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Climate Hustings - Guest Blog

Posted by Claudia Tormey on February 23, 2020 at 12:47 PM

Climate Hustings Crop

Alex Tone is an American student in her third year of Political Science and Geography at Trinity College Dublin. She is an active member of the Growing Together agri-activist team and one of the organizers for The Climate Hustings - an independently-organized event for candidates in the general election to respond to individuals and grassroots groups - that took place at the Mansion House on February 3rd.

These are some of her reflections on the event.

What place is there for a blow-in in a national election?

As an American, I’m grateful to feel part of my Irish communities, but moments like the general election tend to drive home the impermeability of borders. Even though I wanted to help problems facing my current home, I didn’t think it was my place to interfere with a process that I couldn’t participate in. I thought to myself, why should I get involved in someone else’s politics?

I picked my friends’ brains until I somehow found myself in a meeting late in January with Friends of the Earth, Growing Together, and more. I was late to the party, but it seemed like having a public conversation on climate change was undebatable, regardless if media gatekeepers were going to give us one or not. We were going to put together a Climate Hustings: a public conversation to evaluate party climate policies, and for candidates to hear and respond to the environmental concerns of grassroots organizations and ordinary people alike.

Over the next few weeks, as my inbox runneth over with email updates, I’ll never underestimate the power of group projects again after seeing what creative, dedicated people can do when it comes to something they care about.

Inclusivity and intersectionality are concepts that get a lot of airtime, but are more rarely seen in practice. I felt energized and awed by the mandate that this hustings had: if it claims to be in the interest of the people, then it has to include all the people, and elevate the interests that otherwise wouldn’t be recognized in mainstream media. Contacting over twenty grassroots organizations, we organized questions around both the scientific and social dimensions of climate action.

When we opened the doors of the Mansion House on February 3rd, our mountain of scones vanished as nearly a hundred people came to the hustings. I saw an incredible mix of people: young and old, activist neophytes and veterans, passionate and pensieve. The candidates weren’t phalanxed by entourages and photographers, but talking and sipping tea with regular people. With the patient power of Anja Murray and the conscious balance of prepared and open-floor questions, I don’t think the hustings could have been run any sharper or more equitably.

While I had heard from many different perspectives, I didn’t really start thinking about the bigger picture until Conor Slattery from Fridays for Future stood at the podium to weigh in on the night’s discussion. He, as well as Chaya Smyth and Brooke Dwyer who had introduced the hustings, was precise and articulate in his observations and criticisms to the candidates, using his platform in a respectful yet incredibly powerful way.

In his book The Good Citizen, Russell Dalton argues that younger generations are not lazy, as many political commentators would like to claim, but rather that they - having more political resources, knowledge, and skills than any other generation - have more political avenues than just voting. Democracy is not declining, he says: “the control of political activism is shifting to the public and thereby increasing the quantity and quality of democratic influence” (2009, p. 79).

We should see this hustings as a reminder that Ireland’s democracy is alive and kicking, because it’s not just about elections: it’s about public discourse, it’s about engaging with politicians, and it’s about reminding our government that its authority is derived from us, the body politic. Our government did not have a stage for climate policy, so we built one for them in the Mansion House, and asked them to speak. They did not open up the election debates to environmental issues, so we pried it open with a petition and demanded a public climate debate.

The Climate Hustings has given me a lot of hope for what citizens can be in an era of climate crisis: thoughtful, inclusive, knowledgeable, forgiving, organized, and fun. This is how, in order to get ready for the change coming our way, we need to define citizenship: a global kind of membership that is open to the entire human community, and whose problems and solutions aren’t limited to within our own societies.

I might not have voted in your election, but I don’t need an Irish passport to try to be a good citizen. Where you’re blowing in from doesn’t matter, as long as you try to make whatever microcosm you find yourself in a fairer place. Your passport doesn’t matter if you want to fight climate change, because it doesn’t exactly recognize borders. You and I are citizens of the same society and the same planet, and we need events like the Climate Hustings to remember and exercise that power we share to make a better world.

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