Occupy Melbourne Forever
I like this quote by the late Howard Zinn :”I would encourage people to look around them in their community and find an organization that is doing something that they believe in, even if that organization has only five people, or ten people, or twenty people, or a hundred people. And to look at history and understand that when change takes place it takes place as a result of large, large numbers of people doing little things unbeknownst to one another And that history is very important for people to not get discouraged. Because if you look at history you see the way the labor movement was able to achieve things when it stuck to its guns, when it organized, when it resisted. Black people were able to change their condition when they fought back and when they organized. Same thing with the movement against the war in Vietnam, and the women’s movement. History is instructive. And what it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper. Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much, much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.”
This week we mark the first anniversary of OM and it’s obvious that things are quite different now. A year ago there were hundreds of people in City Square, we had a functioning and organized campsite, a working kitchen. The IT tent had a generator and was setting up a live stream. There was drumming and singing and dancing with the Hare Krishnas who paid a nightly visit. Overseas visitors dropped in, most notably Jello Biafra from the dead Kennedys, who gave a lengthy interview on the live stream, but also people from countries like Spain and Italy who were marvelling at the fact, that Australia, too, was part of the worldwide movement called Occupy. Little did we know what was about to go down.
After a week of political discussions, nightly GA’s, the establishment of working groups and general fun and getting to know people, on Friday morning the 21st October 2011 at 7 am we were given notices to move on. The notices looked like they were printed, so must have existed for at least a day, yet the police, who originally told us that we would be given plenty of notice (like 24 hours) lied to us. This was part of their tactic. Get people early in the morning, when they can barely muster a thought, let alone the option of a proper meeting, build a fence around them and start smashing their belongings. There were literally hundreds of police, a lot of them in riot gear , some on horseback. A standoff of several hours followed, while the city filled with additional supporters, who ended up blocking the Swanston St/Collins St intersection, yelling “whose streets our streets” while the protesters within the corral were dragged out , one by one in the most heavy-handed and unnecessarily brutal fashion. Not a single protester used any violence on that day. Think about that! (Watch the eviction video in the’ about ‘section of this webpage )
If we ever needed proof that we were “on the money” having an occupation in the first place, this was it . The state showed its true colours, clearly fearful of might happen, if people came together to air their grievances. We were called dirty hippies in the Herald Sun, asked to get a job by those brainwashed by the Herald Sun and told we didn’t know what we were protesting against.
But… the City Square eviction was only the beginning of the fight. The occupation continued for another two months in different locations, notably Treasury Gardens for one month and Flagstaff Gardens for another month. The heavyhanded eviction had given the city of Melbourne such a bad name in the rest of the world, that they had to tone things down a tad: no more fences , no more riot police, just plenty of council harassment. We had battles every day, being chased by council workers who claimed that we could not have “things” in the park–lots of tense moments, some arrests, but also a lot of fun trying to outwit them. it’s a long story that will be told at another time.
Obviously they were trying to break us, and while we held on for a long time, our numbers gradually dwindled. OM ended up pretty much going semi-underground in 2012, only having a small presence once a week in City Square and a small weekly overnight occupation by some diehards, which lasted through most of the winter. We were trying to work out what to do next and certainly had our difference doing it (and that’s putting it mildly). No clues came from the rest of the world, as most other occupations had also been broken up and winter in the northern hemisphere made it difficult to live in a tent camp.
Most of us gave up, at some point, feeling tired, sick and disillusioned, but we were re-motivated by others and slowly direct actions began to happen on a small scale, notably the TPPA mikecheck and protest , the actions in support of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning , the rally to end all wars on September 11 and the Global Noise gathering and support of pro-choice activists. In a few days there will be a live action commemorating the eviction.
On Monday we had a little anniversary celebration in City Square. 15 to 20 people maybe, but others would have been there if not for the fact that a lot of us do actually have jobs and families and lives. Still , that small gathering was a reminder of the best times we had during the past year, people having discussions about the law, where money comes from, politics, Robert Doyle and freedom. There was music , provided by a ghetto blaster and the very talented and persistent Chris Simmons on flute . Like old times , the cops came to visit, suspiciously eyeing the “things” (toys) we were giving away. I wonder whether they understand that we need them oh so badly for our comedy routines, their presence instantly doubled the fun we were having and we were sad that they left so soon.
The point is, it’s not about the numbers anymore. One person with the right tools can change the world, just look at Julian Assange. While our number may be smaller at the moment, the connections between us are now deeper and we will be organising ourselves. Also, most major people’s movements of the post-war period were successful and the oppressors will continue to find themselves on the wrong side of history as they were after the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests. And it’s not about the physical presence of a tent city, but the fact that we are now everywhere and the so-called authorities can’t tell what we will be doing next, but one thing is for certain, the world is on the brink of financial, political and environmental meltdown and we won’t be giving up any time soon. Expect Us.