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Michael Silberman

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After Copenhagen: Turning Activism Into Impact

Going to the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen (COP15) was the closest I've come to a good strong punch in the gut -- the type that makes you question much of what you once believed to be true. But it was also one of the best wake-up calls I could have asked for.
My time in Copenhagen reminded me that for all the money and good intentions in the world, we can't make a bit of difference if we don't fully appreciate, understand, and react to the political landscape we're playing in as online campaigners and strategists. That means setting aside our shiny online tools and tactics long enough to ensure that we're using them to deliver real impact. 
By most accounts, "civil society" and NGOs were effectively shut out of the U.N. dialogue and process -- even as observers. These are the wonks and influencers we rely upon to represent the interests of a global citizens movement, and the people who dedicate entire careers to providing comprehensive research and intelligence to policymakers and bureaucrats. The result of this blackout? With the important exception of personal relationships that some NGO leaders and insiders had with negotiators or delegates, there seemed to be few if any clear opportunities around which campaigners could mobilize their people.

The scene outside the conference center was an eye-opening example of noble intentions stifled by a complex political landscape. A poignant case in point: two young women whose activism took the form of a hunger strike -- they hadn't eaten in more than forty days. They sought to reach decision makers through non-violent protest and presumably media attention that would embarrass or influence leaders. But to what end? While some negotiators may have heard about this Climate Justice Fast thanks to several organizations who joined in, I'd venture that not one political actor with real power had any idea about these two women and their fast.

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