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What 350 taught me about conscious activism

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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Dawn ceremony in Wellington to open the International Climate Action Day (photo from

On 24 October, people in 181 countries came together for the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet’s history. At over 5200 events around the world, people gathered to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis. How did they do it?

Lesson One: Harness the Mighty Power of the Interweb

Bill McKibben, the elder statesman of the 350 movement, has already reflected on the role the internet played in making Saturday the extraordinary success that it was. Perhaps the single most critical factor in this has been the expansion of the internet to some of the most remote and isolated corners of the world via mobile phone networks. When Bill came to talk to 350 organisers and climate change activists in Wellington earlier this year he told us a very moving story about a text he had received from a farmer in Bangladesh who was ready to do his part for the climate, the planet and our shared future. This man was already living with the harsh daily reality of climate change as he struggled to adapt his crops to changing and unpredictable weather patterns. He didn’t see this as someone else’s problem, nor did he see 350 as someone else’s movement. Thanks to the reach of the internet via his mobile phone he felt that he was part of the movement and part of the solution.

Lesson Two: Don’t Hold Too Tightly to Your Brand

The 350 flag was flying in every country on the planet on Saturday. For images of 350 from Papua New Guinea to Denmark and from Ethiopia to Berkeley, check out the 350 Flickr stream. If you were a brand manager, this kind of exposure would surely have you in brand heaven. The 350 co-ordinating team pulled it off with very modest resources. How? As an event organiser for Saturday I was given total freedom to design my event. The 350 co-ordinating committee for New Zealand offered me support if I needed it but made no attempt to control or influence my vision for the day. They encouraged me to use the 350 logo and even hosted an old-fashioned banner-making workshop at their Wellington office so that we would all have the flag ready to fly. I felt supported but never stifled and that left me the space I needed to plan our event in the yogic spirit in which it was conceived, relying on the natural flow of enthusiasm and effort from our local sangha without forcing my timetable or agenda on anyone.

Lesson Three: Bring Your Joy with You and Play Along

Every 350 planning meeting I attended was fun. The wonderful young people who led us always turned up with their passion and sense of joy. We had brainstorming sessions for 350 actions which wandered down pathways of such silliness that we were all rolling on the floor laughing. It was fun to play with those kids and that motivated me to keep coming back for more. I’ve been involved in different activist groups and movements over the years and the one factor that seems to get lost all too quickly is this sense of joy. It’s hard to stay angry or despondent for long when you are invited to play.

Lesson Four: Take Care of Each Other

About halfway through this year I got an invitation to a special meeting of climate activists in Wellington. We were still six months out from the big climate negotiation meeting in Copenhagen (which will take place this December) and we had all already been working actively on local and international climate advocacy for many months. A wise soul in a young body decided it was time to check in with each other about how we were all going. We gathered in a warm, cosy room out the back of a yoga studio. One by one we spoke about how we were and what we needed from each other. Those who were tired or despondent were given gentle words of encouragement. Those who were enthused and inspired found new collaborators. Those who were making big leaps of faith were reminded of the community standing with them as they leapt. We talked, we each prayed in our own way and then we ate together. It was one of the most nourishing  meetings of activists I had ever been part of and it sustained me for many more months.

I could list a dozen more lessons I have learned from the leaders of 350 in New Zealand and abroad but these four capture the spirit of the movement. With joy, a light grasp, care for each other and very savvy use of the internet, 350 have redefined global movements for social change and have created something more diverse, more playful and more effective than I’ve seen in a long time.

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4 Responses to "What 350 taught me about conscious activism"

  1. “With joy, a light grasp, care for each other and very savvy use of the internet”…this is exactly ho i want to approach my work in the world, too. such perfect advice for anyone who wants to get a message out there, big or small. if we take those heart-dreams and apply these principles–oh the things we can do!
    what an utterly exciting time we live in, no?
    adore you. lisa

  2. amy says:

    the photos and lessons you took from the the day are wonderful. thank you for sharing them. i love what you say about joy and play. very wise.

  3. Paris Parfait says:

    Bravo! I love these collaborative efforts. Amazing what we can achieve when we put our heads together. xo

  4. can i just say–whatever you did sure worked! thanks so much, guys–you were an inspiration

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