Building a climate movement that can win

January 31, 2020
A protest in Sydney on January 10 demanding climate action and the resignation of PM Scott Morrison. Photo: Peter Boyle

Australia is burning and unless we all step up, it will continue to burn. While firefighters and emergency personnel and thousands upon thousands of ordinary people have stepped in to fill the breach, in the cities we too can play our part. 

I am one of the initiators of a broad-based climate action group which is organising a protest march in Melbourne as part of the February 22 national day of action on the climate crisis.

We need these rallies to be huge, diverse and inclusive, not only because that it the best way to send a powerful message to all governments that we are serious about stopping more coal and gas mines, it is also connected to how long those people who show up to one rally will stay concerned enough about the issue to keep working for it.

There are moments when government spin ceases to win popular support because people’s life experiences, in this case the bushfire emergency, contradicts the propaganda. 

It should not surprise us that continues to churn out its science-free diatribes about “greenies stopping hazard reduction”. Some will fall for it. But as the fire crisis continues — and we are only half way through the summer — they may also start to question the official explanations which leaves climate change out of the picture.

A stronger climate movement can, and would, change minds about the causes of the fires and the solutions.

The climate movement has an opportunity to build a mass climate movement during these summer months that is far larger and more deeply connected to communities than we have seen so far. 

The incredible outpouring of anger against the prime minister in early January was a spontaneous upsurge; that is not enough to win more people to push for action.

We should take a leaf out of the Equal Marriage campaign book; it took years of patient and hard work to build the necessary alliances to eventually influence public opinion and eventually gain the support of the majority.

Continuing mass mobilisations were key to its success. And while numbers are important, also of critical importance is the alliance building to bring new layers into the movement to make it as diverse, inclusive and democratic as possible.

This is the only way it will be able to grow fast — and new activists will be prepared to put some of their skin in to the game.

As Greta Thunberg has wisely said, “We need everyone”.

As both major parties are controlled by fossil fuel capitalists, they are not going to give up easily. Neither is Rupert Murdoch. It won’t be good enough to just have experts presenting in the media. While we need to use the science to back up our demands unless we have a mass people’s movement to counter the propaganda we will be unable to force the shift in policy we need.

You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that the government is pursuing anti-climate policies that will and is resulting in people being burned alive. We’ve seen the community mobilise to defeat the bushfires, support each other and provide emergency relief when the federal government was sitting on its hands.

The climate movement in the cities need to take a leaf out of their book in our fight for serious and rapid climate action. That means it needs to reach out, unite as many communities as possible, and the only way of doing this is to operate in a democratic way.

We have several organising meetings in Melbourne aiming to bring unions, community climate groups, students and people of faith together. We need to put effort into bringing unions on board because, for now, they feel constrained about connecting the fires to climate change as a result of their connection to the Labor Party. This is a dead-end for unions and working-class people everywhere: to rule out the direct link between the fires and climate change is to effectively support the Coalition.

Now is the moment we have to build a mass climate movement far larger than what it has been so far. Let’s not squander it with demarcation disputes inside the movement. We need to aim big because that is where our potential political strength lies: only a mass movement will beat the climate deniers back.

[Sue Bolton is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive and is a socialist councillor on Moreland City Council in Melbourne.]

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