We are all leaders: learning from Climate Camp 2008

The following article was included in our December 2009 enews. For the full article including graphics, check out that version.

We are all leaders: Learning from the Climate Camp – In July 2008, several hundred climate change activists gathered in Newcastle for Australia’s first climate camp. Anth and James supported the camp’s training program and facilitation team. Anthony Kelly’s draft article focuses on the decision-making processes during the week-long camp and the action during which 1000 people stopped coal trains: particularly the spokescouncils and action teams. We welcome feedback and comments.
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“We need to develop a different understanding of power – where people work with each other rather than seeking to control and command. And we need to find ways of relating to each other without hierarchy and leaders.”
– Doing it without Leaders – Seeds of Change (*1)

Australia’s first national Climate Camp, held in sight of the massive coal ports of Newcastle in July this year was without doubt one the best of the many nationally organised action camps held in Australia in the past few decades. This and other Climate Camps in the UK, Europe and the United States over the past few years have developed new and unique organising models and tactical innovations that are worth examining here.

Organised by a nationally dispersed network of organisers from a spectrum of climate action groups and organisations led by Rising Tide in Newcastle, the Australia’s Climate Camp attracted over 500 people and served as the catalyst for the largest direct actions against the coal industry yet seen in this country. The camp structure and logistics worked well and functioned for the six days. There was always great food available, there was always paper in the loos, and seven or eight marquees were often full of people in workshops, plenaries and meetings in the four days leading up to the mass actions. The stretched but still functioning organising team, made up of many local activists as well as interstate organisers, had spent months developing plans for the Sunday mass action well before the camp, which meant that activists arriving in Newcastle could focus on building our resources, planning and coordinating the action teams to make the mass action as effective as possible.

The media reported one thousand of us on the Sunday 13th July, it seemed a lot less, but together we stopped a significant section of the world’s largest coal port from operating. Despite 160-odd NSW police, water canon, horses and dogs along the coal train tracks, Action teams were able to work together, disperse when needed, act with their own autonomy within the larger action structure and successfully occupy and lock-on to the coal train at multiple points.

The action on the Sunday took place over perhaps two kilometers of train line. Most arrestable teams could not be seen by others. Each had their own support and goals, but each team was able to fulfill its part in the overall action plan, and each incursion, occupation, banner drop, lock-on, and arrest was celebrated as a collective victory, a dynamic rarely seen in other dispersed affinity group actions. The NSW Police were brutal as usual, overreacting to incursions past their cordon. Pain compliance holds, grabs, punches and assaults occurred in many of the 50 or so arrests, but many more were calmed down and de-roled by experienced activists, used to nervous and over-hyped cops.

Horses were used to contain the initial march along the railway track to the Carrington coal terminal and later to try and clear the street. However, specialised Action teams, (zombies and clowns) were tasked to slow them down so they couldn’t compress the march or push us forward too fast. Spreading out the march meant spreading out the police line and thereby maximizing the opportunities for arrestable teams to get past the police and onto the train. These action teams withstood hours of slowly moving in front of police horses, with the horses literally breathing down their necks, resisting the constant threats and orders from the riders, so that others could find places between the cordons to slip through.

Each report back from the Action teams that night was met with a round of thunderous applause at the Spokescouncil. The following day, Monday, again saw several lock-ons on coal loaders, rallies through Newcastle and banner drops, each again celebrated as a shared victory. Most of the arrestees received a $400 traffic penalty for their efforts with a few copping malicious damage. Arrestees were proud as punch and as pleased as possible with the outcome. Action teams were already fundraising and the camp deliberating about legal support strategies later that night. It soon became very evident how important the action team structure was in supporting the individual arrestees. Very few, if any, of the people arrested would not have had a pretty tight crew of friends and comrades around them.

The day’s disruption of that particular coal shipment was reported as the equivalent of taking every car off Australia’s roads for a day. Bloomberg reported that coal exports from Newcastle fell by 18% in the week of the camp (*2). The 7.30 Report on ABC stated that the battle lines in Australia’s climate change debate had been re-drawn, as they showed footage of Climate Camp activists being removed from the train. One of the strategic goals of the camp was to build and empower the direct action components of the still emergent climate movement in Australia. By all accounts heard at camp and since it achieved that. Locals and coal communities in the Hunter region expressed overwhelming support for the camp and the actions, designs and plans for many more are already being discussed, national direct action e-lists being set up and hundreds of people left with a renewed vigor to organise actions against coal infrastructure or related targets.

What are people saying about us?

simone

Simone van Hattem

The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.
2015-03-17T21:04:17+00:00
simone
The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I’ve been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay...
Shani Tager

Shani Tager, Friends of the Earth

The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.
2014-05-10T21:52:42+00:00
Shani Tager
The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to...
harry

Harry Jennens, The Climate and Health Action Network

The Fellowship has increased both my skills in community organising and my confidence in sharing these skills with others.  The immersive workshop format has provided precious space for face-to-face learning, sharing ideas with facilitators and other delegates, and building strong relationships with current and future collaborators in the climate movement.  I am confident that our entire cohort will go on to empower others in our communities, and that we’ll continue to support each other in this work.  The Fellowship will be instrumental in helping us build a broad, diverse and powerful movement.
2015-03-17T19:36:21+00:00
harry
The Fellowship has increased both my skills in community organising and my confidence in sharing these skills with others.  The immersive workshop format has provided precious space for face-to-face learning, sharing ideas with facilitators and other delegates, and building strong relationships with current and future collaborators in the climate movement.  I am confident that our...
John Edye

John Edye, March 2017

James and Fee... Thank you for your inspiring leadership, commitment and engagement. You are epic facilitators, and the first workshop was one of the best training experiences I have ever attended. I feel very privileged to be a participant and am looking forward to the next three. Experiencing such a high level of training and working with so many young, intelligent and professional organisers left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by my lack of experience but very optimistic about the future challenges we face, instead of the rather bleak and jaundiced view I came with. Thank you for your compassion and thoughtfulness and the incredible resources that were on our seats on the first day. It was and will be an incredible learning experience.
2017-03-28T12:18:24+00:00
John Edye
James and Fee… Thank you for your inspiring leadership, commitment and engagement. You are epic facilitators, and the first workshop was one of the best training experiences I have ever attended. I feel very privileged to be a participant and am looking forward to the next three. Experiencing such a high level of training and...
Chris Rose

Chris Rose, Author of ‘How to Win Campaigns’

They (tCA) really are movement makers... the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
2014-03-30T08:05:33+00:00
Chris Rose
They (tCA) really are movement makers… the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
dave & gemma

Dave Muhly, Sierra Club

What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!

2014-09-15T10:27:41+00:00
dave & gemma
What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, “challenge, choice, outcome” as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final...
Meghan and Lilly

Meghan Halverson, Queensland Koala Crusaders

I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a cohesive, motivating structure for the path forward and a fresh new approach.
2014-05-06T00:41:31+00:00
Meghan and Lilly
I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a...
Claire O'Rourke

Claire O’Rourke, National Director, Solar Citizens

The fellowship has helped me further develop the skills and strategic thinking necessary to ensure that we deliver sound policy by working in partnership with our supporters and volunteers in communities across Australia.

Organising helps to build relationships and skills both within and between communities and the fellowship follows the same approach. The fellowship is essential for organisations that are working to build power within communities or considering making the leap into this work. 
2015-03-17T21:03:10+00:00
Claire O'Rourke
The fellowship has helped me further develop the skills and strategic thinking necessary to ensure that we deliver sound policy by working in partnership with our supporters and volunteers in communities across Australia. Organising helps to build relationships and skills both within and between communities and the fellowship follows the same approach. The fellowship is...
alycia

Alycia Gawthorne, GetUp! organiser

The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.
2015-03-17T19:33:28+00:00
alycia
The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far...
leigh

Leigh Ewbank, Yes2Renewables coordinator

Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.

 By creating a ‘community of practice’ of organisers, those behind the fellowship have shown strategic leadership. The relationships the program has cultivated (within the cohort and between alumni) will pay dividends. 
2015-03-17T20:58:10+00:00
leigh
Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.  By...