When I arrived in Istanbul two weeks ago for Global Power Shift — an unprecedented gathering of 500 young climate activists from around the world — I was excited about the possibility of building global solidarity and an international climate justice movement. After all, I was about to meet people working on a wide range of climate-related issues. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was how that translated into vastly different organizing styles — not to mention different understandings of what “climate” even means.
On the first day, we were split into regional groups to discuss our local issues and strategies. However, in some of these groups, including my own (the Americas), it felt impossible to unite such a wide geographic space and determine a single concrete plan going forward. So we decided to identify the more local struggles and talk about them instead. For the United States, conversation focused on tar sands resistance, mountaintop removal, gentrification and urban environmental justice issues, as well as the impact of U.S. foreign policy on the oil industry in the Middle East. By clearly identifying these issues as a small group, we were better able to connect with participants from other parts of the globe (not just the same region), who are engaged in similar local struggles.
Nevertheless, we recognized that we are each trying to protect something different, and our struggles are going to vary greatly from region to region. For Pacific Islanders, the focus is rising sea levels. For indigenous people in Sweden, the concern is shifting seasonal patterns that affect the reindeer populations they depend on. Meanwhile, for many others, climate change isn’t even the main problem — it’s the destruction caused by tar sands, coal mines and oil refineries.
Hearing the different stories about people’s organizing against fossil fuels and global warming left me feeling encouraged about the power of local resilience. Each story that I heard taught me about the incredible work that people are doing in their communities to fight for what is essential to them. And while we may not all have the same fight ahead of us, I learned that there is great potential for supporting each other’s work and building connections between communities fighting similar struggles. For instance, people from different parts of the world who are fighting tar sands were able to meet up and brainstorm ways to build solidarity between their work from points of extraction to points of refinement. Similarly, a panel discussion on campaigns fighting coal helped connect anti-coal activists in different regions of the world.
On the last day, each country put a poster on the wall with its plans for the coming months and years. We then walked around and looked at the different posters, learning more about each individual struggle and making connections over similar issues. For me, this activity underscored how we all have very different work to do in the months ahead, but can now support each other across lines of geography as we do it.
The next step for all of us — planned, officially, as Phase 2 of Global Power Shift — is to return home and organize in our local communities to fight around the issues that are most pertinent there. While I couldn’t have imagined how varied those issues really are when I arrived at the gathering, I now understand that the power of this international movement will not come from its unity, but rather from the strength of local organizing and the support we can provide for one another.