Honouring the rebel

There is this strange feeling in my gut. It’s like a mix of old pain from long ago, and too much caffeine, and an uneasy churn. And it tastes brittle and metallic in my mouth.

It is a quiet unease rising that I don’t have the tools to deal with.

It seems to be how I feel about the state of progressive politics in Australia right now.

I’m in a room with 1000 people who are supposed to be our best and brightest and I am shit scared.

Whilst I am fully aware of the unsustainability of working in panic mode, I FEEL LIKE THERE NEEDS TO BE MORE.

More panic? Probably not.

More something? Hell yes.

Our world is being shot down in flames by inequity and arrogance so breathtaking that…it’s literally breath taking.

And it feels like we are overwhelmingly unprepared and out gunned. Despite the number of smart people all in one place, it feels like we are struggling with the enormity of the challenge.

This is what I started to write on Day One of the Progress conference.

The day after the three day conference I felt slightly more heartened – the positive response to Snowdens brilliant and brave act of civil disobedience and whistle blowing, the massive turn out and interest in activation arising from Naomi Kleins climate change and capitalism critique, seeing staunch indigenous voices speaking up for country… and more.

The fact that the conference was punctuated for me by the joyful grassroots event that was the Friends of the Earth 40th party, may have helped also… with the positive, powerful campaigns that deliver huge bang for buck, brave campaigning and organising, collaboration with indigenous communities, and with a now rare grounding in a more radical critique of the state of the world and how we can shift power and built community.

And the response to the workshop I ran at Progress 2015 yesterday called the Future of Civil Disobedience with longtime friend and fellow agitator, Jarrod McKenna.

We had a packed house, and a mix of people from across various sectors, all hopefully now slightly more open to the importance of the rebel as described by Bill Moyer, and the value of civil disobedience.

This is my challenge to you…

If you think we are making progress in a way that is in line with what is needed, no problem.

If you think we are in dire straits, with attacks coming from all quarters and an out of control and out of touch government beholden to corporate interests and their mining mates, if you feel that attacks on our social sector are coming so thick and fast it is hard to work out where to turn…

Be open to some new approaches – think about the power of iconic social movements in Australia and worldwide.

Almost all of them used civil disobedience. From the franklin river, to Jabiluka, to green bans to womens rights, and aboriginal resistance on many issues.

At Progress the two most significant keynote addresses from international speakers, were Edward Snowden and Naomi Klein. Edward Snowden engaged in a world changing act of civil disobedience. In defiance of laws, sanctions and a system deliberately set up to silence dissent, whilst monitoring it, he bravely revealed information about the NSA Prism program, and the large scale surveillance of millions worldwide.

Naomi Klein laid down the gauntlet on capitalism, and advocates openly about what she calls “Blockadia”, the on ground civil resistance to fossil fuel projects as well as coalition building and taking leadership from frontline voices… her simple refrain: to change everything, we need everyone.

But in some circles of civil society, civil disobedience in Australia is marginalised, treated as ineffective and old fashioned – by some of the same people that will regularly cite history making social movements where it played a key role.

As I said in our workshop session, History is raw, and dirty and you might not realise you were part of it until afterwards – it doesn’t happen in neat sepia toned iconic moments.

It is happening in Australia right now – a line in the sand has been firmly drawn – no new coal mine will be allowed to be able to be built without fierce contest – protests against Whitehavens expansion of their mine projects in NSW now number over 350 civil disobedience arrests, including some incredibly powerful days of mass action.

Our contribution to coal exports is firmly on the world wide stage – courtesy of the Pacific Warriors and their brave interception of coal ships, armed only with a fierce love of their homelands, some prayers, and traditionally built canoes. The flotilla and solidarity actions were life changing moments for many. The proposed coal project expansions in the Galilee basin in Queensland will be met with the same fierce resistance as well.

Unlikely alliances continue to be built across the country with the phenomenal Lock the Gate movement, with the remarkable Bentley blockade win a highlight amongst many across the country, including the incredibly effective community organising happening here in Victoria – so effective in fact, that the threat of nonviolent direct action was enough to send the government running towards a moratorium on unconventional gas.

Young first nations organisers are bringing cities to a standstill and occupying the halls of power with the wonderful and staunch #SOSBlakAustralia movement against forced closures of aboriginal communities. We need to have their backs.

The defiance of the movement to support refugees continues to grow – from Love makes a way, to creative disruptions on the world stage, and direct intervention in deportations.

So we called out to a packed house at Progress – to honour the work of the rebels, to realise that we all have a part to play in creating social change, and to challenge those there to think about the role civil disobedience could play in their campaigns… or at the very least, to not marginalise those participating.

To be bold, and brave and step it up. To answer the huge challenge we are facing, with a commensurate response. Strongly worded petitions aren’t a match for the destruction of our social fabric and our climate. Polite letters aren’t persuading the very rich to share nicely. We need to stop asking, and start intervening.

Like our lives depend on it.

Because they do.