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?

toniwalkington

Toni Walkington, Secretary, Community Public Sector Union, WA

The Change Agency Campaign Workshop in Perth was a tremendous opportunity to learn skills and techniques to assist our campaigning work. I came away with a set of skills and techniques that are easily applied to our work. We often tackle big issues and are up against well resourced opponents. The tools I learnt at the campaign workshop means developing our campaign strategies is easier and we work in a structured way with clear objectives. Since participating in the workshop I have used many of the tools, particularly the critical path analysis – it’s really made a great difference!
2014-03-30T07:45:45+00:00
toniwalkington
The Change Agency Campaign Workshop in Perth was a tremendous opportunity to learn skills and techniques to assist our campaigning work. I came away with a set of skills and techniques that are easily applied to our work. We often tackle big issues and are up against well resourced opponents. The tools I learnt at...
Jessica Kirby

Jess Kirby, GetUp! organiser

The Change Agency fellowship has been a completely transformative experience for all of us. I’ve met 22 of the most diverse, interesting organisers and campaigners in the country, and been trained by more than a dozen experts on everything from critical pathways, to the history of the environment movement in Australia, to NationBuilder best practice. I can’t recommend this program highly enough.  
2015-03-17T20:50:52+00:00
Jessica Kirby
The Change Agency fellowship has been a completely transformative experience for all of us. I’ve met 22 of the most diverse, interesting organisers and campaigners in the country, and been trained by more than a dozen experts on everything from critical pathways, to the history of the environment movement in Australia, to NationBuilder best practice....
Govind

Govind Maksay, MarketForces organiser

Workshop sessions are extremely well structured, with small group work, personal reflection time and larger group discussions included throughout. This approach allows all participants to contribute and caters for different learning styles and personalities.

In addition to the formal learning, the personal relationships I have formed with other participants and the facilitators will be extremely important to help me become a more effective and confident campaigner. Without hesitation I would recommend the Fellowship to other campaigners.
2015-03-17T19:34:58+00:00
Govind
Workshop sessions are extremely well structured, with small group work, personal reflection time and larger group discussions included throughout. This approach allows all participants to contribute and caters for different learning styles and personalities. In addition to the formal learning, the personal relationships I have formed with other participants and the facilitators will be extremely...
Catherine Delahunty

Catherine Delahunty, Kotare Centre, Aotearoa

This was the most effective movement building workshop I have participated in. It focused the people on breaking the barriers to participation in social movements in a very practical way. They had some excellent participatory processes for defining mobilisation and also some great methods for getting diverse people working together.
2014-04-25T06:04:55+00:00
Catherine Delahunty
This was the most effective movement building workshop I have participated in. It focused the people on breaking the barriers to participation in social movements in a very practical way. They had some excellent participatory processes for defining mobilisation and also some great methods for getting diverse people working together.
josh

Josh Creaser, Frontline Projects Coordinator, 350.org

Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.

 The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.

 These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects. 

 The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.
2015-03-17T20:56:37+00:00
josh
Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.  The Fellowship is a...
Glenn Walker

Glenn Walker, National Campaigner, The Wilderness Society

The Wilderness Society has embarked on a major organisational change project to embrace community organising as our core way of doing business. I’m leading on this project. The Community Organising Fellowship has helped me to define the key principles and approaches of community organising and has provided me with the space and support to plan for this critical change process within my organisation.
2014-03-27T02:09:18+00:00
Glenn Walker
The Wilderness Society has embarked on a major organisational change project to embrace community organising as our core way of doing business. I’m leading on this project. The Community Organising Fellowship has helped me to define the key principles and approaches of community organising and has provided me with the space and support to plan...
Nick Aberle

Nick Aberle, Environment Victoria

Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened the climate movement in Australia.
2014-05-10T21:42:00+00:00
Nick Aberle
Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened...
Jane Stabb

Jane Stabb, Community Organiser, Environment Victoria

The Community Organising Fellowship workshop was extraordinarily impactful for me. I had a chance to investigate the theory behind effective organising and campaigning tools that I can use in my practice every day but very rarely interrogate or reflect on.  I found new frameworks and structures that will improve my practice so much. I had the space and place to interrogate my campaign with the assistance of masters!  And I was given the opportunity to build relationships with leaders in my field, to be supported in my thinking by them and to support them by sharing our practice and experiences... 100% pure gold.
2014-05-23T16:45:53+00:00
Jane Stabb
The Community Organising Fellowship workshop was extraordinarily impactful for me. I had a chance to investigate the theory behind effective organising and campaigning tools that I can use in my practice every day but very rarely interrogate or reflect on.  I found new frameworks and structures that will improve my practice so much. I had...
anna-keenan

Anna Keenan, Students of Sustainability Collective 2006

Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was the content inspirational, but to see the way that the two of you work together and so effectively co-facilitate was a lesson in itself. At your “Moving beyond Tactic-Led Campaigns”, you so successfully engaged all in the room and drew from their experiences that it was the most effective workshop I attended through the whole conference. Your involvement in SoS 2005 has had a significant impact on the future of Australian environmentalism by sharing the tools of individual, collective, and community organising, and inspiring us to advocate for and take action towards positive social change.
2014-03-30T07:52:56+00:00
anna-keenan
Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was...
isaac

Isaac Astill, Divestment Campaigner, 350.org Australia

It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful movement.
2015-03-17T19:37:41+00:00
isaac
It would take years of fumbling along for me to learn what the Fellowship has taught me in a few short months. I feel more powerful for it, and I’ve walked away with the ongoing skills and relationships I need to build a more powerful movement.