Why I camped out at Melbourne uni
I’ve known about the Fossil Free campaign for a while. I’ve mostly been a quiet social media supporter, but as things started to heat up in the past few weeks, and I began to pay more attention, I realised it was time for quiet supporters like myself to get louder, because it was quite clear that something big was about to happen.
As I write this I’ve just come out of a first-year Geography lecture where hundreds of students were told terrifying stats and facts about the world that we’re inheriting. The frustration that I feel in learning about the undeniable urgency of climate change is intensified by the hypocrisy of Melbourne uni’s position refusal to take a stand against fossil fuels. I reached the point where I knew that I had to act on this frustration. I attended an info night with Fossil Free MU on the Friday of week 6, where I was told that civil disobedience was going to occur on campus in the following week, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.
The following Monday, a group of us met at 7am at an off-campus location and put our game faces on. We marched over to the Raymond Priestley (administration) lawn with our camping gear at got to work. It only took us half an hour to set up camp, and security didn’t even seem to be interested. The uni were kind to us and turned off the sprinklers and gave us access to a bathroom overnight. We hung up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to remind ourselves and all who walked by that this action was taking place on stolen Wurundjeri country. Aboriginal peoples have been fighting for environmental justice on this land ever since it was invaded, and our campaign is only a small part of the fight for global climate justice. We set up our info desk and spent the day chatting to interested passers-by, held workshops, collected signatures, asked people to add messages of support to our bunting, and generally hung out.
The real fun got started after sunset. We shared a delicious meal cooked by the food team, heard bands play, heard spoken word poetry and sang terrible/amazing parody songs dedicated to our Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis and his administration. At about 10 pm we considered walking over to his mansion on campus and singing “Hey Glyn,”
(Hey Glyn, don't let us down,
We have asked you, now start divesting,
Remember, no matter how you delay,
We will be here, staunchly protesting)
but decided that he needed his rest. The camp already felt like home. Who knew that divesting could be this fun and empowering?
It was weird and wonderful to wake up in a tent at uni on Tuesday morning, and it definitely made getting to class on time easier. The highlight of the day was seeing my brave and wonderful friends bare their asses for divestment on top of the Old Quad! It was so satisfying to have media crews there capturing the moment. Our media team worked hard to let journos know that there was going to be a photo opportunity at Melbourne uni that they didn’t want to miss. The shameless self-promotion payed off, with over a dozen online articles, three newspaper features and we even made it onto Channel 9’s 7 o’clock News. It was a huge win, but we weren’t done yet.
That night we huddled together and whispered about the following day’s plans under the watch of a nearby security guard. We tried not to rouse suspicion but it must have looked like we were plotting something.
At 6.15am on Wednesday morning we got up and started to organise ourselves. This is an impossible hour for your average uni student, so we staged a yoga class to make it look more believable. At just after 7am, a couple of students distracted the security guard while the rest of us blocked off the doors to the administration building. We used barrels, pipes, chains, quickset cement and human bodies to block off three main entrances. Several more bodies (including my own) sat on the stairs to block two more doors. We left the fire exits unblocked, because we take safety seriously. It all happened so quickly; we couldn’t really have been stopped.
Throughout the day we cared for those locked on as best we could, and chatted to literally hundreds of people who were keen to know what was going on. The police came and went, and we stood our ground. Arrests would have meant even more media attention, and the uni clearly wanted to avoid that. So our negotiations team sprung into action and we met with a group of uni representatives at 6pm. After 4 hours of intense negotiation we managed to get ourselves a 2-hour meeting with some important financial big-wigs who sit on the university council. By around 11pm we were packing everything away and were completely exhausted, but we couldn’t have been happier with what we’d achieved.
Last week was months in the making, and I only came on board in time for the action (very strategic of me). Being involved in Flood the Campus week showed me how fun, engaging and satisfying it can be to collectively fight for something important. Fossil Free MU have secured a meeting, but there is still so much work to be done to ensure that the uni does the right thing for the future of its students. I’m more than willing to take bold action with Fossil Free MU until that happens... and next time I might even lock onto something.
By Ruby O'Loughlin