Giz Watson is currently a Member of the Western Australian Legislative Council. This interview focused on leadership issues, so for further information about Giz’s accomplishments, particularly as a politician, see http://www.mp.wa.gov.au/giz-watson/aboutgiz.html
Giz was born in England in 1957. Her family was Anglican and she was educated at a Methodist High School, but her mother became a Quaker as Giz was growing up. Giz’s mother was “very smart, very involved in community and social issues” and Giz describes a family environment that encouraged the questioning of authority.
Giz says that it is Quaker values that have shaped her attitudes to leadership and consensus building, although she is now a Buddhist.
Throughout her schooling, Giz took on leadership roles, including speaking on behalf of others when she could see that they needed her help. She says that it is at school that you learn how the system operates, and how injustices can arise. As a young teenager, Giz was asked by her school to be the negotiator for a group of students who had undertaken a revolt against the school administration.
When asked about her approach to leadership, Giz says: “If something needs doing – taking minutes, making the tea, sneaking over a fence – I’m happy to offer myself to fill roles. I’ve never sought to be a spokesperson and I don’t much like public speaking although I’ve learned to do it. I feel much more comfortable working as the facilitator of decision-making”.
Giz’s tertiary education was in Environmental Science, but she is also a registered builder and worked as a builder for some years (including being part of an anarchist building collective in London!).
Her introduction to environmental campaigning came in 1978 in opposition to the proposed expansion of Bauxite mining in the jarrah forests of south west Western Australia. There was direct opposition to the construction of the mine. Click here to listen to Giz talking about the Wagerup occupation, which was the second direct action environmental campaign in Australia (after the NSW Green Bans).
Soon after this part of her life, Giz went overseas and became engaged in anti-nuclear peace campaigns and women’s politics in the UK
We established a ‘train the trainers’ network for non-violent direct action for the Greenham Common and the anti-base campaigns – running training weekends every weekend for 2 years.
What I loved about this type of work is that it is about so much more than the issue you’re targeting at the time. It’s about building a network of skilled and empowered people who can apply their skills to anything that comes up.
From 1985, Giz was back in Australia and busy building houses on the south coast of WA, and being involved in issues like the disposal of sewerage in Albany, and peace groups, in her limited spare time. Giz and her mother were both involved in the Albany peace group and the early days of The Greens WA.
Then in the early 1990s Giz became the Coordinator of the Marine and Coastal Community Network in WA and worked in that position from Perth for 5 years. Applying for the job was a novel experience as it was Giz’s first formal job application “I could put down all the work that I’d never been paid for as a community activist”. Giz sees the MCCN as extraordinary fortuitous preparation for her political career – “I hadn’t previously done that level of consultation with different, potentially antagonistic stakeholders.”
Networking can be done in a whole range of ways. I have a fundamental interest in how a community interacts and breaks into interest groups and sectors – how they interact, what’s the glue and the common ground.
Giz ran three times for election for the WA upper house before winning on her fourth run in 1997. Even though Giz’s life before election was full of activism, becoming a politician was a change of pace and focus. You can listen to Giz talk about the changes her election made to her life – particularly to her family life with partner June and their children (who were teenagers at the time).
Giz describes The Greens WA’s shared approach to leadership. The organisation has two co-convenors who can speak to the media on party matters, but there is no hierarchy within the organisation. This model, says Giz, is potentially very resilient, but also dependent on much more rigorous attention being paid to relationships within the organisation.
Leaders that Giz admires include Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Emma Goldman – “ people who have a spiritual underpinning to their direct action, where the ends don’t justify the means.”
Many grass roots environmental organisations work with non-hierarchical structures, and even some larger organisations. Giz has talked about this approach, and I’d be interested in your thoughts and experiences. Please comment!