An “unlikely collaboration” defeats Goliath

Lock the Gate activists took on powerful global corporations, but they believed in the justice of their struggle and won.

 A five-year campaign to stop fracking in the Northern Rivers area of NSW was successful because of the commitment of local communities and the willingness of diverse groups to work together in a common cause, Annie Kia, Lock the Gate’s community engagement coordinator, told our annual conference.

Lock the Gate is an “unlikely collaboration of farmers, first nation people, environmentalists, townspeople, businesspeople and everyone in between”, she says.

It is an alliance that is concerned about the impact of coal seam gas, shale gas fracking and open cut coal mining on Australia’s best food-producing areas.

“After a really long campaign we eventually won when the government bought back all of the gas licences that had covered the region from the Queensland border to south of Grafton,” Annie says.

She says at the heart of the campaign was “a process of grassroots democracy in which each district in the region formed survey teams, and they asked residents of every house if they wanted to be gas field-free, with massive majorities saying ‘yes’”.

“Communities then declared themselves gas field-free in each region, pledging to come to each other’s aid.

“We won because of collective action” and because “a government realised it could not force gas fields on an unwilling people”, Annie said.

Social movements are born of adversity

Lock the Gate, like all social movements, was born of adversity, she says.

“Social movements arise when the gap between what we know to be right and what is happening around us is so extreme that we react by bunching up and fighting for what we believe.

“If we believe in the justice of the struggle, courage follows.

“When it comes to coal and gas the injustice is plainly evident such is the power of global companies to overwhelm local communities. These are David and Goliath struggles and the courage of communities never ceases to amaze me.”

Annie says a social movement like Lock the Gate and the union movement are two different kinds of collective action. Both believe that “together we are strong” and each can learn from the other, she says.

“When I think about people organising in times of adversity, no matter what kind of movement, campaign or context some things stand out for me to be useful.

“We influence each other powerfully. Cascades of network influence cascade through our connections for good or ill.

“With so much worry about the impending threat of the gas fields we could have been overwhelmed by anxiety but by setting a tone of joyful defiance we created a powerful attraction.”

Understanding networks is the key to campaigning

“To win against the odds we need to reach outside the bubble of the people we normally relate to. This applies within a hospital or within a movement. We tend to sit inside bubbles and if we want to grow what we are doing we need to reach outside that bubble and have different conversations or conversations with different kinds of people.”

Shared values bind people

Annie says to keep such a diverse alliance united required “deeply held, shared values”.

What kept the diverse elements of the Lock the Gate movement together was “a narrative that has to do with our water, our farmlands, our communities that everyone can love and value”, she said.

Annie says what starts and drives the growth of a social movement like Lock the Gate is a form of “collective intelligence”.

“It is only present in face-to-face groups that have some diversity and interestingly, have the presence of women.

“Collective intelligence is not liberated on Facebook. A meeting in the pub is where we decided to pilot the idea of gas fracking-free communities and from that meeting there are now 462 gas-free or coal-free communities around the country.

“This is how things start. People meet face-to-face and learn how to work together. Less Facebook. More face.

“When we work together face-to-face we learn how to be effective. We ask ourselves what did we learn from that? How can we do things differently to make them more participatory?”

She had one final lesson from the campaign.

“As we build our union or social movement, hold the fire in your heart for why you are doing this. Whatever we are doing, feel the fire of what drives you.”

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