Re-Powering the Movement: To Healthy Growth in 2010

Many of us who were at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen from December 7-19 went through a period of hibernation in week following the conference. I, for one, slept for more than 32 hours in the 48 hours that began at 12:00 p.m. on December 20th. I'd been burning the midnight oil for fifteen straight days at that point, constantly jumping from one task to the next throughout the 18-hour workdays. It was actually no great hardship to sustain such working hours during the conference; the bubble that we lived in – that of the UN conference and, more so, that of our own international youth climate movement within the conference – was teeming with energy. We fed off the energy, passion, intellect and creativity of one another to make up for lack of sleep or caloric intake.

IYCM Energy Pre-COP, photo by Student Sierra Coalition

This is nothing new. Our movement and social movements in general have acquired great strength from the way inspiration bounces around from activist to activist, sparking or re-igniting motivation. But to experience this at COP-15 in a tiny microcosm of the greater movement was eye-opening for me, particularly in the final hours as we walked away from the negotiations without the fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty that we'd been pushing so hard for.

A fitting and galvanizing quotation just came through on my Twitterfeed: “Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged people who kept on working.”

While I believe it to be true that we can trudge through the lowest of lows and achieve great highs, I know it is a difficult task. Some of the farewell conversations I had with brilliant, effective young activists in Copenhagen were filled with a such a preponderance of negative emotion that, at least in the initial shock of the blow taken at the end of the negotiations, these new friends seemed to be leaving with a debilitating sense of defeat.

We are all working hard for a sustainable future, but how do we move forward using our own energy sustainably? How do we make sure we aren't losing power as people fall out of the movement as they become too tired or too discouraged?

In the wake of COP-15, there are many facets of the international climate movement that need to be re-examined, strengthened or freshly innovated, and many great ideas have already been put forth. As we power back on after Copenhagen, let us take this opportunity to consider not just how to grow this movement but how to do so healthfully. The strategy to cultivate a healthy movement will provide the foundation for our strategies to deliver what the world needs on the US Senate floor, in Mexico City, and on the ground in communities around the world.

Generally in my blogs, I throw a set of bullet-points in right about here with my thoughts on the next steps. To be honest, I'm still a little lost and I don't have a strong background in organizational psychology to make up for it. So let's make a deal: I put in my 2 cents and you respond with some more ideas in the comments. Consider this a brainstorming session about some things we might want to reflect on as we burst into 2010.

  1. Let’s be vocal in giving one another encouragement. The day-in-day-out fight for climate justice has its darker days (and not just in Copenhagen in December!). We not only need to highlight positivity through messaging around solutions and encouraging our leaders who are taking the right steps as Phil Aroneanu and Meg Boyle suggested, but we also must remember to share heartening words with each other. Look at the hundreds who came out of the woodwork to voice their support of the youth sit-in at the Bella Center on December 16. Showing one another that kind of love on a regular basis, after triumphs of all sizes, lifts the souls of the participants and organizers of each action. This indeed lifts the collective soul of the movement.
  2. Let’s continue to recognize that everyone in the movement, whether they’ve attended one local 350.org action or three COPs, is an important player. Not everyone in the climate movement can dedicate his/her whole life to climate work. Not everyone concerned by climate change is even part of the climate movement (yet). These current and future members of the movement, however, should not just be numbers to be counted on one-off days of action, online petitions, or small fundraising drives. Our movement relies on our energy and inclusiveness; our work is not for minority rights but for the rights of all people and all life on this planet. We need to reach out, embrace the fresh ideas and engage the capacity of everyone who shares our concern for the climate.
  3. Let’s remember to take care of ourselves. As COP15 prep ramped up this fall, I found myself shedding other commitments and hobbies and putting most of the rest of my life on hold until January. With the urgency of the need for global action on climate change weighing over us, it is easy to feel like climate work must always take priority. But hey, there’s still going to be work to be done after Mexico City, no matter how great the outcome. Diversity of interests and activities is healthy, and healthy members make a healthy movement. Plus, participating in other activities and taking up new hobbies opens us up to new networks (see “future members” referenced in 2). Win-win... and third win.

After writing it all out, all of these things strike me as fairly obvious, but clearly sometimes I forget to take note of them. If that’s the case for you, I hope these points were welcome reminders; if not, I hope to read your ideas on how to foster a healthy movement in 2010 in the comments.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.