WHERE DO ACTIVISTS COME FROM?

by Eliza Horton and Claire Reiderman

The first in our series of articles from progressive and campaigning societies at UEA.

Standing in a crowded sports hall on the first Tuesday of the semester surrounded by hungover freshers and the smell of stale sweat can only mean one thing – the society fair, or as its known at UEA ‘SocMart’. This year, as a new committee member for several societies, I was kept busy desperately piling all our leaflets onto the exam-sized table and leaping out at unsuspecting first years almost all day. One of these societies was People & Planet UEA, the UEA branch of the national organization founded by students with the aim of environmental and social justice. Surprisingly, given the description I have given above, the day was strangely enjoyable. It felt good to be asking students difficult questions about climate change (rather than just ‘who was playing in the LCR tonight’), to see them struggle to answer and to be able to offer them a way of educating and mobilizing themselves.

People & Planet’s strength lies in its breadth and unity – as a society it operates on two levels: the national and that of the individual university. National regional meetings are held in which campaigns are decided upon and then the students return to their respective universities and put these ideas into action. This is done through weekly society meetings where all members are welcome to share ideas (and usually biscuits); they discuss campaign methods and update the society on any current progress or plans.

Although much of the life of this society is contained to it members, it also aims to inspire and encourage interest throughout the whole student body by holding events with guest speakers, for example with members of Greenpeace. Additionally, certain People and Planet groups hold film screenings, such as the recent release Just Do It (2011), and public panel discussions to launch new campaigns.

Fossil Free is one of these most recent campaigns; started in 2013 it focuses on the divestment of universities from fossil fuel companies, such as the £130, 000 that UEA has invested in companies such as Shell and Rio Tinto, and reinvestment of these funds into more sustainable investments. This campaign is essential to reducing the potential disastrous impacts of climate change – which at the current rate, will take as few as 16 years to reach the 2°C temperature rise that would cause these catastrophic effects.

Since its launch, the campaign has achieved widespread recognition – spanning far beyond the university domain. Examples of recent successful Fossil Free institutions include the Church of Sweden, thanks to Fossil Free Sweden, and the British Medical Association that recently voted to reinvest in sustainable energy. The desire to be fossil free can also been seen in the results of the recent Climate March which took place in over 160 countries – one of these being the pledge by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which initially made its fortune in oil, to completely divest from fossil fuels to the worth of 50 billion dollars.

The Worker Rights Consortium is another campaign that People & Planet have been working on since 2009. The campaign aims to eradicate sweatshops, poverty wages and exploitation. The WRC acts as a monitoring body for factories in which branded university clothing is made; from sports clothing to security uniforms. At UEA, People & Planet have experienced a long five year struggle to complete this campaign. Some universities such as UEA, Durham and Edinburgh even undertook a naked protest to display their disgust with the lack of justice.

Though these are just a few examples of the issues that the society addresses, its importance cannot be stressed enough. The importance of People & Planet, a society which creates and supports young activists, is essential not only to the development of a child to a responsible and caring adult, but also to the world in which they must consequently live.  I saw many activists in the making that Tuesday at society fair, many who arrived at our modest stall who didn’t yet know that they were – because all it takes to make change is to care passionately about the world and those who you share it with. People & Planet recognise this in students and gives them the means to act.

UEA People and Planet’s first meeting is October 1st (Wednesday) 5pm in Union House 1.28.

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