s11, the World Economic Forum Blockade
- Victory to the People
Melbourne 11 November 2000
The building of the Crown Casino by the radically economically rational Kennett government in Victoria was the sign and symbol of its ascendancy. An extravagant temple to the great god Money and an opulent playground for the rich, it stretches for two blocks along the south bank of the Yarra River. Promoted as Jeff Kennett's gift to the people, in fact it was a gift to his rich mates who built it and were granted the gambling licence.
How appropriate that the world's premier economically rational trade conference, the World Economic Forum, should be housed there. How wonderfully poetic that it should be besieged there!
For besieged it was by thousands of young people - school children, forest ferals and what was left of the Left.
In anticipation of the protests a steel mesh and concrete block security fence had been erected to completely surround the gambling complex. Between this fence and the Casino all the way around was a line of police standing about a metre apart. At the gates the police stood behind plastic road barriers, shoulder to shoulder, four ranks deep. The surrounding streets had been closed to traffic and tram services and nearby businesses shut down.
At each gate in the security fences was a blockade of people standing 3 and four rows deep with locked arms. For the Monday and the Tuesday (s11 and s12), each morning and afternoon one or more of the gates was to be a scene of struggle when the protestors contested with police the egress and exit of the conference delegates.
But apart from that it was party time and the streets belonged to the people.
S11 began for me when I was woken at 7 am by my mobile phone ringing. It was a call from Jab. "Where are you? It's going off," he told me. Peacebus.com had arrived at South Bank at about 6 am, driving through the night from Sydney and so the crew were witness to the first clashes in the attempt by the s11 Alliance to close the Melbourne pre-Olympic World Economic Forum down.
At the time Happy Wheels was by the highway at Kilmore a100 km north east where I had paused for rest at 3 am and over slept.
As I expected the Freedom Ride departure from Sydney had been delayed. The media Jab had promised didn't show and time was frittered away while Michael Balderstone, ever urging me to relax and take it easy, held cannabis court in the Spanos boatshed and recounted the triumphs of the HEMP Olympix of the day before.
My fatigue was such that I was beyond resisting. The power plays of Michael "born to rule" Balderstone were as petty as they were unconscious. I took no rise and made every breath a resting breath for the journey ahead.
Cannabis Dave, sick with boils, had sent his apologies. The convoy for the s11 adventure comprised Peacebus, Happy Wheels, St John in his New Wife plus five s11 protestor passengers we had collected in Sydney.
When it came to distributing the passengers, Peacebus got two reliable relief drivers and I got a pretty young woman who offered no relief at all. Female company. To my regret, I let the possibility of that comfort overrule my need to be assured of rest during the drive. My female companion turned out to be a bit of an airhead. Before we set off she had assured me she could drive, but hadn't said she would. Turned out she had been up all night and needed rest too and after a brief stint at the wheel declared she was too tired do more. Turns out she didn't have the money she had promised for petrol either. I was dudded.
My no relief driver demonstrated no interest in conversation and even less in flirtation and soon moved out of the passenger seat and onto my bunk at the back. She had brought with her two packs, each of them heavier than she could lift. Seems she was a recent former student, maybe 20 years old, maybe younger, a perpetual fairy princess really. Not homeless so much as in between perches like a budgie with killer baggage, buoyed up by miracles of the kindness that her little girl demeanour attracted.
On my bed, she unpacked and packed her bags three times, showing me the various kitsch treasures she carried. Hand held, battery operated plastic hearts that lit up, and the like. She was fearfully obsessed about the possible use of Mace by police. News was that at the Washington WTO protest police had sprayed Mace directly into the unprotected faces of the protestors as they sat with arms locked together, defenceless. She was carrying dust filters and cotton scarves to cover her face. A brave little budgie, I thought.
Happy Wheels arrived at about 10 am struggling through the major traffic dislocations, over Kings Street Bridge, and parked down Kings Way about 400 meters from the police traffic diversions. Budgie and I walked back along Kings Way and into the s11 Free Zone.
Cold winds buffered the banners and an early down pour made mud of the pathways and pulp of the placards. Overhead the police and news helicopters hovered, their noise making conversation difficult at street level.
First I found Peacebus and then I walked the perimeter of the besieged Casino.
I estimated about 3,000 people on the outside and 1,000 cops on the inside. No one had known what to expect but it turned out to be a very volatile crowd, ready to chant, read to move to trouble spots and very determined to blockade. Feelings were high and the police very much on the back foot.
The youth of the crowd was what impressed me at once about the s11. There were lots of young dread locked eco-warriors, graduates of the forest defence actions in Victoria and NSW, including many face familiar to me from the Rainbow region of northern NSW. Their ease and nonchalance in front of police lines was impressive.
Lots of high school kids were there too (an s11 high school strike had been called) and some were moving about the perimeter in arm locked ranks, chanting together. Lots of Asian faces amongst the students. Some students were proudly sporting their school blazers. Melbourne's Wesley College was prominent. Here were the leaders of tomorrow and Wesley has good cause to be proud.
The blockade had bitten. Some World Economic Forum delegates got in before the blockades formed, but many were effectively excluded. Charles Court jnr, the leader of the far right wing and unpopular government of Western Australia, tried to force the blockade in his car. He was recognised and the crowd swarmed. His actions created a major crisis for the police but he made the news that night. Important man in suit obstructed by protestor rabble. The Murdoch media screamed outrage.
The crowd had clustered at the gates, some people locked arm in arm with their backs to the police barricades, others standing around them watching the show. Between these clusters, people walked the perimeter looking for the action trying to figure out whom they might trust, where to belong, where to contribute. Around and around, back and forth, looking for action like a day at the Easter show. Strangers in a strange situation
A scaffolding stage had been erected in a pocket park beside the Queens Street Bridge facing the main entrance to the besieged casino across the intersection. Behind the stage were the First Aid tents and the tent shelter of the Socialist Alliance crew. If there was any social centre in the protest this was it. Jab had parked Peacebus by the SA tent. Safety in numbers.
The s11 website hosted by www. melbourne.indymedia.org/ had advised protestors to come in cells or affinity groups which could be self sufficient, work together and look after each other. That was about as central as s11 got. The rest was free form. The chaos of becomingness. Anarchy in action.
Because globalisation impacts in so many ways, and with so many injustices, lots of different issues were represented, lots of slogans aired. Some slogans were pre printed on placards, some hand drawn. Soon the walls were graffitied. Slogans everywhere.
The Socialist Alliance, inheritors of Trotsky's revolutionary organising genius, is a cell structure and so it was the most organised and most prominent presence. I estimated about 40 coordinated SA volunteers. Some of these served as crowd marshals who, equipped with megaphones, led chants at blockaded gates and stood about like town criers in the open space passing on news and rallying passers by to swarm to those points where police (and the conference organisers) were challenging the blockade.
The web site had also urged people to bring art and costume and there were some curious sights to be seen.
On the first day, one prominent group had dressed themselves in op shop clothes, beards and long hair, their faces covered with balaclavas and scarves. The very media image of bomb throwing anarchists. But they were disciplined and rehearsed in a way no anarchist group in Australia that I ever met ever could be. There was a contradiction in the image, something inauthentic. Their cheap gym boots were a bit too new for the image of poverty they tried to represent.
They moved about the perimeter as a loose group and then, at a whistle blow, they would turn and charge towards a police line, pull up short and taunt the police. Thus they served to intimidate the police and confuse us protestors.
I had no idea who they were and being a confused stranger in a strange place myself and not knowing if there was any central organising body taking responsibility for protestor behaviour, I felt reluctant to ask.
They disappeared after that first day. Provocateurs? More than likely. And more than likely unknown to the police behind the barricades too. A danger to them as much as us, the protestors. Police media after the first day made much of the aggression of the protestors and claimed condoms full of piss had been thrown. I didn't see that kind of stuff happening anywhere in the crowd except with this rehearsed group. Dirty tricks.
When the s11 Alliance organisation did not return my calls I assumed the organisation was thin. Having walked the site I knew it was and stretched too. In three days I never did meet anyone who claimed to be an organiser.
It seemed to be a free zone with the Socialist Alliance, the most organised and coherent group, making the best of it. My fear was that, whatever our message and as much as I respect their socialist position, the Socialist Alliance would regarded us and other protestors as mere fodder for their revolutionary canons.
To be noticed independently Peacebus would have to create its own theatre and we were well equipped to do that if I could motivate the stoned and somewhat overwhelmed crew.
Difficult enough is it getting things done with volunteers working in public open space for a festival or some such. For like sun on the head, visibility for the uninitiated and the self-conscious can generate a dazed apathy. And more so if fear is in the mix, uncertainty about the safety of the crowd and its policing. Add cannabis and one has near catatonia to deal with.
So I set to, deeply fatigued, pacing myself, every labour an meditation on equanimity. First I attempted to reposition Peacebus. I wanted to move it away from the Socialist Alliance and closer to the entrance of the Casino where it could be seen by the WEF delegates in the lounges and dining rooms associated with the conference rooms. But no cooperation from Jab. The best I could do was get him to re-align it in the position where it was parked.
Which was by no means an inferior site. Peacebus was beside the walkway that connected the Casino, the Queens Street Bridge and the west end of the CBD to the riverside promenade of South Bank, Melbourne's arts precinct. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Australian Ballet, the Concert Hall, and the Arts Centre were all at hand. Capital camping for us interstate s11 visitors. Five star.
Working steadily, leading by example and without help at first, I began to put out the banner rig, which included our tall blue and red Earth First samurai flag, the Freedom Ride banners, End the Drug War/Release the Prisoners and the big HEMP Embassy banner with the quote from NSW Justice Jim Staples: "How absurd a law that declares a plant illegal as if there were something feloniously wrong with Nature"
The Peacebus camp, 'the hippies' as our comrades of the Left referred to us, was to become far and away the most colourful corner of the s11 Free Zone. Thousands of people, protestors and city workers going to lunch, were to promenade past our rig, curious about our banners and our cause: to wit, putting the Drug War and its global incarceration industry on the agenda of the World Economic Forum.
Peacebus was used as the backdrop for the news media conference with the s11 Alliance spokespersons and we attracted many visitors. Peacebus acted a cannabis cafe with Jab and Robin Harrison as hosts.
The leader of the New Zealand parliamentary Greens, Cath xxxxxxx, came by with the dread locked HEMP Party parliamentary member, Nandor Tanczos , and posed for photos with us. A NZBC news crew tagging behind. The newsman wanted me to offer Nandor a joint. But I asked first and Nandor declined, not wanting a 'parliamentarian stoned at protest' story to detract from the good news of the resistance to globalisation evident in Australia this day.
Jab was impressed when I brought Melbourne comedian and scriptwriter, Rod Quantock, to Peacebus and introduced him around. We had been fellow founding members of the board of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Rod said he was at s11 as a concerned parent, looking out for the safety of his teenage daughter, and he knocked back our joint offer.
I sussed a route to bring Happy Wheels in through the roadblocks, and went shopping for the hardware necessary to re-assemble the Big Joint. It took all day Monday s11, to assemble the Big Joint, Jab and I working together in silence. By the time it was completed we were too exhausted to take it for a parade.
Jab and I resolved that the next day, s12 would be Big Joint day, and I went off to find a friend to lend me a phone line to get the media out.
The Big Joint lay on the pavement alongside Peacebus exciting much wonder and curiosity. "Let it Grow" it proclaimed.
If the s11 Alliance organisation was next to invisible on the ground, so was police liaison.
I had emailed an enquiry about police liaison to the s11 Alliance via the website and got back the mobile phone number and the name of a police officer, Inspector John Winther. I rang him from Sydney to introduce myself. He was most helpful and he told me about traffic arrangements and how to bring Peacebus in.
In this one telephone conversation I gained more useful information than I had been able to glean from the S11 Alliance in three weeks. I thanked him and told him so. He immediately got defensive, thought I had tricked him and wanted assurances of my peaceful intent. Happy to do so. Check out the website, www.peacebus.com, I advised.
But I never did get to meet Inspector Winther in the flesh or any other officer concerned with crowd liaison during s11. Just disembodied voices on mobile phones. Not a good foundation or omen for peaceful protest.
On the morning of 12 September I rang Inspector Winther again in regard to the parade of the Big Joint. I explained a bit about the Joint, the central icon of the annual Nimbin Mardi Grass Parade and Cannabis Law Reform Rally and our intention to use it to put the Drug War on the agenda of the WEF in the same way as the HEMP Embassy used the Big Joint to put cannabis law reform of the agenda of the NSW Drug Summit, which took place in the NSW Parliament in May 1999
Inspector Winther was aware of the media release I had put out the previous evening in this regard. I had faxed to his office. The release had stated that the Big Joint would "like a giant battering ram ... be attempting to burst through the doors of the besieged WEF". Festive speech and wahoo.
Winther gave me two pieces of advice. First to change the time so that it did not clash with the trade union rally. Second not to attempt to enter the WEF.
I explained that battering ram imagery of the media release was intended as a media hook and that our interest was theatre and getting noticed, not confrontation. But I realised I had chosen the words too confrontational for the invocation. Maybe images of peace pipes and an invitation to a joint session would have had a different outcome.
S12 began for me with a dawn mediation by the Yarra River. I heard the reveille call of Peacebus' Southbank neighbours. the Socialist Alliance: "Great day yesterday. Harder, faster, sharper today". The megaphone was urging the blockades to be in place by 7 am.
Not for me. Conserving strength for the Big Joint. Those who responded to the call and went to the Queensbridge Street gate were the objects of a police assault.
My leisurely breakfast was still in session when I noticed young people coming back from the blockade with broken heads. Amongst them were Bodhi Seed and Cedar Anderson, Rainbow Region boys I had know since their Bodhi Farm infancy. Bodhi had a blackened left eye from a baton blow and Cedar still ashen from shock had a dressing over his right eye.
Cedar told me they had been sitting in front of the Queensbridge Street gate singing songs when the riot police charged them. The assault had been unannounced and unexpected. Most were hit, kicked or stomped upon from behind.
Poor boys I clucked and offered condolences and tea.
Cedar and Bodhi were members of the Red Eyed Frogs, a greenie band which was getting regular airplay on national radio Triple J Bashing musicians, I reflected, is like crossing poets and bad karma for tyrants. From such moments songs are born and the airwaves may carry their scorn for many miles and for many years to many ears, and ignite the demand for justice in many hearts.
Now the problem with a 42-foot joint is that it takes lots of people to lift and move it and motivating stoners is not easy. One needs a supportive crowd around to draw volunteer bearers from.
We had advertised an 11 am to noon start but thanks to Inspector Winther discovered that this was in the middle of a major trade union rally gathering at the stage. So we postponed our departure till 2 pm.
The unionists came in three huge contingents marching through the CBD along different routes. Hard faces, big boots, and dress navy blue and black. Maybe 2,000 in total it was an impressive sight. A woman at the stage PA was quite ecstatic. For her the cavalry had come, the worker phalanxes of the Marxist revolution. But for me it was the antithesis of a rainbow gathering, and so I knew the Big Joint action would need some explaining before we went through that crowd.
The rally was huge and passions high but the unionists had agreed not to confront the police at the barricades. I went back stage and negotiated access to the microphone to announce and explain the mission of the Big Joint when the union rally closed. Waiting there I heard an Indonesian women speak and call for solidarity for the Indonesian workers struggling against globalisation and corrupt elites to improve working conditions there.
But come wind-up time there was a contest for the microphone between a big and solid unionist (a former BLF member, I presumed) who wanted to take the crowd to the gates, a shrill s11 organiser who wanted to make announcements and me, old hippy with rainbow dreams. We men deferred to the woman but her amplified voice was painful to ears and the unionist and I rolled our eyes as we watched the crowd turn off and turn away.
Ever the public speaking coach I suggested afterward that she try speaking lower and slower. "It is the voice of women", she screeched back as if that justified everything. God save our ears.
I grabbed the microphone, Robin Harrison beside me with drum, and launched into a truncated Drug War rap. "The Drug War is coming to the work place," I warned the workers. "It is only a matter of time before there is mandatory drug testing in the workplace. It is your sons who will people the corporate Drug War prisons." The speech was short and I battled against many distracting wind-up taps on my back. But I held the crowd and rallied them for the move on the gates. Robin didn't get one drum beat in that I heard.
I rushed to ready the Big Joint but found the camp in total disarray. Rather than readying for the moment Jab was in dispute with an attention needy woman, ejecting her and her baggage from Peacebus. It took ten minutes to settle the dispute and focus enough lift to move the Big Joint to the front of the stage and by that time the crowd had gone.
So at about 2 pm on s12 we struggled down Queensbridge Street collecting Joint bearers as we went. We passed a contingent of Lebanese youth hurling abuse at police behind the barrier, and got them to help. As we bore the Joint along I gave them a crash course as we went on our light-hearted rainbow ways. "It's not economically rational, It's not economically rational…." we chanted as we approached the main entrance to Crown Casino.
I lined the Big Joint up on the gate and briefed the carriers best I could without amplification. In my haste and confusion to get the Big Joint circulating, I had left the megaphone behind. "We are going to the barricade and then we will back off," I instructed in my best parade ground voice. But my voice could only be heard by about a third of the bearers at anyone time. Theatre was intended and my plan was to parade and play at the boundary for the rest of the afternoon. Ho, ho, ho.
We approached the Queensbridge Street gate slowly and with a wave I indicated that the grinning blockaders move aside. The Red Sea parted.
But when the Big Joint came to the barrier, the unionists and the unbriefed at the rear began to push and the police, grabbing hold, began to pull. I yelled for a halt and put my feet against the top of the police barrier and pulled the Joint back with all my might. Police officers punched me in the face and ribs. I went down once and tried valiantly again to restrain the Joint but all I got for my efforts were more bruises and a bamboo gash on my right hand.
The Big Joint sailed over the barrier and behind enemy lines. What a disaster! Our first sally and we had lost the Big Joint in minutes. Not a media camera in sight. What hopeless hippies we were.
The police triumphantly carried the Big Joint away, lay it beside the Casino main foyer entrance and stripped off its skin.
I went to the barrier at once to start negotiations for Big Joint's return, blood dripping from my cut hand. To say they were uncooperative is to understate their attitude. I was stone walled. To them we protestors were non-humans and they had not only closed off their hearts but also their ears.
None wore identification. At first I could not get the officers to make eye contact or acknowledge that I was addressing them. Then it took some time for them to identify the officer responsible for the detail at the gate. This officer in turn refused to give me his correct name. At first I thought he had said, Vic Peter, then I realised he saying Vic Bitter and being fasecious.
A different approach was required and it was a message-massage we worked on for the next 5 hours. The Peacebus, all rigged with banners and its rooftop PA firing was brought up to the gate and, edging the SA marshal and her tired chants aside, we entered the Drug War rap at length. Drummers collected around Robin Harrison and we soon had the gate rocking and all the young people smiling, singing along and moving with our rhythms. "Give us our joint back, please, please" became our refrain
But although we got better humour out of the police officers at the gate, who were saying things like
"But it was a gift, you gave it to us" and "we are going to auction it at the Police Ball", no progress was made in determining when or whether it was to be returned.
At one time I got the blockade to turn around, face the police and make eye and heart contact. Easy to maintain a person as an enemy when the back is turned; difficult when it is human to human, heart to heart. Soon the police were smiling and listening too.
Several attempts were made to negotiate the return of the Big Joint with me going to the barricade then returning to the mike with the police conditions. The first police condition was we hand over all our AK47s. I went back to the mike, and guess what? We had no automatic weapons. The police had all the guns. The second offer was to swap the Big Joint for Peacebus.com which they wanted moved. Nothing doing. They proposed raffling the Big Joint for the Police officers Ball and things like that. So it went on, good humoured but they definitely knew they had a trophy, a spoil of war.
With the drums behind me I spoke of the globalisation of corrections and the cruel but inexorably growing trade in prisons and prisoners. Incarceration for profit. People are surprised to learn that the last three major jails built in Australia are owned by the Florida based, Wall Street listed, Wackenhut Corporation who in the past 10 years have gathered 40,000 prisoners in over 8 different countries, 2000 of them Australian. "No more Drug War prisons. No more Drug War prisoners!" we chanted.
Feeling on a roll and in the awareness of the significance of the events, I also told the story of the blood sacrifice at the Eureka stockade of 1854 and how it spelled the end of the tyranny of the former penal era in Australia and made the Australian colonies world leaders in democratic reforms. I saw tears in the eyes of my young blockader audience. "Let us stand with the ancestors", I urged waving my bloody hand in the air, "and re-invent the state again".
That morning when I was putting out the Freedom Ride rig, I found one of the hand sign banners (power, peace, prayer and perfection) missing from the banner bag. Presumed lost or souvenired during the chaotic pack up in Sydney, prayer had gone missing. Rigging the other three I reflected on the meaning of that and realised that, whereas at the start of the Freedom Ride I had been fierce in my invocation of the ancestors, now in my exhaustion, I was enduring more and praying less.
I stopped at once and prayed. I invoked all those who had gone before and stood up in public place and spoken up for justice to bless and guide me. "Let justice be heard; give me voice." No sooner uttered than the prayer banner was at my feet. Jab had found it in the bus and thrown it to me.
That day my voice was fluid, and my rap rhythmic and spontaneous as never more. Pure performance. Pure inspiration. Blessings of the ancestors.
Robin Harrison was magnificent, blessed by the ancestors too. His good humour and performance skills brought a lightness to s12 that was missing in the neo-Trot dominated actions of s11, the day before. He split the skin on his fingers drumming that day.
We old hippies were teaching another generation the arts of street protest. That day we won many friends and inspired many young people. Only the s11 Trots were poo-faced wanting the crowd to return with their tired chants. "Seattle, Washington, Melbourne, Prague. Close the Forum down."
Next day some police officers who were working 16 hour shifts, complained that Robin's "It's not economically rational" rap had been echoing in their heads all night. They also complained that we had not brought Peacebus.com back to the gate to entertain them.
Robin had his long hair tied up in a topknot, and he was wearing a shirt and tie with colourful knitted trousers and his Vietnam War service medals on the lapel of his op-shop suit coat. Not many people notice medals and even fewer know their meaning. A furious police sergeant leaned over two lines of police at one barrier and said: "You bring shame to those medals." "But I have them", Robin replied lightly.
After sunset on s12 the mood at the Queensbridge Street gate turned grim.
I heard from Jab who wasn't revealing his sources to me that this was to be the gate that the police would force. A few minutes later Jab took it up himself to move Peacebus from its broadside position across the exit to a position 5 meters to one side.
He told me he had been advised to do this to prevent a crowd crush. By whom he didn't say. Myself I would have been so co-operative. But so it goes.
The optimist in me couldn't believe that the police would do this because this was by far the happiest and most crowded gate. We watched ominously as the number of police outside the Casino entrance began to grow. We witnessed a changing of the guard as the police who had been humanised by our humour were replaced by another grim faced bunch. Maybe it was only an elaborate changing of the guard, I suggested, grasping at straws.
As soon as the new guard was in position, the riot police, who had been concealed within the Casino, came out running. They wore black leather jackets, black gloves, hard hats with perspex visors and brandished US style batons. It was a US style baton charge such as I had seen on TV news. For just as the US trained the police forces of South American countries and created the death squads, so their agents have now trained the Victorian police in brutal crowd suppression.
There were about 50 people embraced in front of the barrier. The riot police charged up and began to beat the heads of those in the front line, who locked in, were unable to move. For a moment there I thought the blockade was holding. I ran to lock on at the back of that brave throng.
I saw one officer climb up on the fence beside the gate and reach over to beat heads. In his enthusiasm to do injury, he fell over the fence and for a moment crowd surfed till he fell to the ground.
Falling to the ground in a riot is a dangerous thing to do. In another culture such a police officer would have been a dead or severely injured man. But this crowd, being oriented to passive resistance and non-violence, moved back for him and he came up swinging again, now aided by his mates who had come to his rescue.
The blockade soon broke, dissolved and the blockaders peeled off, fell back around me. Suddenly helmeted officer was in front of me shouting: "Move! Move!" I stumbled backwards and fell as I did. I got a couple of batons whacks on the head and baton jab in the face while my head was down. It missed my eye, thank God, but bloodied my left cheek.
I found myself stumbling amongst the legs of police horses who had come up from behind, for it was a meticuosly planned, timed and executed operation. In what seemed about 30 seconds the police had cleared the gates and formed a defended avenue to allow the exit of the delegate's coaches. Facing the crowd there was a row of mounted police, behind them two closed ranks of helmeted riot police with their batons held at the ready, and behind them another two ranks of police officers without hats but with protective glasses. Mace-men?
The assault had filled me with fierce outrage. In the melee I had lost St John's mobile phone and the crepe bandage on my hand had come unwound. I was on fire as I strode along the line of horses flicking the end of the bandage in the faces of the horses. The horses shied back. My face bloody, my warrior spirit intense, focussed and inviolable, I eyeballed each mounted officer in turn and pointed. "Shame on you!"
As I worked the line a young man was ejected from behind the line of batons and fell amongst the hooves and almost at my feet. Kneeling I held him tenderly. He was limp and barely conscious, badly beaten. The cameras flashed. Let there be witness!
The crowd took up the cry. "Shame! Shame! Shame!" They shouted with an intensity of feeling I hadn't heard since Vietnam War protest days. The mounted police officers sat frozen, grim faced and staring straight ahead. Fear was in their eyes, and hearts were totally cut off from feeling.
A First Aid worker led me off, dabbed the bleeding with a cloth pad and filled out an incident report. I had gone unresisting thinking there was some concern about my sanity. I squatted for a minute against a wall about 30 meters back and, breathing slowly, realised my work was not yet over.
Peacebus was parked beside the gate about 5 meters back. I went back, climbed on the roof and with Robin at my side got the microphone working. Also on the roof I noticed was my no relief driver, the Mace phobic budgie, taking refuge, perched in the camper chair I had put up there for spruiking from earlier in the day.
From the roof top I could see the scale of the operation. The police lines extended in a U shape from the gate about 30 meters into Queensbridge Street and there was another line across the end of the street going off opposite the gate. My estimate was there were about 60 horses and 500 officers involved clearing the way for 5 coaches. That meant major planning, rehearsal and much malice aforethought had been involved in this operation. And it weren't economically rational.
The coaches passed through, the delegates waving at us as if they were misunderstood innocents. The crowd hissed, and held up middle fingers, reviling them for their arrogance and the brutality they had engendered in our police.
In fact the police were our audience and it was to them that we directed our voices. The sound bounced off the glass of the Casino high rise and could be heard by all the police inside and outside the security compound. The Peacebus PA was dominant, in the right place at the right time.
"Where is your heart? Why are you defending the rich who care not for you or your children? Is it just for superannuation? We are here so that future generations may have jobs, clean air, water and food. We are here for your children as well as yours. Look at about you. Is this the kind of Australia you want for your children? Shame, shame, shame…." The words just kept on coming
The buses were gone, the police lines remained and the crowd now 400 strong was united in its contempt of the police. What next? It was Robin who got it first and "You are all going to run away soon", became his chant refrain. "You are all going to run away soon."
Talk about psychological warfare, even as we sang, the police lines moved back, folded in and the police literally ran back from the street and into the refuge of corporate capitalism and the Crown Casino. They had acted shamefully and their body language showed it. The last police to withdraw ran with heads down.
The street was ours again. We had spoken our truth in public place and the enemy had shown its face. And it was ugly. Now the beast had retreated. Victory to the people!
Given that global corporate media is part of the globalisation problem, it was inevitable that the protest would be misrepresented. Indeed Premier Bracks of the corporate tamed Victorian Labor government told the news cameras with evident relish, that the protestors had got what they deserved. These were words he would live to regret. But we who were there knew that we were the true humans and freedom and safe community was on our side of the barricades.
The drums sounded and fire twirlers danced a dance of victory in Queensbridge Street till late that night.
Winding down, sharing a victory joint in our camp, I reflected that the face of international corporate capitalism as represented by the World Economic Forum was now finished. Whatever the media lies, the WEF was now inseparably associated with images of protest and police brutality.
But more than that, local resistance has been strengthened. With every baton blow, a dragon tooth was sown that would grow into a fully armed and committed fighter for social justice and economic sustainability.
S13 was a huge street party and a bit of an anti-climax. A fine Spring day at South bank, thousands of people came out and promenaded. Street theatre was everywhere. Graffiti slogans were up everywhere. Every accessible wall. A huge procession danced its way through the CBD and back again. A great line of people joined hands and attempted to encircle the perimeter.
On the first day, there were no police outside the security fence. But this day there were patrols of police uniformed in blue trench coats and white-topped peak caps. They were good-humoured and treated the crowd as if it was Moomba, smiling, helpful and making no interventions. Peacebus had its own guard. A group of six stood about 5 meters from Peacebus.com watching over us while we sat about sharing a joint.
A friend from up north had made up a steel plate Ned Kelly outfit and had stowed it in Peacebus.com. On its breastplate was painted the Thoreau quote: "When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty." Jab seized the opportunity, donned the armour and stood amongst the grinning police officers. Many, many cameras clicked. Great visual theatre.
As I sat in the concourse on my camp chair resting in the sun, many young people came and thanked me, Robin and the other Freedom Riders for our work. Angels came by and stroked my brow. Diva Dingo, the one time whip cracking performance star of Circus Monoxide and more lately part of the Walking the Land crew, came an ministered Reiki.
My scabby, pub-brawler face identified me as a minor celebrity. Journalists came to me with recorders to get sound grabs. The global Drug War and the consequent globalisation of the incarceration as an industry had made the fringe media agenda at least.
While I sat by Peacebus.com, visually identified with Nimbin, a street theatre group, all dressed up in dinner suits and evening gowns, came up to me and introduced themselves. The Global Billionaires Club uptown Collins Street branch. They explained they had come down to s13 and toured the police lines around Crown Casino to personally thank the police for their defence of corporate capitalism. They were now talking to the protestors offering them money to go away and, if that was rejected, offering it to police to beat them up. They thrust monopoly money upon me and with amused outrage, told how at one gate, a police officer had jeered at them, "Go back to Nimbin!" Such our reputation had become.
Much fear had been expressed in the Sydney media, I was told, that the s11 protestors would transfer to Sydney and cause trouble at the Olympic Games. The NSW Police Commissioner had issued a stern warning. The insider joke was that many did go to Sydney. Many of the street theatre groups performing for free at s11 had paid gigs in Sydney.
Michael Balderstone from the HEMP Embassy rang to say that I was on the front page of the local daily paper, the Northern Star. Local hero, I was quoted as saying the police ought to be charged for being in possession of the Big Joint and that the theft was a major international incident. Total war between the Nimbin HEMP Embassy and the Victorian Police was forecast. Big Joint humour had won the media again.
Meanwhile Chief Inspector John Winther, my police liaison contact, rang to say the Big Joint would be returned as soon as the streets cleared. More wishful thinking, it turned out.
All did not share my elation. A young woman came by our camp weeping and still in shock from the baton beating she had received. Later walking about the perimeter I met another woman in shock. She had witnessed an incident in which a police car had run over a protestor. She told me a car of detectives had come to a gate from behind the protestors.
When the blockaders refused them passage, the police, she said, had replied contemptuously by gunning the engine and driving into the crowd. People scattered except for one girl who was run over. Other police came over the fence with batons, forced the protesters back and called an ambulance. Fortunately the injuries were minor. Not so lucky for another girl at the receiving end of the s12 baton charge. She has spinal injuries it was rumoured and may never walk again. Many rumours.
Apart from this, the WEF ended quietly. Rumour had it that a large number of delegates had not attended the last day and were concerned about the police brutality their presence had produced. Possibly more wishful thinking. Either way, the delegates and their baggage had departed in stealth and there was no clash at the gates that night.
I made one more attempt to rally Peacebus to the blockade. But it ended in a shouting match. Jab ignoring my directions had taken a route to the gate that had entangled the banner rig in the overhead tram cables. He flew into a rage, tore down and broke the banner poles and drove off. It was over.
I spent a lot of time negotiating for the return of the Big Joint and waiting. The police at the gate were unco-operative, contemptuous and bullying, even threatened to book me for illegal parking. Eventually an officer recognised the police liaison names I was dropping, and the police fetched the bamboo frame of the Big Joint and dropped it over the barricade. But not the hemp skin with the art of Elspeth Jones upon it. Of this they denied all knowledge and responsibility.
After all the successful police negotiation during the Freedom Ride in NSW, I came away from the s11-13 knowing the Victorian police have a serious attitude problem and I was weary of it.
That night Peacebus.com headed north to Sydney and Nimbin. Happy Wheels headed west bearing me to be with my ailing father, to rest and reflection.
From the Nimbin Mardi Grass to the Melbourne World Economic Forum, the first Drug War Freedom Ride was over.
drafted 14 September 2000
(extensively rewritten and expanded 6 - 8 January 2001)