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Leaving Nimbin at 8:40 Pm April Last 2001
Peacebus.com painted up and parked outside the Nimbin HEMP Embassy
collecting passengers before departing for Brisbane 8.45 pm 30 April 2001

 
M1 - Bearing witness to the failed imagination of the Socialist Alliance

a report of the anti globalisation protest in Brisbane on May Day 2001

The Brisbane Stock Exchange was cordoned off with orange and white water barriers and rows of police officers when Peacebus.com arrived at 6.45 am for the M1 (May Day 2001) protest there.

About 100 or so protesters were already gathered and we got a cheer from some of them when we parked in a loading zone across the way, and announced our arrival on the PA. Some of them, that is, for the Socialist Alliance people were beating a drum to beat up a chant from which there was no pause.

The police were quick to move us on and peacebus.com did laps of the block while I went off the find the police commander to negotiate Peacebus.com’s participation in the protest.

peacebus.com had carried 9 people and a pup from Nimbin to the Brisbane protest, 200 km to the north and across a state border. I drove Happy Wheels and, towing a trailer, brought two other adults plus Molly sheep and Jennifer dog.

We had departed from Nimbin at 8.40 pm the night before, arrived Brisbane after midnight and set up a temporary camp in Musgrave Park, West End.

The previous day’s preparation for the M1 action had been interrupted by a local call to action, a response to a police sniffer dog operation on the outskirts of the Nimbin village. peacebus.com and crew were called away for three hours and it was not till 3 pm that work began on the M1 signage, the banner rig and fixing the electrical problems on the bus.

Working into the night, Helen Rodriguez painted the side panel sign: "Human need not corporate greed" and the paint was still wet when we mounted it on the side of peacebus.com and drove out of town - a peacebus.com tradition.

The peacebus.com crew were ambivalent about the action from the start. On again, off again. Did we have the time before Mardi Grass? Did we want to mix it with the Socialist Alliance mob that seemed to be driving the mobilisation for the "global day of action against corporate tyranny"? Like all their one track, angry imagery, their M1 poster, a masked woman shouting and waving a clenched fist, was a put off.

What attracted us was the desire to relive the s11 experience and meet our friends, so many young people and students, on the front line again. What decided us was the enthusiasm of Nimbin people who had heard the s11 stories and wanted a taste of the action.

Because of this indecision I was late in making contact with the Brisbane police. The commander of the police M1 operation, Inspector John Bull, had not heard of peacebus.com and was too busy to take in any information about our peaceful and colourful ways. The best I could get on the telephone was that he might allow peacebus.com to enter the cordon between 10 am and 1 pm, the time approved for the peaceful protest permit, if things were going okay.

But just before 9 am the SA faction broke out of the cordoned area and rushed to blockade another entrance to the Stock Exchange. They held the entrance for about 30 minutes or more until the police brought up reinforcements, made arrests and dragged them away. Nothing was gained by this action, but something significant was lost. Trust was broken and thereafter no negotiations with police were possible. Inspector John Bull refused to talk to me again.

So when peacebus.com put up its banner rig and set off around the block to be in position at 10 am, it was stopped by four motorcycle police who ordered the rig off, the PA shut down and directed peacebus.com along with all other city traffic away from the protest.

Eventually after circling the CBD, peacebus.com parked in demolition site carpark 50 meters from the action and, winning the favour of the attendant with green, set up camp and carried our banner rigs from there on foot. ("End the drug war/Release the prisoners", "Viva Timbarra! Forever ban cyanide gold mining" and the four Freedom Ride hand signs, peace, power, prayer and perfection.)

Compared to s11, the Brisbane police were, for the most part, smiling and cooperative. Unlike the Melbourne police at s11, they wore their nametags, made eye contact and responded like human beings when spoken to. But there were thugs and bullies in their ranks, just as there were hotheads, hidden agendas and provocateurs in the ranks of the protestors.

Two of our crew were promptly bashed by such police officers when they arrived with the banners. Eagle, a didge playing, road weary drifter, was carrying the Drug War Freedom Ride hand sign of perfection. May be he was not perfect enough because, as he was standing waiting inside the cordon holding the banner, two police officers approached and one of who told him to be gone within 10 seconds. He turned and, as he walked away, the second officer clubbed him savagely on the shoulder with his baton drawing blood.

Jab’s son Ben went to his assistance and was thrown by the police officers against the barricade. A third officer intervened and led Eagle and Ben to safety outside the cordon. X-rays the next day revealed the violent handling had damaged a vertebra in Ben’s back.

Apparently the police were objecting to the presence of the 4-meter bamboo poles of the banner rigs as a potentially dangerous weapon. But for the rest of the afternoon no attempt was made to remove our other banner rigs and they represented the only visible signage at the protest.

The crowd was mostly young and dressed down - the poverty look. We found lots of friends there, some of whom recognised us from s11. An assortment of causes was represented and there were odd costumes and some good street entertainment from a bizarre percussion group dressed up as clowns. The SA faction ranted and chanted with their followers separately.

Driven by the SA call to break out and march up town to King George Square, at about noon, some fruitless argy-bargy took place. There were never more than 400 people at the protest, and the police had easily that number plus reinforcements at the Square, we were informed by mobile phone from a friend who had walked up there. No doubt the SA had police informers at its planning meetings.

In making arrests the police moved in like rugby forwards, tackling and crushing under their weight, individual agitators and leading them off while the crowd hissed and booed.

In the argy bargy the crowd moved this way and that and two Freedom Ride banners carried by two young female students marked the front line.

A beautiful moment in all of this chaos was a sun tanned young man who was dressed only in skirt and headdress made of palm fonds. He had climbed a tree overlooking the surging crowd and, hanging there, blew a conch. I met him later and he told me he was an Alaskan and a sailor of tropical seas.

I got to hold the peace hand sign banner over the senior police officer who was announcing that the permit for a peaceful protest had been revoked. Was this the proverbial reading of the Riot Act? Only about six protestors could hear him and not even the line of police officers holding each other, arm in arm, behind him were taking any notice. They looked to be entranced, blissed out by the body contact.

The pushing and shoving soon died down and a speaking circle formed within the cordon and we gathered our banners around it. The speakers were obliged to use painfully distorting loud hailers. How is it that the rich have access to all the media they can buy and the poor in protest must be limited to the tinny, hard to listen to, sound of loud hailers?

But even so some of the speeches were crowd pleasers. In particular a man representing dairy farmers who had suffered under industry deregulation and me ("never doubt the power of peaceful witness to the truth to bring about change"). I spoke out against the globalisation of the drug war and corrections and brought the good news of the Timbarra victory. Ross Mining, the developer of the Timbarra Gold Mining, had been listed on the Brisbane Stock Exchange and now they were no more.

Come 1 pm, the end of the approval time for the protest, the Peacebus.com crew had had enough. We lowered our banners, bundled them up and, saying our goodbyes to Inspector John Bull who was moving amongst the crowd sussing its mood, we made to leave.

As our single file of pole carriers approached the police line, a very agitated and muscle bound Sgt Shane Watters stopped us and began abusing Jab at the head of the line, talking to him like an irate headmaster to a naughty schoolboy. "I gave you an order NOT to bring your tripods in here. If I ever see you again in Queensland I will bust your arse, etc etc."

Given that we were leaving, that our very obvious departure was a signal for many others to disperse peacefully and that our poles had not been used aggressively, this was over the top. We agreed to recommend Sgt Watters for a steroid blood test.

Back at our carpark refuge, we were met by Nigel Freemarijuana, contrite now after his outbursts of madness during the Ryan by election campaign, off the grog and into training for the Nimbin Mardi Grass Ironperson contest. He had thoughtfully brought food. We sat about munching and debriefing.

The M1 action in Brisbane was a miracle. Pre s11, no one would have thought it possible to get a crowd to block a city street for a day on the issue of globalisation. The action signalled a national and, since it was coordinated with actions in cities on the other side of the world, global concern about globalisation and this will certainly help rein in some of the excesses of multi-national corporate greed and exploitation.

The action was symbolic in that it is not possible to stop the Stock Exchange with a blockade of an office building since it trades electronically these days. Just being there was enough to get our message across.

But the sign of resistance that the Socialist Alliance was organising about (and the police were collaborating with) was the image of a violent clash between police and protestors. Some Trotskyite text somewhere has told them that provoking displays of police violence is the way to radicalise the masses.

The tactic is as dangerous as it is outdated. The recipients of police violence are usually not those who organise for it or provoke it. Young Ben for example, will have a painful back for life and probably arthritis too in old age, thanks to the ideologues of Socialist Alliance taking risks with crowd safety.

Boring too. Of all the things one might do with a crowd in public place, pitting them against the police would have require the least imagination. The media reports (eg the Sydney Morning Herald:"30 police hurt as protest turns nasty") are so predictable one wonders why news organisations bother to send reporters.

Never again, we agreed, would peacebus.com participate in any action in which the twentieth century tactics of the Socialist Alliance were dominant. Never again would peacebus.com participate in an action unless police liaison was firmly established and we were free and trusted to bear peaceful and colourful witness.

Graeme Dunstan
3 May 2001

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