The Sydney Greeting of War Criminal
Dick Cheney, US Vice President

US Vice President Dick Cheney, world renowned for his neo-con arrogance and war profiteering, came to Sydney to talk up more support for the Iraq and Afgahanstan wars.

At short notice Peacebus.com joined with a group of friends calling themselves The Sydney Committee for the Welcoming of War Criminals and set about organising a welcome styled as Carnival of the Damned.

"Skellies will dance, witches and wrathful deities will stomp, ghouls and demons will wail a welcome to Cheney," promised the prepublicity.

Skellies did dance and a ghoul or two were on the street but in terms of numbers the Carnival turned out to be a small performance to a small crowd.

Not that a big crowd was to be expected on a Friday morning with only a week's notice. My expectation was fifty but the number in the Cumberland Street south, a protest site which had been negotiated with police and upon which I had laboured mightily from 7 am to set up with flags, banners and PA, never exceeded six.

This was because the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) had decided upon and advertised another assembly area, cnr of George and Essex Streets. This had not been negotiated with the police, and except for its proximity to George Street traffic, it was not a particularly good space, on a hill, two blocks down from the Shangri-la.

At first I thought that the crowd could be moved to Cumberland St south, which was closer to the Shangri-la, its towers and entrance in sight but 50 m away. But there were two factors weighing against this; first the rigid mind set of the StWC leadership and second, the presence of a pro Cheney group holding a welcome banner there.

To add to my woes my Carnival comrade, set up assistant and Skellie puppet dancer, Bob, was laid up as the result of a beating received from OSG police at the StWC organised rally the night before. Alone I carried and trollied the stuff in and prepared the space.

A friend came to my aid however and together we assembled the puppets and walked them down George street and danced them for a couple of minutes in Essex before the StWC ledership marched the crowd off to Surry Hills.

Frustration upon frustration, confusion upon confusion, I wear difficulty as an adornment.

And even so, our efforts had their influence. Better a small protest than no protest at all. All the news linked Cheney's visit with protests and it was as if we gave visual actuality to a widely held opinion that the visit of war criminal Cheney talking up more troops for Iraq was as distasteful a spectacle as it was inconvenient to CBD users.

For our troubles, the NSW Minister for Police, John Watson (ALP), labeled us as "ferals" and the Leader of the Opposition and US alliance lover, Kevin Rudd (ALP), called us "scum". ALP = Alternative Liberal Party.

Feral scum we may be but it would be wrong to think that we are a unified feral scum when it comes to designing and producing demonstrations of dissent.

The Sydney Committee for the Welcoming of War Criminals had conceived the Cheney protest as a welcome styled as Carnival of the Damned. But the StWC leadership had other ideas.

What does the StWC leadership think an effective protest to be? Judging by their actions it appears to be this: relentless tirades on a megaphone, a bit of defiance in the face of police directives, a bit of traffic disruption, a bit of argy-bargy with police lines, a few beatings of comrades, a few arrests and bingo! media attention and followed up with stories about the brutality of police on peaceful protesters.

Read all about it in the Green Left Weekly.

Some might hail this as bravery and heroism, the people's vanguard in action. I reckon it the stuff of knuckleheads and the punch drunk and reeking of denial. For sure it aint movement building.

This edition of Green Left Weekly, by the way, was its 700th. In this time of domination by corporate media, all praise for the effort behind this achievement - good to have the socialist alternative articulated. But geez i groan when i read such reporting. Change the date, the place and the context, and it could be any of a 100 actions produced and reported upon by socialists. Same narrative, same rigid world view.

Because I was engaged in police liaison for the Friday event, I was watching StWC production closely. Here's a different view.

The StWC leadership opened police liaison reluctantly and only after the police threatened a Supreme Court injunction. They had advertised rally assembly 5.30 pm on the Sydney Town Hall steps with the intention of marching on the US Consulate in Martin Place about 4 blocks away along George Street.

George Street is a traffic nightmare at that time of day and the StWC leadership know this. The police offer of Pitt Street as an alterative route was rejected it in the name of freedom of assembly.

The NSW Minister for Police, John Watson, had been embarrassed by a CBD gridlock caused by the visit of the cruise ship Queen Mary only a couple of days before. From the top he ordered that if the protesters attempted to take to the road on George Street, the police were to get tough - a "pro-arrest policy" is what he called it.

The crowd was small (maybe 100) and the police were tough. In the confrontation that followed 10 arrests were made and many a protester was bruised including my host and Carnival collaborator, Bob, who staggered home at 1 am after being held in custody for over 4 hours and released without charge.

He was staggering, he told me, because he had gone to the defence of a couple of women who were getting hit by police and was grabbed, held by three or more OSG cops, two of whom took turns at kneeing his thighs till he was unable to stand.

The next day the StWC leadership boycotted the assembly area offered by police in Cumberland St south, rejecting it as a dead-end street because it had no passing traffic, even though it was closer to the target venue.

The Friday protest crowd was smaller, maybe 60, though our efforts got many a thumbs up approval from passing office workers in that end of town.

The police presence was enormous overkill, maybe 500 OSG on the ground, plus horses and dogs, and back up armoured cars and Black Hawk helicopters. The Cheney security operation was in fact treated as a rehearsal for Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting which Sydney will host in September.

In Essex Street on Friday the StWC protest world view reached the height of its absurdity when after 2 hours of aural harassment of both protesters and police, the StWC leadership, in response to a provocative arrests of the two "trannie" police, marched the crowd off to Surry Hills Police Station in solidarity.

"Tranny cops" in costume and their arrest shortly after for alledgedly impersonating police offices.

This is over 2 km away and was guaranteed to exhaust the participants on that hot day. Death march of a protest. An anti Cheney protest was thus transformed into an anti police protest and marched off to die.

Meanwhile, when Cheney and entourage arrived at Essex Street by 40 minutes later, there was not a protester in sight. Just our left behind banner: "Sydney Welcomes War Criminal Cheney".

One could be forgiven for suspecting that the StWC leadership has been infiltrated by police agent provocateurs bent on creating confrontation with the cops in the lines in order distract from the target and to justify the huge, hugely expensive and hugely inconvenient (for other city users) overkill of security.

APEC security promises even bigger disruption for Sydney siders.

Peacebus.com is committed to making resistance visible during APEC. Another world is possible and Peacebus.com will be working todemonstrate it as artful, joyful and safe.

If this means by-passing the stale imagination of the old Sydney socialist block, so be it.

Graeme Dunstan
27 February 2007

For Carnival of the Damned pre-publicity, click here.

For background on the nefarious Cheney, see Mike Carlton's column
in the Sydney Morning Herald 17 Feb 2007
and
Joan Didion's review in the New York Review of Books, 5 Oct 2006

Click here for the photos of the Hicks Canberra Convergence
6 February of which Peacebus.com was a principle organiser.

Click here for the Home page of Peacebus.com

Click here for an index of past campaigns and productions of Peacebus.com


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Peacebus.com can be contacted in Australia on 0407 951 688
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graemedunstan@peacebus.com

 

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