Street Activism: Joining forces
Fighting side by side for a different world
Have the Greens lost their connections to political movements? Did they become just another political party like all others? Terry is looking for the answers.
Have the Greens lost their connections to political movements?
This year the German Green Party is part of nine regional government coalitions. This in fact means that the Green Party is in power in more regional governments than the governing Christian Democrats in Germany. Very often this has been taken as one of the major indicators that now the Green Party has become part of the establishment. And would this success also mean that we – after a “long walk through the institutions” – become just another political party like all others?
This brings about a number of additional questions that need to be answered: What would differentiate us from the way other political parties are doing politics? Are we still (part of) the driving force for change? Or are we just filling the small niche of an “eco-friendly option” within the existing system?
The way politics are conducted, discussions are framed and party decisions are negotiated has changed. The German Greens have become a player in the field of mainstream politics: We are sitting at the table during negotiations, we hold responsibility at the local, regional and national level, and many times in the last few years we had to swallow compromises threatening our credibility.
At the same time, we have been successful in our struggle to shape politics. The nuclear phase-out in Germany, the rejection of ACTA in the European Parliament, the 13 European countries that have legalised same sex marriage or the fact that there are now more women in political and economic decision-making positions than ever before (still too little, but we are moving in the right direction): All these are examples for change that the Greens have pushed forward. As Greens we have shaped the way Europe looks today and we have to have the aspiration to continue to fight for a different Europe.
The roots of the German Green Party were founded in local networks, citizen initiatives and formed around environmental, societal and social issues. During the 1970s and 1980s, young people especially protested against the existing system. They populated the streets fighting against nuclear power, opposing wars, the activities of NATO and the destruction of the environment. Citizens demanded to have a say in the political arena, standing up for a world of solidarity, peace and diversity. New participatory structures, different forms of political activism and a new set of values developed distinctively differing from the established political landscape. It is this DNA which formed the Greens and it remains our basis to develop our political agenda from this set of values.
This is why we want to change the world we live in; a world which produces enough food for 9 billion people, but that still condemns one billion people to live in hunger. We fight against the exploitation of resources that destroys the very basis of our existence. We want to close the growing gap between rich and poor. We fight for a sustainable economy and energy from renewable sources. We want to build a more equal society, in which everybody can live the life they choose for themselves.
So what’s the problem?
There are, however, situations where there seems to be a contradiction between our self-declared values and the way we act. And we have to ask ourselves: how can we live up to our visions and values in times when we are participating in negotiations about budgets, in technical discussions about regulations or in difficult coalition talks?
Is something wrong at the moment? Maybe it is exactly the tension between “the streets” and “the parliament” that is necessary to continue being the driving force for change. Social, ecological, peace and civil rights movements define the core of what it means to be Green. Thus, Green projects should combine the progressive movements on our streets and institutionalised politics. We want to be the voice that brings the movements into the political institutions. Linking institutionalised politics and social, ecological and feminist movements is not a cherry on the cake for the Greens. It is at the basis of what we believe politics should be about.
The political instruments, political arenas as well as the main political actors have changed over time – and so has the way we as Greens are putting our vision of politics in practice. It has to be our ambition to define once again our role as a party within the area of tension between the movements and the political institutions. Politics cannot be simplified to saying change has to come from the streets or from the parliaments. It has to be understood that only together – using all political tools – can we support progressive politics.
This also means that if we want to keep this credibility and to remain a link between the movements in the streets and the civil society and on the other side the parliamentary decision-making, there will be crucial struggles coming up when we have to deliver. Especially on the European level.
Two of these struggles for the next months are the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership/Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (TTIP/CETA) and the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris.
During the negotiations for the free trade agreements with the US as well as Canada, we as Greens have to show again that we are the citizens’ and civil societies’ voice in the political discussions. We have already done this by providing the relevant information to the public when TTIP and CETA were negotiated in opaque, anti-democratic ways behind closed doors.
In the discussions around TTIP and CETA we will have to show that we can change the ways in which political deals are being struck in the EU and demonstrate that we can make sure that they do not undermine existing standards for workers’ rights, consumer protection, the environment and data protection.
This year we have to be in the streets with the people from environmental and consumer rights organisations, with the trade unions and civil rights activists while fighting against TTIP and CETA in the parliaments. We can use our access to information in order to stop the negotiations and to prevent the EU from signing these harmful agreements.
COP in Paris
2015 is the year for the fight against climate change. The leaders of this world must take action NOW. Greens are the most vocal political force putting climate change on the agendas at all levels – from the local, regional, national and European level to the debates of the COP summit.
We have a responsibility to mobilise a critical mass during the upcoming months. The only chance to reach a binding and ambitious agreement will be if committed parliamentarians, civil society and activists work closely together to increase the pressure upon world leaders. The climate negotiations have to be crucial topic in all parts of society.
Before and during the COP negotiations we thus have to link the fight against climate change with our struggle against gender inequality and questions of social justice, democratic representation and non-discrimination. We will have to show that the fight against climate change is an inclusive fight and that we as Greens are at the forefront.
A different world is possible!
The past of green activism has shown that green change is possible and it is happening at this very moment, too. But the challenge of how to get there will only be resolved with both colourful and strong movements in the streets, as well as functioning, democratic and accountable structures of decision-making in the political institutions.
This article was written for and first published in Green European Journal on 03 July 2015.