The Parliamentary debate on the Afghan War
Being Visible and Getting Noticed!
19 October 2010
On the day that the Australian Parliament began its nine-years-too-late debate on the Afghan War as promised to the Greens as part of its coalition deal, Stand Fast organised two Speak Outs, one the lawns of the Parliament and another in King Georges Square, Brisbane.
Outside the Parliament we were few on the ground but the banner rig was slogan graphic and the media cameras loved it. They came down the hill from the Parliamentary bunker in mass.
The event was announced to start up at noon and the only elected representative to take up my invitation to speak was Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and he could only be available at noon and then stay only a few minutes.
When he arrived i had but one supporter standing beside me. But it was Gerry Binder, who had driven from the Blue Mountains. He had just arrived.
I saluted the Greens for taking a stand against the war and bringing on the Parliamentary debate and invited Scott to the mike. It boomed so loud the media people winced and so he spoke without it. He spoke quietly and well, got heaps of broadcast time out of it and went away very impressed and very grateful to Stand Fast. See his blog.
A key part of his statement was his determination to pick up and push through the former Democrat Andrew Bartlett's private members bill to oblige a Parliamentary debate before any Australian forces are committed to war.
After Scott i put Gerry up as a Viet vet with PTSD, he authenticating any claim the Speak Out had of giving voice to veterans and ex service people. He was magnificent.
Wearing his black War on/is Terrism" Tshirt and a cap of mine with a Eureka flag patch, he let rip to the cameras. "War is terrorism. We the invading armies in Afghan are the terrorists."
Gerry Binder, Vietnam vet and one of the founders of Stand Fast
Then the media turned its cameras on me and, best i could, i gave them sound bites.
As I was running out of puff, the carload of five Sydney Stop the War Coalition folk arrived and a death mask figure in an army shirt began a macabre dance around the installation. Perfect timing. It was the marvelous Marlene Obeid. The cameras loved her act.
Other press interviews followed and then the media folk returned to the House for the debate. Some of our crew did too. The rest of us stayed on to mind the banner rig, picnic, chat to passers by and wave to the busloads of school kids and other tourists.
We never numbered more than ten (five Canberra folk had come drawn from postings on the Canberra anti war elist, some Socialist Alliance, others Quakers). But our occupation of the lawns of the Parliament, our timeliness, our art and our truth gave us a presence far greater and more far reaching than a body count would suggest.
In the late afternoon Marlene performed again. The first i learned of it was when i saw her, hair a mess and face all distraught, being escorted off the Parliamentary precinct by a fluoro-vested bicycle cop and a swarm of media cameras and microphones. She was shouting like a mad woman: "The debate is a farce. The war is a crime. And people are being killed! Gillard is a war criminal." And so on.
Guessing at once what she had been up to, I opened my arms to her as the hustle approached. She came into my arms like a homing pigeon and I held her gently, stroked her hair and said soothing things like. "There, there. The debate was always going to be a farce. The Lab-Libs are liars and war criminals. Only you brave enough to say so. Can i make you a cup of tea?"
This being recorded by a close peering forest of camera lenses. Like some episode of Neighbours, i thought.
The incident opened another media opportunity for me which i used to call for accountability for the Afghan disaster. "The only thing that needs debating is how soon Howard, Rudd and Gillard are put before a war crimes tribunal." i said.
What about Abbott? i was asked. "Na. He's a dill and doesn't count." Off the top of my head.
After the cameras had departed, Marlene told her story of rising up in the Public Gallery, shouting her protest and raining un-inflated Stop the War balloons into the House of Reps. Gillard droned on ignoring her but swift responding security clapped on a wrist lock, escorted her through the bowels of the bunker and released her with a warning never to return.
How we laughed at our media camera duet. I don't know if any of it got to air, but it sure gave us something to giggle about.
Campaigns for change grow and are fueled by such stories; individual acts of passion and daring.
20 October 2010
Good news from Brisbane
Excellent speakout against the war in Afghanistan in Brisbane's King George Square on the evening of 19 October.
It was the first time since before Rudd was elected that all the anti-war and peace groups came together in Brisbane.
Great response from mall-goers too.
Maybe about twenty at the core of the speakout plus people who stopped and listened for a bit, but, that twenty comprised most of the leadership of Brisbane's peace-faith-antiwar groups.
Strong signs for a re-invigorated movement against this war. Even my Quaker friends told me they were thinking its about time for some protests.
It was informally organised by myself and Adrian Skerrit (Solidarity) at quite short notice in response the debate on the war beginning today in the Australian Parliament.
I spoke on behalf of Stand Fast. Adrian chaired, other speakers included Andrew Bartlett (Greens), Sam Watson (Socialist Alliance and one of Australia's leading Aboriginal activists), Annette Brownlie (Just Peace, Australian Labor Party member), Ian Curr (Left Press), Rob Nichols (Solidarity), Kathy Newnam (Revolutionary Socialist Party).
Other groups represented included the Quakers, Friends of the Earth, The Ecumenical Social Justice Group, Socialist Alternative, Communist Party of Australia, the Enogerra Barracks vigil group, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Stop the War Collective (Brisbane). A very broad 'coalition of the un-willing' indeed.
People were a lot more positive about stopping the war than they have at any anti-war/peace event I've been to in the last few years.
There will be a meeting in a couple of weeks time to plan future joint actions for Brisbane.
I was on Sydney radio (2SER) today talking about PTSD, supposed to be about the psychological cost of the war in Afghanistan, after editing unfortunately more about me. Even stranger and unknown to me at time of pre-recorded interview ended up sharing air time with Neil James from the Defence Force Association and advocate for more troops and more firepower to Afghanistan (though you wouldn't know it from this segment). For those who didn't know things about me its out there now.
Full Stand Fast press release got into Indymedia
There was also a bit of interest in main stream media with Stand Fast getting mentions and quotes from Graeme on SBS, NineMSN, Herald Sun, Sydney Morning Herald and other websites.
Also did phone interview for PressTV link to follow when it goes online. They also want to do a longer TV interview on Stand Fast next time I'm in Sydney or possibly when I'm in Melbourne at the end of October.
19 October 2010