This article is designed to inform you of essential facts, prompt you to reassess certain behaviours and empower you to be part of the solution.
The ability to freely protest is a pillar of democracy. Whether that’s your government, an institution, a cooperation or ideology – if you can’t protest where you want, how you want and for as long as you want, then there is a serious issue with your democracy.
Whether it’s just you with a placard on a street corner or hundreds of thousands of people descending on a court house, protest is important everywhere and everyone should feel empowered to be heard and make a stand.
- READ: Find out more about direct activism as well as the every day actions
- READ: Why we need to talk more about the crisis and how to do it
- Click here to find out how to support an environmental charity without a clipboard
If you feel that you are not being listened to by government, institutions, industries or local elected representatives, then it is your moral duty to protest. Don’t be afraid. Many will try to dissuade you or even stop you entirely. In 2019, the London Metropolitan Police tried to blanket ban Extinction Rebellion from the entire city until it was overturned by the courts. But know that by standing up, being counted, making your voice heard and speaking for the greater good, you are on the right side of history.
Check voting records
Voting records of your elected representatives should all be public knowledge. Some systems have secret ballots, often due to in-party tensions and wrangling, but in general you should know exactly what each representative votes on.
The climate and ecological crisis is the biggest threat we have ever faced as a species. Your elected representatives should be voting on legislation accordingly. If they are not doing that, and are making poor excuses to justify short term, old and ideological policies at the jeopardy of a better – habitable – future, then nothing else should matter.
Contacting government representatives
If you don’t like what your government representative is doing, saying, acting on or voting on, then you should demand answers. Always remember that no matter how famous, established, well liked or connected – government officials work for you. They are put there by the population as servants to the state. They must answer to you and your questions.
You should be able to call, email, write to and even speak directly to your representative. You should be able to ask any question you like and receive a fair, detailed and timely response. You should be able to do this as many times as you like.
You don’t have to look far to see that our existing government systems, no matter how democratic, are failing to deliver the action required to halt the climate and ecological emergency. The idea of citizens’ assemblies, to make decisions for governments to lawfully act on, is growing in popularity.
A citizens’ assembly is a randomly selected yet representative group of the population, usually around 150 people but can be up to 1,500. They spend time learning from experts and those with lived experience on a topic before deliberating the issues over time. They are purposefully shielded from politics and corporations to ensure they cannot be swayed by bias and vested interests. They then come up with recommendations and – importantly – proposals for government.
At a citizen assembly, everyone has an equal say. It is a powerful opportunity to level people across all walks of society – from CEOs to farmers, from doctors to single parents – and bring them together to make decisions for everyone, not just themselves.
Citizens’ assemblies have been used and worked to great effect already. The Irish Parliament established citizens’ assemblies to inform the government and set the referendum questions for five serious issues, including: gay marriage, abortion and climate change. The results were accurately representative. On abortion, the citizens’ assembly voted 64% in favour. When the country voted, the referendum was passed with 66%.
Citizens’ assemblies work. They are empowering and prevent vested interests shaping policies that benefit the few but threaten us all. Have you considered writing to your government representative about a citizens’ assembly on the climate and ecological emergency?
Joining political parties
The Skylark is politically neutral and not affiliated with any political party. However, we do encourage people to join political parties in order to shape dialogue and to have their voices heard.
It is important to remember that you don’t have to like everything that one party believes in. Short of setting up your own, it would be very hard to find a party where you agree on everything they say from education to defence. In fact, it is arguable that it isn’t important what they believe in if they are not taking the climate and ecological emergency seriously.
The next few decades will decide whether we live or die on this planet. We as citizens should join political parties that are taking this threat as seriously as it deserves. This helps them boost numbers, raise funds and raise the climate agenda higher. Alternatively, you can join parties that don’t take the crisis seriously and seek to change them from the inside (though be careful if you have to give membership fees or financial contributions).
As Denis Hayes, the founder of Earth Day says, “voters should have such a passion that if candidates are not committed to fighting climate change, the rest of their record is negligible.”
Look at a candidate and listen to what they say about the environment and tackling the climate and ecological emergency.
Check their voting record to see if it matches.
Don’t be swayed or distracted by short term, irrelevant promises that are designed to look like they benefit you.
If the candidate isn’t willing to deal with the crisis with the urgency it deserves and demands, then vote for someone who will.
Often, voting is our only opportunity to have a direct and immediate impact on our government. Emails can be sent, meetings held, petitions signed and protests joined but at the end of the day, governments can just ignore you – and they often do.
Government incumbency is one of the primary reasons for mass civil disobedience, with many getting frustrated by parties using unfair and unrepresentative systems to hold on to power and buoy their vested interests. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote.