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Reportage Firenze 2022: Mobilizing Civil Society

From November 10th – 13th, Nyt Europa invited seven youths to Firenze, Italy to join along in the European Social Forum 2022, which was held for the 20th time.

Among other civil activists and academics, Nyt Europa gathered in Florence to build bridges between civil society and academia as a step towards reconstructing a network of collaboration, communication, and a possible convergence able to face the crisis that have led to inequality issues and democratic deficits. Overcoming the great geographical and thematic fragmentation that has characterized mobilizations in recent time are more necessary than ever, and the very process that led up towards “Florence 2022” is an essential part of this reconnection. Therefore, the first two days were dedicated to self-organized activities put in place by the European and national networks, with the aim of involving as many activists as possible from all over Europe. These days, Nyt Europa participated in activities created by the European Civic Academy before attending the European Social Forum the 12-13 November, where alle participants in “Florence 2022” gathered in a larger, common European discussion meetings.

Thursday: Towards 2022Firenze

As a part of the framework of Firenze 2022, Nyt Europa joined the European Civic Academy (ECA), a conference hosted by the European Civic Forum, The Centre on Social Movement Studies (Cosmos) and Civil society Europe (CSE), where «Capturing the winds of change: How can democratic civil society drive systemic change? » wasthis year’s headline.

The European Civic Forum is a European network that brings together over 100 associations and NGOs across 27 European countries. Cosmos is a network based at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, focusing on social movements as promoters of democratization processes. CSE a Roma-based network consisting of 29 European networks of civil society organizations (CSO) working to facilitate horizontal and vertical dialogue between European civil society organizations and policymakers.

Due to recent large-scale crises that have affected Europe and the world in such as the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis, the aim of the conference was to discuss

How to sustain mobilizations when democracy and the urgency of the issues at stake seem to be following different timeframes? How to be resilient when we experience many defeats? What factors can support the creation of progressive change in society and in policymaking? What lessons can be learned from civil society’s successes? How to conceive of “victories” in a way that considers the non-linear path of progressive change? What skills, capacities, resources, and infrastructures does civil society need to achieve its goals in a coherent manner?

Due to delayes, the Nyt Europa team did not make it to the opening session, but still managed to host the Art of Fundamental Rights exhibition at the end of the conference. After the exhibition, all participants and guests gathered for a dinner hosted by the Civic Pride Laureates at Società Mutuo Soccorso Peretola which is a local association for mutual aid.

As art, over time, has created democratic formation, because it is a form of communication that helps spread and reinforce the general knowledge about current trends in our society, The Art of Fundamental Rights exhibition aims to inspire a broad public to interact in the debate on our common fundamental rights. The goal is to raise awareness about fundamental human rights through art because they continue to be under attack. The Art of Fundamental Rights consists of seven artworks done by professional artists from across Europe, each interpreting the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights through different art forms.

The exhibition achieved to raise awareness for a large group of civil activists who also represented several different nationalities. The artworks received positive feedback from guests, and the visitors seemed interested and intrigued fascinated of the use of art to interpret the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Finally, the exhibition succeeded to raise discussion about the art and its understanding of the fundamental rights.

Friday: Social movements and civil society’s outcomes and recent success cases

Fridays’ event consisted of keynote speeches alongside with plenary and small group discussions. Presenting a keynote to the discussion paper “social movements and civil society’s outcomes and recent success cases “, Donatella della Porta (Professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Director of Centre on Social Movement Studies, Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence, Italy) gave some academic input on how to conceive “victories” in a way that takes into account the non-linear path of progressive change, including setbacks and defeats, and what skills, capacities, resources and infrastructures does civil society need to achieve its goals in a coherent manner?

Della Porta concluded her keynote by noting the academic limitations to properly answer these questions, and then handed over the issue to the planetary consisting of:

  • Alexandria Najmowitch, moderator, and secretary general of ECF

  • Anika Jane Dorothy, Fellow, Young African Leaders Programme, European University Institute; East Africa Coordinator, AMPLIFY Girls

  • Laura Sullivan, Executive Director, We Move Europe

  • Kalypso Nicolaidis, Chair in Global Affairs, School of Transnational Governance (EUI); convener, EUI Democracy Forum

  • Christophe Aguiton, sociologist; union and political activist; founding member, Attac

  • Janmejai Tiwari, Secretary General, Global Young Greens

The inputs presented by the planetary was, but not limited to:

Inspired from the Art of Fundamental Rights exhibition, Laura Sullivan, used the postcards from the exhibition to share her inspiration for further initiatives. For instance, she used the “justice” poster to represent the need for stories of hope, not false hope and addressed the need to strengthen collaboration. In a time of crisis, Sullivan calls for feminist leadership to prepare for new crisis. Transformative ideas, shift in power and bring old ideas into practice are some elements in feminist leadership.

Additionally, Anika Jane Dorothy, challenged the European view from the African perspective. She also addressed how the discussion of social movements tend to forget and exclude a focus of well-being, particularly the well-being of young people.

These inputs from the planetary sat some thoughts in motion to the other participants, thus, functioned as a warmup to the group discussions.

The first group discussion: what lessons we can learn from civil society’s successes?

The groups discuss question such as: How can we remain resilient and joyful in our activism in the face of growing challenges? and What are the factors that contribute to civil society's victories, and the factors to create power and agency to shape the collective imagination in a progressive direction?

Some of the outcomes was, but are not limited to:

Recilience: Discussing how to stay resilient facing growing challenges, Martha Lampart from Polish Women’s Strike shared her experiences that burnout can critically affect movements and addresses the need to align our vision of the future with care for ourselves in the present. Opposing the catholic church in Poland – as it supported the culture that the Polish women’s movement is trying to counteract, the movement and its leaders (Marta i.e.) received backlash as an organization and death threats as individuals, leading to burnout, PTSD and traumas. Working through this internally, the movement talked into a discourse against stigmatization of women. To stay resilient against backlash, it was discussed that motivation can be sustainable by putting care at the forefront of activism as activists are at the risk of burnout. Martha’s suggestion was to speak publicly mental health care, and lead by example to motivate other activists to get help.

Successfactors: Focusing on civil society’s successfactors, Karolina Dreszer, from the polish organisation Our Ombudsman, elaborated about the challenges civil society are facing in Poland, how the polish government, despite funding earmarked for civil society, set back the realization of projects led by civil society organization, by restricting financial support to organization that does not match the governments perspectives on abortion, for example. This led to a discussion that the European countries have different prerequisites for mobilizing civil activism, hence it may be difficult to reach to common success factors that can be applied in every nation.

The second group discussion: civil society and political representation

This discussion reflected upon:

a) To make or not to make the electoral jump? What can we learn from the experience of those who decided (or not) to join the electoral political competition?

b) How to oppose an illiberal government?

c) How to oppose the far-right’s influence on the agenda of our institutions?

The main output from the second group discussion was, but not limited to:

How we demine and think about the term of democracy. It is important to reflect over what we out into the term of democracy because different countries tend to have different take on this term. This was something the group experiences when interaction on these issues. Additionally, the participants came to the agreement that the “democracy” needs to be understood beyond the electoral understanding.

The group discussions provided the opportunity to interact with fellow participants, who might have a different background, age, nationality, and a different perspective on challenges and solutions. This resulted in insightful discussions about different topics of civil society.

The conclusions from all sessions include, but are not limited to:

  • Democratic backlash occurs because the democratic process is not embedded well in society. Democracy needs to be high quality; commit action and strength consensus building.

  • The aim of social movement is to change policy and make an impact, hence, it is important to make institutional allies across borders, and cross borders between civil society and political systems.

  • One of the products of social movements is collective identity but tend to expect instantly result and gratification. This can be dangerous because collective identity can be controlled by promises and quick fixes. Remember; change takes time.

  • The biggest challenge of social movements in a digital era is the lack of members. This does not mean that people do not demonstrate and protests, but they do this in a more digital manner, individually or only join certain campaigns of social movement, hence social movements lack commitments and lack members and especially connections. Thus, there is a need for movements to join organizations because of this fragmented civil society.

  • Driving systemic change is not about replacing the current system, but to introduce new elements to the current. Such elements can be obtained from deliberative democracy, direct democracy, civil society etc.

  • How do we achieve power and sustain the movement?

    • Create a sense belonging

    • Talk openly about long-term and short-term

    • Build internal, as well as external trust within the organization. Focus on people’s well-being, create openness, and encourage self-care.

    • Close the gap of power between generations. Involve youth activism.

Saturday: Opening a new session of international mobilization

Saturday, European Social Forum (ESF) hosted a large European assembly for hundreds of activists from organizations all over Europe. The aim of the conference was to come together and discuss to gain greater strength and effectiveness. The speeches were centered around three main issues:

1. Where is Europe going and what is its role in a changing world?
2. From resentment and loneliness to collective hope: how to beat the consensus of the right in society?
3. Being right is now enough: how to be effective in the time of emptied democracy?

The speakers included activists from movements, organisations and networks from many countries across Europe and other countries, such as Brazil, Iraq and Kenya. Representing Nyt Europa, Marek Azoulay, board member at Nyt Europa, gave a speech on how we must tackle current issues and bring forward new ideas, across generations and actors, with inclusion of youth at the heart of his speech, Marek was met with great excitement from the listeners.

Alongside with the event, Nyt Europa arranged internal meetings between sessions. The first meeting was with a former student at Højskolen, Martha Lempart, co-founder of Polish Women’s Strike, a grassroots movement that arose in 2016 as a reaction to the Polish government's attempt to scrap women's abortion rights. Martha shared her thoughts on the vital importance of this movement in today's Poland. Additionally, she elaborated that Poland tend to feel excluded from the European collaboration and European discussion. This is because of the different national structure and prerequisites than most European countries, raise difficulties of rising the Polish voice in Europe.

Secondly, we meet up with a French partner network consisting of NGOs got international solidarity called CRID (Collective of International Solidarity Associations), to get to know each other’s organizations and what projects we are working on, and exchange ideas. CRID and Nyt Europa share the same interest to strength civil society.

Lastly, the Nyt Europa team and the youths gathered to discuss their personal highlights from the past few days. Each person got to share their perspectives and reflections on the main outcomes and lessons, as well as their overall experience. The participants found it very educational to meet and discuss how different NGOs do the work of the government, and how much policy is pushed through civil society. The group discussions provided the opportunity for personal interaction with the other participants and ask into their personal and national perspective on the discussion points. The team found it very interesting mixing academia and civil activism because it kind of balanced the discussion. For example, the African perspective challenging the European view. This lifted the discussion to become a broader issue. At the personal level, the participants pushed their boundaries performing speeches at the planetary.

Concluding remarks

The overall experience of the trip to Firenze was the activities gave an insightful debate mixing of academics, activists, and politicians, as well as mixing different age groups, where the involvement of young people was considered something long-awaited and positive. Nyt Europa got an eye-opener to how many different perspectives there are on the issues and the solutions. that eastern countries often feel left out in European society, especially Poland, who tend to feel alienated from northern- and central Europe. This also illustrates the exclusion in Europe.

To highlight the main lessons from this trip, it will be but not limited to:

· We must not exclude or forget the well-being of the youth · Limit exclusion by increase interaction with people, especially with those who challenge your worldview · Focus on equality, self-care, and youth-activism

Considering the challenges we face in Europe, with inflation, war, climate- and energy crisis, it could not be more relevant to meet face-to-face with people from all parts of Europe to discuss solutions and calls to action.


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