Climate Election Down Under
Elections in Australia don't have a predictable two year marathon time-line. Instead, the sitting prime minister calls an election and then everyone has 5 weeks to campaign, because on the 5th weekend the voting happens (which is mandatory, but more on that in a bit).
A few weeks ago, when Julia Gillard called an election, it couldn't have come at a better or worse time for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. I worked as the Interim Online Director for the AYCC from March-May and during that time we were plagued by uncertainty. When should we hold regional powershifts? What was our election campaign? How could we plan something creative and hard-hitting without being way too early or late? Well, you act on what you know, fake the rest, and charge full steam ahead.
As it turns out, the election was called the weekend after the last Powershift conference. Perfect. It also meant that the organization was at 110% capacity to put on three conferences, and then had to implement a many-part election campaign on top of that. Not so perfect.
What did they do? What any good organization should: they set their sights even higher, raised more money, brought on more staff and volunteers, and set about making it happen. The AYCC has rolled out a full-blown election campaign with stunts, calls to politicians and a TV ad encouraging people to vote. I know a lot of them haven't slept in weeks, but it's amazing:
How did this all come about? It started with picking the dates for three regional Powershift conferences to energize youth in key areas of the country and train them up to run amazing election efforts. The three medium-sized cities had some AYCC volunteers, but having Powershifts there put them into high gear. Here's a recap from Adeliade leader Joel Dignam:
July 30th was the last day of my life before Power Shift 2010 Adelaide.
In bed that night, I thought back to June 2nd‚ barely 8 weeks earlier, when Adelaide had hosted a Power Shift Strategy Session. Attended by almost 20 eager volunteers, the session began a recruitment journey during which every member of the group would challenge themselves, connect with others, and spread a simple message: that Power Shift will give us the tools to build a generation-wide movement to solve the climate crisis.
Powershift Adelaide (seen here) finished last weekend. Powershift Canberra is concluding as I write this, and Powershift Geelong will start next weekend. And the next weekend is the election.
In a flurry of activity after the election was called, media stunts were organized, a TV ad was produced (above) and the Power Vote campaign was assembled. It consists of a scorecard ranking the three major parties on how they stand on climate change solutions, and an automated call service. People who join the campaign tell the system their name and zip code, and it then automatically dials their politicians office to inform the politician that "Ellen Sandell" of Melbourne is voting for climate champions. After all, enough politicians authorize robo-calls to voters, it seems appropriate that they get inundated with an equal number of reminders of what voters are thinking about.
The score card, the ads, the massive number of phone calls, the energized Powershift volunteers and the savvyness of the organization have been turning heads. Climate change is a top issue for Australian voters, and the combination of a viable third-party option, a country already feeling the effects of changing climates and the best renewable energy potential of any continent mean things are ripe for a change. Unfortunately, the two major political parties response has been to circle the wagons and reach an even more absurd consensus of inaction. On August 21st, the day of the election, we'll see if the AYCC and their allies can shift that dynamic. If their luck holds and they keep taking the opportunities they have, I think we'll see a youth climate movement emerge as a significant political force.
Another recent development gives the Australian youth a big leg up. Voting is mandatory in Australia - it's a crime not to vote in a federal election. Unfortunately, voters need to have their registration updated to their current address in order to vote. This means that over 1/3rd of young people are not enrolled to vote and suffer no consequences from 'breaking the law' and not voting.
The previous conservative government created a policy that the last chance to update voting enrollment was 5 weeks before the election - the end of the day that the election was 'called'. Just last week, GetUp.org.au, another progressive campaigning organization in Australia, won a major court battle challenging the legality of the enrollment policy. This means that 100,000 young voters can now vote who were previously prevented from doing so. Score!
Will it be enough to break the deadlock? Perhaps, but there's nothing like a good media narrative to really turn up the heat on a tight issue, and creative stunts, at their best, are the perfect tool to do that. That's why I was thrilled to see the 'elephant in the room' quite literally, burst into the room last week to demand why the two major parties weren't talking about climate change solutions. The media loved it. Keep up the great work AYCC, folks in the US are watching and hopefully taking notes.