GECO's mass meeting event on Tuesday March 7th, 2023 was designed to build confidence within the environment movement to continue to organise for forests, despite increasing repression. It also proposed a common platform with First Nations struggles and the union movement in how we can continue to work better together for our mutual aims. It was structured in two parts, the first as a forum, the second as a mass meeting. Around 100 participants came in person, with 30 more joining online.
Missed out on the mass meeting? You can still be part of the organising for the motions here.
Presenting on the night were three speakers.
Natalie Hogan from Environment Justice Australia spoke to the details of Victoria's new anti-protest laws that are to come into effect May 20th, 2023. She talked about how penalties will triple including up to $21 000 and a year jail time for a particular offence, the broadening of search and seizure powers in and around timber safety zones, and the introduction of banning notices, amongst other important points.
"It's always been EJA's view, and the view of a lot of other community groups, social justice groups, legal organisations, and other members of the community, that the focus really should be on enforcing environmental laws to protect and restore Country, climate, and ecosystems and not on criminalising peaceful protest."
Natalie Hogan from Environment Justice Australia
*All photos featured in this blog post were taken by Trudy Photography.
Godfrey Moase, Executive Director at United Workers Union and co-founder of CoPower, spoke on the common platform workers have with the climate and environment movement and the need to organise on a class basis for change. He proposed solutions using OH&S legislation to defend the universal right to strike and how CoPower are taking back democratic control of the energy system as consumers.
"To say that this legislation around controlling environmental activists is for workplace safety, when we have an IR regime that actively stops workers from taking into account their basic rights, is frankly offensive."
"56.3% of our members who participated in that survey... said to us that climate change to-date, pre floods (2020), is negatively impacting their working conditions. So climate is a thing that Australian workers are saying they are having to pay for. That it is a threat to their safety, that it is a threat to their take home pay and conditions. And so there is not some sphere over here where workplace safety is and dirty environmentalists are over there and the twain shall never meet, and we have to protect one from the other. If you don't care about the right to organise for climate, you do not care about workplace safety. And that is just a fact. That is a reality."
Godfrey Moase, United Workers Union and CoPower
Marjorie Thorpe, senior Djap Wurrung woman and elder for the Gunnai nation, spoke about growing up in Yallourn, the impact of mining and logging on waterways in Gippsland, the problem with the Voice and the need for Treaty.
"We've been out to those logging coupes and its unimaginable for those people who haven't seen the razing of an environment. Scorched earth. We've seen forests we were told would be regenerated, there's nothing there... It's all about making money out of a resource (in a way) that is not sustainable. And if this continues what are we going to be left with is poisoned water and no trees... These are the things we need to talk about when we're talking about the work that needs to be done. We're talking about employment, this is ongoing employment, that (sustains the environment) instead of destroying it. And i think these are the things we need to protest for. We don't just need to protest we need to fight for this, because this is fighting for our very future... That's what we have to do. And if they want to lock us up, well lock us up."
Marjorie Thorpe, Senior Djap Wurrung woman and Gunnai elder.
Profiling all these struggle together on a platform was a way to initiate a dialogue between them about what commonalities there are and how we can better support each others movements. How we build solidarity.
The second half of the event was designed to enable participation from the floor on how people want to continue to organise for climate and the environment. While the meeting identified practical ways to move forward via motions, it also demonstrated a participatory and bottom-up approach to decision making and movement building.
The mass meeting
For the mass meeting we were looking to get a super majority for motions to pass - over 75%. We elected not to pursue a consensus based decision making model due to time constraints and similarly we requested motions err away from specifics and have a more general purpose so we didn’t get bogged down in logistics. GECO made the editorial decision to amend similar motions together. We received around 30 submissions, some of which turned out to be questions and parked for further discussion for another time.
Robbie Thorpe, long term Aboriginal activist from the Krautungalung people of the Gunnai nation, spoke to this motion.
“Don’t be intimidated by these foreigner’s laws… Ask the question about jurisdiction. Whose land is this and whose laws should apply?… It’s time to recognise the law of the land folks.“
“We’ve got no consent, no Treaties. (They have no) jurisdiction… Step up. We got just cause. We’re not afraid of them. We’re the most jailed people on earth. So what? A couple months of jail… It’s worth fighting for. The future of your children, is it worth it? That’s what we’ve always been considering for our people.”
“Our environment is our human right. We got a right to clean air and water, (and the) environment. People don’t understand the gravity, the magnitude of crime scene Victoria…”
Robbie Thorpe and Marjorie Thorpe pictured above
Tuffy Morwitzer from GECO spoke to this motion.
“With white paper production at the Maryvale mill closing - Vicforests’ biggest customer for native forests, the government has a real opportunity to bring forward the transition date…”
“With these anti-protest laws looming ahead of us, we know we can’t continue this work alone. When they try and isolate us, our strength is in broadening our struggle. Ending logging is a fight for climate, it’s a fight for Country, and its a fight for good green jobs for regional communities… We must defend the environment and the right to protest for it. ”
Tuffy Morwitzer, Campaigner for GECO
“The IPCC reports say to aim for a 1.5 degree warming target. We know that this is not a safe target… We’re gonna hit 1.5 degrees before 2030 most likely, and this is a really really bad situation. I don’t think we fully understand just how bad of a situation this is. “
“I think it’s important to recognise that 1. Forests hold a lot of carbon… There’s 3 million tonnes of carbon that gets emitted every year from logging in Victoria. Which is just a phenomenal amount of emissions. The second thing is if can not only protect our forests to hold the carbon, we can also restore our forests to draw down even more carbon.“
“…Making fundraising as a charitable donation if we can… When someone gets arrested we have the funds to hire them good lawyers and take them through the process and give them the best fighting chance basically.”
“Just on the High Court challenge, that’s really a high priority. These laws prevent us from communicating with the community about the destructive practices of logging and we really need to be able to challenge that… They’re preventing us from having free speech, especially with this rubbish about safety… They’re using it to justify the removal of civil liberties and it must be challenged.”
“We want union leaders to be visible, because that’s going to send a very strong message to union members. If they just pass motions of solidarity… but then do nothing, that’s not really going to change things. We want them to educate their members and show leadership.“
“I would particularly like to see the CFMEU denounce these laws. The logging contractors are being used by the government. The government is pretending this is for their safety and protection which we all know is not true. Then it would be really powerful if they stood up and said we don’t need these laws for our protection we denounce them.“
(participants + Speaker 2)
“I think the main thing is to make sure that it is widely circulated and there are people within each union to follow up and somebody to collate the (union) motions.”
Marjorie Thorpe spoke to this motion.
“I just think this is a very important element for organising. It’s about informing and educating people that are otherwise not engaged about why this is necessary… I think that’s where you start a movement, in the towns and communities where people live and don’t necessarily know whats going on around them… Somehow go back to chook raffles to service this resolution. (This) can be done.”
Godfrey Moase spoke to this motion.
“Organise in the CoPower budget. (Clarification) The electricity revenue, 100% of it is voted under a democratic process about how much gets re-invested back into the coop and how much is dedicated to community organising that deals with the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy. This is the intersection of that.”
“There already are so many amazing groups and its really important that we build on the foundations of the grassroots movement that we have… And when were thinking about… resources and supporting activists we need think about where those groups already exist and how we can support people to get to those groups and resources.”
How the process worked
We opted for a hybrid approach integrating both in person and online involvement so as to connect city and regional supporters together. We were lucky to have the support of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the use of their Carson Conference centre, which has an integrated system. This meant that the video conferencing system, Microsoft Teams, was already connected to both the projection set up and the mics all the speakers used.
(This set up would still be possible without a ready-made integrated system, but would require renting wireless mics, connecting them through a PA, which the computer would also need to be connected through.)
For the voting system we used Mentimeter - an interactive presentation software. This program allows both anonymous polling/voting, as well as the ability to voluntarily collect personal details if needed (at an additional cost). Using this program meant that both city and regional communities could all raise motions, vote, and leave their personal details all at the same time.
To participate firstly a QR code and URL appears on the projection and on the screen for online participants. People are able to scan the QR code from their seats or from the screen, linking their device to our presentation on Mentimeter. Then prompts for motions, voting, or leaving personal details will appear on that device. You can only vote once from a device. Voting this way also means we didn’t have to count exact hand numbers both online and in-person, saving us more time for discussion.
GECO had to purchase a full year subscription to this app. For groups or communities wishing to use Mentimeter to advance social, First Nations, environmental, or climate justice movements - please reach out to us at [email protected] . We are happy to share our subscription with you, and time permitting, may be able to offer some training as well.
One limitation we found with Mentimeter was that all motions had to be under 200 characters. This is the same for comments. We didn’t find a solution for enabling online voices to speak to motions other than asking they leave their comments in Microsoft Teams that we would read out as relevant. A small number of folks didn't have a smart phone device, so their participant input had to be collected manually as well.
Link to whole recording
For folks interested to experience the entire mass meeting, you can access the full Microsoft Teams recording here.