Category Archives: Activism

Speech to Theories of Change hui

via skype

19 Feb 2016, Auckland

First of all, I am very sorry I cannot be there in person. I know there is an amazing line up of speakers today and great discussions planned, and also it would be great to meet and talk with you all, people gathered together to discuss the important topic of how we create positive change in the world.

I also want to thanks Rowan, Rebecca and Niki for organising this event and all the support team. I think this is an important and timely discussion.

My background in social change begins with my family. I grew up in a house where discussion and debate was part of life. I remember long slow Sunday breakfasts where the family would sit around and talk about things, all kinds of things – personal events, what was happening with family and friends, and what was happening in the world around us.

These discussions were always tempered and underlined by a suspicion of power – the corporate and political elites. My father was a Hungarian revolutionary, forced to flee his homeland after the 1956 uprising. My mother had grown up as a middle class coloured woman in South Africa and had left her country alone to live in a strange land around the time that Apartheid was being constructed. They met in England and I was born there, and came out to Aotearoa in the mid 1970s. My parent were what I’d call ‘progressive’ although I grew up with a very clear awareness of the consequences of both left wing and right wing tyranny.

After school I went back to England and was living in the North during the great miners strike. I got involved with strike support work, and later become actively involved in the anti-nuclear movement, especially at Molesworth Peace Camp. I joined up with the peace convoy in 1985, where I witnessed vicious police brutality first hand when they smashed the Stonehenge Free Festival.

I returned to Aotearoa in 1987, where I became active in anarchist politics, drug law reform and civil rights education and advocacy. I was also on the fringes of the Unemployed Workers Right movement where I met the fabulous Sue Bradford, who was speaking today. I later became involved with Native Forest Action alongside Steve Abel, who is also here. I co-founded the Hemp Store in 1997 as a platform for activism and in 1998 I joined the Green Party and established the Wild Greens, a direct action group that was involved in a range of activities, including free e-testing at dance parties, critical mass bicycle rides and the anti-GE campaign. I became a Parliamentary activist in 1999 and since leaving Parliament in 2008 I have been mostly trying to work out what it would mean to create an ecological civilisation, in particular how Permaculture Systems Design can be applied to social, economic and political change.

My theory of change is rooted in Non Violent Direct Action. At its simplest, Direct Action is based on the understanding that people do not usually give up power just because you ask them nicely. It can be worth trying that, but Direct Action is about taking power into our own hands to create the change that we want, as far as we are able. To illustrate, climbing up a coal fired power station chimney stack and hanging a banner to protest is communication technique. Occupying the power station and closing it down, even for a few hours, is a Direct Action. An anti GE march is a protest. Uprooting GE crops is a direct action. Petitioning for the regulation of power companies is lobbying. Establishing a community owned power company is Direct Action. The key thing is, that it is directly linked to the un-mediated achievement of your goal.

A good Direct Action, IMO, is one where, if your opponents leave you alone and you get to continue doing what you are doing, you win, and if they try to suppress you, you win, because it galvanises broader support for your campaign. This is important because sometimes we do actions without thinking through – ‘what happens if they just leave us alone?’ The danger of getting what you want.

I want to make it clear that I do not oppose lobbying, marching, protesting or hanging banners. I have done most of those. All of those are tools for social change that can be useful either alone, prior to, or in conjunction, with Direct Action. I am simply making the point that if we do not have an awareness of the value of and the right to do direct action, to take power directly into our own hands, we remain supplicants, begging for change rather than making it ourselves.

So my first principle is that, as fully functioning human beings, we have the right and the power to create change.

My second principle is that in order to do that we need to unite our allies and divide our opponents.

There are so many elements to that simple statement, and it should be a basic consideration when planning any action – essentially doing things that make your movement more attractive and make your opponents more repellent. But I just want to focus on the one element that I think is the most important. In fact I would argue that this is actually the single biggest issue facing us. The most politically attractive thing we can do is articulate a compelling vision for change. Without a clear, if broad, picture of what we wish to create, positive change is impossible. How can we make a better world if we don’t know what it looks like? Why would people join us if we don’t know where we are going? How can we expect people to leave the comfort of what they know unless they think it will be better than where they are now? Because people know things can get a whole lot worse than they are, including under the leadership of idealists who want to change the world.

I am strongly of the view that actually people do want change. I think there is a significant enough number of people (and it doesn’t need to be a majority) who see that we cannot possibly go on like this – ecologically, socially even economically things cannot go on like this – I think there is enough to create a groundswell for change that it could sweep our opposition before it. But change to what. People cannot see what the alternative looks like. And to be honest, neither do we. Perhaps a few do, but most activists are defined more by what we are against than what we are for. More by what we hate than by what we love. And love and hope are what will empower people. Fear and despair are disempowering.

I have recently been running workshops for groups of people – many of them change agents – to begin to envision a positive future. Most of them have never imagined what a positive future might look like. Some find it almost impossible to do so. How can we possibly create a better world when we cannot imagine that there could even be one? How can our actions have energy and power if we cannot imagine that anything good will result from them? On the other hand one of the most interesting insights to come from a workshop was from a man who saw for the first time how close it is – how everything we need is here and within our reach.

So, after many years of political and social activist, I think that this is the most important insight I have. That we need to collectively create a compelling vision for change if we want to build a more powerful and broader movement.

I think we all have bits and pieces of it, but not in a coherent or explicit way. Of course some people are doing things, organising discussions and forums around new economics, social justice issues, environment but we spend a lot more time rehearsing how bad things are getting, than we do talking about how things might be if we succeed in this struggle to reclaim our world. I think this is a critical task for us, to keep our eye on what we want, to build energy and enthusiasm and engagement around the new world that we are making, and especially to connect that vision with our work as activists and change agents. By doing this, we become capable of taking the initiative rather than just reacting. And the time is right – the anti-TPPA campaign (and massive respect to the organisers all over the country and supporters) has brought into question in many people’s minds the whole neo-liberal project. To benefit from that, we need to articulate something better, that resonates with people’s basic values and which they can see themselves in.

The danger of this approach is that it can become too idealistic. History has many examples of the lofty ideals of social movements being co-opted and betrayed by so called friends, or crushed by their enemies. Open mindedness, generosity of spirit, visionary thinking does not mean to become naive or unaware. Our vision must be grounded in our work and in the structures we create to make it real – in our creative direct action.

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Lobbying for the Environment – Kaipatiki EcoFest

Last weekend I ran a one day workshop up north on understanding and influencing the political system. The session was part of the Kaipatiki EcoFest and was held at the Matakana Hall. A big thanks to Trish Allen for getting me up there and organising everything. We had about 12 people there on the day, as a few had to drop out at the last minute for various reasons. The great thing for me was that the people who came were the kinds of people who will really make use of what they learned. Many were local community and environmental activists and it was a real joy to work with them. As usual, I learned a great deal from the discussions. Perhaps the best feedback I got was from one participant who said, as she left at the end of the day, that she had come along with a bunch of excuses in mind as she had intended to leave at lunchtime! So much for making plans I guess. Since the weekend I have had some really positive feedback in emails from people who were there and some offers to help to get the workshop into High Schools – which is something I would really like to do, especially given the low rates of participation in the last elections. I need to do more work to fit the workshop into school timetabling and link the learnings to the curriculum but I think there is a lot of potential in the idea. On my way home I managed to catch up with Graeme North, one of the founders of modern earth-building in Aotearoa. It is always a pleasure to talk with someone so knowledgeable about their subject and still so passionate about creating accessible, non-toxic buildings that arise out of local materials and the local community. Graeme has a great built-in bullshit detector so it is always interesting to ask his opinion about various things going on around the place! All in all a great trip, and worth it despite the long drive from the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

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Trashed

I just found this link to a documentary made in 1985 about the Stonehenge trashing (they got the year wrong on the title). I was about 18 at the time and appear in the video a couple of times. Big love and respect to all the Convoy Crew, those still with us and those who have passed over

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Campaign Planning and Skills Development

This is available as a one day workshop, a weekend intensive or as an on-going engagement with your campaign.

The workshop examines the essential components of a successful social / political change campaign and applies them to your movement. Part of the process involves applying a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to your organisation to help identify strategic priorities. We also look at long term planning (timeframe in relation to the longevity of the issue) and look at a range of strategies and tactics available to you, including both direct and indirect action as appropriate.

Part of the strategic planning also involves identifying where further up-skilling is required. A range of modules are available to support this, including: how to work the media; how to lobby politicians effectively; leadership, decision-making and group culture; conflict resolution. Outside support in up-skilling may also be required and I can help arrange providers if needed.

The workshop is interactive and uses brainstorming, small group discussion, video and roleplay to draw out the knowledge of participants and build on it. It is suitable for teenagers to adults.

Learning objectives:
Develop an understanding of the elements of a successful social / political change campaign
Develop a reflective understanding of the your own organisation / movement and the context in which it operates
Develop a strategic plan for your campaign
Identify a range of tactics appropriate to your campaign
Identify potential allies
Develop a range of skills to help implement your strategic plan

WORKSHOP OUTLINE:

Introductions and Ice-breaker

Talking about Power
What is power and where does it come from?
What kinds of power do we have as change agents?
Direct versus indirect action

Lessons from the past
Key elements of a successful campaign
Campaign dynamics

Reflecting on your organisation
SWOT analysis
Identifying strategic priorities

Strategic planning
Developing a campaign map
Milestones along the road
The six aspects of an Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) campaign

UPSKILLING MODULES

Work the media
Understanding who the media is and what it does
How to make things easy for journalists
Writing effective press releases
Preparing for interviews

Effective lobbying
Understanding MPs
Understanding political processes
Using the select committee process
Using MPs effectively

Leadership, decision-making and group culture
The functions of leadership and collective leadership
Effective facilitation – making meetings work for everyone
Group culture and walking the talk

Confict resolution tools
Understanding the cycles of groups
The functions of conflict
Tools to make effective use of conflict

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Writings from the past

I was just looking for a resource I wrote many years ago and came across this. It is the preface I wrote to a book by a British ecosocialist friend of mine, Derek Wall, called “Babylon and Beyond”. I thought I’d post it here in the off-chance someone found it interesting

babylonandbeyond1

Human beings face the greatest challenge in the history of our species. We face the destruction of the life support systems on which our very existence depends, and we face it because of our own activity.

There are some who deny or diminish that threat. They mostly either retreat into fairy tale thinking – that technology, or the “free” market, or UFO’s will save us – or hope that by closing their eyes they can it go away.

Yet the evidence is mounting almost daily that the threats are very real and are gathering momentum. A new report from the UK is saying that if we don’t turn carbon emissions around in the next decade, we will not be able to stop runaway climate change whatever we do.

Authoritative voices are warning us that we are very close to the point where world demand for oil will outstrip the capacity of the oilfields to supply. Our total dependence on fossil fuels, the use of which has provided the energy for an enormous expansion of human activity and population, is like a chemical addiction. And as the USA has recently confirmed in Iraq, strip a junkie of their supply and the temptation to turn to crime can be irresistable.

“The American way of life” says George Bush the First “is not negotiable”.

A time of crisis, however, is also the time of greatest opportunity. More and more people are waking up to the need to change, to change at a fundamental level, and to change right now. People are waking up to the fact that the institutions of society that so many have put their trust in are failing us. Government won’t do it. Big business can’t do it.

Because the challenge we are facing is about more than changing a few policies or practises. It requires a fundamental rethink of what it means to be a human being. Government and business can become allies, but the power to make real change lies in the hearts and the lives of ordinary people.

It is already happening. The international people’s movement against genetically engineered (GE) plants and animals has demonstrated how the reckless agenda of multinational corporations, aided and abetted by our own governments, can be stopped in its tracks and rolled back. One conglomerate has been outed bribing government regulatory officials in Indonesia, GE companies are pulling out of the EU and Australia, and GE agriculture firms are facing massive stock market losses. The promised gold rush is proving to be a fantasy, largely because of global consumer resistence.

While the campaign has significant support in the scientific community, for many ordinary people it began as a sense that something just didn’t feel right. That feeling is often quickly backed up by investigation, but the sense of something being fundamentally arrogant and wrong about GE is the key – it is our humanness talking to us.

What is it to be human? Western society, at least, defines us as individuals whose value can be judged by what job we have, what colour credit card, what kind of car we drive and the label on our clothes.

Yet beneath these displays of status, real people are emotional, social and spiritual beings – intrinsic characteristics that cannot be considered in isolation from each other. We seem to have forgotten that our relationships – with one another and all the other beings with whom we share this beautiful planet – are fundamental to who we are.

There is a passage in the Bible that says “where there is no vision, the people perish”.

The inability to step back and clearly see and understand the “big picture” is the central problem that we face in the world today. The main motivations for Western industrial society for the past few hundred years – belief in unlimited growth and technology as the solution to all problems – are the very things that are killing us.

We cannot grow forever on a finite planet. If we continue to assume that endless growth and consumption is possible, and disregard the biosphere’s capacity to meet our greed, and if we continue to neglect social justice and fair and sustainable wealth distribution, we will reap a bitter harvest.

Neither will technology on its own fix the problem. Yes, we need better technology, more efficient technology that uses non-polluting cyclical processes and that does not depend on fossil fuels. But just more technology will not do, because the problem is in us and the way we see ourselves in the world.

We humans think that we can own the planet, as if fleas could own a dog. Our concepts of property ownership are vastly different from traditional practises of recognising use rights over various resources. A right to grow or gather food or other resources in a particular place is about meeting needs. Property ownership is about the ability to live on one side of the world and speculate on resources on the other, possibly without ever seeing it, without regard to need or consequence.

The ability to “own” property is fundamental to capitalism. Since the first limited liability companies – the Dutch and British East India Companies – were formed, we have seen the kidnapping and enslavement of 20 – 60 million African people and the rape, murder and exploitation of indigenous people around the world. Colonisation was primarily about mercantile empires, not political ones. It was all about forcing indigenous, communitarian people to accept private individual ownership of resources, which could then be alienated, either by being bought or stolen. The subsequent political colonisation was just about how to enforce that ownership.

Today property rights are being extended through GATT and TRIPS agreements and through institutions such as the WTO and the World Bank. Private property rights are being imposed over public assets such as water, intellectual property and, through genetic engineering and biopiracy, on DNA sequences. Even traditional healing plants are under threat. In Aotearoa – New Zealand we have had multinationals attempting to patent piko piko and other native plants. This is all part of the “free” trade corporate globalisation agenda – to create tradeable rights over our common wealth, accumulate ownership and then sell back to us what is already ours.

This is only possible because we have lost our place in the scheme of things. We think of the environment as something “over there”, as something separate from human activity, something to either be exploited or protected. The reality is that we are as much part of the environment and the planet as the trees, insects and birds.

It is time to relearn what it means to be human.

Babylon and Beyond, the economics of anti-capatalist, anti-globalist and radical green movements by Derek Wall. Printed by Pluto Press

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Civics education workshop outline

This one day workshop explores the nature of citizenship and the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen. It begins by developing a broad understanding of the constitution and then progressively narrows in on the details of Parliament, the select committee process and, finally, voting. It aims to empower participants with a comprehensive understanding of both the formal processes of governance as well as practical tools for influencing change.

The workshop is interactive and uses brainstorming, small group discussion, video and roleplay to draw out the knowledge of participants and build on it. It is suitable for teenagers to adults.

Learning objectives:
Develop an understanding of New Zealand’s formal systems of governance
Develop an understanding of how political processes work in practise
Understand the arguments for and against an adversarial system
Develop the confidence to participate in the democratic process
Develop lobbying skills, including the ability to make effective parliamentary submissions
Develop an understanding of how MMP works and the difference between your two votes

WORKSHOP OUTLINE:

Introductions and Ice-breaker

Talking about the constitution
Sources of political power.
Does New Zealand have a constitution?
What about the Treaty of Waitangi?
Should New Zealand become a republic?

Understanding Parliament
Government, Parliament, Judiciary and the separation of powers.
What does Parliament do?
How laws get made.
How to influence the legislative process.

Focus on Select Committees
What they are.
What they do.
How to make a great submission.

Roleplay a Select Committee process

How MMP works
Why vote?
How voting works
Coalitions and coalition agreements

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