It’s odd to think that not so long ago, millions of young people across the globe took to the streets to campaign for their future in the biggest collective global climate strike our generation has ever seen. From the chants of the crowd to the sheer number of young people, the one constant throughout all the marches across the globe was the atmosphere. If you attended a march yourself (as I hope many of you did), it’s something you don’t easily forget. The global climate strike last year was the first taste of community organising and collective action many millennials had ever experienced, and to be completely honest, what a way to start.
Fast forward to the present day and that atmosphere feels like a distant memory. Our purpose has been diverted, with many environmental youth groups focusing on how they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting their volunteers and local organising groups through a lockdown that is alien to almost everyone. Whilst the concept of a physical climate strike seems impossible in the current setting, community organising and collective action hasn’t disappeared. If anything, it’s grown.
On the 24th of March, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, put forward a call to action to the British public, asking for 250,000 volunteers to support the NHS, and each other, by providing a lifeline to those being shielded from the pandemic. Whether volunteers delivered essential goods or provided reassurance over the phone, their contribution was a necessity for many who simply had no other way of accessing support. In less than 24 hours, the NHS had well over 500,000 volunteers who had pledged to offer their time to support those who needed the help.
Alongside the government’s call to support the NHS, local mutual aid groups formed all over the UK and around the world to support the most vulnerable in their communities. Most of the groups organised on major social network channels such as Facebook and WhatsApp, often in a similar vein to the national call for volunteers. Thousands upon thousands of residents in cities and towns across the UK now have groups that are maintaining a vital sense of community, even when the lockdown deprives us of many of the social interactions and opportunities we used to take for granted.
We’ve seen mutual aid groups crop up all over the UK, from central cities to rural villages, and whilst they all remain independent groups with a clear focus that is directed to the needs of their residents, overarching support through training and guidance hasn’t been sparse. An ‘umbrella organisation’ of roughly 10 volunteers has supported the hundreds of group leaders to ensure that communities are kept up to date with information, continuing to empower volunteers and providing organisers with training resources, so that their groups can be effective support structures for their communities.
Almost sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Local communities coming together to tackle inequality and hardship that is directly affecting people, only to find that similar communities hundreds of miles away are also experiencing the same issue. Whilst the most recent information produced by the Government, setting out the next steps for the UK, was confusing (to put it lightly), our community spirit and togetherness has never been clearer.
Collective action is not always the physical act of standing side by side with a stranger. It can simply be an understanding that our words and actions are much more powerful when those around us echo the same message. A collective act can be a stance of solidarity when others deem it too difficult; it can be as simple as a retweet or forwarding a story to a friend. By sharing information, volunteering free time to support those in need or raising your voice amongst the noise, we are reminding ourselves of what it feels like to be a collective.
The reaction of most of our communities to the COVID-19 pandemic should reassure us. We may have had to rethink our understanding of community action and organising, but collective action seems not only alive and well, it is resurgent. It may take different forms – replaced by vibrating phones and pinging Twitter notifications – but this is not so different to the chants and noise you would hear at a Climate Strike.
Many have wondered for a long time whether technology would be detrimental to our society, yet technology has long been a driving force behind community organising, and the lockdown has highlighted this more than ever. From the thousands of volunteers who signed up to mutual aid groups across the country, to the inspiring words which go viral online. Good news stories have kept people going when it all became too much.
In the past few weeks, we have seen environmental organisations, human rights charities and NGOs come together to launch new campaigns that address both the concerns of a society post-COVID and one heading to a climate and ecological disaster.
Green New Deal UK recently launched their campaign Build Back Better which acknowledges that the current systems governing our country are not fit to function; that we now must demand a fairer society which aims to secure the health and safety of all our citizens, puts funding back into our public services and alongside this a Green New Deal, creating working connections across all borders.
We’ve also seen promising campaigns such as Teach The Future take hold mid-lockdown, partnering with numerous organisations across the country to demand our government puts climate education into the national curriculum.
In the current circumstances, it’s quite easy to feel deflated, and whilst 'Lock Down Fatigue' may be a real thing, we shouldn’t feel disheartened when kept apart from our fellow campaigners demanding a fairer and greener society.
Who would have thought that the local community group chat, originally set up by Dave from No23, would turn out to be a beacon of hope for more than just the neighbourhood watch. Look after the placard for now, we’ll be dusting it off soon.