SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Rebooting at XR Yarra Block Party

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This afternoon on a glorious clear Melbourne summer's day XR Yarra staged a Block Party. Riff Raff Radical kicked off with a range of rebel songs. And as you can see below, you are never too young to groove.

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The venue, in the shadow of Fitzroy's heritage town hall, was great. And the ambience proved perfect for the rest and relaxation which were primary aims of the get-together. But there were other aims. As the hosts put it in their flyer:

 Happy New Year, rebels! It's time to set your intentions and start the year right. Join us for a Block Party to celebrate the strength of our community, meet your neighbours and find your people.

Even our pink boat, the Tuvalu, made a guest appearance, determined to raise rebels' spirits at the start of what is bound to be a crucial year and decade:

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For those who enjoy creative activities, you could wear your heart on your sleeve (or your chest) by making your own XR t-shirt :

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A Wellbeing tent was also available should you need to take time out at any point.  And of course regen can take many forms:

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The speaker (below), who was one of the organisers of the party, reminded us that 'while many of us have had a few weeks of rest and a movement-wide break from action, our firefighters have continued to work to save lives, wildlife, habitat and properties.'

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For that reason the final aim of the party was to raise funds for our local CFA brigade. They have lost their main truck and need to replace it. After the speaker concluded the entertainment resumed as The Finbar Strummers took the stage. 

I found the party low key and enjoyable. It provided a real opportunity to reboot before we resume the struggle in what is bound to be a huge year for XR and the planet.

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

XR Double Bill Parliament: Forest Vigil & Hunger Strike

Today is the final sitting day for Victorian Parliamentarians. And the last opportunity this year to bring the shocking plight of the planet to their attention.

That is why XR Darebin Group decided to challenge every single MP to protect our forests, to become climate champions. This was their rationale:

Trees are our best defense against a warming world as we campaign to stop the fossil fuel industry from its ongoing damage. They are essential to meeting our second demand of net zero carbon emissions by 2025. Countries are planting hundreds of millions of trees, but we must protect the established forests to avoid climate and ecological breakdown.

XR Darebin decided to target MPs individually by providing a potted native sapling as a gift for every MP, with their name and photograph attached - regardless of their stance on Climate Change.

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The MPs were invited to come and collect the saplings on the steps of Parliament, where XR members held a vigil with the trees for 30 hours from 8am yesterday until 12 noon today. When I visited in the early afternoon yesterday about fifteen of the pollies had already received their presents, although not all had collected them in person, which, sadly, meant the opportunity for face-to-face contact was reduced. 

This Forest Vigil was the inaugural XR action for Bec, who you can see (above) overseeing the saplings. The young bungee jumper, who only learned about XR on Tuesday, decided to jump right in!

This was not the case for Dan Bleakley. A veteran XR member, Dan had pondered deeply before embarking on a hunger strike 9 days ago in company with 500 other XR members world-wide.

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Yesterday, looking thin, Dan was seated on Parliament steps for the ninth day in a row.  He said he is no longer hungry, and that the 3% of his body fat he has lost is not a dangerous amount. He knows this because he checks it every day.  Like his mother, who was initially concerned about his decision, I  was also relieved to hear that he was monitoring himself carefully. In the image (below) the empty crockery indicates how many meals Dan has missed during his fast!

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Dan is taking this extreme action because, as he said when interviewed on Triple J: 'I'm really deeply worried about the climate emergency that's happening right now.' He hopes that by sitting on their doorsteps he will get to speak directly with the MPs about XR's 3 main aims: 1. Tell the Truth, 2. Act Now and 3. Beyond Politics.

Dan also hoped that his action would spark a lot of media attention. And that has certainly been the case. He has had wide newspaper coverage. And even yesterday in his weakened state and despite finding interviews exhausting, he was off to speak yet again on 3AW Drive.

In response to my question about what he was most likely to remember about the hunger strike, Dan told me a story: Early in the week a man came up to him, thanked him for what he was doing and shook his hand. He then walked off, but not before handing over an envelope. Inside was a beautiful hand-written letter,  in which his admirer explained that each night he and his daughter talk about the best thing that has happened to them that day. Shaking Dan's hand was the moment he was going to share with his daughter that night. Dan said that he - and his mother - cried when they read this.

There was another hunger striker on those hot steps. Dave McKay, who is 75, drove in convoy all the way from Sale to hunger strike in solidarity with the XR strikers.

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Originally from New York, Dave now lives in Sale as part of a Christian Freegan group. Group members are so worried about the climate crisis that when they heard recently of the proposed hunger strike in Melbourne, they took to the road. Thirteen people fasted for a full week outside Flinders Street Station before returning home. Dave, whom I was glad to hear has a medical check up daily, decided to continue and is in no doubt that he will complete the hunger strike.

It was great to talk with Dan and Dave. I admire their determination and their capacity for self sacrifice. And I totally understand the desperation they feel that precipitated their decision to stop eating. As Greta Thunberg says it is important that we panic - as long as that panic propels us into action.

But I must confess I still have some disquiet about hunger strikes. This goes a long way back.

Decades ago I wrote my history thesis on the public reaction to the British suffragettes from 1912 to 1914. I admired the suffragettes then, and I admire them now, and they are an inspiration for many others, including Dan. Many of their strategies, like locking on, were brilliant and have been adopted by activists including XR ever since.

But I have always had reservations about their hunger strikes - because of the personal damage they can cause, and the fact that they can backfire. This is doubtless because I read horrific stories of hunger striking suffragettes manhandled and traumatised by force-feeding in prison. And because except for the action of the suffragette, Emily Davidson, who threw herself under a horse at the Derby races, no suffragette action alienated the public quite so effectively as hunger strikes.

But maybe this comparison is no longer relevant. As the Guardian attested earlier this week: 'More voters think Australia is not doing enough on climate.' In fact their poll found that within a mere eight months the number of Australians wanting to see more action on the climate has risen from 51% - to 60%. Obviously the general public is steadily shifting position. And the media interest, particularly in Dan's hunger strike, was intense and almost entirely positive. Yet while there is no doubt we are in desperate times, I still hope the desperate measure of hunger striking will remain a rarity.

Speaking of hopes - I hope those on the Forest Vigil and the hunger strikers managed to express their concerns to more MPs before Parliament shut up shop for 2019. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Photo XR Melbourne in Netherlands Exhibition

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I was delighted to learn yesterday that a photo I took at a recent XR action at South Wharf has been selected for an exhibition in the Netherlands. The action 'Dancing with Death' aimed to draw attention to the odious International Mining and Resources (IMARC) Conference that was on in Melbourne during the last week of October.

The Netherlands exhibition is entitled 'This is how rebellion looks' -

And this is how the organisers describe its aims: 'This curated exhibition gives you a glimpse of what an Extinction Rebellion action looks like. Diverse and yet harmonious, full of energy, hopefulness and solidarity. We want to share the feelings non-violent direct action generates among us. Feelings that have led us to rebel with creativity, cause and compassion. Let's express ourselves and enjoy the sense of human connection.' Who could resist that invitation?

I would so love to attend this event, to see the Melbourne photo amidst a range of others from different countries. All so different I am sure, but reflecting the wonderful, determined movement that XR has become. Of course the only way I could get to the Netherlands would be via magic carpet (carbon-free of course). And as I haven't noticed one around recently, I am very happy that the photo will be hanging there in my stead.

If you want to check out some more photos from the night XR danced with death click on:   

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Disgustation, Dancing with Death & IMARC

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Yarra Promenade South Wharf was the glorious setting last night for an XR double bill. The aim was to draw attention to the nefarious International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) which - in case you have been on the moon - has been on in Melbourne this week.  

At the Discobedience event climate activists, by dancing with death, (above) highlighted the terrifying future that awaits us if agendas like those of the conference are not thwarted: 'We will be dancing with death to draw attention to the deaths of the Indigenous people across the world and the ongoing death of our planet due to the actions of these mining companies.'

As IMARC delegates sat down to their banquet in Palladium at Crown Casino another group of elegantly-attired diners nearby were looking forward to experiencing an al fresco Disgustation.

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The Degustation organisers were able to obtain advance copies of the Palladium menu, so the al fresco diners were treated to a sneak peak at what the IMARC diners had to look forward to. Passers-by, to whom the menus were distributed by waitstaff (below), found them full of gastronomical surprises.

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The Starter was 'a platter of rare Great Barrier Reef fish with twists of bleached coral and a crown-of- thorns starfish glaze'. The main courses included 'high-grade black coal garnished with sun-dried bees'. And for greedy delegates there was a delicious concoction of heat-stressed berries on a bed of exotic weeds available for dessert.

In solidarity with their IMARC neighbors, the Disgustation diners agreed to sup on a dish featuring steel wool. I don't think Audrey (below) looked too happy at the prospect.

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Meanwhile further along the Promenade the Discobedience was well underway.
The dancers' evening attire, covered with blood and signage, might have seen better days and they were sometimes encumbered with weighty accessories, but nothing could undermine the enthusiasm of swing fans dancing to challenge death. 

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Passers by and restaurant customers certainly appreciated the show and the contact with roving activists too.

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There was also a 'die-in' at Discobedience. Greta Thunberg's recorded message sounded particularly portentous in the waning river light.

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Here are the Discobedience crew back on their feet (or at least most of them are):

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What a night it was.
I was particularly stuck by the contribution of the outriggers. Those opting to mingle with the crowds and missing out on the dancing at the Discobedience, and the others, encased in Disgustation sandwich boards, spending their evening handing out menus and missing the meal. (Wise move!) Rosie (below) is one such person, who concluded her time was well spent when a conference delegate from India stopped to talk and seemed receptive to her views. 

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 Here are more of those sandwich boards (complete with seagulls). Perhaps they are waiting for you?:

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

XR Spring Rebellion: Blockade IMARC 'Dress Rehearsal'

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I have a confession to make. I was a no show at the XR protest outside the BP building in the Melbourne CBD this morning.  Despite my good intentions.

I was hanging out to go, to help convey to Australia's biggest coal producer that its days are numbered. And via today's dress rehearsal to put BP on notice that the blockade planned for the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne (28 -31 October) is going to be a whopper.

I knew there was a 7.30 start this morning, but as the protest was scheduled to finish around noon I reckoned a 9.30 arrival was safe. Wrong! This was the scene that greeted me on arrival at the BHP building:

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Luca (left) had miscalculated too. The security guard was helpful, explaining that we had missed the protest, which had only just ended. But he had no idea where the activists were heading next. Disconsolate, we wandered down to the intersection, where we ran into 2 other latecomers:

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After a  few turns around the intersection, and no luck finding the protestors, we decided to make our way to base camp at Carlton Gardens. And this proved a very good move.

Luca, who is new to XR, got to meet Jane Morton, a spokesperson for XR, who plays a primary role liaising with the media:

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I got to soak up the atmosphere of the camp, home to so many activists and their families this very big week. It was great to get to talk with some of them. There has been some rain, and the weather has been changeable, so camping out hasn't always been easy, especially at the end of long sessions of protesting or blockading. But peoples' spirits seemed high, the setting is glorious, and the services are in place for those needing medical or emotional support.

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The XR Spring Rebellion has a further two full days to run, so if you haven't done so yet, get on down. I can recommend Carlton Gardens as a good place to start.

And one thing I know for sure is that at the IMARC Blockade later this month, I will be first to arrive!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

XR Ride-in to Die-in Moreland

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Yesterday, members of Extinction Rebellion Moreland staged their first ever action - in Sydney Road Brunswick. The Rebels met at nearby Moreland Station before walking, biking and skating along the famous shopping street - destination Brunswick Town Hall, site of their Die-in for Climate Action.

The timing couldn't have been better as the neighbourhood was buzzing with Saturday morning shoppers, many of whom were intrigued by the whole event. I know because I did a lot of standing on the edge of the crowd with my camera, and was regularly approached by passers-by curious to hear what was going on. Of course I was more than happy to oblige.

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XR Moreland's rationale for organising this action couldn't be clearer: 

'To save ourselves, it's going to take everything we've got. We have to build upon the success peaceful civil disobedience has had and continues to have in the ongoing struggle for civil rights, women's rights and LGBTIQ rights. We have to join together and act now, uniting in rebellion to protect each other and all life on earth.' 

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This unity with struggles in other parts of the world was exemplified by the presence of some unique instruments at the march. Huge drums from Bali, decorated with XR motifs, were carried by teams of musicians. The unfamiliar and sombre beat of the drums as we walked along added gravitas, anticipating the Die-in to come.

And waiting to welcome the marchers at the junction outside Brunswick Town Hall was a red sight:

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I had seen images of XR's Red Rebels before, but yesterday was the first time I had ever seen them in the flesh. With their chalk-white faces, red lips and matching costumes, these other-worldly figures moved and swayed and mimed their way through the crowd. The originator of the troupe, Doug Francisco, suggested of their aim: 'We wanted people to almost empathically feel and understand our message, which is the power of art.' It certainly worked for me. I can't stop thinking about them. 

When the time came, with the Red Rebels signing, the large crowd laid down on the road, simulating the fate that awaits us all if we don't change course dramatically - and quickly.

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Luckily, the roads were not saturated as they had been for days. In fact the sun was shining and it was almost pleasant on the bitumen, doubly so when an inspiring speech by Greta Thunberg was played over the loud speakers. The short speech (above, 2 minutes) isn't the exact one, but it does give the flavour of what it was like to lie on the road, with no worries about traffic - diverted by a squad of police for the duration - listening to her inspiring words.  In her speech (above) Greta suggests we should all panic, because we need to propel ourselves to step out of our comfort zones and take action. And of course that was exactly what the rebels at yesterday's Die-in were doing.

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And when she suggested further that to change the course of history, we all need to stand up, with encouragement from the Red Rebels, that is exactly what the large crowd did.  As we stood in unison, shouting 'Stand up!', I'm sure I wasn't the only one fighting tears.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

XR's Umbrella Unit at Gertrude Street Projection Festival

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In the 12 years Fitzroy's beloved Gertrude Street Projection Festival (GSPF) has been running it has attracted some unusual revellers. Of course everyone comes to see the shifting lights over the unique streetscape, the art works and the live performances. But some of last night's guests were there for something extra. The famous light festival proved irresistible as the inaugural outing for Extinction Rebellion's Umbrella Unit. They visited to strut their stuff while mingling with the crowd to spread the XR message. Here they are getting ready:

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Last night was the perfect inaugural venue for the Umbrella Unit, as the festival's aims and those of XR are so aligned. As the GSPF program suggests the theme of this year's event is: 'Resist. Persist. Shift'.  Artists explore themes of desire, disruption and subversion, and urge us to seek to forge alliances and encourage us to persist.'

Last night was a night of questions for the 'Jolly Brolliers', like 'What exactly is Extinction Rebellion'? Many people have heard of XR by now, but lots have misapprehensions or don't know what it is.

The answer is: Extinction Rebellion is an international apolitical network using non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act on the Climate and Ecological Emergency. And non-violent direct action was exactly what was on offer last night.

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Another question on some peoples' lips was: 'Why do we need Extinction Rebellion now?' No offence Jolly Brolliers, but nobody answers that key question as eloquently as the eminent Swedish school striker Greta Thunberg. (2.42 minutes):

As I watched the Umbrella Unit hand our pamphlets and engage with the crowds I felt my own hopefulness grow. Especially when I recalled that it is estimated by the renowned American political scientist, Erica Chenoweth, (author of Why civil resistance works), that a mere 3.5% of the population engaging in non-violent resistance can triumph, even in the face of what appears to be impossible odds.

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Last night the aims of the Umbrella Unit's action were 3-fold. The activists wanted to promote the positive look and feel of XR.  They hoped to encourage others to join their ranks. And they wanted to have fun themselves. They obviously did brilliantly on all counts.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

'Stop Adani Convoy': Pit Stop Melbourne

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I'm not really a petrol head, but even I was impressed by this beauty - Tesla's electric car. I was also impressed, though not really surprised, that the Stop Adani Convoy features lots of electric cars.
The convoy, with its initial 80 vehicles (to be joined en route by many others), started out from Hobart on Wednesday. And even on Day 1 it was attracting attention, with THE AUSTRALIAN's predictable negative headline trumpeting: 'Bob Brown compares coal miners to heroin dealers as convoy begins'.

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Bob Brown is leading the convoy. With the Federal election only weeks away, he and his team have hit the road to argue the anti-Adani case in a range of venues, focusing particularly on the key states of Queensland and New South Wales. The route is Hobart - Devonport - Melbourne - Albury - Sydney - Coffs Harbour - Mullumbimby- Brisbane - Airlie Beach - Galilee Basin - Canberra. And at each of these venues there will be a rally just like yesterday's at Birrarung Marr, with enlightening speakers, entertainment and of course banners galore.

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A highlight of the trip will no doubt be the protest at the proposed site of the Adani mine in the Galilee Basin. After that the convoy will move on to Canberra, where it will stage its final rally outside Parliament House on the 5th May, less than 2 weeks before the election.

Bob has taken this break from his beloved bird-watching and post-politics tranquility to step back into the political limelight because he feels the stakes couldn't be higher: 'The proposed mine is an assault on the right of every young Australian who looks forward to a secure future. This outrageous, job-killing economy-wrecking mine in Queensland is the wrong way for this nation to be going.' Luckily, he is not alone in his concern. Nor his generosity.

At last count almost 2,000 people had enquired about joining the convoy. And this requires no small commitment. All these convoy members are suspending their ordinary lives. Instead in 'an epic act of community defiance for the future of our planet' they have signed on for a 3-week-long, self-funded, extensive and likely arduous road trip. I have no doubt the rewards will be great and that I was not the only person in the audience wishing they were going too. I salute them! Below are photos of a few of them - and their vehicles:

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All the speakers, including Bob Brown himself, Wurundjeri Elder Uncle Dave Wandin, together with representatives from the Australian Conservation Foundation and Tesla shared a positive determined attitude. The organisers of the convoy had decided in advance that a non-partisan approach would maximise their chances of converting listeners to an anti-Adani stance. For that reason, even though there were politicians in the audience, especially Greens, none of them were invited to join the speakers up on the stage. And that is how the rally will proceed. However there will be a single exception to this exclusion clause.

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By trek's end the organisers hope they will be reaching out a hand to help the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, join them, to stand tall on stage.