It was about 8 am on an overcast Saturday morning and Peacebus.com was cruising along the New England Highway west of Singleton with a police patrol car on its tail.
In the passenger seat beside me was George (aka Dr Georgina Woods) one of the principle organisers of the Newcastle Climate Change direct action collective, Rising Tide.
Behind me watching the road from over my shoulder and comfortable in my bed was Bundy, the big and happy minded pup of Nat Lowrey, a national organiser for Friends of the Earth.
We were on our way to an action at the Bayswater Power Station, which is the biggest power station in NSW and is about 15 km east of Muswellbrook.
George was on her cell phone coordinating a walk-on/lock-on action there and I was carrying flags for it and dog minding for Nat who was already on site with 4 other brave activists preparing to lock on to the main coal conveyor.
We had picked up the police tail when we stopped to walk the dog and ablute at a park by the highway at Singleton. Our stop was also meant to coordinate the convoy of some 20 activists following and to collect a couple more activists who were waiting for us there.
We had not been in the park more than a couple of minutes when two cop cars pulled up and a uniformed sergeant approached us.
"Where's the protest?" he wanted to know.
"We have just arrived, walking the dog and you are onto us," I exclaimed more in admiration than alarm. Caught in the act of protest and not authorised to speak on behalf of the action, I was somewhat at a loss for words.
"What did you expect?" he responded without rancour while the other cops stood about and grinned. "Protest signage on the van, speakers on the roof, meeting up with the couple sleeping in the car. Where's the protest?"
George's first response had been to get on her cell phone and tell the cars coming behind to keep on driving. Then she took over the negotiations.
Tall, slender and filled with a strength and confidence that comes from grasping firmly the relentless truth of climate change and its causes, she stood before the cops and told them:
"Yes, there is a protest and I will tell you where and when, when it happens."
And so we drove on at a relaxed 89 kph through a landscape devastated by open cut coal mines. No hurry now for Peacebus.com; we had become an accidental decoy.
George's cell phone rang again. The call was from the lock on crew.
"They're on!" she exclaimed and, relieved and grateful that the weeks of organising effort had achieved its goal, she added: "Thank God! Thank God!"
Next call was to Newcastle HQ: "They're on. Put out the media." She was referring to the media release already written and addressed to local and national media outlets and waiting for a finger on the send button of the HQ computer.
A master of the cell phone, George's media call was followed by others to the vehicles in the unmarked convoy ahead of us.
"The lock on crew are locked on. When you get to the Power Station gates walk straight on."
A few kilometers down the road we knew the cops had heard about the lock-on too when our patrol car tail accelerated past us with its lights flashing.
Here is what George was telling the media and through them the world:
Media Release 1 November 2008
Climate blockade at Australia's
biggest coal power station
More than thirty climate change protestors are this morning blockading Australia’s largest coal fired power station and equal biggest single source of carbon dioxide pollution.
Protestors, from climate action group Rising Tide Newcastle, have stopped the conveyor belts that carry coal to Bayswater's furnaces in protest against the Federal Government's failure to stop Australia's greenhouse pollution rising. Others have blockaded the road into the facility and are occupying the stations coal stock-piles.
Spokesperson, Georgina Woods, said, "Australia's greenhouse pollution is still increasing and our addiction to coal-fired power is the main cause. We are here because every day we hesitate, we are killing the Great Barrier Reef."
In 2006/07, Bayswater Power Station created approximately 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution, making it equal greatest single source of greenhouse pollution in the country and among the top 100 polluting power stations in the world.
The Federal Government is expected to announce medium term greenhouse emission reduction targets at the end of the month, but protestors say that 2020 is too late, and want a commitment that 2010 will be Australia's "peak emissions" year.
The Bayswater power station near Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter and the adjacent Liddell power station together supply around 40% of NSW's electricity.
The protestors say power stations like Bayswater will need to be shut down over the next few years: "Where is the plan to phase out facilities like these? Why are we twiddling our thumbs?"
"The nation and the world are watching and we will not get another chance. The people that are here today are parents and grandparents, professionals and tradespeople. We are demanding a commitment from the Government today: Australia's greenhouse emissions must start dropping from 2010, we must do whatever it takes to save the Barrier Reef from wipe-out and the world from devastating runaway climate change."
The fight for the climate is far from over; the need for people to protest our failure to reverse greenhouse pollution is greater than ever.
Further comment: Georgina Woods 0438 223 771
Rising Tide conducts its business from an apartment within a shabby terrace in between the Cathedral and the surf beach in King Street, Newcastle. The office is called the Hunter Community Environment Centre (HCEC) and is a single room of clutter with posters of past actions on the wall piles paper, 5 work stations, one phone and a spaghetti of ethernet cables.
Most days George and the other Rising Tide organising principle, Steve Phillips, are there head down tapping at their respective laptops, making calls and throwing the odd minimalist comment to each other.
Steve occupies an associated bedroom there and also cares for his 18 month old son Mana there as part of a 50-50 custody arrangement. He is a lank, long haired, taciturn and sharp of intelligence and good sense. There is a precision when he speaks. The words maybe few but one knows as if from instinct and to be later confirmed by experience that both his insight and advice is to be trusted.
One day a week, Steve is XX old and works one day a week in a job that earns him about $360 per week. "A little better than the dole and without the hassle of Centerlink," he said.
George is 29 years old and mother of a son, Abel who is 8. She supports herself with a three-day-a-week job doing conservation advocacy for the National Parks Association of NSW, at the moment working chiefly on the campaign for River Red Gum National Parks.
On the Monday after action I was hanging about the HCDC office when she announced, after reading an official looking letter in her stack of long put aside mail that she was now entitled to refer to herself as Dr Georgina Woods. Her PhD, I learned, had been awarded Newcastle Uni and her thesis had been on the use of space in the poetry of Ezra Pound. I was impressed but George was decidedly matter of fact, nothing special about and it told us she would be remaining plain George.
Of Ezra Pound she said: "Ezra is disturbing and fascinating. Most contemporary poets and a good many novelists owe him an artistic inheritance, but for many years it was shameful to say so, because he was tried for treason for strenuously supporting Mussolini while the US was at war with him, and only escaped execution because he was found mentally unfit to be tried. His poetry is incredible... vehement and profound. There are lots of his poems at various online literary sources, if you want to find it."
More recently Nat Lowery, national organiser for FoE Australia, previously a resident of Katoomba, had moved in.
Nat is the most stylish and dynamic activist I know. A ballet trained Kiwi arts school graduate she applies her digital graphic design skills to poster and web design and striking hair-dos and dress. Graphic design generates some income for her particularly for her lay-out of Chain Reaction, the FoE quarterly magazine.
Since we met on the campaign to protect Lake Cowal from ruthless destruction by Barrick Gold, the Toronto based multinational, biggest gold producer in the world, I am a devotee, number one member of the Nat Lowrey Fan Club, bedazzled by her activism.
Early this year Nat teamed up with a like spirited young woman in Toronto who writes for CorpWatch. Between the two of them, and in association with the Barrick Gold's AGM in Toronto, they gathered indigenous leaders from lands and peoples suffering from Barrick's toxic greed.
Now the Barrick Gold's chairman, well know and respected philanthropist in Toronto, is being dogged by protesters in Toronto demanding for accountability for the deaths, rapes, poisonings and destruction of landscape at his various mines.
So it is that Nat has taken the action from the dust of the empty Lake Cowal bed to the heart of the beast in Toronto. See http://protestbarrick.net/
While Nat occupies a work station, her dog Bundy, who is a magnificent mongrel with Boxer and Ridgeback characteristics, occupies the floor, greeting visitors with curiosity and sniffy affection or an indignant yelp if they try to ignore him.
Mana and Bundy get along famously. On all fours Bundy stands taller than Mana and has 6 times the body weight; his affectionate face licking greetings can knock Mana off his pins. But Mana adores Bundy - the name one of Mana's first words - and he loves to cuddle and climb on him, emitting peels of laughter when they tussle.
Rising Tide is more an attitude than a office, more a commitment than a body corporate.
Risng Tide is of course more than George, Steve and Nat, it is a broad based network of activists and as flat a structure as they can make it.
The shared commitment is to direct action on climate change and doing things is regarded as more essential that having a structure with membership, incorporation papers, office bearers, public liability insurance, salaries, corporate plans, management retreats and so on.
If this trio had devoted the intelligence and concentrated effort which they apply to Rising Tide organising to, say, selling real estate in downtown Newcastle, they would be living in penthouses and dining out on credit cards.
But instead they choose to live lowly and, mortgage free and unencumbered by obligations to employers, they give their best effort and best years for action now on climate change ... for the Earth and future generations.
And they choose to do this in Newcastle Australia, the biggest coal export port in the world, at a time when the great corporate coal heist is running at full steam and Labor governments federal and state are at a nadir of corporate corruption and climate change irresponsibility.
The fruit of this commitment is that while they live poor in material terms they live rich in terms of friendships, community and purpose.
In short they live as if the future matters and while all about there is the news of imploding greed, belly up banks, tax payer bail outs for billionaires, empty state coffers and the fear of an encroaching recession, this trio stand tall, steadfast, eyes on a further horizon, marginal and lowly yet an inspiration for all who see their gaze and know their work.
And the work is organising, organising, organising.
It is about getting people together to be brave and commit to actions which directly challenge big coal and big corruption of government ... and get noticed.
Of the people and for the people, it is classical anarchism in action. By focussing on organising action events rather than structure or management, one action leads to another and another and the activism attracts activists and money and capability follow.
The Climate Camp which Rising Tide hosted in Newcastle 9-14 July was far and away the best action I had been part of in some years. At it I had worked to brighten the Camp with flags and lanterns and my efforts had been much appreciated. See my Climate Camp story.
As a follow up I offered to make up a batch of Rising Tide flags to make their actions visually distinctive. My daughter Softly Dunstan of Mighty Nice Studio, Leichhardt, did the design and the screen printing, painting and sewing was done in Canberra.
I found out about the Bayswater action when i arrived at Rising Tide office to deliver the flags and poles.
The action was being promoted by discrete word of mouth business. For fear of surveillance by the coal miners and their supporting state apparatus, the action was not to be mentioned on phones or in the office.
I felt flattered to be so readily informed and invited.
Bad mouthing follows me like smell of stale urine in an old man's pants. But bad mouthing is everywhere and melded to politics. Every movement has got it and it bleeds them of strength and solidarity like a running sore.
As the consequence of an ethical error in my student days, it is my karma to be dogged by a rumour that follows me about two paces behind and names me as an ASIO agent. This and my familiarity with cops (my activism makes me well known to senior cops in three states) renders me a person of suspicion for many.
Naturally after such a display of trust and goodwill i readily accepted the Rising Tide invitation and deciding there and then to stay about in Newcastle. With ten days to the action and time on my hands, I offered to paint a banner for it.
While I was in the office an email came in from The Wilderness Society (TWS and pronounced 'twiz') inviting Rising Tide to support a Mary River action the next day: Steve Posselt who was paddling from Brisbane to Sydney to make a NO DAMS statement and would be arriving at Queens Wharf (just down the hill from HCDC) the next day.
But dams are not central to Rising Tide and both Steve and George were up to their ears with demands of action organising and parenting. So I put up my hand and offered to represent Rising Tide with the presence of the new flags. George and Steve were only too pleased to throw me the ball.
If dams are not central to Rising Tide they are core to The Wilderness Society which owes its origin as a national environment network to the successful campaign to prevent the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania in 1982-3.
But it was more than solidarity with the Mary River which is in Queensland that had drawn TWS out in support of Steve Posselt's action. Newcastle TWS's central campaign at this time is to prevent the damming of the Williams River at Tillegra near Dungog 120 km north of Newcastle.
In solidarity with the waters of this land.
Water is life and solidarity is everything in building sustainable resistance in these times.
The next day a southerly wind blew in rain squalls and made the seas too rough for kayaking. But Steve had arrived the previous day and the plan was to re-enact his arrival at Queens Wharf for the local media and after, continue south via the Macquarie Lakes walking the 20 km there and dragging his kayak behind him.
In rain I mounted the Rising Tide flags on the jetty railing and chatted to Steve and his support crew while waiting for the event supporters and the media to arrive. Which they soon did and we performed our parts for the camera as if rehearsed.
Greens Councillor Michael Osborne greeted me there with a big warm hug. We had met first at a meditation retreat and again at Climate Camp.
The news from the local government elections in Newcastle was not good. While elsewhere in NSW, Greens had made major gains at the expense of the on-the-nose ALP, in Newcastle, thanks to a Liberal-Labor preference deal (the new corporate corrupt coalition of the Right), Green representation had dropped from four to one.
What was remarkable about Steve Posselt's action was the array of honorable elders who turned out and supported it.
Steve Posselt himself is a splendidly fit 56 year old grey head and a highly qualified water engineer by profession. And so too were his support crew, John Schulstad and John Williams. And apart from the three TWS staff, all 20-30 somethings, all the 10 or so Newcastle supporters were grey heads too.
It underlined for me what a potent force for change are baby boomer elders with passion and protest experience, now rich with life experience, professional qualifications, connections and with time on their hands. Bring 'em out; bring 'em on.
If Steve was the number one celebrity of that day, the brilliance and beauty of the flags made me a well placed runner up. And I wasn't walking away dragging a kayak.
First to introduce herself was Sam East, the manager of Newcastle TWS. When I mentioned I was looking for a space to paint a banner, she responded at once that i could use the shed behind TWS.
And when i said I was looking for a place to camp with access to plumbing, "My place. I will be away this weekend and you can look after my pets."
The second to introduce herself was Margaret Henry, a long time National Trust worker, a former Greens Councillor and networker extraordinaire.
"You must come to dinner," she said. "There are friends of mine i want you to meet."
So it was that I was to spend a week in Newcastle as guest artist in residence at TWS and a guest of honor of Margaret Henry and the Newcastle Greens.
Kindness and generosity. One good deed leads to others. What better way to get a feel of the activist life of the City of Newcastle?
Well there was a better way and i did both. The other way was to follow Steve to "The Soupie".
"The Soupie" is a soup kitchen that takes place Tuesday evenings at the former bowling club in Wickham Park now managed as the Croatian Club. The Croatian Club was familiar to me with from Climate Camp.
It turned out that I was familiar with many of Soupie clientele too. I recognised many of them, and they recognised me, from Climate Camp. It was like stepping into a big family kitchen.
For Bundy too it was like family. Nat being away in Melbourne for a Friends of the Earth event, I had taken Bundy in my van and when i let him out he knew at once where he was and he was greeted affectionately by just about every other person there.
Something like 100 people were there; kids running about, elderly folk from the neighborhood sitting at tables drinking beer, and lots of young people with spikey hair and punkish clothes.
Arthur and Peta Ridgeway,traditional custodians of the local Kattung nation, were there and their children greeted me by name and with big smiles and respect. We had made lanterns together at Newcastle SoS in July and they had remembered.
When i asked what he had been up to, Arthur told me what an uplift for the spirit it had been for him to take a busload of 40 kids (by which he meant his own kids and young activists) from Newcastle to Alice Springs for the Convergence on the Northern Territory Intervention two weeks previous prior. See also http://rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com/
I met others who were buzzing from that experience and later saw a slide show of photos and heard some of the speeches made at a street protest there.
The food of the Soupie is collected and prepared by volunteers, and it is served free or by donation. Even though I was near the end of the queue and some pots were running low, there was plenty, variety and it was tasty too.
Food plus music; a grey haired jazz combo set up and played as we ate and talked.
Here was an action recruitment field made easy for Steve and it was face to face; no phone taps and no worries about bugs in this noisy space.
Free food is a cultural movement accelerant. It's always been this way. Free food plus sitting and eating as equals was what that gave rise to the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1968, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness and movements as diverse as the Children of God and Sikhism.
And here it was again in Newcastle, a sign of the times.
On the national radio I had been hearing politicians confounded by the neo con cul desac they have led us into, international banks falling like dominoes, the credit freeze, the economic implosion and the relentless onset of a global recession which will see many wage earners out of work and many mortgaged-stretched families bankrupted.
Fear and uncertainty elsewhere. But at the Croatian Club Soupie that night there was optimism and the certain sense that cooperation and community building would not only weather the storm but also bring a new dawning and a new day.
When George and I arrived at the gates of the Bayswater Power Station there were a cluster of empty convoy cars with just Scotty and Mitra standing by. There were also two police vehicles, three cops all told.
One of the cops approached me as soon as i stopped and demanded ID. When he had the details he said: "I am giving you a move on order. You must leave this area at once otherwise i will arrest you."
Scotty and the vehicle which had followed it from Singleton were likewise ordered to move on.
"To where?" I wanted to know. "Where can we assemble? Where is the boundary? The highway?"
He grunted in response to this as if indifferent to where we might assemble, anywhere but at the gates where the cops were out numbered by protesters.
We climbed aboard to drive off but George realised some negotiation was needed to retrieve the convoy vehicles should the drivers be arrested. So I stopped and she went back and sorted out an agreement.
While she was talking, I got out to take some photographs of the gate and the assembly of cars and cops because I realised it would be as close as i would to get that day. Again I was threatened with arrest and told to stay in my vehicle.
We reassembled by the highway over pass between the Bayswater and Liddell Power Stations about 1 km away. Mitra was first to realise the protest possibilities and with Scotty's help began hanging Rising Tide banners from the overpass railing.
I joined them there with the Rising Tide flags. I had intended to put these out at the Bayswater gate but frustrated there, I eagerly seized this opportunity to make our protest visible to the Saturday morning traffic on the 6 lane dual carriage way below.
The reception we got from the traffic passing was remarkably positive; horns sounding and the two finger peace/victory sign flashing in response. This but a small sample of how unpopular the coal industry is in this land of pits.
But we were not there long. Another patrol car arrived and another move on order was issued.
The excuse given for this was that we were being moved for our own safety. The overpass, it was said, had no designated walkway and we were at risk of being bowled over by passing vehicles.
This was bullshit; the overpass had no designated walkway and no traffic either. It connects the two power stations and on that Saturday morning there were next to no vehicles on the road.
"Where can we assemble?" I wanted to know.
"At least 10 km away from the Power Station," the constable replied.
"This is totally arbitrary isn't it?" I said. "A figure plucked out of the air. You might have said 250 km."
He shrugged. So much for freedom of assembly
"I reckon it might be worth getting arrested to test these move on powers in the courts," I said addressing my remarks to Scotty who was standing by.
The much arrested Scotty began backing away.
"Get arrested if you like," replied the constable. "I get paid to attend court."
"Get paid to look silly," I said. And set about bringing in the flags.
The protest had made its point and there was nothing to be gained by challenging the incidental intimidation of arse covering cops.
"The perfect action," exclaimed Damian Baker, the photojournalist who now appeared at the overpass with camera.
"It went like clockwork," he said.
The success was plain to see in George's body language. She had her cell phone to one ear, a hand on the other and was fielding media calls one after another, grateful that the cell phone reception was better at the overpass than at the gate.
We reassembled at park near the Muswellbrook Police Station about 15 km away, this being the Police Area Command HQ and where we excepted the arrested to be processed.
None of the walk-on crew had been arrested. They had moved on and off the enclosed land of the power station when given their move opn order. But they were required to give the cops ID and told they might be proceeded against for trespass at a later date.
So we became a high spirited picnic in the park in Muswellbrook. Food to share was laid out on the grass and I made and served chai from the back of Peacebus.com.
Damian set up a laptop on the grass, downloaded photographs from his cameras and flicked through them on the screen for all to see.
The broadband card failed to find a signal so it was decided that Damian and his support crew should go at once to Newcastle and get the video and stills to interested media outlets, AAP and SBS Tv in particular, as so as possible.
But before they departed a circle was formed and we had a go-around on how we were feeling about the action.
There was one voice expressing regret that she might be faced with prosecution for trespass but overwhelmingly was the sense of exhilaration at having been part of the action, for having done something.
One young woman put it this way: "This was my first action. I had always wanted to be active but my fears were holding me back. But now that I have done it and it was so easy. I am feeling great and want to do it again." The politics of liberation.
Scotty got a laugh by observing that when the convoy arrived at the Bayswater gate, he had never seen hippies arrive and get out of cars so quickly. "If only the same speed could be applied to getting aboard and departing", he said.
When my turn came I wanted to salute George and say what a joy and an honour it had been for me to have been her driver and to have been near her while she coordinated and commanded the action.
On the evening before I had seen George in action out front of a group of about 30 people who gathered to be briefed on the Bayswater protest. The meeting was held in a group house called the Gallery; we were relieved of our cell phones on entry and most sat about on the floor.
George and Steve were upfront with a roll up screen, a laptop and a digital projector which illuminated a line drawing of the Bayswater and this alternated with a Google map of the same. Steve alternated as father, attending to his son Mana who wanted to be upfront with his dad and taste some of the nectar of that meeting's respectful attention.
George worked through the plan, its timing, its transport including back up drivers and right down to details such as hats, water and sunscreen. A natural leader, she could have been a colonel giving an operations briefing to the officers of an army regiment. All she lacked was the uniform and the swagger stick.
After the go around most of the protest crew departed and returned to Newcastle; the action over and done by noon, a good day's work.
George and the young woman who had marshaled the walk-on, Carly Phillips, stayed to wait for the release of the arrested and arrange their transport back to Newcastle.
George suggested we move closer to the Police Station. She had news that some of the lock-ons had been unlocked and were on their way to Muswellbrook where the processing could be expected to take another 4 hours.
The lock-on had stopped the main coal elevator for 5 hours, not enough time to close down the furnaces (there was a bunker buffer coal supply) but long enough to be a threat to power supply and to get media attention.
Fleas on the back of an elephant we may be and it was as if the coal industry mammoth hadn't even noticed our bite. Endless rail wagons of export coal rolled past the Muswellbrook park where we picnicked.
But our resistance and active dissent were a good news story that many, many citizens, concerned about the corruption of government by big business and the tardy response to climate change, were wanting to hear. We had occupied public space and public imagination with a story of resistance.
The story went national and international. Here are some media links:
SBS TV News: http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=90bca4190baa45adab1eab3e9fa335ca2426b11677f6d478
REUTERS: Environmentalists protest at Australian coal plant
THE AUSTRALIAN: 25 protesters arrested at power plant
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: 25 arrested at NSW power station protest
I packed up Peacebus.com and moved it into position across the road from the cop shop. The timing was perfect. I had no sooner parked than two paddy wagons arrived with prisoners.
There and then i decided to spruik, thinking that maybe the prisoners would hear me and if not them, for sure the cops and the near by citizens of Muswellbrook.
I directed the speaker horns at the police station, switched on the amp and turned up the volume.
"Citizens of Muswellbrook, this is Peacebus.com on coal watch ..." The PA boomed across the neighborhood and guys came out of the nearby pub to listen.
My spruik was short and in it, I informed Muswellbrook citizens of the Bayswater action and described the arrested as heros taking a stand for action on climate change now, action for the welfare of future generations.
I gestured to George and Carly to see if they wanted to take the mike. They shook heads and shouted something. I didn't get it the first time but I got it the second time.
The first shout had been: "Graeme you've got balls!" the second shout was louder and in chorus: "Graeme you got doughnuts!"
We adjourned to the pub, plugged in the laptop and reviewed the photos again, sharing them with blokes in the bar. I was amused and delighted by the exclamations of young women as they viewed the photos of the lock-on lads: "Ah hmm! Mr November!"
I was also delighted that the banner, upon which I had labored so many hours, had worked so well; the yellow background luminous against the grey sky and the grim mountains of coal.
I wanted to get away and go visit a power station worker whom I met and who lived near Denman. But before I departed I decided to spruik again and maybe boost the morale of the incarcerated heros by telling them, and any everyone else in earshot, how good the photos were and how successful the action in terms of media interest.
The spruik was short and sweet. But after it, two police officers emerged from the police station and walked towards me, Abbot and Lou Costello in blue.
The thin and trim one in navy blue fatigues, black boots, peak cap and a polished utility belt with Glock and capsicum spray was Inspector Tim Seymour, the Area Crime Manager. We recognised each other from the Sack Costa! Climate Camp action outside the offices of the Minister for the Hunter in Honeysuckle Drive Newcastle last July.
Tim introduced me to his hatless and somewhat overweight colleague as the man who travels around with flags. Then he introduced me to his colleague, Superintendent Des Organ, the Hunter Valley Area Commander.
"The Ayatollah," said Tim to emphasize the rank. "You have got him out of bed on a Saturday morning and he has every reason to be angry."
Tim had three stars on his epaulettes but maybe he ought to have had three stripes and a crown on his sleeve. There was something of the regimental sergeant major about him; a brittle humour that overlaid a manner used to giving orders and making people jump.
A disciplined force needs such people but the occupational hazard of such is the tendency to get caught in form and make such things as regulation hair cuts and shiny boots, fetishes. As such they tend to miss the point when it comes to ethics and morality in the application of that force. "Orders is orders" is the mentality.
Des was not so much angry as troubled by some kind of dilemma. After the jokey introductions he went on to say of the welfare of the prisoners, and apropos of nothing apparent to me, that "we don't teach the use of telephone books anymore."
He followed this remark with a self deprecating laugh as if to lighten the bad taste of the humour. I didn't get where it was coming from at the time.
Then he went on to say that the officers of his Police Rescue Squad resented being called out to undo lock-ons. It seems they think that this takes them away from their real emergency, life or death work, rescuing victims of cliff falls and cutting them out of road wrecks.
My instant response was to tell them to leave the lock-on and go respond the real life or death emergency calls. Win-win!
At that moment George came by and I called her over to meet the cops and hear their concern.
George did this somewhat reluctantly. When she heard what they were on about, she leaned back on her heels and spat back: "This kind of talk makes me cranky!"
"You are accusing us of compromising safety and putting hypothetical lives at risk by occupying the time of the Rescue Squad. Meanwhile the coal power generation industry is putting future generations at risk."
She was having none of it and soon walked off.
But me, I hung in there. I reckon civil interactions with police at protest actions are valuable learning experiences for both police and protesters.
I acknowledged their concerns and took the opportunity to say that the use of move on powers that day overrode a freedom that is fundamental to healthy democracy: the right to assemble in dissent.
I left Muswellbrook soon after with a warning from Tim about drink driving; seems he was offended that we had adjourned to the pub after the first spruik.
I wanted to tell him that the drinkers whom I had met in the pub were not too impressed with his crime management. There had been two recent pub brawls in Muswellbrook provoked, they told me, by cops. Waste of breath to say. He would never hear it. Especially not from me.
It was not until Monday when Nat and Steve told me their lock-on stories that I realised the depth of the moral dilemma that was troubling Chris Organ.
The Rescue Squad cops knew the steel lock on tubes were self releasing; that is the person who had locked on could let go and unlock at will.
Knowing this the cops reckoned it shorter work to threaten and torture the locked on ones into releasing rather than go through the trouble of cutting away the structure and/or the lock on device.
Nat said that the cops began cutting her tube with an angle grinder close to her thumbs knowing that the sparks and heat of the cut would burn her skin. Indeed when she complained of the heat the cops dismissed it saying this is what to expect from locking on.
Now Nat needs her thumbs, as most homosapiens do, so she surrendered to their threats, released and was arrested and charged for being on enclosed closed lands and staying on closed lands.
Steve likewise had a grim story. He had been threatened with tasar-ing.
So this is the state of the game in regard to passive resistance in the Hunter Valley Command; the Rescue Squad has upped the ante: lock on and face torture.
To this we bear witness!
That the militarization of Australia under Howard and the ruthless cruelty and torture that was rationalized, if not normalized, by our association with our great and powerful ally, the USA, at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo jails, has found its way into police practice in the Hunter Valley Command.
One must be brave to challenge the vested interests of the coal industry and the absolute support it has from the corrupt Labor government of NSW.
Nat commented that maybe the lock on is a tactic whose day was passed.
Certainly self release lock-ons must be put aside because they render a lock-on a contest of wills and so foster intimidation and torture in the name of efficiency and proper use of police resources.
My power station worker mate was someone I had met by chance only two weeks before. He was interested in my protest work and urged me to visit him if I was in the area.
On night shift, he was asleep when i found his house but he welcomed me warmly and was most interested to hear my news of the lock-on. He was not unpleased.
Workers on these State owned power stations are intimately aware of the vast tonnage of coal that is being burned, the CO2 being put into the atmosphere and the climate change consequences.
During the go-around in the park, Zane, one of the banner holding walk-on crew, confirmed my mate's worker sympathy with our cause with a report of a conversation he had had with a Bayswater worker met during the walk-on. According to Zane this man had said he understood that the coal protesters were like the Vietnam War protesters of yore who were considered rat bags at first but later truth sayers. I cheered at this.
My mate was impressed by the main conveyor as a choice for the lock-on. He told me that the conveyor of Liddell Power Station had been disabled by a recent fire that had burned out 70 meters of belt and cables and so put it out of action and for weeks to come. No back up for Bayswater from Liddell.
Aging plant and disgruntled workers. But what else to expect from a workforce whose employer is the corrupt NSW government?
A so called Labor government, it is controlled by a self perpetuating oligarchy in Sussex Street Sydney, totally unresponsive to the branches, totally in control of pre-selection, totally in the pockets of big business and out to undo power worker job security by selling off the enterprise to foreign capitalists - a move that defies all economic and climate change sense.
Telling to me was the headline concern of my mate: the recent betrayal of power station workers by the man who led the campaign to prevent the NSW Labor government from selling off the power generation in NSW, former Unions NSW assistant secretary, Matt Thistlethwaite.
Since that the victory which brought down Premier Iemma and Treasurer Costa, the proponents of the sell off, he has changed sides. The story is that he has accepted Costa's seat in the NSW Legislative Council (the Upper House of the NSW Parliament) and having done so is now supporting the sell off of retail power distribution, the Iemma-Costa so called Plan B.
My mate was under no illusion that once Plan B was accomplished Plan A, the sell off of power generation, would soon follow.
Out of curiosity I asked him that given that coal was being mined nearby and that by the highway one could see a network of conveyor belts leading to the power station, why did Bayswater have the huge stockpile of coal, the coal mountains that the walk-oners had climbed.
The explanation is another story of corruption and betrayal of the people of NSW by the ALP.
Indeed Baywater Power Station was sited where it is because of the ready availability of local coal but that was in a time when the coal reserves belonged to the people of NSW and coal mining and power generation were both public enterprises run not for profit but rather for the long term benefit of the people.
But along the way the coal reserves were sold off. Conzinc Rio Tinto brought up all the coal near Bayswater and then started jacking up the price aiming for profit at the expense of power users.
The management of Bayswater and Liddell Power Stations responded by building an "Uploader" which I understood to be a rail depot, a dump yard and mighty coal movers so that they could shop around for coal, ship it in and not be held to ransom by Conzinc RioTinto.
No doubt this was sold to the people of NSW as the virtue of competition. But it was all added cost to NSW electricity consumers.
My mind boggled at the scale of this piracy of public assets and the duplicity of our governments.
On Monday as I drove through the coal pit ravaged Hunter Valley, I heard on ABC Radio Newcastle the general secretary of the United Services Union, Ben Kruse, interviewed about the betrayal. He was choosing his words carefully but even his chosen words could not hide his deep despair. See story.
That item was followed by one about a proposed cut of school buses in the lead up to a savage mini budget that the NSW Labor government was drawing up because the awful truth is that now that it has dismantled and sold off public assets and enterprises and the foreign corporations have taken their taxes off shore, the NSW government is broke.
The total cost of the school bus program, a basic kind of service, I learned, was of the order of $475 million a year.
This figure needs to be put in the perspective of the total revenues earned from royalties on all mining in NSW being of the order of $380 million and the annual profit earned by a single coal pit, such as the Peabody mine near Denman, being $110 million a year.
Truly we are governed by bandits.
Now is the time to be rebuilding governance in this country from the grass roots up.
Vive Rising Tide!
6-8 November 2008
PS. The next action for Rising Tide is a vigil at the Eraring Power Station, from 11 am 22 November. Here below are the lanterns I made for the event and here is Rising Tide Fran, the Lantern master for the event.
9 October 2008