Braving 40 heat, more than 6000 people rallied against woodchipping in old-growth forests on February 26 in what organisers believe was the most broad and dynamic demonstration held in Adelaide for some time. Green Left Weekly's PIP HINMAN spoke to CARLA GORTON, one of the rally's conveners and the Democratic Socialist Party's Adelaide secretary, about the action and future plans for the campaign.
Given that South Australia has no old-growth forests left, the turnout on Sunday was very impressive. What do you think made the rally such a success?
Firstly, the fact that the rally and march were organised by an open, broad committee, rather than a group of self-appointed individuals, made an important difference. This type of approach is radically different from that of the peak environment bodies, which prefer to organise people in a passive way through letter-writing, faxing and attending meetings.
By contrast, the Native Forest Alliance — which comprised both groups and individuals from different backgrounds, but who all agreed with the central demands that woodchipping in all old-growth forests must stop now and that alternative employment must be found for timber workers affected — tried to activate as many as possible to make the decisions themselves.
The Native Forest Alliance, which began meeting in early February, comprises the Conservation Council of SA, Friends of the Earth, Urban Ecology Australia, the Democratic Socialist Party, Resistance and FERAL. There are a range of individual activists involved as well. The Native Forest Network, Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society also helped to build the rally.
By drawing on as much support from as many as possible, we managed to ensure that the word spread, through many different networks, very, very quickly. I should add that Green Left Weekly was pretty vital in getting out information about the rally and the issues involved.
At least 30 people have been regularly attended organising meetings of the Forest Alliance.
How is the Forest Alliance planning to continue the campaign?
We are meeting in a few days to discuss this. However, I believe that given the success of the rally, people will be keen to keep organising public actions of one kind or another to keep the woodchipping issue on the boil. It seems that this issue, the one which has mobilised so many people across Australia (including in states where old-growth forests no longer exist), is an excellent focus for World Environment Day in early June.
Ten to 15 years ago, those who campaigned against the destruction of high conservation value forests were mainly based around Eden. Now, a majority of Australians want chipping in old-growth forests stopped, or at least phased out by the year 2000.
The issues are very clear-cut. All the facts are out, including the incredible waste of this precious resource, the enormous subsidies to the timber industry and the alternative employment possibilities, including plantationing and the cropping of alternative fibres such as low-THC hemp.
Given the heightened public awareness, it's possible to organise much broader forces now compared to 10 years ago. We have made some important new alliances, including with some in the industry who can see through the employers' propaganda.
However, we still need to work much more closely and consistently with the trade union movement and with other networks and movements, such as Aboriginal people, women and students.
One sentiment being echoed everywhere is the need for more public actions. People are very angry with federal Labor and are not being fooled by its manoeuvres. Even though woodchipping isn't a local issue, we know that we are adding our voice to a national campaign.
We want to keep organising wherever we can involve the most people. That's what we pushed at the rally, and that's what received an overwhelmingly positive response.