As a new year breaks and my hangover subsides, like many people, I like to think of some goals to work towards in the coming year. To build a meaningful list that is not just based on the token ‘get fitter’, ‘learn an exotic language’ ambitions, I think it’s good to reflect on the year just passed.
One key moment for me last year was taking peaceful direct action in September, when I abseiled off ANZ’s HQ in Brisbane and hung a banner. It was part of Greenpeace’s campaign to urge the big bank to stop polluting our world with its dirty coal investments. I faced court in October and thankfully the magistrate was sympathetic to our cause for action. Despite not having the most angelic criminal record, no conviction was recorded for me or the other three activists.
The court outcome vindicated our right to peacefully protest. This was comforting, as deciding to break the law is not a blasé decision for me (or for Greenpeace). Not only are there the obvious legal ramifications, but doing a peaceful action can also be pretty scary. Despite ample preparation and training, hanging yourself of the side of a building is not exactly a natural human instinct.
This wasn’t my first action, but each one comes with a bucket full of nerves and ‘what ifs?’ What if a policeman is having his morning muffin nearby? What if there’s an impenetrable fortress wall we weren’t aware of? What if I accidentally forgot to pack the banner? A lot of careful thought and planning can be easily wiped away by unpredictable external factors.
Fortunately this one went pretty smoothly, although we did experience a few hiccups. When we reached the top of the building, we couldn’t find anything to tie our ropes on so we needed to reposition. At our new chosen aspect, there weren’t exactly ample places to tie our ropes on so we had to be swiftier with what was available. This meant we used a lot more of our rope than planned and after I tied on, I realised my rope wouldn’t be long enough. Every moment that went on longer than planned was coupled with increasing anxiety that we’d be sprung. And like something out of a corny movie, we just got over the edge at the moment the cops came up to get us.
The police are generally pretty good to work with. As far as criminals go, I think we’d be quite a cruisey job for them. We communicate, are courteous, are peaceful, never try to resist arrest and always make it clear why we are there and what our intentions are. In this case our intentions were to stay put until ANZ made a commitment to stop financing new coal, or at the least, until the bank agreed to meet with us with one of their top decision makers. We’d been trying for months to talk to CEO Mike Smith but had repeatedly been snubbed. During the action, after 5 hours of occupation, ANZ agreed to its Deputy CEO meeting our CEO. While not exactly a campaign win, it was a step in the right direction.
This was music to my ears as after 5 hours hanging in a harness I was starting to wonder if my legs would remain attached to my torso. But it was great being up there and seeing so much support from the public down below and in adjoining offices. A few angry insults (such as “I hope your ropes are cut, you scum”) were drowned out by hundreds of people clapping and taking photos. The strength of Greenpeace’s campaigns is built on the support of thousands of passionate people. Positive change happens when masses take action. Whether it’s giving your mum more grey hairs like I do by climbing off buildings, signing petitions or making a donation, all our individual actions combine to create a powerful thoughtful movement.
So looking ahead for the new year, I’ve made a resolution to increase my commitment to stopping climate change – whether it’s riding my bike more or hassling decision makers to lead us on a path towards a clean energy future. And I’ve made a resolution to drink less cheap red wine!
There are many ways to get involved with Greenpeace, right now you can join the action at bank branches for our ‘Dirty Banks’ climate campaign.