Reaction formations- of time, space, rallies and camps #activism

Our choices – conscious and unconscious – of where, when and ‘how’ we protest – constrain our options, whether we can see that or not.

In 2005 activists at the Gleneagles G8 meeting realised that “summit-hopping” and responding to elite agendas was demoralising and debilitating.  Thus was born the principle of a ‘Camp for Climate Action’.  Not a bad idea at all (though the secret planning meetings were held in the flat of someone who turned out to be an undercover cop, #oops).If it had been savvier and less facipulated it might have avoided the blindingly-obvious danger of becoming an annual scorched-earth festival and lek.  So it goes.  The specific observation – that activists should where possible choose when there is a protest event and the circumstances in which they come- is a solid one.

Talking to a new friend about a recent rally, we realised that the possibility for doing anything innovative were massively constrained because of the physical geography – on the steps of parliament house, with a narrow pavement and then people spilling onto the main street (blocked off by the police).  All for the symbolism of ‘taking the fight to the politicians’ – i.e. parking ourselves on their ‘lawn’.  But when you have that narrow strip, and you only have it for as long as you agreed with the police (who are keen to get the traffic flowing again), then basically all you can do is the set pieces that were done.  Speeches (albeit good ones, not too long, and not just from the old white leftie men) and a few chants.

Yes, this enables people to learn some new information (most of which they’ll forget),feel less isolated and catch up with old friends/acquaintances.  But is that all we’re aiming for?

There is a perfectly good large green (and pretty) space very nearby, where the rally could have taken place. There could have been fewer speeches (after all, it’s a pretty inefficient way of distributing information) and with the additional time, those who came could have been helped to move from audience to participants. They could have been then asked to clump together in the geographical areas they lived in, and facilitators helping to get people knowing each other, perhaps realising that they lived quite close to each other but had never met because one was an old leftie and the other a young green or whatever.  Thus are the loose bonds of social movements thickened…

[For more on this, see this post about the 2011 ‘Say Yes’ rally in Adelaide]

Of course, the symbolism is lost, and since it’s an innovation there would be massive grumbling and sabotage by those who benefit from the status quo or just don’t like change.  The smugosphere is very resilient;.institutional change is very very difficult, and rarely happens quickly…

After all, the climate campers decided that summit-hopping to Copenhagen at the end of 2009 was a good use of their time – the analysis of 2005 long forgotten.  We revert – especially when we are losing or stressed, as they were by then – to comforting rituals.  So it went…

Directions on misdirections at the Festival of Ideas

Phillip Adams and Barry Jones are two of the grand old men of Australian culture (and I know some people will have sniggered at that phrase; to one I say ‘see you in the divorce court, love’).

For over fifty years they have fought the good fight – against the death penalty, against censorship, for science (especially on ‘the greenhouse effect’ as climate change was known, back in the 80s), for the film industry and much else (it’s a really really long list).  Jones went down the more explicitly political route (he was Minister for Science from 1983 to 1990, Australian Labor Party chair etc), while Adams has been a writer, advertising exec and has had an extremely well-regarded late night radio programme that’s been running since about five minutes after Marconi’s first message.

They made the perfect couple, therefore, to open the ninth Adelaide Festival of Ideas, which runs until Sunday.

In front of a gerontologically-advantaged capacity audience (300 people? 500?) the two bounced ideas and anecdotes off each other like the raconteurs they are.

Jones introduce Adams with aplomb, reminiscing about Adams work with the visionary SA Premier Don Dunstan (Jones is delivering the Don Dunstan Oration tomorrow)

In explaining how they met, Jones quoted extensively from a Patrick White article ‘the Prodigal Son

“In all directions stretched the Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions, in which the rich man is the important man, in which the schoolmaster and the journalist rule what intellectual roost there is, in which beautiful youths and girls stare at life through blind blue eyes, in which human teeth fall like autumn leaves, the buttocks of cars grow hourly glassier, food means cake and steak, muscles prevail, and the march of material ugliness does not raise a quiver from the average nerves.”

On reading that quoted by Jones, Adams got in touch and they formed a close bond, that saw them as influential arts figures during the Holt, Gorton and especially Whitlam governments.    Jones told a very funny anecdote about a car accident in the Soviet Union, sans papiers, and the unexpected power of the sentence ‘Nyet, apparatchki!”, before quoting Eric Beecher on Adams

“He’s been around the media for decades, he looks more like a priest than a radio jock, he talks proper, he has an amazingly retentive memory, he’s accessibly cerebral, he wears his biases on his skivvy, he polarizes opinion and opinion-makers, he applies historical perspective to his views and discussions, he attracts by far the most significant interview subjects from around the globe to his program, he probes and banters with them as an equal, he gets himself properly briefed on the detail, he gives his subjects time and space to be discursive and therefore, often, illuminating, he breaks all the rules of talk radio, he is an Australian institution and an international-calibre broadcaster who would distinguish the airwaves of any radio station anywhere. He is Phillip Adams”

and handing over to the man himself. Adams’ central point  (there were others – there are always wonderful digressions with Phillip Adams – think of him like the Ronnie Corbett shaggy dog sketches in ‘The Two Ronnies’, only with detours to Fellini, Hegel and whatever else you care to imagine) was of the importance of paying close attention to the right things, especially when someone is trying to bamboozle you.

To this end, after mentioning  CSICOP, he recounted a story of the US myth buster James Randi, who had been invited to Australia by entrepreneur Dick Smith.  Randi managed to get a whole room of journalists and cameramen to not see that he was moving a cigarette on a table not by ‘static electricity’ or wiggling his fingers but … by blowing on it.

This Adams described as a eureka moment for him, around mis-direction in politics. He compared the public to bulls who are being stuck by picadors but run futilely at the matador’s swirling cape; he compared Donald Trump and the magician David Copperfield, both cleverly making the Statue of Liberty disappear.  It was a classic Adams’ display, referencing the Kardashians, Hitchcock’s MacGuffins and much else.  His warned of strawmen and false binaries (around asylum seekers – ‘razor wire or red carpets’) and closed with a plea that neatly came back to the James Randi anecdote, while bringing in George HW Bush – even when we know they are lying, we should watch their lips intently.

There was then a very entertaining discussion between Jones and Adams on the latter’s memory and craft.  Adams likes the New York Review of Books, but I think Jones is right in bigging up the London Review of Books (I had a subscription for years, and still have a pile from 2008 to 2010, when Manchester Climate Fortnightly took over my life but I still couldn’t bring myself to cancel).  He particularly cited two articles by Elliot Weinberger. Adams told very funny stories about Gore Vidal, a Buddhist monk who spoke not a word of English, a couple of Dunstan anecdotes and a Gorbachev anecdote (it sounds like name-dropping, but it wasn’t).  Adams was in mordant form though, and Captain Hook and his alarming alarm clock got the last tick tock. Time’s winged chariot and all that…

Overall verdict – a very fine evening.  The organisers deserve praise (but not fulsome praise)

And now, immodestly, three Concepts that I think would have helped-

Agnotology (the deliberate creation of ignorance)

Laura Tingle’s Political Amnesia, a Quarterly Essay on the inability of bureaucracies, political parties and the media (and, I would add social movements) to have a working memory that stretches back before the week before last.  Fwiw, Tingle is a staggeringly good political journalist and really should be the next dedicatee of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.

And finally – this from Oliver Sacks essay ‘The President’s Speech’

Among the patients with tonal agnosia on our aphasia ward who also listened to the President’s speech was Emily D. , with a glioma in her right temporal lobe. A former English teacher, and poetess of some repute, with an exceptional feeling for language, and strong powers of analysis and expression, Emily D. was able to articulate the opposite situation-how the President’s speech sounded to someone with tonal agnosia. Emily D. could no longer tell if a voice was angry, cheerful, sad-whatever. Since voices now lacked expression, she had to look at people’s faces, their postures and movements when they talked, and found herself doing so with a care, an intensity , she had never shown before. But this, it so happened, was also limited, because she had a malignant glaucoma, and was rapidly losing her sight too.

What she then found she had to do was to pay extreme attention to exactness of words and word use, and to insist that those around her did just the same. She could less and less follow loose speech or slang –speech of an allusive or emotional kind– and more and more required of her interlocutors that they speak prose -‘proper words in proper places’. Prose, she found, might compensate, in some degree; for lack of perceived tone or feeling.

In this way she was able to preserve, even enhance, the use of ‘expressive’ speech-in which the meaning was wholly given by the apt choice and reference of words-despite being more and more lost with ‘evocative’ speech (where meaning is wholly given in the use and sense of tone).

Emily D. also listened, stony-faced, to the President’s speech, bringing to it a strange mixture of enhanced and defective perceptions —precisely the opposite. mixture to those of our aphasiacs. It did not move her –no speech now moved her– and all that was evocative, genuine or false completely passed her by. Deprived of emotional reaction, was she then (like the rest of us) transported or taken in? By no means. ‘He is not cogent,’ she said. ‘He does not speak good prose. His word-use is improper. Either he is brain-damaged, or he has something to conceal.’ Thus the President’s speech did not work for Emily D. either, due to her enhanced sense of formal language use, propriety as prose, any more than it worked for our aphasiacs, with their word-deafness but enhanced sense of tone.

Here then was the paradox of the President’s speech. We normals—aided, doubtless, by our wish to be fooied, were indeed well and truly fooled (‘Populus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur’). And so cunningly was deceptive word-use combined with deceptive tone, that only the brain-damaged remained intact, undeceived.


But which BIT of big business gets its way in which circumstances, eh?

The State is merely the committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie, innit?  The evil moustache-twirling CEOs get together and tell their political meat-puppet underlings what to do.  Simples.

Well, sometimes, but every so often maybe it is more complicated.  I’m collecting examples of these every-so-often moments for my PhD thesis.  I have quite a nice collection, especially from the years 1996-2007, when little Johnnie Howard was a staunch and effective opponent of climate action.

Here’s a new example, from a Marian Wilkinson 2007 article..

But [Hugh] Morgan’s real success was not in the propaganda war but in the boardroom. In 2000 the Business Council of Australia was struggling to come to grips with the challenge of climate change. [Paul] Anderson, then chief executive of BHP and a key member of the council, called a meeting of the leading business players to discuss their response.

“I held a party and nobody came,” he says. “They sent some low-level people that almost read from things that had been given to them by their lawyers. Things like, ‘Our company does not acknowledge that carbon dioxide is an issue and, if it is, we’re not the cause of it and we wouldn’t admit to it anyway.’”

While Anderson was no fan of the Kyoto agreement, he was convinced climate change was real and BHP should get out in front on the issue. He believed the solution was a carbon tax that would put a cost on greenhouse gas pollution to force down emissions.

Wilkinson, M. 2007. Delayed reaction. Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March.  Reprinted in Jones, T. (ed). 2008.The Best Australian Political Writing 2008.  Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Pp.155-163.

Maunderings and meanderings (Thesis) #Window #Metaphors #sense-making

Maundering #1

One of the key techniques for defensive institutional work is to make nonsense; to destroy or at the very least degrade the sense-making capacity of your opponents.

Disorientate your enemy, deprive them of the ability to figure out – (quick enough – these are OODA loops, don’t forget), what is going on.

Screw with the sense-making capacity that people and organisations have, hack it, simplify it in directions that are useful to you. i.e  successfully creating the ‘common sense’ that the budget of a country’s government is the same as the budget of a house, with a need to always balance the budgets in the short term etc etc.  A master frame that disables other frames….  See also “Corporations are wealth creators, governments and states are dinosaurs and parasites…”

See also-


‘Window’/chaff – make it hard for the radar to see what is going on  [devised by Joan Curran, who seems to have been a very kick-arse scientist]

Take away the road signs in case of invasion etc etc

Maundering #2

Every metaphor/analogy comes with costs, no?  It shapes or at least strongly suggests possible paths, taken or not.  Signposts that lead the unwary or unreflective, scared or busy (and we’re all way too busy) traveller down one route rather than another.  A touch of Frost and all that.

Getting your head around other people’s heads. Phenomenologically, tingle-ing-ly good

Can we ever really know what is going on in someone else’s head?  Meh, there’s one way to piss someone off and that’s to say “I know exactly how you feel, the same exact thing happened to me.”  Because, of course, there’s events but they have to be interpreted,  and even the same person’s interpretations shift and re-shift over time* (see below for disclaimer).

Two examples from Australian political memoirs/essays of late (reading For The Thesis). One is from Nicholas Stuart‘s ‘Rudd’s Way- November 2007- June 2010’, which he started writing while Rudd was moving from hero to zero, and delivered to the publishers two hours before the surprise Gillard assassination.

The other is from Laura Tingle, who writes for the Australian Financial Review, and is a phenomen(oligic)ally good hack, along with Philip Coorey – also at the Fin,  and Lenore Taylor – at the Grauniad).  They dig up the stories, they have respect for the importance of history in policy debates.  To not read all three regularly is to court ignorance of Australian political affairs.

First, from Stuart

This was part of Rudd’s approach to politics that perhaps originated from his study of China. The so-called Middle Kingdom has never been genuinely democratic. It size has always made it easier for the rulers in the centre to issue policy edicts and expect them to be obeyed throughout the country.  Persuasion had rarely been a valued skill. Rudd attempted to impose a similar political style in Australia. On the positive side, this engaged him intensely in the debate, but he needed to be persuaded before anything could happen. Once he had been converted to a particular policy, it appeared to him to be axiomatic that everyone should simply accept that he’d weighed up all the evidence and made the correct decision. There was no room for dissidents and no need for argument.
(Stuart, 2010: 112)

FWIW, I think this may be overplaying the China thing a bit – even dictatorships have politics and ‘heaven is high and the Emperor is far away‘).

Then from Tingle.

We are products of our time, and our views of the world are formed accordingly. My professional career began with the 1980s and coincided with a  dramatic new era in politics and policy debate. All that has happened in the following thirty-five years has shaped the way I see politics. Sometimes you realise with a rude shock that all the stuff you carry around every day in your head isnt in everyone else’s head.

This came home to me most powerfully in 2012, when I was doing interviews to discuss my first Quarterly Essay. Before we started the formal interview, a radio journalist warned: ‘Oh, by the way, don’t presume too much political memory in the audience.’ ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘what shouldn’t I presume they know?’ ‘Well, don’t presume they will know who Paul Keating is, or what he did.’ I concede this caused a sharp intake of breath on my part. Yes, it was a youngish audience, but a politically articulate one. How could they not know who Paul Keating was? He had been one of our prime ministers , for goodness sake. Then I thought again. There had been three prime ministers since Keating left office in 1996. Anyone aged under thirty would have no adult memory of government before John Howard. The views of these people are just as relevant as mine. But they will be shaped by a very different set of memories.
(Tingle, 2015: 83)

So, there’s a cognitive cost to inhabiting (or trying to inhabit) someone else’s cosmology, even for a short period.  And given that most everyone is lazy as most of the time, and given that there are costs to your own credibility if you try to see things from the point of view of “the enemy”, then is it surprising that the seeing things “from another point of view”  is as common as rocking-horse poo?


* Let’s not toooo relativistic about all this – after all,  we manage to communicate, we manage to predict more or less what other people will do, at least within our cultural frames. We are not total mysteries, all the time, to ourselves and each other.


Stuart, N. 2010. Rudd’s Way: November 2007- June 2010. Melbourne: Scribe.

Tingle, L. 2015. Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How to Govern. Quarterly Essay, 60. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Rallying the troops. #smugosphere

I went to a rally yesterday.  It was good – started on time, didn’t outstay its welcome, had an admirably diverse range of speakers (the [old] white male quotient was low, much lower than it would have been even ten years ago).  Well-organised, nothing about to say a reflection etc etc.  So why was I disappointed if not surprised?
Partly because I am a … curmudgeon.

And partly because the Left lost because it believed that right made might.  It was so busy demanding that the State change its ways, that corporations and Capitalism (‘man’) change its ways that it never took the time to think that maybe it, too, should change the ways it met, shared information, tried to bring people into the fold, find out what skills they had, what skills they wanted..

So, in an age of the Internet, it was still clear that one of the reasons for the rally was to impart information.  Seriously, that’s a very bad use of time.  People remember very little of what they are told, especially after 30 minutes of speeches, no matter how good each speech might be.  The internet is a far more useful tool for opening up the tops of people’s heads and pouring from the jug marked knowledge.

Rallies are also, of course, to demonstrate to individuals and small groups that they are not alone, that other people think and feel the same way.  And, if you’re lucky, get some (positive) coverage in the mass media.  The rally succeeded in that much, sure, but the ambition level is so low…

Rallies and meetings [and this is me being cynical] also offer organisers a chance to dish out patronage to their friends and allies – yes, you can have a five minute slot, you can have a ten minute slot…

Why do I bother to mention this last point?  Because I believe that anything that cut into the ‘all eyes to the front’ aspect would be resisted by the organisers, who [whether they can articulate it very well or not] believe that the attention of hundreds or thousands of people to the front, to the speakers, is the sine qua non of their continuing power.

So, there are some things that could be done – here’s two things I wrote back in 2011, when I still devoted mental energy to the formats of social movement gatherings.

Speech I will never give at climate rally

Speech I will never give at same sex marriage rally

As a couple of the speakers said, this is a battle about convincing friends, family, work colleagues etc, as well as Writing To Your MP  (something that should only be done in groups, since it is such a dispiriting and dis-empowering thing).  So, why not put out a call to actors, directors, vloggers, asking them to ‘show how it’s done’.  Why not ask people to, even if only briefly, turn to the people they don’t know around them and introduce themselves. Even if just for a minute. Et cetera et cetera.

But frankly, I’m disvisioned [see below]. I don’t believe the ‘left’ will change  (see ‘smugosphere’ and ‘emotathons’) because I think it’s simply too comfortable  and believes that it will win because it should.  And I don’t believe that I can undertake normative entrepreneurship  (or even shake up the repertoires) – because I simply do not have the skills, the patience, the credibility/social capital. So it goes.


Disvisioned versus disillusioned

… we were discussing the increasing feeling of despair that we are all suffering from: over and over again we were all using the word ‘disillusioned.’ Then someone pointed out that if what one had held in the past was an ‘illusion’ then it was very healthy, even important, to be ‘disillusioned,’ relieved of illusion- or delusion. If on the other hand what one had held before was ‘vision’- ‘silent upon a peak in Darien’- then what the present political climate was doing was ‘disvisioning’: and it was important that we realise that there was no word- at least within this culture and language- for ‘disvisioning’. No word to describe the experience of having had a real vision, a true vision of possibility and then having that taken away from you. That word, that event, is one that necessarily must be denied by bourgeois culture. I was brought up with a wicked myth- that you cannot put the Truth down, that it will win in the end; I think we have to fight that very carefully; alas, indeed it is highly possible to put the truth down, to destroy even the dream of it, and in fact the truth has been put down. Can it be that all visions, or prophesies, or whatever, that are not in the process of being realised are thereby proven as illusions/delusions? We have to face the real possibility that through social circumstance we may now be in the process not of being disillusioned, but of being disvisioned: an act of violence, not therapy.

Sara Maitland Futures in Feminist Fiction in From My Guy to Sci-FI: Genre and Women’s Writing in the Postmodern World ed. Helen Carr (1989) London: Pandora.

You cannot be Serres-ist?! Baal and the Challenger explosion

Okay, I will admit to being prejudiced.  Or rather, having encountered a certain group and then unfairly tarred’em all with the same brush.
And that group is….  late 20th century French “philosophers”.  I read a bit of Fucko, couldn’t get into Derrida, liked bits of Virilio… a bit of Auge, but decided to leave Badiou, Ranciere, Serres and that crowd alone because I was sick of the word-spinning.  Obvs am reading Latour and Callon, and understanding v. little…

I was told by a smart friend the other day to give Ranciere a go. Meanwhile, just stumbled on this.  I have an ongoing fascination with the ways the Challenger disaster can be thought with, and the book “Statues” is now available in translation. Soooo… (after the thesis)



From Serres and Latour, Conversations on Science, Culture and Time

Event Report: Voices from the Climate Front line

Australians have known about climate change since 1988. In 1989 at the South Pacific Forum, the then Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke found himself in discussion with leaders who worried (rightly, as it turned out) that their island nations were in danger [see below].  The intervening 28 years have been ones of promises broken, hopes dashed, while scientists become hoarse with their warnings.

But through all this,  one set of voices have been almost entirely absent – voices of indigenous people, especially women.  Last night at the Hawke Centre in Adelaide, two of those voices were heard.

The event, co-organised by Oxfam Australia and the Hawke Centre, was called ‘Voices from the Climate Front line’.  The first speaker was Lia Yorktown, from SEED.  SEED? SEED is

Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network.
We are building a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people for climate justice with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
Our vision is for a just and sustainable future with strong cultures and communities, powered by renewable energy.
Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity, but we also know it is an opportunity to create a more just and sustainable world.

She spoke, nervously at first but with increasing confidence, about how she had become involved in climate change campaigning while studying at University, of how her father and uncle, who live in the Torres Strait, have noticed more and more bleached coral, with king tides now flooding houses and streets.   She showed this video

And this one

Funding sea walls a reality


Dear Matafeile Peinem

On the question of sea level rise, and the probable need for relocation, she eloquently lamented “It should not have come to this… our culture is being taken from us again.”

The second speaker was  Jacynta Fuamenta of 350Pacific You probably know them from the kayak blockade of the world’s largest coal port, Newcastle, last year.  She also spoke  effectively, of her mental map of the Pacific having flipped from a place to which to retire to somewhere to flee from.  She gave the example of graves having to be relocated, again and again. Interestingly, she said that climate change awareness had now exploded in the South Pacific, but there was a very definite lag/absence in her large Australian-based family, none of whom accepted the science.

She spoke warmly of the “We are not drowning, we are fighting” slogan, and the recent “Pray for the Pacific” campaign across 23 countries.

Finally Simon Bradshaw of Oxfam spoke. He opened by thanking the previous two speakers, saying rightly that they were voices we need to hear that bring sanity and urgency to the national debate.  He too spoke about the impacts (citing Cyclones Pam and Winston and their impact on Fiji), before turning to last year’s Paris agreement (just for  the record, I was sceptical beforehand, and I think the joyous reception says more about the psychological needs of long-term campaigners than the likely outcomes of the ‘deal‘).  [The deal is coming into force, and Australia has yet to sign.ratify [Thanks to the person who pointed out that Australia in fact signed in April, and has indicated it will ratify by the end of the year].  Australia has no plan to hit its 2030 target (26-28% reduction on 2005 levels.  Which, by the way, is totally inadequate).  The Chinese etc are asking pointed questions about this]

Bradshaw pointed to the ‘catastrophically wide’ gap between the fine words and the requirements of keeping below the allegedly ‘safe’ two degrees of warming.  He also argued that solving climate change and ending poverty went hand-in-hand  [the Coal industry has been trying to position itself as the only way out of energy poverty for the developing world, with Prime Ministerial approval].

There was only time for three questions.

I asked the women ‘what does practical solidarity from someone living in suburban Adelaide look like?’ and Simon ‘what have we been doing wrong these last 28 years?’.

Ms Yorktown replied “an understanding of the impacts.” She said she liked AYCC and SEED working as partners, rather than in a paternalistic manner. She pointed to the building of capacity in communities and asked us to check closely the policies of the parties we might vote for.

Ms Fuamatu urged people to get oud and so thing, and not to waste time/energy on people who don’t believe  that climate change is happening.

Dr Bradshaw pointed to effective organising, power-building and a connected global movement

The second question may have come from a climate denier (if so, he was unusually subdued about it), and was simply ‘how much sea level rise has already been recorded’?

Simon Bradshaw fielded that one, saying that for various reasons the amount is disproportionately in the tropics, and 10 to 30cm, with estimates for the rest of the century varying from 70cm to several meters.

The final question, from a retired geography teacher who said he’d been  teaching about climate change since well before 1988 (I spoke to him afterwards and he said it was from the 1960s), asked if the speed of the changes would overtake efforts to deal with it.

Bradshaw argued that there needs to be more effort into adaptation, but also an end to fossil fuel investments.

Ms Yorkstown was more pessimistic (rightly so, in my opinion), but argued that while in some places relocation would be necessary, others could still be saved.


I am exquisitely aware that I am a white male with a larger than average carbon footprint (it’s the now-annual flights to see the aged parentals), and that my following comments will be seen in this light. But I still think we need to talk about what could have been done differently at the event.  That is not to cast aspersions on the hard work and dedication of the organisers and the speakers.

We need to do things differently, and the (rather short) meeting format of speakers followed by a few questions has not worked to ‘build a movement’.

Before the event, it would have been good to encourage people to turn to the person next to them/behind them and introduce themselves.  Part of the problem of the West is loneliness and atomisation. Events like this can help break that down.

I think the speeches were great, and it’s really important to hear first-hand about the impacts climate change is already having (there is a tendency to think that it’s all about polar bears in the year 2050). Nonetheless, we only had 75 minutes (I personally think 90 minutes is a better length).  Given that the audience was self-selected as people who give a damn and probably know a bit already, then might not the speeches have been slightly shorter, with a recap of impacts and then focussed around questions like (to pick two at random) “what does practical solidarity look like?” “what do we need to do differently in the future”.  [And yes, this is a white minority world man telling majority world women what to say and how long to say it for, I know.]

If there had been more time for questions, then to get around the ‘male hands go up first’ (as happened last night), then this could have been done.

Other observations

a) The audience was pretty chronologically advantaged/follicly challenge (and overwhelmingly white, even by Adelaide’s standards).  This may be more a reflection of the demographics of the Hawke Centre’s email list rather than public concern among the younger folk.

b) We haven’t thrown our bodies on the gears very effectively, especially we old farts.

1989 Newspaper article

Burrell, S. 1989. Environment Dominates Forum. Australian Financial Review, 12 July.
The 20th South Pacific Forum closed yesterday with environmental issues and their impact on regional economies emerging as the new focus of concern.
The Australian Government has made the environment the political focal point of its effort, linking these initiatives with its emerging emphasis on economic issues as the key point of foreign policy engagement in the region.
The key outcome was the Tarawa Declaration, aimed at banning drift net fishing in the South Pacific.
Despite some reservations from island nations increasingly dependent on Japanese aid and proceeds from fishing rights in their waters, the declaration was signed yesterday at a ceremony on Tarawa, the capital island of Kiribati.
The declaration, which was slightly modified from the original Australian proposal, said that drift netting violated international law and called on Japan and Taiwan to abandon immediately their operations in the South Pacific. It also called on the world community to support a convention banning the use of drift nets in the Pacific zone.
But doubts remain about the enforceability and effectiveness of any ban in halting the potential exhaustion of the South Pacific tuna fishery – estimated at only two years if present rates of fishing continue.
Other environmental initiatives included the promise by Australia of a$6.25 million, five-year project to monitor the impact of the greenhouse effect on the region, and further moves towards a ban on chemical weapons.
The greenhouse initiative prompted discussion of the possible long-term effects of climatic change and rising sea levels on some of the tiny, low-lying island nations of the forum – including the possibility of moving whole populations.
Forum leaders played this down as a remote future possibility, reflecting concern that excessive focus on the relocation issue could deter potential investors and aid donors.
But the issue was raised by a number of nations most likely to be affected, including Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands and even Fiji, with the question of the sovereignty of displaced governments in their new locations being the key discussion point.
Both Australia and New Zealand indicated that they and the rest of the world would undoubtably be prepared to take humanitarian action in moving people driven out by rising waters.
On the economic front, the forum considered a number of reports on regional trade and economic development issues, with the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, focusing on the importance for the region of the multilateral trade negotiations under the GATT Uruguay Round.
Mr Hawke also briefed the forum leaders on his initiative for an OECD-type organisation for the Pacific Rim countries.
Although most of the smaller forum nations will not be members initially, it is understood that the director of the Forum Secretariat, Mr Henry Naisali, will be given observer status at the November conference in Canberra to discuss the new body.


Mark Latham and his crystal balls

This below is from a 2013 Quarterly Essay  called Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogny by Anna Goldsworthy.  It’s in the correspondence bit, talking about the previous essay, ‘Not Dead Yet‘ by Mark Latham. Here below is a prediction Latham made while replying to (most of) his critics.  And so it came to pass, especially after the 2016 double dissolution…

Increasingly, those involved in the two-party system are rusted-on partisans. Labor has fallen back on its core trade-union base, while the Liberal party is now dominated by right-wing fanatics: Tea party-style ideologues, the Religious Right and the growing presence of authoritarian figures from a Northern European background. Publicly, the full impact of this change will not be apparent until such time as the conservatives regain office in Canberra.

Latham, M. 2013. Correspondence, in Quarterly Essay 50, p.115

If only Latham had been as prescient on how readers would respond to some of his more, um, ‘colourful’ comments, he’d still be writing for the Fin.

Political parties as street gangs. Except in #Manchester of course…

This below is from a Quarterly Essay  called Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogny by Anna Goldsworthy.  It’s in the correspondence bit, talking about the previous essay, ‘Not Dead Yet‘ by Mark Latham. I have added the link.

Part of the explanation of this organisational shortcoming lies in the fact that political parties are strange beasts. The activities they undertake are important and complex, including electing MPS and leaders, formulating pubic policy and running campaigns. Yet their corporate culture is very different to that of other enterprises undertaking similar activities, such as the public service, academic institutions or even advertising firms. Instead, as the academic Glyn Davis [read the link – it’s an excellent article!] and others have detailed, political parties and their parliamentary groupings have an ethos which is more akin to that of a street gang, those groups of disenfranchised youths who band together for mutual profit and support.

Reece, N. 2013. Correspondence, in Quarterly Essay 50, p.109