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August 31, 2007

rethinking protests

Next week, the whole APEC circus comes to (Sydney) town. I've seen estimates of over 100 million dollars (well over in fact) being spent on security - which to tell the truth is little if anything more than anti protest (that is anti free speech) tactics.

Gaols have been cleared to make way for 1000 potential arrests (people serving weekend detention may stay away for the weekend - think about that - hundreds of actual criminals serving gaol time may remain unincarcerated to leave space for possible unruly protesters.) A large area of Sydney has literally been walled off (5km of 2.8m high fencing), and whole areas outside this cordoned off from their customary use for decades for security purposes, so that the wives and girlfriends of visiting leaders may have lunch in a restaurant.

And constantly there has been talk of how violence will not be tolerated, how water cannon (a lasting image of apartheid South Africa) are on the ready to tackle any unrest.

Now, last time there was a significant protest of this kind in Australia is was against violence, violence which has taken tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives, the Iraq war, protests that drew hundreds of thousands across Australia, with little if any unrest at all.

The irony of that.

Well, I have a suggestion as to how best to protest this time round.

Don't turn up.

Leave the streets empty, silent as the so many graves of Iraq. Shame a government that has spent hundreds of millions on an exercise in embarrassing self aggrandisement, by literally, and pointedly ignoring the whole exercise.
Let the police in their riot uniforms stand facing empty streets. Let the skies thunder with fighter jets and black hawke helicopters echoing thorug the empty empty canyons of Sydney - nothing would more infuriate a government yearning for the relevance of civil unrest (see, our opponents are violent and unruly, they seek to destabilise our free country, blah blah effing blah)
I'm not sure whether there are active organisers for any protest planned, but please consider a day out in the sun far from the centre of Sydney - a huge free concert at say homebush bay. An affirmation of our belief in peace, the quiet enjoyment of this earth, the power of life over death, and family, friends and society over a coercive, self important state. I am sure a roster of the biggest stars in the country would play for little if nothing at the last moment.
And I am sure thousands would donate money to make it happen in no time.

Those of us old enough to remember the rise and rise of Reagan and Thatcher remember the sense that their nasty ilk had inherited the earth, but we are here, and they are long gone. Let's not be defined by others, but define ourselves.

So let's forget the old dispensations of marching and chanting and banners. Let's affirm our lives, and life on a beautiful early spring day. Like Aboriginal elders famously a decade ago, let's turn our back on those we have no respect for, not march to their tune.

C'mon, you know it makes sense.

August 31, 2007 | Permalink


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That's a great idea John, unfortunately I think it will fall on deaf ears. The urge to rail and be heard is far too strong amongst those who would preach peace.

Posted by: Cameron Adams | Aug 31, 2007 4:00:24 PM


I think it's more a lack of imagination than any bad will on people's parts. I also do understand that people feel angry, disrespected, and unempowered, and so partaking in vibrant, energetic collective action can make us feel less like that.

But there is a time for focussing on outcomes, the consequences of our choices and actions, and that time has come.


Posted by: John Allsopp | Aug 31, 2007 4:10:56 PM

Fantastic idea. But the young and young at heart see action and taking it to the man as the only method of protest. The sad thing is the security organisers are often all to familiar with mob protests having come from the "protest generation" Ironic the protesters of old are now "the man".

The sad fact is the world and local media will obey the suggested unofficial gaging (suppression) of the "bad" aspects of the lockdown.

Posted by: Gary Barber | Aug 31, 2007 4:22:53 PM

Thanks Gary,

huge FWIW, but I've got in touch with http://www.stopbush2007.org/, and http://getup.org.au/ (nice site, anyone nominated it for the McFarlane Prize? Not yet, Hint Hint)

and made the suggestion. But I suspect marches, usual negative press, a bit of argy bargy dressed up as violence, a couple of hundred arrests (headlines "Hundreds arrested as anti APEC riots turn violent", rather than "no one arrested as tens of thousands peacefully enjoy a day ignoring the irrelevant APEC") evening news stories covering the silliest protesters, that kind of thing. It's so predictable it's ridiculous.

Posted by: John Allsopp | Aug 31, 2007 4:58:46 PM

We can always go fight the french... :)

Posted by: Gary Barber | Aug 31, 2007 6:02:10 PM

Please gary, it's spelt "cheese eating surrender monkeys"



Posted by: John Allsopp | Aug 31, 2007 7:02:36 PM

I'd love to see thousands of people turn up and have a quiet picnic wherever they can find a space. Then go home.

Part of this issue is that events like APEC attract people who want the excuse of a cause to get tooled up and have a crack at some police/barriers/etc. Some sort of primal scream/violence therapy.

Plus there are plenty of people who don't genuinely know what it's all about but they'll take the chance to act up - protest tourists.

The campaign to get high school students to join in is a cynical manipulation of young people at a hormonal stage of life - they have views, but they are fledgling, changeable views and should not be put to the extreme test of a potentially violent protest march. Should a 15yo risk getting hurt in the crush when they might well change their mind next week anyway? They should be left alone to observe from a safe distance.

For me personally what really freaks me out is that I live in a police state. My home is in a declared zone - I could legally be stopped and have to produce ID to prove I live in the area; I could be strip searched without any justification, while going to the corner store for milk. Helicopters are flying over us 24 hours a day - yesterday I was trying to watch the football with a helicopter hovering about 100m away. Civil unrest and protest is being met with state-sponsored, planned violence. They rate protesters as a worse threat than *convicted criminals* and despite the massive police presence over the weekend; a guy was beaten and stabbed in a hotel in darling harbour and the attackers weren't apprehended.

Yeah, I feel safe. Thanks a lot, Johnnie Howard, this really is the life.

Posted by: Ben Buchanan | Sep 3, 2007 2:44:22 PM

Nice post, the contrast of empty streets and riot police would definitely be a entertaining message.

Unfortunately Government's have a preference for people to only participate in their democracy at the ballot box. For this reason only I will be attending the APEC protests to voice my disgust at the war policies of George W Bush and John Howard.

Posted by: Michael Koukoullis | Sep 5, 2007 2:24:59 PM

I work in the city, and I have kept well away from the precinct of doom (i.e. I work on the west side) - but i have to say, that the traffic in general on the street has been very quiet. My only source of news has been ABC Radio, and t'internet (as they say in Yorkshire) - and the reporting on the "protests" has been an embarrassingly peaceful 250 youth go round near Central, and the Pleece winning their court case over changing the route of a march later in the week.

Not sure if the vast majority of protesters are treating APEC as an Olympicesque go round - a bit of a party, an unofficial week off with a long weekend at the end of it.

Thursday/Friday will be the litmus test, but I am every hopeful that a serious case of the protestational CBFs hasn't stricken the community at large, based on the fact that both Johnny F*** Face, and George W are within a collective 15 months of their political extinction.

Fingers crossed, our wishes will come true by default.

Posted by: Andy | Sep 5, 2007 8:52:46 PM

I meant that the CBFs HAD hit the protesters

Posted by: Andy | Sep 5, 2007 8:54:23 PM


This is why it's important not to simply turn our backs: Michael Koukoullis and I went to the protest today and this is what we saw and experienced:

Entirely benign and peaceful people wishing to be able to express their opinion. Walls (literally, shoulder to shoulder) of police around Hyde Park. Being sealed into Hyde Park. Old ladies with waking sticks begging to be allowed to cross the road to DJs so they could go to the toilet (all the loos in Hyde Park were shut). Families with crying babies asking to be allowed to go home to feed their children. A doctor who worked at Sydney Hospital wanting to get to work. All being denied the right to cross a road by riot police with tear gas cannisters and hoses on their back.

When I asked why we couldn't cross the road to get some food I was told "because I said so". Suddenly, with no evidence of noise or violence, a guy was being dragged by his hair into a police truck. At the same time, a couple of Apec delegates walked across the road with their sheepskin underblankets they'd just bought.

Everyone who was sealed into Hyde Park was filmed by the police. There were Human Rights observers (I think from the UN) on every corner writing down every conversation that took place with the police.

When I walked in the "No War" protest, there were no riot police. There were no water cannons or tear gas cannisters. There was no need for Human Rights observers. And there was no violence. And we went to war to make us safer? I see no evidence of that. Eddie Meyer of Channel 10 news was visibly shaken and upset by the police intimidation, and was saying so to members of the public. When the media is shaken, it's really time to notice.

Then we walked down to Circular Quay, around kilometres of steel and concrete walls. We went to a police car to ask which way was open. They were watching Lethal Weapon on a portable DVD player, they were so bored. This is our tax money! We walked past a vehicle inspection point which was worse than anything I ever saw at Checkpoint Charlie. Circular Quay was like East Berlin. You couldn't see the harbour because of the walls.

I have travelled the world, including to some scary places, and I have never seen anything like this. And yet, the Chaser guys can get through dressed liked Osam Bin Laden with passes that say "Insecurity" because they look like a motorcade. They were only found out because they dobbed themselves in.

It's important not to run out of town or say "oh this is just silly". We cannot look at this as an Olympic-style unofficial week off.It is necessary for people to say "I am a witness". It is a blatant and frightening elimination of our civil liberties.

And for what? So Johnny Howard doesn't lose face, and so his kids get to work for Halliburton. Do you think the Apce delegates enjoyed their time in this "thriving" (ie totally empty and sealed off) metropolis?

Stand up. Be counted.

Posted by: Deb Lander | Sep 8, 2007 7:51:04 PM


these are very fair and reasonable points. And bearing witness is vital. I notice that of course the mainstream press here don't cover this in any detail. All of us should be outraged from top to bottom by every single thing associated with this farcical week.

My suggestion was a tactical one. Nothing annoys the self aggrandising more than irrelevance. It would seem that the police and all associated with this joke of an event have egg on their face. The snipers on the roofs had one target this week, a TV comedy team. The police arrested about 4 people, including a father of three crossing the road who was then held for a day without access to his lawyer it would seem. 200 million plus was spent on "security".

Little JH lost so much credibility this week it is hard to imagine. Questioned about leadership challenges in a press conference with Putin.
So my suggestion was not to say it is silly - but from a tactical point of view, do the last thing the police and politicians wanted - they wanted scenes of violence and extremism, to paint themselves as the moderates - they wanted to reinforce the old narratives of the rabble versus the besuited expert and calm hand on the tiller. We need to learn to forge our own narratives. We can't win the established debate, we need to start new, more intelligent ones, not dictated by those who are always going to win.

The opportunity to do that has arrived, with ubiquitous mobile phone connection, mobile cameras, networks to connect us all based on common interest. It's time to use these new possibilities intelligently.

Posted by: John Allsopp | Sep 9, 2007 11:55:52 AM

I agree with you, of course, but if, as you say, the media is not reporting this, then someone needs to.

No-one went there with the intention of violence except the police, who were itching to do something and justify their expensive new "toys" and make them feel important (and to save face after the Chaser debacle). I felt they were deliberately trying to provoke frustration and violence by sealing us in and not allowing old ladies to go to the toilet.

I think it's also important that those who follow JH (and surely his days are numbered) know that citizens find this unacceptable. If they think we don't care, they will simply follow suit.

Posted by: Deb Lander | Sep 9, 2007 12:13:27 PM

of course she misses the point almost completely, but everyone's least favourite right wing nut Miranda is getting stuck into the police today over heavy handedness.

But if she can't see that if you give police almost unfettered powers, and create a n atmosphere of paranoia, fear, and breathless excitement as everyone in any sort of "authority" in Australia from the PM down has (all parroted and in no way questioned by the press here including most of all you Ms Devine) then is it any NSFWing wonder that the police act like that?

Posted by: John Allsopp | Sep 9, 2007 6:28:17 PM

Quite. Let's not forget that she only got stuck into the police because the guy arrested was a friend and she is godmother to one of his children.

Posted by: Deb Lander | Sep 9, 2007 6:50:46 PM

there you go.


Posted by: John Allsopp | Sep 9, 2007 7:21:43 PM