Davos: Two choices for the global climate strike movement

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Climate protesters on their way to Davos last month

As the world’s billionaires were gathering in Davos for the 50th World Economic Forum, activists from across Europe were converging at the starting point of a three day march to oppose them.

The three-day march began in the sleepy little town of Landquart, a village and railhead for the meter gauge line about 60 km from Davos. There we were greeted by Swiss Alp Horns at the start of the rally, indicating the depth of local support. The march was organised by a Swiss coalition of anti-capitalist climate activists, Strike Against the WEF!, part of a global initiative known as By 2020 We Rise Up, calling for a global revolt to save the climate this year.

The march began with an opening rally in the main square. Speeches were delivered by school student strikers and activists from the global south. Speakers called for an end to the billionaire class and made the point that after 50 years of meetings held by the World Economic Forum it had failed to solve the environmental crisis or end global poverty.

As a spokesperson for the march made clear, “We make no demands on the WEF — we come here to shut it down.”

From there the thousand or so climate activists would march for over three days through the snow and mountains, passing small villages and picking up more marchers on the way. As we passed through the villages we were met with support and solidarity along the whole route. Well-wishers would wave from their balconies, in some places we were greeted with mountain horns, in another we were given hot grog .

We were accommodated in sports halls and village community halls and a mobile field kitchen prepared hot vegan meals along the route.

The march comprised mostly young activists from German-speaking Switzerland, but included people of all ages and a small number of activists from other countries including Spain, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK. My affinity group included a middle-aged consultant gynaecologist, an elderly farmer from Winterthur and a student from Zürich.

The most popular slogans were “System change not climate change” and in German, “Break the power of the banks and corporations” and “Another world is stoppable another world is possible together we’re unstoppable”.

When we reached the outskirts of Davos, the group had swelled to over a thousand activists. A group of about 300 peeled off to blockade the main road into Davos. But the main body of the march planned to march to the centre of Davis and meet up with another march organised by the Swiss Socialist Party youth.

It was unknown whether the police would permit this as they had decided to limit the number of demonstrators in Davos to 300.

Davos itself felt like it was under a military curfew with nervous, heavily armed police guarding all the main points, the main traffic being the blacked-out limousines ferrying the billionaires between their hotels and the conference venues.

Solidarity with the global south was a major theme of this protest march. This was reflected in the platform of the programme of meetings held before and during the march.

The prominence and recognition given to the global south activists reflected a radically different set of values to the mainstream media, which has literally cut black climate justice activists out of the frame.

One group shot circulated by Associated Press included four young and white women climate activists but had cropped out Vanessa Nakate, a leading young Ugandan climate activist.

On this occasion, Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists were both inside and outside the walls of a major capitalist event, the WEF.

The contrasting approaches reflect a divergence within XR between those who think you can negotiate with the capitalist class to save the planet and those who believe they are the problem.

This also illustrates the conflicting attitude of the ruling class to the growing climate movement. On the one side is the dismissive attitude of the US Treasury Secretary who told Greta Thunberg she should get an economics degree; and other the side, the desire to co-opt the movement symbolised by Greta’s meeting with Prince Charles, who would just love it if she would embrace what Karl Schwab, the founder of the WEF, termed “stakeholder capitalism”.

It was left to Greta Thunberg, marking her second appearance at the WEF, to articulate the growing anger and impatience that many people feel about such institutions: “I’ve been told that making people panic about the climate is a dangerous thing to do, but don’t worry — trust me — I’ve done this before…I can assure you it doesn’t lead to anything.”

This march, the first international climate action of a critical decade, was a demonstration of the strong energy and resilience of the climate justice movement.