It's so not about me

Recently, I was featured in The Independent’s ‘Green Issue’. I was nominated in the ‘Campaigner’ section as a result of the work I’ve been doing with Transition Heathrow, opposing the proposed third runway development. (She won - Ed.)

I was honoured to be put forward, of course, but it did bring home to me one of the massive problems the environmental movement is currently contending with. The perpetual search for a “saviour” to prevent us hurtling head on towards catastrophic climate change is not only doomed to failure but is, I believe, downright dangerous.

Focusing on one person can make everyone else feel like their contribution doesn't count. That they might as well not bother, because someone else has it covered. Away from the limelight, countless others work and strive just as hard, but are overlooked in favour of the obsessive celebritising of an individual and their efforts. This damages our movement twice over. First, it disempowers all those other people and devalues the extraordinary efforts they make. And second, it wholeheartedly fails to recognise the collective actions required from all to overcome the systemic problems we’re facing.

This focus on individuals is nothing new. Whether by their own attention seeking or through the focus of the media-friendly human interest stories, history’s narratives have always favoured names. But the real stories of social change are stories of mass movements. Emelline Pankhurst did not achieve universal suffrage single-handedly, just as Nelson Mandela didn’t cause the breakdown of apartheid on his efforts alone. Likewise, for the five Plane Stupid activists atop the Houses of Parliament or the fifty on Stansted’s runway, there were many others who, though less visible, were essential to facilitating their actions.

Maybe it is the focus of the mainstream media on individuals that neglects the true story? Or perhaps it’s individuals, furthering themselves as a result of an earnest desire to promote the agenda of our cause? For a movement that espouses the ideas of direct democracy and uses consensus-decision making to ensure that everyone has an equal voice, however, this perpetual focus on individual “celebrities” is counter to the very ethos we hold so dear.

To have any hope of a better future for ourselves and coming generations, we need to be ploughing our energy into building a movement that includes everyone, and addresses all the urgent issues confronting us. Rather than relying on big name leaders, we all have a part to play: not just activists or environmentalists, but each and every one of us.

As the activist and author Rebecca Solnit argues in her book Hope in the Dark ‘Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope… Anything could happen, and whether we act or not has everything to do with it’. We need to be confronting economic inequality and challenging social injustice worldwide, and we need to be doing this collectively.

This need not seem like an insurmountable task. It starts on a local scale. On land the government wants to see under tarmac as a third runway for Heathrow airport, a small group of us have been living in a former market garden which had been left abandoned since cheap imports made local food production uneconomic. Rather than the site of one of the world’s most polluting industries expansion, we along with many local people want Sipson, Harlington and Hamondsworth to be a model of what a low impact and socially responsible future might look like.

In whatever ways we can, we should be coming together to raise consciousness and take action. Bringing together different disciplines and developing strategies that work in our communities is central to our empowering of each other on common ground between environmental justice, race, class and gender.

By striving toward a future that embraces the 'we' rather than the 'me', that celebrates community not celebrity, that really empowers people, we would be building a movement that is actually sustainable, that actually has a hope of confronting some of these issues, and that actually has a chance of winning.