“After Paris: Thoughts on Building the Global Justice Movement of the Future, or the Most Radical Social Movement of the Twenty-first Century”

John Foran


Overview: This paper takes off from the complex outcome and a balance sheet of the December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, analyzing the actions of the global climate justice movement in and around Paris. After a critical discussion of the actions and plans of the movement since Paris, it asks the questions on many activists’ lips: what is to be done about the complex of crises we call the climate crisis, and how do we do it?

Context: 21st-century movements for radical social change differ from their 20th-century counterparts because they are mostly non-violent, more horizontally organized, and (potentially) extremely diverse. These movements are coming to power or attempting to do so, in some strikingly new ways: through elections, as in Latin America’s “Pink Tide” governments, Spain’s Podemos Party, or even the Bernie Sanders campaign; through occupations of various kinds, as in the wave of the Occupy movements of 2011 and others since; through regional or local power-taking, or of re-making the nature of power altogether, as the Zapatistas have been doing in Chiapas since 1994; and through global networks such as the global justice movement of the early 2000s, and now the global climate justice movement.

Argument: All of these movements are increasingly intersectional in terms of both their social make-up (crossing racial/ethnic, gender, class, and national lines) and the ways they are starting to relate to each other. They are also seeking to fashion new political cultures, recognizing that movements become even stronger when to a widely felt culture of opposition and resistance they add a positive vision of a better world, an alternative to strive for that might improve or replace what exists.

Those most likely to succeed will feature some new combination of 1) stronger social movements and political cultures both of opposition and creation, and 2) new kinds of parties, joined in 3) some new kind of networked structure, while 4) operating locally, nationally, and globally.

In a nutshell, we may need a combination of both a dense network of movements and totally new types of political parties to achieve anything like deep radical social change.

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