Moving forwards with shaking knees

A story by Emma Örn from Stockholm

Emma volunteering with Greenpeace in Copenhagen 2009

Emma volunteering with Greenpeace in Copenhagen 2009

When I was 23 years old, I traveled to Copenhagen to volunteer with Greenpeace during the climate summit COP15 (2009). Each icy morning, I stood outside the Conference centre barriers wearing a bright yellow jacket and tried my best to smile and engage as many delegates as possible on their way in. I was convinced that that climate summit would be a turning point in human history.

There were many who felt the sadness and resignation when it turned out not to be so. We learned not to put our hope in summits but to see them as a mobilising tool rather than as the solution to the climate crisis itself. Thanks to that realization the mobilisation around the COP21 in Paris was seen more as a starting point for a new kind of movement — and it gave me new hope, both for the climate movement and all those engaged in the struggle for a sustainable and equitable future.

Last summer, I traveled to the German Rhineland to be involved in mass action Ende Gelände. We were 1500 people from different countries with the common goal of shutting down a lignite mine — which we succeeded to do, albeit temporary.

The most amazing thing about the Ende Gelände action was that it attracted many like me, who have never engaged in civil disobedience before. Those who were more experienced activists shared knowledge and strategies with us who were new until we felt we understood what we were doing and were prepared.

It was an amazing feeling of cohesion and determination. But I was also very scared.I have never before been in a group that is subjected to the kind of brutal police violence that took place around the mine. Since then I’ve thought about how I can deal with that fear because I believe that this kind of action is sorely needed.  But sometimes I’ve doubted whether this kind of direct action is really for me and whether I should do other things that are needed in the climate movement.


German police deployed tear gas against peaceful protestors during Ende Gelande 2015. Photographer: Tim Wagner

German police deployed tear gas against peaceful protestors during Ende Gelande 2015. Photographer: Tim Wagner


Several months later, in Paris during COP21, I met an experienced activist from Britain named Roanne. She told me that she has been involved in many successful actions in her life.

What is the key to it, what made these actions so successful? someone asked.

Roanne replied: Mainly because I have been part of a group that stays together and supports each other. Together we have tried to overcome our fear. We accepted that we were all afraid and went ahead with shaking knees.

That’s when I realised I can do it too, and that it’s so important that as many people as possible get involved in taking direct action as part of this movement. I realised it doesn’t matter what experience you have, or how brave you consider yourself to be. 

That’s why, for me, one of the most important parts of Red Lines action on December 12 in Paris to highlight the inadequacy of the Paris Climate Agreement was that so many people felt empowered and invited to take part in mass civil disobedience. Although the action itself ended up feeling more like a classic demonstration (because of the police’s choice to give permission for the action the night before), what matters is what we prepared for. Thousands of us attended the training workshops that week in Paris and were ready to use civil disobedience in the streets of Paris. Thanks to that experience,  we are closer to being ready the next time direct action is needed, for example, during the next Ende Gelände action being planned as part of Break Free action around the world in May 2016.

10,000 people drew redlines that must not be crossed for a just and livable planet in Paris, December 2015.

10,000 people drew redlines that must not be crossed for a just and livable planet in Paris, December 2015.



It meant a lot during the week in Paris that there already existed a concrete plan for even bigger action in the near future. The idea of ​​Paris as a starting point to escalate the movement became more real.

The other day I registered for a theatre workshop to be held in Stockholm on 14 February. It is about sharing experiences of activism before, during and after COP21 – i hope to learn what many others feel about it. The more I can learn from other people’s experiences and thoughts, the greater the chance that I can go forward, even if my knees are shaking.

You can also join me in signing up for this Theatre Workshop if you’re in Stockholm on 14 February or sign up to join the Break Free action near you this May 2016.

– Emma Örn, Stockholm


Break Free From Fossil Fuels

May 3–15, 2016: On six continents, thousands of people took bold action to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground. Break Free showed what the climate movement can do in 2016:
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