Did you know that in 1914, students at Crib Point organised a strike after the Department of Education moved their toilets to a school at Shoreham for the summer break and failed to replace them before school started back?
Or that in 1970, 300 students from Mordialloc High School went on strike against rules banning male students from having long hair?
These are just two of the many protests in the long history of student activism and just one of the countless resources to be found on The Commons Social Change Library website – a fascinating record of events, and a repository of knowledge about social and political activism in Australia.
Established in 2015 by GetUp! and relaunched in its current form in 2019, all of the library’s materials are online and freely available to the public.
The collection includes educational resources on campaign strategy, community organising, fundraising, and much more – offered in a range of formats from videos to podcasts, manuals, case studies and how-to guides.
The Commons Library director Holly Hammond says its founders did extensive consultation with change-makers about where they gain their activist skills and information. This research found a need for a central repository where educational resources could be easily gathered and made accessible to others.
“The Commons Social Change Library exists to make activism smarter and stronger.”
“We were addressing a need,” says Holly. “There were various websites out there, but no one place gathering the collective wisdom of people engaged in social change. The Commons Social Change Library exists to make activism smarter and stronger.”
She says that the library’s visitors are engaged in various progressive causes and include unions and not-for-profit organisations as well as volunteer grassroots activists – “a really healthy mix”. The library contains countless practical resources for union and community campaigning.
“The library team will reach out to people when we see relevant content, often in response to a crisis or opportunity, such as the bushfires, or COVID, or gender or racial justice, or First Nations resources.
“We’re paying attention to what we’re sourcing, and we put together guides to help people find their way through the material and how it might contribute to campaign strategy or union organising.”
The International Trade Union Manual is one of the library’s most popular resources, providing a useful campaign planning template.
“Teachers are particularly interested in case studies of activist history to use as teaching resources.”
Holly also recommends the ‘tactic star’ – a way to identify strategic actions. “Often, we jump to what we’re going to do, but miss out some of the most important strategic steps,” she explains.
“Another resource that gets a lot of traffic is Bill Moyers’ Movement Social Action Plan, which covers different approaches to social change and why we might sometimes end up in conflict.
“Also, Naming an Advocacy Campaign, which helps you come up with a compelling name for spreading the message. And lately, searches show a clear concern about disinformation and how to counter conservative and far-right stories.”
The team is also finding that more and more teachers are accessing the library’s materials, especially about Australian activist history. They recently had a query from a teacher wanting to support young climate activists with information on low-cost resources and creative forms of activism, making banners and pursuing other forms of media outreach. He also got hold of the Climate Resistance Handbook.
“I think teachers are particularly interested in case studies of activist history to use as teaching resources,” says Holly.
“We’d love to hear from them about how they’re already using The Commons Library, what kinds of materials they would find useful, or developing new classroom materials.”