Antwerp – Give the young people a voice and stage, we need them more than ever
Antwerp| The next stop marked on our Benelux map was Antwerp – a beautiful port city located in the Flemish region. At Groenplaats, in the heart of the city, we had two talks on Citizen Participation and Climate Change. Here, David Reich describes his experiences in Antwerp.
The building process of the dome went smoothly and we were lucky to be supported by David, a democracy activist from Belgium, and Guido, a volunteer from Gent. It was really interesting to get to know them, as they were from different backgrounds and they had a lot of interesting stories to tell. For example, I had the chance to talk with Guido more thoroughly and he told me that he is writing a historic biography on a classic musician from his hometown. Guido himself is a passionate musician and conductor and he seems to have the same enthusiasm and tact for direct democracy. For me personally, it was interesting to witness that the talks with other people already start before the dome is built up. In this process you learn a lot about other people’s point of views. Some people weren’t to keen to enter the dome and to be filmed, but they were interested to dive into a discussion outside the dome. In general, I felt that the people walking on this beautiful square were really committed; especially young people were contributing to discussion in both talks.
The participation of young people was already visible in the first talk. Our first talk, in the shadow of the beautiful church, started a bit later than expected, as we had to wait for the rain to stop. The first topic was related to climate action that could be carried out on the EU level. We first talked about the issue at hand; why is there so little collective action in this regard, especially from the institutional side? People agreed that we face a lot of complexities that are difficult to generalize or simplify, according to this, they also said that single states are driven by self-interest and sometimes make wrong decisions. This led to the conclusion that it is widely accepted that we need a common framework to tackle the climate problem. The EU institutions need to be more democratic in this regard, one elder man said. He wished for some sort of solidarity, but he was also realistic and said that seeing the big global players and multinationals makes him pessimistic. He sees the same actions and mistakes done over and over again and there standstill seems to be prevailing.
Our moderator Mirte then posed the question on how to overcome this situation. The responses highlighted the need for more legislation or even individual actions, rather than waiting for the institutions to build a consensus. We need to start from our personal standpoints and create a public sphere in which we are able to interact and carry out action. Guido also joined in and gave a small lesson on direct democracy. We then had another woman, who seemed to have connections to the 68 movement. She said that we lack the hope that could bring us the needed change. Moreover, she was complaining about our politicians who lack a connection to the people, especially on European level. For many people, she said, Brussels is like a black box, but we nevertheless should be glad to have this construct, where we can build networks – we just need to make use of it.
Interestingly, she also had some solutions on the back of her hand – she introduced them by by saying that people need to start from their position (even though sometimes this isn’t enough, she admitted). Her own solution is to reuse water, she, for example, constructed a washing machine that reuses its own water in order to save it – what a great idea! I was filming both talks so I could also see reactions and emotions, which were interesting and different than expected. The people listened to one another and it was a really good atmosphere.
Most of the people, during the first talk, seemed to be on one page. There weren’t too many contradicting views and we all agreed that we must act as a civil and participatory society, but, at the same time, the EU needs to reconnect itself to the bottom namely create a public sphere for all Europeans.
Video of the 4 Dome Stops in Belgium
Before we ended the talk we still had a half an hour session with a group of young high school students who spontaneously joined the talk. It was a group of 12-14 year olds who had some fresh ideas to add to the discussion. At first, they seemed to show off to their friends, but all of them had some good contributions, such as avoiding plastic, reducing the usage of cars and planes, and generally working together to reach common goals, in this case fighting against climate catastrophes. Moreover, they raised some critique against the institutions that sometimes tend to miss or ignore the concerns of the citizens. This went hand in hand with calling for action, as they are themselves involved in the Fridays For Future [FFF] protests. It was good to see young people concerned about our future – all of us organizers were really happy to see so many of them being involved. This was one of my highlights of the whole tour – hope is back!
The second talk was again on climate action, this time with different people partaking. One man talked about bio-engineering while another older man mentioned the lack of support by his government – both had some controversial ideas in mind, however, still interesting and important for the general debate. We must hear the unheard, even though they might be trapped in their own mind. Through discussion and interaction we might be able to formulate collaborative solutions to complex problems. A student made the following point, stating that humbleness and compassion are key in times of disunity and hatred, further calling for reunification and change. A good approach, in his view, is to show small gestures towards the person next to you, this could be the medicine to cure our societies.
Video of the 5 stops in the Netherlands
Another young man talked about the same topic, relating it to his daily life. If he sees a person suffering, he is willing to give him as much as he has on him. He says that small gestures can make a big change, as soon as everyone pulls together. On a meta level this would mean that we need those small focal points between larger groups, such as states or organizations. If they succeed in helping each other and working for a common goal, then we will be able to make change. At the end, a group of Palestinians entered them Dome – they talked about their daily life in Belgium as new arrivals in this foreign country.
The most famous Antwerpan artist and humanist, Peter Paul Rubens, would have agreed with most of the points made by the people under our dome. His sculpture stood advocating next to our dome and it almost seemed as if he could be convinced of the idea that we opened our sphere to a very diverse audience.
Similar to Rubens, we want people to show their real face and to propose their ideas that can be heard by the broader society. It is important to open up and to be inclusive to prevent the alienation from one another and being stuck in our mindsets. We need more creative ideas, more risk and generally more humane values, otherwise we won’t be able to turn the tide to reach a better future.