My journey from direct action to Green Party leadership candidate
When I left university in 2007, no-one was talking about the climate and ecological emergency. The Labour government were proposing a third runway at Heathrow Airport and there was very little public scrutiny about its climate impacts. Likewise, there was no talk about the need for us all to be prioritising sustainability, or for governments to be leading us towards a net zero future.
It didn’t make sense to me. Like so many in my generation, I’d been taught about climate change in geography class, and I understood that to avoid the worst of it we needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground. I naively assumed that people in power – whose responsibility it is to guide us towards a safe future – would have it in hand.
However, the Labour government’s steadfast commitment to building a third runway at Heathrow spelled the end of that optimism. There was a revolving door between the British Airports Authority and the upper echelons of the Labour Party. Business as usual meant supporting this dinosaur industry even at the expense of our climate change targets and any credible plan to decarbonise our economy.
The summer after I left university, I went to climate camp at Heathrow Airport. I’d never been to a protest camp before but – as a queer person – I understood that when society is silent around an issue, the most effective method to pull it into mainstream consciousness is through protest.
Every moment of social progress has been begun with a small, courageous and determined group of people – often those most affected by injustice – coming together and taking political action. From the Suffragettes to the civil rights movement and HIV activists – non-violent direct action (or civil resistance) is a crucial ingredient for political and societal change (and transformation). We will always need protest movements to hold our governments, media and business to account.
I left that Heathrow climate camp with a group called Plane Stupid. We developed a media strategy to push the issue of Heathrow Expansion into the mainstream media and public consciousness. Just six months later we climbed on the roofs of Parliament and dropped banners declaring ‘no third runway’ and re-branding the Houses of Parliament – ‘BAA HQ’.
Since then I have been deeply involved in many movements and campaigns that have lifted the climate and ecological emergency into the public eye. From stopping the sale of England’s public forest estate to developing the messaging and narrative as a founding member of Extinction Rebellion, I have consistently shaped government and societal response to the UK’s biggest environmental issues.
I have done this largely through organising across the environmental and social justice movements – taking strategic communications and leadership positions in corporations, NGOs and grassroots movements.
It’s been my life’s work. And now we are in a situation where more people than ever before are worried about the emergency and desperate to do something about it. 2019 was an alarm clock: a year when the prophetic voice of Greta combined with an IPCC report that said we have 12 years left, and the movement that I helped found (Extinction Rebellion) interrupted people’s lives and forced all of us to wake up to the climate crisis.
We’re no longer in the situation of needing people to wake up. We’re awake but, increasingly frustrated by the limits of ‘personal action’, we’re at a loss of what we should do next.
Enter ‘The Green Party’ – the only national political organisation that has the infrastructure and the policies to take power and transform our society. The Green Party is ready to be the political party that is honest about the challenges we face and offers everyone a place to belong and to begin to build the future we desperately need. A future that leaves nobody behind.
My co-leadership candidate, Amelia Womack, has spent seven years building the Green Party into the electoral force it is today – and honing the political strategy that will help us deliver more and more elected Greens in the years to come. And in my years of campaigning, I have a track record of identifying opportunities to make big, exponential change.
That moment is now: with COP26 just three months away, now is the time to hold the government to account for their criminal failure of leadership. They’re building roads, licensing new oil exploration and cutting international aid when we know we need to be doing exactly the opposite.
We need big plans and even bigger ambitions to grasp this moment, to show the leadership required and to demand that our Government moves accordingly. The COP manifesto which Amelia and I have just launched – with nine policies, one for each of the years until the 2030 deadline to reach net zero – is the starting point for this, and will guide our action on climate change in the first 100 days of our leadership.
Big things are possible, and now is the moment to demand them. I’m so excited about mine and Amelia’s leadership bid because I know that the Green Party we will lead is the political party everyone – and the planet – is crying out for. Join us, and together we can make it happen.
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