She had been asked to attend a shit meeting, at which one of the blithely ignorant assholes the electorate seems to love was talking among his friends. She was sent on an intelligence-gathering effort, for an environmental pressure group. And she told me, fighting back the tears, that it had been a truly awful, traumatising experience.
Younger me would have thought she was over-dramatising. Younger me might even have told her to – in effect – grow a pair.
(Younger me was, to use a technical term, an asshole.)
She has two kids. And she doesn’t want to believe that Extinction Rebellion is likely to go up like a rocket, and down like a stick. She doesn’t want to believe that the research of Chenoweth is being misinterpreted, mis-used.
She doesn’t want to go to more shit meetings.
We met at what was, really, a shit meeting.
I only stuck around for the food. (which turned out to be as good as advertised) I suppose I also wanted the chance to ask my standard question – “given that we’ve known about serious environmental problems at a global level for 50 years, and climate change for 30, what have we – the social movements, the ‘good guys’ been doing wrong?”
I got the chance. But of course I didn’t get – I never get- a meaningful answer to that question: talking about your own tribe’s mistakes is not gonna get you promoted or protected or whatever. And so we slop around in our smugospheres, talking excitedly of the new 3 and 4 letter acronyms, and the new implementation plans, and invoking the magical words like participation, and democracy. All from the stage. All top-down, information deficit, that goes on twice the advertised time, leaving virtually no time for questions. It meets the organisational needs of the organisers, the ego-needs of the speakers and – sad to say – the absolution needs of (most of those) who attend.
Absolution is no solution, as an abandoned blog post, ‘inspired’ (or provoked) by a shocking event six weeks ago was going to go. We don’t, we really really don’t, need more opportunities for the grey and the white to turn up and relive the seventies, and hear first-hand from An Expert about how screwed everything is if that Expert is not going to present some plausible innovations. The audience gets to feel absolved, for still demonstrably caring, but are not called upon to do anything differently. Shambling towards Bethlehem.
And we don’t need ego-foddering and incompetent social movement organisations that want us to get up but are unable to help us help each other, but persist with the shame old shame old info-deficit ways of “mobilising”.
But it’s what we get, and I think what we will always get.
Yes, yes, I should come up with some way out. But so far I don’t know how. I don’t seem to have the skills, the reputation, the energy, to take on a culture that claims to be about participation and a brighter future but is stuck in its rut of ravenous egos and incompetence.
It seems to me that the skills we need to change the expectations of meetings – to make it easier rather than harder for people to be involved in meaningful ways for the long-term – are extremely high-level. And using those skills requires, I think, more time, energy, patience, credibility and courage (as distinct from that stupid thing hope) than I currently possess or can see myself coming to possess. And maybe there are loads of other people working on this, doing better, and news just hasn’t reached the provinces. Or maybe not.
So it goes, I guess.
She has two young children. She was crying in front of a stranger.