One of the slogans of the Red Lines action in Paris during COP-21 was “We are the ones we have been waiting for!”
To me, slogans are not just words but strong tools with three functions:
First, to summarize my intentions and political convictions in a simple form. (“We are nature defending itself.”, “System change not climate change.”)
Second, to remind myself why I’m there: The repetitiveness of day-to-day work of activism may have an alienating effect. So, speaking out brings me back to real life, reminds me the injustices that made me angry in the first place. (“1.5 to stay alive!”, “The people united will never be defeated.”)
There is also a third function. It applies to good slogans – these are infrequent yet abundant. To make me reflect on the current state of the struggle and my involvement in it. (During Gezi, one common slogan was “This is just the beginning, the struggle continues.” and its deeper meaning still echoes in today’s Turkey.)
Since a year, I have been thinking about “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” It is such a powerful formulation that I keep on finding new dimensions to it.
1) We are the ones we have been waiting for.
The first dimension, its simple message, is that governments or politicians cannot and will not solve the climate crisis for us. One reason is the revolving door phenomenon in the capitalist political system. Another is the 30,000 full-time employed lobbyists working day and night, just in Brussels. (The “lobbyist per policy-maker” numbers are higher in Washington D.C.)
So, we need a firm grassroots movement that demands real solutions to climate change and that challenges the current power relations.
2) We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Then there is the affirmation that ordinary people hold the answer. Through energy democracy, food sovereignty and direct democracy, it will be us who will bring the change. It is us, all of us, together, who can save the world – or rather, save us from the catastrophic planet that capitalism is guiding us to.
There are no heroes, no saviors, no supermen, no wonder-women. Or if there are, then they are the collective actions of people who are imperfect yet learning, physically weak yet morally strong, estranged to each other but at the same time emancipating each other.
3) We are the ones we have been waiting for.
The third dimension* is more about us, as I don’t really expect non-activists reading this note until this paragraph.
It is about time.
It is about waiting.
Those who got the first two dimensions right have the responsibility to now mobilize us for climate justice.
We, the activists, are the ones to do this “initial” work, to activate. No one else will do it for us. Nothing will happen “on its own”. (Better said, we don’t have time to wait for something to happen on its own.)
While governments procrastinate, we have to gear up the fight, and we have to do it urgently.
The good news is: We have the power to redistribute the power. This is a growing movement, and probably the most radical social movement of the century: Hundreds of thousands marched around the world for strong climate action, tens of thousands were on the streets of Paris despite the state of emergency. In Portugal alone, more than 40 thousand people said no to oil and gas extraction, and thousands marched for the climate in eight cities just last year.
Back to the slogan
Breathing in… Breathing out… Reading the slogan again: We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Imagining myself ten years from now… There are many possible scenarios. Whatever the results, I know that I can be held responsible (I would hold myself responsible, for sure), for the good and for the bad.
Heinrich Böll asked a question to himself and to his readers: In World War II, all Germans were at war; before World War II, when it was being prepared, where were all the Germans?
We are making choices. Particularly in the Global North, we are making a bunch of choices about how much historical responsibility we assume for ourselves. (It’s because we have the privilege to do these choices relatively freely.)
Makes me think…
We have been waiting for.
Think about it.
* Disclaimer: I don’t meant this is what the creators of the slogan had in mind. I am not over-reading. I am just interacting with the slogan, and new meanings pop up.