Why I’ll be at Occupy Perth (and the protests against CHOGM)

October 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

In my last post on Occupy Perth, I talked about the importance of getting involved if you want to help shape the Occupy movement in your area. Since making the post, I haven’t been as involved as I’d like to have been. A lot of my time and effort has been taken up with a tricky (and exciting!) project at work, and I also have quite a few commitments outside of work.

I admit, I’ve also been a bit daunted at the thought of trying to find a space within the movement and a frame for my involvement. People seem to have a good understanding of why people in the US feel the need to protest: read wearethe99percent if you want to know more. However, I’ve heard quite a few people say that people in Australia have nothing to complain about: we have a relatively good healthcare system and welfare safety net, and plenty of opportunities to pursue change within the system. I’m not sure that those involved in Occupy Australia events have managed to adequately get the message out that we recognise the differences between our situation and that of the US, but still have reasons to be frustrated.

Emily Manuel has written an excellent post over at Tiger Beatdown answering the question a lot of people are asking: Why do we need an Occupy Australia? Read it. Read it now. Manuel very clearly explains the problems with Australian politics, and points to some of the ways in which our media environment skews public opinion.

A sign, lit up in the darkness, that reads "No Left Turn".

'No left turn' by Matthew Aldrigde

I don’t know if the Occupy Australia movement is going to make a difference, especially given that its message will be filtered through the mainstream media. But I do know that I have spent the last few years trying to engage in community education, trying to be the change I want to see in the world, calling the offices of organisations and ministers to try to convince them to change their position, donating to causes I believe in, boycotting and buycotting…I’m far from being a brilliant activist, and I don’t devote as much time or energy as many other people I know do to this, but I have been trying. And at this stage, I feel kind of helpless because apparently we’re going to get an Abbott government, despite his ridiculous and regressive raft of policies. Maybe Occupy Perth will help, and maybe it will be just another protest that gets misrepresented and/or ignored, but it’s at least one more possibility for change that I can try to be involved in.

Anyway, despite all that I was still unsure about whether or not I wanted to keep being involved. I value the inclusion of diversity within the movement, of ‘One No and Many Yeses‘, but I’ve seen the way that gets distorted through the media, and so I don’t know how effective the protests will be.

Watching the video of the police breaking up Occupy Melbourne decided me:

Even if I’m not entirely comfortable with how some of the protesters have been framing their message, even if I’m ambivalent about the effectiveness of Occupy Australia in creating change…I don’t support this. I don’t support non-violent protesters being dragged away. I don’t support the idea that we need to give up on public space, allow people who have committed no crimes to be banned from the city centre:

I don’t support what’s happening in Oakland, or any of the other places around the world where non-violent protesters are being dispersed with unnecessary force. I don’t support the idea that all public space has to become controlled space, surveilled space.

Sign reading: camping without a permit is prohibited

One of the signs put up around Forrest Chaise over the last few days.

At the very least, I will be at Occupy Perth because I care about retaining spaces for visible, non-violent, civil disobedience. I don’t want to live in a society that silently accepts non-violent protesters being classed as ‘security threats’, where homeless people are tidied out of sight, where the ‘threat’ of a few people staying overnight in the city centre merits stern warnings and potential police action. I haven’t heard a single person speak in favour of anything except non-violent action around CHOGM and Occupy Perth, and I’ve heard the importance of non-violence emphasised over and over. This is not a threat.

I believe that our society should allow visible dissent, and not try to push it away into the corners. So I’ll be there, for a while at least, dissenting visibly.

Being present in public space

April 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

There’s a line from one of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books about homeless people that sticks in my mind: all that anyone wants from them is their absence. But everyone has to be somewhere.

In cities throughout the world, there are struggles going on over who gets to be present in public spaces, and what public spaces will be used for. Some governments, and some sections of the population, are trying to tidy away those who don’t fit in with their ideas of public space: the homeless, the poor, teenagers, the mentally ill.

Bangalore is no exception: the construction of the Metro is reshaping the city, parks are being taken over for government buildings, trees are being cut down. In July last year, 350 of the street vendors at Bangalore’s City Corporation Offices (BBMP) were evicted from the area they’d been working in for decades. As this article in The Hindu points out, this happened out of the blue, and with very little transparency.

In Perth, the state government wants to remove homeless people from the central business district during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in October. The attitude of the Police Minister, Rob Johnson, was made clear in Prior and Emerson’s article in The West:

“Asked in Parliament by Labor MP Bill Johnston about arrangements for displaced people, the minister said it was a stupid question.

“I will get a tent and a cushion,” Mr Johnson said. “Where do you live? We’ll send them around to your house if you are really concerned.””

It’s not surprising that this has happened. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again. The question is what we do about it. In Bangalore activists are doing their best to raise attention about the evictions, and to get some security for street vendors (read more in their press release).

I’m curious about what will happen in Perth. Opposition to CHOGM is already planned, but I wonder how many people will be insisting that Perth’s CBD is not only a space for shoppers or the be-suited hoardes. I hope that even those who don’t know or care about CHOGM will make some effort to preserve the openness of Perth’s public space.

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