Strolling through those automatic doors, with miles of tile floors and white lights lining the walls of mannequins and advertisements with new clothing was ‘the thing’ to do as a High School student in Melbourne, constantly seeking out the newest additions to the nike running shoe collection, bright coloured party shirts from Supre and infamous 2XU leggings (owned by much of the 13 year old population at the time). The answer to school stress was a chick flick day at the shopping centre, spending almost every dollar in my wallet, buying more things for my overflowing wardrobe to lift my mood and automatically boost my enthusiasm. Not that I needed this boost, but it was an addictive high when purchasing a bargain. “You can’t pass this one down, it’s only $9.99!” I’d tell myself, inevitably to become buried by the other 6 scarves I never wore.
This was the reality of 13 year old Ruby - clueless about money and the value of things and desperately trying to fit-in with her peers. Influenced by Nike’s advertisements, fashion trends in the school yard and social expectations, it was very unusual in the social scene to have a half-empty wardrobe.
Two weeks ago, myself and 9 other students from Green School visited a forest occupation on a coal mine in Hambacher forest, Western Germany. This mine extension not only threatened the already vulnerable climate, and biodiversity of the land, but also the spirituality of the people to the forest. A group of 30 activists currently occupy the remaining forests, camping in treehouses, and living off the land -- resisting the consumption of fossil fuels and the exploitation of the forest. Their lifestyles changed drastically as they chose to move themselves into the frontlines of climate action. Giving up their education, jobs, income, family and past life in the capitalist system in Europe, they now live in the simplest of ways. Many call themselves ‘freegans’, only consuming leftover food, and products that are destined to landfill, and relying on supporter donations to continue the occupation efforts. What amazed me the most whilst meeting these people was how content and calm they were, without secure incomes, homes or many belongings. With most occupants owning only one small backpack, their community is based off of sharing, individuality, and the nonexistence of power.
The occupation, moving beyond capitalism fuelling greed for coal, is an anarchist community. All residents are expected to work together to maintain their own camps, and help contribute to the maintenance of the entire occupation. Without power figures in this mix, all the occupants contribute their own skills in order to keep the community in balance. The idea of balance removes the ideal of privilege, status, wealth, and inequality -- all of which fuel the capitalist system worldwide.
In this anarchist society, it is clear that there are no symbols of hierarchy or power compared to others, in fact, one occupier spoke about their new program offered to newcomers; these are weekly meetings to talk privilege and minority groups, making sure to place these people in the correct mindsets to fit in the anarchist system.
The activists, with clear intentions and passions for the protection of the land, is a contradicting behaviour from what is seen in the shopping centres of Melbourne, and the consumerist society I was once a part of. Living off of the land vs. walking through miles of stores shows a clear disconnect between the land and self when engulfed by consumerism and its ideals. Without the expectation of wanting new things, and battling for social status with the consumption of products, their community has the space to protect what they truly are passionate about -- protecting the forest and ending capitalist greed.