Young activists feel responsible for saving the world from possible ecological disaster. They are aware that perhaps they are the last generation that has a chance to influence the world in order to direct the political focus towards environmental protection.
Foundation Heinrich Böll organized the European Youth Congress for the seventh time and this time it gathered over 70 activists in the age 18-30. This time, the meeting took place at the beginning of September in French Marseille. The city, being extremely diverse in culture and ethnicity, encouraged participants to seek solutions with respect to other people.
A development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs- this definition of sustainable development was given by Gro Harlem Brundtland in her report in year 1987. The new generation of Europeans seems to feel these words more than ever before! That is why the congress organized this year in France was entirely devoted to the topic of fighting for climate and democracy. According to the organizers, these two concepts cannot exist without each other.
A group of exceptional people, engaged in various projects in their countries, came to Marseille for 3 days. Activists shared their stories of protecting the Digomi forest in Georgia, protesting against dams on the rivers of Bosnia and Herzegovina and lobbying for reducing plastic used in healthcare, just to name few. Three activists from Poland were also among the invited Europeans.
The aim of the Congress was to exchange experiences and acquire skills useful in conducting activist work. A number of workshops and debates were intended to provide participants with practical knowledge related to communication of climate actions, conducting trainings and organizing campaigns in social media. Congress participants also had the opportunity to present their actions on stage for a few minutes and to exchange questions and comments from other participants. During her presentation, Kamila Ciok (Zwrotnica Foundation), a participant from Poland, talked about the importance of a selfcare in today's activism.
A lot of emphasis was put in the appropriate arrangement of climate narrative. Quoting Mark Twain: "A lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its shoes on." - In an era of social media encouraging populism, our messages should be precise and relate to things with which people are emotionally related. During workshops related to this issue, participants had the opportunity to look at the narrative built by Greta Thunberg or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and refer these observations to their own actions.
I also devoted my presentation to other Congress participants to effective communication techniques on topics related to climate change and environment. I assume that we cannot expect others to understand our point of view. For them, we can be “the other" and we are the ones that should work on being understood. How to achieve it? First of all, we should understand the perspective of our interlocutors. For our narrative to be effective, it must be related to their deep motivations. Perhaps this is not a fight for the planet, but food security, protection of the local river or strike against deforestation of the native forest. Once we find these motivations, let's get out of the circle of people like us and talk to people whom politicians keep telling them not to worry about climate change. Let's talk with patriots fighting for their country on the streets - the fight for climate protection can become their everyday patriotic attitude. What's more, let's try to create a positive message based not on apocalyptic visions, but on possible solutions. All success stories of people who effectively protect the climate will have a better impression on our interlocutor.
Among the guests invited to discussion panels were: Ateş İlyas Başsoy (head of the election campaign of the new president of Istanbul), Khaled Drareni (Algerian journalist fighting for human rights), Kim van Sparrentak (Dutch member of the European Parliament) and Liliana Religa (from the Federation For Women and Family Planning). Participants also had the opportunity to connect via video conversation with Benedikt Erlingsson, director of the Icelandic climate film entitled Woman goes to war.
An important goal of the meeting was also to create a European network of activists and this goal for surely achieved. Young activists feel responsible for saving the world from an ecological disaster. They are aware that perhaps they are the last generation that has a chance to influence the world order so that the political agenda is oriented towards environmental protection. They are modest but determined people. Not motivated by ego or complexes, they are open to learn from each other and share their skills. This is an extraordinary generation of people who, having access to all resources of knowledge and skills, are able to organize themselves to achieve the common goal of fighting for climate and democracy.
Big congratulations for organizing this year's Congress are also to the French representation of the Foundation Heinrich Böll in Paris, including director Jens Althoff and meeting coordinator Kristin Tiffert. They provided participants not only with time to learn and exchange experiences, but also with a sense of empowerment and responsibility for the coming years of human history.