Fossil Free campaigner Erica shares insights about developing the skills to run an effective campaign.

By Erica Finnie

I’ve just spent a week on the fringe of the Dandenong Ranges National Park in Belgrave, Victoria with some of Australia’s most inspiring campus activists. This was the second training retreat as part of Australia’s Fossil Free Fellowship, a six-month training in community organising. It’s been nearly three months since I started the fellowship in July, and it’s pretty overwhelming to reflect on how our campaign has grown.

The community organising model I’ve learnt in the fellowship has been fundamental to strengthening our campaign. Community organising is a leadership practice to enable others to achieve a shared purpose in the face of uncertainty. The aim is to move beyond mobilisation and engage activists to lead and have autonomy over campaigns. Community organising is a vital approach to shift power imbalances and address the complexities of climate change: climate justice won’t happen overnight and we need to involve supporters who will lead change long-term.


We’ve been campaigning for fossil fuel divestment at the University of Auckland since November 2014. Our campaign has relied on a small core team of committed volunteers, whose hard work has led to a petition of 3,000 calling for divestment; support from the Faculty of Science Sustainability Network; endorsements from a range of students’ associations and clubs including AUSA; and increasing awareness of climate change and fossil fuel divestment on campus. It’s been an incredible amount of work for a small team, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of it.

The fossil free fellowship has allowed me to understand the importance of sustaining, strengthening and growing our campaign team. This isn’t a semester-long battle. In order to achieve divestment from fossil fuels, we need to demonstrate overwhelming support from students, staff and alumni to the University Council and University Foundation. We need a core team of volunteers with shared values and skills to run an ongoing campaign that can be sustained beyond semester timelines. Building strong relationships and growing our team has been the focus since July, and wow-it is going well!

Students pour "oil" on their diplomas to protest UoA's investments in fossil fuels

Students pour “oil” on their diplomas to protest UoA’s investments in fossil fuels


We’ve grown our team to over 10 core members and another 10-15 regular contributors who come to meetings, take leadership on tasks and actions and keep the campaign running. Our petition is 3170 signatures strong and has flourished since we started a weekly petition stall on campus. 191 staff members have signed an open letter calling for the University Foundation to divest. We held a great speaker event to celebrate those showing leadership on climate change, and calling for Stuart McCutcheon to do the same. We’ve shared lots of skills through training workshops within the team and through collaborating and sharing resources with other campus teams.

I feel incredibly privileged to learn from the Fossil Free Universities team: Ray, Vicky, Keith and Mark; and other Australasian students involved in fossil free campaigns at their universities. The training, theory and support I’ve had have contributed to a more structured campaign at the University of Auckland.

Click here to tell University of Auckland to divest from fossil fuels!