Emboldened by the Bentley Blockade

 

It’s been ten days since the text arrived announcing the suspension of Metgasco’s license to drill for oil at Bentley.

 

Only ten days — and life has changed dramatically for many of us.

 

I search for a word for this new feeling and find an old one:

 

Embolden: “To give someone the courage or confidence to do something.”


What really happened at Bentley?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I did not camp there and visited on only a few occasions, so I can’t say for sure.

 

What I do sense is the aftermath–the spin-offs, the unintended effects.

 

At the final Bentley dawn service on Tuesday 20th May, Ruth Rosenhek begged several hundred cheering Protectors and supporters to go gently after the close of the Bentley Blockade, to keep up the warm hugs and looking into people’s eyes when she’d meet them in the street in Lismore.

 

Everyone was nodding agreement. We must not let this fade; we must keep this connection.

 

See:

https://freefall23.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/go-forth-gently-the-aftermath-of-bentley/


Most local people I speak with confess to having had a good long cry after the victory. I certainly did.

 

Some are in a shocked and fragile state.

 

Most are simply astonished.

 

And even those known as being “the voice of reason” admit the need to celebrate such a magnificent triumph.

 

Whatever happens next — here and elsewhere – the Bentley Blockade was a massive victory that Australia will never forget.

 

The ham-fisted tactics of a cowboy mining operation have brought forth the most sophisticated social action this country has seen in decades.

 

Metgasco has done us all a great favour.

 

We are emboldened. Our courage and confidence have been strengthened.

 

The Bentley Blockade is a powerful symbol for those who believe in freedom. Everything about the operation communicated care, love and concern.

 

What could be more heart-warming than the Camp’s beautifully tended vegetable garden?

The Bentley Vegetable Garden
The Bentley Blockade Vegetable Garden

 



“We who believe in freedom cannot rest”

 

When I was younger, I listened to Holly Near and Sweet Honey in the Rock sing Ella’s Song:

 

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

 

So many people – and so many older people – putting their lives on hold to camp in harsh conditions powerfully affected the rest of us. We cannot rest now.

 

All of my communications with local people begin and end with Bentley. “Go, Bentley” is a salute to all who showed they cared.

 

Consecration

 

I remember — in 1992 — when I discovered that I was consecrated in the service of the Earth.

 

See: Wendy Sarkissian Consecration story 2012

 

My heart softened and opened. I ached with love. I’d wake to the shock that I loved the Earth. My heart vibrated with the power of that knowledge.

 

It’s that way now with Bentley. Waking with a yearning heart, soft and open.

 

I yearn to return and place bouquets at the Bentley gates.

 

In gratitude to the Protectors who gave us so much more than social action.

 

I bless them – all of them, that motley crew – for renewing my courage and confidence.

 

Emboldened, I turn my face to the morning sun.

 

I believe in freedom.

 

I cannot rest.

 

I am ready for more.


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Emboldened by the Bentley Blockade



 

Bentley CSG Blockade: You Can’t Just Take My Dreams Away

 

Nimbin, 28 April 2014

 

gate-c-in-the-rain-20414_lo

It was bucketing rain at dawn at the Bentley Blockade this morning. The blockade against unconventional gas mining. No guitars or drums because of the rain. There were lots of people there but not a lot were singing.

 

Then, magically, about 5 am, a woman with a strong, melodic voice began a song that only a few of the older women followed. I was among them.

 



It’s a song by my hero, Holly Near. One of my favourites: “Mountain Song”.

 

Mountain Song

I was delighted to hear Holly’s song in our blockade. Hers is a powerful voice for change. After 30 years of work in social change movements, Near’s historical perspective, as well as her contemporary activism, continue to challenge and inspire.  I last heard her perform a year ago in Berkeley. She made me cry.

 

This morning, the woman’s song resonated deeply within me as I stood on the hill and watched the darkness fade and a new day begin:

 

I have dreamed on this mountain
Since first I was my mother’s daughter
And you can’t just take my dreams away ­– not with me watching
You may drive a big machine
But I was born a great big woman
And

you can’t just take my dreams away ­– not with me fighting



This old mountain raised my many daughters

Some died young – some are still living
But if you come here to take our mountain
Well we ain’t come here to give it



I have dreamed on this mountain

Since first I was my mother’s daughter
And you can’t just take my dreams away ­– not with me watching
No you can’t just take my dreams away ­– without me fighting
No you can’t just take my dreams away

 

 

https://www.songlyrics.com/holly-near/mountain-song-lyrics/

 

 

My dreams

I have been visiting the Northern Rivers since the early 1980s and have lived in Nimbin since 2001. My husband and I shelter our dreams here and, truly, Metgasco, wherever you are and whoever you are, you may drive a big machine, but “you can’t just take my dreams away – not with me watching.”

 

With many of my neighbours, I am watching. I am bearing witness. Like many principled and concerned people in this region, I am on high alert.

 

This mountain is not for taking.

 

Metgasco, hear me! You have no social license to mine and destroy our land, our water, our health and the health of future generations of all species.

 

Not only are we watching, we’re also fighting. We’re fighting for our lives here in the Northern Rivers.

 

Please, neighbours, if you possibly can, join us. Join us now.

 

We need you now – before it’s too late.

 

bentley-dreams-280414_low

 





Before the big machines take our dreams away.




 

 

 

 

Activism in Planning in Australia: A Delicate Balancing Act

I’m celebrating: 2013 was a great year for community activism in planning.

 

In New South Wales, concerted action by many forces, including the Better Planning Network (https://betterplanningnetwork.good.do/nsw/fund-the-better-planning-network-in-2014/), resulted in the State Government withdrawing the contentious and flawed proposed state planning legislation.

 

The Better Planning Network has more than 430 community groups and many more affiliated individuals (like me), and this number is growing every day.

 

Group-shot-Hazzard-office-protest-380x251

On 28 November 2013, the NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, announced that he would withdraw the NSW Planning Bills until February/March 2014. The Minister made this announcement because of heavy amendments made to these Bills in the Upper House by the Labor, Greens and Shooters and Fishers parties.

 

Aside from some misguided planners and the developers’ lobby, nobody had anything good to say about the community engagement components of the Bills, which were my main concern.

 

I argued on a number of occasions that it was unrealistic – strategically and psychologically – to expect residents to be happy with community engagement limited to the strategic planning stage. Many people, including prominent lawyers, judges and local government, agreed.

 

We are all praying that the State Government will avoid the old trick and not undertake the next stage of consultation during January (as often people do!). It’s too late to put the plans on display on Boxing Day in a distant galaxy – but stranger things have happened to hitchhikers in New South Wales!

 

It was a big win, nonetheless.

 

Dear Manitoba

 

Blog image 2 Manitoba merge

 



On a smaller scale but equally as important, we had a major win in South Australia, What architect Ian Hannaford called his “Dear Manitoba” has been saved from demolition or redevelopment, as have two other inner city site with public housing tenants.

 

I cried when I heard the news from a Manitoba resident.

 

 

 

Big Win for Activism!

A Big Win for Activism!

 

 

 

I love Dear Manitoba; as a Member of the SA Housing Trust Board, I was involved in its planning and design in the early 1970s and even lived there briefly in the early 1980s. This year Manitoba will celebrate its fiftieth birthday.

 

All credit to Alice Clark and Shelter SA and the indefatigable residents of Manitoba and the other two sites.

 

And a compliment to Social Housing Minster, Tony Piccolo, who finally saw the light.

 

Brickbats to Renewal SA.

 

Brickbats to Renewal SA. Do you know that two years ago they hand-delivered their original letters to Manitoba residents on Christmas Eve?

 

Can you believe that?

 

The letters were very vague and contained nothing that could give anyone confidence; they created terror and anxiety at a time of year widely known to be difficult for vulnerable people (for all of us, actually)…

 

I find it hard to imagine that the Board of Renewal SA approved those sorts of heavy-handed and insensitive tactics.

 

There are experienced people on that Board who certainly should know better:

 

https://www.renewalsa.sa.gov.au/Latestnews/tabid/102/EntryId/17/URBAN-RENEWAL-AUTHORITY-BOARD-ANNOUNCED.aspx

 

I can’t imagine the experienced Renewal SA officers I know doing such a terrible thing.

 

How did this happen? Who approved it?

 

And, more importantly, how can we make sure that

vulnerable public tenants are not treated in such a manner again?

 

Let’s hope the corporate memory of Renewal SA survives into any new incarnation.

 

The message is clear: Do not do such cruel things! Just do not do them!

 

A delicate balancing act

 

Man walking tight rope illustration

So, it’s been a good year for activism.

 

And a challenging one.

 

At this very moment, with my only sibling, I’m co-designing a memorial for my mother who died in her hundredth year. She was a shocker, severely mentally ill.

 

So you can imagine that it’s a delicate balancing act  – emotionally and practically  – to create such an event – for the two daughters and our friends and families.

 

Similarly (a comparison in sharp relief during this highly charged week), it’s a delicate balancing act being a planner and an activist.

 



Punishments are routinely doled out.

 

Doors quietly close and invitations are summarily withdrawn. People sidle away at cocktail parties, eyes fixed on their shoes.

 

Activists know the price we pay for speaking out when others cannot  – or will not.

 

For activism is more than rubbing raw the sores of discontent, as the American activist Saul Alinksy would have it.

 

For planners with a conscience, activism is keeping the voices of marginalised people alive in public forums and debates about planning.

 

In tough economic times, I find (sadly) that some of my most respected planning colleagues simply ignore emails that ask them to speak out about ethical matters. They seem to have hardened their hearts against the plight of disadvantaged people. Or, at least, they’ve silenced their inner voice.

 

But, like finishing off the tiramisu at Christmas dinner, somebody has to do it.

 

And this year it was me. On both fronts.

 

I’m proud to have helped the courageous people (you know who you are), who really, truly, put themselves on the line for justice in planning and housing.

 

Here’s to 2014

 

Here’s to a 2014 with more planning and housing wins for vulnerable people in Australia.

 

And here’s to a 2014 with more respect for those planners who choose to support them in ways that push the envelope for our more conservative colleagues.

 

 

 

Banging on about Bang the Table

Comic book - door knocking

A couple of times recently, I’ve heard Australians complain about the Australian online engagement firm, Bang the Table (BTT) (see https://bangthetable.com/).   I’ve done their training and greatly admire their work, which I see as directly complementary to my more “hands-on” approaches.

 

I decided it was time to sort things out in my own mind, so I spoke with Crispin Butteris, one of the Directors, last week.

 

This blog reflects my own thoughts and some ideas that came out of our conversation.


In one of my recent conversations, a resident complained about the “thin” website that Bang the Table had prepared for a local council in Western Australia. I explained that BTT (like my own firm) has many options to offer.

When a client chooses the weakest option in the catalogue, there is little we can do.

We have the same problem all the time: the good parts get defunded before we even begin a community engagement process.

 

In another conversation – at a public rally, actually – a disgruntled resident complained about the very small sample in a survey of attitudes toward a medical facility in Sydney. Again, the “reach” of the survey would have been a matter for the client, again, a local municipality.

 

That got me thinking about my own experiences with community engagement. The appalling things people have said to me in public forums:

 

  • We know you’re a spy from HomesWest [the state public housing authority]”. We have that on good authority/

 

  • Or: You’re just another hired gun, paid to do what the council wants you to do. You have no integrity.

 

  • Or: We’ve heard from a reputable source   that you’re being paid by Developer X. We have spies in high places.

 

And so forth.

 

Both Crispin and I have had to grow thick skins to take the abuse that flows in these situations.

 

Because (and here’s the rub), we have to keep our gloves on, while members of the “public” can take theirs off. It can be very challenging and frightening (especially for young professionals).

 

The more I think about it, the more I felt that we needed a good conversation – maybe at an IAP2 conference or a PIA conference – about these matters.

 

Consider the following:

 

It is not without precedent for one individual or a small group of highly activated community members to attack us. It seems to happen when they feel threatened by the transparency created by an open online process. Or, for that matter, by any authentic process, online or embodied. In those sorts of situations, people who aim primarily to disrupt lose their ability to frame and control the discourse around an issue.

 

Crispin and   agreed that what we do can be very disruptive to “activist practice.” Both of us have been roundly condemned by a small group of residents when their position was exposed as being unrepresentative of broader community interests. We know that our other colleagues in their field have similar experiences. Sometimes we have these encounters with the same people over the same planning matters over many years.

 

Crispin also explained that by taking the engagement process online (and adequately publicising opportunities to get involved), the frame of reference for the discussions is expanded beyond those with an immediate interest. It puts their interests and their scale into a much broader context.

 

At this stage, there are a number of different possible outcomes:

 

(1)     The activists are proven correct. The rest of the community rallies behind them, both in terms of numbers (lots of people express their interest) and sentiment; or

(2)     the activists are proven wrong. The rest of community rises up to oppose them, a great tidal wave of alternate opinion washes them away; or

(3)     the activists are proven to be lone voices in the wilderness. Nobody else cares about the issue. We agreed that this is as bad an outcome for the activists as being proven wrong. Community ambivalence kills the issue.

 

Of course, the client (the consulting organisation) needs to do a good enough job of publicising the engagement process. If not, all bets are off!

 

I am an activist myself and involved in a number of campaigns in New South Wales – from opposition to coal seam gas mining to keeping hospitals in Sydney’s northern beaches, to trying to reform the reform of the NSW planning system. (OMG, that’s a job and a half!)

 

Wise ones among us admire the work on Deep Democracy: accepting the will of the majority along with the wisdom of the minority.



Coming to Public Judgment


For my part, I’m leaning strongly in the direction of “Coming to Public Judgment”.


I’m currently reading Daniel Yankelovich’s classic text on that subject (see https://www.viewpointlearning.com/about-us/who-we-are/daniel-yankelovich/).

 

That’s different from “public opinion”.

Daniel Yankelovich Photo: Matthew Septimus

Daniel Yankelovich                                                           Photo: Matthew Septimus



Yankelovich’s makes a salient point early in the book: an informed citizenry is not all that we need. We need people genuinely to understand what’s being discussed. An engaged citizenry is a good start.

 

So, I say, stop banging on about Bang the Table.

 

And bang on instead about the content of what’s being discussed.

 

Let’s get educated.


Let’s build and strengthen our communities’ capacities to understand – really understand – what’s happening in our communities.

 

And let’s stop shooting the messengers.

 

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