Climate, Youth, and Mobilization

ACORN International India Organizing

            Delhi      We had met Vijay Sehrawat in Katmandu when he turned up at one of our sessions.  Briefly, he told us he was with an organization called Youth for Climate India.  He had opened up a map of India on his phone, showing what I thought were groups across the country.  He was interested in ACORN and how we organized, because they were in a six-month hiatus while they tried to figure out where they were going.  In this process, they had heard of ACORN while investigating organizations around the world that were doing “distributive” organizing.  I wasn’t sure exactly what that was as a term of art in the work, but he mentioned that their office was in Delhi, where they also had a climate library.  I promised if we had time, we would look them up.

All of which is a long way of saying that we found ourselves in their office hours before I had to head to the airport for the long flight back to the USA.  The organization was not a new thing, and in fact had a 40-year lineage.  Pictures on the wall documented some of their early campaigns.  One was a fascinating wall-sized calendar with pictures of on the dates and months when they were involved in various actions in their seminal, founding year.  Other photographs in their headquarters were equally dramatic.  The library had more than 1000 books, articles, and other things about climate that people read there or take away and return later.  The office was filled with people, which is a good sign of life for any nonprofit.

We met a number of engaging folks who were involved with the group at various levels.  Other than Vijay, who is getting a stipend now, this is pretty much an all-volunteer organization ranging from ages 14 to 40.  They claimed 14,000 “members,” but that figure was padded with people who got the newsletter or were part of their social media presence.  Supposedly 4000 where people were active at some level or another from time to time.  What I had seen in Kathmandu was a mapping project they had done of their members, rather than an outline of chapters or branches.  They have a national network for mobilization.  The work is “distributive,” he explained to me because of this wide footprint and the ability to undertake some actions simultaneously.  The structure was complicated and involved various circles of activity and commitment until it settled in to a core of leaders, now about 5 and formerly 8.  One challenge for the nonprofit, according to Vijay, was finding a way to stabilize the leadership.  The structure was interesting, but hard to see how it worked as an organization, rather than to mobilize certain actions under their banner.

I had finished the new book, The Populis Moment, earlier in the day.  The book is dynamite and an excellent analysis of the rise and fall of left-populist efforts over the last years in France, Britain, USA, Greece, and Spain.  It includes a devastating critique of mobilization without organization, and formations blew up with social media and technology, but lacked a committed base so collapsed almost as quickly.

Forty years is anything but a collapse, but the problem ViJay and the collective are facing is similar to the challenges faced in the new age of trying to build mass parties, which look and feel like parties, but actually lack the mass.  These are good, energetic folks.  They responded enthusiastically when I floated the fact that our India and ACORN team are talking about launching a version of the ACORN Organizing School in India this year.  For their sake and ours, now we’re going to have to make it happen!