Youth Promoting Refugee and Climate Justice – Webinar 07 of the series on ‘Building Capacities for Peace and Justice’

The world is in a crisis with the pandemic forcing the world to lock itself up on one hand and climate issues that threaten the very survival of the planet. At the root of all the crises that plague the world today, from the exploitative relationship with the ecology resulting in the depletion of natural resources that is directly related with climate change to gross economic inequalities, the migrant crisis, exploitation of indigenous people, their cultures and territories, and the rising conflict everywhere, is the culture of violence that is embedded in the structure of our political economy and the capitalist system based on greed and profit motive.

Climate change is also directly related to the refugee crisis with the world witnessing the migrant issue as one of its greatest challenge in the last couple of decades particularly. About 74 million people became refugees in the year 2018 alone. it is estimated that nearly 240 million people will become refugees in the coming years owing mostly to the displacements caused from climate related disasters.

The largest industry in the world today is that of arms and ammunition which speaks volumes about the priorities of the current political economy of the world. With violence, both overt and hidden in the underlying structure of the exploitative relationship at social, economic, political and ecological levels, nonviolence assumes a critical role as the alternative, the only alternative that can bring about a constructive transformation in a peaceful way.

The youth of today are the primary stakeholders where climate is concerned for it is them and their children who will be facing the consequences of the exploits of the previous generations. A key tenet in the Australian aboriginals’ way of life in addition to respect and sustainability is the furure generation. They understand that the living generations are the custodians of the world that belongs to the future generation just as they inherited it from their forefathers. This idea of trusteeship and responsibility to the future generations makes it their duty to leave a better world behind for the generations to come.

The modern world today, however, is in a situation where for the first time, as Arpine, the co-host of this webinar pointed out, we are leaving behind a world in complete chaos with no clear solution visible unlike any generation before us. We have ruthlessly exploited and brought about ecological imbalances in the last 50 years alone that now threatens the very survival of the planet or at least the life on the planet itself unless immediate actions are taken to mitigate the climate crisis which means a radical alternative to our current priorities and way of living is required. And we have such an alternative available in nonviolence and the Gandhian model of development with its focus on bottom-up localized development: an approach that the youth are adopting across the world in their climate activism as evident from this webinar.

The seventh webinar in the series on ‘Building Capacities for peace and Justice’ brought together a group of youth activists from across the world who have been actively engaging in mobilizing the youth for protest movements and for advocating on climate related issues and the refugee crisis while some of them establishing their own NGOs to fight against climate injustice and interrelated issues. While the youth have traditionally been associated with movements related to the issue of climate change, what is common and unique with these young activists from across the world is the way they have embraced nonviolence at the heart of their movements.

The webinar highlighted how the young people across the world have been playing a crucial role as activists to mobilize and protest against their governments to take definitive actions and bring policy level changes to address the climate issues in their respective communities.  The speakers in the webinar shared their personal journeys, their work and how they have used nonviolence as a practice and strategy to mobilize, empower, sensitize people on climate justice and organize protests to put pressure on the governments. Indeed, what binds these youth together and thus create a sustainable collective vision is the employment of nonviolence as a tool and strategy for resistance and co-existence while realizing the need to incorporate it within their lives as a way of living.

Facilitated by Isabelle Meylan-Vidal, a community activist from Switzerland, and Arpineh Galfayan, an environmental activist and educator from Armenia, the webinar explored the various ways young people engage in climate crisis which is directly related to the issue of immigrants and refugees. The young activists shared their individual journeys to social activism and spoke of the activities within the organizations and movements they have founded or are associated with; their motivation to become activists; and the challenges they face as young activists. In the discussions that followed individual presentations, they gave examples of success stories of the impacts of their protests and interventions, and also discussed the importance of localization and how to engage more young people and students towards activism. The issue of universities as an open space for a more engaging education system that relates to the students’ experience of the real world around them and their role to support these youth initiatives was also discussed in response a to a question raised by the prominent Gandhian and educationist Reva Joshee.

It was interesting to observe how the young people were increasingly employing nonviolence in their movements and protests, esp. for climate justice and for the refugees and how they reflect the issue of climate change through an intersectional approach where they relate climate injustice with the interlinked refugee crises along with the issues of the indigenous people’s sovereignty, patriarchy  and women’s rights, economic inequality and in one case, racism. There were many learnings and challenges that emerged from the two hours long presentations and discussions.

An important learning that emerged was the need to gather a large group of supporters through participation or endorsement of their agenda using signature campaigns for example, while others also used social media platforms to spread awareness and harness public support to help pressurize the governments to listen to them as evident from Monica’s work in Mexico, where she works as peace educator and with different groups and communities with a high level of violence, to empower them with non-violence. She is particularly concerned with the issue of thousands of young people that go missing as a result of the drug war declared by the government in the name of peace but is actually a war by different interest groups, both criminal and gangsters and state authorities, to gain drug market monopoly.

It was one of such disappearance during her university studies where she was doing a course on peace and nonviolence that got her into activism as she realized that this issue was closer home than they thought sitting in the comfort of their university classrooms and the realization that tomorrow it could be her or any other close one that galvanized her into taking a stand as she went to form a concerted effort to pressurize the government into taking action and used social media platforms, signature campaigns and other traditional means of communication to mobilize and spread awareness to gather support from the public. A large number of people supporting the movement against the missing young people phenomenon that the government had to take notice.

She also brings about an important contribution to nonviolent strategies for protest through their methodology which is summed up in the two-way process of action and reflection that is informed by continuous feedback and learnings from their experiences. This method as against theoretical approaches ensures a dynamic and flexible approach through which they help mobilize and fight against the various injustices particularly that of missing young people along with the issue of climate using the nonviolence paradigm. Monica explaining the evolution of this methodology says, “we wanted to understand better our ways of living violence which were very normalized and, most of all, our capacity to transform them”. Monica has been a part of Jai Jagat for last one year, the global initiative to introduce nonviolence in all spheres of our lives and the organizers of this series.

Using and spreading nonviolence and civil disobedience is a strong and important factor in Pauline Boyer’s case. A member of Alternatiba, France, she presented the European perspective towards climate change and refugee crises which she sees as closely interlinked with climate injustice. She begins with her own journey into activism which was inspired by the Climate march of 2018 that inspired her to become involved on a full-time basis and has also participated in civil disobedience movements.

Pauline believes in nonviolence because “the (authorities) opposition can’t do anything to us” as they are not harming anything or anyone and also recognizes it as “a culture”. She not only believes and practices nonviolent ways of protests like marches and civil disobedience but trains people on nonviolence, especially the young people. Her motto is nonviolent training, mobilization and sensitization to not only the climate and refugee issues but many other interlinked issues including that of the rights of the minorities and ethnicities. Climate change is an opportunity for her to rethink and find new alternatives.

As a member of Alternatiba, France, she is of the opinion that what is required is a paradigm shift and advocates the importance of the local in the nonviolence framework as the most sustainable alternative. She is a strong believer in bottom-up development and keeps organizing small interventions towards constructive action at local levels.

Pauline’s work in France showed the importance of highlighting government inaction and how activists can oblige the government and other stakeholders to take responsibility. She gave the example of how using marches and civil disobedience they were successfully able to pressurize the government to cancel a construction project in Hague near Paris that would have eliminated the agricultural richness of the area.

Sandy’s success story is also an example of the impact students and young people can make when they mobilize as activists. and bring about constructive changes is an encouraging sign as in the case of Jean whose campaign saw policy level changes on certain climate issues. He, however, admits that they got lucky due to the as a climate advocate and activist in Switzerland, and believes in nonviolence and “creating new stories” as the way forward for climate justice.

Jean is a climate advocate and activist and founder of The Meal-Mies association in Switzerland, who spoke of his experiences and how-to bring climate issues to the young people and talk about non-violence at the same time. He suggested a combination of activism along with lobbyism to address and have greater impact on policy levels on the issue of climate injustice.

This impact or making a difference through nonviolence strategies is most apparent in the famous ‘Blockades’ that indigenous groups in Canada organized in an attempt to defend their territory against government and corporate takeover which comes across in Julia’s narrative of her experiences as an activist living in a small island in Canada. Julia Weder works with indigenous youths in Canada, and identified herself as an immigrant and settler first, talked about the intersection of indigenous sovereignty, promoting indigenous rights and climate justice, and also spoke on racism, aspects of women’s engagement and the use of nonviolence tactics to counter these various violences against climate and indigenous groups.

Julia through her self-awareness firstly as an immigrant and settler wove an intersectional approach to climate crisis as interlinked with almost all the identity groups other than the white male or their colonial legacy to be more precise; indigenous sovereignty, patriarchy, racism, capitalism and corporatization and women’s and monitory rights. Her intersectional approach consequently is multidimensional with nonviolence at its core. Nonviolence for her ensures acceptance and coexistence and integrates the diverse groups of people and interest groups in her region. Through nonviolence, a more integrated society that places respect and kindness at its core along with justice and equality can be achieved and is the way also present in the heart of the indigenous traditions. It also favors acceptance and emphasizes the importance of the local. Julia employs various techniques including creative arts and fairs to mobilize young people in her otherwise small island.

Aneesh from Ekta Parishad who specializes in mobilizing the youth across the country and narrated stories that showcased the constructive effect of youth activism. he is also the national convener of a unique initiative, ‘Go Rurban’ that connects the ur=ban youth to rural issues by taking them into the rural areas for a hands-on experience of the issues the poor in rural societies of India face. He described it as an important method of education as opposed to classroom teachings. However, it is his narration of an experience after the infamous Tsunami of 2004 that gave an insight into how nonviolence works. A group of young people reached Tamil Nadu and quietly started to clean the houses and the locality. This brought forth a recognition and support from the affected local populace who by then had become wary of people from various organizations who were more concerned about their image than the people.

From this experience, the value of working at the grassroot with emphasis on direct participation in the work showcases the value of empathy, kindness and the need to connect with the local people on the level of heart emerges as a strong learning. He was of the opinion that the youth should not be told what areas they should work but in a process he called ‘slow growth’, the interest of the youth must be encouraged so that they can decide over time what roles they want to play in building a healthy equitable and sustainable society.

To conclude, among the several important aspects, apart from the learnings that came across from the webinar, were the young participants themselves. It is seeing these young people, as pointed out by Isabelle, the co-host, dedicating their lives to the cause of a more just, peaceful and ecologically healthy world and their desire to achieve these using nonviolent tools and strategies, was not only heartwarming but filled us with hope for the future as the world is theirs to inherit. In addition, they were using innovative ways rooted in nonviolent approach through engaging in constructive nonviolent actions that is developed continuously through dialogue and feedback process. The young people’s involvement shows their commitment and strong determination to bring about constructive changes through civil society interventions using the paradigm of nonviolence as the core practice informing their actions as well as their life.

These are the young people who will lead the generation in changing the world and the ecology of the planet which calls for a radical transformation in our way of life. The next webinar, quite appropriately, will focuses on youth leadership as the last episode of the series on building capacities for peace and justice that will be held on the 1st of July followed by the last 8 hours long webinar to conclude the season on the 4rth of July.