Power, politics, activism by Mira Kapfinger

The lecture by Mira Kapfinger started with a simple question by Paulo Freire: “What can we do today, so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?” This was to be the question that we kept in mind until the end of the talk.

Mira Kapfinger is an experienced climate activist with many interesting insights that we were lucky to hear and discuss. Her approach is rather practical and led by an intention to change society for the better. Her organisation’s campaigns are organised accordingly.

We started the exploration of climate activism by defining the most important concepts that enable success: strategies, tactics, actions. In the end, these are all part of a superordinate structure: the campaign.

Strategies are only effective if they include a collective approach and various experiences. There is no magic formula to developing a good strategy. Maybe, the only universal rule is to always keep the future in mind.

Tactics, in a nutshell, are the steps taken on the path to achieving change. They are the means to reach the goals set by strategies. You have probably heard of petitions, open letters, actions - these are some of the possible steps.

Actions are what often comes out of strategies and tactics. They are singular events and tend to be the only element visible to the public. While tactics could plan for open letters as one possible approach, we would call it an action once this approach is actually taken, e.g. once a specific open letter with demands, addressees and signees is actually set up.

While these definitions seem straightforward in theory, it tends to be very difficult to actually formulate them for a specific campaign. But there are tools to help with that. One such tool is a theory of change. What do you believe society should be like? What do you want to change to help it get there? Answer those questions and you will get a clear picture of your next steps.

After that, identify your allies (and those who are not). They have to be communicated with to increase your chances to reshape the existing structures. Together, you can come up with a clear plan with a lot of expertise. While it is encouraged to focus on active allies, it is also important not to forget about passive opponents (if you don’t want them to turn into active opponents, of course).

While working on a campaign, you should always have distinct goals and a greater vision in mind. They are your clear and direct guidance and also help you see what results you managed to achieve in the end. While your vision should stay fixed, you may choose to adjust your goals along the way depending on changing conditions. When the campaign, action or a small piece of your work is done, take some time to reflect and evaluate. It gives strength to keep going and learn.

What was particularly interesting about Mira Kapfinger’s lecture was her talking about #SavePeopleNotPlanes, a campaign she had worked on herself, which calls for an end to unconditional bailouts of the aviation industry. She used this example to give us a sense of what campaigns and goals could look like. It made us eager to see how we could apply her insights to our own group project. We think that this was the big gain from her lecture: whatever change you may have in mind, her lessons will give you structure in how to realistically approach it. And this gives hope.

From our own experiences in activism, this is something that could not be more important. Most big changes take time and will proceed in small steps that make it hard to keep up the feeling that you are actually getting somewhere. Using tools like the SMART goals framework and the distinction between vision and goal could make this much clearer. As a small addition, it could be interesting to consider whether positive feedback loops could play a role in building a campaign. For example, actions could be identified that have the potential to unlock social tipping points. Strategies could be pursued that produce tangible milestones along the way thus regenerating allies’ motivation.

Based on the lecture "Power, politics, activism" by Mira Kapfinger during AEMS 2022.
Written by: Paul Kliesch und Viktoriia Kravchyk

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