In the last few weeks, we have seen the burning of the Amazon rainforest, the complete obliteration of one of Iceland’s glaciers, and predictions about the impending collapse of the socio-political system — all the effect of an ongoing climate catastrophe.
However, this week, we have also seen a strong resistance to the climate crisis.
To demand immediate action on climate change, the newly formed Earth Strike movement is using one of the most traditional organizing tactics in the labor movement’s playbook: refusing to work or participate in society.
Organizations aligned with Earth Strike, including Greenpeace and 350.org, are endorsing the first ever international General Strike for Climate on September 27, in which activists will walk out of school and work, suspend commercial operations and boycott banks. Activists are also planning a series of direct actions and interventions — many of which will be a surprise since they are being organized regionally — during a week of action beginning September 20 in conjunction with the United Nations Climate Change Summit to pressure international agencies to take immediate, dramatic action on climate change.
Earth Strike, launched in January, is building relationships at the regional level, along with organizing other efforts around milestones, such as Earth Day and May Day. The goal is to see global action on climate change in a way never really attempted: international coordination to address the climate crisis as a threat to the survival of all societies, and activists with Earth Strike are doing this using visible actions and horizontal organizing styles.
Because it has a somewhat decentralized approach, Earth Strike is made up of dozens of chapters across the U.S., Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. The movement coordinates multiple teams to work on different tasks — such as social media, research, and creating writing and graphic design — all of which utilize mass communication tools to allow actions to echo as widely as possible and to create a built-in recruitment mechanism. While everyone is being called to join the strike, youth have had a special role in these movements since they were, in essence, the demographic to first take on this tactic with the Fridays for Future school strikes.
“If we do nothing, the sixth mass extinction will come to include humans. Though many of us might have passed on before our species extinction occurs, the ones who will endure the brunt of the destruction are the youth, the Indigenous and the poor,” said Andrea Shaw, a New York City-based organizer for Earth Strike. Shaw told Truthout that strikes became organizers’ “tactic of choice because striking halts work, the economy and school. Strikes are a loud and powerful mechanism that empowers and encourages the people to take action and act with sovereignty.”
Shaw said the movement has gained the support from a number of major labor unions, but is unable to release the names of those that have agreed to strike on September 27, since general strikes are illegal in the U.S.
Earth Strike’s key demands, which are shared by many of the supporting organizations, include an “unambiguous and binding” international commitment to zero net emissions by 2050, halting the destruction of the rainforests, and holding corporations accountable for their pollution. Attempting to broaden the effort’s scope, Earth Strike organizers have also set up a committee to make the movement intersectional with other types of interpersonal and institutional oppression. This has meant joining migrants’ rights actions in coalition with groups like the Cosecha Movement, joining actions in solidarity with striking workers at places like Amazon, and student walkouts at universities like Arizona State University.
With nationwide coordination, the movement could become a key pressure point to ensure that presidential candidates and other policy makers act on their climate promises. There have even been a number of tech companies that have bought into the action, including Tumblr and WordPress, as well as tech advocacy organizations like Fight for the Future. These groups see that these are intersecting issues and technology will play a key role in organizing communities and combating climate change. Still, the question remains whether this strategy will work to shift the severity of the environmental crisis in the eyes of the broader public. That, ultimately, will be determined by the strike’s participation and how much buy-in outside organizations end up having.
Just as with movements like Extinction Rebellion, such a disruption is intended to trigger a mass intervention by both governmental and non-governmental bodies, and this will have to come from a coordinated and consistent pressure campaign numbering in the millions. If youth-led strikes can set the trend now, then a new generation can adopt these tactics, creating a new standard for activism that forces policy makers to act.
Additionally, Earth Strike organizers have gotten support from Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who entered the spotlight after staging her own three-week strike at the Swedish Parliament to protest policy makers’ inaction, and whose actions sparked the Fridays for Future rallies and strikes by youth each Friday.
“Our system allows the costs and harms of maintaining our current system to be shifted into the future,” said Kallan Benson, an organizer with Fridays for Future. “Youth are particularly well-suited to challenge this inequity. We draw attention to the climate crisis by striking from school and taking other actions to show that what is of primary importance to preparing for our future is to demand action now to protect our future. This strategy [has resulted] in the secretary general of [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] to state that climate activists are perhaps the greatest threat to the oil industry going forward.”
Fridays for Future have been organizing these strikes in the U.S. since December 7, 2018, and have been coordinating with other similar efforts across the world. Since then, there have been around 3,500 of these strike actions globally, with 367 of those in the U.S. at the time Truthout spoke to Benson.
Organizers are hoping to enhance the impact of the strikes by focusing on areas where they can be most effective, both in terms of the leverage and population. Schools, in particular, provide a major strategic advantage, according to Benson.
“School strikes are a good tactical choice because they demonstrate students’ commitment to personal sacrifice to bring attention to the climate crisis,” she said. “Truancy demands a considered response from our society, but as students, we are no longer better off in school than we are demanding action to protect our future. We need to change now to cease increases in fossil fuel use and to put us on a path to reduce emissions to net zero. Of course, those changes will affect our future, and we need to make changes which will provide a just, equitable and peaceful future for everyone in the future.”
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story
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