Category Archives: unsolicited advice

Sequential Consensual Autophagous Meetings

First I will treat you as ego-fodder.  You will sit in rows, or in a circle,and you will listen to me drone on and on about my hobby-horse du jour.

I don’t care what you know about the topic.

I don’t want to take time away from hearing my own voice to hear your perspectives.

I don’t care about you getting to know the other people in the room

I don’t want to take time away from hearing my own voice for you to build networks

Why do I want this?  Because I am Important, dammit.  I may not have had all the adulation and obedience that I should have had. But that is because I am a Dissident, and a Rebel.

But I have you all here now, and You. Will. Listen. To. Me.  In this “workshop.” That’s a new definition, by the way, of “workshop.” Do you like it? Say yes. If you don’t, well, I don’t care.

But I am not a monster. Of course I am not a monster.  Am I? I understand that having used you all, you – well, one or two of you perhaps – might then expect to use me and the rest of you in a similar way. Without my insight, my brilliance, it’s true. So the most of us, and even me-  because I am not a monster, am I – will sit in rows or in a circle and we will listen to one or two you drone on and on about your hobby-horse du jour. Fair is fair, after all.

Not all of you, that would be impossible. No, just perhaps three or five or so other people who are also FOTO-genic.   Friends Of The Organisers, that is. We will run the day as a series of sequential “consensual” autophagous meetings. Just don’t think too hard about the acronym there, okay?

You don’t know what autophagous means? Oh dear. Perhaps you didn’t go to a good school? Perhaps you did not take your own education in hand, as I have? Perhaps you could reflect on how this might mean that rather than being one of the important people, who talks, you are merely one of those who is allowed to listen. But fear not, they also serve who only sit and listen. But since you’re not very well-educated, you probably don’t even get that particular bon mot? I should not cast my pearls of wisdom before such swine.

You see, by sitting there, by OBEY-ing, provide proof to the important people, like me, that we are important, that our hobby-horses are not old nags, but thoroughbreds.

Where was I? Autophagous….  It means an entity that eats itself.  Self-cannibalism. It’s like that Stephen King short story – Survivor Type.

And in order to do the important things – namely for me to feel important – we have to perpetuate social movement failure. We have to keep doing meetings where new – or actually often old, half-baked –  ideas come from the front. From the FOTO-genics. And we will not do good meeting design. And we will not do facilitation in any meaningful way. For if that were to be done, well, it would detract from my opportunities to use you to boost, albeit fleetingly, my self-importance. 

That new people are bored, so what? That they don’t come back and they tell other potential members that at the meeting they went to they were bored, patronised, their input neither sought nor welcome? So what. That after a while the meetings, conferences get smaller and wink out of existence? That the campaign has in effect eaten itself, to meet the insatiable appetites for attention by the FOTO-genics?  That when the issue next exercises the public, new “organisations”, bereft of experience, competence, innovation, repeat the same ghastly repertoires? So so what?

For, you see, this is a balance, a difficult decision.  All of those minor, even trivial downsides, compared to me feeling important for 55 minutes. As Madeleine Albright said when asked about the sanctions on Iraq costing the lives of half a million children – “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”

Karma does what karma does.

About 15 years ago I went on a training day (it didn’t work – I stayed a douche).

It was union steward training. Mostly those days were death by powerpoint, info-deficit tosh.  This one thing I am about to describe, though, it stands out.

It was a card game/exercise.  Each individual was given a card that only they could look at.  They were allowed to answer questions about it, but they could not freely describe what was on the other side.  All the cards together – in some format – added up to a picture or pattern that would be obvious if they were all turned face-upward and re-arranged.

One person in the team was supposed to co-ordinate, and the team ‘won’ by being able to describe the picture on the back simply by communicating with each other, within a time frame.

The trainers in chief chose me to be co-ordinator. And I fucked it up, because they (astutely- though it wasn’t difficult to figure out)  put the key info in the hands of more diffident, older and – gasp – female people.

And because those people weren’t asked the right questions at the right time, and actively listened to/space created for them to speak, we didn’t solve it.  One person’s fault only – mine.

Though I haven’t been able to act (consistently) on that particular lesson, the experience stayed with me   (To be fair to myself – on my good days I try, and on my very best days I succeed in overcoming this. I obsess about it a lot – the quiet voices being the ones with the most important pieces of the puzzle – being unable to pierce the smugosphere ).


So, 15 years on, the big wheel has turned, as it does.  Now I am on the receiving end. Not because I am diffident or fit any of the usual low status categories, but because I am dissident from the dissidents. I can’t take their particular riding of the emotacycle seriously.  And so I am easy to overlook (who knows, perhaps that’s what I want – to be the ‘Cassandra’).


I have important pieces of the puzzle (I think I do, anyhows – and I don’t see anyone else asking the same specific questions about social movement organisation longevity, effectiveness, self-defeating rituals and norms: Maybe I need to get out more).  And I am being ignored – the way I ignored other people 15 years ago, if not for quite the same reasons.  And I don’t think the team will win, I really don’t.

What goes around, comes around. Karma gets you like that, eh?  So it goes.



[19th August- Minor edits and fixes]

Infiltration and environmental movements – what is to be done? #ExtinctionRebellion #climatebreakdown #spycops

The future is not written, but there are several excruciatingly safe bets about the years ahead.

  • atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane will continue to rise
  • poor people will suffer the resultant impacts of #climatebreakdown hard and first
  • the state will try to suppress social movements which seek to do anything about rendering these first two bets less safe.

By “suppress” I mean at best ‘guide’ and ‘channel’ towards market- and elite- friendly ‘solutions’ that leave the broader architecture of global society (inequality, consumerism, authoritarianism,  rapacious disregard for other species and future generations etc.) unchanged.  At worst, the gloves will properly come off and the fine words of liberal democracy (freedoms of speech, assembly, information) will be replaced with (in the words of Steve Buscemi)   force majeure and enough AI and predator drones to make Black Mirror look like Love Island.

The infiltration of social movements and political parties by state and corporate actors (the line is fuzzy) straddles ‘suppress’ and ‘gloves-off’ .  In the following short (1) essay I first point to some sterling recent work on infiltration of social movements, political parties and so on in the United Kingdom. I then raise-only-to-dismiss various responses we could, in theory, undertake to make safe the bet that our lords and masters will respond as they always have. I make a couple of personal commitments before finally, laying out – with practical short and medium term steps-  what “we” can do about the certainty of infiltration and disruption efforts.

This is a first draft. I welcome all comments which are not troll-y or off-trolley. I am particularly interested in suggestions of fictional representations of the impacts on social movements of infiltration/disruption by state and/or corporate actors…

What does history tell us?

For yonks the two “core” references on how the British State dealt with dissent were Tony Bunyan’s The History and Practice of the Political Police in Britain and Bernard Porter’s Plots and Paranoia: A History of Political Espionage in Britain 1790-1988.  (I’ve not read the first – the second is brilliant, if inevitably incomplete). There was also fiction like “A Very British Coup” and the like to talk about how the state would respond to radicalism.

Since the exposing of Mark Kennedy in 2010, the revelations have come thicker and faster, thanks to the tireless work of activists, journalists and a whistleblower.  Two Guardian hacks wrote a very readable and thoughtful account, Undercover [review here]. Most recently, there is the crucial work of Connor Woodman.  The three must-reads are his recent blog on the whys, and hows of state infiltration, which is based on two reports he has produced

(There are many other excellent works, also on corporate spying – see Eveline Lubbers on this, but for now, let’s move on.)

Stupid things that we “could” do.

There are three stupid things we could do.

  • We could give up and stay home. This would doing the state’s work for it.
  • We could fail to react or under-react, shrugging our shoulders and failing to innovate, thinking that surveillance and its consequences are inevitable and inescapable.  This would doing the state’s work for it.
  • We could over-react, and treat all new people at meetings as guilty-till-proven innocent, demanding to visit their homes, see their birth certificates, meet their kids,  with a little waterboarding and acid-testing thrown in for the lulz. This would doing the state’s work for it.

Responding in the “right” ways…

Obviously we don’t want to under or over-react, but instead hit the ‘goldilocks’ point, of not too hot and not too cold, where we don’t do the state’s work for it and make the state have to work a little bit harder.

This involves understanding that surveillance and infiltration is not primarily about gathering evidence to put people on trial.

  • It’s about finding out who the leaders are (and there are always leaders, whether they are willing to acknowledge that and be accountable, or whether they hide behind the feeble rhetoric of horizontalism, hoping nobody has read Jo Freeman).
  • It’s about finding those leaders’ breaking points, tipping points, how they might be bought off or burnt out.
  • It’s about finding out which are the fragile relationships and connections within and between social movement groups, and about disrupting those relationships by fostering distrust and antipathy.
  • It’s about making it harder for new people to get involved, and harder for those involved to stay involved.

In short, the purpose of the forms of intelligence gathering (“elint” “sigint” “humint”) is to create and deepen distrust, and  to exploit informational and organisational bottlenecks, to demoralise people and decrease the momentum towards policy and cultural change which would piss off those who benefit from the status quo.

What I will do in the next three months

Here’s a public commitment to do some specific things (nothing like sticking your head in a noose to stop yourself, er, hanging around). I’ve collected a bunch of articles and books about infiltration/surveillance of social movements, because I am presenting a paper about the usefulness (or otherwise) of fictional representations of infiltration/disruption at an academic conference in April.  I commit to blogging about the papers as I read them, and blogging about the novels/movies I will be write about in  the paper. I commit to making a youtube video about infiltration, its consequences and what to do. And, obvs, I will put the paper up somewhere not behind a paywall.

What is to be done? How? Short and medium term actions

Finally, in this short essay, I want to lay out some things that individuals and groups can do in the short to medium term (1 to 6 months).  And, yes, I am also going to bang on about the urgent need to challenge the pathologies of social “mobilisation” organisations, one of my favourite hobby horses.

A few banalities first.  We must realise that

  • while there is such a thing as healthy paranoia, paranoia can be fostered as a weapon used against you.
  • people of colour and women have been on the sharp end of this stuff, and their experiences (and resistances) have much to teach us all.  These people must not be wiped out of the history they so often are (COINTELPRO vs Nixon’s “Enemies List” for example).  See, for example, the experience of the Mangrove Nine.  By all means enjoy fictional representations, but you know, usually the work of black folks, and black women especially, mysteriously gets forgotten.
  • it’s necessary to identify and cultivate academics and researchers who are working or have worked on this stuff.  Their work can be turned into comics, youtubes, short speeches (but for Gaia’s sake, give them credit!). For example, Connor Woodman’s blog could be printed off, illustrated and copies given to new activists.
  • it’s necessary to support activists doing further research (Undercover Research Group) with time, praise and cash.
  • it’s necessary to educate yourself on what to do if you suspect someone is either an agent, an informer, an agent provocateur.


Depathologising the “movement”

There is much more to be said on this subject (I am a bit of a bore).  But I think the discussion about infiltration could be used as a springboard to talking about the need to reshape our social movement organisations and  “activist”cultures so they are both resistant to infiltration (2) and less easily affected/damaged by it, and are able to grow, learn, organise and win in ways that previous waves of activity (as opposed to action) have not.

So, finally, around this question of refusing to recommitting the pathologies, some don’ts.

  • Don’t accept the smugosphere
  • Don’t accept organisations where it is always the same person (of whatever gender/age/ethnicity etc) chairing, and no effort is made to cultivate new facilitators by giving them portions of a meeting to facilitate.
  • Don’t accept meetings which don’t include agenda points along the lines of “how do we learn from past mistakes in activism?” and “how do we better connect with and support other groups working on related issues in this town/city?” and “how do we ensure that people who get involved in our group have the opportunity to learn new skills, knowledge and relationships, while sharing their own as they wish?”
  • Don’t go riding on the emotacycle; even if you have leathers and a helmet, you’ll get hurt.


  • Don’t accept leaders, whether announced or unannounced, without transparency. Accept leadership, if it is transformational collaborative and working hard to render itself unable to be co-opted or repressed…)

The job therefore is to be “realistic” while demanding the impossible

The job is to create resilience within individuals and BETWEEN individuals and groups (resilience rightly understood), so that connections are made, sustained and spread, more than can be broken by the behaviour of disruptors, infiltrators and agents provocateur.

Easy-peasy. Should be done well before the waters close over our heads…



(1) I intend to expand on it, as part of a broader project aimed at explaining how western social movement (as distinct from mobilisation)  organisations don’t have to repeat previous mistakes, unless we want to, but that not repeating requires active and difficult continual choices). The future is not written and all that…

(2) I suppose I could go off on some immune system analogies here, but that is possibly not helpful

Minor rant: Know your audience, tailor accordingly… #climate #activism

Okay, no names, but for god’s sake, people who are giving talks on important subjects, often from a position of knowing a lot and/or having moral high ground:  THINK WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO.  Do NOT give your bog-standard intro-to-issue-x to a self-selected audience that has come out on a cold wet night/travelled to the ends of the earth and clearly knows all the basics already.


Several times recently (and many more times a few years ago, when I went to more meetings, before I realised what a time/energy/emotional-reserves suck they were) I’ve had the hair-tearing experience of being ego-fodder in a speech where the person giving it has clearly just not thought about who they are trying to engage with.  There’s the basic speech ‘what is x [where x is climate change, climate justice, fracking, whatever] that you would have to give if you were invited to come and speak to a not-active-on-this-issue of, say, the Women’s Institute, the Rotary Club, whatever.  But if you’re speaking to an audience that has made a time and an effort to come from various places (e.g. you’re holding the meeting in mid-Wales and people have come from London), then you can safely assume that they know all that, and that what they’re expecting is your A-game: that you can skip all the intro stuff and get to your most advanced stuff.

I know, presenters are afraid of leaving anyone behind, or perhaps just too busy to do the extra work that making a second presentation would involve, but seriously, this is a waste of people’s time, energy and (in some cases – at least mine) morale.

Also, can we please have as standard at the beginning of talks by people who believe in the necessity of building a climate movement, a network of loosely and also tightly connected individuals and groups, a “please turn to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself” thing as STANDARD.  Also perhaps do it before the Q and A, to reduce the institutional sexism of meetings.

Here endeth today’s rant.

Dear ‘new’ #climate activist. Unsolicited advice, #oldfartclimateadvice

Dear ‘new’ climate activist,

unsolicited adviceThanks for your efforts so far and “welcome” (or of course “welcome back”).  You find the “climate movement” in the UK in a pretty dismal state, to be honest.  There’s a fierce battle going on about fracking, but elsewhere the Tory government has been able to get away with stripping support from renewables and spending a fortune (no, seriously, a mind-bogglingly large fortune) on a new nuclear power station. You can read about that in this excellent academic article (more about academics later).

So, you are, as you know, extremely needed.  And especially needed is your ability to stick around for the long-haul.  Previous upsurges in activism (on climate and other environmental issues) have tended to last between 3 and 4 years, before losing energy and impact  (there are reasons for this, but that would be another letter altogether).

This letter to you, littered with things you know,  starts with the movement “in general”, outlining some of the intra-group dynamics you might encounter, and then the inter-group dynamics. It then looks at some of the external actors will probably encounter – media, the police, policy-makers, political parties, trade unions, academics and “family and friends”. There are other groups that matter too, of course, but few enough people are going to read this to the end at its current length, let alone the full-Tolstoy.  It closes with some comments on three new challenges facing us. I have no satisfactory answers to those challenges, of course.

Oh, yes: who the hell am I to be giving unsolicited advice?  Good question. Well, I was involved in the first year and a bit of Climate Camp (2006-2007). For the last 10 plus years, among other things I’ve co-run/run Manchester Climate Fortnightly and then Manchester Climate Monthly.  Fwiw, I’ve just submitted a PhD thesis which involved, in part, reading up on the early moves by the coal-lobby in opposing even mild climate action, back in 1988-1995.

I have numbered the bits of advice (many of which are banal, but worth repeating, imo), not because they are in particular order of importance, but to make easier to have any conversations about this document.  Finally, I’m aware of the dangers of advice-giving but reckon other old farts like me might have something useful to add.  We might be able to help individuals and groups avoid some of the more obvious problems, and so extend their longevity and/or improve their effectiveness.  Hashtag could be #oldfartclimateadvice perhaps?


The movement “in general”

The first thing is kind of obvious, but worth repeating.  If the UK climate movement were that great shape – that functional, that effective – then your efforts on Saturday November 17 (and before) would not have been needed.  Here’s not the place to go into the details of that, or particularly the reasons why, but it’s been thirty years of marches, meetings, lobbying, camps and so forth. And in the meantime, humanity’s emissions have gone up sharply.  In the UK, you’ll be told, that emissions have gone down. That’s basically an accounting trick, and to do with the closure of coal mines and coal-fired power stations. Anytime anyone repeats those lies, ask them if they understand the difference between production-based metrics and consumption-based metrics. But you know all this, or you wouldn’t have been on the bridges.

Some things that you may not have known, and which will be semi-fiercely denied.

1. The movement has its fair share of racism, classism, homophobia and so on. Just because we all agree there is a climate emergency, doesn’t mean the other stuff can wait. Particularly on the racism-  see here and here That can be pretty confronting for white people to process, but public displays of guilt that centre the white person are worse than useless.  White people have to really have those conversations with other white people, and not expect people of colour to do yet more intellectual or emotional labour to help them deal with their problems.

2. Some people in activism circles do not have your best interests at heart.  Alongside the ethical, the concerned, the kind, there are control freaks, martyrs, manipulators, all sorts. Sometimes in the very same person.   Why? Because activists are human.

Watch out for ‘facipulation’, where people are using manipulative facilitation techniques to ‘guide’ (force) a consensus around their own preferred outcome.  Also, if you allow it, you will be used as ‘ego-fodder’  to make up numbers at meetings, on interminable marches etc.  Your existing skills and knowledge will not be put to good use, unless you make it so.  Your desire to learn new skills and knowledge will be largely ignored as an inconvenience, something self-indulgent, to be addressed only after we have “won” (i.e. never).  It doesn’t HAVE to be that way,  but doing it differently requires both a different set of perspectives and skills than are common among movement ‘leaders’ at present.

3. The climate movement tribe will not thank you for pointing out its shortcomings.  At all. You will be told, politely or not, to shut up, often by people who ought to know better but are determinedly sucking on the Hopium pipe.

4, There is an ironic lack of innovation in a lot of climate movement practices.  Social movement academics would mutter about ‘limited repertoires.’ For people who are demanding massive change from governments and corporations, there is – ironically – very little appetite for changing activist practice. The format of meetings, for example, is rarely if ever tweaked, though new buzzwords (unconference, open space etc) occasionally get borrowed to give tedious business-as-usual a sexy tinge

For example,  Climate Camp started out,  because a bunch of dedicated and smart people realised in 2005 that “summit hopping” (turning up at world leaders events) was not helping to build movements. And in 2009 the Climate Campers were… back to summit hopping, as pretty much their last gasp. Off they went to Copenhagen, and after that, well, within a little over a year it was all over.

But see point 3. above –  proposals to innovate in processes are actually (seen as) a reproach to those who have been in charge while something not as good as the new thing was being done.  They won’t like being seen as having maintained a less-than-perfect set of practices. Expect resistance.

Intra Group Dynamics

Right now, your group will be either very new or massively revivified and re-energised  by an influx of new people. It’s the honeymoon period. Honeymoons don’t last forever. Here’s a few things to know (or remember, if you’re an old activist coming back into the fray. Or already know from your job or somewhere else.)

  1. Just because people are in a circle, there is no chair and everybody says “we’re all comrades together” doesn’t mean there isn’t power in a room.  Who speaks the most? Whose ideas get taken up? Who does the drudge work?

The age-old feminist critique of power relations is, sadly still true,  Jo Freeman’s 50 year old  The Tyranny of Structurelessness, is still fresh as the day it was written (which tells you something right there, no?) See also

  1. Your repertoires (the kinds of action your group is familiar with, finds exciting, and ‘useful’) has a shelf-life.  Your opponents find ways of dealing with them, either directly or indirectly. Adrenaline, in other words, is both your friend and your enemy.
  1.  Groups do not, on the whole, have the capacity to organise the learning of new skills and the overcoming of bottlenecks. (Though efforts will be made through usually-badly-designed and facilitated ‘skillshares’).  Your existing skills and knowledge may not be valorised or even acknowledged. Also, it will almost certainly be up to you to learn new skills, Doing this will make you more useful and keep your morale up. And if you have skills, please try to teach them to others, especially if you’re the only person in the group with those skills.
  1.  Look after yourself. If that means not going to bad meetings, then don’t go to bad meetings. Or walking out of them before the bitter end (google “Law of Two Feet”). But please don’t “lunch stuff out”  (i.e. fail to keep commitments that you made) If your presence is needed/expected, you have to let people know beforehand that you won’t be attending. Oh, and by the way, meetings don’t have to be institutionally sexist.

Not all groups are going to last forever, or even very long at all. Sometimes, after you’ve tried to fix it, you have to walk away, or else you’ll go down with the ship, and be lost to activism – along with your skills, knowledge and energy. If that happens, it not only demoralises other ‘activists’ but also sends a warning message to people who were thinking of getting involved.

Inter-group Dynamics

  1. Expect framewars.

For what it is worth, you can roughly subdivide the ‘activist’ groups into three broad categories (there is of course overlap and drift), based on how they ‘frame’ the issues. First you have the reformists – the ‘change the system from within’ types, exemplified here by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace (locked in a decades old battle for moral supremacy).  For them, it’s a problem of education, perhaps market signals. Power and corruption are words they don’t throw around comfortably. Second you’ve got the state “revolutionary” socialist types who believe that what is needed is a glorious revolution that closely follows their manifesto. “Buy a paper, comrade?”  To them reformists are dupes of the system and the third group idealistic dreamers who get in the way of ensnaring the fresh-meat/future papersellers.. That third group is the avowedly ‘non-hierarchical (but see point 5 above!) outfits who believe that only grassroots bottom-up action can met the scale of the problem(s).

The point is this:  It is both logical and necessary to co-ordinate with other groups who share your frame or who do not in, say, the staging of public meetings, demonstrations etc.  No one set of groups can do this alone. But that does not mean there will not be fights about what the focus of the action is, whose person speaks first, for how long, etc etc.  Fortunately one of the most vampiric groups, the Socialist Workers Party, is but a shadow of its former “glory”. That does not mean there are not other groups willing and able of sucking the energy out of a movement while believing that they are creating a vanguard and educated a cadre. Oh, and if you identify what they are doing, or god forbid push back, expect to be labelled ‘sectarian’.  But the vampires, no, they are never sectarian.

Personally, fwiw, I think that the “climate movement” does not have the ability to turn the mess around, and that it will all end in tears – see ‘2019: How we blew it again’,  written in 2017.  But I could be wrong.

Right, having offered obvious/sententious advice about the movement and some of the dynamics you’ll find, some comments about the other actors you will probably encounter. I’ve put this in “Branches of government”, Political parties, The Police, The Media, Academics, Trades Unions, Family and Friends.  Overall, this: just because someone is clearly doing very bad things to the planet/stopping you from trying to save civilisation, doesn’t mean they are stupid. Do not underestimate them.


Branches of government

When you encounter policymakers and politician you will come up against slick (I mean, PPE at Oxford has to be worth something, right?) sorts who can speak glibly and confidently in TLAs (three letter acronyms) about all the things the government/public service is doing.  Inside, these people are often either empty, or stupid, or terrified (or all three). Peter Oborne is worth reading on the ‘political class’.

  1.  It’s difficult, because education – and it seems particularly British education – is largely about learning to pay the right amount of deference to people who want to be your lords and masters- but this:  Just because someone is being driven around in a limousine and has a title doesn’t mean they have a clue what is actually happening to this doomed planet, or what to do about it. But you knew this, or else you wouldn’t have been on the bridges.
  2. Local government has largely had a free pass, as far as I can see.  Here in Manchester the governing Labour Party has been able to blame everything on the Tories, while claiming credit for national-level emissions reductions (the partial decarbonisation of the grid, for example).  Every two or three years they produce new meaningless glossy booklets to replace the previous non-implemented policies, and the local Friends of the Earth group (which is basically a wholly owned subsidiary of the Council) goes squee with delight when told to. It’s frankly embarrassing.  But I digress. Local government needs serious attention (it gets none from the media, or climate movement), but the skillset is not public order situations and placards, but rather Freedom of Information Act requests, blogging, letters to the editor etc. And more, because those things on their own simply mean you’re recording the lies and the bullshit, not forcing them to a standstill.

Political parties

  1. .  As the journalist Nick Tomalin observed, “They lie, they lie, they lie.”  And they are constantly on the hunt for issues and plausible individuals who can front those issues to the voters.  Expect talented activists to be poached into parties. Meanwhile, the parties will make promises that they have no intention of keeping. But you knew this… bridge.

The police

  1. Spycops. Read it and weep.  
  • Expect agent provocateurs, expect infiltration, both by state and corporate actors.
  • Read up on the techniques and what to do about them.
  • Role play arrest. Role play questioning. Role play being charged. Role play it until it loses its mystique.


This is awkward, because I am a wannabe academic.  But before I came into it, I thought they were, for the purposes of social movements, either mostly useless or worse than useless.  I haven’t changed my mind (perhaps I’m just doing sour-grapes and self-loathing?). Some of them can indeed write in plain language, do have something to say.  Getting past the paywalls isn’t impossible – you probably know some sympathetic academics who will get you stuff, or you can ask the authors directly. Don’t be surprised though, if after all the effort, that what you get out isn’t worth the effort.

  1. Specifically, be very careful about having academics speak at events. They’re often lousy public speakers, and in answering questions will never use 50 words if 500 will do. Keep your expectations low, in other words.
  1.  Be very cautious about agreeing to participate in any academicresearch.  I know it can be flattering that Doctor Who or Professor X is interested, but always ask : what is in it for ME/US?  How does the movement benefit from this? and also Where might sensitive information actually end up?

Reading: This short story, The Defiant Ones, about an academic and activist handcuffed to each other, fleeing a public order situation.

The Media

Yeah. The Daily Mail.  In the same way they police the bodies of female celebrities  (if she puts on three pounds and it’s time for “look, she’s letting herself go”, if she loses three pounds the Mail runs “friends worried for gaunt xxxx”) there is a bizarre ever-shifting and extremely narrow band of behaviour for environmental activists.  If you ever take a flight, drive a car or eat meat, you’re a disgusting hypocrite. If you don’t, then you’re an out-of-touch weirdo zealot. You know this/bridge.

More broadly, yes, there are lazy and venal journalists, but you’re better off seeing systems at play, structures which prevent decent/honest reporting than focussing on the intellectual and moral failings of specific individuals. Imo, fwiw.

  1. Role play both friendly and hostile interviews.  Have more than one competent interview-giver in your group
  2. Do NOT measure “success” in terms of coverage or nice things said about you by sympathetic journalists.  You simply become an attention-hungry performing seal.
  1. It’s worth reading up on why they are like that.  Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, the Glasgow Media Group, Nick Davies, Flat Earth News.  It’s worth doing analysis on who owns your local media, what the constraints on journalists are etc.

Trades Unions

The dirty secret is that the workers united are often defeated. And that unions need jobs to keep themselves afloat (members who can’t pay the mortgage/rent probably can’t pay their dues), and so unions often mouth the right piety about just transition this, climate policy that while also applying the thumbscrews to members of Parliament to ensure – to pick an example entirely at random – that the third runway at Heathrow gets approval.  And there are deeply conflicted environmentalists in those unions trying to change the(ir) system from within. Also, unions tend to hold mind-boggling boring and top-down meetings, where there is an inverse relationship between length and quality of speeches.

Family and friends

You will probably be patronised by at least some family and friends for giving a shit about climate change.  It’s not cool to give a shit, apparently. And most of us have a UKIP-voting climate denying uncle whose presence makes Christmas/weddings etc a tedious exercise in “let’s not talk about, okay?” Family tensions will probably flare up particularly when the media smears kick into high gear, and/or when some climate activists do something that is perceived to be ‘too much’  (blocking a runway, and then it turns out a flight full of dying panda bears can’t get life saving surgery)

I have no advice to offer, I think, other than don’t neglect your wider network of friends – they offer you perspective, and if it all goes wrong and you have to do serious rest and recuperation, well, they’ll “be there for you.”

Some random bits of advice that, I don’t think fit in any category above.

  1. Measuring “success” is really hard. If it’s a meeting is it bums on seats? The number of tweets? The number of new recruits who turn out?  (Meanwhile, bosses will never admit that you fought them to a standstill. It’s not in their interests). But if you don’t have any metrics of success, then you end up, I think, in the smugosphere, which is not a good place.
  2.  While we have been in similar situations before, the history is only a partial guide.  What is unprecedented now is that humanity’s continued existence is up for grabs. Sure, during the Cold War a nuclear war could have done for us all quickly, but that required a change from the status quo.  Right now, to ensure our demise, all we have to do is keep on the same trajectory. That’s at least as terrifying as the nuclear Mexican standoff…
  3. Relatedly, fear eats the soul.


New challenges

Finally, there seem to be (at least) three new challenges in our situation worth noting. I got nothing about them though, at least nothing that seems adequate.

  1. Sudden explosion of people interested in taking direct action.   This is great, as long as people don’t think get “imprinted” – the first thing they saw when they cracked out of the egg was a bridge occupation, therefore…  BUT, how to get/keep these people engaged in the long-slog of activism? Dunno.
  2. Lots of kids getting involved – see, for example, the proposed School Strike for Friday 30th November.  Well, these kids obviously have to be in charge of their own organisations (duh). What could #oldfarts do to help them learn hard lessons the easy/easier way?
  3. Finally, there/’s not, over the coming months and years, going to be a lot of hope, at least not in the people who know what a Keeling Curve is. To quote myself: “In their own defence, the movement organisations pointed out that this wave of concern about global apocalypse had been different from the previous ones, from 1970 to 1973, 1988 to 1992, and 2006 to 2009. In each of those cases, scientists could be found who would say: ‘If we act now, things will be okay’. By 2019, that had morphed into: ‘If we act now, and we are really lucky, then we may avoid the very nastiest of the impacts.’ Hope was in short supply.”


Best wishes

Old Fart