The power of anonymity in the climate movement


I often feel like a lone soldier in the fight against climate change. Do I live in a small bubble where only myself and my close friends care about this? If not, then why is it taking so long for things to move forward on climate action?

I want to share an experience which broadened my own perception of those is involved in this movement. You may have seen my previous blog: Learning to Climb at a Climate Conference in which I shared some background information about direct action movements. Throughout that three-day, intensive climbing workshop, I learned more about the people behind these activism stunts and the key things that drive them. Often desiring to remain anonymous, I had never spoken with anyone who had occupied a tree for nine months, who had repelled down a bridge to stop oil tankers and who had strapped themselves onto a train track.

Teamwork and community are the essence of direct-action movements. Together with my climbing partner in this three-day workshop, we had to manoeuvre our bodies from rope-to rope, often tangling our lines and needing to troubleshoot while hanging 20 feet in the air. My partner oversaw my safety and I oversaw hers, meaning that we needed to coordinate and communicate every move and every change of line.

The sense of community came through most strongly when we shared our reasons for participating in this workshop. One of the participants shared how they were involved with a group that was occupying an elder’s camp situated on a territory had been zoned for a pipeline. The elders had set up a 24/7 ceremonial camp to restrict authorities from coming onto the land.

The person I met was taking up shifts at the camp when not working their full-time job, often going after work to keep the campfire and the tobacco lit. The camp relied on a community of volunteers to remain occupied and to quietly protest the pipeline through ceremony and peace.

These groups tend to be loud in the media but quiet as individuals, instead relying on a collective voice to ensure individual anonymity. This can seem counter-intuitive to many of us who work hard on sharing our individual opinions and expertise as young climate activists. However, there are serious risks and repercussions associated with doing some of the stunts they are doing and their participation in doing them is usually not something they can share (“I climbed a crane to hang a banner” might not be something you put on your CV or on social media).

There are people all over the world who are choosing to hide their individuality in exchange for the power of a collective message. In times when I feel like I’m alone in this fight, I now remind myself that there are thousands of voices that I am not hearing from. There are teachers showing documentaries about climate change, scientists gathering data on ice melt, and journalist publishing pieces that show facts from the newest climate reports.

These anonymous heroes are right there with us, doing one small thing at a time for the collective good.  

Kim Mathieu