In Conversation with Dan Acher
Dan is a social changemaker and disruptor of systems, using art and people to see the way towards a better future. His most recent project has been to establish the We Are Watching campaign, which aims to have the faces of 77,000 people flying on a flag outside of the COP 25 meeting this December. You can find out more about it here: https://wearewatching.org/
So the first thing I just wanted to get my head around was where the idea for the flag came from?
Good question! So first of all, it comes from a personal need to act. There was a really big need to do my part. My work is about getting people engaged and giving them the opportunity to act. The idea was around “how I can do something myself, but also empower other people to join in?” Right now from my office I can see a small flag of mine which is above one of the roads into Geneva, and it says ‘You Are Welcome.’ There are all these things we hear about separation, but this is a really powerful thing. It’s simple and effective, because everybody coming into the city sees it.
I actually did go already to Santiago in Chile for a social change festival where I was invited to speak. And there in front of the main government building there is a flag that flies which is exactly the same size as the flag I want to do and it is the flag of Chile. When I was there I was really mesmerized by this huge flag that moves very slowly… this piece of material that flies really beautifully, but the symbol of the flag is of nationalism. So I remembered this flag, and the idea is to create basically exactly the same flag- but instead of representing one nation, it will represent the whole world population.
What sparked your interest in the climate movement?
I studied in New Zealand, and whilst I was there I started to organize the critical mass movement. So I organized that for several years, and when I finished my studies I thought what do I do now? I decided I felt the need to act on what I believe, and that’s when I thought I will organize a youth environmental festival. I gave myself two years to do that, so I went back to Switzerland, I learnt about the issue and did some networking. And we started the AGIR 21 festival- I got 3,000 teenagers to actually learn about environmental issues and learn that there are solutions and to act upon it. We planted trees, we cleaned up river beds, we installed solar panels, we decorated public transport buses- 40 different actions with 40 different partners. And it finished with a very large festival for 3 days. It rained for all 3- we had 15,000 people, there but it could have been much bigger. After that though I was hired by the city of Geneva to run this new event as the Sustainable Development Festival, which I did for 7 years.
If you could have your way with world leaders, what would you like to see?
I’d like them to set bold goals with real consequences. I want them to have the ambition to do it and the understanding that there’s really no other way to go about it. Basically we’re cutting down the branch we’re sitting on, but not only that we’re mowing down the whole trunk and taking out the roots! So when the questions are “Is it possible?” or “Should we do it or not?”, that’s unhelpful. So I want them not only to have a profound understanding of that, but also act upon it with concrete solutions. There also needs to be rules to making sure that every government around the world will do it. I think the most important though, is the grounding that there is no other choice, because I think that this is the only trigger that will work. As long as they keep on thinking that they can do business as usual, changing a thing or two along the way, nothing will happen.
The response has been really humbling; it’s been really, really beautiful. There are people all around the world who have taken it up on themselves to push the project, both seeing and believing it. But the other thing is that I can see what arrives on the server, and it’s really powerful. The messages are messages of hope, of frustration, calls to action… and I can see this very deep feeling coming from people all around the world. There were already 103 countries yesterday, and it’s really touching for me to see humanity coming together with this shared feeling of urgency and this shared need. I can understand now that there is a need for people to act and bring their voices to the leaders, because we feel totally powerless- this thing is so much bigger than us.
There’s a constant flow of images arriving, but we need this flow to get faster, and it’s a real challenge because we have a short time to get all these portraits around the world, after which we still need to manufacture the flag and get in there. What we see is that when people do see and hear about the project, they’re really keen to do it. But we need more exposure.