From Tent Cities to Tree Tops: The lives of Grassroots Activists

by Elizabeth Foster

Woodford tree-sit
Jim Kay shows how a tree-sit protest is done at the Woodford Folk Festival. Photo by Elizabeth Foster @Fooster_Rooster

You’d be hard strapped to find a music festival more environmentally conscious than the Woodford Folk Festival; from the programs made from 100% recycled paper to the planting of more than 120,000 trees on site since 1991 – Woodfordia is the place where you are guaranteed to see all forms of environmental activism.

The Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN) is one organisation which has chosen to promote its message of grassroots activism for the first time at this year’s festival.

ASEN first formed in 1996, seeking to connect Australian Student movements across the country, focusing on environmental and social issues.

Volunteers from the group took turns telling their own personal experiences, explaining how grassroots organising is a powerful method of change outside established systems and establishing stronger communities.

“We’re not really an organisation that works on building up ourselves, we create connections and we work on educating and having those discussions,” volunteer Anica Kelson said.

“Every winter we have a Students of Sustainability Conference, they bring hundreds of people where we have discussions on everything from the environment to refugees.”

Volunteer Mills D-C has been with ASEN for almost 4 years, after being involved in movements aiming to stop logging in the Narrabri region of NSW and living in the Redfern tent embassy in Sydney in support of retaining low cost housing for Indigenous Australians.

He hopes that hearing of these experiences may inspire others to embark in their own causes.

“I’m hoping that people take away that change is actually possible.” he said.

Another one of ASENS volunteers Jim Kay demonstrated a mock tree-sit at Woodford, setting up an array of pulleys and ropes to hoist himself high up into a tree on the festival.

In Jim’s opinion, a tree-sit is one of the most effective methods of protest.

“The good thing about a tree-sit is that it is incredibly hard for any form of authority to get to you, you’re really out of harm’s way and out of reach, really up in the canopy far from anyone,” Jim said.

He says when done effectively, tree-sits are capable of shutting down entire forests, and have saved forests all over the world.

“We’re hoping to show how things are happening to show that there are people out there doing their bit to try and save forests in a way they feel is effective,” he said.

“Also trying to inspire others, showing how everyday people can get up in a tree and make a difference.”

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