Activists, especially those working for nonprofits, would be thought to be fed up with online meetings after months of video communication from home due to COVID-19. Consider it again!
The Australian Center for Progress is a progressive change organization, which supports change agents with training and networking programs. Its main activity attracts 1500 participants every two years in the Melbourne municipality. This year it was held online for two days (June 23 and 24).
Promoted as “an online rapid response conference that is urgently being organized to respond to crises that crunch,” Virtual Progress 2020 has lived up to expectations. Around 1,500 people paid to register for the two-day conference, which included 225 speakers, many of them foreigners, more than 60 sessions, and more than 5,000 live chat messages.
Remarkably, there were very few technical issues during live broadcast plenary sessions, expert discussions, case studies and interactive Zoom workshops, plus some related activities and live performances. The label # VirtualProgress2020 was trending on Twitter.
There was not much surprise either in the subjects and the treated problems. Australian Progress will publish full recordings of plenary sessions and group sessions for participants in the coming weeks.
First nations and racial justice
The impact of the #BlackLivesMatter movement (Black lives matter) was everywhere. Recent nationwide public protests in Australia have revealed deaths of blacks in custody, police surveillance, and indigenous arrests. The Aunty Tanya Day story illustrated the seriousness of these ongoing themes. Tanya died in a police cell in 2017 after hitting her head multiple times. She had been arrested for public intoxication after falling asleep on a train:
Systemic racism so cruelly highlighted by the opposite treatment of the drunken white woman picked up & driven home by police WHILE Tanya Day was in her cell, suffering the consequences of outdated, often racially-focused public drunkenness laws – Apryl Day# virtualprogress2020
– Andi Snelling 💚 (@AndiSnelling) June 23, 2020
Systemic racism so cruelly revealed by the different treatment of drunk white women that the Police picked up and drove home the police WHILE Tanya Day was in her cell, suffering the consequences of outdated laws, often with a racial focus on public drunkenness .
After the coronavirus
Many aspects of the recovery of COVID-19 were explored, such as the economy (incentive, public debt, disaster capitalism, labor rights); the environment and climate change.
– New / Mode (@NewModeInc) June 23, 2020
Sad but important reminder from Amanda McKenzie (Executive Director of the Climate Council of Australia): Just because we live through the COVID-19 crisis does not mean that the climate crisis has passed. Virtual Progress 2020.
Normality was not seen as an option:
– Jessica Wheelock (@Jessicawheelock) June 23, 2020
“We need to talk about how the economy serves people and gives them a good life.” No government receives a cookie for balancing a budget.
Michele O'Neil, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, highlighted the current fight against trends such as precariousness and exploitation of labor:
Listening to @ MicheleONeilAU at # VirtualProgress2020
“Because for years we've been campaigning around the issue of insecure work, we were prepared for something we couldn't have expected.” # Covid19 # COVID19Aus
– Kelly ⬛️🟡🟥 (@dblplusgoodful) June 23, 2020
This said to Michele Oneil to Virtual Progress 2020:
“Because for many years we have been campaigning on the issue of unsafe work, we were prepared for something we could not expect.” COVID-19. COVID-19 Australia.
Other key issues included domestic violence, refugees and asylum seekers; disability, accessibility and fight against discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities.
Activist Carly Findlay led the discussion on best principles and practical contributions to make projects and communications more accessible. Afterward, he shared some ideas on his blog:
Many words are ingrained into our vocabulary as casual ableism – especially “idiot” and “lame”, and mental illness slurs like “crazy” and “OCD”. There are also turns of phrase like “tone deaf”, “crippling”, and “blind to” that are harmful.
… I ask you to stop using disability slurs please. Don’t justify them. Call them out when family and friends use them.
Many words have entered our vocabulary as sporadic discrimination against people with disabilities – especially “idiot” and “weak”, and defamation of mental illness such as “crazy” or “obsessive-compulsive disorder”. There are also some expressions like “who has no ear”, “disabled” and “blind” that are harmful.
Please, I urge you to stop using these insults about disease. Don't justify them. Get attention if someone from your family or friends use them.
A parallel activity considered the consequences of the fight for democracy in Hong Kong:
‘The Hong Kong people have no choice. The city is our home. We want to keep our home, to be free, and we hope to keep our human rights protected. Especially for the next generation ’Bonnie Leung # VirtualProgress2020 pic.twitter.com/rSuljGaco6
– Australian Progress (@ausprogress) June 24, 2020
‘Hong Kong people have no choice. The city is our home. We want to keep our home, be free, and we hope to keep our human rights protected. Especially for the next generation. ’ Bonnie Leung. Virtual Progress 2020.
Many topics were discussed in those two days.
There was a lot of focus on best practices for change. Marshall Ganz, known for his work in community organizing, led the way:
Mobilizing – is aggregating individual resources and deploying them somewhere – there's a place but – organizing is building power, and retain it ..
You need to do both… Ganz # VirtualProgress2020
– Australian Progress (@ausprogress) June 23, 2020
Mobilizing is adding individual resources and deploying them somewhere. There is a place, but organizing is building power, and retaining it …
You need both .. Ganz. Virtual Progress 2020.
A message expressed by many participants was that those who had lived experiences on the issues should have a central role in addressing the solutions. What did you say Kera Sherwood-O'Regan, disabled indigenous narrator and rights defender, from Aotearoa (New Zealand): “Nothing about us without us. We know our community. “
The American Imani Barbarin, an activist for disability rights and inclusion, agreed: “We are not here as decoration. We have something to say. “
The feminist economic recovery plan
In the final plenary session “All in for a feminist recovery”, Tuisina Ymania Brown, co-secretary general of ILGA WORLD (International Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans and Intersex) spoke vigorously about the challenges :
Do what WOMEN have done for millenia! We weave. We merge. We intersect. We connect. We interlace. We rinse and REPEAT until we have one gigantic unseverable umbilical cord connecting us to the mother of us all – ONE HUMAN RACE – ONE PLANET – ONE HUMANITY.
Do what WOMEN have done for millennia! We intertwined. We unite. We crossed paths. We connect, We bond and WE REPEAT until we have a gigantic and indestructible umbilical cord that connects us with the mother of all of us: A HUMAN RACE. A PLANET. A HUMANITY.
Despite the endless complaints from social media about online meetings during the pandemic, Virtual Progress was very well received. There was little criticism of the operation of the conferences and there were no trolls. Asher Wolf, a well-known advocate and lawyer in Melbourne, who spoke on some committees, had previously raised questions about enrollment costs, accessibility, and inclusion during Progress activities.
Australian Progress promised to act on this and has done so for this conference.
Wolf stood out at the federal government's Robodebt show, which was of course declared illegal. His determination has been an example to many:
“No matter what ways they break you, you still have to be able to form a fist” – fighting words from @Asher_Wolf! She says laughter and camaraderie in the #NotMyDebt movement were also crucial to beating #robodebt. # VirtualProgress2020
– Alyssa Robinson (@thatsironical) June 24, 2020
No matter how they break you, you have to be able to keep clenching a fist ”, Asher Wolf's combative words. He says that the laughter and camaraderie in the #NotMyDebt movement (not my debt) were also crucial to beat Robodebt. Virtual Progress 2020.
Nicole Paris, who was a panelist in 2019, highly praised this year's conference:
fair to say I have been a “critical friend” (annoying hassler?) of @ausprogress over years. This program wld have been inconceivable 5 yrs ago (tho my idea of a good time). Free places for mob, more accessible scholarships & truly diverse speakers. Yay for growth # VirtualProgress2020
– Nicola is (@peacenicsta) June 24, 2020
It's fair to say that I've been a “critical friend” (annoying nuisance?) Of Progress Australia for years. This show would have been inconceivable five years ago (so I think it's a good time). Free places for the crowd, more accessible scholarships, and truly diverse speakers. Bravo for growth! Virtual Progress 2020!
Linh Do tweeted this drawing of Desiree Llanos Dee (@deslikesdoodling on Instagram):
– Linh Do (@lmdo) June 24, 2020
What an amazing Virtual Progress 2020. Thank you to everyone who participated! I can't wait to catch up on content in the next month. 🙃
However, many activists will be waiting for the next conference “in the flesh” in the municipality.