Wednesday, 15 April 2015

No westCONnex strategy

I won't profess to be any great theorist of activist strategy but feel that it might be helpful to share some ideas about strategy to stop westCONnex. Please feel free to comment and I can add or modify. Or adapt and re-use for your own purpose.

There are many aspects to this campaign and there are many fronts on which to proceed. There are also many people involved in the movement and those people have varying skills and varying levels of commitment and time. It adds strength to have a number of ways for people to be involved, from family friendly, community building events, small contributions of time and money, all the way through to those who are willing to take part in civil disobedience like locking on to drill rigs, and so on.

One of the simplest things is to be well-informed. We can share what we know with others through conversations and social media, tweets, Facebook posts, blogging, youtube vids, email newsletters and so on. We can keep our eyes and ears peeled to our local media sources, City Hub, Green Left Weekly, New Matilda (esp. Wendy Bacon), local newspapers, the SMH (e.g. Jacob Saulwick, Elizabeth Farrelly), 2SER, 2RSR and so on. Share articles and spread the word - we can't assume people are across things when polls show many are unaware what westCONnex even is. Well-informed is well armed.

I use google alerts to set up an 'as-it-happens' alert on the search term 'westconnex'. It's fortunate this phrase is pretty unique so you don't get false positives. Also searching for the #westconnex hashtag on twitter and Facebook allows you to turn up new posts.

Within the social media space there is room also to like, favourite, upvote or support others posting about westCONnex. When new people enter the debate opposing westCONnex or being in favour of public transport it gives encouragement to see the 'likes' and will empower people further. It is worth debating those who disagree in a open friendly way in the spirit of shared investigation and understanding. My experience is that people in favour of westCONnex are in any case interested in traffic and movement in Sydney and are open to alternatives.

There are trolls out there too, but it soon becomes apparent who these people are. It is not worth wasting too much energy debating there, as their case is often diminished in the eyes of neutral observers if they unreasonably maintain positions that are refuted by evidence, and in the end one can't convince everyone.

One technique is to try and get in early on big articles and comment first, providing links to stop westCONnex groups and videos. This will then feed sympathetic eyes to stop westCONnex networks and also get debate off to a good start. A number of media outlets have their comment forums outsourced to Disqus and I've noticed that if you post a link to a video (such as the excellent Ecotransit youtube series on westCONnex alternatives), it will often appear as a video embed and take up a huge amount of screen real estate, a form of free advertising. Sometimes those comments also appear on landing pages and get traffic that way too.

Of course leaflets, stickers and posters on street poles help spread info and bring people to events. Chipping in for printing costs helping with letterboxing is always helpful. has a paypal donation portal as does

The stop westCONnex stall at the Newtown festival was very successful and there are many markets, festivals and council events where extra stalls are welcome and many people can be reached in a short time.

Organising meetings and forums are also important. A number of community organisations have held these in Rockdale, Erskineville, Earlwood and other places. Speakers such as Gavin Gatenby and Michelle Zeibots have given their time. Some have been candidate forums in the lead up to the state election and others more of a general informative nature. The highest profile event of this type was the Sydney Town Hall event organised by the City of Sydney. A debate style format would be interesting, between high profile proponents and opponents, but so far I've yet to hear of any expert speaking in favour of westCONnex, let alone one willing to debate.

At all times stressing the alternatives to westCONnex is important. The best articulated alternatives to turn people onto would have to be EcoTransit's videos. The 3 part "WestConnex: Greiner's folly" is a must see and should be shared widely.

There's a lot of detailed investigation and analysis work that needs to be done too. Looking back through plans, parliament Hansards, party donation lists, traffic research, international case studies, Freedom of Information requests, etc, there are any number of lines to follow that can turn up tidbits of information that can help the cause. They sometimes end in dead ends, but that is to be expected. Then questions can be asked of key people, contradictions or hypocrisy noted and pressure applied.

Rallies/marches - there have already been two very large events of this nature with help from Reclaim the Streets. The Stop WestCONnex street party in Campbell St and the King St Crawl, both proving very popular with over 3000 people at each. I'm sure there will need to be more of these, but they take a lot of organising and commitment. The Reclaim the Streets events in the 90's and 00's successfully closed down some major streets for most of a Sunday arvo, including King St by chutzpah and sheer force of numbers. It would be a real show of force if this could be achieved again. I wonder if a crowdsource platform like Kickstarter could be used to fund more events like this, although it seems it is not so much about money but getting sufficient volunteers and marshalls that gets these events going.

Part of the appeal of the Reclaim the Streets events is the party and community vibe that really builds friendships and solidarity among like-minded people willing to think outside the mass media box. Further, the philosophy of the King St crawl was to move so slowly that it would start to take on the character of a stationary street party but that was not quite achieved. When the street is re-appropriated by pedestrians it shows how this public space can be made social again.

There are also pop-up protests that occur on a few days notice and have in the order of 100 people. Examples are the Wolli Creek Preservation Society's popup in Bexley, the Town Hall steps and Enmore theatre. There is a collection of banners and props that can be reused and get significant media attention at targeted events such as WestCONnex Delivery Authority (WDA) info sessions and public meetings.

Key to success of these events is again being on mailing lists and checking for updates regularly that saves organisers having to print and deliver flyers and so on necessary to get the word out.

Sometimes there are other protests that are welcoming to different groups such as the March in March that had a significant Stop WestCONnex component. Activists in other movements such as CSG, climate change, refugees and more are often willing to help out, and those movements should be supported in return.

Related to pop-up protests are individuals or small groups getting out to WDA info stalls and expressing displeasure directly to the WDA representatives. This may take the stronger form of arguing, engaging passersby with alternative points of view, displaying signs and sharing flyers critical of westCONnex, or occupying the space until satisfactory answers are given, such as occurred at the Princes Hwy info stall.

Apart from street protests, another form of protest are 'critical mass' style bike rides. Critical Mass rides are held in cities all around the world including in Sydney every month. This is where a large group of people decide to ride bikes together on the road at a comfortable pace. The idea is that there is no official organiser and the group has the right to use the road as normal and does not require any special permission from authorities.

Ideally it reaches enough people that it is fun, safe and enjoyable and can be joined by new cyclists, families etc. A 10km circuit of the inner west could be easily completed in an hour and could pass by threatened homes or significant points. As they grow in numbers the group can be bolder and move onto main roads such as Parramatta Rd without any trouble. Cyclists can wear no westCONnex t-shirts or have flag banners and corflutes can be attached to the side of a bike so that the message is clear.

These rides allow the no westCONnex message to be spread further than the smaller distance that a traditional street march can cover. Also 10 km/hr is not that much slower than the average traffic speed on many inner west roads and highlights the efficiency of cycling to move large numbers of people. Finally the rides can end back in the park with a bbq and community spirit is increased and connections made.

I am proposing to hold the first of these on Sunday 7 June at 11am (note new new date) starting from Sydney Park chimneys so please stay tuned to see if it comes into being.

Stronger actions such as disrupting survey work have already been successful and stopped work. A number of drill sites have been unable to proceed due to group efforts, surveying equipment needs only to be nudged a little to require a complete reset which can take ages, and of course Dr Peter Ross successfully locked on to a drill rig which made the news and later he was not charged. Squatters can be called in to some houses already sold to WDA so that it will cause a scene if they try to evict them.

Holding training for these sorts of non-violent direct actions is another step that prepares people, builds solidarity and becomes a worry to WDA.

The may be some creative ideas for media prankstering of Yes-Men type actions too.

Direct political pressure must also be applied. The release of the full business case and benefit cost ratio and the environmental impact statement (EIS) has been strongly pushed by the Greens, and Labor can be nudged along too. The next pressure point is leading into the federal election with the threat to Labor and Liberal alike of voters switching to the Greens and other groups strongly opposed to the whole project. In Sydney and Grayndler Tanya Plibersek & Anthony Albanese are most susceptible to this so they must be maximally pressured to take a fully oppositional stance to westCONnex and not let off the hook with westCONnex-lite proposals. The Libs will cling on to westCONnex the longest so the first step is bringing Labor around.

Council elections are also in 2016 which presents another opportunity to apply pressure.

Campaigning should also focus on western Sydney which stands to lose the most in terms of lack of investment in public transport while having to fork out for expensive tolls and parking. It should go without saying the westCONnex is a total waste also for those outside Sydney.

In the parliaments the strongest voices of westCONnex opposition are the Greens, in particular Lee Rhiannon at the federal level, Mehreen Faruqi in the NSW LC and Jenny Leong and Jamie Parker in the NSW LA. Of course there are also independents Alex Greenwich and CoS Mayor Clover Moore. The people are able to amplify the voice of the movement.

One should not forget some of the most committed and staunch activists are within the socialist groups - Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative, the CPA and others, who have been involved in the campaign so far and have their own independent publishing outlets. At some stage progressive unions will commit resources too.

Finally, in speaking to a prominent CSG activist recently, she told me that the ongoing goal should be to "delay and disrupt". Don't expect the authorities to make a big 'ok we are not going ahead' announcement. As long as the project keeps being delayed and disrupted with small steps forward ticking over we are achieving our goals. The political damage to those supporting westCONnex will continue to accumulate and frustrate their ambitions. In the meantime the ground will continue to shift towards public and active and more environmentally sensitive transport solutions. The campaign is a journey and not a destination.

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