With the planet on fire, it seems odd to be having to write about the decline of the climate “movement” – but given what is going on in the UK and Australia, the countries I know best – it seems reasonable to do so.
The point has been made to me well, that the existing academic work on abeyance is told in retrospect and talks about the dangers of bonding capital of small groups having high cohesiveness and high similarity and being therefore able to survive a marked downturn in what they do. (1) Now, of course, the rhetoric/ideology/things-we-like- to-tell-ourselves about environmental social movements is that we are somehow more open, more diverse, more welcoming. That tends not to be true. But it can perhaps get in the way of us thinking seriously about the tools that we will need for dealing with abeyance.
The other factor to consider of course, is that we’re on a burning platform here. And while patriarchy has been with us for thousands of years, and gets better or worse, (usually has stayed the same shitty thing until relatively recently). environmental problems have been escalating steadily. First, locally, and only affecting people who don’t care about who don’t speak English and aren’t middle class. But over the last 50 years, it’s become increasingly apparent that those problems are real for everyone. And in the last decade or so the chickens have been coming home to roost. Unfortunately, the fox is in charge of the henhouse here: what are you going to do?
So, the challenge in thinking about and writing about abeyance is that the existing academic/intellectual tools may not actually be the ones that work. And it may be that we need to either modify those tools, or invent some of our own. I’m sorry, you’re not allowed to say invent anymore, are you it’s all got to be about “co-creation”. Okay, “co-create” tools of our own, and to have these discussions with people who, quite understandably, may have decided just to give up and dance and drink and screw because there’s nothing else to do. The point of abeyance was surely that your time would come again, that although one moment had passed, if you were patient, intelligent, then you could be ready to make a real impact.
At the next moment, the next time, there would be a window of opportunity… Given the trajectories given the fires in Australia and in California, all the other awful things that have happened the heat waves in India, the droughts, the horror show of it all, I think that mythos comforting idea that there’s time enough, is quite hard to sustain.
And I think, with no way of proving this, that it may be the case that unlike the peace movement, or the feminist movement, it may be that the people who are lost as a wave crashes down simply don’t come back because they imbibed that “last chance to save” ideology, and then someplace deep in themselves, they took it to heart.
But I’m beginning to ramble….
(1) My friend and boss Brian Doherty wrote – “You are raising a different question to the one usually raised in academic studies by saying – can we plan for abeyance? And indeed that we need to. But knowing that the streets will empty – doesn’t mean knowing what will come next. So – is the logic that we should know that even if there is a defeat that the aim should be to hunker down for the long haul. Will that terrify the novices? is that one reason why movements offer a culture/social network – even if with variable levels of success and self-awareness. The problem, though, as you know and have said, is that activist culture becomes exclusive and is ill-prepared then for new people and generational turnover. I think we need to create a formula that explains this and then one that solves it.”
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