Making public support visible: Glenn Walker on organisational renewal

July 14, 2014 | By: James Whelan

Tasmanians care

The iconic Franklin River campaign – the cornerstone of our foundational story at the Wilderness Society – enlivened a budding movement and inspired a generation. It demonstrated that when passionate, committed people get organised and work together even the most entrenched power can yield. Over 30 years on from the historic High Court decision to save the Franklin River, the core value of the power of people to make change lives on in our organisation.

Last year, on the back of the successful campaign to halt the giant gas factory at James Price Point in the Kimberley (led by inspiring locals), we took the time to pause and reflect on where we were heading. We agreed that despite our many successes over the years, nature remained in decline and climate change loomed as a danger of unprecedented proportion. We recognised that there simply wasn’t enough visible public support for the protection of nature in Australia.

I’d like to stress that word ‘visible’. I believe the vast majority of Australians share a deep commitment to protecting our incredible natural environment and acting on climate change. They just haven’t had an outlet to show this. They haven’t had the encouragement and support to make government and corporate decision-makers listen to them. They haven’t been organised.

So a big part of our response is to head where we naturally belong – following the people power thread of the Franklin River campaign to embrace community organising as part of our core business. This means refreshing how we engage the public, build alliances, and support and train a large and powerful volunteer base. It means more systematically employing the tried and true practices of face-to-face contact, story telling and relationship building, coupled with harnessing the best digital tools to make our work scalable, efficient and measurable.

I’ve been part of the 25 undergoing the inaugural Australian Community Organising Fellowship program – now 18 days through the 22 day course. The learnings align precisely with where we are headed at the Wilderness Society and have helped inform our evolving new approach. But the most interesting and rewarding part of this training program for me is meeting so many other inspiring organisers from across Australia learning and trialling new ways to grow and enliven our movement. Because when passionate, committed people get organised and work together, we win. Simple as that.

About the Author

James Whelan

James Whelan

James is founding co-director of the Change Agency and co-director of the Community Organising Fellowship.

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