting the poorest and weakest worst of all and will undermine any effort you make to improve local healthcare.”

Underwood looked alarmed. Dillinger whistled between her teeth. “I wonder why we bother. We might as well just hand you the keys and let you get on with it. At least you’d take the brunt of the blame and recriminations from the rich and the conservatives.”

“Even if my replacing you were remotely possible,” Annie replied, remembering a discussion she’d had with Alice, “I wouldn’t be interested. I’m the ideas at the periphery, the person who stands astride worlds, who bridges the gap between widely different communities, not the prime mover at the centre of things who gets things done.”

Learn more about Local Voices

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