Three-D Issue 29: Social Movements Network report

In September the Network ran its third ‘Shared Solidarities’ event, hosted at Sheffield Hallam University. It was co-sponsored by the Environmental Network with the theme of Framing Catastrophe. The event’s aim was to consider two potentially catastrophic events, nuclear war and climate change – asking why they were not absolutely central to political and media agendas and what might be done to make them so.

As with previous events, speakers and participants included community and national activists in dialogue with academics who had both researched and experienced direct action themselves. This year’s theme was particularly relevant in the light of Trump’s opposition to the Paris Climate Talks, the recent ‘Global Ban’ debate at the UN on nuclear weapons and news coverage of North Korea’s nuclear armament policies.

But speakers also looked at earlier developments, such as Greenham Women, the rise of CND during the Cold War and the cultural responses of Japan’s peace movements to the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Close attention was paid too to how the rhetorics and vocabularies that promote war and deny climate change elide with everyday beliefs and ‘commonsense’.

In terms of bringing about change, both theoretical and practical approaches were tried out. For instance, the usefulness of the term ‘anthropocene’ in presenting arguments about climate change was explored, while a local activist described how effective and popular a high street anti-fracking stall had proved in starting impromptu discussions about the environment.

Throughout the day, people also spoke about what had drawn them to social movements in the first place – and if themselves, then why not others? And further, what kept them involved and not ‘hiding under the duvet’ instead. The answers seemed to relate particularly to a sustaining, and often fun, sense of collectivity and the opportunity to be imaginative – as with the ‘Yarnstorming’ projects making political woolly artefacts and SCRAP, The Sheffield Creative Action for Peace group, which brought one of its quilts to the event.

Many of these strands were brought together in a discussion around the current campaign to save Sheffield’s street trees from destruction. This has received much (surprisingly sympathetic) national media attention. But was it merely, as the Labour Council has it, an elitist middle class concern, distracting from more urgent political priorities? Or central to the climate change debate and highlighting, as one tree campaigner put it, the very issues that demonstrate ‘we’re fighting global capitalism every day’?

Such was the interest shown in this event that plans for a book are proceeding from it. Meanwhile, to commend two new books that are connected to this Network: Representing Communities: Discourse and Contexts (Palgrave Macmillan), edited by the Network chair, Dr Ruth Sanz Sabido, and based on many of the papers first given at the Canterbury Christchurch MeCCSA annual conference in 2015. And Tear Gas, Policing and Dissent (Verso), by Network committee member Dr Anna Feigenbaum, who presented aspects of her research at both a previous Shared Solidarities event and at the Leeds annual conference last year. Congratulations to them both!

Posted by Einar Thorsen