It is a huge and significant announcement that will hopefully set an exciting precedent across the country. It was an amazing grassroots campaign that led to this victory. We were only involved in a small part of this campaign, and want to ensure that the big congratulations is sent to the Quit Coal collective and their Coal and Gasfield Free campaign with Friends of the Earth Australia, who worked collaboratively with Lock the Gate to pull off this extraordinary win, on the smell of an oily rag.
Our involvement was during the phase of the campaign when it seemed like drilling for gas by Lakes Oil was imminent. We had the pleasure of heading out to the regions for a series of workshops and to support the community to prepare for nonviolent direct action, should the need come to defend the farmland and water from fracking. We loved working with the folk at Seaspray and beyond and felt very welcomed into their community.
We also spent a lot of time collaborating with Environmental Justice Australia on a resource for the communities so they could understand their legal rights. The campaign was so successful that the need for the legal resource was looking pretty unlikely by the time we got around to finishing the mammoth task. Best ‘waste of time’ we have ever been involved with!
But the main work was on the ground – face to face, relentless community organising over five years. 75 communities across Gippsland and Western Vic went through an intensive process of face to face surveys, media and public events, culminating in unstoppable community momentum. Whilst we look forward to seeing the campaign do some detailed analysis, and share their exciting case study with the world (as well as hold the government accountable for finalising the legislation), we wanted to share a few aspects of the campaign we reckon made the win:
- Young women leaders
Along with the support of the Melbourne campaign office, including experienced organisers the on ground organising was driven by inspiring young women – Ursula, Chloe and more recently Alison, were paid very little for a hugely high impact campaign. Women were also the back bone of much of the regional organising – building groups, stepping up as spokespeople, and just generally getting things done!
- Non linear, de-centralised organising
Understanding that social movements develop their own weather and often people on the ground know best is vital. It’s useful to be reactive sometimes, but also to prepare a strong groundwork, lay out some basic frameworks but then let communities run with their own ideas. The popular model of the traditional linear campaign path and centralised control of larger non-government organisations does not necessarily serve us well in this regard.
- Not needing to brand everything
Many environment organisations feel the need to justify their expenditure by “branding” events. This is one of the best aspects of Friends of the Earth. They do not. Organisers were very happy to do the support work without putting their logos on community events. Local spokespeople were encouraged to speak up rather than import city activists.
- Being brave
It can be a big thing for a city activist to walk into a meeting of farmers and be concerned about not getting people off side. There is an understandable cynicism about “city slickers” campaigning from their city offices and not understanding work on the ground. Its also a scary thing for people who have never had parking tickets to think about participating in civil disobedience. Or face a media scrum. A bit of bravery is catching. There was a fair bit going around.
- Investing in people
Whether it was training people in nonviolent direct action, media spokesing, community organising, how to do the gasfield free survey or social media – there were 100’s of people skilled up across the regions – city organisers conducted heaps of workshops, many of them voluntarily to share skills with regional organisers.
The boundless creativity of regional communities was seen in an epic series of visual events – giving the media amazing vibrant images to talk about their campaign. From amazing community parades, to huge signs made from utes or sheep, these guys knew how to rock a photo op!
Whilst there was some great and useful work from other environment organisations and political parties it would have amounted to nothing without the on-ground community campaign led by the local communities and supported by Friends of the Earth.
For us, we are overjoyed to think about all the awesome people we met across Victoria who will tonight more easily sleep, knowing that dangerous unconventional gas is not going to destroy their communities, farmland, air and water.
“This decision is such a relief for our community and so many like it, the threat of unconventional onshore gas mining has been hanging over our heads for years. It has been so heart wrenching at times, when we thought the drill rigs were coming and there was nothing we could do but we pulled together as a community and decided to fight this threat to our farmland, water and health and today’s decision is just fantastic, we are ecstatic”
“I’d like to thank Premier Daniel Andrews for standing beside rural communities and doing what the previous governments would not do and that’s protect us from this destructive, invasive industry” said Seaspray dairy farmer, Julie Boulton
If you were involved in this campaign in any way, we salute you! We look forward to seeing the ongoing “democratising” of these 75+ regional communities who declared themselves Gasfield Free – now they have worked together to win this campaign – they have a sense of participating in politics on their terms – not just at a ballot box every three or four years. That is a dangerous and beautiful thing.
More info here, and tweet your support using #VicGasBan