‘Nonviolence is an intensely active force when properly understood and used.’
These are the words of Gandhi, the man who led nationwide campaigns in his country to ease poverty by creating a movement of resistance that contributed to ending British rule in India. We celebrate the acts of resistance by the civil rights movement and by the suffragettes, who broke the law to change it. Historically, creating meaningful change when nothing else has worked has been the job of people’s movements. Members of those movements have become heroes of history. Their sacrifice paved the way for generations to follow. It’s happening now.
Climate activists are our new heroes. They are the people whose peaceful resistance shines the light on the corrupt relationship between fossil fuels and government, and they have been breaking the law to do it.
Thirty-two-year-old Violet Coco just got sentenced to 15 months jail with a non-parole period of eight months for blocking a lane of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a truck. Under NSW protest laws it’s illegal to block public roads, rail lines, bridges and industrial areas. The NSW government declared it illegal to wreak ‘economic chaos’ on Sydney.
Which is ironic. Those who live in Lismore and the Northern Rivers recently experienced catastrophic flooding which created economic and social chaos beyond measure. The government’s love affair with fossil fuels is costing the people of NSW billions of dollars. And guess what, if you block a road to ask them to stop, you go to jail.
I am in awe of the courage of climate activists, who stand in defiance, knowing the cost is their incarceration. These are regular people. Regular people like Daisy Nutty – a registered nurse who lives in Lismore. She has taken her patient care one step forward and committed her life to being a full-time activist.
Most recently Daisy was in Melbourne where she was part of an international action in which she glued herself to a Picasso at the National Gallery. No artwork was harmed in these protests. Activists glued themselves to the perspex covering the painting.
‘There was talk of criminal damage,’ said Daisy, ‘but we didn’t want to damage the art, we wanted to make it a platform. Everyone needs to listen, people have to stop coal and gas. People don’t like us blocking roads so [instead] we had a non-violent action focused on artwork.
‘It was to get people thinking: why are they more concerned about a picture on the wall that is just accessible to the elite than what is happening to the planet?
‘It gets people all riled up.
‘I want people to say: I am outraged by this! Why aren’t I outraged by the Amazon being on fire, about things going extinct? About catastrophic floods? About an unlivable planet?’
Need a planet to save the art
Daisy has a point. There’s no point saving art if we can’t save the planet. That action was very divisive. The activists were criticised for being polarising. For taking things too far. But they got media attention all over the world. They pulled media and thus public focus to climate. They made us uncomfortable.
So how does a person get involved in this worldwide push to bring an end to fossil fuels?
Daisy joined Extinction Rebellion in 2019. She says, ‘I was looking for a revolution and I didn’t know how to make it happen. When I found out there was a group of people who were going to rebel against extinction and collaborate with other groups to work for the planet I was interested. They had a big meeting at the city hall in Lismore, there were about 500 people or more and we practised doing a “dying” and did one at the square. Then the bushfires hit, and then the air filled with smoke, then we went to Canberra, and did an Extinction Rebellion citizens’ protest and I glued myself to a chair outside Parliament House.’
Daisy tells me that she is not an extremist. She says she is the kind of person who always did what she was told.
‘I was just trying to have a nice life, I love my job and my friends. But now we have to fight for everything we believe in – these are the people we need on this planet – people like those who protested Bentley and Terania Creek.
‘They just want us to fuck off and be quiet. That’s just not going to happen.’
Daisy, like many of her climate activist friends, is prepared to go to jail for her beliefs.
‘We want people to see that we are regular people; we aren’t wanting to break the law but it’s the only thing that has ever changed anything in history.’
Daisy believes the media have a big part to play in how they portray activists. She’s right. The media love painting climate activists as radicals. But they’re ordinary people: teachers, academics, cafe owners, and nurses. And these are not actions of self-interest. This is public interest. They are raising awareness for generations to come.
‘The media have so much to answer for in this,’ said Daisy.
‘Australian media painted this picture that if we stop traffic, if we stop oil, gas, and coal we are taking food out of the mouths of their babies. The Murdoch media pushes this.
‘I went to Adani [the Adani mine] – there’s not that many jobs – it’s all fucking machines.
‘Where are these jobs they think they are protecting?’
Daisy’s work has been impacted by her climate action. She no longer has what she describes as the ‘cushy management job’. She faced charges for chalking the pavement outside Kevin Hogan’s office. And she is currently on a good behaviour bond for blocking roads in Sydney as part of another climate action.
Her conditions are ‘two-year non-association with the co-accused and a community corrections order which means they can call on you at any time and arrest you at any time.’
Daisy continues to protest. She would have been on the bridge the day Violet Coco was arrested but she was unwell.
‘We all know we are facing prison. They pushed those [NSW anti-protest] laws through overnight, those laws are aimed at climate activists. It doesn’t deter us. The activists who were violent in anti-vaccination marches didn’t suffer under the same laws, they didn’t get months in jail, they get fined – they didn’t get the non-association – we get treated like a violent bikie gang or like we are sex traffickers.’
The bail conditions around non-association are designed to break them. Many people are removed from friendship and support networks. Others have had to relocate entirely. Some can’t associate with their own husband or wife. It’s cruel. But it’s what government is prepared to do to protect big fossil fuel corporations. Break people to fund profits. The human and environmental cost is climate change.
Daisy is part of Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies Australia.
‘Fossil fuel companies receive $22k a minute from our taxes in subsidies,’ says Daisy. ‘For that money right now here in Lismore, we could re-house people.’
This is not an anarchist group. Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies Australia is one of many like-minded groups around the world populated by outraged citizens who have seen that governments who profit and subsidise fossil fuels aren’t going to be the ones to create change. At least not without pressure. And they are the pressure.
‘We need to break the laws to bring attention to the need to change the law around the use of fossil fuels. Criminal damage is what is happening to the planet.’
Daisy is right. When will we wake up and see these laws are there to protect corporations and not us?
Support climate activists like Daisy and Violet, and those arrested who are still awaiting court hearings. When it comes to climate action, a movement of peaceful blockades might just be the catalyst for change. Look at Bentley – people power in action. We don’t have corporate power. We don’t have political will. But we do have bodies. Lots of them. We can gather. We can join together. And we can rise.
♦ You can join others who are gathering this Saturday 10 December from 10.30am until midday at the Peace Park in Ballina Road, Lismore on Widjabul Wiyabul Country to raise their concerns about the use of NSW government’s new anti-protest legislation, passed with the support of the Labor opposition.