GetUp! and wave at ‘hot’ climate catastrophe



You catch the train. You stand and clap your hands at speakers in a public park. You wave your hands in the air. You update your social media. You endure crude jokes on ‘hot climate action’. You chat to some friends. You go home. This is the sort of political action that made today’s rally.

Up to 10,000 mobilised in Treasury gardens for ‘climate action’, heeding the call out from organisational gatekeepers of the climate change ‘movement’.

There’s many of these organisations, but let’s focus on one. Who is GetUp! anyway?

GetUp! is a corporate hierarchical non-government[1] progressive organisation created in 2005 after the Howard Government won control of the senate.

Its founders modelled GetUp! on MoveOn in the US.[2] They both share the same astroturfing tactics that poison the possibilities of a grassroots movement that not only focuses on human-induced climate change but interlinks it with wider systemic critiques and struggles against domination, exploitation and oppression.

GetUp! is an opportunistic organisation. Along with a host of other NGOs like AYCC they supported the introduction of a market based carbon tax scheme relying on the same market that had just caused global recession not to mention having puny targets and giving away hundreds of millions in ‘compensation’ for big polluters.

With the Labor (with Greens support) government in power, GetUp notably toned back its limited calls for ’climate action’, and now with Abbott in, it’s back to being the fizzy drink that bubbles away people’s anger at Abbott’s agenda to invisible effect on CO2 levels.

Rallies and climate action

The rally itself was a standard affair, speeches and tired pleas for change from Tim Flannery, the usual vague soundbites from politicians, the youthful clichés of the Australian Youth Climate Change Coalition and a phalanx of trots selling publications on the busy corner. Perhaps the only good part of the rally was a performance by Blue King Brown who raised some questions of the system at the end – but by then many were leaving as this was left as a footnote after the rally.

Rallies themselves are generally centralised and hierarchical affairs. A small organising collective decides all the details and asks its followers to come and listen to the central part of the rally – speeches. Elements of decentralisation can also exist with the existence of a multiplicity of banners, but today that was drowned out with mass-produced pre-made placards and banners.

Of note was the funding for the rally came from ‘Australian ethical’ superannuation, who obviously scored some great product placement from the organisers.

The funding was needed to pay all the extravagance from cherry pickers, to big trucks and big tents and big signs and big banners to big bureaucracy.

Even if a rally was called by some radical left grouping it wouldn’t necessarily be that much more participatory even if its politics were more anti-systemic because of the stage-managed centralised nature of most rallies.

The leaders of the rally made much of the necessity to get a ‘picture for the media’ in a glorified ‘selfie’ that everyone was to share around on social media to show they supported ‘climate action’.

GetUp!’ is hierarchical activism par excellence: sign a petition and get e-mails or other notifications for life, occasionally come to something.

On the one hand it’s probably the biggest climate action rally since before the election of the ALP in 2007. But then to put things in perspective, a similar number rocked up to attend the Melbourne Cricket Ground’s 175th anniversary Open Day today.

I don’t have the answers in what exactly to do to combat catastrophic climate change but I reckon any ‘solution’ has to have an analysis of the system that’s driving it, capitalism. I have an anti-capitalist analysis, and any diminishing of climate change in this system built on neverending growth on a finite planet is merely a palliative to an inevitable death.

While Abbott steals the anarchist line of ‘direct action’ it’s funnily enough that sort of direct action where people assert their collective power without mediation from representatives like politicians that is most needed.

[1] Like most NGOs, the name is actually misleading as they’re very tied to maintaining government and have a revolving door with government

[2] A Trotskyist perspective on GetUp! on the World Socialist Website reveals some interesting connections:


11 thoughts on “GetUp! and wave at ‘hot’ climate catastrophe

  1. Kylie

    Interesting article although I fail to see what the author is doing to mobilise 60,000+ individuals to rally in support of action on climate change? Can you please post some pics on your blog of your efforts so that we can all congratulate you on the much bigger and better impact that you’re having on addressing climate change, and other issues of social justice, than Get Up does?
    Get Up is NOT ‘astroturfing’, they’re a real organisation, with real supporters and real donors (tiny little individuals like myself)! If grassroots is not having over 600,000 people in your database and an average donation of $42, I’m not sure what is!
    Get Up discloses all donations over 10K on their website and I see no sign of Australian Ethical Investments so if they did bankroll the event, it was only a fraction of the cost of the event. (I had shares in AEI incidentally myself for many years and I can say that they are an excellent organisation and I’d be happy to promote their work too if I was involved in running Get Up.)
    By all means, feel free to create your own anarchic organisation with a bigger and more effective reach than Get Up and we’ll all be sure to jump on board!

    1. charredcaesia Post author

      I never claimed that I have the capacity to mobilise 60,000 people. This is a red herring that fails to engage with my argument. I merely point out GetUp’s approach to avoiding catastrophic climate change is fatally flawed because it doesn’t engage with the cause of the problem: capitalism.

      On the claim that GetUp isn’t an ‘astroturfing’ organisation, I actually struggle to think of many better examples of an astroturf organisation rather than grassroots organisation. The key distinguishing features in my view are grassroots organisations have a social basis in people’s lives through some sort of democratic collective decision making. GetUp makes no pretence to being anything other than a corporately run board which people can passively support by attending the occassional rally they’ve been given expensive robocall directives to attend and possibly even donate to help the GetUp hieararchy organise even more security, cherry pickers, product placement, robocalls, monotonous vague placards and bad sexy jokes at the next event. Having 600,000 people in a database completely divorced from the decision-making functioning of the ‘movement’ gatekeeper is the thickest astroturf I can think of in Australia.

      On the evasions on Australian ‘Ethical’ Investments, only the GetUp hierarchy has the full figures, but let’s assume for the sake of the argument it was just a small portion of the costs of the latest rally. The fact a rally has ties to the very financial system that caused the ongoing global recession and champions the market-based dead-end ‘solutions’ to climate change does not bode well for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

    1. charredcaesia Post author

      Thanks for this, I suppose the effectiveness of an action or actual movement is its ability to shift the political framework, I see GetUp! upholding the establishment that has got the world into this climate catastrophic mess.

      1. mikestasse

        I totally agree…… Nothing serious will happen because 99% of people don’t know how serious it is.

        GetUp! will NEVER tell you that the only solution to stop runaway Climate Change now is NOT to switch to renewable energy….. it’s turning industry/commerce OFF. Forever.

        So we’re screwed.

  2. Colin Mallett

    It was interesting just how many different groups with varying perspectives turned up. For instance the Vegans who are campaigning against Beef and Milk production which adds enormously to CO2 production. Community organisations were well represented like the one calling for Community Income streams. People activating for public transport over more roads.
    Firefighters. Then there were FOE, Quit Coal, Darebin Climate Action now, The Greens, in numbers of course and yes the Ethical Investment people. Mightn’t be a bad idea to put our superanuation funds to work ethically whilst we live in this capital controlled world don’t you think? Sometimes I wonder why Socialists bother with this stuff at all. If you are revolutionary what’s the point, if not you have compromised somewhere along the way so stop nitpicking. The truth is we need to make the most of it when the voice for change is loudest. Perhaps that is why SALT and Socialist Alliance were peddling their ideology and wares. I got around and spoke to many of these people as my mind is open and engagement is important.

    1. charredcaesia Post author

      Thanks, many groups were there, but a select few were represented on the stage and the demands peddled by GetUp! actually mean climate catastrophe is unavoidable.

      I think relying on superannuation to change capital is part of the problem and is linked to the privitisation of old-age support. It’s the same market that has got us into this mess, and what does ‘ethical’ superannuation really mean? Exploiting workers and polluting the environment in a fairer way? I think the connection with capital like Australian Ethical rules out any critique of capitalism emerging in the sort of forum that GetUp establishes.

  3. steven.

    Great answers Colin and Kylie, I agree and am really sick of some in the left fighting and putting down others taking some form of action. So there views are different and they don’t (some might) have a socialistic perspective. Just put your energy and ideas into fighting the real enemies of humanity and the planet and unite and support those who do have similar ideas on some, maybe many things. Its called working together on common aims, it
    doesn’t mean agreement on everything. And wonderful that there were people from all walks of life and groups, and so many. Please try to nurture that, not wreck it.

    1. charredcaesia Post author

      Debate in any social movement is a fixture of a social movement. Seeing thousands mobilised for something shouldn’t be the measure of success necessarily. It has to be asked was it an effective means of action and if not, why wasn’t it effective? The problem becomes GetUp speaking on behalf of its manufactured ‘climate action’ movement and selling us the dead-end that was the whole market based carbon scheme fiasco. Now without being honest about the problems with institutions like GetUp there is a significant barrier to the emergence of a real effective grassroots movement to combat catastrophic climate change.

      1. Colin Mallett

        Good Question. I do certainly feel that it could have been far more effective if those who spoke covered a broader perspective. Not sure if the average GetUp subscriber understands all of the very many factors influencing climate change. That’s why it was pleasing to see other groups riding “the GetUp wave” to push messages out there. It was really disappointing and almost deflating that we did not march. In a sense there was a failure to emphasize the effect an individual can have in their every day action/conversation (whilst recognizing that this alone would not solve the problem(s)). I also agree that Superanuation is in fact part of the problem in that it ensures future slavery to a broken system. It’s just acceptance that they do make people contribute so why not target the use of our funds where possible? Looking into it since your thought provoking blog I am more inclined to the view that it was a slightly wasted opportunity in some ways. That many people leaving with new messages, armed with a less mainstream knowledge would have been more meaningful. Next time GetUp organise one of these Activists need to really get out there amongst the crowd and introduce ourselves to a few people like some groups managed to do.

  4. Pingback: Rallies are such a useful movement-building tool. Not. |

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