Activism. The new normal.

When I first landed in Melbourne in the middle of winter 2017, I attended a weekend training workshop in community organising, run by the Wilderness Society.

I’d tried to get involved with other environment groups but honestly, the process of volunteering in Melbourne is almost as onerous as applying for jobs. I was dancing around both these activities. Submitting online applications for both, being magnificently ignored by both.

The training weekend with the Wilderness Society felt like home. Despite the name (Movement for Life sounds a bit cult-like, methinks). Despite some odd people in the group. Despite having homework to do on a Saturday night. Despite the one role-playing exercise that spun me into a verbal panic.

I just knew that I’d found something I wanted to be part of.

For a couple of days a week, over the course of 18 months or so, I sat in the office of Melbourne’s campaign centre at the Wilderness Society, a stunning heritage-listed building on the edge of the CBD. I was a Recruitment Organiser and Communications volunteer, often on the phone, setting up interviews, punching data into the computer, sometimes researching and writing, sometimes cutting out hundreds of heads of state Labor MPs to make into masks for a mock parliament protest event.

The Wilderness Society runs bus tours to logging coups in the Central Highlands of Victoria. I jumped on board one day. It was fun, beautiful, inspiring, informative and deeply disturbing.

The drive through state forest to the coups was deceptive because the view out of the minivan windows for many kilometres was densely green, abundant and endless. There seemed to be so much forest I started to wonder what the big deal was.

The coups tend to off the main road. Can’t have tourists getting an accidental glimpse of forest destruction. That certainly wouldn’t attract a five star rating on Trip Advisor.

You get closer, and you are still surrounded by this forest of plenty, but what is not immediately obvious is that this aboreal wonderland is mostly a vast monoculture of single-aged trees, much like you’d find on a plantation but without the neat rows. Without the complex biodiversity of a natural forest ecosystem. Without the old growth, hollow-bearing trees that provide homes for endangered species. Without the full capacity to create a rich, nourishing soil. Without, without, without. Volume without much substance. It’s what you don’t see that is important.

Stepping into a logging coup is not something I’ll easily forget. It’s a vast open space of destruction. Viscerally grim. Who knew this was happening in Victoria? Not me. Who knew this state-sanctioned ravaging was for the production of paper? PAPER?!

I am thankful though for the first-hand experience of this depleted, smoldering dead zone because it pushed me out of long-term apathy and into the wonderful world of activism.

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Background conversations in open plan office spaces can be very distracting. Sometimes though they provide useful intel. At the Wilderness Society I kept hearing about the power of hand written letters, in fleeting conversations, as snatches of provocative information that floated just behind my head and stayed hovering in my ears.

I started the Wild Letter Club to free myself from the shackles of apathy. It wasn’t a case of … ooooh, I want to be an activist. Hell no. I’m an introvert. I was simply looking for a way to show up, to be involved, like all the younger wilderness extroverts around me, but in a way that matched my interests and “don’t look at me” persona.

The Wild Letter Club is a craftivist kind of thing. A little bit of craft, a little bit of activism. Turns out, there’s a heap of us, all over the place, attracted to this seeming dichotomy of craft and activism.

Sarah Corbett is behind the UK activist social enterprise known as Craftivists Collective. She’s a big time craftivist, she’s made it onto the TED stage, more than once. I love her nervous presentations and her catch cry that activism needs more introverts.

Here in Melbourne, Tal Fitzpatrick has written a PHD on craftivism and undertakes large-scale participatory craftivist projects like her ‘PM Please Quilt’ which involved 121 hand-stitched messages from the public that formed a quilt presented to Malcolm Turnbull when he was our PM. Incredibly, he chose not to throw it on his bed (didn’t suit the boudoir decor, Lucy?) but rather to hand it over to the Museum of Australian Democracy.

I’m long done with posing as an academic, however the desire to educate is stronger than ever. I want everyone to know what is happening in the native forests of Victoria. Full transparency, nothing less. It’s impossible to care or act if you don’t have the whole messy picture. It’s impossible to make the slightest difference to the status quo unless you show up, put in an appearance, get woke.

Activism isn’t just for shouty types. The current state of the world demands that we all embrace it, however we can.

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