The first Drug War Freedom Ride


A Poem and Three Wind Up Letters

Freedom Ride

Let the Freedom Ride within our hearts,
Keep going on forever.
Let its memory stay with us,
Let its spirit leave us never.
I can't forget the group of people,
Who spoke with such inspiration,
Who spoke out about the system and its drug laws
And the industries of incarceration.
There were some that went inside
Who heard the prisoners' tales,
Who witnessed the pain and suffering
Locked inside the jails.
The meaning never dies
And the Freedom Ride lives on
In the burned down jails we left behind,
Ashes in the dirt.
They show how far we have come.
Reminders of the sadness and the misery,
And the cruel things men have done.

This is to say how inspirational the Freedom ride was for me.

Thanks.

Love from

Louisiana Cash-Morley
September 2000

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2 October 2000

Chief Inspector John Winther
Community Liaison
Police Victoria
637 Flinders Street
Melbourne 3000

Dear Inspector,

Return of the Big Joint

I can imagine that one of the consequences of the brutal police response to the protests at the World Economic Forum at Crown Casino 11-13 September has been a lot of clean up trouble for you and your staff. In terms of police community liaison and public relations, the handling of the protest was a disaster.

I write to prompt you in regard to one of those s11-13 troubles the seizure by police, and the apparent theft, of the Big Joint.

You will recall than I contacted you before the s11 attempting to establish some police liaison in regard to the participation of my party, the Freedom Ride, in those protests. You were most helpful over the phone (more helpful than the s11 alliance organisers, in fact) but in the event I never made any direct personal contact with you or any other police liaison officer in regard to negotiating our participation in the protests.

On the morning of 12 September I rang you again in regard to the Big Joint, a 14 meter long bamboo and hemp canvas structure which had been brought to Melbourne from the Nimbin HEMP Embassy in northern NSW. I explained that our intention was to use the Big Joint, the central icon of the annual Nimbin Mardi Grass Parade and Cannabis Law Reform Rally, to put the Drug War on the agenda of the WEF in the same way as the HEMP Embassy took the Big Joint to the NSW Parliament in May 1999 to put cannabis law reform of the agenda of the NSW Drug Summit.

When I spoke to you, you were aware of the media release put out in this regard. You 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 although the media release stated that the Big Joint would "like a giant battering ram .. be attempting to burst through the doors of the besieged WEF", this was a media hook and that our interest was theatre and media attention, not confrontation.

As it turned out, our theatre with the Big Joint was short lived. When I managed to get the Big Joint to the Queensbridge Street gate of the Casino, it went sailing over the barricade, pushed from the rear by unionists and other strangers who were not heeding my instructions, and pulled at the front by the police at the barricade. These police officers also actively impeded by efforts to hold back the Big Joint by punching me in the face and ribs. In my futile struggle my right hand was lacerated on the bamboo of the frame.

When in full possession of the Big Joint, the police officers carried it to the rear of the security area, lay it beside the Casino entrance and removed its hemp skin. For the rest of the day the Big Joint frame and skin were visible to us from the other side of the security fence in Queensbridge Street.

At once I began negotiations for its return with the police officers at the gate. To say they were uncooperative is to understate their attitude. 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 fascieous.

For the rest of the afternoon we Freedom Riders played with these negotiations. The Freedom Ride bus with its rooftop PA was brought up to the gate and, with drums and song, we entertained the protestors and the police there with our Drug War rap and our refrain: "Give us our joint back, please, please." 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.

In the late afternoon of 12 September I rang you again. You told me you were in the middle of a major meeting and hung up abruptly. I guess that must have been the planning meeting for the police assault on the protestors that took place later in the evening.

Later I rang again, caught you were driving home, and explained the circumstances. You gave me the name and number of Sgt Tony Demarte to contact.

I spoke to Sgt Demarte the next day (Wednesday 13 September) and he told me the Big Joint would be returned at the end of the day when the streets were clear.

I waited till evening and approached the police detail at the gate and their response was rude, contemptuous and bullying. Eventually the name of Sgt Demarte was recognised and the police officers at the gate, a new shift, returned the frame but not the skin of which they claimed no knowledge and for which they admitted no responsibility.

I rang Sgt Demarte about the missing skin and he said he would make inquiries the next day though he gave the impression it was not as high a priority for him as it was for us. The Freedom Ride wanted to get on the road and go north.

The next day Thursday 14 September, Michael Balderstone from the Nimbin HEMP Embassy rang Sgt Demarte in regard to the return of the Big Joint skin. Sgt Demarte informed Mr Balderstone that he expected it to be in the lost property of the Casino. I went that afternoon and checked at the lost property office of the Casino and confirmed it was not there.

Since then Mr Balderstone had made other attempts to contact Sgt Demarte on the cell phone number you supplied but he has not returned calls.

The skin of the Big Joint is 14 meters by 4 meters of hemp cloth painted on one side with a peace dove and the slogans "Let it Grow" and "The Law is the Crime". The replacement cost of the skin is estimated at $450 for the hemp cloth plus the labour involved in the sewing and painting. It weighs about 20 kg and needs two people to carry its bulk and weight.

As such the skin is not something easy to lose or spirit away. Given that there were some 500 police officers in that security area I must assume that somewhere there is one or more police officers who know when the Big Joint skin was removed from Crown Casino and to where it was taken.

I am asking you now, as I have asked in the past, to take this matter seriously, for it is a matter of theft and police officers are implicated.

Please call me (0412 609 373) as soon as you have something to report. I am sending a copy of this letter to Ombudsman's office.

I want to conclude by bearing witness to how appallingly uncivil the behaviour of the general behaviour of the police was at s11 and how brutal they were on the morning and evening of 12 September. I was a witness to the evening baton charge and got beaten about the head and jabbed in the face.

The response was as vicious as it was unnecessary. I can say this with confidence because we Freedom Riders had come from a series of protest actions in NSW where we dealt with police who approached protest with attitudes that contrasted radically with the attitudes displayed by Police Victoria at s11-13 and that produce radically contrasting outcomes.

Our Freedom Ride had been on the road for 10 weeks before arriving at s11, presenting peaceful protests outside NSW jails in regard to the global Drug War and the consequent growth and globalisation of the incarceration industry. In that time we did over 15 different protest actions in public places.

Each of these actions was planned in win-win negotiations with senior police, usually the local area duty officer. As a result our actions made their point, got media attention and produced no confrontation with police.

Something went radically wrong with police liaison for the s11-13 protests and the cost is that the protests were made unsafe, people were injured, shame and disrespect was brought upon the Victorian police service and the expectation has been set that future Victorian protests will be violent and dangerous for police and protestors alike.

In terms of community liaison there is much healing to be done and many lessons to be learned. I wish you well.

Peace be with you.

Graeme Dunstan

cc. Mr Barry Perry
State Ombudsman

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3 October 2000

Mr Peter Ryan
NSW Police Commissioner
Avery House
College Street
SYDNEY 2000 Dear Mr Ryan,

Thank you, Thank You

On 25 May 2000, I wrote to you seeking your personal support and guidance for the Freedom Ride. I appealed to you, and the best of the NSW Police Service, to help us manage this political protest in the most effective and peaceful manner possible and to plan it in close liaison.

The first Drug War Freedom Ride is now over and I am pleased to report that it was an effective and peaceful protest. We did not pull big crowds and we did not pull big media, but never-the-less the witness we bore to the global Drug War and the consequent growth and globalisation of the incarceration industry was powerful and influential.

Many people have been inspired by our example to work for social justice and many seeds were sown. The fruit of our actions are always many and varied. I have faith that future generations will thank the Freedom Riders for making visible this particular tyranny and ploughing the fields and planting the seeds of future justice, peace and freedom.

I thank you and all the Police officers under your command who gave peaceful passage to the Freedom Ride.

In particular I want to acknowledge the good work of the appointed liaison officers, Sgt Jeni Burdekin and Ms Michelle Thatcher. They were courteous and efficient, but more than that for me they were like helpful friends who inspired confidence in the police in me and, through me, the Freedom Ride crew and many others.

I also want to acknowledge and thank all the Duty Officers we met. Every one of them treated us with respect and courtesy and demonstrated a deep commitment to peace making, social justice and freedom of speech. You have every reason to be proud of the police command you have put in place in regional NSW and Sydney.

The Freedom Ride was nothing if not a unique and fascinating voyage through the police culture of NSW. There is much I could say about it but I limit myself here to observing that there is a common ground of concern about the impacts of the Drug War on community and policing. There is also a common ground of concern about the violence (murder, assault and suicide) that is happening beyond the reach and influence of police in the crowded and Drug War riven prisons of NSW.

The Freedom Ride concluded at the s11/World Economic Forum protests in Melbourne. I witnessed the baton charge on the evening of 12 September - in fact I had my head beaten and bloodied there. The contrast between approaches to the policing of public protest could not have been more dramatic.

It will be interesting to hear the results of the Victorian State Ombudsman's inquiry into police actions at that protest. But as a participating observer, it was plain to me that the baton charge was a planned and rehearsed operation and that it was executed because the police officers responsible had invested in that response to the exclusion of all peaceful and non-violent alternatives. There were no attempts at mediation.

The forces of darkness within Police Victoria had taken the upper hand and the result was bloody and tragic. More than any other factor it was the police actions, which made that protest unsafe. Five hundred people were injured by police (I understand one young woman may never walk again), shame and disrespect was brought upon the Victorian police service and the expectation was set that future Victorian protests will be violent and dangerous for police and protestors alike.

Which brings me around to the second thank you. Thank you for managing the security of the Olympics with such restraint and achieving such peaceful outcomes.

In retrospect it may be observed that the most dangerous element in the Olympic Games mix was the police with their hair triggered Glocks, their multi million dollar emergency response training and preparations, and their heads full of fantasies about terrorist attacks fostered by the scripts of too many TV police dramas and evil people with ambitions to further and armaments to sell.

So easy to beat up fear about what might happen. So difficult to keep grounded in the reality of everyday ordinary community where people want to live in peace and strive for happiness. The fact is there is no crime wave out there, and no mass movement for the violent over throw of the state - just a lot of suffering people dealing with escalating poverty, the alienation of our youth and the ravages of the Drug War.

You sat in the hot seat where the judgements had to be made and achieved peaceful and safe outcomes. I honour you for that as every citizen of NSW should.

Peace be with you,

Graeme Dunstan

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20 October 2000

The Honourable Steve Bracks
Premier and Member for Williamstown
Box 524, WILLIAMSTOWN 3016

Fax: 03 9397 7227

Dear Mr Bracks,

Globalisation, S11 and Mining Act Misjudgments

As someone who was on the receiving end of a police baton on the evening of 12 September it heartening to see in the media that you are retreating from the position you took at the time saying: "The protesters got everything they deserved."

Those young people were blockading the World Economic Forum because they cared about the future and your statement made you look like a politician without a future.

I want to bring your attention to another error of judgement: to wit your government's decision to proceed with amendments to the Mining Act which would make it easier for gold miners to dig open pit mines. These changes will mean that residents in the goldfield towns can expect huge pits to be dug, not just near, but in their towns, and right up against their fences and compensation will be capped at $10,000.

As an active member of the Big Hill Action Group (BHAG) in Stawell two years ago, I returned to Stawell via s11 to find the Action Group devastated by this news.

The amendments had their first reading three days after a consultation meeting between BHAG and your Minister for Mines, Candy Broad. The BHAG delegation, who had made the trip to Melbourne at their own expense, realised that this meant that the amending Act had already been printed, the government decision had already been made and the show of consultation was a sham.

At once BHAG assumed, and the word went out, that your government was in the pocket of the miners and multinationals (a sum of $3 million dollars was being mentioned) and once again you were looking, locally at least, like a politician without a future.

You have to understand that it takes a very special commitment to oppose a mining proposal in a country town where the miner is the biggest employer. Country towns are conservative at the best of times and, while miners have lots of capital at their disposal and can buy and call in lots of favours, an action group must make do with volunteers of disparate interests and talents and whose only common ground is the shared conviction that they act together in the best long term interests of their communities.

Such activism is a labour of love and involves a lot of psychic wear and tear. There are no financial rewards and very little public gratitude to be had even in success. Many burn out or have their family life wrecked by the experience and swear never again to be engaged in citizen action.

Yet citizen action is the basis of democracy. Small citizen groups speaking up and speaking out for justice is what keeps the political leadership honest, responsive and fresh. Like the freshening breeze before a storm, it is the small voices at the margins which first signal big changes are coming.

When the Big Hill Action Group was up against the Kennett Government, no government minister or politician and no metropolitan media would listen to them. In the face of cynicism and despair they rallied a team to engage in the consultation process, attend meetings, read mountains of reports and write responses. At that time BHAG was the only voice in this neck of the woods, questioning, and speaking out against, Kennett.

The rural rejection of the Kennett government revealed that BHAG, and its over-arching concern about fast buck multinational gold miners overriding local community environmental concerns, was much more in tune with voters that any number of pre election poll experts.

The boys at the big end of Collins Street may think you a hero and fill up your campaign coffers if you ram through the Mining Act amendments to make easier for the proposed open pit at Stawell to proceed. But from the grass roots perspective, it will be judged another instance of poor judgement and your government will have lost trust and friends.

Please think about the future, Mr Bracks. A lot of citizens do and they do not trust globalisation. Do you?

Yours sincerely,

Graeme Dunstan

 

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