Why Greta Thunberg is the real Mockingjay – and what activists can learn from her

Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old climate activist from Sweden, is quickly becoming the real life Mockingjay of this generation. Within a year, our very own teenage Katniss, has unified over 4 million people from 163 countries to go on strike and demand more action and less hogwash from leaders on climate change.

Her message has resonated across the globe, regardless of language or geography, history or religion. She has tapped into the human community in a way political World Leaders could only ever dream of. 

As activists, we can all learn from Greta. Not only from her commitment, bravery and rigour when it comes to advocacy, but also in the way her message has spoken to each and every one of us. Both individually and all at once. 

Here are some ways in which I think Greta has stood out from the crowd.

Greta is focussed. 

Greta is unusual for a contemporary activist in the fact that she rarely mentions issues other than one. The climate. She does not attempt to leverage off other social problems, nor does she buckle under pressure to solve them. She does not convolute her core message with subsidiaries. She is not trying to sell additional add-ons or side products. She does not answer to the immaturity of the ‘what abouts’. The rhetoric that you shouldn’t speak to anything until you have the answer for everything. ‘What about terrorism?’ ‘What about suicide?’ ‘What about plastic straws.’ These days, social media is littered with the idea that social issues must always either be at odds with each other or packed together in one neat lunchbox. This cynicism can be crippling and cannibalising to those trying to move their needle. Greta does not fall prey to this and is unapologetic in her laser focus.

And it’s working. 

NB. A response I use to the (ridiculous) accusations that discussing one issue automatically insinuates the unimportance of another, is simply “Yes, that issue is also really crucial. I’m so glad you are working on it. Let me know what you are organising and I would be delighted to support you.”

Greta keeps it real. 

Greta also bucks the trend of trying to fit in and speak the language of the room. If she wrote her UN speeches in ‘UN speak’, they would be just another hum in the sleepy slow melody that is international politics. They would tick some internal box somewhere and not travel much further than that. Greta does not say things like ‘development cooperation initiatives’ or ‘nationally determined contributions’. She does not overcomplicate things unnecessarily. She makes sense. And points to the lack of it on the inside. 

However Greta also doesn’t write her activism speeches in current activism buzzwords. She does not speak in hashtags or revolving door campaign titles. She does not say things like ‘safe space’ or ‘truth to power’. Sure, we use those words to describe her, but she doesn’t care, because she not speaking to us either. She is not speaking to any of us already inside the room or on either side of the table.

She speaking to the whole world. And telling absolutely everyone to run to the windows and take a look at what is happening inside. 

And it’s working. 

Greta is not seeking approval or praise. 

Greta does not give two hoots about her popularity. She does not follow the social norms of trying to making others feel good, mulling around the issue, or extraditing the awkwardness. She doesn’t care if some politicians think she is annoying or some activists think she is arrogant. Or vice versa. She will not tread water for you, nor peddle your agenda. She doesn’t care if you like her, as long as you listen. Which you will. Because she is right. 

Greta said “I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things.” which is refreshing for us all. Someone who doesn’t care about their social standing is not easily manipulated because she has fewer strings to pull. While many of us may allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes if it means avoiding the discomfort of staring something down, Greta is reminding us to forget courtesy, and really look. Greta puts protocols aside to protect what is important. Existence.  

And it’s working. 

Greta Thunberg’s searing look at Trump takes over the internet
Greta Thunberg looking at President Trump in the halls of the United Nations

We can all learn something from Greta Thunberg.

While I acknowledge that many of Greta’s personality traits have been identified to stem from an Aspergers diagnosis, I think it would a gross disservice to Greta as an individual to attribute them solely to a medical spectrum. We are all different. With different neuroses, insecurities, and defensive mechanisms. 

If Greta’s particular differences have allowed us all see things more clearly, well, what an amazing gift to give the world. 

Her candour and brazenness are the best hope my children have. So here’s to more of us being brave enough to stand out.

Here’s to cutting through the constructs and seeing the (endangered) forest through the trees.

Greta Thunberg at UN Climate Action Summit in New York 2019 (SKYNEWS)


  1. Julie Cornwall

    Thank you Matisse – such brilliantly penned

    On Tue, 24 Sep 2019 at 10:15 PM, MATISSE WALKDEN-BROWN wrote:

    > matissewb posted: ” Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old climate activist from > Sweden, is quickly becoming the real life Mockingjay of this generation. > Within a year, our very own teenage Katniss, has unified over 4 million > people from 163 countries&n” >

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