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?

Chris Rose

Chris Rose, Author of ‘How to Win Campaigns’

They (tCA) really are movement makers... the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T08:05:33+11:00
Chris Rose
They (tCA) really are movement makers... the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
Nic clyde

Nic Clyde, Climate team leader, Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Before coming into this cohort, my community organising ability was – at best – intuitive, with not much structure and theory... or ‘all hat and no horse’ (as the Texans say). This is starting to change. This fellowship has reinvigorated my thirst to become a better campaigner. It has built my skills in strategy and community organising. It has connected me with a mob who are passionate, connected and willing to help out in whatever way they can. Thanks!
The Change Agency
2014-05-23T16:40:41+10:00
Nic clyde
Before coming into this cohort, my community organising ability was – at best – intuitive, with not much structure and theory... or ‘all hat and no horse’ (as the Texans say). This is starting to change. This fellowship has reinvigorated my thirst to become a better campaigner. It has built my skills in strategy and community organising. It has connected me with a mob who are passionate, connected and willing to help out in whatever way they can. Thanks!
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.
The Change Agency
2014-05-10T21:52:42+10:00
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 my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.
Jack Bertolus

Jack Bertolus, Market Forces

The Community Organising Fellowship introduced a plethora of new and exciting concepts in campaigning and community organising, and gave us the practice and tools to apply these effectively. The time spent learning with and from the talented and experienced cohort was an invaluable insight into Australian social movements and established what I’m sure will be lifelong connections.
The Change Agency
2017-11-12T18:54:18+11:00
Jack Bertolus
The Community Organising Fellowship introduced a plethora of new and exciting concepts in campaigning and community organising, and gave us the practice and tools to apply these effectively. The time spent learning with and from the talented and experienced cohort was an invaluable insight into Australian social movements and established what I’m sure will be lifelong connections.

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!
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:45:45+11:00
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!

Hayley Troupe, 350.org organiser

The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with others involved in the university divestment movement.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:29:30+11:00
The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with others involved in the university divestment movement.

Anna Rose, ASEN Convenor and NUS National Environment Officer 2005

The Change Agency has contributed enormously to strengthening the student environment movement in Australia and helping us shift to a culture of strategic thinking, planning and reflection on our activism. The training and advice provided by the Change agency over the last twelve months has been invaluable to tens of campus environment collectives and we are already seeing tangible results in real wins in our Campus Clean Energy Camp. Thank you Change Agency!
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:37:22+11:00
The Change Agency has contributed enormously to strengthening the student environment movement in Australia and helping us shift to a culture of strategic thinking, planning and reflection on our activism. The training and advice provided by the Change agency over the last twelve months has been invaluable to tens of campus environment collectives and we are already seeing tangible results in real wins in our Campus Clean Energy Camp. Thank you Change Agency!

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. 
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T20:58:10+11:00
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. 

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.  
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T20:50:52+11:00
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.  

Ben Margetts, Australian Youth Climate Coalition 2007

I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of 'best practice' in regard to organisational interactions. We at the AYCC have benefited immensely from working with you not just in your capacity as trainers, and the learning that was facilitated, but also with tCA as an organisation.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:33:22+11:00
I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of 'best practice' in regard to organisational interactions. We at the AYCC have benefited immensely from working with you not just in your capacity as trainers, and the learning that was facilitated, but also with tCA as an organisation.
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The Change Agency