- Date published:
7:02 am, September 28th, 2019 - 53 comments
Categories: activism, climate change - Tags: #notbusinessasusual, Erica Chenoweth, how change happens, School strike 4 climate nz, SS4C
Yesterday, 170,000 New Zealanders took to the streets as part of the global Climate Strike. This is one of the biggest protest mobilisations we’ve had. To put it into perspective,
I remember reporting on the 2010 march against mining in national parks as the biggest since the anti-nuclear movement. There were 20k in Auckland then, so I think today’s climate strike is likely historic. FWIW, after that day, the proposal to mine was never pursued again.— Matt Nippert (@MattNippert) September 27, 2019
170,000 is also a curious number for NZ at 3.5% of the population. Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, wrote a book about successful historical protest movements and what worked.
Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.
the notion that no government can withstand a challenge of 3.5% of its population without either accommodating the movement or (in extreme cases) disintegrating.
In her TED talk, Chenoweth notes that non-violent resistance has become more common and more effective in the past 50 years, and points to the inclusive nature of these movements: elderly, disabled people, women and children can all take part, and the movements tend to cross divisions of class, politics, gender, age and so on. This makes sense to me, because once you have broad engagement across a population, those people are also our law and policy makers and other power holders in society (journalists and MSM editors, educators, business people, politicians). Parliament is full of people just as scared about climate catastrophe as the people on the street.
This is how change happens. It’s important to note that success is dependent on the active and sustained participation of that 3.5% of the population. While I don’t believe we can rely on parliament to lead on climate action, I can’t help but think of the potential for a growing movement over the next year leading into the 2020 general election.
I’m also wondering about the potential of the Climate Strike numbers happening at the start of our local body elections and hope we can see sustained local movements building on the actions this week. Even if we don’t see this reflected in the voting now, the same kinds of pressure and engagement needs to happen at the local level.
Dunedin had 6% of its population march yesterday.
The last time that happened was when 10,000 people took to the street to protest the closing of neurology services in the city. They won. To get 9,000 people yesterday suggests a shift happening on climate action in not just the progressive parts of the community but the more conservative parts too.
Auckland’s march yesterday was 4.5% of the local population, Nelson 3.8%. Wellington was 18%. These are big, hopeful numbers. In part because, as Chenoweth reports,
… the visibility of civil resistance actions allows them to attract more active and diverse participation from [these] ambivalent people.
More and more people know that we can’t just go back to our ordinary lives and hope that climate change will do away. We’re on a tipping point of climate action being mainstreamed.
Also heartening were the number of businesses who closed in solidarity with the Climate Strike and to allow workers to march. Social enterprise support organisation Ākina Foundation recruited 267 NZ businesses this week to take part. Here too is change happening, because business owners and managers are also people increasingly concerned about climate action and the wellbeing or their children and grandchildren. This is exactly the kind of movement we need at this point, because these are the people who will implement our climate mitigation and adaptation strategies once we are ready to change.