The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

The Power of One - and the Power of Many

Caritas Advocacy Advisor Martin de Jong reflects on the power of individual and collective action on the path to climate justice.

On the eve of the last day of (scheduled) negotiations at COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, I am walking barefoot – some of the time – in solidarity with Nicky Chapman’s barefoot protest for climate action at COP26. The experience has been refreshing, novel and liberating. Those who seek justice, in whatever form, often have to walk alone at times. With some discomfort (mainly of the kind ‘what will other people think?’) this is my way of ‘walking with’ Nicky and those she walks for.

Nicky’s heartfelt, personal protest (not the first time our paths have crossed on climate change and environmental care) has also reminded me of other acts of individual protest that have triggered momentum for many. Such as Greta Thunberg’s lone strike from school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament, morphing into the global Schools Strike for Climate and Fridays for Future movements. Ollie Langridge’s 100-day vigil outside our Parliament, followed by a string of hunger strikers laying the way, arguably, for New Zealand’s Parliament eventually calling a climate emergency. A largely symbolic act perhaps, but that is how New Zealand’s nuclear free status began.

Further back in time, but timely as the Glasgow negotiations conclude on practical implementation of the Paris Agreement, I remember the creative act of protest in Paris of December 2015. Climate protesters, who could not walk or gather en masse due to security restrictions imposed after a terrorist massacre in November, instead walked singly to lay an eventual 11,000 pairs of shoes (representing those unable to march) in the Place de la République. This silent protest spoke to me at the time of the power of one – and the power of many – when individual, concerted action comes together to create change. That action may be street protest, writing a letter, sending a tweet, having a quiet word with a negotiator in the corridors of Glasgow, saying a prayer at home or in public, or a word of encouragement to those in despair. It all counts – if at heart you are caring for people and planet.

As delegates haggle over a draft agreement text from COP26 which still does not provide clear financing for loss and damage, nor finalise just and transparent rules for carbon trading (Article 6), my ultimate hope lies not in the big powers or companies, but in the dogged determined efforts of ordinary people caring for land and communities where they are, protecting them from external forces bent on harm, and connecting with others of goodwill across the globe praying and striving for climate justice. As Caritas Oceania said in its Oceania Statement on the Environment in the lead-up to COP26:

We are people of faith and hope. We have faith in a loving and protecting Creator. We have faith in people of goodwill, in the natural and adaptive resilience of our people in their struggle to provide for their families, to protect their homes, to nurture the gifts of the Earth intended for all, including future generations.

To conclude, I share Nicky’s poem on why she is going barefoot. You can follow more of her footsteps here:

I go barefoot in mourning
for all we love that we are losing.
I go barefoot in remorse
for the dispossessed and hungry of all species.
I go barefoot to connect
to the earth where our children play.
I go barefoot to change.

My body is the earth and sky.

I go barefoot
for those who cannot
and those who must.

- Nicola Chapman

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust