Profiles of ‘climate protectors’ living and rebelling in the western suburbs

    How a shy country lad from the west ended up glued to a Picasso masterpiece.

    By Anthony Gleeson

    The area where I grew up was very conservative politically.  It was a Democratic Labor party stronghold. I had never met a communist, but I soaked up all the fear that term invoked in the people around me as I grew up.

    The first big change for me was when I started tertiary education at what is now Deakin Uni in Warrnambool. I began to realise just how naïve I was as regards what was going on in the world. Through my studies I became familiar with concepts like injustice in its many forms.

    My political awakening started at the anti-Vietnam War Moratorium March in Melbourne. For the first time I got a strong taste of people power. I had never seen so many people in one place before. There were over 200 thousand people chanting, singing & moving as one.  I was captured by this atmosphere which was the start of me understanding the role of politics in our world. In understanding that democracy isn’t a spectator sport.

    Fast forward thirty years. I’m living on the North Coast of NSW, married with two teenage kids, teaching English and  student leadership at a local state high school.  I had been aware of the rapidly approaching climate crisis for a long time and it became more and more obvious that there wasn’t going to be any cavalry riding up to save us.

    It was about this time that I had the good fortune to go on a trip to Northern India. This was truly a transformative experience in many ways.  Part of the tour involved spending some time in a small village in the Himalayan foothills. While there, we helped out at the local school. We visited a number of classrooms and assisted their development of the English language – they were all so keen. We also discovered a huge pile of metal that was left there by a previous group. It was a large playground equipment set with swings, slides etc. No-one there knew what to do with it. Over a few days, we somehow managed to erect it.

    Word about what we were doing quickly spread around the village. Soon all of the 200 plus students were sitting calmly watching us going about the tasks. They were told they would have complete access to it once we were finished, so they sat there patiently for hours waiting for that to happen with huge smiles of anticipation on their faces.

    As soon as we finished and they were given the go-ahead, nearly all of them jumped on and investigated the fruits of our labours.  I had never experienced such gratitude before.

    Soon after this we connected with a local group called SECMOL – An acronym for Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh. They ran an amazing “alternative school” for students to learn about all aspects of sustainability.

    I just had to go and check out their school. It intrigued me why they were trying so hard to reduce their carbon emissions. Relative to us, they had virtually none.

    I got to hang out with these incredible young people. We had long chats about their inspirational work. I eventually had to ask: “Why are you working so hard to reduce your emissions?”

    The answer I received is now seared onto my consciousness, as was the notion of climate justice. One of them pointed to a nearby glacier which they had observed shrinking over their young life time and said “When that goes, we go”.

    It’s amazing the impact that those five words have had on me.  Without the glacial melts they would have no fresh water, and without water they couldn’t  survive. These kids in Ladakh got it. I now felt that I had a responsibility to do all that I could to work with others to stop that happening.

    Back in Australia II had a major problem adjusting to everyday life. The kids I taught, when asked, said that shopping was their favourite activity. This did my head in considering how happy the kids were in India in spite of  their poverty.

    A few more years and I’m back in Melbourne (Naarm) living in Footscray. I’ve retired from teaching and I’m involved with Extinction Rebellion (XR), sitting on roads, glueing myself  to windows and doors, going to rallies, occupying politicians’ offices, and co-hosting a weekly podcast about climate change. There is no debating the science. Everyone involved with XR is  there because they can’t sit with their climate concerns and do nothing about it. Each action is such an empowering experience – it’s one of the few times that I’ve had complete faith that everyone who said they would do something, actually did it. Most actions involve at least 3 different generations working together & that is so special

    I’m using my educational skills to empower people who are climate concerned, to stand up with others and risk arrest.  History has shown us that  social change doesn’t come easily. Whether it’s the  vote for women or civil rights in the US, or stopping the Franklin Dam, it all happened as a result of  non-violent direct action (NVDA) or civil disobedience.

    Finally to Picasso. We were aware that the National Gallery of Victoria was hosting a collection of his work. A couple of rebels went to the exhibition and brought back the news that his ”Massacre in Korea” would be our best target. We wanted to get across the idea that the climate crisis will create more conflict as countries fight over diminishing resources. We made up a banner with that message, pocketed some glue, bought some tickets and fairly confidently, although tinged with some nervousness, went into the exhibition on its last day.

    It was a surreal experience being up so close to a masterpiece. While waiting to be unglued, we had the opportunity to tell the public that the inconvenience they were experiencing would be nothing compared to what was coming. This was an easy message to get across on the back of the Black Summer fires and the floods earlier that year. There were some people who got a bit cranky because we had disrupted their visit but the vast majority seemed supportive of what we were doing.

    Oh, and how did the Picasso fare? It was encased in protective perspex so no damage was done.

    @anthonygleeson –
    *Photo Credit: Matt Hrkac

    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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