Summer is that period of the year when everything is quiet and somehow everything seems to go a bit slower. Whether you are on holiday, you go and travel around the world or just stay home and enjoy the simple things of life, there is time to reflect. It is the ideal period of the year to think back on what has happened in the past year, and on things to come. It is the ideal period of the year to question everything, to let your mind run free, to rein in your certainties and develop your doubts, to ask yourself when old becomes too old, in short, because that is what it will probably be all about: to decide you cannot stop, you have to go on, work better and more efficiently…
I have been cleaning up old notebooks from the past decade. What to keep, what to get rid of? I was reading my notes from meetings on the financial crisis of 2008, the last European Social Forum in Istanbul, the first joint social conferences and the emerging Alter-Summit, the heated debates in the International Council of the World Social Forum, the first meetings in Tunis after the Arab Spring, the Transform!Europe meetings on the future of European policies.
And the question inevitably is: what have we learned? Where did we make progress? Do we know better now than ten years ago how to organize, how to develop a strategy, well, how to change the world?
New problems, that are not new at all but are now dominating even the mainstream media are popping up all the time. Migration, the climate crisis … we call ourselves ‘resistance movements’, but are we able to offer the right answers, the alternatives? How patient can we be? How many Indignado’s, Nuits Debout and Black Lives Matter can we stand?
Fortunately, in the meantime, a new generation has emerged, young people with new energy, unspoilt by the sterile ideological debates, with the very much needed spontaneity and dynamics. Youth for Climate demands climate justice, they demand a just transition, now. Yes, NOW. And they are right. We have no time to lose.
Is there anything that we, I mean my 68 and post-68 generation, can transmit to these young people?
Without any modesty, I think we can pass three messages.
First, please learn to listen, patiently, to ‘the other’. Accept that, even if there is no agreement, some elements in the other’s arguments are very probably right. And it can be enough to make an alliance, to work together on the very basic demands that you have. In other words, do not let yourselves be divided by topics that, in the end, are not crucial. You can walk a long way with people that, at first sight, are not on your side.
Secondly, however attractive al the tools of new social movements can be, from horizontalism to the sign language, do remember that if your actions want to be effective, if your movement has to be sustainable, you will need some kind of structure, a clear definition of responsibilities and accountability. ‘Leaders’ are not per definition anti-democratic, on the contrary, if rules of your functioning are democratically decided on and monitored, they can greatly help you. And please do look across borders and don’t be afraid of taking a plane if you have to coordinate with people in other countries or continents. This is badly needed.
Three, whether you call it left and right, progressive or conservative, old or new, do not forget that the main objective always has to be the emancipation of human beings, individually and collectively; that is freeing people from the threats of planetary destruction, from the fear of want, from the crimes of a failed economic system. Yes, we have to re-define modernity, but we should not throw away its major achievements. We do not want to save the planet for the sake of the planet, but because we, humankind, want to live on it, decently and with dignity.
Of course, you may ask, do young people need this advice? Well, I think they do. Reading all my old notes, seeing how we have been repeating ourselves year after year, I think today’s young people have a huge opportunity to work differently. But they should know why and how our generation(s) have failed to propose something better, that is to find a message people are willing to listen to. The current crisis is a very serious one, we should not let young inexperienced people alone. We should help them, without ‘poisoning’ them… They know better, but they do not know everything. If my generation is honest, it should know where we have failed. We have a duty to bring this experience to these courageous young people.
I wish you all a very quiet and fruitful holiday period.
And please take a look at www.globalsocialjustice.eu , there are many new contributions.