This is an edited transcript of a talk from Progress 2019 on 20th June on a panel convened to discuss Big Ideas for Human Rights – we were lucky to share the stage with The Human Rights Law Centre, and people discussing citizen led participatory democracy, donation reform and exciting new anti corruption work from Hannah Aulbey.
As an organisation working to support civil resistance and nonviolent direct action, and grassroots activism we see whats happening on the ground, and it isn’t pretty. In fact the reason I didn’t get to cover this written speech in total whilst I was there, was that it felt important to include another story. I didn’t get to see Kumi Naidoo and his call for civil disobedience (oh hai we’d love some help! No NGO’s do this bar some small/highly skilled/technical Greenpeace actions – good on em )…
Its because I was talking to our volunteer escort, a friend who had been illegally detained, handcuffed, and taken into a police station for questioning, despite being told she wasn’t under arrest for a minor demonstration out the front of a mining conference. Many others have had this happen also. You know, just an everyday occurance – raids, assaults, $10,000 fines.
Anyway – onto the speech….
1 We don’t live in a democracy
We live in the idea of a democracy. But the reality on the ground is quite different.
Democracy is not voting once every three years for one of two parties to form government that support the coal industry, think its ok for people on Newstart to not afford housing, or are OK with locking up refugees. It requires active involvement.
And there is repressive legislative framework and structure that is lying dormant, is yet to be turned out in all its gore and glory. The biggest changes in our national security laws for thirty years went through last year with some changes, but substantive problems that didn’t get anywhere near the level of interest or scrutiny that they should have.
Yes, we don’t get shot on the streets.
But all voices are not equal. If you have money your voice is more equal than others.
And those in the fossil fuel industry are more equal than those of us who want clear air, safe water, and a liveable climate.
Many people in this room are not aware of how much the scale of repression has ratcheted up in recent years, and in the last year especially.
This is what repression looks like: activists being intimidated and surveilled, first time protestors receiving $10, 000 fines, SLAPP suits – strategic litigation against public participation, judges not acting according to legal principle, and police violence.
2 So what is my big idea? – USE IT OR LOSE IT
We need to push back. And if you aren’t part of pushing back you need to support those of us who are.
Protest is vital in a democracy. Having a radical flank to any movement that helps shift the overton window, move the debate, is vital. The right wing knows this. They don’t even both with dog whistles anymore – they just send out a pack of dogs.
Civil disobedience has been critical to most of the significant reforms in the last 100 years. Voting rights, saving the Franklin Dam, Jabiluka, it is why many of our forests are now national parks. Internationally there is medicine and care for people, who no longer die of HIV, the civil rights movement made historic gains, and that led the way for the current black lives matter movement to take up the mantle.
Protest makes political space for reformists to operate in. Except there are more of you than there are of us – and our risks are higher and our resources less.
Two weeks ago, did we imagine that a proposed legislative change would bring millions onto the streets of Hong Kong? Protest changes what is possible – both for ourselves, and the issues we work on. Bravery begets bravery. That is how we grow movements.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Non-violent conflict brings issues of vital importance to our attention and demands we deal with them.
3 Nothing about us without us
We would not have a panel talking about people seeking asylum, those living with a disability or Aboriginal people working for sovereignty without them front and centre.
Yet, time and time again – I hear people from large NGOs, human rights groups, and academics talking for grassroots protesters. Our stories are more powerful.
I can tell you about the time I negotiated with riot police and we saw them with tears in their eyes because they were ashamed of their actions, Pacific warriors can tell you when we watched people over-turned in traditional canoes as a coal ship threatened to run them down and suck them under the ocean in its path. We can tell you about Cliff – the rough old farmer who lovingly adopted his pet ferals who camped on his property to try and stop the Maules Creek coal mine… We can talk about the sheer, ragged relief at hearing the news of country being protected and knowing we would not have to stand and watch blood shed as mob stood to protect country and burial sites near Broome.
We can bring you the human faces of these marginalised voices – the farmers protecting fertile land and water, the mob standing for country, the nana’s camping out in forests, the young mums working for our climate, priests locking themselves to the gates or Kirribilli for refugees.
SO HOW CAN YOU HELP
Help us tell these stories. Stop being un-necessarily cautious about your tax deductibility status and share some content from the frontlines. You can’t talk about a movement like Stop Adani being as big as the Franklin without noting there might be civil disobedience involved. And talking about what is happening now – with the frontline camp, with extinction rebellion.
Civil resistance transforms communities.
People in Broome talk about how deeply life changing it was to become more connected to mob up there as they stood with them to defend songlines.
Farmers in Gippsland are now organising on a range of issues because they pushed back and realised they had power.
It’s about the 60 year old who I trained to be a legal observer for the campaign to save the Beeliar wetlands, who said working on that campaign was his first real experience of community in his life. Its the same people who worked on that transformational campaign who are now activating with extinction rebellion.
HAVE OUR BACKS
Electoral politics has failed us miserably and totally. Whilst other people take on the reflection and slow community building work to avoid a similar electoral defeat– there are those of us who are moving the needle…. Or throwing a lever in the gears.
We need you to have our backs.
Keep on loving, keep on fighting. Keep on looking after each other.
This slide I shared and it got a lot of love. Please respect the original artist and share and credit. Don’t just meme-ify – cheers