Why people's power can win

December 5, 2014
A protest in Bentley on November 1 against CSG mining in the areas

This is the last issue of Green Left Weekly for the year. So it is a good time to take stock.

From our perspective, it has been a big year of people's struggles. Week after week, people have taken to the streets to protest about numerous issues all around Australia.

GLW is a record of this struggle that can be accessed online through our website, greenleft.org.au. Very few countries around the world have a record of people's struggle as comprehensive as this.

Whether it was a campaign against the federal government’s attacks on Medicare, education, welfare or the environment, or a campaign of solidarity with the liberation struggles of the Palestinians or the brave Kurdish defenders of Kobane, GLW was there.

Many people — even some who may not agree with our anti-capitalist politics — will concede that GLW is staunchly amid and part of these struggles. “Green Left” has become a symbol of progressive struggle acknowledged even by the right-wing politicians and newspaper columnists. We've been “named” many times in parliament and in the corporate media by people like this.

But the question is sometimes posed: These struggles that GLW builds, supports and reports on may be just and noble causes, but are they getting anywhere? Are these struggles well-meaning, but ultimately hopeless? Can people's power really change the world for the better?

I could answer this question in full honesty this way: collectively, the great majority of humanity at this point in history have no choice but to struggle for change. If the world is left being run by an even narrower group of the super rich, we are heading for ecocide.

Climate change alone — let alone the horrors of war, displacement, poverty, starvation and disease — will soon decisively settle any doubts on this question.

I could answer the question by describing the huge potential for a radically different and sustainable life for the majority of the world's population that technology and broader human knowledge and experience now allow.

But the question would still remain: All this may be true, but are all these struggles getting anywhere? The rich are still getting richer and hard-won social gains remain under sustained attack for the fourth decade in a row.

Is it just a matter of patiently waiting for things to get even worse for the majority and the environment before the tide turns? Will mass pain at some stage transform automatically into a decisive struggle for change?

Will some future terrible suffering or catastrophe suddenly cause scales to fall from the eyes of today's apparently apathetic majority? And so, are these many smaller struggles that we see and are part of now therefore of less consequence?

I would argue that our collective experience tells us that this is not the case. A period of decisive struggle for change is built on transformations of consciousness and political participation that can only take place in the process of preliminary struggles against many different social ills and oppressions. It is in these struggles that collective confidence and skills in organising are developed. We learn from advances and retreats, but of course small victories can greatly boost confidence in the possibility of change.

One significant struggle that GLW and the core activists who keep this project alive are very much part of is the popular community struggle against coal seam gas and other unconventional gas mining. This is an industry built on a rich white man's dream of a future of Australia as “the new Qatar of gas”. But it is a corporate dream that spells disaster for rural and urban communities.

This year, the movement of community resistance to the gas mining companies had some big wins. The most momentous of them was the mass blockade against Metgasco in Bentley, near Lismore in northern NSW.

In May this year, the NSW police prepared to send up to 800 police to break up a four-month long blockade that involved hundreds of people and won over a big majority of the town's population. Such was the popular opposition that the authorities struggled to put in place the logistics for the big police operation.

When protesters prepared to mobilise up to 10,000 people at the blockade camp in May, the NSW government backed down, suspended Metgasco’s licence to drill and referred the project to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

This was not the first community win against powerful CSG mining and exploration companies in NSW. A powerful grassroots-based mass campaign organised by Stop CSG Illawarra pressured the Planning Assessment Commission to refuse Apex Energy’s application to drill 16 CSG wells in and around the drinking water catchment for greater Sydney.

These are just two of many recent people's power wins that are contributing to the broader process that will bring together more decisive movements for change in the future. GLW remains as deeply committed to building people's power struggles like these as it is to making the arguments for broader social change, because we know that one depends on the other.

If you support our work, I urge you to consider making a significant donation to our fighting fund this week. In the remaining four weeks of this year we still have to raise $70,000 to meet our annual target of $250,000.

The proceeds of end-of-year fundraising events organised all around the country over the next couple of weeks will go some way towards meeting the target, but we won't get there without your help.

You can make a donation to the GLW fighting fund on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia). Donations can also be made online at greenleft.org.au. Direct deposits can also be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007.

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