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A Listening Project at the Bristol Climate Change March

Six Bristol (England) Co-Counsellors did a listening project1 at a climate change march in Bristol on Sunday, 21 September.

Beforehand we read with interest the “pack” for listening projects2 and decided to make our own leaflet. It was based on the content of “Thinking Our Way Forward”3 but was shorter and more accessible. We thought that for this particular day we needed something short and punchy4 and something that felt local.

Three thousand people came on the march. (That is big for Bristol, a city of five hundred thousand.) It was, as usual, dominated by white middle-class people, but they were lovely and thoughtful. It also included quite a lot of young adults and a sprinkling of ethnic minorities. There was good music, good-tempered chanting, imaginative costumes. We went through the shopping centre, and, although it was Sunday, a lot of people saw us and must have thought about it.

Before and after the march we approached people in pairs, carrying our placards with the question “What do you think the government should do about climate change?” As is usual in listening projects, even here in England where most people don’t speak to strangers, it was easy to get people talking.

We learnt a lot from listening. One young adult said there should be an equal citizens’ income and that the resources released should be spent on conversion to green energy. Some people talked about past struggles to get rational policies through the United Kingdom Parliament and about the present campaign against TTIP.5 (TTIP could finally undermine the National Health Service and make the privatisation of it impossible to reverse. It would also make it far harder for nation states to regulate corporations that damage the environment.)

For me the really fun part was after the march. As people were assembling for the speeches, two of us went up to a group of about eight students who were sitting on the grass. They were not part of the march. At first they said they knew nothing, but we waited a bit, and they turned out to know6 more than they realised. They all spoke. One referred to the unfairness of poor countries paying the price for rich countries’ development. Others talked about how confusing the media is. They loosened up quite a bit after I asked them if they found the situation scary.

Then we went up to the skateboarders who are always on the edge of the green, and one young black man spent quite a while talking to us about the difference between his parents’ generation and his own. He was so modest, intelligent, and thoughtful. I told him that obviously he could educate himself on climate change within a week if he chose to, and that I’d feel a lot safer if he was in charge rather than David Cameron (the prime minister). He liked that because he could see that I meant it.

Another skateboarder was Scottish and was devastated by the “no” vote in the referendum.7 He talked about that quite a bit and then moved on to climate change and the importance of getting people involved in politics.

Of the six of us who did the listening project, five were older white women and one was a young adult of Bangladeshi origin. The key to doing it well seemed to be our knowing that we were wanted, acting on that basis, and showing that we were pleased with the person talking. The young adult knew less about climate change than the rest of us, but she didn’t need to know more. She was herself—sympathetic, joyful, interested, open. People enjoyed talking to her, and they could see that she enjoyed listening. Showing ourselves in one way or another was what made the project work.

Caroline New
Bristol, England
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion
list for leaders of wide world change

1 In an RC listening project, several Co-Counselors go to a public place and offer to listen to passersby about some important issue, such as racism or a current war. They may hold signs that invite people to share their thinking about that issue.
2 A digital packet of resources for listening projects on the environment, available for free by e-mailing to
3 An article by Tim Jackins, in the packet
4 “Punchy” means vibrant, forceful.
5 The U.S./European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
6 “They turned out to know” means as it happened they knew.
7 The referendum on Scottish independence held on September 18, 2014, in Scotland.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00