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National Climate Emergency protests: what next?

A biopsy of our movement

By Ben Courtice

The June 13 Climate Emergency rally in Melbourne is a good opportunity for a biopsy of the local climate movement. Almost a year after the first Climate Emergency rally we can take stock of how much real progress has been made.

A positive protest
The spirited rally of maybe as many as 4000 showed the Melbourne climate movement at its best. A panel of sharp and political speakers played to a receptive and militant crowd. The march down Swanston St and the sit-in outside the Town Hall increased the public impact of the rally and the news coverage of and around the rally nationally was reasonable. The diversity of active groups was highlighted in the colourful array of banners, placards, puppets and so forth that festooned the march through the city streets.

Certainly, this rally was a positive and inspiring event for many. On the other hand, I spoke to at least two activists in the crowd who declared they were quite disappointed in the turnout. Should we be happy with 4000? Or should we be wondering what went wrong given that it was less than the May 17 climate Human Sign at St Kilda? That it was not discernibly bigger than last year’s climate emergency rally?

Just counting the numbers could miss the point. The political message, the public reception, and the way the rally was put together all say a lot too.

The first thing which is very positive is the active preparation for the rally by groups that brought banners, puppets and of course the bicycle band. It helped to turn a walk-down-the-street march into a veritable carnival of politics – as such demonstrations ought to be.

Secondly, in the lead up to the rally we distributed (an estimate) about 40-50 000 leaflets (out of the 60 000 or so we had printed). These disappeared quite easily and assuming they were actually distributed by the people who took piles, this is a pretty good effort for activists on the ground.

There were four banner drops over freeways, organised by people in Yarra Valley CAG, Moreland CAG, Families Facing Climate Change in Ashburton and WeCAN in the west. This effort may not have had a huge impact on commuters (some banners were taken down very quickly at the request of CityLink officers) but it shows a certain growth in suburban activism (relative to last year’s rally, the only real point of comparison I can think of).

The rally was incredibly visible, occupying the main street for an hour or so. One rally participant noted on Facebook that he thought as he sat outside Town Hall, "Gee, I haven't done a sit-in for years! Well, one where I actually end up getting dragged away!" We didn’t get dragged away this time, but the response from the crowd to the prospects of organising “civil disobedience” actions was positive, boding well for mass protests at Hazelwood later this year.

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