By Amanda Vijayakumar, Political Junior Consultant, Nyt Europa
In the capacity of Fundamental Rights Initiative, we partnered up with a long list of great organisations and movements in September for the first Copenhagen People Power Conference, led by ActionAid Denmark. We spent two whole days with activist from all over the world, who joined the conference to enhance their comprehension of the influence and possibilities that social movements hold in advocating for climate justice, democracy, digital rights, peace, and security. We will throughout this article delve into the significance of individuals and movements as they work towards creating a just world where everyone can fully experience their fundamental rights.
DAY 1: THE POWER AND POTENTIAL OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
On the first day, we arrived early in the morning to get in line for registration and name badges for the next two days. We had the opportunity to become co-organisers for the conference with the ‘Fundamental Rights initiative’ project, and we also brought our art exhibition ‘Art of Fundamental Rights’. Further, Fundamental Rights Initiative hosted five activists for fundamental rights from all over Europe at the conference. The art was at the centre of the conference hall which created an atmosphere for discussions about fundamental rights between the participants in line.
The opening of the People Power Conference was welcomed by the moderator Teldah Mawarire from Internews, Zambia and Haifaa Awad from ActionAid Denmark. Here, they presented the key points of what we could expect during the conference (see the full program here). Some of the points were how we should navigate relationships - both with the people in the room but also on governmental and state level.
Afterwards, we had a panel debate on how the People Power could help with the planetary crisis, where both professors, LGBTQIA+ activist and indigenous activist all told their perspectives on how the planetary crisis affected them in certain ways. The debate created a disagreement in between the audience, as they felt it was a Westernized representation of the subject of the debate. This was agreed by multiple participants, but also understood not everyone could be represented in every panel debate. Throughout the conference, it was clear that diversity on many different parameters had been an important measure of success for the planners, and this was well applauded.
Before the conference started, all participants were asked to choose different breakout rooms where different topics such as climate justice, democracy and rights and lastly, peace and security were discussed.
As part of the Fundamental Rights Initiative, we focused our participation on democracy and rights. Here, we joined a breakout session where we listened to a panel of six participants who shared their take on what terms such as ‘democracy’ and ‘rights’ means for them, as an activist.
Feminism in war times
One of the participants initiated the women's movement in the country where she resides, and one day her country was attacked with an invasion as an aftermath. She awoke to the sound of missiles. It was utter catastrophe in those days she explained. You dedicate 15 years to championing your rights, but then the invasion occurred, compelling you to suddenly redirect your efforts towards assisting and be in solidarity with everyone and setting aside your previous struggles. She went on to explain that this shift was a necessity you had to embrace if you wanted to survive. She emphasized that solidarity did not originate from institutions but from the people themselves during such desperate times. Here, she wished the solidarity was also shown and given in other times, especially for the work she did on women’s movement, and not only during war time. As a final point on rights, she clarified that “Human rights are challenging to conceptualize” because we lack the solidarity to advocate for our rights.
As all of the activists presented what they fought for, it was clear that across the six presentations, there was certain points which were repeated:
Solidarity both by standing with the activists, but also by standing with those who demonstrates against the ones who are oppressing them. This is where other movements learn from each other and mobilise from experience.
Advocating for your rights, where many of the panel participants shared their ways of fighting for their rights and standing strong in their beliefs.
Oppression makes us fight harder, since the more you are oppressed for the cause, you fight for, the more you know it’s important for the future.
DAY 2: HOW TO BE AN ALLY
The theme of the second day was ‘how to be an ally’ and we were introduced to ways to support, solidarity in civil society, theories of change and many more concepts which could bring us all together.
Social movements and NGO’s
We started the day with a talk on how social movements play a crucial role in shaping governance and advocating for progress and justice. One key learning was that collaboration between social movements and NGOs is common, but often lacks clarity.
It is essential to establish the fundamentals:
How can an NGO support the movement?
What role does the NGO play?
What shared interests drive their collaboration, sustaining the movement's original purpose?
Youth are the driving force behind social movements, and their future is most at stake. They aspire to be activists but often lack role models or guidance. Fostering activism is important for engaging young people and ensuring a brighter future. We could not agree more.
But how to stand with movements?
In this panel, we were presented to many actors which all gave their insight on how they stood with social movements. ActionAid is risking a lot by standing with social movements, if it is not in the political interest of the state. But standing with movements is something that needs to be done, it is said.
There is a need to modernise how we support the movements, but also what type of support do they ask for? That is the most important question, when you want to support a movement. That is also why, everything can be shifted and can be supported, no matter what. An example of that is the Arab Spring, where all the donors moved away, but they realized later that if they had been there from the beginning, maybe the situation would have looked different from what it does today.
But what is a social movement? Social movements are about power. Specifically, about taking power and give it to those who do not have it. The panel discussed what they thought were the most important factors when supporting a social movement, and one said:
“Empathy and listening are the most important in human relations, which we often forget. Often, we are more concerned with talking or teaching”.
With this in mind, the lesson stands, that to be an ally means first and foremost to listen – not to teach.
We continued the programme with another session in the breakout rooms, where the topics were: capacity strengthening, funding, protection and solidarity by decision-makers and solidarity by civil society organisations. With Fundamental Rights Initiative, we focus enormously on engaging civil society in the fight for Fundamental Rights. Therefore, we focused on the last breakout session.
Solidarity by civil society organisations
In the breakout session on solidarity by civil society organisations, things took a different turn compared to the panel debates we had on the first day.
Instead of rows of chairs, we formed a circle with an inner circle for those wishing to share their thoughts or opinions, and the outer circle listening – and moving between the two circles was encouraged. This untraditional approach left some feeling puzzled, but people embraced it with interest. The moderator lightened the mood by explaining,
“It is set up like this, so you cannot stay in the inner circle for too long, because we cannot stay in power forever. We have it give it to someone else, so everyone has a voice”.
The panel began with LGBTQIA+ activism in northern Africa, where many human rights violations started back in colonial times. This was one of the many talks, where colonial times had an impact on the human rights in modern times. “We are recognized, but criminalised”, was stated by the activist.
Next, another activist shared her country's dire climate crisis situation, emphasizing severe flooding as a major issue. She expressed shock and disappointment at the lack of support or donations for one of the worst climate-affected nations. Her frustration stemmed from the widespread indifference to the harsh realities and the intense consequences for countries like hers.
“I just wished everyone could have showed a bit of solidarity, with what we went through, but no. We got none of that.”
Her concluding words resonated strongly, setting the tone for the rest of the panel discussion.
In the last bit of the panel discussion, they pointed out three points on how to support civil society:
1. Documenting and monitoring the social movements 2. Amplify the voices of the civil society, and not bury them 3. Long term commitment is needed, from those who support
Ending of the conference
In these two days, we witnessed many emotional moments and forged countless new connections. What we have come to understand as the purpose of the conference and the driving force that unites us all, is how we all seek solidarity. By committing to nurturing the bonds and sustaining the relationships which was formed, we can create a stronger solidarity between us, for it is through these connections that we can truly keep the spirit of activism alive. Because only together can we inspire a brighter future.
As we bid farewell to this conference after profound and enlightening days of learning, understanding, and strengthening the bonds among activists, we carry with us a powerful message:
Social movements have the potential to endure indefinitely.
By continuing the legacy of those who walked this path before us and by keeping their dreams and goals alive, we ensure that the flame of change burns ever brighter, in times where it is most needed.