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Activism and solidarity in the time of COVID-19

The Act on Climate collective on a zoom call (some of them in funny hats as a birthday surprise for Leigh)COVID-19 has had an immense impact globally, including on how activism is being done.

The significant power of climate activism has been based on it being a grassroots, community-led mass movement. With the introduction of government-mandated social distancing requirements, many of our traditionally effective physical approaches are no longer morally and legally tenable.

Even in-person meetings are off the table. This is requiring a rethink of how we do our activism and where we direct our individual and collective energy. Consequently these constraints are providing fertile ground for shifting towards innovation in digital approaches.

Here at Act on Climate we have ramped up our online presence, for example through our <1.5C: Creative community action for Victorian climate leadership social media campaign which saw hundreds of creative images shared online by our supporters. Our meetings are now on Zoom and we are working out how we can pivot the campaign to fit and leverage off the current circumstances. Similarly, Friends of the Earth effectively brought the public’s attention to the Andrews government’s attempt to stealthily end the onshore gas moratorium.

We know we can adapt and have an impact; the precedent has been set.

This physical separation and shift to a focus on digital methods – within the broader context of physical isolation, widespread job loss and general economic anxiety – can make it hard to stay motivated and connected. However, even by staying inside we have opportunities to engage in activism and also to engage with each other.

Mutual aid offers one potential solution to this problem. Its rise across Australia during COVID-19 is a lesson that we can draw on both now and into the future.

Through the provision of mental support and resources to those around us who need it we can ensure that connection and solidarity remains strong. Act on Climate has already made inroads on this front through our community building efforts with groups like the School Climate Strike and XR. This focus on movement (read: community) building allows us to sustain our activism by ensuring that support structures exist that we can rely on when we need it. 

Exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures to ensure our community support structures are strong and resilient at a time when we cannot rely on the government to sufficiently protect us, whether it be against COVID-19 or climate change's impacts. 

Looking towards the future we must consider making this exception of mutual aid and grassroots community-building the norm. This will allow us to operate more effectively when we eventually come back together, allowing us to be prepared for similar events in the future, and to sustain our activism in the long-term. As climate change worsens, we will likely see more disruptive events like COVID-19. That which we are trying to mitigate for the future will simultaneously impact how we are able to act now; we must – and can be – prepared accordingly.

Some mutual aid resources:

If you have some loose change consider donating to these COVID-19 funds for vulnerable communities:

This article was written by a member of the Act on Climate collective

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