MCN_HandsBy now I’m sure you’ve heard the news – Woodside has pulled out of the proposed gas hub development at Walmadan (James Price Point in the Kimberley). The development may still be on the table in some shape or form, but for now this is an important victory for the No Gas campaign.

As Nicola commented on the CounterAct blog:

The financial media will all report that this was a commercial decision. Yes, in large part, of course it was – but to ignore the significant disruption, the investor uncertainty, the lack of social license and the risk, challenges and increased costs faced by the Joint Venture Partners by the consistent and varied resistance to this project is to ignore a political and economic reality faced by many contested projects these days. The community can rightly claim a stake in the ‘win’ of this project being deferred, delayed or cancelled. And a well fought one at that.

We didn’t know that news when we gathered for Lessons from the Frontline, April’s Melbourne Campaigners’ Network featuring a report-back from Nicola Paris.

Nicola shared inspiring stories from the campaign, some of which are included in her article The Heart of the Kimberley. Peter Robertson also offers some useful insights in How We Stopped James Price Point Gas Hub.

Nicola also encouraged us to consider the role nonviolent direct action can play in campaigns. In small groups we reflected on our experiences and shared what makes NVDA either effective or ineffective. Here’s a summary of what folks came up with.

Characteristics of Effective NVDAMCN_Discussion

  • Well organised coherent and logical actions with clear roles
  • Clarity about group commitments and guidelines, or a code of conduct that participants abide by
  • Clarity about the target and audience with actions designed to communicate with them
  • Actions run on your own terms, not just reacting to the other side
  • Visual impact and good aesthetics, with film and photos taken for immediacy and personal connection
  • Good communication – but not necessarily always transparent, to allow for planning of actions ‘under the radar’
  • Support and involvement by different groups
  • Group cohesion and a strong culture of trust between participants and in organisers
  • Engaging people who aren’t the ‘usual suspects’ such as older non-subcultural folks (like the No Gas Hub ‘nanna action’)
  • NVDA training to prepare people well and ensure a shared understanding of what is occurring
  • Debriefs to support people and learn lessons from actions
  • Empowering actions where people feel they have control for example over whether they will be arrested or not
  • Use of humour to deal with fear, release tension and ridicule opponents
  • Looking out for each other and offering support to those who are struggling

Characteristics of Ineffective NVDAMCN_SmallGroup2

  • Losing track of objectives, running actions which aren’t strategic or effective in reaching campaign goals
  • Unapproachable ‘cliquey’ groups which are not welcoming to new members
  • Horizontal hostility ie in-fighting, anger directed at each other rather than opponents
  • Poor communication and exclusion of people from decisions which affect them
  • Diversity of tactics – peaceful actions being undermined by the choice of some participants to use violent means or step outside the agreed guidelines
  • Failing to follow through for example running an action but not pursuing media coverage or communicating to other supporters
  • Going in to an action unprepared for conflict
  • Allowing participants to feel isolated and unsupported
  • Being overly local or niche and failing to tell an engaging story to a broader audience
  • Disempowering actions which leave people feeling overwhelmed and hopeless

This is what we discussed on the night but of course there are many other factors which can render NVDA effective or ineffective. Learn from past experiences via these resources.

The No Gas campaign applies the following criteria to any NVDA actions that they undertake:

  • Stop or delay work
  • Bring people to the cause – through inclusive and inspiring actions
  • Highlight the issues and educate people through the media

What kind of criteria have you come across for assessing potential tactics? Please share in the comments below. New Tactics in Human Rights has collated a range of resources for developing campaign strategy, including tactics assessment, here.

Many thanks to Nicola Paris for sharing what she learnt during six months supporting the No Gas campaign in the Kimberley. Keep in touch with Nicola’s exciting new project CounterAct, and check out her soon-to-be-released report on what motivates people to take arrestable action.

Next Melbourne Campaigners’ Network we’ll be Celebrating Success – just like the Broome community has been doing! We’ll share stories of recent Australian campaign wins and significant wins from social movement history. We’ll be looking at how campaigners can use stories and experiences of success to build momentum, maintain morale, attract active supporters, and motivate people to take action. Come along: 6pm, Thursday 30 May at Ross House.