How to start a movement in less than a month

Only four weeks ago

Four weeks doesn’t seem like a long time ago. But everyone who has spent the past four weeks in self-isolation will agree, that it feels like an eternity. Even though the Virus had already killed hundreds of people in Italy at that time, most of us were still oblivious to what was yet to come. About 4 weeks ago the Austrian government announced that universities will close, restrictions for going outside were established and public gatherings were forbidden.
It was also about 4 weeks ago that a group of German activists decided to start a petition to help those who the European Union seemingly has forgotten: About 20.000 refugees, who are currently in Camp Moria without sufficient medical care, let alone the space to self-isolate.

In the beginning of April the first cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Camp Moria. Even before that citizens all over the world used their voice to demand the evacuation of the Camp. We at TEDxVienna were curious of how a small group of activists managed to raise so much awareness in such a short amount of time because we are all about ideas worth spreading. So we talked with Erik Marquardt, who is not only a member of the European Parliament and the Green Party, but also one of the initiators of #leavenoonebehind, about turning an idea into a movement.

For most of you, reading the news first thing in the morning is a habit. You read about restrictions and new regulations. First, you read about schools being closed, then parks being closed and everyone is advised to socially distance. The week after all shops and restaurants except for supermarkets and pharmacies have to close. Another weeks goes by and suddenly everyone has to wear face masks when they go shopping or when they go on the bus. Everyday it’s something new, all in the name of protecting the people.
Now imagine: You get up, you get dressed, you go to Camp Moria and what you see is: Thousands waiting in line for food, thousands waiting in line for a shower or to see a doctor. There’s no talk about apps who can track the virus or socially distancing to protect your loved ones. While you are scrolling through Instagram and see how everyone is self-quarantining in their well-organised apartments and finally have time to watch Tiger King or whatever, you would see people who don’t have their own place, let alone any space to distance themselves.
And suddenly the absurdity of the situation is so obvious.

So what would you do?

What would you do with the limited resources that we all have now during Corona? How would you start a movement? How can you attract attention and how can you motivate people to participate? How can you create a movement out of an idea that will hopefully last longer than Corona? There are certain things every movement needs: An agenda and people willing to listen and to take action.

“A lot of movements lose themselves in very complex processes and go into a lot of details when it comes to articulating their message. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a lot of times it’s easy to forget a very important part of a message: the recipient. We tried to focus on who will receive our message and how can we motivate them to participate.” – Erik Marquardt

At the moment, there is a lot of momentum. People are at home, they stare at their phones all day anyway and participating online is easier than actually going to a protest. But not only the average Jane and Joe have more time on their hands, also prominent supporters are self-isolating and left with a lot of spare time. The movement has gained quite a lot of support from weller-known people such as Shahak Shapira (whom we welcomed on our stage in 2017) and the band AnnenMayKantereit, who played in Vienna only a few weeks before the lockdown.
This is especially great because famous people do have a very special advantage: they can make things popular that might not have been considered trendy before like: political activism. They can change the narrative. They can make people interested and they can make people care. And they can motivate people to be outspoken and to ask for more. They can motivate people to demand their governments to take responsibility and to take action.

“The great thing about #LeaveNoOneBehind is that it’s an idea that excites a lot of people. It’s a very European thought that connects people across nations and across borders.” – Erik Marquardt


the author with a #leavenoonebehind sign

Thanks to digital media nowadays, it’s easier than ever to create international movements. It still takes a lot of work. Erik emphasises that the petition’s success is only thanks to all the people willing to dedicate their time to it. A small number of people, who have proven that with a good idea and a lot of effort, you can reach hundreds of thousands of people.
If you want to participate there are many ways online and offline to do so:
you can share the hashtag, you can send emails to local politicians demanding the evacuation of Camps at the European border and of course: you can talk about it. In your zoom calls, over the phone or with the people you are living with. Because all of this is part of a free democracy.


“Living in a democracy does not only mean to go to elections every few years. It also means to watch closely what the people in charge are doing. And I think everyone of us deserves a government that cares about human rights and that cares about human lives.” – Erik Marquardt

Corona has been a lesson to all of us. To not take things for granted, that seemed so normal only a couple of weeks ago like going out to dinner or a concert. To value certain work forces more and compensate them fairly for their efforts. But also to see how easy it is for governments to actually help, when they have to. And also what they can take away from their citizens, if they want to. One could always say that desperate times call for desperate measures, but the reality is: In crisis a lot of people show their true colours when their privileges are taken away. So we are all urged to watch closely and speak for those who might not be in the privileged position to be heard.

If you want to participate in the movement, sign the petition here and tell all your friends to do the same. Talk about it, be loud and help us share an idea definitely worth spreading.

picture credits: Papaioannou Kostas via unpslash.com

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About Julia Unteregger

Julia is a writer and a mental health professional. In her free time she likes to hike, even though she fears heights. She also drinks a lot of coffee and plays an excessive amount of solitaire.

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