Tag Archives: activism

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…

Nothing?

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.

“Whose streets!? Our streets!”

15 Dec

I don’t have time to tell the whole tale right now, but a few media outlets have written about today’s protest in Sydney to show support for & solidarity with online whistleblower Wikileaks… you can get some of the essential details there.

Well, except that they’re all very reticent to criticise the Police for acting like brutish infants even when people were walking along the footpath. More of that tomorrow afternoon.

Right now, I just have raw video, but I think it’s important to share some of it now. I think it generally speaks for itself.

I’d suggest turning the volume down as, well, everybody is screaming.

Also, some photos I managed to take along the way. Hardly a comprehensive account, it’s hard to take a still photo when your local friendly police officer has you by the collar.

Egregious self promotion (with bonus discussion on hydrofracking)

26 Nov

My dear friends Allison Kilkenny & Jamie Kilstein from the DIY internet radio show Citizen Radio were gracious enough to lend me some time to talk about what’s been going on at Villawood Detention Center in the last couple of weeks, plus other despicable goings-on inside Australia’s mandatory detention regime.

The good news is I didn’t fuck it up. Or at least I don’t think so. Judge for yourself.

Additionally, some might say thankfully, I’m not the only guest on the show.

First up is Kate Sheppard, environment reporter from the very fine Mother Jones magazine talking oil spills, mine implosions, tar sands oil & hydrofracking – aka what Kristina Keneally is planning on doing in St Peters. For those of us who sucked at science, it’s definitely an informative listen.

Speaking of Siev X…

25 Nov

As I referenced the Siev X disaster in the last post (and the second video ‘Left Behind‘ all but explicitly invokes it), I think I can almost get away with crow-barring an already prepared piece in here.

I delivered this speech on the 23rd of October, 2010 to a rally calling for an end to mandatory detention at Sydney Town Hall:

To the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the owners of the conquered ground on which we stand today, the latest wave of rose-coloured proto-nationalism in the Adelaide Hills must represent a sickening irony. Australia, a nation of immigrants, founded on the imperial exploitation of open borders, that loudly proclaims it’s own fairness, magnificence & opportunity to anybody who will listen… before hastening to add that these opportunities be afforded only to those who’s ancestors arrived on boats at a different point in our history. Though most prefer lazily-guised dogwhistling to flat out racist invective, the message is clear – we’ve got what we wanted out of this land, declared it our own, the rest of you be damned.

For Leela Krishna, a young Tamil man from war-torn Sri Lanka, Australia embodied what it has always represented to desperate people. From the British Isles to Vietnam, from Africa to the subcontinent, from China to the Mediterranean; Australia has stood at nobler times in our history as a distant beacon of opportunity & safety. Now it seems, unless one is an offshore mining conglomerate, that flickering torch has been all but extinguished.

Leela simply hoped for another kind of existence – free from the shelling, the immense human misery of concentration camps, the roaming government death squads, the arbitrary arrest & imprisonment, and the very real threat of persecution due to his sexuality. Forced to abandon everything he knew and loved, Leela arrived on Christmas Island over a year ago. In the time since, Leela has endured systematic abuse of his rights under both the UNHCR & Geneva conventions, and has lived every day plagued with terminal uncertainty endured by every incarcerated refugee.

He has self-harmed and attempted to take his own life several times. He has suffered physical, sexual & emotional abuse at the hands of Serco’s footsoldiers; and despite being deemed a genuine refugee in April, he continues to languish inside detention whilst ASIO dither over security checks. Earlier this year as a campaign to free Leela from Villawood Detention Centre gained momentum, and a sponsor was found to house him in the community, Leela was suddenly and unceremoniously uprooted by the Department of Immigration and moved to Melbourne’s Maribyrnong detention centre, torn away once again from everyone and everything he knew.

The reason? None have been forthcoming, but the motive is not hard to identify. As a microcosm of the whole sordid affair, Leela’s experience perfectly personifies everything that mandatory detention seeks to do: hide him away, out of sight, out of mind. As a nation, we’re getting quite good at it. There is bipartisan agreement on the need to talk about human lives as if they were abstract, and the corporate media does their part with sterile, dehumanising language… to ensure that we do not recognise in Leela, or any other refugee, anything that reminds us of our own humanity.

Yesterday was Leela’s 21st birthday, a right of passage sacred to many Australians. But for Leela, this doesn’t mean a party, or cake, or laughter with his family and friends… it just means another day in a cage, waiting for the day that he gets to stand as a free man on the boundless plains to share that Australia proclaims in it’s anthem, uncertain that that day will ever come.

For Leela, and so many countless others like him; gone is the fair go, the mateship, and the recognition that though we hail from every corner of the world, we stand together as one people in a free land.

For the ten family groups currently on hunger strike in Leonora detention centre, the promise of Australia – it’s safety, it’s stability, it’s liberty – has similarly been replaced with the most wrenching & abject human misery: 10 months and counting of utter powerlessness, locked in glorified human cages, trapped behind razor wire.

Their first plea for asylum has already been rejected, and faced with terminal uncertainty as to their fate, they are so powerless that literally the only option they have left is to slowly starve themselves to death, in the desperate hope that we will heed their call of distress. As has been the case for so many others forced into such desperate actions, the silence must be deafening.

And still, our body-politic refuses to answer, refuses to help, refuses to admit that a problem even exists. First we were told that the over 700 children in immigration facilities were not being held in detention, rather ‘detention like environments’. Despite the myopic and flagrantly dishonest rhetoric of the Rudd & Gillard governments, who seek to defer vociferous domestic & international criticism, this is more than even under the Howard government.

Even the latest decree from the minister this week, whist superficially reasonable, is nothing more than a capricious political bait-and-switch. Chris Bowen assures us that even he agrees that children should not be held in mandatory detention, and that his department will move to alter their circumstances…

In June 2011!

How’s that for a rallying cry? ‘What do we want? A small improvement! When do we want it? By an arbitrary, non-binding date sometime next year!’

In return for this tiny improvement, which still would not guarantee the removal of all refugee children from immigration detention (in fact, the government has already ordered a new facility in the Adelaide Hills that will house 400) the Gillard government is hoping we don’t notice it’s other hand pouring yet more tax-payer money into a rapid expansion of Australia’s most infamous collective punishment facility, Curtain detention centre; and the construction of another 1500 bed prison in Northam, WA.

This is all of course on top of the huge diplomatic pressure currently being applied to East Timor; a nation battling profound disadvantage, poverty & the lingering scars of it’s own immense human tragedy; to step in and whisk the problem out of sigh & out of mind. After all, as a prosperous first-world nation ‘with boundless plains to share’, we are clearly not equipped to even offer the chance of a new life to those forcibly displaced by war, tyranny & manifest suffering.

If this despicable indifference, the willful ignorance, the perpetual divide-and-conquer racism is what it means to be an Australian, then I stand here today and proudly renounce my nationality. The inhumanity of mandatory detention, of offshore processing, of callous disregard for the rights of our fellow human beings is happening in our name, on our watch, and brothers & sisters the time has come to say enough.

We need political leaders with the courage to empathise, not demonise. We need institutions that serve a nobler purpose than the enriching of private misery-profiteer corporations. We need a government that is willing to acknowledge the blood 353 of our brothers & sisters that remains on our hands, and is willing to heed the lessons of such a disgraceful moment in our history.

If we are so free, if we are so fair, if we are so great; we need to acknowledge that mandatory detention dehumanises us all. Until the last lock breaks, none of us are free.