Green Left: 20 years of courage and conviction

February 26, 2011
Campaigning with Green Left in Sydney.
Campaigning with Green Left in Sydney.

Below is the text of a speech by Fremantle councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright to Green Left Weekly's 20th anniversary celebrations in Perth on February 12.

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Video: Sam Wainwright on GLW 20th anniversary. Alex Bainbridge.

The first issue of Green Left Weekly in 1991 was quite an important personal thing for me, because, only a few months previously, I'd been a member of the Labor Party down in Tasmania, where I grew up.

I was secretary of Young Labor in Hobart and I'd decided to part company with the Labor Party. Let's put it this way, my ideas were moving to the left and theirs were moving to the right.

The turning point for me was the record of the then [Federal] Labor government and its continued complicity and support — militarily, diplomatically and morally — for the ongoing Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

It had cost in excess of 200,000 lives, or a third of the population of East Timor, at that point, and for me it was just too much.

If Labor politicians weren't prepared to cross the floor of parliament against that, then what were they prepared to cross the floor over?

So for me, getting the first copy of Green Left Weekly in my hands and distributing it on the streets in Salamanca markets in Hobart was a big deal.

It’s a small town, where everybody knows everybody. For me, clutching this paper and shouting out "no war for oil" where there were friends, family, and school teachers passing by [meant I stood out]. Within half an hour everybody knows your politics.

But history has proven that was a great thing to do. Think about not only the lives that were lost in that 1991 Gulf War, but then the subsequent 500,000 Iraqi lives that were lost as a consequence of the US, Australian and British blockade of Iraq.

And then think of the subsequent invasion of Iraq, where to date a million people have died as a consequence.'

This is a common thread from 1991 to today, over 20 years of Green Left Weekly; the people of the Middle East are engaged in an epic battle to assert their control over their own lives and their own dignity, free from foreign interference.

But today we have some good news stories to celebrate in terms of the struggle of ordinary people in the Middle East, in their struggle for dignity, justice and democracy and a fair distribution of wealth. That’s a fantastic accomplishment.

The other thread I draw between 1991 and today is that a crucial catalyst for change has to be people having the courage of their convictions and putting themselves in harm’s way, out in the street, and saying "this is what I stand for".

In a much smaller way than the epic mobilisations we've seen in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, every time activists in this room take their activism out onto the streets — distributing Green Left Weekly, putting up posters and handing out leaflets — they are doing that.

The internet is an amazing tool and activists should use this tool to the best of their ability for organising people to get out on the street.

People talk about an "internet revolution" to describe what happened recently in Egypt and Tunisia. On one level it was and it is, but it still requires the courage of people to get out on the street and show what they stand for.

We've had some debate within Socialist Alliance about the future of Green Left Weekly. Although many more people read it on the web rather than the paper version (of course, back in 1991 there was no web version) I'm very convinced that a hard copy version remains necessary, especially for a campaigning newspaper — for campaigning in struggles against all manners of injustice and oppression.

Anyone can put a blog up on the internet, but it takes a qualitatively higher level of conviction and courage to get out on the street and be seen to "put your money where your mouth is" in terms of your ideas and people gain respect for that. We've seen that in big ways and small ways over the past 20 years, especially in big ways, just recently in Egypt.

So, congratulations to Green Left Weekly on 20 years. Hopefully there will be another 20, in whatever form that may be.

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