The Customs House Square rally and the move to the police lines at the Opera House on Tuesday evening 30 August was the fruit of 30A Network organising. The next day, Wednesday 31 August, was the young anarchists' day in the sun, or such sun as might reach them in the glass tower canyons of the metropolis.
The Forbes protests was a confluence of two close but separate organising streams.
One was the 30A Network which comprised socialists, unionists, greens and old anarchists like me and we met to plan the action each Tuesday night at the Gaelic Club in Surry Hills, near Central Railway.
Bruce Knobloch and Vince Caughley, comrade members of the International Socialist Organisation branch that meets in Newtown, drafted and disseminated the Call to Action on Forbes in February. Out of the Call to Action came meetings of the 30A Network, an event based collaboration of activists, which had a bank account but no constitution or legal structure.
We started meeting in April and from beginning of June the meetings, open and based on consensus decision making, were weekly. Over the months people came and went, no meeting ever bigger than 20, Bruce chaired and steered most of the meetings and it distilled down to a core of about 8 who were committed to the action and enjoying the company.
30 Network poster designed by Amanda LeMay, May 2005
The other organising group were the young anarchists, largely student activists from the Sydney University and University of Technology Sydney campuses some of whom met on Wednesday nights in the UTS Union and a nearby pub. From the one meeting I attended I can report that the student bloc had twice the attendees and twice the feist of the 30A Network.
The 30A Network at my early prompting engaged in police liaison and, assuming police infiltration as inevitable, acted openly, putting meeting decisions up on the 30A list and signalling clearly both our protest aims and intentions.
In the age of total surveillance, we agreed, the best response is total openness, total upfrontedness. The aim of our 30A organising was to get noticed and getting noticed by the police was part of it, or so it seemed to me. Furthermore the ground of our 30A association was legitimacy - legitimate citizens expressing legitimate concerns and asserting our legitimate rights to assembly and free speech. So we had nothing to hide.
By contrast the young anarchists scorned police liaison as time wasting and talking to the enemy. Their ideology told them that police, as coercive agents of the corporate state, must be expected to be obstructive to protest. Furthermore they neither assumed, nor sought to assemble, a big crowd.
They chose to act as small "affinity groups", a successful tactic at the Melbourne 2000 World Economic Forum protest. They called themselves Mutiny bloc, Green bloc, Student bloc, Black bloc and so on. Also assuming infiltration by secret police as inevitable, at their planning meetings, they made clear their intentions to act but did not discuss openly the details of the target, the timing or the action. For their needling protests they needed the surprise factor.
Organisers within the blocs presented training workshops in non violent action in the weekends leading up to 30A and bottom line agreement amongst them seemed to be that the actions, whatever they were, would be non violent: by which they seemed to mean disruptive for corporate business, but non injurious to the corporate servants and innocent bystanders, though corporate property damage such slogan stickers on walls and office furniture was acceptable.
This parallel organising was particularly evident in the weekend before the Forbes action, 27 & 28 August. Both the socialists and the young anarchists organised parallel "warm up" conferences, one called the Social Forum, the other Subplot. This old anarchist, busy as he was making and preparing stuff for 30 August, had no time to go to either.
Bruce Knobloch later observed it was the best yet Social Forum in terms of content, but the worst attendance, except for the James Goodman session on Forbes, which was packed. I heard no direct reports of Subplot but I guess it had maybe 60 interstate and out-of-towners involved because a good chunk of them billeted at STUCCO and met there for a Forbes protest Spokespersons Council on the evening of Sunday 28.
So it came to be that on Wednesday 31 August, while a massive police contingent stood about in readiness to defend the super rich conferencing at the Opera House fence from another onslaught of people power, nothing much happened at the fence that day.
Instead the young anarchist chose to be where the police were not; they targeted corporate headquarters up town and bore witness to corporate greed and war profiteering with surprise appearances and surprise occupations.
There were some15 different actions and the ANZ and Wespak banks and the giant US war profiteer, Halliburton, were major among them.
They certainly made the presence felt: The ANZ closed down its banks and tellers for three hours.
Anti-globalization protests rock Sydneyreported The Sydney Morning Herald next day. See http://smh.com.au/news/national/protesters-stopped-from-bringing-down-the-house/2005/08/30/1125302566134.html
Education Bloc action outside the ANZ Bank, 31 August 2005
For taste of the actions, read the report of the occupation of the offices of the coal exporter Xstrada by hoLLy of Green Bloc. See www.peacebus.com/30A/ Xstrada.html
Because I was talking to police, the student bloc organisers stopped talking me lest intentionally or unintentionally I informed upon their planning. We never have perfect information, so I accepted this and laboured on doing best I could in the everyday confusion of events and changes.
On the evening Sunday 28 August, two days out from 30A a so-called Spokesperson's Council took place in the 30A Creative Workshop where I spent so many hours day and night in the weeks preceding. Imagine my surprise (and delight!) when returning after a long soak in a bath after a long day on my feet to find the room packed with people, maybe 60 of them, in urgent communication and planning.
But no one thought to invite me to the meeting or tell me what was being planned. As much as I could gather from a running order left hanging on one of the drying lines, Sydney Town Hall was an assembly point at noon next day. So next day I loaded Happy Wheels up with PA, backpack puppets and flags to go support them, best I could.
Student activists don't seem to have access to motor vehicles that can carry things; indeed traffic by-passing pushbikes are preferred for these swarming actions. But the trouble with bikes is that they cannot carry much, no hands are free for carrying drums, flags or placards. So Happy Wheels also got loaded up with the first aid kit and the Reclaim the Streets wheelie bin, battery powered PA and its operator, a young man dreads and a nose ring called Raj.
The STUCCO crew were 30 minutes late in departing but I waited for them lest I arrive too early and was alone confronting the police as on the previous evening. But when Happy Wheels jumped the kerb and entered Town Hall Square there were neither police nor protesters. Bob helped me put out flags and unload the gear. A blue shirted Council worker appeared but not to ask us to move on: he came admiring the flags and took pics of them against the Town Hall architecture.
Happy Wheels unloading in Town Hall Square, 31 August 2005
When the STUCCO biker swarm arrived phone calls were made and we learned that their fellows had already set off down George Street. So off they biked to catch up, followed by Bob and Raj on foot with the Wheelie bin PA, leaving me to repack the flags and stop-start down George Street in the stall of traffic that the students had created.
I texted the only contacts I had amongst the students asking them to give me a place to come meet them, parked Happy Wheels at Observatory Hill above The Rocks and lay on the grass in the sun, waiting, reflecting that waiting even in the most epic battles is what foot soldiers do a lot of. No call
Not the only one unable to find the protest actions of the young anarchists, a reporter from national Radio JJJ equally lost somehow found useless me in his searching. I also fielded an interview on ABC Radio Western Australia pretending I was somehow near the action. From where I looked over the CBD the only sign of it was a police helicopter which hovered over some corporate headquarter tower or other.
At about 3 pm I went for a walk through the Quay intending to check out the Opera House fence but instead came across a remanent of the Reclaim the Streets bloc in Customs House Square, their element of surprise now well blown. They numbered less than 20 and they were huddled in urgent discussion in the centre of the Square. About the periphery of the Square were maybe 200 OSG police standing side by side.
Surrounded in Customs House Square, 31 August 2005
Talk about surrounded and outnumbered. No flags, little signage, no presence, from the outside the protestors looked from the outside like rounded up wild animals, cornered quarry.
Walking through the police lines and into the Square, I passed Superintendent Cullen as he strutted about in full view of his inward looking subordinates, triumphant in his oppression of protest. He greeted me with a smile and for something to say I asked: "I have some flags on bamboo poles I want to bring in. OK?"
"Flags okay, poles not okay," Cullen, a man of firm resolve.
Straining to hear at the periphery of that pathetic huddle I learned that they were planning to disperse and reassemble in 30 minutes at the Stock Exchange. I was still straining to hear what was proposed when Superintendent Cullen came up and declared the assembly illegal and ordered the group to disperse. "You may leave in ones, twos or threes. You will not be harmed passing through police lines." Thanks ever so much.
In the Square I met Bob and Kirsten from the 30A Network and adjourned to the nearest pub for a beer. Bob who had followed the young anarchists down George Street reported on the blockade of the ANZ bank ("making a killing in Iraq") with great enthusiasm.
By the time we got to the Sydney Stock Exchange, there were police everywhere including the cavalry, 20 mounted officers lined up across street and all this for less than 20 ragtag protesters, a come and go swarm, persistent but with little coherence and coordination at the end of the day.
Flea bites on the back of corporate capitalism, and the scratch response was a clumsy and over the top deployment of blue. It had cost some 8 arrests but the point of their witness was plainly made.
Mounted police guard Stock Exchange, Bridge Street, 31 August 2005