Last weekend, I attended the Fossil Free Trainings Tour in Cardiff by 350.org and People and Planet. We had an ice-breaking session that included the Two-Extremes Spectrum activity that involves participants standing along the spectrum of Yes and No, depending on their experience in direct action and campaigns. I learned more about the rest and realised that most of them have been involved in a divestment campaign or another, which of course is relatively uncommon in Malaysia because we would be arrested and charged before we can say, “Keep It In The Ground!”.
These were people who are invested and heavily engaged with environmental and climate issues in their local communities through organisations like Fossil Free Cardiff University, Fossil Free Cardiff, Fossil Free Swansea, Wales Cymru Standing Rock and Divest Parliament. In one of the activities, we had to identify based on some photos if they were direct actions, what they were about and if they were effective. I then realised the important role that direct actions played in these campaigns and achieving their ends.
My own experience in direct action only extends to the climate action in COP22, the Climate March and at the height of protest, the Bersih Rally 2.0 and Bersih 4.0 when the sea of yellow occupied Merdeka Square the surrounding area for 2 days. It is certainly uncommon because in Malaysia, if we acted in smaller groups we would be arrested and charged before we can say, “Keep It in The Ground!”, or worse, our props could be just set on fire like they did to the huts in the Orang Asli protest in Kelantan.
However, direct action was a strong theme in the training, and there is strong evidence that proves they work. Recently, students in King’s College Climate Emergency rolled an eight-week campaign that involved spraying chalking, painting the walls of King’s to highlight the absolute urgency of acting on climate change and a 14-day hunger strike. One of their most significant demand was the complete divestment from all fossil fuels. King’s has about £14.3 to £17.9 million investment in the fossil fuel industry. As a response, the university has endorsed a plan to sink millions of its £179 million endowment into clean energy instead of investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Through the various activities in the first half of the training, I learned that divestment campaigns are mostly organised to change the culture of investing in fossil fuels as opposed to directly challenging the monolith companies themselves. I also discovered that sometimes direct actions are carried out against subsidiary companies in order to disrupt the supply chain rather than attacking the primary perpetrator.
The second half of the training involved tips on planning a campaign, brainstorming for the upcoming Global Divestment Mobilisation (GDM) from the 4-13th May 2017 and media training. I was part of the Fossil Free Cardiff University; we were planning a direct action following the response that they are expected to receive from the letter they had sent to the Vice Chancellor of Cardiff University, demanding divestment from fossil fuel that now amounts to £2.7 million. We had to consider the low funds, the need to recruit members and student participation in time for the GDM and our target audience based on the tactic star.
We presented our ideas and fit it within a timeline to view the necessary steps that lead to the final event. MYD does work with a timeline but it was a different experience, plotting an action plan that leaned more towards action on the ground (pun intended) including fundraising, signing petitions and coming up with creative direct actions to make a statement.
The final part was the media training that included an exercise for us to come up with a catchy headline for a press release based on a case. Mine was the result of a sleep-deprived brain on a Sunday (Cardiff Minions March) but some of the others were really good, one even using humour (Student Sex-Party Gone Wrong).
All in all, it was a productive session and I found myself enjoying immersing myself in campaign training. The tactic star is particularly useful, and I imagine we do use it in one form or another in our programmes in Power Shift Malaysia or MYD. However, I don’t see disruptive direct actions such as blocking the entrance of a city hall or using other drastic measures to get the attention of corporate heads or authorities happening anytime soon back home; In fact, I can’t imagine using protesting against the fossil fuel industry at all, considering Malaysia’s heavy reliance on the industry itself. Perhaps this is why the dissenting culture in Malaysia appears to be very different from the UK, louder on political issues and meeker on environmental ones. I have not participated in any local direct action myself, but by merely attending this training, I imagine it would take campaigning to a whole new level.
Written by: Nachatira