Fridays For Future: The organisation of many faces

A somewhat bleak room in the Göttinger Umwelt- und Naturschutzzentrum (GUNZ). Several tables arranged in a circle. On the wall a whiteboard with the agenda. Very plain. Conference feeling. This is where the things are created that the whole world (at least that’s how it feels) is currently arguing about? I can’t really believe that yet. And still in this room in a few minutes the weekly plenum meeting of the Göttingen local group of Fridays For Future will start.

While the members are slowly arriving, I am still amazed that it only takes the commitment of about a dozen students so that more than 4000 people are demonstrating against climate change on the streets of Göttingen – that’s how many there were during the climate strike on 29 November. Therefore, one question that drove me to this meeting today was: How do the young people of FFF manage to put these big protests together? After all, in my eyes teenagers are all totally chaotic. But hey, I have no prejudices!


For FFF protests distinctive: creative signs and posters.

It starts unspectacularly

The meeting starts shortly after 4.30 p.m. – quite calmly with the question of who should moderate today’s meeting. Everyone is looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders. After a brief look around the room, the choice falls on Ylva. She takes on the role though not entirely without protest (“But I wasn’t there last time!”. – “Then it’s even better to get back in!” – one thing checked of the list).

So the leadership switches, I write down. There is a simple idea behind this, Ylva explains later: “Basically, we are organised in a direct democratic manner. That means we don’t necessarily have positions or people who have more power than others. This does not only concern the plenary leadership. Other jobs are passed on from one member to the other, for example that of the delegates. Every two months someone else holds the position.

Right now Pauline and Hannes are filling out the role. And they report back to us what was discussed last week at federal level. Because the delegates are the link between the local group and the national organisation, communicating in both directions.  Between all the abbreviations, dates and the insider knowledge being discussed I don’t understand all that much. But it seems to make sense to everyone else present when the “Northern Conference TK” is discussed, the “structural programme” is mentioned or it is decided in a quick vote that the OG Northeim gets the more neutral banner for the next rally. So I am satisfied with that.

Ylva is one of many climate activists. (picture: bpb/BILDKRAFTWERK/Bernd Lammel)

So much for chaotic!

Anyway, I am far too busy trying to figure out their structures. Slowly the organisational monster Fridays For Future is building up in front of my inner eye. There are not only the conferences on international, national and regional level. They also have their own teams – just like each local group. For me, Ylva tries to shed light on the whole thing: “We have a contact person for many areas of responsibility. So that’s how we try to share the workload. But all information is passed on to the plenum so that there are no hierarchies of knowledge.” The plenum is also the actual place of voting, according to the plenary rules. Except when it has to be done quickly. Then Whatsapp also has to be enough. “My Whatsapp only consists of FFF”, Ylva confesses.

The type of voting is also precisely regulated, explains the 17-year-old (gasping from my side!): “Normally we vote by simple majority. This can be vetoed. Then there is another discussion and then we vote by a two-thirds majority.” So living democracy can be exhausting at times. In most cases there is a consensus, Ylva assures me. But sometimes there are fierce discussions.


Organisation of many faces

This has to be organised as well: the climate camp during strike week in september 2019 in front of the Deutsches Theater.

Today I can experience this for myself. From the registration of the next rally (which name?) to the new route (has to be relocated because of the farmer’s market) to the Syrian conflict – there are definitely enough topics to argue about. Especially the last point causes some discussions. On national and international level the persons responsible do not want to sign a letter of solidarity – out of respect for Fridays For Future Turkey. This behaviour of the federal group causes some anger in Göttingen. After all, “those up there” are “not our representatives”. This remark seems to be directed especially at Luisa Neubauer. She is mentioned by name again and again. After a vote, the local group in Göttingen decides to sign the open letter and the general tension in the room eases a bit. Until the next point. FFF Göttingen was asked if they want to promote an event with Luisa in Göttingen on Facebook. This request was rejected unanimously. After all, nobody from the Göttingen group is sitting on the podium or was even asked. The members feel left out. And anyway: Luisa!

Asked about this negative mood towards the most famous German FFF face, Ylva explains why everyone is so sensitive about the name Luisa: “We see Fridays For Future and the entire climate movement as one big movement with many faces. And we always find it sad when people put themselves in the spotlight.” Luisa is not the spokesperson of the movement, but rather one of many. Similar with Greta: “We are impressed by what she has done and what she is achieving with the movement even in Germany. But now this movement is no longer just her.” The Göttingen local group is therefore against this personality cult, as Ylva calls it – an attitude which is also evident in the way they deal with the press and which I experience myself.

When I ask in the session who would be availabe for an interview, I see a now familiar picture. As in the beginning, everyone is looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders. Then Ylva stands up from her chair (“I have already lead this meeting. I can do that too.”). Everyone agrees. We go into the hall. There my interview partner explains to me how they distribute the interviews among the members of FFF: “We always handle interview requests like this: people volunteer to do it, depending on the medium. We then always take turns giving the interviews so that they are evenly distributed among the member and no one stands out.” A good side effect of this principle: everyone learns how to deal with the press. Because Fridays For Future is also a great opportunity for them all to learn something new.


Many people took to the streets of Göttingen at the climate protests of 20.09.2019:


A laid back ending

For one and a half hours I have been sitting in the GUNZ listening to the discussions and consultations of the FFF Göttingen local group. While some people’s blood pressure rises when they only think of climate protests and school strikes (#Boomer), here one topic after the other is meticulously worked through. At about 6.00 pm the meeting of the Göttingen local group comes to a laid back end. The next protest is organized, important topics are discussed. I leave the meeting room and make my way home. I definitely have to revise my image of the chaotic teenagers now.

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