Interviews ahead of “What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?” – CEM answers

Next Thursday, 23rd May there’s an exciting and potentially extremely useful meeting in Manchester. Held at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St (behind the Central Library) it’s called “What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?” and will have five panellists (from Youth Strike for Climate, Extinction Rebellion, Rising Up! Manchester Families, the GM Unite the Union Community Branch climate group and Climate Emergency Manchester (the host organisation).

All five groups have been approached to do interviews before the event that will be posted here (and hopefully re-posted elsewhere!).  This is so that people attending the meeting can have a chance to know a bit more about the groups on stage.  We post the CEM answers (written by Calum McFarlane for the most part) in the hope of getting the ball rolling

1. When was your group founded?  What does it do/how does it do it?
CEM was started in April 2019. The campaign aims to help climate aware people in Manchester get involved in forms of activism that can fit around other commitments, help “join the dots” between different groups and facilitate sharing of skills and knowledge, and to push to get 4000 signatures on a petition to Manchester City Council, to debate a declaration of climate emergency. This is done through a combination of online and offline engagement, being physically present at relevant events and collecting signatures, raising awareness via posting interviews and videos on our website and on Twitter.

2. What have been the group’s major successes and failures over the last year or so?
We’ve barely been going a month so a bit hard to say! We had a relatively slow start but we’re finding that what we’re doing is well received amongst members of the public outside of the “climate activist” bubble, which is heartening to see. We need to put more efforts into widening our reach here.

3. If people got involved in your group, what sorts of things would they find themselves doing?
Hopefully collecting signatures on paper from people they know in their networks (work colleagues, places of worship, sports clubs, PTAs, drama groups, allotment associations, residents groups, etc) but also using the petition to raise awareness of the issues and the need to force local government to take concrete action. Could also be helping to maintain the website, do video interviews, share any other skills they might have, and hopefully learn some new ones.

4.What has your group got planned between now and the end of September (and how might it contribute to maintaining morale and momentum in the climate movement in Manchester)
Our next big event is the public meeting at the Friend’s Meeting House in Manchester on 23rd May. We have speakers from a number of groups involved in climate activism in Manchester, but the main focus is on creating and strengthening connections between concerned citizens, rather than talking at people. The aim is to really boost awareness of the campaign, recruit some more folks to gather signatures, and with a bit of luck, find some people who are looking to do some workshops or talks.

5.What would you like to see the “climate movement in Manchester” do more generally, both to maintain morale and momentum, but also to increase its effectiveness?
I’d like to see more efforts to reach people outside of the activist bubble. This means actively seeking out opportunities to talk to people on their terms, not expecting them to attend “our” meetings or talks. We also need to somewhat de-centre the “big events” like the recent actions in London by XR. Not that these are not important, not that they don’t move the conversation on, but I feel that local politicians need to hear that their constituents, ward by ward, are concerned about climate, about wildlife, about air quality, about food security &c. This only happens by local, person-to-person mobilisation.

6. So, you get your 4000 signatures, and a debate in Manchester City Council. So what? Then what?
While our petition doesn’t close until 29 September, we many other things people can do alongside collecting signatures.  For example, we are start scrutinising the existing plans of the Council more closely, and suggesting radical but doable improvements. So we will have a presence at the June, July, August and September meetings of the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committees. These are on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of each month, at the Town Hall. We will meet before for lunch, at 1pm. If you want to help us scrutinise but can’t come then, that’s fine, we have jobs from policy analysis to tweeting and everything in between. We also are working with other groups to come up with detailed proposals for the Council, the business sector and the rest of us about how to get close to zero carbon by 2030. Again, all skills and experience will be needed.

And after September, well, the work will continue. This is not about dumping a problem in the Council’s lap and saying “there, you sort it out.” They won’t, they can’t.  We know this from the last ten years.  We have to stay active, stay positive, to help grow the capacity of citizens to be heavily and radically involved.

Mostly this: “activism” tends to involve able-bodied, middle-class, well-educated people. There’s nothing wrong with those people being involved, but what about the skint single mum who cares deeply about her future, and that of her children? She can’t come to most meetings, she has little spare time, spare energy or spare cash. But if we’re not involving her – I don’t mean “engaging” I mean involving –  then we’re doing activism wrong.