Annual Review 2019: Community groups

Annual Review 2019: Community groups

The last year saw exciting new developments in the Wilderness Society's grassroots movement.

National Community Organising Manager Damian Ogden takes us through the successes of the past year and exciting developments on the horizon for our grassroots organising program.

Damian Ogden. Image: Louise Chen

"The Wilderness Society has always believed in the power of people to create change and a better world. It’s always been a part of our story. We live in a time of unprecedented environmental awareness; recent mass mobilisations show that there is momentum around the world and a deep desire for real environmental action, and the Wilderness Society has been well ahead of the curve. For years we’ve been building a powerful grassroots movement that will form a persistent presence in communities around the country looking to enact our mission to protect, restore and sustain nature in Australia.

There are no short-cuts; real change comes when empowered communities organise and advocate together.

Our community organising program is connecting people - many of whom have never been involved in environmental issues before or don’t consider themselves activists - to take action and build an unstoppable grassroots movement. At the heart of it is our leading community organising training program. Year upon year we are training more supporters who are becoming local leaders and champions for the environment. Over 2,000 Wilderness Society supporters have taken this step and graduated from these programs, connecting them with like-minded people and giving them the skills to campaign and organise for change.

This powerful movement continues to build strength in numbers. Our committed graduates are building a powerful national network by creating Wilderness Society local groups in their communities. Since its inception in 2016, there are 36 local groups and counting.

It’s inspiring to watch this grassroots movement continue to grow and empower our campaigns."

Moving forward

This year marks an exciting new partnership for the Wilderness Society and its volunteers with the Australian Ethical Foundation.

The team that took part in the training program funded by the Australian Ethical Foundation. Image: Matt Tomkins

To support the Wilderness Society’s ongoing work to protect Victoria’s old-growth forests, we approached the Australian Ethical Foundation to provide a three-year grant for an advanced training program to help build local leaders within the campaign. Five exceptional participants from the select group of 25 (pictured) that took part in the program in June, will go on to do a six-month community organising fellowship with Wilderness Society staff and international leaders in grassroots campaigning. "As our program grows, every year we’re aiming to form partnerships like this one with Australian Ethical to continue funding this world-class grassroots environmental movement," says Damian. "We have now got the most comprehensive training programme of its kind in the country.

Community action

Volunteer Charlotte Mayeux found support from the grassroots movement to help mobilise her community and protect her childhood home.

Charlotte gets to work during the federal election. Image: Glenn Walker

Caring about the environment has always been close to home for me. I grew up on the Northern Beaches, NSW, right across the road from Narrabeen Lagoon. The lake has a path that goes all the way around it, and a lot of people use it as part of their daily routines. It has crystal-clear blue water and there are flocks of black swans and pelicans that call it home. But it wasn’t long before I began to notice that the area around my home was changing; I started seeing rubbish everywhere.

My environmental values and activism all come from my mum. We’ve regularly attended nature rallies and protests together, making sure our voices and opinions are heard.

Growing up, I remember hearing her yell out while I was in the shower: "Hurry up, don’t waste water!" or "Turn the lights out when you leave the room!" I never realised how important these things were until I was older; small actions matter and doing what we can for the environment is what matters most.

My high school agricultural teacher was also a big influence on me. He was so passionate about the environment and sustainability. We went to stay at his farm for a week, and he also took us to his friends’ farms where they had native bees and practised aquaponics; all sorts of alternative farming methods.

That’s what led me to study environmental management at university — I want to figure out how to manage the earth correctly, in a way that’s sustainable. My greatest fear is that Australia will be a world leader for biodiversity loss and deforestation.

And that’s why I signed up to volunteer with the Wilderness Society. I was ready to take proper action for my local environment, fixing up Narrabeen Lagoon, and learn how to advocate for the bigger issues at play.

This is also where I knew I’d be able to find like-minded people with similar values. There are no doubt hundreds of people that care about the environment and the Northern Beaches, but it can still be hard to find and connect with them.

My journey has been a whirlwind. Days after I signed up to volunteer on the Wilderness Society website, I was contacted and invited to a twoday ‘Fundamentals of Organising’ training program, where I met members of my community. Now, I’m part of a large national network of people who have banded together for the environment. It’s made me feel so full of hope. The power of people is incredible.

Through my community group, I hope to spread awareness of the environmental devastation that’s occurring nationally, and continue the Wilderness Society’s push for new nature laws to prevent the loss of habitat and biodiversity.

I also want to bring hope to other like-minded people out there — with a message that there are groups and organisations that exist and are willing to fight for nature. There’s been such a rise in environmentalism in Australia — soon, the people that don’t care about the environment are going to be the odd ones out.

Since getting involved with the Wilderness Society, I’ve been sending emails to politicians and find myself telling others to turn off the lights or remember to bring their KeepCup. It was my mum that led me to be where I am today, and I couldn’t be prouder that I’m becoming just like her."