FOEE AGM Process and culture

Tord Björk | Environmental movements,Friends of the Earth | Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The Friends of the Earth Europe Annual General Meeting was rather enjoyable as someone calling himself ”process freak” directed the meeting forward. It was of course true that all have had the possibilities to influence the document in advance and thus to make additional proposals at the meeting was not necessarily constructive. On the other hand this was not openly stated and as we were there to discuss and decide upon the strategic plan it would be maybe anyway possible to raise some questions.

FoE Europe Youth meeting at the former castle spring fountain

It was especially the issue of a constructive plan for rebuilding society according to global justice values that we in Sweden sees as important in relation to the the climate issue. In 1997 FOEE carried out an ambitious project in many European countries that also was elaborated upon on other continents by FoE groups. The idea was simple. There is a limited environmental space on Earth with we need to share equally, or as it was stated we need to use not more than our fair share. Every country would preferable set a goal to reach this level of fair share when the environmental space was shared equally among all human beings.

Now there was in the project some tendencies towards technological change rather than also look at the necessary social changes but it was an important attempt at constructing a strategy built on global justice. We wondered if this kind of thinking not could be refreshed and used again.

To my astonishment this very large and politically important project seemed mainly forgotten. The way the strategic plan attempted at bringing it up again was to ask EU for seeing to that the member countries started to measure their use of resources. That was seen as a strategic goal as it had a concrete object and the lobbyist in Brussels seemed to see it as semthing possible to achieve.

Of course a FOEE AGM have to deal a lot with what the office in Brussels can do and the office has a big role in influencing the EU Commission. Yet in a strategic document for FOEE one could also think of other possibilities to change society as by simultaneous action in many European countries whether they are outside or inside EU.

Finally I think it was possible to get into the strategic document some small wording opening up for bringing up the fair share and environmental space concept again but I must admit it might be wishful thinking from my side and I do not have the documents here to help me to know for certain.

Much of the discussion was carried out in small groups in cute little old houses in the castle garden perfectly suited for the task. Facilitators had been picked in advance. The way these group discussions was carried forward was very different. Sometimes there was a very open discussion and amendments made to the draft while in others the text was seen more or less clear already and the discussion carried away from influencing the content. Rather than being ways to consciously influence the political outcome it reflected people many being experts rather than used to democratic processes.

In general the whole atmosphere was anyway open and criticism was sometimes addressed bluntly also from staff towards the board. This was an expression of openness which is necessary for democracy in a movement.

The film The Age of Stupid was screened. The global premiere is on the 21 of September in more than 40 countries and at 700 place alone in the US. This was one of the few occasions when political differences became more evident at the meeting. The film shows concentrated very many of the strong arguments put forward by the environmental movement on climate change. People from different parts of the world are followed including a young women from the Niger river delta, a owner of a low-budget air flight company in India and a persons who tries to get windmills erected in Britain. The picture also show how the problems have develops and sees consumer culture as one of the causes but explicitly also points at capitalism as a cause to the climate crisis. Now to the of big conservation societies in FOE from Germany and Norway both had similar opinions against using the film. Not as one could guess the explicit blaming of capitalism as a cause to global warming. Instead it was the way the opponents of wind mills in Britain was presented in the film. The opposition was reduced to estetics only. How in fact this was the case in the conflicts concerned and shown in the picture I do not know. Certainly there are conflicts regarding establishment of new wind mills when there are legitimate nature conservation or other objections. But there are certainly also quite a lot of the kind of conflicts realistically shown in the picture. To be afraid of the reaction from some members in the organisation rather then seeing opportunities by screening the film and be an active part in giving people advice in how to do something about climate change might be a better option. The experience from pre-screening the picture have been that people come out motivated to do something. The material made for the picture also gives people the idea t do something as influencing town-planning and the community were they live and not mainly consumerist solutions to the climate crisis. Here FoE groups can do a lot of good work.

FoEE Youth in the garden

There was also an interesting energetic short picture about the activities of Young FOEE activities at the Climate Summit in Poznan. Here the different ways to act during a Summit was cleverly put together in a way that made it possible to feel that everyone could do everything. To discuss with politicians, sit and send email messages or other social media work to communicate with the communities you come from, making street actions or demonstrate was not something that were separate task but something everyone could do. Thus the picture was inspiring stimulating activism. How to be able to discuss with a politician? Well it is easy one of the Young FOEE activists present said, it just to ask if she or he wants to go and take a beer. Young FOEE people is a newly started part of FOEE which made some good work at ESF in Malmö together with Via Campesina Europe and is now building up for Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Apart from the strategic plan there was a lot of other matters common to an AGM as election of a new board and the budget. Than of course all the talking and walking with people here and there and from everywhere. I especially enjoyed to talk about cycling in Rome, a city I once penetrated by bike for four months a long time ago and a place were it still seems possible to use the bike. To pass the eight lanes around Colloseum between Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo is not any longer possible though. There is no traffic anymore here. That was otherwise one of the places almost as dangerous as biking through Sao Paulo which I did in the beginning of this year, see earlier posts in this blog.

Here I am on a bike when the first EYFA bike tour started from SEED Popular Forum in Bergen to Hungary 1990. The bike is one of these laid back versions which I borrowed remembering earlier bike tours through Europe from Stockholm to Bergen and then to Poland and Sicily and back again to Stockholm but claims on facebook that I cycled the EYFA tour is false, I just had to test the bike.

There were none from the days when FoE started to organize internationally in the early 1970s and very few of the old friends from European Youth Forest Action and A SEED. But Paul de Clerck was there as always with whom we organized climate action days globally in the early 1990s. Jan Thomas from SEED Popular Forum in 1990 and Latin American Groups also turned up, now head of the FoE Norway staff. And of course Martin Rocholl, long time director and than chairman of FOEE turned up for the party and a chat with the newly re-elected chairman.

The AGM ended as always with a great party. From the tower of the castle I could see the preparations.

Then there was eating   … and dancing!

Another FoE Sweden report from FoEE AGM 2008:

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