Two Fifteen-year-olds Fly from Norway to Attend LCOY: “Here people act.”

By Thea Bladt Hansen

— This year’s Local Conference of Youth (LCOY) in Amsterdam had an international focus, which attracted aspiring activists from all over the world. Two young Norwegians were inspired by the conference and are eager to use their new-found knowledge to create activist actions of their own.  

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Participants at LCOY 2019 were encouraged to write pledges to the planet; Photo: LCOY Media

From November 16 to 17, AUC hosted its second LCOY: a youth conference where people interested in climate activism can participate in workshops and attend presentations. The first LCOY in the Netherlands was held last year at AUC and consisted of a mixture of Dutch and English sessions and workshops. This year, there was an effort to make the conference accessible to international participants by holding the conference entirely in English. 

Two of the international participants were Gnapika Vuchuru and Winni Opel, both fifteen-year-old students from Bergen, Norway. A total of six European LCOYs were held this year in the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Poland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Vuchuru and Opel decided to travel to Amsterdam in order to experience the conference for their own activist projects in Norway. The programme this year consisted of workshops, presentations, and debates, but a significant portion of time was also reserved for social activities. The organisers invited participants to mingle, discuss their ideas, and talk about how their experiences with activism differed from one another. 

Vuchuru and Opel have started their own climate protest group at The International School of Bergen in Norway. The pair say they are done with inactive politicians and bad excuses. They explained that they came to Amsterdam with a goal: they wanted to learn how to go from passively discussing climate change at their school to create a movement capable of catching the attention of big companies and governments. 

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Opel (yellow jacket) and Vuchuru (to Opel’s right) participated in a plenary brainstorm session on the first day of the conference; Photo: LCOY Media

Vuchuru was surprised to learn how reactionary the other attendants of the conference at AUC were in their protests and actions: “I have only done protests in Norway and we have a much more peaceful approach to it than what I have seen in Amsterdam and what other people at this conference are used to. For example, we have more or less no civil disobedience – we walk around town and do chants, and people of all ages can participate.” Civil disobedience is a common tactic for climate activists in Amsterdam — characterised by a non-violent refusal to obey certain laws, such as in the October 7 Stadhouderskade blockade that resulted in the arrests of several AUC students.

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The workshop “How To Make An Action” by Code Rood, another organisation that employs civil disobedience, inspired Opel. She says “All of the energy there gave me hope. Usually people who talk about climate change are discouraged, but everyone here is like ‘yes, it’s happening’. I have all these ideas, and I am going to make a change, and it is going to work.” The focus of the workshop was on the organisation’s actions against the fossil-fuel industry: their “Shell Must Fall” campaign, the goal of which is to attack Shell by cancelling its 2020 shareholder’s meeting. 

The pair are trying to break away from standard approaches to activism and try new methods. Vuchuru explains that Scandinavia has a long-standing history of neutrality and solves problems in a discreet manner: “We don’t really have things like [the] blocking of roads. That’s not the Scandinavian tradition when it comes to protesting. It’s not as forceful and as upfront as what they do here.” They both agree that they want to change people’s indifferent attitudes when it comes to discussing climate change, and hope to bring the fierce spirit of LCOY with them home:

“Here people are not just bystanders depressed by climate change. Here people act.”

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