A few days ago an article appeared in the Guardian –
‘It cannot be activism as usual’: Kumi Naidoo and Luisa Neubauer on the way forward for climate justice
It was a write-up by Bill McKibben, and the subheading was “As the climate movement hits another impasse, activists Luisa Neubauer and Kumi Naidoo explain why we need to mobilise many more people from all walks of life.”
Right there, notice the word “mobilise”, one of my pet-hates.
And there was a couple of useful quotes about the dangers (well understood decades ago) of ‘handshake activism.’
But broader than this, McKibben never writes about (and appears not to have asked) the most obvious questions
- what were the incentive structures that rewarded some forms of “activism” over others
- why should anyone have any expectation that behaviours will change – even if they ‘must’ – if the incentive structures don’t change?
- lcan anything be done to change the maladaptive incentive structures?
Anything less than that is just hand-wringing, look-at-me mea culpas and individualised a-historic and a-theoretical magical thinking that takes up bandwidth and means real conversations about movement-building become less rather than more likely.
So, very on brand.
If you have funders, they will want tangible “results”. So you will want to try to get some sort of obvious win, by setting your targets low enough to be able to declare victory regardless of the actual facts on the ground.
If you don’t have funders, it will be very hard (not impossible) to make any impact.
Regardless of whether you have funders or not, there will be some people in your organisation who are intent on accumulating CV points, and not wanting to piss off future employers (state, corporate, third sector). They will – consciously or unconsciously – guide the group along certain paths, eschewing others.
If you have loads of volunteers, they will have their own agendas too.. (see this brilliant piece in The Intercept).
Regardless of funding, no funding, careerists in the ascendancy or careerists under control, your group (or group of groups) will settle on a few core repertoires (hardly any group is ever ambidextrous because of all the costs involved in acquiring new skills, knowledge and relationships.)
And once you have your few core repertoires, your opponents are able – if they need to – to adapt, and absorb, and render your efforts meaningful for you (still CV points, internal validation) but almost certainly meaningless and harmless to the status quo actors.
McKibben mentions none of this, and I’ve never seen him mention it in any of the stuff I have ever read. I don’t see it get mentioned anywhere in activist circles, but then I don’t move in them as much as I used to, for the sake of my own sanity. But it is real
In the absence of a discussion of incentive structures – financial, ideological, psychological, social – all this talk of doing activism differently is nothing more than a brainless performative jaw-flapping.
See also – emotacycle, smugosphere, ghetto homeostasis.
See also – that Cher blog