Tag Archives: suffragettes

Spoiled by progress?

2 Nov

We live in interesting times. More than that, we are experiencing an unprecedented moment in the history of human civilization. Never before have we been so connected. Never before have we lived so long. Never before have our political and economic systems been so globalised. Never before have we altered the very nature of our earth’s climate.

And yet, in my conversations with people recently, you would think we had been here before. That the climate change predicament we face is just another obstacle in the path of human progress. I’m not talking about climate sceptics, or Daily Mail readers or anyone else that the green movement generally throws buckets of water on. I’m talking about my peers – young people who care, who know that “Houston, we have a problem” and who, in some cases, would describe themselves as campaigners.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that things sort themselves out in the end, that technology will finally come to the rescue, or governments will finally get a clue. Some of the discussion in my MSc seminars so far have had people suggesting that we will somehow be able to make (finite) fossil fuels grow through human ingenuity or that we will be able to “planet-hop” when we finally exhaust our resources here and mine in space.

Putting aside the ethics of both these suggestions, I do not want to deny that technology might make significant, path-altering breakthroughs or that governments or markets or whatever other instruments will come up with ingenious solutions. I sincerely hope that will be the case, but these things don’t happen on their own. We make history. Somehow, we have forgotten that we have instrumental roles to play in ensuring that change happens.

Up until now, the climate change movement has successfully used examples of previous social movements to encourage people to take action. Climate Rush use the example of the suffragettes, there have been lessons from the anti-slavery movement, and over in the US the environmental justice movement seems a natural successor to the civil rights movement.

It is incredibly inspiring to hear the stories of these movements – the actions, the speeches, the successes – and begin to apply them to the challenge of our time. However, I think there is a flipside. It may sound contrary, but I also wonder whether the fact that all these movements did succeed has actually gone a long way to lulling my generation into complacency. I was born after the anti-slavery movement, the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s lib movement. All those historic social shifts happened without me, so surely a conclusion I can come to is that the shift to a low-carbon economy can happen without me too.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a safe conclusion. It we who are here, and it is we who must act.

We have been spoiled by progress, both social and technological. Truth is, we have no idea how this is going to play out and yet we’re acting like we do. Truth is, we can’t afford to take that risk.

So this is essentially an appeal. If we want progress, then we must go out and get it. Whether it’s through art and culture, science and research, engaging in local politics or community groups, campaigning, activism and direct action – through our individual actions we need to form a collective identity. An identity that can carry a movement. The opposite of “spoiled” is “fresh”, “ripe”, “clean”. Let’s come to this movement fresh and clean, shed old successes and failures and look straight into the future.

Flicking through the archives…

21 Oct

A couple of old Times articles about the suffragettes were sent around the Climate Rush list, and they are amazing. Partly because they show how much hasn’t changed – the reporting is pretty unsympathetic towards the protestors and quite disbelieving about police brutality (even though there are hundreds of personal accounts from this day which attest to beatings and sexual attacks at the hands of the police and two women later died as a result of this day). But the great thing, is that articles like this remind us of how much has changed. How much can change. All you environmentalists, feminists, social justice campaigners who often get derided in the press or by your peers – it’s fun to think that other movements started out in exactly the same way. And won.

Adopt an MP – a Caroline Lucas update

16 Oct

If you are a new reader, you should know that I have officially adopted Caroline Lucas MP, as part of the UK Youth Climate Coalition’s Adopt an MP campaign. And the adoption is taking very well! I have stalked seen Caroline twice this week – on Monday at the TUC Alliances for Green Growth conference and at the Climate Rendezvous, hosted by Climate Rush. I almost went to see her again last night host an evening with Peruvian activist Hugo Blanco on Latin America and the Ecosocialist Alternative, but I went to the pub instead. I have to say, Caroline is so hard-working. She seems to always be dashing in and dashing out again, but always completely on the ball and so enthusiastic. She isn’t just any MP, she is the only Green Party MP and that means she is the face of the UK Green Party movement. That’s a lot of responsibility, but I think she does it fantastically.

Here is the transcript of her speech to the TUC conference. Some of the points I got from it were:

  • We can not continue to measure a society’s success by GDP, we need to acknowledge that increasing levels of wealth are not making us happier and start looking at different measurements (check out NEF’s Happy Planet Index).
  • A less consumption-obsessed society is crucial if we are to meet the requisite cuts in emissions, as no amount of energy efficiency initiatives or technology will compensate for a world that is growing ever larger and making more and more energy demands.
  • We need to really start pushing for government regulation and back off the individual behaviour change. We can only achieve so much without proper regulation.
  • We need a shared vision – not one about shivering in a hair shirt in a cave, but one that stresses warmer homes, better public transport, cleaner air (all things that can only be achieved with regulation).

The Climate Rendezvous speech was similar, but peppered with fun anecdotes and infected with the enthusiasm in the room (she was wearing a red sash too – photos to come soon). She said:

  • Westminster looks like Hogwarts.
  • That our political system is completely archaic compared to the European parliament (she used to be a MEP). We have all kinds of weird traditions like having to vote at midnight, and having to vote for and against something if you want to abstain, which just makes you look like an idiot.
  • That a suffragette once hid in a broom cupboard under the stairs all night on census night, so she could write on the census that her address was at Westminster. This would have gone unremembered but Tony Benn took his own hammer and nails and put a plaque on the cupboard to commemorate it!
  • That sometimes she walks the long way round from her office to the chamber, because it takes her through a corridor full of photos of suffragettes and memorabilia, which makes her feel fired up by the time she gets there.
  • That when she thinks about how urgent taking action on climate change is (we have the next 5-8 years), the bristles stand up on the back of her neck.

It really struck me that she is not at all in it for the power (of course, I’m not sure if you could be, being a part of the Green Party). The fact that she has to fire herself up as she walks along the corridor I think is symptomatic of how much she has taken on – the entrenched, old-fashioned, archaic traditions of Westminster – as a progressive, passionate woman. She simply cares about it A LOT. It is so nice to see a politician be like that.

Gosh, I have really just swooned over her, haven’t I? What if she’s secretly married to Jeremy Clarkson? That would take the shine off a bit!

Join us and get organised: your planet needs you

9 Oct

This is cross-posted from Liberal Conspiracy

I first heard about Climate Rush in January 2009. I was despairing about the ability and intention of our world’s governments to do anything about climate change.

With the spectre of the Third Runway and Kingsnorth looming then, what a welcome invitation it was to attend a (very civilized) sit-in at Heathrow and show our dissent with tea, cake, blankets and Edwardian garb!

Almost three years have passed, the world has changed yet internationally climate change negotiations are still stuck. It’s the penultimate day of yet another UN climate change conference, and still nothing is expected to change.

The US and China (who emit 40% of man-made CO2 emissions) are at logger-heads again. It looks as though the talks in Tianjin will end leaving a shadow over COP 16 in Cancun this winter. Commentators suggest that when the Kyoto protocol runs out in 2012 our leaders will have nothing ready to replace it.

The failure of action on climate change, at the upper-most level of governance, is more than depressing. It is fatal. When I consider how impossible the fight for environmental justice seems it is only the victories of past ‘impossible’ struggles that inspires me to have hope.

Climate Rush model themselves on the Suffragettes. The Suffragettes, who, in their time, used many forms of campaigning and direct action to fight against the pressing injustices of their day. The Suffragettes, whose use of such tactics, made their fight for justice the pressing issue of their day.

In the past few months I’ve heard so many people say that they’ve given up on fighting climate change. It’s sad and a little ironic since it is these people who, if mobilized, could make their dissent felt. They’ve lost hope because our international leaders fail us with every UN conference that comes to pass. Three weeks ago, as the parties prepared for their conferences, I remembered the sit-in at Heathrow and wondered where that optimistic, grass-roots activism had gone.

Two days later and I was on Nick Clegg’s doorstep, asking Miriam (ever-so-politely) to accept a large dose of climate Viagra to help Nick get hard on climate change. After six months getting to grips with what the election results mean for UK climate campaigns, Climate Rush is back and they’re recruiting.

Last week a group of Climate Suffragettes stormed into the editor’s office of the Express and demanded a meeting. For half an hour they discussed climate science and how best to encourage the media to put climate change, the facts and their impacts, on the front-page.

The Suffragettes gave hundreds of thousands of women and men a role in fighting for the votes. Climate Rush promises the same in our fight for climate justice. The sashes – red, with ‘Deeds not Words’ across the front – are being sewn. The postcards – and guides to protest – have been printed.

The venue has been booked: 7pm, Wednesday October 13th at Toynbee Hall. Your planet needs YOU, so swallow your apathy and change the world.


Guest post – Tamsin Omond – It’s much harder than it used to be

5 Oct

On 14th December 2008 it felt like we were winning. Sunday Times Style magazine had given me my very own article – blonde-locked and energetically leaping over a bollard. The headline? Eco-starlet.

And it wasn’t just fashuned-up Tamsin banging the drum of environmental activism that made that edition of the Sunday Times. The expansion of Heathrow Airport was major news (2 articles) and Plane Stupid had just shut down Stansted Airport. For one Sunday, in mid-December, familiar faces (even my flat-mate’s) filled the news section, the News Review and Style.

Two years ago and grabbing media for climate change was easy. It was on the news agenda and journalists strove to be our friends and confidants.

Things are different now. It’s much harder than it used to be and if you believe ex-BBC journalist Mark Brayne, then climate change will never be ‘news’ again. They covered it in 2009.

I’ve experienced what this means in practice: stunts that would have reached front page are now covered by online activist forums and no-one else. Commentators who can still clasp onto column inches with their fingernails bemoan the end of the environmental enlightenment.

Last week I stood outside the National Theatre with my red Climate Rush sash and a handful of fliers for the audience of Earthquakes in London.  By the time the theatre had emptied every flier had been taken.  People do care about climate change even though the media has moved on. But it’s a minority of people and the majority will not be convinced until the facts of climate change are the frame through which every news outlet reports all natural disasters and all public policy.

The Climate Rush campaign is inspired by the example of the Suffragettes.  They built a national movement which included people at every level and allowed them to know that hope against hope, there was something they could do. If climate change is to be news without millions having to first die or be displaced then we must remember Emmeline Pankhurst’s words:

“You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realised.”

On 13th October at 7pm Climate Rush will meet in Toynbee Hall. There will be big names whose speeches you will not want to miss.  There will be stories of the successes of women-led campaigns.

Political activity, with a passion that is difficult to imagine today, has been inspired when a fight for future justice has seemed worth joining. Actions and ideas have captivated newspaper editors and persuaded entire populations that there is a better way to live life.

Come along on 13th October. Please come along. Because without you stickers will not appear across London. Without you stunts and events and protests and rushes and subvertising and street theatre will not happen. Without you there is no movement worth joining, no public to persuade and no Rush to experience in action.

Cross-posted from Tamsin’s blog

Out with the old warrior queens, in with the new?

3 Oct

This is cross-posted from The F-Word

I came across this Cordelia Cembrowicz print earlier in the year and I am not lying when I say that I almost burst with excitement. As a former classics student, and current environmentalist and feminist activist, it was like all my worlds collided and then imploded to create this beautiful work.

Cembrowicz is a member of Climate Rush, a women-led protest group inspired by the actions of the suffragettes 100 years ago, that urges the government to take strong action on climate change through peaceful civil disobedience. They organised a number of actions last year that commemorated dates key to the suffragette movement, including a “rush” on Parliament and a picnic at Heathrow.

The print shows the artist herself at Climate Rush’s Pedal Power protest last summer, sitting astride the Victorian statue of Boudicca (formerly known as Boadicea) and her daughters that sits upon Westminster Bridge. Boudicca, that great warrior queen who almost succeeded in toppling the Roman empire, is shown towering above Cordelia, overseeing her protest and protecting her with a generally amazing warrior-queeny vibe. Continue reading

Girl Swoon #7

29 Sep

I first met Cordelia a couple of months ago, after I saw her work featured in an Amelia’s Magazine article and actually screamed because I had done my undergrad dissertation on this very statue of Boadicea, and lo and behold someone was actually using it for a climate action message! It was like all my dreams had come true (I have strange dreams). I then interviewed Cordelia for my own article (to be published soon!) and discovered she was super cool and definitely swoon-worthy.

Name: Cordelia Cembrowicz

Age: 27

Website: www.cembrowicz.co.uk

1) What do you do and why?

I am an artist, activist and now the Vice President of the Royal College of Art Students Union.

I make art because I love creative freedom. I find modern living fascinating, art gives me the chance to explore and interpret ways of thinking and being. This interest in the long term led me to become increasingly curious about climate change, the effects of our bizarre modern living on the climate and likewise the effects of the changing climate on civilisation.  My response is to look at possible solutions to the possible long-term catastrophe we are facing, and to protest against it happening.

I built up my artistic practice making miniature fairies out of human teeth, and drawings and etchings of social and hormonal structures. The recent work I made on my MA is a result of investigating environmental activism, and in particular the group Climate Rush. It’s a kind of celebration of defiance through combining images of the female environmentalist protestors I met protesting, with depictions of environmental threats and places already affected by climate change. And also a print made from a portrait of me protesting on Boadicea’s horse.

Climate Rush is a really interesting direct action group. They take inspiration from the Suffragettes, and the movement one hundred years ago which successfully led to the right to vote being given to women. I’ve been making costumes, banners, stickers and postcards as propaganda for the group, and am speaking about this at the Climate Rendezvous on 13th October at Toynbee Hall.

Working for the RCA Students Union is exciting, as an opportunity to work with all these amazing creative people in so many different ways. I was drawn to the job by the opportunity to feed sustainability into the framework of the college (I really noticed the lack of environmental provision both academically and structurally throughout my time as a student, so formed the student Green RCA group, went and complained at meetings, make stickers for the recycling bins, screened The Age of Stupid etc). I’m organising events, discussions, parties, campaigns, choosing wallpaper for the bar and importantly vocally opposing increases in fees and the like at managerial meetings. Everyone is feeling the financial pinch at the RCA, fees are going up, studio spaces are shrinking so it is really important to provide light relief from all of that in the Student Union.

2) Does being a woman affect your work in any way?

I’d say so, you can never really act outside yourself, your experiences and relationships with the world inform your position in it.

3) Are you a feminist?

Yes, for me it is about equal rights for men and women.

4) What are your future plans?

To structure my life so I can continue making art as independently as possible. Walking on fire for the Nepali Children’s Trust, dance classes and a possible cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

5) Tell us one cool thing we don’t know already:

David Shrigley, Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger have set up a campaign to stop the 25% cuts to the arts, and David Shrigley‘s animation is great: