Animal rights activist in Melbourne have harmed the climate movement and their own cause by attempting to stack meetings and ram through demands.
Responding to a call for the newly-formed Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) for a Climate Crisis National Day of Action (NDA) on February 22, a broad meeting was held in Melbourne on January 13. It was attended by 87 people from 20 or more groups concerned about climate change, with the shared aim of organising a united response to the government’s inaction on the climate and bushfire emergency.
CJA had already agreed upon the following main demands: 100% public renewable energy & no new fossil fuel or nuclear projects; a just transition for communities with guaranteed jobs for affected fossil fuel workers and communities; funding for firefighters and communities; and First Nations justice, with funding for Indigenous-led land management.
Along with ratifying these, the Melbourne meeting voted to adopt an additional demand: make the climate criminals pay with a levy on fossil fuel companies. It also voted to name the new coalition Climate Justice Alliance Melbourne and affiliate to the national Climate Justice Alliance network.
Alliances have to be built on a large amount of goodwill among participants. Differences in political beliefs and approaches need to be debated through in the spirit of seeking unity. This is because there is tremendous power in united action.
We know from the history that progressive reforms are generally won through mass streets campaigns outside parliament. We are not going to defeat the powerful fossil fuel capitalists without a united mass movement capable of mobilising the majority of the population around concrete demands for serious action on climate change.
This is why planning for the NDA in Melbourne has occurred through open organising meetings, as opposed to a more bureaucratic delegated structure. The idea has been to enable individuals, as well as organisations, to get involved. Most groups have sent one or two people to represent their members and supporters.
Unfortunately, various animal rights organisations, led by the Animal Justice Party (AJP), Animal Activists Australia and Vegan Rising, decided to abuse the open nature of the meeting. At an organising meeting on January 27, they brought along about 25 people with the aim of ramming through a vote on an extra demand for the Melbourne rally: transition out of animal agriculture and promote a plant-based diet. They also demanded to have a speaker at the rally.
In the end, the motion for a new demand was carried due to the sheer number of people that these groups brought along, despite most organisations in attendance opposing it.
At a follow-up meeting on February 3, about 40 animal rights supporters turned up to ensure that their demand stood and a speaker representing their view was included at the rally.
At that meeting, a letter signed by organisations that have endorsed or are in the process of endorsing the NDA nationally, including School Strike 4 Climate, GetUp, Australian Parents for Climate Action, Tipping Point and Maritime Union of Australia assistant national secretary Warren Smith, was tabled.
It read: “We believe the national statement and the alliance that has formed around it is an important step forward in terms of broadening climate politics and building a more powerful movement with strong demands on government.
“Part of our strategy was to frame these demands in ways that working people and unions can get behind.
“It has recently come to our attention that in Melbourne there have been efforts to add a demand that has not formed part of the discussions or strategy for this event — to phase out animal agriculture, along with active promotion of ‘plant based diets’.
“It is impossible for us to endorse or promote a rally in Melbourne as part of our national initiative on this basis. Such a substantial change would need to come back to us as endorsing organisations”
Despite the stack, the majority of the meeting voted to drop the demand.
Several of those who voted against are vegans but recognise the extra demand would only narrow the potential audience for the rally and provide a convenient excuse for some unions to not endorse it.
Everyone who voted against the additional demand recognises that methane from animal agriculture contributes significantly to climate change. But so does plant-based agriculture. The problem is not animal (or plant-based) agriculture but the way agriculture is industrialised for profits under capitalism.
In motivating the additional demand, some of the animal rights activists implied the movement should shift its focus away from fossil fuel to animal agriculture. This would be a mistake because fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change.
Having rallies that focus on phasing out the fossil fuel industry does not mean the movement can’t address other contributors to climate change. But to build an effective movement for social change, it is important to hone in on the central issue, which in this case is fossil fuel.
By attempting to hijack the climate movement through stacking meetings, these activists have done damage to the animal rights cause and broken down trust between activists and organisations.
Such actions must be rejected.
[Sue Bolton initiated the first meeting of the Melbourne Climate Justice Alliance. Bolton and Jacob Andrewartha are members of the Socialist Alliance National Executive. Editor's note: The article has been updated to include the names of the other animal rights groups that took part in the stacked meeting.]