NSW highway patrol man, Constable 1005, inspects Peacebus tread,
Gresham St Sydney, 5 November 2011
Officially recognised as a threat to public order
a report on the ReOccupy Sydney rally
Saturday 5 November 2011
When Peacebus was pulled over, it soon had four police vehicles each of different colours and markings attending to it: a white with blue checkers Highway Patrol car, a red Region Law Enforcement car, an ominous black Landcruiser signed as Public Order and Riot Squad and a blue local area patrol car. A red car marked AFP also cruised by.
Not including those at the other end of the wireless calls, that's about 10 cops and lots of firepower attending to this old man in his van.
And yes i take it as a compliment. The Murdoch media maybe ignoring Peacebus, Stand Fast and me, but the cops and the people directing the are not.
Peacebus had become an officially recognised threat to public order and militarism.
Peacebus had been invited to provide PA and banners for the ReOccupy Sydney rally 5 November 2011, but this police action prevented it from doing so.
NSW Police require submission of a Schedule One Notification of Assembly for protest rallies and the like. Inclusion of a vehicle had not been a problem in the past, as for example the Troops Out rally of 14 October, but this day it was.
The police had made a Supreme Court challenge to the intended route of the march the day before and, in the fallout, the paragraph about the vehicle and PA had been struck off the conditions and, on the advice of the representing silk, Stuart Littlemore QC, signed off upon.
This was weird. Not for a long time had protest rallies met with such hostility from the cops. Furthermore the collective behind this rally, the Sydney Stop the War Coalition, make it a practice to never sign off on any Schedule One because they maintain it does not have the legal status of a permit.
Confusion reigned. Heading to Town Hall to set up i got a call from Chris Leggo, legendary organiser of Reclaim the Streets/Lanes events, to say that because of the thousands expected, another mounted PA, one more powerful than Peacebus had been arranged.
We met off City Road in Victoria Park to sort it out. The had a PA mounted is an old Ford PickUp which had been fitted as a mobile Taco stall and called The Cantina. While there young Daniel, an organiser for Occupy Sydney, made a call to the Duty Officer of the day, Inspector Chris Craner, and i got on the line.
Never have i talked to an Inspector more stressed and off the air than this one. An hour out from the event and he was ranting: "There will be no vehicles allowed. They will be towed away. The Schedule One was signed. It can only be altered by the signee ..". and on and on.
"Listen," i said. He would not. "Listen," I said again. And again and again. He would not stop talking. When silence finally came it was because he had terminated the call. I imagined what it would be like being his wife in a domestic ... and felt sorry for the wife.
This was the question is wanted him to answer. "What has changed?"
Why the roll back in rights to peacefully protest and get noticed?
For over ten years Peacebus has been negotiating protests with the NSW Police, all through the dark years of the domestic War of Terror and including APEC. Only three weeks before Peacebus had provided PA and banners to support a Troops Out of Afghanistan rally which had assembled in Town Hall Square and paraded to Martin Place. Now this was forbidden.
What had changed? I still don't know. Maybe the weather in Police HQ. So it goes.
What to do about a PA for the event? I am pleased to say it was quickly sorted. Occupy is a people's movement and initiative and resources are there for the asking. A cab was sent to fetch the PA from The Cantina, the Cantina was send home and Peacebus proceeded to Newtown with Chris Leggo to collect his Wheelie Bin PA, the last resort back up.
Along the way from Newtown to Town Hall, Chris asked: "Can you jack my iPhone into the Peacebus PA?"
"Sure." I said and stopped the van, found the lead, gave it to Chris who plugged in while i aligned the horn speakers fore and aft.
So it was that we cruised up George Street to Town Hall for an Occupy Sydney with Gil Scott-Heron and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised booming on the PA.
Exhilaration and affirmation. Thumbs up from pedestrians, cheers from the assembling crowd at Town Hall.
But it seems the Public Order and Riot Squad were pissed.
I had thought that if i was not permitted in Town Hall Square with PA and banners, I might be of service if i could get Peacebus near to where the ReOccupy Sydney march was heading in Martin Place.
So after dropping off Chris Leggo and Wheelie Bin and saying a few amplified words of encouragement to the assembled crowd in Town Hall Square, i trundled north down George Street. I knew i was in trouble when i passed a couple of mounted police and saw one of the riders see Peacebus and get very excited on her radio.
So there we were in Gresham Street, a convergence of cop cars and this old man sitting on the low wall by Macquarie Square curious to see what would happen next.
Twenty minutes passed and i sat calmly on the wall while many many radio calls were made. After awhile the cop from the local patrol car who first pulled me over came and took my license came and sat beside me. An amiable young constable, we talked about AFL football, country and family. When he left he said by way of apology, "I'm just a pawn in the game."
"One of the 99%?" i asked. "Absolutely," he replied.
Soon it was just Peacebus and me and the Highway Patrol car and Constable 5001. No name tag.
I watched and photographed as he squatted down beside Happy Wheels and reached under her skirts to fondle her tyres. There was something unseemly about this, something furtive. Fumbling with intent.
"You have a bald tie on the back." he announced in minor triumph.
"Why no name tag?" I asked.
"Name is not required," he said sharply. A stickler for rules, there was something of the school prefect about him.
"I know why you have no name tag," said i. "It's because you are ashamed. It's because you are doing something shameful."
He reacted to this by twisting his head away as if deflecting a blow. Then recalling something from his training, about not listening to the rants of ranters maybe, returned to his orders.
"I won't talk about that. You may not drive your vehicle anywhere until that tyre is replaced."
Peacebus was parked where i had been pulled over, on a bus stop and on an incline.
"What do you recommend i do?" I asked. Yielding is the way of the Tao.
Constable 5001 returned to his patrol car to make some more calls. I continued to sit on my wall.
"Alright!" he said on returning. "I will let you go now and recommend you replace that tyre as soon as possible. You are forbidden to enter Martin Place and the Public Order and Riot Squad say you may not bring poles into Martin Place either."
"Furthermore there are laws to silence cars with loud sound systems and you are not exempt."
Here were my last words to this lowly but earnest highway patrolman.
"For over ten years now i have been organising protests in NSW and negotiating with police for use of poles to give the events visual height and dignity. Just three weeks ago Peacebus PA and poles were in Martin Place and no one was hurt and no one complained. Now this is overruled and swept aside. Why? What has changed?"
He shook his head. "I don't make the rules," he said.
And so we parted. I thanked him for his advice about Peacebus tread and he kindly stopped the traffic so that could pull out, around and secure a parking place in the shade nearby. From there i walked up to meet the march.
Maybe 400-500 people were in Martin Place between Philip and Elizabeth Streets and lots of cameras and iPhones clicking away. Lots of police at the peripheries but relaxed, talking amongst themselves. Banners and placards, needs be, were hand held, and to my eye, the overall appearance was a bit flat and unfocussed.
But the energy was up, a very capable PA was booming away and new voices were to be heard denouncing capitalism in the heart of the beast.
I looked about for friends who might help get my voice on that PA to talk up Occupy Capital Hill. Chris Leggo found me and with him was a sex worker named Ella with bright green hair, dramatically dressed in red and black, red rimmed sunglasses shaped like an open mouthed kiss, a pink umbrella tattoo on her arm and a non stop rave.
The Monthly Magazine she declared emphatically, referring to recent story it had published about pornography, was "whore phobic". Not me though; her presence had me tingling with curiosity.
The Occupy movement was drawing new and interesting people into public place and public discourse. And Chris and I both of us long time organisers of occupations of public place felt somehow irrelevant and relieved.
We lifted the Wheelie Bin doof machine into Happy Wheels and headed back to Newtown. Up King Street with Gill Scott Heron booming on the PA once more. The revolution will not be televised. But it will be heard. And tweeted.
7 November 2011