A firestorm of criticism from across the political spectrum was ignited by the news that I had accepted an invitation to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, one of the most elite gatherings of corporate CEOs and world leaders. Now I’m headed to London to meet with a few founders of the Extinction Rebellion, one of the most influential climate protest movements.
Knowing only of my journey to Davos, my activist peers on the left ridiculed me as naive, reactionary and a sell-out. Those on the right cited my acceptance as proof that radical activists only critique elites because they wish they were elites. Others orchestrated a wave of character assassinations, fabrications and bullying on social media.
The denunciations hurt. But I can’t say that I was surprised. As a lifelong activist, I knew my presence in Davos would be reputational suicide.
And yet, I also knew that I must go to Davos and London, despite the significant social and emotional costs, because — to put it in stark terms — the survival of human civilization depends on a new relationship between activists and elites.
Convinced that the climate emergency was forcing activists and elites into an uneasy alliance, it was impossible for me to turn down the invitation to Davos. The World Economic Forum is undeniably one of the few places where this kind of discussion could ever be had. After all, where else could I hope to get in the room with the world’s most powerful people?
I’ll admit that I was surprised when the World Economic Forum did not balk at facilitating this difficult discussion. Instead, I was impressed by their ability to make it happen.
The closed-door, off-the-record conversation between corporate leaders, social movement activists, civil society and labor union representatives was organized by the World Economic Forum and held in a secure space adjacent to the main conference center. This allowed activists to attend who were otherwise not invited to the Forum. The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule. While I will not disclose the specifics of who was present, I will share what was said.