Greenpeace supporters outside Commonwealth Bank Mooloolaba

Standing up to Commonwealth Bank on the Sunshine Coast

I opened up the group email from Greenpeace.  It explained that the organiser of the the up-coming Greenpeace protest on the Sunshine Coast to stop The Commonwealth Bank investing in fossil fuels, had stepped down rather late in the piece..  The email asked if anyone would like to step into the role at this late stage, just a couple of weeks before the action.

Would I be capable of fulfilling such a role?  Did I have the necessary leadership skills?  What sort of a protest was it?  Would I be getting in trouble with the police?  Would I be harmed or injured?

I had never even attended a protest before, let alone been the team leader. I was hesitant and unsure but interested enough to consider it.

I had been a customer of the Commonwealth Bank for as long as I can remember and recently heard that they were investing in fossil fuel projects and in particular the Carmichael mega-mine project.  I had never had much involvement with actively pushing for change in the environmental realm but had reached a point in my life, in my late 30’s where I believed it really mattered.  Hearing of increasing climate change and its huge number of knock-on effects; suffering to humans and the ecosystem including, believe it or not, the war in Syria, I thought it was time to act.  Not to mention the fact that the Carmichael mine is not even financially viable!  Was there any benefit to this project other than filling the pockets of a tiny number of the wealthy and powerful? But this situation was bigger than Carmichael and Adani, this was about moving away from fossil fuels altogether.

Supporters with home printed posters!

Supporters with home printed posters!

I set about refinancing my home loan away from the Commonwealth bank and making it very clear to them that I did this due to their investing in fossil fuels.  It felt good, really good.  It felt like I did have some influence on this gigantic economic machine.  It was a tiny voice yelling from the back stalls but it was a voice and I believe it was heard.  I could also start to hear others yelling too and I believed that together our voice would be loud.  Loud enough to be annoying and whilst I’m a very unconfrontational person, it felt justified.

I wasn’t out to attack or blame any individuals necessarily. I wasn’t trying to harm anyone or bring down any organisation.  I was standing up to behaviour and choices which I believe were harmful, unnecessary and rooted in ignorance and greed.  Based on my very limited understanding, it seems that investing in fossil fuels is a very narrow-minded and short-sighted decision which is only intended to make money.  What about the health and wellbeing of the inhabitants of this planet? What about the Indigenous people whose land will be deeply gouged and scarred for good?  What about the rare black-throated finch whose small patch of habitat is to be obliterated?  Yes, we need to make money but can’t we do it without causing so much harm in the process?  Can we generate money by actually contributing to the health and wellbeing of everyone involved?  Have the Commonwealth Bank and others investing in fossil fuels asked themselves these questions?  Was it possible to switch to investing in renewable energy?

A number of banks including Westpac had recently decided to end its connection with the Carmichael mine project after public pressure.  The Commonwealth Bank was now in our sights. When I say ‘our’, I’m referring to Greenpeace, who was the driving force behind this campaign.  I had been a supporter of Greenpeace for a year or two as I really admired their causes and the hard work they put into bringing about positive change against seemingly huge odds.

So was I capable and ready to step up? Yes!

From day one, Greenpeace were very supporting and very clearly explained my role, my responsibilities, why we were doing the action, what the law had to say about our plans and what we were hoping to do.  Even though I had no personal experience whatsoever I felt like I had decades of experience and knowledge behind me as I was kindly guided by Greenpeace staff.

A few special supporters came along to lend a hand!

A few special supporters came along to lend a hand!

After accepting the invitation to step up to be team leader, what kept my mind at ease the most was that this was a peaceful protest.  We weren’t going to break any laws, we weren’t going to deliberately harm anyone, we didn’t have any individuals we were specifically attacking.  We were going to make ourselves heard, we were probably going to annoy a few people but we had a good cause, we had a right to voice our opinion and we weren’t going to give the Commonwealth Bank or the authorities a reason to retaliate.  I believe this is an excellent first step to make – if we are ignored, if changes aren’t made, then next time around we can be louder.  If the cause is significant enough, then taking more and more significant action involving breaking laws and getting dirty is the next step.

I was told about 10 people had signed up so I headed off to the Mooloolaba Commonwealth bank with flyers, signs and a banner.  Most people turned up and after a short briefing we were out there on the street, talking to people, informing people, assisting people to make better decisions and letting it be known that the Commonwealth Bank could be making much better decisions. Most people we interacted with were very supportive and interested.  Even the police and private Commonwealth Bank security were very easy going and happy to chat.

Cars driving past honked their horns in support, passers-by and Commonwealth Bank customers signed a petition to inform the bank’s CEO that they didn’t support the bank’s investment choices, and the day went without any issues.

This doesn’t make for a dramatic media story through; there was no screaming, no abuse, no one being pinned to the ground, pepper sprayed or carted off by the Police.  There were no arrests, no blood spilt and no scars created, but this is only the start.  The Commonwealth Bank’s board will soon be making an official decision as to whether or not they will continue to invest in fossil fuels.  We hope they will make the smart decision and call it a day.  If not, then we have plenty of resources, ideas and enthusiasm left in the tank.  We have plenty of other options, other actions, other ways to be heard –plenty of ways to get in the way, to stand up for the benefit of all, to stand up to greed and narrow-minded financial growth.  We have plenty of other ways to gather the numbers and stand up to unnecessary environmental destruction.  We will not step down and we will not give up but we do hope that the Commonwealth Bank makes the right decision so that we can let them be and all get on with our lives. We hope that we can move our energy away from preventing harm but to actually flourishing and creating health, wellbeing and harmony on this precious planet of ours.

To be continued.

Stay tuned, stay optimistic and stay focused.

To get involved in the campaign head to www.coalbank.org