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Troublemakers, clowns and prophets

So said 16 year-old Pittwater High student Meagan Story at the National Christian Youth Convention (NCYC) in Parramatta in early January, about campaigning for change.

Ms Story was a guest speaker at the NCYC panel session “Troublemakers, clowns and prophets: a look inside the world of Christian environmental campaigning”, together with fellow young activists Zac Hatfield-Dodds and Tess Corkish. In a wide-ranging discussion, the speakers shared their motivations for campaigning, the connections between their activism and their faith, opportunities for and barriers to social change, and how to stay positive and effective in the long term.

Ms Story is a leader in the Youth Leading the World program, which is run by sustainability leadership organisation OzGreen. The program works with youth to explore sustainability issues and develop action plans to make change in their lives, schools and communities. Mr Hatfield-Dodds, a student of sustainability science at the Australian National University, comes from a family background of social justice and environmental activism. He is currently campaigning for the various structures of the Uniting Church to divest from shares in fossil fuels. Ms Corkish is involved with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s schools team, developing workshops and programs for school students to drive change for a safe climate future. She is a Catholic and studying teaching at the University of NSW.

Campaigning for change can be tough, and at times result in negativity, cynicism and burnout. Ms Corkish, Mr Hatfield-Dodds and Ms Story have each been involved in activism for some years, and shared how they stay positive and seek renewal. They talked about their cause as motivation, and valued the encouragement that comes through encountering and working with others on the journey. For Ms Story, meeting the other panelists on the day and knowing that there are other Christians campaigning for change was a boost. Ms Corkish talked about the role of humour, and related experiences of following both Kevin Rudd in a Nemo costume and Tony Abbot in a chicken suit. Mr Hatfield-Dodds spoke of the renewal he experiences going camping and spending time at the beach, in the mountains, and by the river.

To close the session, the speakers offered words of encouragement to people who are new to campaigning or are considering getting involved. “You are not alone. There is a campaigning niche for you. It might not be the organisation that you first come across, and it might even be something that you start yourself. There is a group of people out there that you can belong to and make change in the world,” Ms Corkish said.

“For people totally new to campaigning, I would say that it is a lot of fun,” Mr Hatfield-Dodds offered. “You can meet likeminded people, make some lifelong friendships, and get something worthwhile done while you’re at it.”

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