“Is the climate change movement splintering?” asks the Guardian headline. Really it’s just a rhetorical device for reporting on the soul searching that has been going on within the movement as to how to move forward after Copenhagen. It is a much needed discussion given the disappointment of Copenhagen and the subsequent success of the right wing Denial machine. Even if it were not so, the discussion of strategy within the environmental movement, indeed the entire social justice movement, is fraught with challenges that may well be unique to our age.
First there is the subtle difference between the question of whether “they” are succeeding, or whether it is “we” who are failing. The two are not interchangeable in that two sides can both pursue effective strategies and yet only one will be the victor, at least at a given moment. For the movement the question is whether we are trying to do the right things and failing, or are we not on the right track at all? Do we need to try harder? Do better? Or try a different tack entirely?
It is a difficult question because so much of what the movement is able to do has been shaped by the same forces that have driven the entire social justice movement for several decades now. As society has become more mobile groups have been plagued by transience of their volunteers and membership. The tenure of both volunteers and staff has dropped from decades to years, to less than a year for most volunteers.
As a result groups lack both the leadership and experience which makes every kind of project that is long term and/or complex pretty much impossible. Not surprisingly we have seen the movements’ array of actions shrink to become little more than speaker nights and protests. Compare that to the 198 types of action described by Sharpe in his Politics of Nonviolent Action.
If our tactics are limited, our strategy may be even more so. Not only is there the limitations mentioned above, there is the lack of experience and knowledge about what the complexities and stages of political organizing even are. How many activists are familiar with or have even heard of the Movement Action Plan?
Not that there are not experienced people around, but in a diffuse grassroots movement you need broad experience across the board, not just pockets of wisdom here and there.
Granted the internet has given us the ability to potentially reach many more people, but the evidence is that the potential is not being realised. For the most part the internet is a passive medium that depends on people to go to a particular website and act on what they find. Those not already onside are unlikely to even go to these websites in the first place, and even many of those who may be counted among the “converted” do not do so either.