Reality check: climate justice movement feedback from Portugal – Sinan Eden

This is a personal evaluation of where we are at, as the climate justice movement, in comparison to a couple of years ago. Most of my analysis is focused on Portugal but some is applicable to Europe at the least. (I have been active in several European-wide strategy meetings.) I will mix up the names of all organizations, from School Strikes to Extinction Rebellion, from previously existing grassroots groups (like Ende Gelände, Code Rood or Climáximo) to some NGOs (like FoE and; unless there is specific necessity to distinguish them. My understanding of the climate crisis is that in ten years all of these organizations must disappear (victoriously); so I am not interested in brands throughout this opinion text.

Are we winning?


Emissions in Portugal are not even decreasing. There is no climate-sound policy program that could avoid climate catastrophe.

In Europe, German government’s coal commission openly institutionalized climate denialism by avoiding coal phase-out until Merkel herself passes away. The European Union is still talking about increase in renewable energy rather than decrease in fossil fuel energy infrastructures.

Are we close to winning?


The School Strike movement in Portugal put 20 000 young people on the streets. This was ten times bigger than the Rise for Climate mobilizations in September 2018. The participation curve for climate mobilizations has been geometric, so there is real hope, but we must do a reality check based on what is necessary in absolute terms, not in relative terms. According to the overly-referred-to study on the necessity of mobilizing 3.5% of the population for radical social change, we would need 350 000 people on the streets of Portugal, which would mean that we accomplished only 6 per cent of our mission.

The numbers are slightly better in some European countries like Belgium but much worse in key countries like the UK and Germany.

Are we closer to winning?

Never been so close to losing, and never been so close to winning.

The entire status quo is horrified with the recent climate mobilizations. Amid the dirtiest possible personalized attacks, we seem to continue gaining social legitimacy. The mobilization momentum since 2015 has been promising. If we can keep the momentum, it seems actually possible for us to win it all, before losing it all.

How can we maintain the momentum?

For the first time, there has been European-wide efforts for coordinated and continuous disruption within the By 2020 We Rise Up platform, which will have its first wave of mobilizations through September-October.

In Portugal, the School Strikes and the Rebellion Week in April created dozens of new movement leaders. In Camp-in-Gás action camp, more than a hundred activists were trained for mass civil disobedience. We will now test ourselves in September-October mobilizations.

What is missing?

Firstly, we don’t have an orchestrated strategy linking frontlines (like gas exploration projects in Central Portugal, new LNG terminals in Sines, the new airport in Montijo) and the broader climate policy demands (like carbon neutrality or the Climate Jobs campaign). All groups seem to agree, in general terms, on each other’s demands and show strong solidarity. However, action plans are not designed collectively in order to guarantee strategic feedback mechanisms.

Secondly, we failed to catch up with the capacity-building needs of the movement. Although we did a good job in trust building within the Portuguese movement (a complete disaster in many other European countries, with open or implicit conflicts between groups), we failed to facilitate ideological clarity and strategic thinking for the newcomers.

A proposal for a short-term action plan

All sound plans can be at most medium-term in a climate crisis. Either we will have an explosion of social movements that will make the impossible probable, that will surprise even the most optimists among us and that will change everything; or, the accelerated impacts of the climate crisis will surprise even the most pessimists among us and will change everything. There is no linear social path from now on, hence predictability is reduced, and hence only short-term planning (with a long-term vision) is reasonable.

0) Reserve capacity

Put on reserve 30% of your organizational capacity. (See step 5.)

1) Week for Climate: 20-27 September

Introduce civil disobedience. Train activists for direct action and put all of them to the streets in affinity groups for warm-up actions. Challenge all activists to get out of their comfort zones and confront the crisis.

2) Climate Strike: 27 September

Broaden the movement. Bring in unions and NGOs, like previous climate marches. But also create a space for conversation with newcomers, people on the fence and skeptics: transmit the message that social mobilization works.

3) Regional Rebellion Week: 27 September onwards

Normalize civil disobedience. Organize mass actions at key locations, create a safe space and bring in everyone available. Rehearse an actual permanent disruption in your region.

4) Global Rebellion Week: 7 October onwards

Massive systemic disruption. Mobilize activists to key capital cities for urban blockades. Tell a story of people’s power. Make sure the climate strikers watch you, and make sure you don’t disappoint them.

5) Recruit and train: October/November

Mobilize your reserve capacity (see Step 0.) to organize activist trainings on different levels: climate activism schools for newcomers, strategy trainings for the less experienced, and skillshare for everyone. During this period, make sure that the mobilization teams have a rest.

Finish with a low-logistics mobilization in December during COP-25 in Chile.

6) Plan the second wave: December/January

Consolidate your capacities. Have open assemblies as well as meetings based on built-up trust among activists. Learn from the first wave. Plan system change. Climáximo has been organizing a National Gathering on Climate Justice annually, which can be transformed into a strategizing space.

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