By Pascale Hunt
Having just crossed into the latter half of 2021 we find ourselves in a period of significant uncertainty. The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are continuing to disrupt lives, livelihoods, communities and trajectories across the region as existing inequalities are emphasized across multiple domains. From accelerating and intensifying climate impacts, to vaccine inequality and health infrastructure limitations, disproportionate effects from the dual crisis of climate and Covid are underlining the exploitative economic systems, unequal background structures, and often oppressive systems of governance that characterize many of Asia’s unique challenges.
This presents an opportunity for justice movements in the region to mobilize together and collaborate across their common yet differentiated contentions. From climate justice movements, to movements for social, gender, and economic justice, to organizations working for democracy to youth movements organizing coalitions of next-generation activists, solidarity among peers united in myriad justice movements can only be beneficial. This is the rationale behind the 350.org’s inaugural Asia Solidarity Lab, set to take place from August 26th to 28th, 2021.
Asked about the impetus to design and organize the Asia Solidarity Lab, 350.org’s Asia Regional Organizer Beatrice Tulagen said:
“Personally, the ‘aha’ moment for me was as far back as December last year – when we had a speaker in one of the Just Recovery webinars say that in order to survive this pandemic, coupled with other intersecting crises, we would need to build the biggest coalition ever known to man. That really stuck with me, because even though we do work across movements, I think it’s high time to put that in practice and that’s why when I was designing this year’s program, I wanted to go beyond — not just to the youth, but to connect new and veteren activists, and to make us in the climate fight more intersectional.”
The three day virtual conference aims to uplift local struggles and unite calls towards a just Covid-19 response by connecting climate, human rights, gender, health and youth organizing movements across Asia. At present, the event has already garnered registration from 23 countries across the region.
The event will be 100% free and online, and is open to anyone, regardless of affiliation with any specific movement. The Asia Solidarity Lab aims to provide an entry point and outline for those outside activist circles to get involved with the campaigns and causes of participating organisations, and provide opportunities for veteran activists to expand their networks and build coalitions across issues.
The Asia Solidarity Lab comes at an important juncture for justice movements in Asia, but the climate and health crisis in particular. While in the last two weeks alone, the links between unpredicted weather events and climate change have gained media attention in the Global North due to extreme flooding and wildfires, Asia is home to the world’s largest and most climate vulnerable populations. With the highest number of people living in coastal cities, including countries most susceptible to physical climate impacts including Malaysia, Thailand, India, the Philippines and Indonesia, one of the most all-encompassing impacts forecast to impact the region is altered rainfall patterns which increases risk of flooding and drought, initiating flow-on effects on housing, public infrastructure, agriculture, and economies.
Background injustices and systemic inequalities that have been institutionalized through colonialism and maintained through modern economic systems cannot be treated as irrelevant in this context. The global political economy that has characterized international relations and development both within and between states continues to both produce and reinforce unequal systems.
A just response to the climate emergency requires that these historical injustices be acknowledged and begin to be addressed through the provision of support and reparations from the Global North to the Global South in the form of resource transfers and financial compensation to repair loss and damage, finance decarbonization, and uphold the rights of individuals and communities involved in global supply chains. A just transition away from fossil fuels and towards a decarbonized society requires that power — economic, political, and in the form of energy — be dismantled and redistributed, replaced with a network of democratic and decentralized renewable energy systems.
Democratic governments, institutions and rights to freedom of speech and assembly are necessary components to achieving economic, climate and social justice. Bottom up and grassroots organizing enhances public discussion, provides checks and balances through an independent media, and activists and public figures require the freedom to disseminate their messages without fear of prosecution or other repercussions. Encompassed in the right to freedom of expression is the right to express one’s gender and sexual identity.
“There’s always something to be learned from the tactics and strategies of other movements” Tulagen continues. “I was writing the script for the hosting program and one recurrent thing I kept saying was to advise people not to go to programs you usually go for: if you’re a climate activist, don’t go to “Climate 101”. The thinking is — we have to honor the wisdom that is present in the other movements who want essentially the same things we do, and honor the fights and histories of their struggles.”
Building solidarity among and across justice movements will increase the justice of the way in which these impacts are met. While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inability for our current governance structures and economic systems to support communities equally in times of crisis, it also exposed the capacities for resilience for many working across a multitude of issues.
Movements can unite around shared principles while engaging their differences and learning from their common struggles. Engaging with other movements opens up opportunities to clarify contentions and develop a more nuanced understanding of particular inequalities and specific circumstances. It opens up space for activists and non-activist communities to express their identities and foster a shared commitment to outcomes that are truly just and sustainable.
At the core of intersectional activism and politics is an acknowledgement of the power maintained in systems, and how these systems — be they economic, cultural, social, or agricultural — interact with each other. Intersectionality is a holistic approach to systems change, where marginalization and oppression are conceptualized within an overarching structure.
Importantly, one of the key tenets of an intersectional approach to change is acknowledgment of inequality both between and within marginalized groups. This acknowledgement opens up possibilities for transformative calls to action that cut across domains of society. It is also derived from the collective understanding that justice, by definition, can only be attained ubiquitously. To borrow from the well known saying, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ — and the moment we are in now demands a response that is built on shared vision for the future — one that is intersectional, highly adaptive and transformative.
Presented by 350.org along with 6 co-hosts and 18 partners, the Asia Solidarity Lab will entail 6 cultural performances, 5 plenary panels, 18 breakout learning sessions, 3 strategy workshop cycles, networking opportunities, and one final solidarity action. Live interpretations will be available in Bahasa Indonesia, Bangla and Japanese for all plenary panel sessions and a select number of breakout learning sessions.
The Asia Solidarity Lab is an opportunity to foster intersectionality between a diverse array of movements and activists from across the region with intention to collectively strategize for a just post-pandemic future.