An interview by Zofia nierodzińska with Monika Sadkowska – an activist, a cultural expert, an actress, a co-organiser of Climate Camp in Świętno in Greater Poland.
During the climate conference COP24 in Katowice, the hearts of all politicians and activists were moved by a teenage girl – Greta Thunberg, who on 10th August 2018 after a wave of fires in Sweden decided to resign from school classes and started a strike in front of the Parliament building. She wanted to convince the politicians to an immediate reduction of CO2 emission to a level agreed in the Paris Agreement in 2015. She did what most grown-ups cannot do. She showed that there are things more important than the economy and wealth of particular countries. The most important is the well-being of the entire planet, which we co-habit and for which we take responsibility. Does your activism, similarly to Greta’s, stem from a disagreement with the policy-makers slowness? Where do you take your courage to speak loudly about the causes of climate changes and action for the improvement of our human habits so harmful for the environment?
By education, I am a cultural expert and it seems to me that now – when I work with activism – it helps me a lot. I have been engaged in the climate movement for two years. I have been interested in climate changes for three years. In comparison to people, who achieved changes in our country for the better, I am some kind of kid, an activists teenager. While speaking about my experience, I want to stress that before I took up activism seriously, I dealt with the topic of climate changes twice. First, ten years ago, I told a person whom I saw as a role-model that there was something going on with the climate changes, and the role model told me that the climate had always changed. And the fact that I did not challenge his opinion, that I did not behave like a brave teenager has been a heavyweight for me. I could have started acting then. At the time there was a conference in Copenhagen. We could have done a lot more, it was not as late as it is now. The second encounter with the topic was connected with my work in the theatre. I played in a performance about climate changes and I was not really interested in the topic. I sang, I ran around the stage, I acted my role and I took the money. It was not my business, it was just a theatre performance. That experience taught me that you may touch the issue, almost stumble over it and do nothing. We do not know when that ‘magic moment’ happens when a man realises the things related to social justice, human rights, animal rights or climate change. It is then that an ordinary barrier we have built started to crumble. In my situation, those trials happened twice. And not until the third time, did I realise that I am living in a world and that its concerns are my concerns. Even if I am not interested in them, they are interested in me.
So, what exactly had to happen so that you started to act?
That was a process. The first thing, which moved me privately and had a global character, was the case of merchandise agreements between TTIP and CETA, in particular, I am talking here about the campaign prepared by the Institute of Global Responsibility. At the time, I realised that there are such issues as international arbitrage, that countries like Poland – medium rich – may be sued by huge corporations. I started asking questions: what is this hijack of the state service all about? Why do we privatise education and health system? Why do we introduce mechanisms reducing the quality of food? Why do we allow for chemicals high tolerance? I felt enraged. I suffered from a feeling of injustice. It was all linked with the mechanisms, which ruled us. I was pressed to act. I understood that there is something beyond what I privately do, that someone else orders life for me and I am not even fully aware of it.
I started to trace those mechanisms of control. I observed how hunger, for example, is produced. There is an important book for me by Jean Ziegler ‘The geopolitics of Hunger’, I found there a sentence: ‘Well now, we could have done something with it, but now it is too late’. I had to act. I understood that everything is interlinked, the hunger, climate, agreements between large corporations. Food is a commodity, it is to be sold, not feed people. The principles of a commercial, capitalist world were adapted to something that should have never been implemented.
How is it with you now? Do you deal with activism all the time? How do reconcile the awareness of the mechanisms, you’re speaking about, with everyday functioning in the world.
This is a very difficult question. There is something called self-care for activists. Activism understood as working towards the common good and its needs are always larger than the abilities of the people who want to do something about them. 24 hours a day is too little time. So there is a temptation and danger in the situation, in which you want to tackle those pressing issues and you want to devote all your time and life energy. Even when you enjoy past-times, you go to a cinema etc, you still are left with something at the back of your head. You cannot switch it off. I am not talking about dividing work from fun. That division is linked with a specific system, which separates the workday and rest. It is so simple to fall into imbalance. To deal only with what is needed for a particular idea, an organisation of the events for a given movement, just like the climate one I am working on at the moment. While being fixed on an action, it is very difficult to secure your time for rest. Without regeneration, I am not able to help others. Without observing the hygiene of time, you may allow being consumed.
So what do you do not to be consumed?
I fight (laugh)
I try to work with music, but it does not work out. I decided to sleep well. When I worked as a theatre producer, I did not get enough sleep, I saw it as a point of honour to be constantly in movement, to function with my eyes open, and when I promised myself, I don’t even remember when it happened, but I see it now that ever since I started working on the Climate Camp, I started to sleep well.
Sleep well influences my activism. I am wondering if I protect myself or I protect a person, who is not able to do something, or me as a producer of activist activities (laughter) and I don’t have an answer. I have a feeling that a lot of my experiences gathered throughout my life, everything that collectively builds my personality has a chance to become visible in my activism.
This year, in August you co-organised Climate Camp in Świętne. This several-days-long event happened in Greater Poland close to the brown coal mine. It is an area where lakes are drying, one of them Skrzynka lake has disappeared entirely. The camp, on one hand, was to draw the public attention to the drastic effects of coal excavation. On the other hand, it mobilised people to work together. From the perspective of time, after half a year, do you think the energy co-created during the Camp will survive, change in a social movement, influence the change in Polish energy politics? What could happen after the Camp?
The camp was a piece of some jigsaw because in Poland the movement for climate change consists of many different organisations, which do a great job for many years and for that reason Climate Camp, in general, could come to existence. It happened thanks to The Institute of Global Responsibility, Client Earth, Greenpeace and others. The fact that this year we hosted COP24 and that the interest in it was huge results from the work of all these organisations. I mean here such groups and communities as The Anarchist Federation, The Studio for All Beings, WWF. Frank Bold and Client Earth… I respect those organisations and I have a soft spot for them. They are legal organisations, which espouse a non-typical approach to law because they believe that law may be a tool in fighting for the goodness of nature and people…
Indeed, The word ‘law’ is commonly associated with Law and Injustice, but it should be a collection of social agreements, which result from regulation of certain needs, which must be discussed and may be modified but should not be forced onto the society.
… this is exactly where there is a connection between a policy-maker and society, the people. Then there is a chance that law shall reflect our needs. In Poland unfortunately, it is all limping. People who participate in the Climate Camp have a completely different approach to law, they practice reactive activism towards some particular situation in which they observe injustice, for example, a tenant is thrown out of his or her home.
There is also a form of activism, which takes law for good. Those actions gather mainly people who know the law and are able to use it. They can win cases and not allow for Ościslowo or Zloczew mines to be open. Those are great achievements. This is often an effect of engaging local communities, which know that they have a right to volunteer their opinions about local area managing plans. This is a very effective method, but often it is tedious for the first-timers. Those people prefer organising blockades, protests. Both forms of actions are needed. It is important for them to co-exist. They need to strengthen each other. There is no need to devalue either of them. One of them provides visibility, others are great in courtrooms. Being pissed off is an important fuel of activism, but it gets exhausted easily.
To continue the post-camp topic. How can people engage nowadays, for example, the ones who cannot dedicate their entire time to activism, because they work 40 hours a day?
As Climate Camp we have regular group meetings on-line and off-line. You can always join us. You need to check information on FB, there are links. You can call us, or write an email or contact us via Messenger.
We are building our structures. Authorities are not afraid of explosions of activity such as protests. It happens always as a result of the great cost of time after your day-job, fighting tiredness and generating additional sources of energy to act. These situations are not equal, because the activists cannot be forced to do anything, they are not paid, as opposed to the police force, which works to be mobilised. For that reason, the fights between grassroots movements and police are not equal. The response to authorities, which we don’t accept, is creating counter-authority or self-organisation. We are in a group, which trusts each other. As a group, we have methods of communication, there are people loyal to each other. It helps in moments when you need to oppose something like a system of oppression. Certainly, building the structures and protests as a form of increasing the visibility of issues at hand is very important. It is also worth engaging in both activities depending on the possibilities and personality.
I understand that in the process of building the structures, the question of relations, which have been substituted in a neo-liberal society with competition in a workplace, about work, in education, access to education access to resources, is very important. The social movements want to up-value co-operation, trust and care for each other. Those relations are possible to achieve in small groups. Can they be applied on a larger scale?
400 people participated in the Climate Camp. At this moment the engagement of people is diversified. Some people are more active, other people participate only occasionally in actions. I don’t know the answer to the question if and to what degree the climate movement is going to develop. The relations at a larger scale may be developed for example in cooperatives as in food cooperatives, which engage sometimes more than 1000 people. Thanks to the studies of psychology and neurology, we know that a person is capable to keep contact with 150 people. For larger groups, we have no time or ability. By connecting those circles, we can create a substantial power. But I agree that those connections amongst people, similarly to atomic links after fission create enormous force, which in a capitalist society channels in relations with objects, in consumption, or dies down in competition and ambition-driven tasks. That force could go a completely different way. It could get realised in human relations. What we do as Climate Camp is to invite to cooperate. We don’t mean production of knowledge, because knowledge is everywhere and we don’t know what to do with it. We focus on cooperation.
…especially that knowledge overwhelms, especially when we know that in several years we will not be able to control the consequences of climate change: the hurricane, drought, the temperature increase, heavy rains… That knowledge may stop activism, as we know that for effective action may be too late.
..well yes, sometimes I am wondering if there is any point in engaging, as you can see I have never put my doubts in practice, that is to say, that accepting that state of things is not, in my case, a solution, however, I like playing with that idea. It reminds me of a classic situation from Matrix, when a person from Syjon ship starts cooperating with agent Smith and says to him: ok, I will tell you all about those rebels, if you make me forget everything, that there is Syjon, Matrix etc. Certainly, there are people who want to forget because they have children and they do not have time for activism, but the same argument may be used in a different way – I have children, so I need to engage. For some people, it is an excuse, for other people it is a reason to do something. For that reason, the syndrome of repression may work and may be covered with fun, but after a while, it is not enough, the awareness, as in my example, does not let us forget of its existence. That awareness is my most honest being in the world, it is being interested in its concerns, they simply concern me.
Do you believe that people are not cynical and that they have a need to engage in issues, which overrun their personal well-being?
I wouldn’t be able to function, do what I want if I didn’t believe that people need it. Perhaps it is a form of wishful thinking, but I would not engage so much if I thought that people are cynical and that they don’t want to change the world for the better. Apathy is not a natural state of people. I believe that very strongly. Apathy is a state produced by a hard life, which most of us have, or it is produced by too easy life, as it happens, or by media, or by the way, we were brought up, educated. It closes our horizons. I believe that human is a being, which wants to put some meaning to life so that it concerns great things, not nuisances. I found proof of that… Of course, we arrive at the question of what people see as important in their lives. Still, I think that people from birth are beings which want to develop, are curious of the world, are not afraid of hard work, and see the sense in it. It is not like that we are lazy and apathetic by nature.
The last question about COP24 conference in Katowice. Do you think that the documents developed and signed there have a real chance to change anything?
In some TV show, I heard what Marcin Popkiewicz said. I agreed with it. Nature does not negotiate. What we dealt with during the conference in Katowice is political realism. What was developed there is politics, nature does not care about it, nature does not negotiate. As people, we like to think that we are in control of some processes. That unbounded world of nature is not comfortable to abide in every day. We want to influence it, that’s why we bring it down to things negotiated and signed.
Perhaps this is not the time for words and declarations. We need to act without a necessity of persuading all to our opinions.
Both are necessary. If someone is good at being a spokesman or spokeswoman, then he or she should do it. We have a truly interesting year in Poland – elections to the European Parliament and to our Parliament. I believe we cannot afford to overlook the coming chance. I hope that we all will go to pre-voting dates, which the politicians organise to seduce us. We need to ask them specific questions, how they want to solve our problems. They need to know what is important for us. Without questions from us, the discussion will be circulating around the topic of parking spots.
We do not have the luxury to choose what to do. To plant trees, reduce CO2 emission. We must do everything because we don’t know how long our happy life lasts.