Demos editor and climate campaigner – Odette Shenfield

Odette moved to Canberra to study sociology and law. In her spare time, she enjoys playing Scrabble and guitar, writing, creating websites, editing for Demos and campaigning for a Fossil Free ANU.

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in North Fitzroy, Melbourne. My mum is an artist – she writes poetry, illustrates and authors children’s books, makes animations, and also paints. And my dad is a lawyer who specialises in child protection and criminal law. I have an older sister who recently finished studying Honours in Psychology. Despite moving to Canberra, I’ve always been very close with my family.

I moved to ANU to study Arts/Law, and I just finished my major in Sociology. I’m going into my fifth year this year and will probably be at university for the foreseeable future. Aside from studying and activism, I love listening to music and, when I have time, I play a bit of guitar. I also really enjoy making art, especially if I can link art and activism through things like culture jamming. I’m also a bit of a Scrabble-nerd and especially enjoy playing with my parents and grandmas.

I’d say I’ve been pretty politically engaged from a young age – probably due to my mum’s influence.

My first experience of activism came when I was five years old. My friend Katie started a Greenpeace club and promised free badges to those who joined. I wasn’t allowed to join because I had gladwrap on my sandwiches, but eventually I used my powers of persuasion to convince her to let me in the club. I remember being a bit disappointed when it turned out the badges were just a piece of cardboard with a pin on the back, but I stayed in the club, and while other kids spent lunchtimes building wooden cubbyhouses in the trees, Katie and I spent our time taking nails out of the tree-trunks because we thought they were hurting them.

Why did you start Demos Journal?

Originally a group of us wanted to start a progressive think tank. We quickly realised that without connections to a ridiculously wealthy philanthropist we didn’t really have the resources for such a project. From there we decided to try the more modest endeavour of creating a publication based out of ANU. Everyone involved in the project has different reasons for creating it, and for me, personally, my main intention was to create a platform that would be useful and engaging for activists campaigning on a broad range of issues.

One thing that unifies many progressive campaigns is that we’re up against an undemocratic, broken political system, where things like corporate influence, short-term election cycles and hegemonic free market ideology make it incredibly difficult for activists to affect change. I guess that’s part of the reason we decided to call the project ‘Demos’ – to create a space where people can begin to imagine a different kind of politics, a politics, to paraphrase Schumacher, as if people mattered.

Is there anything you’re particularly proud of having published through Demos?

I’m incredibly proud of the quality of work we’ve published in our first two editions. So many pieces have blown me away that I really couldn’t name one that I’m most proud of. Some of our work has come from really accomplished academics, poets, artists and writers, which is pretty exciting. But I’d have to say the experience I’ve been most proud of has been the pieces we’ve had from first-time authors or those initially lacking confidence to put their ideas out in public. It’s been really wonderful working with them to build their confidence and also to try to help them communicate their ideas to make them as clear and compelling as possible. I’ve felt really proud whenever we’ve had positive feedback from contributors that they’ve enjoyed the process or that it’s helped their confidence in writing.

I was also really touched when my sister wrote a piece in the first edition on scuba diving and climate change called ‘A Different Kind of Wave’. It’s one of my personal favourites so far and I think it really resonated with a lot of people.

What campaigns are you currently involved with and what did they emerge from?

The major campaign that I’m involved with is Fossil Free ANU, a campaign that’s existed for over four years and is one of the longest running divestment campaigns in the world! I got involved about a year and a half ago, after a conversation with a campaigner about why it was such an important campaign. The campaign initially started after some students found out ANU was invested in Metgasco, a coal seam gas company.

The objective of Fossil Free ANU is to get ANU to fully divest from fossil fuels. A lot of people don’t actually realise that ANU hasn’t fully divested, since when they divested from two fossil fuels companies in 2014 – Santos and Oil Search – the media reported it as though they had fully divested. They still have over $45 million invested in fossil fuels.

It puts us in an interesting position as a campaign. I think since ANU has already become such divestment champions (our former Vice-Chancellor practically sounded like a divestment spokesperson by the end of his term), it only makes sense that they should do the job properly and fully divest from fossil fuels.

This year is a really exciting one for the campaign because we have a new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt, who is a vocal climate advocate. We’ve been working really hard as a group to prepare for the year to make the campaign bigger and better than ever. We’ve also had lots of fun watching parody videos and getting some inspiration to make the campaign really creative this year. It’s a great time to be involved!

What do you think is needed to address the issue of climate change? How can we get involved?

That’s a question! I think if I knew the answer to that one I’d probably deserve a Nobel Prize!

I’d say I agree with Naomi Klein, who argues that climate change is inseparable form wider problems with our democratic and economic systems. I’m still unsure of whether perpetual economic growth and a habitable planet – or at least a planet worth inhabiting – are really compatible.

One of the pieces we published in our first edition of Demos was by Claire Gardner, who wrote about the limits of our climate change imaginaries by exploring climate change fictions. Claire’s an inspiring and wonderful campaigner with Fossil Free ANU who also did her honours on a similar topic to the essay we published. From reading her work and speaking with her, I think climate change is at least in part a failure in imagination of how things could be better and of how we can adapt the world to live within nature’s finite capacities.

I think part of the problem comes from our mentality that “there is no alternative” to capitalism, and that if you critique capitalism you’re automatically a radical communist. Frederic Jameson once said: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. I remember in the last class of a course I did on international political economy the lecturer asked everyone if we thought there would ever be a new organising system to replace capitalism and only a handful of people put their hands up, despite the fact that we’d spent a fair amount of the course learning about how capitalism is a relatively recent invention.

There are obviously a lot of climate advocates who believe it’s possible to address the climate crisis within our current economic systems, through pricing pollution, and for the sake of the planet, I hope they’re right. But I’d say I’m still an agnostic in this respect.

In terms of getting involved in campaigning for action on climate change, if you’re an ANU student, I’d recommend getting involved in Fossil Free ANU or the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC). Otherwise, there are heaps of groups doing amazing things. is one I find particularly inspiring and would recommend for anyone keen to get involved with climate advocacy. All of these groups are great because they make you feel a part of something bigger than yourself; part of movement that is really affecting change in this area.

The 2015 Peoples’ Climate March slogan was: “to change everything, we need everyone”. I think this is a good reminder for people considering whether or not to get involved in climate campaigning. It’s also just really fun to be a part of!

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