Think about where you shop til you drop

Goliath was a huge man. He was a giant who stood more than nine feet tall. He cursed at the Israelites and said bad things about their God. He asked one man amongst the Israelites to come out to fight for them. Everyone was afraid because he was such a terrifying giant. David was a shepherd. He was young but he was brave.

Goliath had a suit of armour, all David had was a slingshot and five smooth stones. When Goliath saw that the Israelites sent a boy to fight, he made fun of them some more. He told David he was going to rip him apart and feed him to the birds and beasts. Now David’s slingshot was no ordinary slingshot, it was a rope with a small pouch on the end and you waved it around in a circle to get the speed you needed to release the stone.

When Goliath charged at David, he didn’t get scared and run away. He took out a smooth stone from his shepherd bag and placed it in the sling. Then he slung it at the giant and it hit him squarely in the forehead. It went into his skull and killed him. The stone had been a mighty weapon after all. David took Goliath’s sword and cut off his head.

Goliath takes many forms and in Queensland it was in the shape of a new Woolworths. In the 4,200 strong township of Maleny there was a community bank and more than twenty co-ops. It was a town that is proud of its independence and local enterprise and for more than three years a team of people were rallying against the inevitable siting of the giant supermarket.

For resident, Terri Bates, it isn’t just the sensitive environmental factors of building so close to a river bank that worries her but it is the very character and colour of the community that she feels is at risk.‘Our town has its own localised economy. The co-ops keep the money in the community going round and round. Woolworths will take it out. We have a say in how our economy is run and there are lots of outlets for local produce.’

Campaigners threw themselves in front of the bulldozers; they tried to buy the proposed site, written letters and ignited boycotts of Woolworths across Australia. They have used whatever stones they could find for their sling-shot. All of these efforts require enormous energy and focus. How did Terri and other activists maintain their protest? How did they prevent burnout?

Anyone protesting for a length of time faces these issues. Goliath can be a relentless beast whether it is a government, a logging company, a developer or corporation.

‘It isn’t easy,’ said Terri and looking back at the Maleny campaign she would have liked the team to have spent more time together to build trust and get to know one another. ‘There is a lot of emotion and buttons pressed and knowing each other can help in supporting the whole group,’ she said. ‘Building fun into the protest’ is also a must but it can be costly as Daniel Jones found out when he was fined $350 for trespassing on the Woolworths work site wearing a platypus suit with the intention of chaining himself to an object.

The threatened platypus habitat on Obi Obi creek was a uniting force with 80% of residents in support of protecting the site. Whatever the outcome, Terri saw the fight against Woolworths in Maleny ‘as a battle in a war, not the whole war itself, look at the big picture’.

This advice applies to all social actions. We all have our fears and enemies. What is most telling is how we deal with them. How do we ‘fight’ in a fair and just way? The residents of Maleny had to share their grief as Woolworths marched into their town. There was a spillover of feelings and loss from the campaign that needed to be dealt with.

‘Make a distinction between the person and their opinions — opinions are like clothes, a matter of taste and fashion that can be changed at will. Don’t mistake them for the essential core.’      Mark Somner

Whatever your opinion on a Woolworths in Maleny, bikeways in Byron, the proposed concert site, traffic, holiday rentals, wind farms, new development, nuclear energy, war, your neighbour’s driveway — it is just that — your opinion. You will think you are right and that is what fuels your energy to protest. But guess what — the person you are fighting against thinks they are right too.

For the residents of Maleny their campaign is not over — it will be their right to exercise their shopping power (another stone) that will be the most telling. We can support them by buying our groceries at places like Santos and Green Garage who stock local produce and give back to the community. And while you are shopping you can feel really good about keeping the money and the heart in our town.

Originally published in Here & Now magazine, 2005.

Since this article was written, Mullumbimby has also had to deal with being invaded by Woolworths. Rejected by the local council as being inappropriate for the site (it will sit on a field that is flooded 10 days a year, and since it has an onsite sewage system, the streets of Mullumbimby can expect to have raw sewage in them once Woolworths opens) and for the town, this was overrided and approved by the NSW Labour Government, a large donator to which political party is Woolworths.

The battle went on for 3 years, and of course people were burnt out, as fighting big business with no budget of your own other than your time, for which you are not being paid for. As I write this Dec 23, 2010, a whole street of Mullum is finally emerging out from behind construction fences after 9 months, 6 months longer than they had approval for.
Ed

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