A young girl skips school to climate-protest in front of her Parliament - and other stories from Masha Gessen
In the New Yorker, staff writer Masha Gessen is carving out a distinctive beat that’s covering emerging, bottom-up forces in European and American politics.
For the magazine, Gessen covered The Initiative, Sweden’s version of our sister organisation, Alternativet (from Denmark).
Here’s a few of his stories available online:
The Fifteen-Year-Old Climate Activist Who Is Demanding a New Kind of Politics
From the magazine:
“Sometimes the world makes so little sense that the only thing to do is engage in civil disobedience—even in a country as attached to its rules and regulations as Sweden is. Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has been protesting for more than a month.
Before the country’s parliamentary election on September 9th, she went on strike and sat on the steps of the parliament building, in Stockholm, every day during school hours for three weeks. Since the election, she has returned to school for four days a week; she now spends her Fridays on the steps of parliament.
She is demanding that the government undertake a radical response to climate change. She told me that a number of members of parliament have come out to the steps to express support for her position, although every one of them has said that she should really be at school. Her parents think so, too, she said—that she should really go to school, though she is right to protest.
Protesting as an Act of Faith
From the magazine (a review of “How to Read a Protest: The Art of Organizing and Resistance,” by organiser L. A. Kauffman):
A single protest event can have momentous consequences. The evidence here comes from an academic study that traces the development of Tea Party organizations in different locations and links their size and impact to the local scale and success of that movement’s original rallies, on Tax Day, 2009, (which, in turn, depended largely on the weather). The correlation between the original rally and the might of the local organization was strong enough to support Kauffman’s assertion that “the way a single protest unfolds can affect the whole shape and power of a movement going forward.”
But the women’s marches of 2017 didn’t just help shape and fuel a movement—they actually created one. “Movements had created big marches many times before but this time, in a way that was impossible to predict and marvelous to observe, marching created a movement,” Kauffman writes.
A year into this movement, by Kauffman’s calculation, “there would be almost ten local resistance groups for every Women’s March that had happened in January 2017—a total of 6,000 groups, which is vastly more than, say, the 800 to 1,000 local groups that the Tea Party could boast at its height.”
These groups worked on local elections and on issues such as immigration, climate change, sexual assault and harassment, gun control, and racism. These groups and networks also brought the protesters to Washington during the Kavanaugh hearings and produced the singular moment of hope during that ordeal, when two women confronted Senator Jeff Flake, in an elevator, apparently prompting him to call for an F.B.I. investigation into the sexual-assault allegations against Kavanaugh.
A final quote from Kauffman:
The work that protests do often can’t be seen in the moment. Their effects tend to be subtle, dispersed, and catalytic. There are occasions, of course, when you’re destined to lose whatever it is you’re fighting for, and a protest is just a cry of frustration.
But other times the arc of history does bend toward justice, and there are magical moments when—often quite suddenly—you win.
Protesting is always an act of faith, a gamble that action might spark more action, that inspiration will travel in unpredictable ways, that taking a bold public stand will set new forces into motion, that justice will prevail.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that movements face is sustaining the hope that’s required for people to keep taking action over time. So sometimes the most consequential way a mass protest can work is by changing the protesters themselves, giving them the taste of collective power they need to stay in the fight.