Andrew Bray, Victoria Regional Meeting
I learnt how to be a climate campaigner by learning how to be a community organiser – how to build the power that’s needed to make the changes you want to see, not by your own great deeds but by working effectively with other people for a common goal.
One of the first things you learn is to tell your own story. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What are the beliefs and values that drive you? If you don’t know the answer to these questions for yourself, you won’t be able to convince other people that they should take the action that you’re asking them to.
I could identify a number of concerns – love for my children and care for their future, love of nature – but after sitting with this for some time I eventually realised that these were not the main things that drove me.
What I really couldn’t bear was the idea that as a species we could be so dumb that we would just carry on as we are. That in spite of all the knowledge we have about how our climate operates, about the implications of current greenhouse gases levels in the atmosphere and about what is likely to befall us if we carry on as we now merrily are doing (not to mention the brilliance and insight it has taken for scientists to be able to supply us with this understanding) humans could just blindly sleepwalk into some really quite horrendous future.
So, and I don’t know that this says a great deal in my favour, at root it is an intolerance of stupidity that drives me to do what I am doing. I hope this is merely a step on the way to deeper enlightenment!
Around the same time, at a community organising training course I was attending at a scout camp in Brisbane, I remembered that I’d spent a good 13 years of my younger life in the scouts. For all the echoes of military cadets that entailed, I did experience a lot of the outdoors and I did learn that sometimes you had to muck in. As the Group Leader and WWII veteran, Harro, was kind enough to say of me in a reference at the time, “Andrew is always there when there’s work to be done.”
Another key part of one’s personal story is pinning down the time you decided you needed to act. Mine happened at Yearly meeting in Canberra in 2009 when after scorching years of drought and in searing January heat, and in a state of openness that Yearly Meeting can bring on, I heard Vidya’s brother and climate campaigner, Phillip Sutton, deliver a presentation on the current state of climate science. I remember quite vividly one graph that had the total amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere in one bar and another bar 3 times the size that represented the amount of CO2 that lay in wait beneath the Siberian permafrost. As the permafrost was beginning to melt at an alarming rate this threatened to release its motherlode of organic matter into the atmosphere in the form of climate-warming methane. I can’t deny that fear is also motivator for me.
But my overwhelming thought was simply, how could humans be so stupid as to let this happen?
Thus, with courage, terror and naivety in equal measure I jumped in to sort it out. I quit the part time job I had tutoring at the University of Ballarat and began volunteering, close to full time around my parenting duties, with my local climate action group, BREAZE. Exactly what I was to do was not clear. Six years on it’s possibly only a little clearer.
From my experience in community organising, I understand that the most powerful political action comes about from the coalescence of the interests of a variety of people and groups. But individually one can also campaign and lobby. A movement of people will always be a more powerful force than the actions of any one activist or campaigner. But coalescing that movement is difficult and complicated work and suffers as many lame failures as celebrates rousing successes.
I find in the example of Friends a pattern of deep conviction and unstinting action to draw on. Not just among the Friends I know in the Australian Yearly Meeting who pursue their own leadings with creativity, compassion, humour and dedication but also in the stories of past Friends.
Lucretia Mott’s lifetime of service to the work of ending slavery is a particular inspiration. She understood the need to create movements and was a seminal force in the establishment of a variety of incredibly effective organisations, mostly notably the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. She travelled extensively, speaking to thousands of people with a passion and moral clarity grounded firmly in the inspired ministry of Quaker worship.
Mott also lived long enough to be able to taste the success of an activist’s sweetest moment. After the American civil war had struck the body blow to the official practice of slavery, Mott joined with other founders to dissolve the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. After 37 years of service its job was done. Mission accomplished and time for a new campaign.
Another American, Bayard Rustin, blended strategic brilliance with the fortitude to take whatever course needed to be taken, no matter what the personal cost. Living through the middle of the twentieth century he fought for civil rights within a context of Christian peacemaking and pacifism. When World War II broke out and Rustin was interned as a conscientious objector, instead of going to the slightly cushy civilian public service camps he took a hardline stance of non-cooperation into the harsh federal prison system as he judged that that was where he could make the most progress in reforming the lives of black Americans.
As the brains and conscience behind the leadership of Martin Luther King, Rustin fought hard to ensure that the ground-breaking achievements of the civil rights movement exuded the dignity of non-violence. Without Rustin’s moral leadership, it is likely the movement would have been far more violent and far less effective. King later appointed Rustin as the chief organiser of the March on Washington in 1963, where Rustin engaged black society and their white supporters all over the country and delivered 250,000 of them to Washington.
In the stories of both Rustin and Mott, I found the extraordinary personal courage that allowed both of them to literally face mortal danger – for Rustin, to take just one example from his astonishing life, when he organised and took part in the first freedom rides of black people on white buses in the deep American South of 1947, a decade or so before Rosa Parks. A Philadelphia Theatre in which Lucretia Mott spoke to an anti-slavery convention was burned down by rioters, incensed that women were speaking to a public meeting, let alone speaking against slavery.
So how does my outlook as a Quaker infuse my work?
Rather by accident, I’ve found myself campaigning, not for a negative “wake up everyone and smell the fear of a climate-ravaged future” message, but for a positive response to climate change – building renewable energy to create prosperity and have the solutions ready for when the inevitable understanding dawns on our collective consciousness.
I currently work with an organisation promoting wind power, the Australian Wind Alliance. Our goal is to create and mobilise a network of people to stand up for wind power. Wind power is of course a much-contested space where opposition can be fierce, both from ideological and powerful opponents, as well as local residents apprehensive and resistant to a new and slightly unknown technology that brings necessarily large changes to their landscape.
It often feels like a battle ground (military metaphors are difficult to avoid) but some discernment is required to understand how these battles can be fought in a way that is effective but still respects that of God in those opposing you.
And the inner light? How does the light in myself and in others guide my work?
- The situation is hopeless. I must take the next step.
- The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of acting now.
- The situation is hopeless. We must take the next step.
- It is much harder to say yes than to say no.
- Not everybody sees things my way. I must have compassion.
- All will be well.
- I must take the next step. No, we must take the next step
- Give me the courage to say what needs to be said.
- The situation is hopeless. We must take the next step.
- I can only go on because I know who is beside me, who is behind me and who is in front of me.
- All will be well.
- All might not be well, at least for the humans.
- We must take the next step.
At times it feels like this work overwhelms me. This is not uncommon among activists. There’s not a lot in my life that doesn’t involve my family, this work and being part of the Quaker community. Perhaps that’s a good thing.
You can find out more about the Australian Wind Alliance here. If you’re really inspired, become a member and help Australia transition to cleaner energy.