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5 Things You Can Do During September's Climate Strike if You Can’t Leave Work

You may not be able to join the thousands of people on the streets on September 20, but you can still participate.

by Geoff Dembicki; illustrated by Nico Teitel
Sep 11 2019, 4:43pm

Collage by Nico Teitel | Photos via Shutterstock

The Amazon rainforest is burning, the Great Barrier Reef is dying, Alaska’s sea ice is completely melting, California’s beaches are disappearing, and our leaders are failing to do anything about it. Greenhouse gas emissions from humans are at higher levels than ever before. To protest inaction in the face of climate change, thousands—and potentially millions—of people will walk out of their jobs on September 20 and 27 to demand that politicians put an end to this insanity. It’s part of a "climate strike" that is a sequel of sorts to the school strikes that broke out earlier this year; this time, adults are getting involved. (Click here or here to find an event in your area.)

You likely don’t require convincing that climate change is the mother of all emergencies. But you might have some hesitation about striking. Maybe your manager won't let you take the day off. Maybe you worry you'll get fired if you take time off without permission. And for many people, missing work means missing income they literally can't afford to do without.

But the goal of these protests isn't just to make a lot of noise—both literal and figurative—and attract media coverage. The strikes will be a success if they can bring tons of new people into social movements committed to dislodging leaders who profit politically or financially from destroying the planet, and you can participate in that process even if you can't join the strikers on the street.

Social movement organizers contacted by VICE said that there are still ways to ensure the biggest possible impact for the climate strikes without risking your employment. Here are some of their suggestions.

Ask your boss to shut everything down

Maybe you feel like you can't miss a day of work. But what if there was no work to miss?

"If you’re comfortable with it, ask your actual company to close their doors to support the strike," said Andrea Shaw with Earth Strike NYC, one of the groups organizing the climate walk-out on September 27.

Probably this won’t be successful if you work for a large corporation like Chase Bank or Walmart. But small businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, bars and clothing stores could be receptive. The same goes for medium-size office workplaces. No matter how your boss replies, the experience can be useful.

A "no" to going on strike from your company—especially if it brands itself as environmentally progressive—may expose it as a "greenwasher," i.e. only pretending to care about the planet. At the very least it reveals where the battle lines are for future workplace action on climate change. "It’s educating people about who’s going to be on our side and who we’re going to have to fight," said Ian Allinson, a U.K. labor organizer who made a video with tips for climate strikers.

Get creative with how you interpret workplace rules

In many parts of the U.S. it’s illegal to strike if you’re a nurse, firefighter, teacher, transit worker or other public-sector employee. One way around this is to simply call in sick. If that isn’t an option, you could join a climate protest on your lunch break. There is no law preventing people from exercising their right to free speech on personal time, so as long you don’t stay too long you should be fine.

Maybe you work far out in the suburbs, though, and it isn’t feasible to get to the part of your city where climate strikers are gathering. "Some workplaces could organize a lunchtime protest outside their work or near their work," Allinson said.

Another thing you could do would be to leave work early. Earth Strike NYC is intentionally waiting until 2:30 p.m. on September 27 to start its main demonstration in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park to accommodate people who can't show up earlier. Your boss might be annoyed at you missing a couple hours at the end of the day, but workers with medium to high flexibility in their jobs are probably safe from being fired.

Getting a bunch of coworkers to join you is even better. "The key thing with all of this is getting as many people as possible to participate, if it’s just one or two people doing something, clearly the risk is much higher," Allinson said.


Take a selfie

Yes, this potentially sounds like lame advice. But posting a photo of yourself—at your desk or a demonstration—and then tagging the photo with #Climatestrike may do more for mobilizing people to fight the climate crisis than you’re aware.

"We call this concept ‘active popular support,'" said Nicole Carty, a director with the organization PowerLabs, which has provided strategic guidance to such climate groups as the Sunrise Movement.

At any given moment there are large numbers of people who passively care about fixing climate change—they will, for example, tell a pollster they support the Green New Deal—but they aren’t necessarily broadcasting it to others or putting it into action. Taking a selfie in solidarity with the climate strike is a small step towards making your "passive" support "active."

Fully activated supporters vote reliably on an issue, show up at protests, radicalize their parents and can eventually form a constituency so intense and organized that it sways presidential elections. This is one of the key takeaways from the Tea Party movement of 2009–10, which arguably helped lay the foundation for Donald Trump.

"It actually matters that people see you caring," Carty said of posting a selfie on September 20 or 27. "It sounds really small but it adds up."

Even better is including a testimonial about how climate change is personally affecting you. "Speak from the heart about why you genuinely care," Carty went on. "You don’t know the impact that could have on other people."

Go silent at work—like, literally stop speaking to people

This is an option for people who want to escalate their solidarity for the climate strike without physically leaving the workplace. "It’s kind of a way of being like, 'You’re not going to let me go out and do my thing on the streets; that’s fine, I’m just not going to talk at work,'" Shaw said.

Doing a silent strike is most effective in workplaces that require a lot of verbal communication. That could mean an advertising agency or media company where you have client meetings, brainstorming sessions, and lots of back and forth with your boss. In places like that, being silent will definitely send a message.

This is part of a broader labor tactic known as "work-to-rule," where employees do only the absolute minimum at their jobs in order to slow down their company’s productivity.

Obviously going silent at work is more effective—and less socially hostile—if you’re not the only person doing it. "Mass mobilizing is key here, strength in numbers," Shaw said. The goal is to avoid a scenario where your coworkers are like, "Who’s that asshole, I just need to know where the pencils are," she added.

Figure out what you’ll do after the climate strikes are over

Even if tens of millions of people walk out of their jobs or show solidarity with climate strikers in September, that is not on its own going to shut down the fossil fuel industry and accelerate us into a climate-stabilizing economy. But that’s not really the main near-term goal of these protests. The idea is to get more people active in the effort to fight climate change.That’s why you should already be thinking about what you’re going to do to keep the energy of the walk-outs growing and intensifying.

"Very frequently we’ll see these massive marches and mobilizations and there won’t be a coordinated pre-planned next step for how people should get involved," Carty said. Help avoid that by actively seeking out grassroots climate groups like Sunrise and 350 and figuring out how to help them grow. Becoming involved in climate activism is in many ways a more effective way to fight global warming than marginally reducing your personal carbon emissions.

"You could go to a webinar and then immediately get connected to a local hub and then bring more people into that local hub," Carty said. Think of the strikes as one plot point in a larger story. If enough ordinary people start treating climate change like the emergency it is we may someday write a less harrowing ending.

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Geoff Dembicki is the author of Are We Screwed? How a New Generation Is Fighting to Survive Climate Change . Follow him on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Tagged:
Politics
protest
environment-people
climate strike