This is what (the suppression of) democracy looks like

16 Dec

In a similar way as Wikileaks  peels back the layers of obfuscation to reveal the twitching viscera of the American war-machine, camera phones & their almost total ubiquity allow activists the opportunity to document, in real-time, the reality of the cro-magnon machinations of the authoritarian impulse.

Forced to the ground, knee to the head. Photo by Veronica Evans.

Tuesday night’s fun in Sydney is in no way comparable to what the amazing students of Britain are up to at the moment, the S11 or to the no-WTO protests in Seattle. It would be stupid to draw the comparison, the march from Town Hall to the US Consulate in Martin Place numbered 800 people at the most, a mere drop in a bucket at any of those other events. Which is exactly the point – this was not a forum on international high-finance met by a convergence of organised activists, it was a speakout & peaceful solidarity march put together in less than a week. There were no ‘black blocs’ to strike terror into the hearts of everyday consumer types, there were no Molotov cocktails, no bricks thrown through windows, no fireworks or flares.

And yet, as organiser Patrick Langosch observed:

“The police told us this afternoon they would not allow a march because there were not enough officers available to facilitate the march”

“We arrived to find police everywhere, including dogs, horses, motorbikes and riot vans, clearly it was an attempt to intimidate protesters rather than any actual logistical problems.”

From the moment I reached street-level, an hour before the rally was scheduled to start, it was immediately self-evident that the cops had orders not to let a march full of degenerate lefty-pejoratives embarrass the delicate & precious so-and-so’s inside the American Consulate. It makes perfect sense, in light of what appears to be our government’s highest order of business: don’t be allowed to look stupid in public, especially in front of the Americans.

On this particular day, the pretext appeared to be Oprah. Since the evening before, despite several good-faith attempts on behalf of organisers, Police refused to allow permission for demonstrators to march around the block to Martin Place, home of the US Consulate building. After the mighty strain of fawning over a tv millionaire all day, apparently there weren’t sufficient resources to extend to a gathering in support of accountability, transparency & freedom of information.

Assistant Commissioner and Commander of the Central Metropolitan Region Mark Murdoch wrote a letter to the Support WikiLeaks Coalition, the organisers of the protest, denying them permission to hold their event.

He said the refusal was based on the fact that the group did not provide seven days’ notice of their planned protest.

“This is a requirement for all groups requesting permission to protest.

“This group gave one day’s notice of their desire to march along George Street from Town Hall to Martin Place in peak hour; this would cause too much disruption and was not acceptable,” Assistant Commissioner Murdoch said.

In the letter, he warned the group they did not “have the protection for obstruction type offences”.

Aside from the insinuation that marches organised on very short notice never go ahead (they do, I’ve been on several of them in the last year),  the (ludicrous) idea that disruption of traffic is a more pressing concern than the very fabric of our democracy was dealt with in fine style by Director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, Wendy Bacon:

This says so much about our style of democracy, I think it very much goes to the heart of Wikileaks: our democracy is about spectacle, spin & secrecy” … “this is just one in a [series of] endless attempts, arguments to sidetrack, confuse & obliterate the effect of Wikileaks

It damned sure seemed like that to me. This impression is reasonable I think, given the sight that greeted me upon arrival: a minibus full of riot police, dressed in their adorable matching jumpsuits.

A minibus full of riot police in front of Town Hall, a full hour before the protest was due to start

Great, I thought to myself. This bodes well.

Also on hand was a mobile command center truck full of big-cheese types, as well as dozens of regular uniformed Police, squad cars, paddy wagons and, of course, Police horses.


About 5pm, the cavalry arrived. They even reverse parked their horses.


A bit of tautology. But cool photo. Also note that they are standing in their own poo. By Mohsen Soltany Zand.

To call this intimidating presence an over-reaction is to be very charitable indeed, especially when you consider the ferocity of the assembled protesters.


Simply terrifying

Whilst egregious numbers of Police looked on, the rally kicked off about half-an-hour later without incident, as the crowd gathered to hear speeches from the Town Hall steps.

The view from the steps.

Thanks to Kate Ausburn, I needn’t hash out the details here, comprehensive video of the talks are available on her youtube channel. Most of the speeches are several minutes long, but I highly recommend checking them out as the speakers (including independent journalist Antony Loewenstein, journalist & academic Wendy Bacon, Greens MLC David Shoebridge & activists Kiraz Janicke and Patrick Langosch) did a terrific job. Several times during this portion of the event, speakers criticised the denial of a permit & the clear police intimidation as disgraceful acts of ass-covering for the international media circus trailing Oprah’s juggernaut. The crowd responded with jeers, booing and shouts of ‘shame’.

After both Langosch & Loewenstein questioned the crowd about whether they wanted to defy Police orders & march anyway, the response was overwhelmingly positive (from about 7:00), with chants of ‘march! March! March!’. Having been denied access to the road, activists instead resolved to take to the footpath, which one would assume is a perfectly legal thing to do. If the Police knew of some law prohibiting the crowd from hitting the pavement, they sure as hell didn’t tell us. And if they didn’t, the human cordon they formed to prevent the crowd from moving in any direction was an idiotic & draconian thing to do.


'You're working for the clampdown!' Photo by Mohsen Soltany Zand

Another tech-savvy marcher uploaded the following video, which does a very reasonable job of showing what actually happened here. The video is quite long & unedited, capturing quite a lot of the march, albeit it from nearly the back & a little away from the ‘fun’.

For the most part, the chain-of-cops trick was relatively restrained… mostly they just stood there, although I was at the St Andrew’s Cathedral end at one point where a few of the testosterone-dripping types got a little bit pushy. At this point, no big deal. Happens all the time, though very seldom with anything close to the huge number of police.

After finally being allowed to proceed down George Street, the march took off with gusto, raising banners aloft & chants that echoed though the streets. Crowds of commuters looked on in a mix of amusement, enthusiasm & casual annoyance. Some flashed peace signs. Many took camera-phone shots & videos of their own. The mood was buoyant, and despite being shoved about by the Police if we got too close to the road – which they shut down in order to patrol our stroll along the footpath, utterly defeating their own stated goal of avoiding traffic disruption & laying bare the profoundly craven nature of their obstructionism – it was a damn good time.

And this is just about where it gets ‘interesting’.


As the march was on the road, the horses were sent up to encircle us. Photo by Mat Ward.

In addition to the footage I posted late on Tuesday night, further (also better) video has turned up of what happened as the march started to cross the intersection. As activists paused, an active of passive civil-disobedience, Police began moving in on the crowd, revealing the terribly unflattering face of ‘state power’s swinging fists’, and it’s application as a tool with which to suppress dissent. Luckily, various cameras kept filming.

Whilst I was boxed in by Police & horses, doing a very poor job of holding the camera straight, Kate was able to shoot the following video showing Police tearing individual activists from the crowd (including around the neck & head) & throwing to the ground whilst anybody who attempts to intervene is shoved, thrown to the ground themselves or grabbed & left to be tug-of-warred between their friends & the fuzz. Horses & dogs prevented any alternate route of escape. Police also grabbed at banners, flags & placards… for reasons that remain inscrutable to me. Occam’s Razor suggests they did so because they can, and with impunity, thanks to our lovely corporate, primarily vapid gossip-oriented media.


The world's happiest animal, used for evil. Photo by Mat Ward.

The video is about five minutes long, and includes several minutes 0f footage from before the march ran out of footpath & attempted to cross the road – things start getting hairy about the 3:50 mark.

Police trap marchers on the corner whilst arresting those they managed to grab. Photo by Mat Ward, behind the Police line on the opposite side of the street.

After being encircled and manhandled by the Police, marchers were eventually forced onto the opposite footpath.

Photo by Mat Ward.

Whilst we were pinned on the corner, the police finished brutishly arresting marchers they’d managed to tear out of the crowd, to furious chants of ‘let them go!’ from both sides of the street. In the picture below, note that even though the guy on the ground has his legs crossed & pushed towards his body by one officer whilst the other sits on his head & back, the cop on his head still has him in a painful thumb-lock.


'The Apple Store Takedown' by Veronica Evans.

So you got someone to boss around / it makes you feel big now / you drift until you brutalise

-The Clash ‘Clampdown’

After carting away (I think at this point) four demonstrators, Police eventually relented and allowed the march to continue on & up into Martin Place. The below footage shows the march enter the plaza, and from about 0:30 in the video, captures a much better angle of exactly what happened to the guy I managed to record being roughed up & arrested whilst pressed against the steps. It then goes on to show a brief altercation as a Police officer has to be informed that he can’t just snatch a banner off somebody because he feels like doing so, before following the march up the hill to the Consulate.


Men in silly hats guard men with delicate egos. Photo by Mohsen Soltany Zand.

The march ended loudly, but peacefully, outside the Consulate with a renewed resolve to defend Wikileaks & transparency in government. As people began to disperse, some of us met to compare notes. At that point, there had been seven arrests & arrangements were made for immediate legal representation. Three were subsequently released without being taken into custody, whilst four were returned to the City Central Police station to be charged with… well… nothing. The Police instead fined them, to avoid having to admit they’d actually done nothing wrong.


A dozen or so of us gathered outside the copshop, waiting for those arrested to be released.

Four protesters were arrested, although none were charged and have received fines.

“Citizens were violently brutalised by the NSW police in the act of arrest, in order to enforce traffic violations that amount to a $57 fine”

I wasn’t arrested, those who were would be well within their rights to disagree as they got it much worse than I did, but I found this pretty hilarious… and I wasn’t the only one. Farce is a word that comes to mind.

Unsurprisingly, the story doesn’t appear in any of the 3 major Sydney newspapers, and coverage elsewhere has been very limited. Especially when in comparison to Oprah.

As opposed to drawing an absolute conclusion, I feel that the video pretty much speaks for itself, the most useful type of conclusion is to pose a few questions.

If the crowd was such a violent bunch of thugs, what’s the bet we would hear endlessly (and exclusively, as has happened to the brave students of Britain) about the terrible property damage done by those destable smelly smelly hippies? But… none of that happened. No damage.

So there’s nothing to discuss right? Not why a mass of people all thought this was something important enough to risk arrest for? Not what any of the speakers said? The roughing up of activists?

The tacit choice made by the NSW Police & NSW government to shower endless resources on the visit of a FUCKING TALK SHOW HOST, and subsequent choice to commit a huge contingent of officers & riot-squad (not to mention the vehicles, helicopter, horses or dogs) into suppressing a protest in front of the US Consulate? How about how that didn’t work, and that they’d have been far better off just sending ten cops to direct traffic whilst the march filed peacefully down the street?

Is it even important to acknowledge citizens marching in support of not only a fellow Australian (held on incredibly suspicious charges that even if found to be true, do nothing to change the voracity of the information provided by the organisation of which he is a part), but the basic concept of truth, and speaking truth to power?

It’s now two days later…


Thanks to digital democracy, and no thanks at all to the cops or the media, it’s on the record now.


Thanks to Veronica, Mohsen & Mat for the great photos. Uncredited photos are my own.

And big thanks to Kate for providing so much excellent video. Also to whoever smogg9 is.


Edit: My good mate Austin over at The Moon Under Water has a terrific video dispatch from the protest on his youtube channel.

But, in the spirit of freedom of information, i’m going to steal it and embed it here as well. It’s a must watch, featuring excerpts from speakers & a great interview with journalist & author Antony Loewenstein.


One Response to “This is what (the suppression of) democracy looks like”

  1. Ben Burke December 18, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Daniel, This is your best yet. Glad you were fortunate to
    not end up on the wrong side of the police Charge counter. This
    story comes to life in the strangest places. I talked to a young
    face in a country supermarket about how hard it is to buy
    cigarettes. She said, Wikileaks will bring a much needed
    revolution;-) May the Luck keep you out of reach of The

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