On the first truly cold morning of September I embarked on a long train journey to Brussels. What brings me so far from Prague is an idea born in Structures of Activism training course I did with IYNF in June in Penestin, France. 

Femke, Nora and I decided to combine our collective forces and dreams of a better way of activism and called out project Sustainable Activism. It’s not a new word combo by any means, but it’s still one to raise an eyebrow. But we have noticed in multiple activist groups that there is a turnover of people, no sense of belonging, burnout and sometimes less dramatic – just doing an action without knowing the people you are doing it with. We believe it can be different, so as part of our project we wanted to learn how to facilitate workshops on this topic to reach even more activists in need, after all, we live in three different countries – Czech Republic, Latvia and Belgium. 

Sustainable Activism at the Climate Justice Action Camp

We were presented with the perfect opportunity to implement the workshop in the Climate Justice Action Camp Belgium from 4.-8. September, 2019. Considering the Climate Crisis we have been in for decades and not acting in a way that would give results, climate activists are precisely the right people who would benefit the most from our workshop. We came prepared, we had contacted a professional trainer with experience facilitating workshops on sustainable activism who could also train us in doing that in our local realities. As much as we would like to thank the trainer in this article, they did not want to be named.

Upon arriving to the Camp, we were impressed to see “free price” donations for the camp, the food and the bakery (yes, there was a volunteer based bakery on site). For someone coming from a less expensive country than Belgium it was great to know that I was free to contribute in a way that I’m able to.

The awareness team helped to create a safer space

Since this is a completely self organized event, volunteering or helping out in any way is highly encouraged. All of us representing Sustainable Activism project took part in the Awareness team, which seemed only natural considering the mental health aspect of our project. The Awareness team was kind of like the peace keepers of the camp both providing a wellbeing space, where people could go if they needed to talk to anyone or rest, and walking around being visible and easy to approach if anyone needed to talk or report a problem of any kind. Even during the night there was a designated person with a phone that could ring in case of emergency. But even within this group there was a smaller group that was in charge of making more serious decisions of what to do if someone didn’t adhere to the “Agreement” after being talked to for the first time. Serious business, I must say. But with self organized events with no authorities enforcing anything and with a wish of creating safer spaces that is kind of needed.

From Deep Ecology to boxing

While waiting for our time slot for our workshop, we took part in multiple other workshops in addition to volunteering for the Awareness team and taking part in its meetings and the plenary each evening. Workshops ranged from Deep Ecology to boxing classes for self defense. I loved how there was a lot of attention to different groups and its needs in this event, acknowledging that people from marginalized groups would be the first to suffer from climate change. A big emphasis in this event was on the LGBTQIA+ people who proudly talked about gender and how it relates to power in today’s world. All kinds of changemakers were gathered here and we felt honoured to bring our workshop to people who need it.

A workshop that reconnects

The day of our workshop was happily sunny in contrast to all the rain the rest of the time. We gathered around 35 people in the workshop, however in the picture you can only see a few because in this event most people don’t want to be seen on social media to not get in the way of their activism. While I can’t go too much in detail about the actual workshop as it is a process for each individual, I can say the trainer followed Joanna Macy´s “Work that reconnects” with the spiral of gratitude -> honouring our pain -> seeing things with new eyes -> going forth. In the workshop we got to reflect on ourselves as people and as activists without neglecting our inner beings while we strive to change the world. We reflected in silence, in pairs and the whole group. I felt safe and hope that others did as well. It was so liberating to see I was not alone in my mental health struggles regarding activism. But most beneficial for me was going forth realising that my personal future can be different if I take care of myself better through making my own Resilience Pie, which is a personalized self care compilation in a fun way.

It was very rewarding to see some of the participants thanking us and offering feedback on the workshop. Even a local reporter approached us after the workshop who wanted to interview us about it. I felt I was doing something valuable, something that was very needed and often not talked about. 

Self care first

While this all sounds great and dandy, in this camp I was brought face to face with the same topic I wanted to teach. I was trying to do my best for the workshop, the Awareness team, other workshops, being social all the while barely sleeping in the cold at night in a sleeping bag far too thin. I guess practice makes perfect especially with self care, but as life changes the perfect never comes and we can only adapt learning again and again how to take care of ourselves, each other and our activist collectives to build our emotional resilience to make the world a better place. But seeing the happy faces after the workshop we came to Belgium for, I am glad I spent my energy on this because it is so worth it.

P.s. Cool things worth mentioning that we saw in the camp:

  • Powering a movie by cycling
  • Intersectionality
  • Awareness team & other safe spaces
  • Alcohol only in one area
  • Locally made compost toilets
  • Plenary meeting each evening
  • Everyone being helpful with blankets, shoes etc.