Congresswoman and force of nature Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and student activist and force of nature Greta "Extinction Rebellion" Thunberg conducted a videoconference to meet one another and talk tactics for saving the world from dying in its own waste-gases; the wide-ranging conversation touched on the unique power and problems of being a young activist; the problem of holding up Nordic countries as paragons of climate virtue; winning the fight over climate denialism; the true nature of leadership; keeping motivated in the face of desperation and crushing setbacks, and the tipping point we're living through.
GT Yeah. I know so many people who feel hopeless, and they ask me, “What should I do?” And I say: “Act. Do something.” Because that is the best medicine against sadness and depression. I remember the first day I was school-striking outside the Swedish parliament, I felt so alone, because everyone went straight past, no one even looked at me. But at the same time I was hopeful.
AOC It’s true that people don’t know when those small actions can manifest into something. I’ve seen it even in office. There’s so much cynicism about, how powerful can this be? Just me showing up?
I think sometimes we’re so obsessed with measurement. What does me standing outside of parliament with a sign do? It doesn’t lower any carbon emissions immediately. It doesn’t change any laws directly. But what it does is make powerful people feel something, and people underestimate the power of that. It is becoming harder and harder for elected officials to look people in the eye.
Just this morning I was sent a picture of an older gentleman from the midwest, which has just seen some catastrophic flooding – we’re starting to see flooding in the US where there was never flooding before. In the midwest there’s a disaster package that’s not getting passed, and he was just there with a sign saying, “Do you care about me?” He stood outside the congressional building, knowing that members are going to have to pass him by, and it’s very much inspired, I would say, by the actions that you’ve taken.
The biggest weapon people have is to try to make you think that you don’t matter. It is to say, “This doesn’t change anything.” Because if you can convince people that it doesn’t matter, then they won’t do it and people can go on as though it’s business as usual. We are no longer at the point of preventing [climate disaster] from happening entirely – we are now at the point of minimising the damage. And as these floods and storms are here, I think more and more people are going to be willing to stand up for themselves.
When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez met Greta Thunberg: 'Hope is contagious' [Emma Brockes/The Guardian]