Experience of a Young Activist
Posted by Guest Blogger on August 01, 2017 at 04:01 PM
By Hannah Fitzpatick
I was one of thirteen Irish people to go over to Powershift, an activist camp run by People & Planet . The event was held in a lovely, spacious field outside of Manchester. This opportunity was thanks to Friends of the Earth and the all-Ireland activist network who organised scholarships for young activists to go. Looking back on the experience, it was if it were all a dream. It was so unusually brilliant, so unlike anything I have ever done. I enjoyed it through and through.
I wouldn’t really have considered myself an activist before. Though I have been involved in a few mini-campaigns and am on Comhairle na nÓg, I was also the only secondary school student there. I was expecting to be way out of my depths, but that was not the case.
So long as you care about the issues of the world; you will feel like you have been dropped into a little haven. Where people share most of the same core beliefs. Where you can skip the nonsense such as ‘the climate change debate’, and move onto deeper discussion and even start developing ways you can shape the world for the better.
I found Powershift to be such an empowering experience. Beyond learning the facts of workers’ rights, fossil fuel divestment and migrant solidarity, I learned skills that will help me be a part of more effective campaigns on tackling these issues. Skill-based workshops ranged from; how to take direct action and lobbying TDs to democratic committee dynamics! It also fuelled my motivation to be active. Up until now I have been complacent with my dreams of changing the world. But one really valuable thing I took from the camp changed this; t was the first workshop, called power and privilege.
I learned that because I am privileged, I not only have the means to help vulnerable people, but I have a responsibility to do so. The powerful shape the world. And I’ve got to use the small bit of power as best as I can. We all do.
I found that the issues we discussed were framed in an excellent, comprehensive light. Many of the speakers seemed to understand the interconnectedness of every problem, how so much of the injustice, instability and suffering in the world is rooted in much larger problems. Capitalism, colonialism…etc. There is also the fact that no one problem is isolated. Every issue ties into other issues. For example, climate change is a justice issue because the poor are inordinately affected. Competition over scarcer resources can lead to war which can lead to human rights abuses and refugee crises. The people here didn’t just criticise issues without foundation, without looking at the issue in a broader light. And quite frankly, it felt good to be in a place where people really tried to understand the world in which we live.
When I told my family where I was going, they all thought I was off to join a band of hippies! And although we camped in a field, went barefoot, had nightly campfires, ate vegan food and were self-confessed nature-lovers, the event was not totally airy-fairy. Most participants were students and were very intelligent people. For the whole time, we were immersing ourselves in the discussion of heavy, real-world issues. We had a great time, detatched from the world of demoralising news headlines and the concrete jungle. But we had to have our feet on the ground, while we speculated about those problems both near and far away.
The fun I had at the camp was the most fun I have had in a while! We played lots of games; rounders and frisbee were the favourites! One round of the role-playing game ‘werewolves’ lasted almost 2 hours and had everyone in stitches. One evening there was a ceilidh, another was a talent show. Every day would end with everyone sitting around by the campfire. I felt that this must be a well-deserved break for some of the hardcore activists. And for people like me it was way to throw myself into a new adventure and start scribing a new chapter of my life.
The atmosphere of the camp was very inclusive, and I experienced so much joy when meeting new people. There was a certain gender-questioning air to the place, which at first I was a little stoked by. But the more I thought about it the more the idea of non-binary made sense. I am now questioning the evolving function of gender today. Maybe it is just another way of categorising and dividing ourselves? Although I didn’t get to speak to everyone, I was surrounded by a bunch of great people who were truly alive. People that dressed however they wanted and said whatever they liked. People who expressed themselves fully. This was especially evident at the talent show, where we had circus artists, poets, musicians, comedians and pure crazy hooligans! The people at Powershift were open souls, who cared deeply, about seemingly everything.
Who allowed themselves be affected, allowed themselves to feel. And they were activists. Who spoke up and stood up for what they believed. And fought hard, long and persistently for the issues closest to them.
So many of the people there inspired me.
The food was definitely another highlight! There were three chefs who worked all day making massive quantities of food. Everything they made was vegan, and it was all amazing. There wasn’t one meal I didn’t enjoy. Everything from the tea to the butter was as ethical as could be. Vegan, fairtrade, free-range. It was like the epitome of everyone’s consumer habit goals.
I also loved the experience of camping. Being out in nature for a while is truly a type of medicine. The fresh air, the observations of the world around you. Sounds of birds, smells from the dew and forest that drift about. After about 2 days I did without shoes. Guaranteed, my feet were filthy when I got home. And then there was the campfire. Every night I would be the closest to the sky-licking flames, I was mesmerised by it. Sitting there, surrounded by people chatting and laughing. Warm and well-fed and happy. It felt completely natural, like it was something I should be doing all the time. Is there some trace of our primal roots in us that has learned to love this feeling?
I extend that question. What are the basic things in us, that remain since tribal times, that need to be fulfilled? Food, water, shelter, security. Providing for ourselves and our loved ones. Belonging to a group. We no longer need to hunt, but that tribal instinct is still there. So instead of getting into ‘tribes’ to set up a profitable business, or ‘tribes’ that inflict violence on other tribes, maybe more of us should be ganging up in the peaceful way we did at Powershift? Instead of the cause being hunting, pick a new cause. Anything from climate change, to human rights to comedy. Humans work best together. But the work we do can easily be bad as good. I am inspired to work on the issues closest to my heart. Nature-conservation and nature-celebration, climate change …etc. So I encourage everyone reading this to go get involved, because heck, the world needs you.
If you want to get involved in a group like People & Planet in Ireland, join Young Friends of the Earth, who meet weekly in Dublin 2. Contact them over FaceBook or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.