The Gathering is picking up pace with speakers, confirmed panels, and an agenda that makes me think about staying up all night to watch it all (but I won’t for my well-being!). We wanted to pause our work just long enough to say out loud a few of the ways we’re trying to center justice into the Gathering — hoping that may elicit some excitement and also identify additional things we need to be doing.
This isn’t a statement of us getting this right — it’s a statement of intent and how we’re trying to live up to that intent.
1. Intersectional work and frontline communities up front
Rather than a list of big green speakers, our list of plenary speakers leads with communities hardest hit by the climate crisis: indigenous, women, Black, Global South, and other frontline communities. We’ve worked hard to craft a list of speakers from an array of perspectives who live and breathe an intersectional approach to climate justice — not as an effort, but as who they are. We knew this would take time, which is why we started building panels since last September.
2. Partnering in growth areas
When 350 makes a list of “partners” we have our go-to partners. But good organizers know that whoever is in your circle isn’t enough. Our first partner to sign-on was Seed Mob, Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network — with a reason. We’re aiming to use the Gathering to build relationships with groups outside our normal circles. This is both a global and regional effort of our team. We see this as a chance to make first-connection or strengthen connections with partners — which also helps us create a more diverse set of workshops and events.
3. Accessible platforms: language + physical accessibility
Turns out, the technology sucks for conference platforms. Our Technology Working Group struggled mightily through dozens of platforms to find a platform that both supported multilingual and was widely accessible for people with a range of disabilities (and didn’t quote us, seriously, $250,000USD for its services). The system we picked PheedLoop isn’t perfect, but it’s way better than other options. We’ve crafted this Guide for Accessibility for the Gathering to communicate upfront what people can expect. We’ve found technologies, like “Be my Eyes,” to give additional support outside of what the platform can offer. All of this we’re trying to transparently communicate on our website at the point of registration so people can know what to expect. I can’t promise it won’t be bumpy (actually, I’m pretty certain it will be bumpy) but we’re trying to expand who can attend and who we can support.
4. Then test with folks with disability. Then test again.
We’ve already asked some close colleagues to test our chosen system, such as folks with low internet access or folks who are blind and use a screen reader. They gave us some feedback which helped us pick the platform. And shortly we’ll do another, bigger test-run with even more folks to see what breaks, largely focused on accessibility.
5. Honouring cultural work in the conference
From the beginning, we planned cultural sessions in the design. We weave music, poetry, and art into the flow. Some have explicit times; others will emerge organically. And it turns out this has required us to really stretch. While our list of confirmed speakers grew quickly since November, our list of confirmed artists remained short. This required bringing extra capacity and effort — but it’s worth it. This opens doors for us in relationship-building in the future, and it grows how we move around our work. Our movement shouldn’t just talk about climate change, we should sing and dance it too.
6. Translate translate translate.
350 is routinely good at this because we have a devoted Translations team (many international organizations don’t have this!). But this is worth mentioning: we’re translating and providing interpretation as much as our budget allows. All of our plenary sessions will be translated into several languages and many of our workshops, too. That takes a lot of time and resource — but we know it’s worth it!
7. Support for internet access
We cannot solve the problems of internet disparity. But we’re trying to reduce the disparity — one way we’re doing this: We’ve allocated $5,000 per region to oversee an Equity Participation fund. Regions decide based on their needs how to support access: buying internet credits, supporting meals, or travel to the city where internet access can be gained. Wherever money is involved it gets messy — but organizing is about going where the need is and we’re trying to do that.
8. Pacing — yes, there are breaks
The traditional conference design is packed. And, yes, we’ll have some time that’s packed. But we’ll also encourage 2-hour breaks between our major cycles (not including 30-minute breaks within each cycle). That wasn’t for practical purposes — it’s a value to not over-stuff and signal to people we want them not to over-stuff, too. Breaks matter.
9. Intersectional everything
Our workshop topics and panels are not just a list of traditional environmental sector concerns. It includes issues of authoritarianism, Blackness, gender, intergenerational, mental health & and security. We’d love to keep growing in this direction — please let us know if you have an offering!
10. Telling you what we’re up to — and then listening to what we’re missing
We’re keeping our ears open! We’re going to miss a lot as a core group and are trying our best to keep up with the day-to-day. But issues of justice often don’t flow in the day-to-day of google docs, so if there are other things to discuss or feedback to give us — please let us know.
By Daniel Hunter
On behalf of
Thelma Young Lutunatabua