You Don't Need a Weatherman
Direct Action on Climate Change,
a report on the Newcastle Climate Camp
10-14 July 2008
Some locked-on to the rail, others to the rail wagons, others climbed on top of them, danced and threw off lumps of coal, and still others played chasey with cops along the track.
The outcome of all these shenanigans was a shut down of the Port Waratah coal loader in Carrington, Newcastle, for 7 hours.
That was on Sunday 13 July when the first ever Climate Camp rallied 1000 people to parade to the port in protest against the reckless export of coal from Newcastle, which, at 80 million tonnes a year, is the biggest coal port in the world.
The next day was a day of independent actions in and about Newcastle. Some of us rallied outside the office Michael Costa MLC, NSW Treasurer, Minister for the Hunter, ALP thug, climate change skeptic and cabinet front man for privatising power generation in NSW and promoting expansion of coal exports.
Meanwhile a bunch of just three students went back to Carrington, locked on and again stopped the coal loading, this time for four hours.
Given that the Carrington ship loading facilities operate at 2,500 tonnes per hour, these blockades represented a major disruption of the so called Hunter Valley Coal Chain which is already strained to keep up with export demand.
All praise to the courage and determination of the protestors.
The Climate Camp itself attracted some 200 participants who camped for 5 days in Wickham Park which is about 3 km for the coal loader.
The camp was organised by a coalition of climate change activists of which Rising Tide (Newcastle), Friends of the Earth Australia and Sydney), the NSW Greens and Resistance (Sydney) where prominent. Greenpeace Pacific was also there but in the background, a sponsor to the tune of $20K, I understand.
Most prominent was the Rainbow Chai Tent and the glorious flags and banners of Benny Zable.
In truth the Chai Tent was the heart of conviviality and comfort both for Climate Camp and the annual Students of Sustainability Conference which preceded it and this year took place at the University of Newcastle.
Gratitude to the dedicated service of Michael Jack for his efforts in setting it up and coordinating the volunteers. And also to the band Nimbin activists who supported him; Benny, Brigitte, Binnah and Dan to name a few.
Peacebus.com was there too with flags and lanterns and its mobile PA was of service both for Camp announcements and also at the actions.
It was beautiful camp, part because of the Nimbin color, but more so for the uplifting companionship. In these times climate change is the issue that is attracting the best hearts and minds to the defense of the Earth and the welfare of future generations.
Lots of young people from all across Australia, neophytes staying on from the Students of Sustainability Conference mixing with seasoned activists with years of blockade experience from the forest campaigns in Victoria, SE NSW, WA and now Tasmania.
The activist consensus seemed to be that Climate Change was the big one; fighting for forests which will likely be destroyed by climate changes makes those campaigns subordinate to it. Climate Camp was the opportunity to focus our efforts and maximise our impact.
Of the Camp organisation one is tempted to say "so professional" but activism is more a lifestyle than a profession and what was making the Camp work so well was the goodwill, collaboration and extensive experience of bunch of committed and well seasoned activists.
Many were the faces and personalities familiar to me from previous actions and the flags and presence of Peacebus.com were familiar to many others through thoses action and www.peacebus.com.
No question that the best of the best were gathered at Newcastle Climate Camp and, overarching, was a sense of our threshold place in the history of big changes coming.
Amongst these young people were the leaders of our tomorrows.
If we are to have tomorrows.
The Camp organisation reflected the best of modern protest practice. Participants were required to sign an agreement committing themselves to, amongst other things, non violent action, consensus decision making and a dry camp.
Core to the organisation were "Action Groups" and a "Spokesperson Council"which was the forum for the former. After the Welcome to Country, there were meetings about camp safety and about setting up consensus around Action Groups.
There was a safety committee and grievance procedures, a media group and a legal observers, a band of clowns and a junk percussion group, and for the first three days an intense program of workshops and meetings.
Consensus building involves a lot of talky-talky and the young folk running these sessions do it in pairs, sitting cross legged on the carpet out front and they are skilled in the way of meetings and inclusiveness, quick, articulate, insightful and responsive. They seem to get high engineering consensus. Good on 'em.
The first consensus meetings were spell binding performances and by the end they had their whole audience so in tune that they were grinning and laughing along like one big happy family.
But for all the leveling of consensus decision making, Climate Camp was not a flat structure.
For months prior there had been an organising collective getting the event together and, based on their skills and experience, they continued as such. The consensus making processes served more to give the defacto executive useful feedback and others a sense of participation rather than any control.
There was a certain respectful and admirable maturity in this and wise and tolerant latitude for the anarchism ("no masters no slaves") which is the core sustenance and practice of environmental activism.
Black Block, the overt anarchists who are to be distingiushed by their preference for black clothing, were into signing nothing and their camp was not a dry camp.
Most people camped with friends and affinity groups in pup tents about the grass adjacent to the playing fields of Wickham Park. The Resistance group out of solidarity with South American activists called their camp "The Barrio".
Tall amongst the organisers was Steve from Rising Tide Newcastle, who went about getting this and that done with untiring effort and a quiet manner. He was effectively Camp site manager and marshal of the Sunday rally.
Nat Lowrey from Friends of the Earth Australial ed the way on media working cell phones and a broadband connection in the Reception Tent. Georgina Woods from Rising Tide Newcastle, Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth were prominent as a media spokesperson for the Camp. And the light manner and bright intelligence of John Preston formerly Friends of the Earth Brisbane, now Greenpeace but on paternity leave, was a mover at meetings.
Holly Creeanne, an award winning activist and a law and media graduate from Sydney University and UTS, whom I had met at Lake Cowal and before that at the Forbes protests in Sydney, was out front on the mike at the rally of Sunday 13 July. She is a powerful and articulate speaker.
No question that grrrls were major players at Climate Camp, more of them than males and they were up front, feisty and brave.
In the Rainbow Chai Tent chow line I got talking to a young woman called Amy who told me she was from the Mandura area of WA. Nineteen years old, blue eyes, blonde dreadlocks and with the cold winds blushing her fair cheeks she was pretty as a peach.
She told me how she had grown up on a property adjacent to a forest, her parents avid environmentalists, and she had always been an outdoors, horse riding kind of gal. While doing volunteer work at her local Environment Centre, she read about the campaign to save old growth forests in Tasmania from wood and decided that there was where she had to be.
Together with two friends, boys 17 and 16 years, she set off and arrived in Hobart without any money or contacts. But angels were watching over them and on the first day in Hobart they met other forest activists, given a place to stay and plugged into the campaign. She had spent 7 months in protest camps there, loving it.
What an initiation that must have been. Good for Amy obviously for she exuded confidence and strength.
Children were also a significant part of the Camp, there were toddlers and also a band of boys who whizzed about the Camp on the free bicycles which had been brought along for Camp use.
Willow and Max, sons of Binnah and Freya, Nimbin activist friends of mine from years back and me like an uncle to them, were such a . The super confident Willow took to the Peacebus.com mike and delivered a series of jokes.
But it was the toddlers and their brave mothers who took my heart.
One such was Hope an enchanting just fifteen months old and I met her on site the night before the Camp was due to begin.
Her mother Valerie, a seasoned activist, had come from Rosebank (between Nimbin and Byron) on public transport carrying Hope and their gear on her back. We camped together, me in Happy Wheels and they is a tent that night sheltering from the wind in one of marquees which blew down in the night.
From the back of Peacebus.com I cooked Valerie and Hope a hot meal and supported her in keeping Hope warm, clean and happy. Hope bonded to me and there after in the Camp whenever she saw me would come running up, greet me with a big smile and a dance.
Another brave mother had come from the same area with two blonde haired children, Bee, 12 months and Aden 3 years, again on public transport, baggage on back and in a pram. We got to talking when she came to say how much she appreciated my efforts with flags and lanterns.
Sitting together on the carpets in the Rainbow Chai tent, Bee and Aden also bonded to me. It was as if Grandpa Graeme was cultivating an Action Group of mighty midgets.
And more mighty midgets to come I expect, for every direct action campaign is a conception field.
Here were the best of young people standing up alive, mixing it with hormones jumping in a context of inspiring ideas, uplifting friends, valiant actions and shared excitement.
if you were between lives and wanting to jump back into the Samsara of these times, wouldn't you choose such parents?
Cold winds blew relentlessly, gusting to gale force during the set up and for the first two days and nights of the Camp. They scattered our minds, chilled our bones and blew down our marquees.
But the adverse conditions got us working together right from the start, driving steel stakes, holding ropes and tying things down.
'Winds of change' was the metaphor that came to mind, and for sure those winds were blowing hard and blowing us about.
The third day dawned clear skied and calm but with frost on the ground. Steve, a born and bred Newcastle lad, told the Camp on the PA that it was the first frost he had ever seen in Newcastle.
I had dreamed of making lots lanterns to light the Camp, but the wind frustrated my progress by blowing over the work tables in the Arts Tent and scattering the work so that it was crushed by the bodies and the gear of people who sought shelter there in the night.
The next day the pernicious winds blew paper from the lantern frames before the PVA glue could hold it, so I scaled down my lantern ambitions. With some helpers we managed to make 16 which were arrayed with flags on poles about two of the central camp fires so providing colour by day and soft ambient light by night. Looked great.
But the Arts Space continued to be an irredeemable mess. In part this was due to the lack of dedicated supervisor, in part due to the lack of space.
The marquee provided was too small, cluttered with piles of materials that had been dumped there for making banners and props and it was expected to serve as a talky talky workshop space too. The workshop also lacked both work tables and tools.
At the request of the organising group, I painted a lead banner reading "Time for Action!" for the Sunday parade in the Arts Space. Marking out and painting took me a whole day in conditions that severely tested my patience. Muddled and stressed, I got measurements and proportions wrong and generally wished I hadn't offered to do it in the first place.
The job was done on the day before the Rally and Parade amongst the clutter of the Arts Tent and alongside other last minute art makers.
Why are the visuals for actions, the stuff which will feature in photographs and videos as an enduring legacy of the actions, get such little planning, preparation and care?
For fastidious me, it was like painting time in a pre school for demented and art challenged sloganeers.
The outcome for the most part was shonky art (including my banner), wasted materials, unwashed brushes, disappearing tools, fabric ink used as paint and not drying in damp of evening, work lying about being trodden on, smudged and staining clothes. Ugh!
The general rule is that talkers have little time for making and makers have little time for talking. Climate Camp was a talkie talkie place and activist art was not a priority there.
The big internal conflict for Climate Camp was its relation with the traditional owners who were represented there by Peta and Arthur Ridgeway.
My respect for this couple is immense. They are strong upright people, passionate about sovereignty and judging by their bright and polite kids, great parents.
I had met them before during the Batcave days in Newcastle and flotilla blockades on Newcastle Harbour in 2006 and 2007. They had also been prominent at the Students of Sustainability conference at Newcastle University in the days before.
Such was my respect for them at SoS that when a rumour came by that support was needed for the National Day of Aboriginal and Islander Organising Committee (NAIDOC) rally and parade in Newcastle. I assumed that Arthur and Peta were behind it and since I could not find them on the campus and the event was due to start, I also assumed that they had already departed and I rushed away downtown with flags and poles.
After talking my way past the cop manning the road closure, I drove up to the crowd which was outside the Newcastle Civic Centre. Maybe 400 brown faces there but almost no signifying flags or banners.
The speeches were winding down and the parade about to start. With no time to speak to any organisers, and with the help of my friend Chrissie, I set to work rigging koori green flags on the pavement and getting people in the crowd to hold them.
That this was presumptuous I was acutely aware but in my mind was the memory that Peta had admired the koori green flags which Peacebus.com carries and one time asked for me to bring them to an event she was organising in Newcastle.
|Later i learned she had designed another flag to represent the Kattung Sovereign Nation, one with eagle and shark; air, land and sea. No black, red and gold circle, which she reckons co-opted has been by government and unrepresentative of present sovereignty aspirations.
Twice I was challenged in doing this, first by the police inspector overseeing the rally and then by a man whose badge identified him as a NSW Green. Each time I invoked the name of Uncle Arthur and continued my work.
The Newcastle NAIDOC Parade took off east along King Street. There were only eight flags but they gave the parade visual cohesion, dignity and significance. They were willingly and proudly carried by complete strangers who remarked to me how beautiful they were.
By this time I realised that Arthur and Peta were not part of this event.
The Parade led us to Foreshore Park where a temporary stage and PA was being set up. I tied the flags to planter boxes in the park and also either side of the stage for which there was no other dressing or signage.
This time I consulted the actual organisers of the event, two kind faced uncles who said how pleased they were to have the flags. One of them asked me for my card so that he might organise to have them again next year.
When I explained i had brought them expecting Arthur Ridgeway to be there, they replied saying that it would be good if i brought brother Arthur next year too.
Because the flags had visually defined the event I decided to wait till it was over before taking them in.
Four hours later ... But it was a lovely event. While kids whooped it up on an inflatable slide, 400 people sat about picnicking in family groups listening to excellent music from well known koori bands and performers; country music and hip hop. Tears came to my eyes listening to those sweet sorry songs.
Back at SoS I explained to Arthur what had happened and how I had come to use his name in vain. Arthur was testy. "Speak to me before you do that again," said.
Seems he does not identify with NAIDOC. NAIDOC used to be NADOC before 1991 and the inclusion of Torres Strait Islanders was for Arthur a big mistake. For him the concerns of Torres Strait islanders are different from those of main land Aboriginals and they have brought the Mabo decision and the mess of Native Title upon Aboriginal organising.
NAIDOC may have the numbers when it comes to Newcastle koori community organising, but no question the Ridgeways had Climate Camp. No one at that rally talked climate change and i have heard no other people of aboriginal descent speak of it as passionately and as articulately as Peta and Arthur.
Of Climate Camp their expectations for the recognition of Kattung sovereignty had been high and there had been plenty of goodwill in the lead up.
On behalf of the Kattung Sovereign Nation, Peta and Arthur opened the Camp on the first day in a ceremony made awkward by their request that no one enter the Camp till after their welcome to country.
While this might be a respectful thing to do, on a public oval it seemed contrived and also impractical given that participants had been coming and going over the two days previous, setting up marquees and their tents.
As a result the first meeting of the Camp took place near the Reception Tent and it was kind of squeezed for space, ad hoc and made difficult by an inadequate PA.
This PA was a solar powered wheelie bin unit with car stereo speakers which, while loud when near and powered up, lacked the projection in open space that horn speakers have. Peacebus.com PA to the rescue.
With this difficult start Peta and Arthur delivered their welcome to country somewhat contentiously and less than auspiciously.
Arthur used the opportunity to grumble that his wishes in regard to Camp entry had not been respected and dispute the existence of a clan named referred to in the introduction. He was no doubt right but to me it didn't seem to be the appropriate occasion to be saying it.
Peta also got into some challenging polemics. "Why are you looking to aboriginals for eldership? Why don't you respect your own elders. They are among you. I look around and I can see them."
There after the meeting went into housekeeping type announcements about the conduct of the Camp and the Camp got into its core business viz, organising direct action against reckless coal exports from the port of Newcastle.
But the inauspicious welcome to country augured ill.
At the SoS Conference where we had come from, the Ridgeways had a story telling camp with the only camp fire permitted on the campus and also a major role in the program.
Climate Camp by contrast was action oriented and apart from aspiring to respect protocol, it had no particular focus on sovereignty issues and no particular role for Peta and Arthur after the welcome to country.
Arthur had been keyed up at SoS and maybe Climate Camp seemed to be a let down for him or worse a betrayal. Whatever, his sense of marginalisation festered and blew up big time on the night before the Sunday rally and parade.
I was made aware of it when woken from sleep at 11.30 pm by my friend Paul telling me Arthur and Peta were in effect spitting the dummy, withdrawing their welcome and blessings on the Camp and they wanted the koori flags brought in.
Groan. "Okay," I said. "You do it." But I kept me to my bed, yearning for the return of sleep.
No way. There came another knocking. "We want to use the PA to make a Camp announcement". This meant moving the van and setting up the mike.
Peta was most solicitous, her voice endearing and soothing as this old man separated himself from his doona and did as he was bid.
"What's your grievance," I asked Arthur as I put out the mike.
"Lack of respect for elders. We have been treated very badly," he replied with the vehemence of a deeply insulted man. But he was not specific.
When he got on the mike, anger rang in his voice and inwardly I groaned again as my wits came to me and I realised the impact of what was happening.
How disrespectful of the young warriors to be creating such a drama on the eve of a major confrontation with the coal industry and its protecting cops. To me this was not wisdom of elders.
I was moved to move my bowels and wandered off. When I returned the koori flags and poles were piled up and the Peacebus.com PA abandoned. I de-rigged and folded up the flags, re-parked Happy Wheels and went back to bed.
Next morning while tying down poles on the Peacebus.com roof rack, Steve came by and I asked him what it was all about.
Meat, he said. Seems it had been a management decision to provide only vegetarian food, the common denominator preference for most there. Meat eating was not forbidden but if it was wanted, meat eaters had to provide their own meat and separate cooking facilities.
Later I heard the matter went deeper than this. Arthur and Peta were eaters of traditional game and felt misunderstood in this regard and, worse, confronted and abused by animal rights folk.
But at bottom Arthur and Peta were not getting what they expected, they were feeling offended and maybe excluded and this had happened somehow despite all the talk of inclusiveness, all the state of the art consensus engineering, all the skill of facilitators and meditators and the grievance procedures.
Under my radar too. I had been head down painting a banner, making and deploying lanterns, too busy to go see what was happening for Peta and Arthur. And such was the case for all those whose attention was on organising and preparing for direct action, the core goal of the Camp.
But so it was we went into that day of action with the bad taste of fractiousness and no koori flags flying.
Early the next morning, the day scheduled for independent actions by the various Action Groups, a big circle meeting was held under a koori flag on the far side of the Camp. Most of the camp participants were there.
A messenger came to fetch me prompted I assumed by Peta and Arthur. But I declined knowing it would be a long meeting, lots of soul searching, apology and contrition. Once again I was task focussed packing Happy Wheels for the action outside Costa's office. Eye on the ball, that's me.
Looking back I regret the choice. The set up could have waited and maybe I might have avoided the troubles that came after I set off. But so it was that my narrow visioned urgency denied me participation in an important dialogue about respect and eldership which would have served me more profitably.
From reports i heard after, the reconciliation meeting was a significant one. Apologies and regrets were expressed all around and Arthur and Peta were with us again.
I know the boys and girls of the Resistance Barrio, the organisers of the Protest Michael Costa rally, were pleased to have the issue resolved before that action. Later outside Costa's Newcastle office Peta and Arthur welcomed us activists to country and later took the mike again and spoke strongly and articulately about restraining coal exports.
Everyone agreed the incident had been was all very regrettable. The wind up elist posting of the organising collective said it this way:
"A shortfall in our organising led to an ongoing lack of communication with the
traditional owners we had been working with and the breaching of protocols we had agreed to uphold. It has been a significant lesson for us and we donŐt think it
could happen again in our group after the experience."
With the koori-green flags vetoed, the dressing of the Camp and the Sunday rally took on a Eureka theme and I pitched a high Eureka flag at the centre of the Camp.
In my mind was the painting of the camp at Barcaldine, Queensland, during the Great Shearers Strike of 1891, with white tents all in lines including one designated as a Library and the Souther Cross flag flying proudly.
The Barrio boys and girls had decorated their camp with a low slung Southern Cross and when they saw me lifting high the "Cruix della Sud", as Eureka stockader and author, Raphael Carboni, named it, they warned me it would be challenged.
And I soon was by a young woman of Asian descent. She wanted to know what the flag meant and what its association with racism.
I was only too pleased to tell her. Truth is, I grab any and every opportunity to tell the story of the Eureka rebellion as a core story for understanding liberation politics in this land.
For me it is the story of courage in the face of tyranny, of blood sacrifice and big political changes put in motion, a big win for the downtrodden. The quintessentially Australian "fair go" ethic begins at the Eureka Stockade.
Before the Eureka rebellion of 1854, Australia was a group of penal colonies of the British Crown run by squatters, served by penal labour and protected by corrupt regiments and later corrupt police; After Eureka these colonies became world leaders in liberal democratic reform, striving to federate as a republic.
Direct action, solidarity, direct democracy and internationalism is what the Eureka flag signifies. In this land it is the people's flag and it flies whenever men and women stand together truly and fight to defend their rights and liberties.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of assembly. Freedom from police harassment and corrupt government. Freedom from the oppression of the rich.
And the right to a fair trial and equality before the law, and more contemporaneously the right to clean water, clean air, nourishing food, adequate shelter, good health and a livable climate; now and for future generations!
Later that evening that curious and alert young woman and sat beside a brazier and I told some of the Eureka story. It went on for about hour and maybe my passionate intensity exhausted or even daunted her but i heard no more questioning my Eureka themed flag displays.
The Black Block boys of course loved the imagery, the Anarchist A flag in particular.
So it was that Eureka imagery and Eureka spirit was strong amongst us at the first Climate Camp.
I put those flags out at the Sunday public rally, I put them out at the Protest Michael Costa rally and, when i returned to the Camp afterwards, I put them out again together with lanterns to make it welcoming for the return of the young warriors, an ambient salute to their courage and success.
The flags defined space, delighted the eye and uplifted the spirit.
Thus was the courage of the ancestors remembered and respected.
When Peta threw out her challenge about "respecting your own elders", briefly her eyes caught mine. I knew what she was saying and so did the other gray haired grannies and seasoned activists in the Camp.
They were there to be seen helping out in the Chai Tent and sitting at the rear of meetings otherwise dominated by the articulate young, as if invisible, observing, listening and rarely speaking and never asked what they were seeing, hearing, feeling or thinking.
Me more visible because of the flags and lanterns, but even so i never felt my experience creating cultural movement and organising events and protests was valued. I was certainly not included in any planning.
Except for the Sunday rally that is and that was because the use of the Peacebus.com PA for Camp announcements had demonstrated how mighty effective the horns are in open space.
But distracted by painting the wretched banner in the wretched Arts Space, when i agreed to do the production for the Sunday rally, I neglected to speak of my needs, particularly in regard to police and poles .
Based on what I had heard from Nat and my experience at previous Newcastle protests, I had the idea that that it would be no problem, that the cops were being cooperative and that the liaison was in the hands of two competent young women.
One was Gemma, who is a staffer on maternity leave from Lee Rhiannon's office and someone who had been very helpful to me in regard to Cyanide Watch. The other was Wenny, one of the stars of consensus engineering whom I had seen in action before at the Anvil Hill Activist camp.
In preparation for the Sunday rally in the late afternoon of the day before Gemma and i went together to check out the rally assembly area where the PA was to be set up, the parade route and destination and I had asked if the cops had said anything about poles.
Now cops, me and poles, in particular, the 4.2 metre seasoned bamboo poles that i carry on Peacebus.com and use to rig flags, have a long history.
Flags and banners on long poles give parades and rallies, significance, colour and dignity. But based on an incident back in the Vietnam protest days when poles supporting placards were once used against police, the police standard for protests is to deny protesters the right to carry anything over 2 metres.
After denials, broken agreements and physical struggles with cops I had won back the right to bear flags as proudly at protests as one might at an Anzac Day march or a parade papists.
My police liaison friends tell me these pole disputes are now the stuff of training lectures at the Goulburn Police Academy and used to illustrate how to negotiate win-win outcomes for protest events.
In the end it came down to trust. In this I was able to stand on my record as an organiser of artful and peaceful protest events. I understand that, if they were ever to be used as weapons against police, bang! goes the goodwill and tolerance; no more poles.
"Nothing said about poles," said Gemma in replied to my inquiry but I was soon to realise that she didn't know what i was talking about.
After walking the ground of our coming action together, Gemma and I parted with me understanding that we were to meet at the assembly area next morning at 9 am and that police liaison would be there too.
At that meeting I assumed that i would be able sort out the pole business with the cops directly.
But Gemma did not turn up at 9 am as promised and when i phoned her she apologised for forgetting me and said the meeting with the cops had already happened elsewhere. In her mind, police liaison was none of my business.
With the help of Georgina of Rising Tide, her 6 year old son Able and other early arriving participants to the rally, I rigged flags on their poles and arrayed them at the assembly area in Islington Park, multiple flags to each steel post ready to be carried in the parade.
The set up looked mighty impressive.
Seems the cops however were unimpressed and while the speeches were going on, I learned that the police had let it be known that no poles over 2 metres would be permitted in the Parade.
Now those poles of mine had been in the streets at protests in Byron Bay two weeks before, outside the Lismore Court and Richmond Area Command and in the Nimbin Mardi Grass parade the month before that, in the streets of Katoomba for Cyanide Watch the month before that, at the gates of the Lake Cowal gold mine at Easter, outside the Australian Federal Police Headquarters in Canberra in February and last September they were in Hyde Park during Sydney APEC, the most over policed event Australians had ever witnessed.
To say the least i was unimpressed by the police liaison for the Sunday rally. At once, I went to Gemma and told her so: "This is failed police liaison. You have negotiated away hard won rights."
"Don't tell me that, Graeme. I've got enough problems." she replied jigging wee Rosa in her sling. I guessed among other things the Ridgeway walk out was on her mind.
"Let me talk to the cops," I replied. Shrug.
Soon after Wenny appeared in front of me. "I am here to inform you that the police have said no poles over 2 metres," she said. It wasn't information, it was a directive.
"Take me to the police commander and let me sort it out," I said again. This idea was so way out for Wenny that she couldn't even reply, lost for words.
How come this young and inexperienced woman had put herself between me and the cops and was telling me what was what?
How come it was assumed that when it comes to negotiating with grey haired police commanders, young women with meeting skills, one of them carrying a babe in a sling, were to be preferred as negotiators.
How come a passionate old man with a long record of producing safe and artful protests events and fearlessness in giving lip to cops and truth to power was not seen as an asset? After all age and experience is something valued in police ranks.
At Climate Camp agism prevailed in the assumption that direct action is the provence of the young and that it has no history and no story that goes from generation to generation.
Another part of the answer is the feminisation of public safety management.
There seemed to be the floating assumption within the Camp that crowds are only as safe as the comfort of the most fearful and vulnerable. Although the stats on homicide and assault say otherwise, women see themselves as being most at risk and therefore the better gender to be in command of safety management including police liaison.
It was as if Wenny assumed that her girlishness, and Gemma, with her baby slung between her heart and the cops, that her maternity would appeal to the higher nature of the cops, humanise them and so give the women some kind of negotiating advantage.
"Here," Gemma's body language would appear to say, "is the most vulnerable one. I am here to ensure that this event will be so safe that my baby and all the other vulnerable ones will go home after it unharmed."
Let me digress with a story about this babe. Her name is Rosa and she is about 3 months old. Her father was also in the Camp, a member of the organising collective and I watched Rosa waltzed about, her parents alternating, as they went about their organising chores at the coal face" .
Once Grandpa Graeme, Camp coach for the mighty midgets Action team, got to hold her, relieving busy Gemma of her precious burden for a little while.
Now it is the practice of the Police Media Unit in the lead up to major protests to propagate fear and doom so as to discourage participation and preemptively bias public perceptions. For the Sunday rally the police media had announced that if children went onto the rail corridor, Department of Community Services personnel would be on hand to "take the children away".
Chilling words ... and based on lunatic fears within police ranks
Sitting with Rosa on my lap I had an insight into where the idea may have come from.
"Rosa, dear one," I said with empathetic tone, my eyes looking deep into hers. "Do you know the police think we are going to stop trains by throwing babies such as you onto the rail tracks. Poor thing."
Her sweet face crumpled into an inconsolable cry and i had to return her to her mother. Failed grandpa-ing.
In truth the foundation of Gemma and Wenny's humanising hopes in police liaison was fear.
Fear distorts judgement in gross and subtle ways. It is irrational, the stuff of lizard brain, pre-emotion, pre-verbal and, as a foundation for action, shifting sands.
When it comes to fear, cops have also got it over all. They are invested with the legitimised monopoly on violence; they have extraordinary powers of arrest and detention; they have guns, clubs, gas, attack dogs, armour and crowd busting calvary. Intimidation is what they do.
Without noticing it, Gemma and Wenny with all the goodwill in the world had become message bearers for cops rather than defenders of rights.
In fronting cops you have got to show you won't be intimidated; you have got to be respectful but also totally present, fearless and hopeless.
"Like a lion I have no fear. Like a elephant i have no anxiety. Like a madman I have no pretension and no hope." is how Milarepa, the 12th century Tibetan saint, described this optimum state.
Furthermore you must understand that the commanders of these big police operations, for all their powers and weaponry, have a lot to lose.
They know they are being watched. If they fuck up and are left with a mess that puts their commanders and their parliamentary masters in the headlines and drags on in the courts,it is not only lose of face for them in their own the ranks, it is also end of career.
As my hard core anarchist mate, Ray the Pirate, later pointed out, there is a paradox to be dealt with in rallying crowds for direct action and a kind of yin-yang balancing act is required.
Everyone agrees our rallies must be made safe and the fears of the most fearful become a measure of this.
But is also true that a crowd is only as brave as its most daring and fearless.
Meanwhile back at the Sunday Rally, Gemma came to me seeking to make amends by thinking laterally for the win-win solution.
"Is there some other way to carry the flags? Could we cut the poles in half?" she asked
Cut my poles! New depths of ignorance revealed and this grumpy old man groaned out loud. Not only did she know nothing of the history of poles in protests, she didn't understand the value of straight, long, cured bamboo poles or see the power that their height gave to the visual presence of the flags as they stood before her.
"You don't know the effort involved in this," I told her in despair. Or the art.
And there was something else I knew from my experience with police liaison.
When we commit to peaceful protest and the cops insist they are expecting violence, it is because they are projecting onto us the violence that is somewhere embedded in their operational planning. Even if it is some hypothetical situational response, violence is on their minds.
Poles could be very effective at keeping cavalry at bay. When the cops are fixated about no poles, you can bet that they are planning to use horses against the crowd. And so it was to be. There were 16 mounted police lined up in the Park as we argued.
But I grumbled and capitulated.
After the parade left, I bundled up the flags and poles, tied them on the roof racks of Happy Wheels and, with Nat Lowrey as co-pilot, we fumbled our way to the parade destination to set up the PA there. I say fumbled because we had to take a different route to the parade to get ahead of it and we had a few "hippy moments" along the way and got lost.
At the destination, a park adjacent to the rail yards of the Port Waratah coal loader, there were cops everywhere of course and when I pulled in i was at once shouted at by a woman in civvie slacks and top. "Halt! Where do you think your going?"
Turns out she was police liaison and was not expecting Peacebus.com, let alone its poles. Talk about being unrepresented by the Climate Camp police liaison.
At APEC the entry of Peacebus.com into Hyde Park and the use of the poles had been thoroughly negotiated and agreed at the highest level of the police command. I even had an authorising letter signed by the operation commander to put on the window screen so that i was not unduly harassed by officiousness in the junior ranks.
By contrast Climate Camp police liaison had left me exposed. My attempts at liaison with the real live liaison officer I had met (turns out we had mutual friends!) were soon cut short by an earnest young constable telling me he had special powers and that he and his detachment were going to search my vehicle ... or else.
And so Peacebus.com was subjected to search, my set up gear was temporarily confiscated and I was to become the first arrest of the day. More of that later.
Afterwards both Gemma and Wenny were to apologise to me both often and earnestly for the trouble that had come to me.
We didn't understand your needs, they said.
True and i had been remiss in not impressing my set up needs upon them.
I had over estimated their competence and they had under estimated mine, lacking both understanding and respect for my Peacebus.com work and my police liaison record.
So Peta Ridgeway was onto something when she challenged the young activists to respect their elders. How much more powerful Climate Camps might be if the experience and competence of elder activists was valued.
But so it goes. All learning experiences. Did I go out of my way to learn from and engage my elders when I was a protesting back in the Vietnam War days? No. Is my respect for Wenny and Gemma and the work they do diminished? No. All blessings on their journeys and Rosa's too.
That the intention of the Rally and Parade was to blockade coal the trains was as well know to police as to the participants in Climate Camp and so the cops had plenty of time to prepare.
The Pope's visit to Sydney for World Youth Day took up some of their manpower but they have plenty to draw upon in the defence of the world's largest coal port. The New South Wales Police service is the third largest police organization in the English speaking world with 16,000 employees and 13,000 sworn police officers.
Visual were lines of blue overalled officers (maybe 60), Operations Special Group, dog handlers with German shepherds, mounted police, Search and Rescue and water police.
How many undercovers in the Camp and how many involved in surveillance of the camp with spy cameras, phone and email taps, and audio bugs, we may never know.
And there were more cops behind the scenes which I got to glimpse when I was arrested: the command, the holding and processing areas and the reserves.
As mentioned above Peacebus.com was searched when it arrived at the Parade destination area. I asked what it was being searched for and the search officer told me it was for "objects that might be of danger in a public order incident ... and other things," he added as an after thought.
While a couple of officers began pulling out the steel posts, the driver, the steel pegs and the axe that i carry, he went to the other side of the van, and straight for the box that carries my band aids, ointments and medications. With a police video camera as witness, he laid out on the ground containers of a certain herbaceous substances.
As I was led away, the first arrest of the day, two media cameras rushed to get shots and I threw up my hands in a display of hopelessness: "Suspicion of cannabis," I told them. The incident was to be included in the Newcastle TV news reports that evening.
The arrest processing was done in one of two white buses parked in a yard beside the protest area, former Sydney transport buses especially fitted out for Sydney APEC as mobile prisons. About five cops were involved and they went about it advising and assisting each other on the process, respectful and business like.
The rushing about had left me dehydrated and I asked for water. My first request was not even acknowledged. The second more assertive request was received querulously: "You have just arrived. There is no water here. We got things to do."
I suggested that denying me water was cruel and unusual punishment and persisted in asking loudly and with gravitas. "For the third time the prisoner asked for water."
As part of the process the arresting officer and I were photographed together he looking solemn and me like his kindly old uncle.
He asked me to cooperate by answering his questions and threatened to make things difficult if i didn't. But apart from giving my name, admitting ownership of the vehicle and confirming i was a nomad ("no fixed address") I refused any more information and in between escalating requests for water, I sat with eyes closed, listening to the cops sort out the procedure, visualising Padmasambhava and meditating on emptiness, fearlessness and hopeless.
After my fifth water request and some radio communications by the arresting officer, there was a change of attitude. A refreshing bottle of chilled spring water arrived, and I was told i would be released with out charge.
The release took another 20 minutes but it was all very amiable and I waited in the yard outside yarning with the cops.
The arresting officer escorted me back to Peacebus.com along the way warning me that I may well be charged in the future if and when the finger prints on the herb containers proved positive and certainly so if i used the Peacebus.com PA to incite the crowd.
The processing had taken an hour and the confiscation of my set up equipment effectively frustrated Peacebus.com from setting up and being of any service to the action. Furthermore the action itself had moved about 100 meters back along the road that the parade had followed, a road closed to vehicles.
I went and checked it out, saw the junk percussion and the clowns dancing in front of the horses and, standing on an embankment, watched as the crowd flowed around the horses and go up the road to support and add to those who had cut through or climbed over the fence there.
Seeing there was nothing I could do that might add to or assist what was going on, I went back to Peacebus.com, put on the kettle, pulled out the folding chairs and table and set up afternoon tea which I shared with my Nimbin friend and fellow elder of great dignity, Brigitte.
Frustrated but occupying public space none the less, we did in ease and style.
The cops had promised that my confiscated gear would be returned when i was ready to leave. I told them I was ready to leave and they promptly brought it all back. But not the medicinal herbs. The bastards!.
I loaded up and returned to Camp and while crossing the rail over pass Industrial Drive, I saw a bunch of protesters on a coal wagon waving their arms and dancing about. God bless 'em.
Back at Camp I set about arraying the flags, preparing the lanterns and stoking up the braziers to make a warm welcome return for the young warriors.
From the little I had seen, the cops on foot went about retrieving protesters from the great queue of rail wagons, workman like and without any particular aggression.
Well some and maybe most, but the invitation to intimidate brings out the worst of those who join the police force to legitimise their innate nastiness. Later in Camp I heard other stories.
One young woman slight of build and fair of face, a hard core forest activist from Victoria, had her arm in a sling. A broken elbow caused by a fall from a coal wagon, she told me. Pushed off by a cop.
That's a fall of over 3 metres onto rock ballast. Lucky you didn't break you skull, I replied. Cushioned by my dreadlocks, she said.
Dreads are more than a fashion statement, folks.
Ray the Pirate told me how, up against the police horses, he saw one officer step back, fit his black leather gloves and then return to the fray and sock him, first in the throat and then, when he did not go down, a second time in the face.
My friend, a fierce man of the Fenian mould, cropped of hair and bristled of face, then responded by putting his face up against cop's face and snarling: "This is a peaceful protest, officer, and you have hit me twice."
Some 50 arrests were made on first day of protests but the arrestees were quickly processed, given on the spot fines and released. The Camp legal crew later estimated the total fines to be of the order of $28K, a nice days work for Costa's coffers. But it also means extensive follow up fund raising events and more movement building.
On the next day, Monday 14 July was a day slated for independent actions by the various Action Groups formed in the Camp. They knew protest actions were going to happen but not what, where and when.
The cops' response was to harass protester movement and they were so eager to do so that patrol cars entered the camp on two separate occasions that morning before we had rallied ourselves to leave.
Among other later incidents, they did over my Nimbin activist friend Dan and defected his van and they stopped and searched Benny Zable while he was walking in his gas mask costume. Tradesmen in the vans were stopped too and this led to complaints which were reported in the Newcastle Herald in the days following.
Peacebus.com was stopped in the CBD while on its round about way to Costa's Newcastle office. My passenger, Nick also known as TechNick, had wanted film for his camera.
Given the number police vehicles I passed on the way and the conspicuousness of Peacebus.com, I was not surprised when a red patrol car flashed its lights and pulled me over. I decided to be proactive, not let harassment of activists be an easy exercise and not let my set up be frustrated as it had been the day before.
"Get your camera ready, Nick" I said as I leapt out of my seat, strode to the patrol car and, before they had even opened a door, indignantly demanded to know why i was being stopped.
Sergeant LAC 012 (the only identity he would give me) was affronted by this. He acted as if stopping and searching vehicles was an everyday occurrence and citizens ought to like it or at least submit quietly.
"Suspicion of cannabis" was the excuse he gave. But these were the words that the Newcastle TV news recorded me saying when arrested the previous day, so likely he was being facetious.
Whatever, I was furious and, foolish and passionate old man that I am, I let the cops know in no uncertain terms - they and everyone else within earshot.
Soon I was up against a wall surrounded by 8 cops while Nick clicked away with his 35 mm camera.
I called Camp police liaison but got no response. I called Nat Lowrey, was pleased when she rang back and I was able to give the impression that i had support.
A big man in his mid forties, Sergeant LAC 012 was the overbearing type. His response to my demonstrable outrage was to become icily calm and reasonable; classic passive aggression. God help his wife.
He objected to me telling Nat that he and his colleagues were being aggressive. Nat told me she could hear them ordering me about in the background.
"You can't say that'" he said.
"I will say what I please," I replied.
The other cops made a perfunctory search of Peacebus.com but the more LAC 012 and i went toe to toe, the less enthusiastic they became, treating me respectfully, chatting and even smiling at me when their Sergeant was making radio calls.
Back from the radio call and standing over me, he lectured me about being a bad mannered, drug using criminal. He told me it was his job to kick criminal arse. In return I gave him a short history of police corruption in NSW. "Endemic corruption at the top while you harass the poor."
He told me how I ought be grateful that he was not proceeding with further detention and trouble that was within his power to bestow such as a compulsory blood test at John Hunter Hospital. "Your agitated behaviour suggests to me you are on drugs."
So i stilled my body, locked eyes with his in mutual glare, paid attention to my breath and visualised Padmasambhava overhead. Time stood still.
"Look," he said. "I am giving you good advice. You can't go on behaving like this with police and expect to get away with it."
My peripheral vision widened. I saw this was good advice.
"Maybe you are my teacher," I said. "May I go now?"
Guardian angels had been protecting me but the harassment and more particularly, my angry response to it, shook me up and reminded me how vulnerable I am, how precarious the Peacebus.com journey.
On the first day of Climate Camp when Action groups were forming, the Resistance Barrio boys had invited me, and I was pleased to agree, to support the Costa action and provide the Peacebus.com PA. It proved to be a good thing to do.
The Protest Costa Rally was an extraordinary collaboration between Socialist Alliance Newcastle, the Newcastle ALP and the NSW Greens and it took place on the pavement outside the building which houses the offices of the NSW Ministry for the Hunter at 26 Honeysuckle Drive.
Speakers included John Kaye, Greens MLC, Graeme McNeill, PSA anti-privatisation representative at the Liddell Power Station, Graham Brown, ex-coal miner and climate activist, Joan Dawson, Hunter Power to the People and Vice President. Newcastle ALP State Electorate Council, Cr Michael Osborne, Newcastle City Green Councillor and Scott Ludlum, Greens Federal Senator (WA)
Also present and supporting were members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.
As Cr Michael Osborne pointed out, developing Newcastle as a centre for making renewable energy technology would create more manufacturing jobs than expanding coal exports.
He also said how proud he was of those who had blockaded the coal port the day before, how proud he was to be standing amongst the people gathered there that day calling for action on climate change, and how proud he was that City of Newcastle had hosted the first Climate Camp.
A report and photos of the action are posted on the Newcastle Socialist Alliance website
and also Green Left Weekly.
Unions, ALP organisers, The Greens and the socialists uniting against Costa, such is the shifting politics of climate change and the extremity of Treasurer Costa's position on the privatisation of power generation in NSW and coal expansion in the Hunter.
One doesn't need tea leaves in a cup to forecast that the IGemma/Costa government is soon to go down.
I arrived about 15 minutes before the action to set, parking at the curb almost outside the front entrance.
The protest had been well publicised so the cops were already there lined up in front of the building and backed up with a larger force in a dockyard up the road a bit.
Given the stop and search on my way there, likely the cops were expecting me. Whatever they did not react adversely to my arrival.
I hailed to the operation commander and told him that i was going to tie flags to the planter boxes out front. He nodded his agreement and then added as if to show the ranks I didn't have complete license, "You'll be liable for any damage done to the planter boxes."
There was mutual recognition, we had done protest business before, so there was some respect, understanding and no problems with poles as i set about rigging Eureka flags. I also banged in stakes and put out Anarchist A flags on the medium strip and a high Southern Cross flag across the road and banners on the fence there.
The rally drew about 60 people and went well; good speeches, good media show and no arrests or confrontations what so ever.
But it felt unduly and unnecessarily compressed. Those who didn't stand on the medium strip where you could hear but not see the speakers were jammed together on the pavement between the police line and Peacebus.com and the other parked cars.
The police had wanted to keep the traffic flowing but it was being slowed by near by road works anyway. It would have been safer for the crowd flowing out from the pavement if traffic had been diverted from the start.
When the rally was over and Peacebus.com was loaded, I hailed the operation commander again, he and the Duty Officer standing beside him, and suggested that since it is likely that there will be other protests at that place and bigger, maybe next time it would be better to close half the road and set up the PA on the medium strip.
Relaxed now and with the wisdom of hindsight, they were both happy to agree with me. Win-win for peaceful protest, if only ...
But the independent action that was most inspiring for us that day was that of a group of students who went back to where we had been the day before and locked onto the rail again and closed the coal loading for 4 hours.
All praise to their daring and courage.
Climate Camp clashed with the Pope's visit to Sydney, an event that buried climate change as a popular concern for a while. The Pope had nothing whatsoever to say on the matter of course. The rewards he promises for faith in him are not of the Earth; they all come in the afterlife, pie in a polluted sky.
Nat Lowrey coordinated the Climate Camp media, ably supported by Georgina Woods, Louise Morris, Ned Houghton, 20 video makers, photographers and bloggers from Engagemedia.org, and photo jounrnalist Damian Baker, the source of most of the photos in this report.
The media team did wonders none the less and our protest efforts were recognised nationally and internationally. Here are some links:
More coal protest arrests at Newcastle
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - Jul 14, 2008
Police arrested another nine people on Monday as climate change protests continued at the Newcastle port for a sixth day. The latest arrests follow 37 on ...
Photo: Nicolas Walker published Sydney Morning Herald 14 July 2008
Newcastle Port Coal Ship Loading Halted by Protesters (Update3)
Bloomberg - Jul 14, 2008
By Jesse Riseborough July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Coal ship loading at the largest terminal at Australia's Newcastle port, the world's biggest export harbor for ...
Protesters disrupt loading at Australian coal port
Reuters - Jul 13, 2008
SYDNEY, July 14 (Reuters) - Environmental protesters in Australia disrupted operations at the world's biggest coal terminal for a second day on Monday after ...
Newcastle Port Coal Ship Loading Halted by Climate Protestors
Bloomberg - Jul 13, 2008
By Jesse Riseborough July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Ship loading of thermal coal at Australia's Newcastle port, the world's biggest export harbor for the fuel, ...
Protesters stop coal-loading again
NEWS.com.au, Australia - Jul 13, 2008
COAL loading has been disrupted again after four protesters chained themselves to a conveyor belt at New South Wales's Newcastle port to protest against ...
Photo: Robert McKeil published Daily Telegraph 14 July 2008
Australian Climate Activists Delay Newcastle Coal Deliveries
Bloomberg - Jul 13, 2008
By Tracy Withers July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Australian climate-change activists delayed rail deliveries to Newcastle, the world's biggest coal- export harbor, ...
Protest halts coal train for six hours
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - Jul 13, 2008
THIRTY-SEVEN demonstrators were arrested after about 1000 people halted trains in Newcastle yesterday in a protest against the coal industry's role in ...
Pair charged over Newcastle coal protest
ABC Online, Australia - Jul 13, 2008
Two people have been charged and 38 fined after protests in Newcastle that shut down the city's main coal line for most of the day. ...
At least 40 arrested at Newcastle coal protest
ABC Online, Australia - Jul 13, 2008
All aboard: protesters climbing onto a coal train. (AAP: Camp for Climate Action, Jim Graham) More than 40 protesters have been arrested at a climate action ...
37 arrests at climate change protest
Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia - Jul 13, 2008
NSW police have arrested 37 protesters who chained themselves to a train and rail tracks at the world's biggest coal export port in Newcastle to protest ...
37 arrested at Australian climate protest: police
AFP - Jul 13, 2008
SYDNEY (AFP) - Thirty-seven people were arrested at a climate change protest in Australia on Sunday when they blocked a railway line delivering coal, ...
Environmentalists force way onto coal trains
ABC Online, Australia - Jul 12, 2008
More than a dozen environmental activists have broken through the security fence at a coal terminal at Newcastle, north of Sydney. ...
Newcastle coal exports rise despite protest
Business Spectator, Australia - Jul 15, 2008
SINGAPORE -- Coal exports from Australia's Newcastle port rose about 15 per cent over the past week, and queues for loading fell to 36 ships, ...
Coal conveyor all tied up
Materials Handling, Australia - Jul 14, 2008
FOUR activists chained themselves to a conveyor belt at the world's biggest coal terminal on 14 July 2008, disrupting operations for a second day. ...
Protesters Block Coal Terminal
RedOrbit, Texas Jul 14, 2008
Environmental protesters in Australia brought the world's biggest coal terminal to a standstill on Sunday by blocking railway lines and chaining themselves ...
Green no coal protest shuts Newcastle mine rail link, 37 arrested
Daily Telegraph, Australia - Jul 13, 2008
By Clementine Cuneo MORE than 1000 protesters shut down the Newcastle coal link yesterday before the police riot squad moved in to arrest 37 environmental ...
Camp for Climate Action Australia Day 3 = shut down coal trains!
It's Getting Hot In Here, DC - Jul 13, 2008
Right now I'm feeling so excited and happy about what happened today in Newcastle, my hometown in Australia. Around 1200 people today took direct action to ...
That night at the Croation Club adjacent to Wickham Park was packed with celebrating Climate Campers. The fabulous Andi and George band had them up and dancing.
But this old man parked his van under a grove of giant Morton Bay figs to rest his bones alone and reflect.
It had been a big effort but what a great crew and what a marvelous event Climate Camp had been; unquestionably a major turning point in the climate movement.
Best for this old man's heart was the young people who had noticed the flag and lantern arrays and the difference they had made and who came and thanked him for his efforts. "So inspiring," they would say.
Courage in the face of the toxic tyranny of coal; there was a lot of it about at the first Climate Camp - that and uplifting friendships. Who else but us willing to draw the line?
The corporate super rich, their servants and protectors are in denial; their media churns out lies and equivocations and the craven Rudd government weaves and deceives.
But climate change is upon us, folks, and we don't need a weather man to tell us the winds of change are blowing. The first Climate Camp was sign enough of things to come.
Although the organising collective of the first Climate Camp has dissolved itself, plans are already afoot for another major direct action on climate, a simultaneous direct action targeting coal-fired power in every state in Australia.
Be there if you care.
For the Earth!
25 July 2008