by nathan thanki
On the second morning of the international section of the #youthblast, the organisers asked those gathered as the Major Group for Children and Youth (the official Youth constituency for this UN process) a series of "questions you were always too afraid to ask" about Rio+20. As a group we hesitantly attempted to answer the following:
What do we do after Rio?
How can youth influence process?
Why is change so difficult to achieve?
As is usually the case, such questions actually generated more questions. Which is great. Nobody is ever done with asking questions, are we? But I'd like to here try and give some partial answers.
We should get away from thinking about Rio, or any conference like it, as an all or nothing sort of event. After Rio we should carry on with the same work as before. Rio isn't going to solve anything. If we have a framing that makes it seem that it will, we're going to be disappointed and disillusioned, and then disconnect from the fight for our future. That is not to say we should ignore the negotiation room discussions, just that we need to see Rio in context. One of the goals of the People's Summit is to create a road map for civil society movements post-Rio. I'd suggest that MGCY should be seeking to input into, or at least follow, the planning of that roadmap (a roadmap that, unlike any of the recent roadmaps we have seen in UN talks, will actually incorporate our points).
I think the question should be how can we NOT influence the process? What I mean is that we have a moral imperative to do so. The process, closed and alien though it is, does have little chinks in its armour. We should pull on those threads. The answer commonly given to this question revolves around social media. That was the answer given at the Youth Blast. But it misses a key point: that social media can be used as a means of organising, mobilizing, and disseminating information to a particular end. So how can we impact the process? By retaking it. The cynic in most of us knows that our voice is a token voice, that our presence is not really desired (as can be seen by every logistical decision made for Rio Centro) and that our thoughts will not really be considered. Retaking the process means claiming our right to decide our own future – not bowing the power, not accepting their terms and conditions blindly. The social media element of influencing the process is only useful if our message is clear and our actions deliberate.
The change we want to see is difficult to achieve because too many people, perhaps many of us included, have a vested interest in NOT changing anything. Government wants power. Business wants profit. Those goals align to entrench the status quo. If our approach is bit-part and reformist, then government and business won't change. They'll just adapt their talk while doing more of the same (as with the green economy idea). The change we want seems more and more impossible precisely because the change we don't want is becoming more and more inevitable, at least in the context of Rio+20. Again, I think it comes down to us not engaging politics and the process on our own terms. If, rather than saying "what is politically possible given the economic crisis, the lack of transparency in governance, the lack of accountability in finance, the lack of respect for human rights" we said "here is our vision for a better world, and anything less is an abject failure which we do not support" then we might still have the same god-awful outcome, but we would have shifted the frame to one of indignation than one of acceptance that the world has to be this way.
Over and out.