Lessons learned and shared by 350 France about their off shore drilling and fossil fuel campaigns in France.
This presentation has lessons on setting campaign goals and strategy as seen through the eyes of 350 France team Nicolas Haeringer and Clémence Dubois.
It is shared as part of the Organising Story-telling Lab, a collection of different case studies and stories of organising and movements from across the globe collated and presented by 350.org.
The story telling lab weaves lessons from a range of stories and perspectives, including people close to the ground and nationally.
Each case draws out lessons from the people involved and concludes with broader generalisations. Whilst these case studies are focused on 350 and the climate movement the lessons learned and reflections are applicable to any campaign.
See the original slides on the 350.org Organising Story-telling lab. The Commons has also shared parts of the presentation below and made minor formatting edits to the original such as adding headings, bullet points and quotes.
What you’ll learn in this lab
The people have, in essence halted new fossil fuel production in France. How did they get the French government to keep it in the ground?
Setting Bold Goals
Watch how French campaigners (350 and many, many others) balance campaign goals. Even though France was ripe for change, their goals needed to both motivate their movement base and speak to new people outside the movement and create a bigger vision. Learn some lessons on setting bold campaigns to keep it in the ground!
French activists gave constant attention to what’s happening at the local level. That is often in tension with building direct pressure on government officials and corporations – either through elite media or direct lobbying. Learn some lessons on applying pressure to political actors, while still growing grassroots support!
Phase 1: An unimportant summit is made important
In the sleepy town of Pau in Southwest France an off-shore drilling summit is organized for March 2016. The movement is going to make it a major showdown.
A strategy was needed to give people a direction
- The French movement had large wins banning fracking. Even regions made up of tiny towns of a few hundred people, had seen protests swirl in tens of thousands against fracking.
- COP21 had just happened. Returning activists had energy, enthusiasm, but no clear movement to plug into.
- A direction was needed. So an opportunity was created.
Pau, France is a city drenched in oil money. The region largely supports the exploitation for the sake of money and jobs. It was therefore a natural place for the fossil fuel industry to host a rarely publicized international summit on off-shore drilling, called MCEDD. From 5 to 7 April, the summit would include oil companies like Total, Shell, BP and ExxonMobil.
Activists would make it into a big event to pressure environmental minister Ségolène Royal! Local groups hyped this summit as the “COP21 Non-Violent Action.” They organised partners to shutdown the summit. Nicolas called it the Dracula Strategy: Les vampires sont tués par la lumière. (Vampires are killed by light.)
During a 7-day climate camp, they shared possible ways to shut it down:
- People could lock down in the technical room and blast loud music to drown out the conference
- People could infiltrate the meeting as staff or workers and disrupting the summit
- People could push through police lines and block the gate
- People could pour bottles of rotten fish across the floor of the summit so people couldn’t meet
- And so on…
But a successful shutdown on its own doesn’t lead anywhere. They knew their actions were bold enough to earn a media spotlight. But that’s not a strategy. That’s one press event. They needed a direction. Environmental minister Ségolène Royal had a few months left in office and wanted to leave a legacy.
Put yourselves in the activists’ shoes. You have a platform to make a demand to the government. What do you demand at the summit action?
- Get Ségolène Royal to make an official freeze on all fracking & off-shore drilling?
- Joins forces with the anti-fracking movement
- A good starting point
- Get Ségolène Royal to freeze all fossil fuel development?
- Makes the ultimate demand you know the country needs to fulfill
- Get Ségolène Royal to freeze all off-shore drilling in the Mediterranean?
- A small step forward
- Perceived as realistic and a reasonable step
- A freeze on all off-shore drilling in the Mediterranean. Let’s find out why.
The thinking was: this is a convention about off-shore drilling, so the demand should be related to the summit so we looked legitimate.
If we demanded “all fossil fuel in the ground” it wouldn’t mobilize the majority of people. We didn’t want to just look like people who were never happy, but people following the process.
We had just started – we needed to show people this direction could win something. We talked to anti-fracking activists and told them this was only one step. Some weren’t happy.
Plus, we analyzed Ségolène Royal’s political interests and found she really cared about oceans. She always had a crush on oceans!
With that demand & their action plan: Massive disruption
Each day saw a wide range of nonviolent actions used: die-ins, blocking, signs and more.
And they won
We found out about the win in the media the week after the action. The government created a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction in the (French) Mediterranean sea. In the media article, the journalist drew the connection saying it happened because of our pressure. We called the reporter to learn more.
We were incredibly happy! We sent excited emails to each other. We had no plans to push for more right away. So we wrote a blast saying, “This is a step. It proves movements win…” But we didn’t have a plan for what was next.
Phase 2: Expanding the moratorium in time and place
Ahead of national electoral campaigns for a new president, a UN convention challenges the movement: Where do we go next? How do we grow the movement? Winning is rarely easy.
The movement need a next step. What now?
- Ende Gelände offered an follow-up activity for the activists. But there was no clear action plan for the France fossil free movement.
- A next step was needed. So, once again, an opportunity was created. Well, not really created as much as stumbled into.
The movement learns that early March there’s another off-shore convention. This time it’s the UN Convention on the Caraibe sea held in French Guyana – and the Environment Minister of France is going. The movement springs into action. Despite the recent win, the movement has more expertise on fracking than on off-shore drilling. But they choose to action to make fossil fuel part of the political campaign.
Climate was not part of the electoral campaign. Activists feared it would only be on scandals. They needed to make this issue more visible. Their thinking: La prochaine étape consiste à gagner dans le temps et l’espace… (The next step is to win in time and space)
It was too soon to organise a massive disruption. So they picked a tamer action. But now they were known and respected for what they could do. So the threat of doing more was implied – an advantage of direct action!
The plan this time was simple: an open letter. But what’s the demand?
You’ve won a moratorium on Mediterranean drilling. What’s your demand? At the UN convention what do you demand?
- Go for the achievable: ask for a moratorium on some off-shore drilling (none on France’s Atlantic waters)?
- A small step forward
- Winnable and achievable
- Go for a bold ask that sounds reasonable: freeze on all off-shore drilling?
- Perceived as realistic & reasonable
- Includes territories covered by UN convention
- Go for it all: ask for a total freeze on all fossil fuel development?
- Makes the ultimate demand you know the country needs to fulfill
- Go for a bold ask that sounds reasonable: freeze on all off-shore drilling.
WWF and other organisations resisted that letter. They refused to sign. Their strategy was to ask for that which was “achievable.” They wanted to go back to their base and say, “We asked. We got it.”
We were in the movement-building strategy. It was time to move the goalposts and teach people: “If we don’t get it, then we’ll mobilize to get it.” Still, we wanted to make an ask that we could get candidates to debate and put pressure on. Going too far would mean they would ignore it. We had about 15 groups sign the letter and 6000+ people signed.
And they did not win. The government announces a moratorium on some waters, but not all territorial waters.
The number of people who signed wasn’t as many as hoped. I wish we had mobilised our network earlier even if just a symbolic action to prepare people for when we say “green light” on an action like this. But during the following months of the political campaign, WWF had nothing to say because they had “achieved” their goal. Honestly, we would have been happier if it had been about fracking, instead of off-shore drilling. But we were looking for an opportunity to connect more people to this issue of fossil fuels. At least we had a goal we could get vocal on. We made off-shore drilling part of the electoral campaign.
Phase 3: Macron wins: Things speed up
Centre-leftist candidate Macron wins and appoints a movement ally as environmental minister. Though he may be just talk. All this risks being overshadowed by Tump’s impending plan to leave the Paris agreements. Trump plans to quit Paris. But nobody knew exactly what he’ll really do. Macron talks good. But on climate, nobody knows what Macron will really do.
You’ve won concessions. Now what do you do to Macron? In the first 2 weeks of Macron, what do you do?
- Set-up meetings with the environmental minister to apply informal pressure?
- Ask people to write letters to Macron, framing him as a possible hero?
- Go on the offense: organise an action at the presidential palace to apply pressure right away?
Go on the offense: organise an action at the presidential palace to apply pressure right away
Our stunt in front of the presidential Palace. Unlike a press conference, the stunt created enough noise that press covered it.
Learn from other movements
The “Climate Welcome” was an action developed by the 350 Canadian team. 350 Canada developed it to welcome their new Prime Minister – a smooth talker who was not actually as good as people believed he was going to be. The problem is that other movement leaders see an opening and think the goal is to get a closer relationship with those in power – they don’t want to pressure new leadership.
350 Canada’s Climate Welcome was a gentle, but firm action. 350 France learned about that action from the Organising Story-telling Lab about the 350 Canadian team’s climate welcome called: How to Influence a Politically Frenemy.
We stole that idea and loved it!
Lots of organisers said it’s not the right timing. While we were organising this, others group were being meeting sherpas before G20. They were willing to share our demands inside. Because we were the most publicly visible action, we ended up sending media briefs with all the events and updates. This made it look like something really big. We wish we had the capacity to do local decentralised work, but we didn’t. It was strictly national press. Because of our work, we were invited to meet with the new President. We had to prepare new demands.
Things are moving fast. What’s your demand for you meeting with France’s government? Now, what do we demand?
- It’s time to call for an end to all fossil fuel production in France!?
- It’s time to ask for a process demand: demand that 350 be part of the commission to decide what’s next?
- It’s time to push forward our most recent demand – we have to win it: ending all off-shore drilling?
- It’s time to call for an end to all fossil fuel production in France!
It was time to test the President with a demand for a fossil fuel freeze.
If the US leaves Paris, other countries have to apply sanctions to the US.
You must be the best and halt all fossil fuel production.
France must invest in a Green Fund support global frontline communities to transition towards renewables.
We saw hope that he had appointed Nicolas Hulot as Environmental Minister. We had an ally inside the government. But we saw that if Trump withdrew from Paris it would create a political impact. It opens a door for leadership and everyone would be shocked, including world leaders.
That means all options would be considered. That means we have to put the extreme on the table. And we were afraid that Macron would speak and speak. We needed strong, simple, and understandable demands to mobilise people.
3 weeks later Trump withdraws the United States from Paris agreements. Macron’s reaction was swift and strong. He made a rare speech in parliament in English. He called scientists to come and work on climate.
The strategy worked: because Macron announced a bill to ban fossil fuel production in France. Trump really had shocked the world – and Macron wanted to frame France as a green country. Some saw it as a total victory. Others saw it would get weakened over time.
To keep it as strong as possible, 350 organised as best they could. To combat potential greenwashing, they set-up a competing website (MakeFrance GreenAgain.fr). They did detailed analysis of the bill’s language and organised grassroots pressure to strengthen the bill.
We had little time so everything we did was digital. We did analyses of the content of the incredibly technical law. Even journalists didn’t understand it and turned to us and Friends of the Earth. We set-up a site where anyone could write to their MP. We did advocacy in a grassroots way – with over 6,000 signatures to over 125 MPs at once. We wanted to do a grassroots campaign – to get in local press and organise local actions across the country. But it was all moving too quickly and we only had 2 staff. To be honest, if we had the time to back it with a distributed campaign we would have had a bigger impact. Still, the end result was beyond our expectations given our minimal campaign infrastructure.
Let’s wrap-up with lessons on goal setting.
Their flow: Call for an end to off-shore drilling in the Mediterranean > Call for an end to all off-shore drilling > Call for an end to all fossil fuel development
At first, their goals grew the movement and looked reasonable – even while doing extreme actions. After winning, they grew their demands beyond “what was achievable.” They were teaching people to grow their vision of what is possible. And finally they asked for the “impossible” – especially when there was a major event that required bold action.
- More from the 350.org Organising Storytelling Lab
- Climate Resistance Handbook Or, I was part of a climate action. Now what?
- Community Organizing in France: A Collection of Resources from Organisez-Vous | Organisation collective en France : Recueil de ressources de l’association Organisez-Vous (French – Français)
- How to Beat the ‘Fracking Frenzy: Lessons from the Campaign that ended Fracking in Ireland
- Toward an Anti-Fracking Mobilization Toolkit: Ten practices from Western Newfoundland’s Campaign
- How defeating Keystone XL built a bolder, savvier climate movement
- Campaign Strategy resources in the Commons library
- 350.org (Organisation)
- Campaigning - Strategy
- Lessons learned_Reviews_Reflections
- Movements_Campaigns - Anti mining - France
- Movements_Campaigns - Climate action and justice