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Fran Haddock The hour is late and the fight has only just begun

Climate justice activist talks intersectional environmentalism, keeping activism accessible, and how we can all make a difference.

Fran1

I really admire the folks who keep on keeping on in the fight against climate breakdown. I threw myself head first into it a couple of years ago and I burnt out fast.

So when I came across Fran Haddock on Instagram, she reminded me that all contributions are valuable and needed, now more than ever. I chatted to Fran to hear more about her work as an intersectional climate justice activist.

Hi Fran. So nice to meet you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work as a climate activist?

Of course! My work as a climate activist has been a gradual journey from starting a blog about environmentally-conscious living in 2017 to now identifying as an intersectional climate justice activist. I’ve supported direct action groups ever since I understood the urgency of the climate crisis, but was never quite sure where my place was, especially after developing a chronic illness in 2018.

After spending time - mostly accidentally - building experience on social media, I realised I could be a great help there and that was my first role within Extinction Rebellion Sheffield. This has progressed to helping build a climate justice working group within XR Sheffield.

Alongside this I am a digital activist with my instagram account @envirobite. I co-run a virtual Environmental Bookclub and also write for the environmental newsletter curious.earth.

My current focus is ‘passing the mic’ to activists on the frontline of the effects of climate breakdown and fossil fuel extraction, and I am working with groups in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Fran2

The term ‘intersectional’ has been in use for more than 30 years, but not everyone may have heard of ‘intersectional environmentalism’. Can you tell us more about what this means, why it’s important and how it informs your work as an activist?

The term ‘intersectional’ was coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw and originally used to explain the oppression of African American women in the feminist movement. It is now used more broadly to highlight how aspects of a person’s social and political identity (e.g. gender, sex, race, class, sexuality, disability and more) combine to create unique modes of discrimination and privilege.

The term ‘intersectional environmentalist’ was defined by black climate activist Leah Thomas in the height of the BLM movement following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. She defined it as:

...an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of people and planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimise or silence social inequality.

It has completely changed how I carry out my activism, from realising how exclusive our movements are sometimes, to fighting for social justice alongside climate justice, to challenging eco-fascist narratives to advocate for humans just as much as the wildlife and ecosystems we are destroying, and of course a whole load of self-education and unlearning.

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You talk candidly on Instagram about the challenges of being a climate activist and a chronically ill person. What advice would you give to other chronically ill and disabled people who want to take meaningful climate action?

I have chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis, which means I am constantly fatigued alongside a multitude of other symptoms, I can’t work full-time and have to very carefully manage my energy levels.

I would encourage other chronically ill and disabled folks to remember that we are just as important in the climate movement as able-bodied people and that activism from home still counts and is essential. I’ve participated in digital activism for a long time now including Twitter storms, ‘green trolling’, coordinating social media accounts and more, and have made many friends and connections via activism online, many of whom also have disabilities. It’s a hugely effective form of activism and the rest of the movement needs to remember this.

I would also encourage able-bodied activists to continuously work on keeping their activism accessible for disabled people, and not forget about people with invisible illnesses. It’s essential that we steer away from ableist narratives in the climate movement such as banning straws and forgetting that many people can’t participate in active modes of transport. This is especially important as disabled people are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, and this hit home massively during the pandemic when we saw a rise in eco-fascist narratives.

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You recently journeyed to Glasgow for COP26. How did you spend your time there and what are your takeaways now that the dust is settling on the event?

I was so pleased to be able to take to the streets of Glasgow for COP26 after having to cancel so many other actions due to my health.

I joined part of the march on the global day of action organised by the COP26 Coalition and it was breathtaking to see such a huge number of people on the streets demanding climate justice. I was also part of a group which organised an action in solidarity with African countries demanding no new oil exploration and fair climate finance, where we raised the voices of frontline activists through speeches, videos and placards with photos and quotes.

The outcomes of COP26 were incredibly disappointing and a death sentence for many, however they were not particularly surprising for many of us who didn’t expect high outcomes from an exclusive conference still heavily influenced by fossil fuel lobbyists.

I found hope from what I saw and who I met on the streets outside of the conference, and at how the internet has made it much easier for us to build partnerships with those in the Global South. It is very clear that the fight has really only just begun and I see myself being in it for the long haul.

Fran4

With many avenues to pursue when it comes to climate activism, it can be tricky to decide where to put your energy. Which campaigns would you recommend for people wanting to get involved and make a difference now?

I completely agree. It must be really overwhelming coming into the climate movement and not knowing where to start. My biggest advice is to join a local group. Not only does that mean you can make a difference locally, but you can have the support of friends and fellow activists when you are going through periods of climate grief or burnout.

At such a late hour in the need for action, I am fully supportive of direct action in response to government inaction and think it is completely necessary, but it’s important to remember that even within direct action groups there are so many different essential roles that don’t have to risk arrest.

Although a noble sacrifice, it is also a huge privilege to be considered ‘arrestable’ and something we need to acknowledge more in the movement. Examples of behind the scenes type roles include media and messaging (my area!), law and finance, inclusivity, outreach, art and crafts, wellbeing and regenerative culture, and so many more.

I would advise people not to feel like they have to already live a fully sustainable life before getting involved with climate activism. It is impossible to achieve this in the system we live in and although individual choices have an impact, we don’t have time to delay putting the pressure on at a higher level.

It’s also so important to keep an open mind to learning and unlearning things you thought you knew. We all have a lot to learn, a lot to change and we really do need everyone in the movement.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)

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