‘We won’t wait for change’

Issue 
Resistance national conference participants. Photo by Alex Bainbridge

Two hundred and seventy people gathered for the Resistance 2010: The World Can't Wait! conference in Thirroul, near Wollongong, over April 24-26. The national conference brought together young activists from all over Australia to discuss a broad range of political issues and to get organised in the face of an uncertain future.

Conference organiser Jess Moore, who is also the Socialist Alliance candidate for Cunningham in the upcoming federal election, told Green Left Weekly: “We’re living in a world in which the relentless drive for profits is killing the very environment we depend on to survive while war, poverty, racism and oppression dominate the lives of billions. We refuse to sit back and accept this.

“The conference theme was ‘the world can't wait’ and, as we have heard, many people are not waiting; they are fighting back.”

Over the three days, the conference heard from speakers from a range of political backgrounds about the most pressing political topics today.

The ugly reality of the “war on terror” was laid bare by Ammar Ali Jan, youth secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan. With Pakistan now one of the key sites for this imperialist war, Jan described the war machine's complete disregard for the people of the Middle East.

“The US is completely hypocritical on the question of human rights — especially the rights of women. The wars it has created are the major cause of oppression and misery in the Middle East”, said Jan.

This was counterpoised with positive examples of change presented by Ben Peterson, a Perth Resistance member who was eyewitness to the revolutionary process in Nepal last year. As well as the situation in Nepal, Peterson described the gains in many Latin American countries, which are undergoing processes of radical change.

He also spoke of the challenges the progressive movements face, and the need for solidarity from around the world.

With serious climate action not forthcoming from Labor or the Coalition, Matthew Wright from Beyond Zero Emissions presented a detailed plan for a switch to 100% renewable energy by 2020. The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 project proves Australia could meet 100% of its stationary energy needs within a decade, using existing technology and creating sustainable jobs.

Climate change campaigning was discussed in several workshops. Retired coalminer Graham Brown and unionist and Socialist Alliance member Adam Leeman spoke about a “just transition” to a sustainable future — in which workers in polluting industries are supported and retrained, rather than simply losing their jobs.

The conference committed to strengthening Resistance’s involvement in the climate action movement as a priority.

Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Alyawarr people from Ampilatwatja in the Northern Territory, inspired the audience with the story of his people taking power into their own hands, rejecting the racist coercive measures of the NT intervention and setting up a protest camp outside government control.

Downs outlined future plans for the struggle to end the intervention, including a mass gathering in Alice Springs in July.

He told GLW: “The Resistance conference proved that we were all on the same page. People were very enthused and I'm glad I was able to make people a little more aware of what was happening under the intervention in the Northern Territory.

“I was able to show how the government lied. It’s now understood that we need all the resistance groups, the unions and the general public to come together to fight this.”

The campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights also featured prominently. The fight for equal marriage rights will remain a priority for Resistance, as well the struggle for trans people to have their gender legally recognised.

Socialist Alliance member and trans activist Conor Montgomery spoke about his struggle against the NSW government to be recognised as a man. He cannot fulfill the checklist of government-required surgeries for health reasons. His passport states he is male but the government refuses to change his birth certificate.

An evening event called “Love and Revolution” included a performance from norrie mAy-welby, who became the first person to hold a “sex non-specified” birth certificate, but was recently forced to file a case with the Australian Human Rights Commission after the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages cancelled it.

Saradha Nathan, a refugee rights activist who was arrested in Indonesia for visiting Tamil refugees in Merak, criticised the Australian government over its recent suspension of Afghan and Tamil refugee claims.

Tamil and Palestinian struggles for self-determination were discussed in a workshop featuring Tamil activist Seran Sribalan, who last year walked from Sydney to Canberra to raise awareness about the 300,000 Tamils in concentration camps, and Israeli citizen and Palestine solidarity activist Isaac Shuisha.

Moore told GLW: “Young people are constantly criticised for being apathetic and selfish. At the same time, we are told we are powerless to make change and face greater social and political exclusion.

“But we do have the power to change the world if we act together. This conference was an opportunity for young activists to get together and plan to make real change.”

Over the course of the weekend, Resistance delegates voted on plans to build radical movements for social change, as well as building the movement for socialism and strengthening Resistance itself.

The conference unanimously endorsed a motion of solidarity with the Red Shirt movement in Thailand, as well as with the workers at Tahmoor Colliery near Wollongong, who are engaged in a dispute with mine owner Xstrata over wages and conditions.

Delegates also voted to oppose the upcoming NAPLAN tests in schools, due to the federal government's plans to allow the results to be used to publish league tables, which unfairly and simplistically rank schools’ performance.

Slideshow of photos from the conference

Below: A Win News story on the conference.