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Interview with Mick Power, former LEAN Vic convenor

Mick Power was LEAN's convenor in Victoria. He is currently studying climate change and social change at Harvard. Read his reflections on being involved with LEAN and his thoughts on the battle for climate action, from across the sea.

1. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be involved in LEAN?

I got involved in 2010, just after the Rudd Government deferred the CPRS. As someone who really believed that climate change was the biggest moral challenge of our time, it was a pretty dark time for me. I had been a Labor member since I was 19, but now I started to question whether Labor was really the party for me. I switched off from politics. My membership lapsed. It wasn't until later that year that things changed, when I sat down with two of my Labor friends who asked me, 'so what are you doing to do about it? If things aren't working, how are you going to fix them?' I decided then that if I wanted Labor to be better on the environment, I needed to get more engaged in the party, not less. So I became a LEAN activist.

2. What have you been doing with yourself since you moved on from LEAN?

I'm now a Gleitsman Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I spent the last few years working on campaigns and policy in the environment movement, so this is a great chance to learn from campaigners and activists in the movement and the Democratic Party here in the US, and to get into the detail of energy and environment policy. My studies here are focussing on economic and energy policy, and my research focus is how to approach climate policy from a social democratic perspective - one that puts equity and vulnerable communities first.
3. How do you think major parties like the ALP can best respond to climate change?

In 140 characters or less? As a social democratic party I think it's really important to hold onto our core values of fairness and equity, and make sure that we don't leave low-income communities behind in the transition. As a major party seeking government, I think it's really important to include a broad cross-section of society in the climate policy conversation, rather than leave it to inner city greenies (like me ;-) ).
4. What role do you think a group like LEAN might have?

LEAN is such a rare but important beast in that it can connect a party of government with a grassroots social movement. As someone who has been involved with the environment movement and with the Labor Party, I'm firmly of the view that both the party and the movement are stronger together than they are apart. A party disconnected from social activists is hollow, and loses that grassroots power which is critical to change. A movement disconnected from a party becomes marginalized, limited to 'throwing rocks' from the outside. LEAN has this unique potential to unite the ALP, the environment movement, and the labor movement. 
5. You've been away from Australia a while now - what's the view like from over there?

On the one hand it's depressing because the Abbott Government is such a freaking disaster. But on the other hand it's really inspiring, seeing the progressive movement pull together and energise in the face of a common enemy. Watching tends of thousands turn out for the climate rallies in November, and more recently the #MarchinMarch this week, I was really inspired and I really wish I could have been there with you all. In a weird way, the progressive movement looks stronger than ever.
 
6. Is there anything we could learn from your experiences and studies in the US?
 
There's so much to learn from over here. For those interested in defending the carbon price, California recently fought and won a successful campaign to prevent the repeal of their emissions trading scheme. For those interested in intra-party grassroots activism, Organizing for Action continues to do really interesting work. For those interested in phasing out coal-fired power, the state of Massachusetts (where I am) is about to go completely coal-free. For those interested in Labor's relationship with the Greens, the Working Families Party played a fascinating role in the New York Mayoral race. If you're interested in this sort of stuff, I'm keeping a blog to capture it all, and you can follow me on Twitter at @mick_power.

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