Friday, March 31

I never thought I could face arrest and imprisonment campaigning for climate action | Greg Rolles

Yo spent eight years as a high school geography teacher. Many times, I would be talking to kids about the climate crisis. I used to say, “We need to be doing something about this – this is getting really bad and it’s going to affect people in our lifetimes”.

And every time I’d talk about this, kids would put up their hands and say, “Well, what are you doing about it? What do you want us to do?

So about 10 years ago, I found myself leaving full-time teaching to try to find a way to give our kids a future where they could eat, have sustainable prosperity and have full lives, like I’d had up until that point.

I never thought that it would lead to me facing arrest, fines and the possibility of imprisonment. And I never thought it would lead to me standing, on a Sunday morning, on a private property where I was camping with fellow Blockade Australia activists with what I later learned was an unmarked police car speeding off hitting two of my friends.

Two people in their early 20s who were asking that same question – what am I doing to protect our future? – sustained injuries from being struck by an unmarked police car picking up camouflaged police engaging in covert surveillance on a private property.

The IPCC has told us that we are headed for a future with a temperature increase well above 2 degrees Celsius. The catastrophic bushfires we saw just a few years ago, the drought, the floods in Lismore and Brisbane – these are all just the beginning of what is going to be an unsafe climate future.

That’s what brought people to the camp in the Colo valley, in Sydney’s north-west. It was a place for people to come together in their concern for the future. People who know the answers lie in building community, building relationships. Basically, we’re just a group of friends. And sometimes, some of us who are interested in non-violent civil disobedience take steps towards a safe future in that way.

As someone with a history degree, I’ve always been interested in the effect of non-violent civil disobedience. I’ve been moved by people who didn’t use violence, only the truth and their collective power to stand up and fight for the civil rights many of us take for granted today.

Everything from rights for First Nations people in this country, to the vote for women, to the 8 hour work day was won by people engaging in non-violent civil disobedience. We look upon people like Martin Luther King as heroes now, but at the time they were the most vilified people in the nation.

So when it comes to the environment and civilization being at risk of collapse, I have to ask myself – what can I really do? How much do I really love and care for my planet? How much do I really love and care for my neighbours?

Australia weekend

At no point did the people in the car tell us who they were. We were worried that the car was going to speed through our kitchen area further down the road and knock some of our friends over, including people with disabilities, children and older people.

As the day went on, 100 or so armed police descended on our camp. When asked to turn on his body camera, a police officer said “the raid hasn’t started yet, I don’t need to have it on”. I felt like the gloves were off.

Police searched and seized my laptop. They searched and seized all our phones, even when I told them I can’t afford another phone as I live on money I had saved up from doing disability support work. The police still have all my devices. I am writing this article through voice memos to my friend who is typing them up.

After many hours out in the cold, during which I had to push the police to access the toilet, shelter when it started raining and warm clothes, we were finally let go. One of our friends who had fled when the police arrived was lost in the bush amid sub-zero temperatures until 4am. Police officers refused to call the SES and prevented us from entering the property to look for him.

We were turned out into the dark without many of our belongings and without our cars.

Seven of our friends were arrested. Two of them were denied bail on charges of intimidating police and conspiring to commit the crime of obstructing a road. They are being held in prison for three weeks until their court hearing in July.

All that I can think right now is that we are the canary in the coalmine. The climate crisis is worsening. Natural disasters are increasing. And people like us who are trying to get in the way of that now face the threat of two years’ jail time and $22,000 fines, simply for sitting on roads in New South Wales.

The amount of resources to stop us from sitting on roads is mind-boggling. If those resources had been put into better environment protections, we’d be on our way to preventing catastrophic climate change.

But we’re a long way from that. The newly elected federal Labor government is committed to fossil fuel expansion. We’ve legally marched, we’ve done the petitions, we’ve even had the votes. The only thing that’s left to demand government action on climate change is non-violent civil disobedience. If we don’t take our future back, it’s going to be taken from us.

Greg Rolles is a climate justice campaigner who has been involved in civil disobedience movements such as Blockade Australia for over a decade

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