An Activists Diary: The Battle Of Melbourne
An Activists Diary – The Battle Of Melbourne
... a compilation of postings from s11AotearoaNZ@egroups.com
S11 - morning
I arrived at the blockade just before 7am on Sept 11th. The Crown complex is huge, taking up two large blocks on the south bank of the Yarra River. It is made up of Crown Towers (a hotel and conference venue) and the Crown Casino. Police had blocked off the roads running along the south and east of the entire complex (Queensbridge St and Whiteman St) and erected a 3m high fence (the bottom half concrete, the top half wire netting) around the buildings. The gaps in the fence were blocked by lines of police with long batons but without helmets or other riot gear.
The protestors had set up a stage and a small tent city on the south bank of the river across Queensbridge St from the entrance to Crown Towers entrance. The various political factions involved had their own tent with book stalls etc. There was also a first aid tent and Food Not Bombs tent, which served food throughout the protest.
By the time I arrived there were already a thousand or so people milling around on Queensbridge St. Marshals were urging people to move on to the other entrances, where delegates had already been getting in. I wandered round the corner to Whiteman St (south side). Fifty or so people had formed a human barricade in front of the police line protecting a gap in the fence. Just as I was about to move on, there was some shouting and the police began pushing towards the crowd. They generally punched and shoved and quickly formed a corridor through the demonstrators, and a bus drove up and stopped. A group of WEF delegates got off and made their way through the gap in the fence and into the Crown complex to general verbal abuse from the demonstrators. The police then retreated back to their original line and the demonstrators again formed their human barricade in front. Round one to the police!
I continued on along the south side of the complex to the main carpark entrance. Crown had hoped to keep the Casino open to the public during the conference, but demonstrators had already blocked off the car park entrance. There were three busloads of security guards (I think) waiting to get in, and while I was there several hopeful punters in cars also tried to drive through the picket line but were repulsed with a bit of agro but no violence. The chant of the moment was, "No one in, no one out". After a while the three busses also turned away and left. Round two to the demonstrators!
A group of masked anarchists then arrived with drums sounding and black flags flying - the Black Bloc! They marched past to cheers from the crowd of demonstrators, and were followed by a small contingent of media, obviously hoping for a bit of action! I followed the Black Bloc round to the west side of the complex, which is where the main pedestrian access to the casino is. I'd also heard that busloads of delegates had earlier entered via a road next to this entrance. There was a group of a couple of hundred blockaders there, plus the Black Bloc who numbered about 40. After a while there was movement on the other side of the fence. Events followed a pattern which was repeated numerous times throughout the day whenever the police tried to get delegates in or out. Lines of extra police would appear from within the casino complex, followed by an ambulance (!) and often mounted (horse) police who roamed around outside the complex throughout the day. There were probably a total of 20 mounted police (not the "hundreds" I read of in one report!). But they're still damn scary.
As previously, the police started to surge forward into the demonstrators lines, but this time there was a concerted effort to resist. Demonstrators from nearby rushed to join the line, which must have held for about a minute, but was then pushed back slowly as the mounted police joined in the melee. Punches were thrown, people fell and were hit by flying hooves, but once again I'm pretty sure no batons were used. "Medics" were soon on hand to attend to the injured. A line of two cars and two or three busses then approached. The cars headed towards the "gap" but were swamped by the demonstrators, some of whom kicked the cars as they slowly moved through. One masked demonstrator managed to jump on top of one cars and did some serious property damage to the car's roof. He was eventually dragged off and the cars made it through, but the busses were forced to turn back. This encounter was definitely a draw!
It was now some time after 9am, and the numbers of protestors on the Clarendon St side had been bolstered considerably by people who had taken part in the 9am "march and rally". Because the area covered by the protest was so large it was difficult to get an idea of the total number of protestors. The official police report said 2000, which was a joke. Maybe 5000, maybe 10,000. Who knows. It was bloody huge!
By this stage Clarendon St had been blocked by the protestors, who also erected a makeshift barricade. Cars were forced to make a u-turn over the median strip to escape. Police later closed off the road at both ends, and it remained blocked off till the Wednesday (13th).
After a while I headed back around to the south side of the complex, to where a raised section of road (Kings Way) actually runs through the casino building. There is a ramp running off this raised section down to the casino, and police were trying to get a busload of delegates through. Here the police made a right cock up of things. A group of demonstrators (200 plus) were sandwiched in between the police at the gap in the barricade and another smaller group of police who had come down the ramp behind them to escort the bus through. When the barricade police did their usual surge, the demonstrators surged up the ramp and through the line of police behind them, heading straight for the bus! The bus was forced to reverse up the ramp to the main road, and the police escort (20 or so) now found itself the meat in the sandwich! A few coppers last their hats, which went flying in to the air to general applause and yells from the crowd, but the police were eventually rescued by their "comrades". Meanwhile, a group of 50 or so demonstrators made their way on to Kings Way and blocked the traffic. As previously, a barricade was erected, and Kings Way was eventually "officially" blocked off by the police. Demonstrators had managed to shut down two major thoroughfares through the heart of the city. Later that day police advised Melburnians to avoid the city for the duration of the WEF conference unless they were on urgent business.
S11 - afternoon
"SIEGE CITY - Police rescue premier" - Headline in the Herald Sun pm edition, Sep 11 2000
After a wee sit down for lunch I returned to the barricades at around 1.30pm. I heard stories of the protestor who had had his front teeth knocked out by a police baton and of police charges on demonstrators who had tried to prevent West Australian premier Richard Court and Opposition leader Dennis Napthine getting in by car. Court was stuck in his car for an hour after its tires were let down. Baton wielding police and mounted police were called in to rescue him. Napthine had his car covered in green paint and daubed with the slogan "WEF Kills". The police later publicly castigated the two politicians for ignoring their advice and attempting to get into Crown in their own cars.
The demonstrators' tent city was a hive of activity. People were queueing up for food at Food Not Bombs, the various parties and affinity groups were holding meetings, and paper sellers were everywhere! Over a thousand people had gathered in front of the stage on Queensbridge St to listen to the lunch-time bands: Red-eyed Frogs, and Urban Guerillas. There were giant puppets, people with drums, whistles, and other instruments and people dressed up in all kinds of costumes, including a group of half a dozen "anti-capitalist clowns." Volunteers distributed free copies of "Melbourne Indy Bulletin", produced daily by the Indymedia people.
I wondered on down Queensbridge St, following the same route I had taken earlier in the morning. In front of the next entrance (where I saw delegates walk through at 7am) was a large trailer with a huge cylinder-like object on top, which was being used as a sound system and stage by some rap artists who entertained the blockaders and anyone else who stopped to listen. About ten young people where perched on the top and sides of the trailer. The rap was political, anti-WEF stuff, and was well received. Even some of the police on the other side of the barricade seemed to be tapping their toes! The atmosphere here was quite different from earlier in the morning. There was less tension, a party atmosphere even, although people were still sitting or linking arms across the gaps in the barricades. Despite the carnival atmosphere, there was not doubt that the blockade was still in force.
artists had been busy daubing slogans in chalk and paint on
the walls on and around the casino. The police barricade was
also a popular target, with "Do not feed the animals" a
common message. Other slogans included: "Open your eyes and
realise their lies" "S11 unity" "Come on Aussie come on" (!?
- Possibly a reference to John Howard calling the protestors
"unAustralian") "UnAustralian - Unapathetic" (*Definitely* a
reference to John Howard calling the protestors
"unAustralian") "We starve our children before the banquet
of knowledge whilst politicians feast on the profit of war"
"Keep warm, burn the rich" to which someone had added
"They have cold hearts"
"It is NOT inevitable that we become like them"
"Fuck the new world order"
"We live in a society not an economy"
"No gods, no masters"
"Kill your television"
Further on round at the pedestrian entrance to the casino on Clarendon St (west side) things were a bit more tense. A couple of punters were upset at not being able to get in to the casino to lose their money, and made an attempt to breach the blockade. They were quickly repelled and eventually left after a bit of argy-bargy and some heated verbal exchanges.
Not long after this (at around 2pm) the high school student march arrived. Much had been made in the press about how the evil S11 organisers had been "recruiting" children and training them for the "violent" protests, and so there was a strong media contingent on hand to greet the kiddies, who marched behind a huge red banner with the slogan "High School Students Against Corporate Greed". At a guess, I'd say there were over 200, some of them in school uniform.
My overall impression of Day One was that the demonstrators had stuck to their promise of mounting a non-violent blockade and that this had been an overwhelming success. Seeing those delegates walk through the barricades at 7am had me doubting that it was going to work, but later it became clear that many delegates (reports varied from 200 to 300) had not made it to the meeting. Some made it by helicopter, and Aussie pm John Howard was forced to travel by boat down the Yarra River!
And the police? As in Seattle, it was clear that the policy on Day One was to avoid making arrests - only two arrests were made throughout the entire day. And apart from the incidents when police waded in to rescue the two politicians stuck in their cars, it appeared that police had been under orders to avoid excessive use of force to remove blockaders, even if this meant that some of the delegates would not be able to get through. Perhaps this was part of a plan to justify the crackdown the following day. Perhaps authorities hoped that demonstrators would be the first to resort to violence. Or perhaps they just fucked up. Who knows. But the day was definitely won by the demonstrators.
"Our city held to ransom" - Headline in the Herald Sun pm edition, Sep 12, 2000
Coverage of S11 in the Aussie media ranged from wildly inaccurate to rampantly jingoistic and completely one-eyed. Some journalists continue to state that the last WEF conference was in Seattle on November 30, 1999!
Having reported (with no basis in fact) for the last few months that demonstrators (including hardened veterans from Seattle and members of anarchist "cells" involved in London's J18) were intent on causing violence and mayhem during the WEF conference, the press were in a bit of a tight spot when the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators showed an unswerving commitment to non-violence. The media's response? Make things up!
The most rabid of the local papers is the tabloid Herald Sun. It's editorial in the pm edition for Sep 12 opens: "Most Victorians will be appalled by the violence and un-Australian behaviour at the opening of the World Economic Forum's Asia-Pacific summit in Melbourne." And no, he wasn't referring to the police violence!
A two-page spread in the same issue is headed "Forum violence" and talks of "riots" and police "showing some muscle". In an opinion piece, one Andrew Bolt complains that police were letting demonstrators get away with all sorts of crimes before their very eyes (although the same issue carries a report on a police baton charge that morning that resulted in five demonstrators ending up in hospital). The "crimes" Bolt lists include "vandalism," "blocking a public road," "false imprisonment" (!?) and "littering". Interestingly enough, of the 13 S11 photos published in the same issue of the Herald Sun, not one shows anything even remotely resembling violence directed at police or WEF delegates. Two show police batoning demonstrators, one shows mounted police charging a group of demonstrators, two show police holding demonstrators by the hair, neck or arms, one shows a "wedge" of riot police with batons confronting demonstrators giving peace signs, and one shows a bloodied demonstrator being led off by medics. There is one photo of Bill Gates, one of US basketball player Kevin Garret (the "dream team" were cooped up in the Crown Towers on the Monday - "We're not putting the boys in no boat," a disgruntled team official was quoted as saying) and the rest are of delegates walking into the Crown complex.
Both the Herald Sun and the slightly less rabid Melbourne Age carried stories and/or opinion pieces praising the police for showing restraint and describing the demonstrators' tactic of forming human blockades as either "aggressive" or "violent".
Both newspapers also played up the uneasy relationship between the unions and the protestors. Union bosses like Brian Boyd played along by launching both verbal and physical attacks on the blockaders. "They (S11) don't abide by working class discipline - if they did it would have been a non-violent protest," he told the Herald Sun. Union bosses were also behind efforts to break the picket around the casino to ensure that casino workers got inside, as reported in the Herald Sun.
I didn't have much of an opportunity to see the tv news, but I will always remember a chilling bit of footage from the late news one evening showing a policeman dragging a demonstrator along the road by his dreadlocks. I also witnessed one bit of "violence" that I'm pretty sure didn't make it on to the screen. This was when a tv reporter turned on a demonstrator and ripped his placard into pieces after the demonstrator held it up behind someone while they were being interviewed.
Oh, I also ran into the members of the assignment tv crew at Melbourne airport on my way home. Chris (the director?) had a very pronounced limp, the result of an episode on the Tuesday when he'd been grabbed by the throat by police and dragged to the side of the road. Apparently he's laying an official complaint. Good luck, Chris!
"CRACKDOWN - police baton charge" - Headline in the Herald Sun pm edition, September 12, 2000
I arrived at the casino around 9am on September 12. Things appeared much the same as the previous day. Numbers were slightly smaller, but demonstrators were still blockading all entrances around the Crown complex. However, from talking to people it soon became clear that police tactics had changed completely from the day before.
At around 7am, around 200 riot police appeared from behind the barricades and attacked the 100 or so protestors who were defending the Queensbridge St entrance to the casino. There was no warning and no attempt to arrest the protestors. The aim was to clear a passage for delegates to be bussed in and to inflict maximum damage. As one newspaper reported, it was "payback" time for the police. According to the Herald Sun, eleven protestors were taken to hospital after the melee, one with a possible punctured lung. One police officer collapsed with a heart attack.
A similar operation was conducted at the Clarendon St entrance to get the delegates out that evening, in what was generally regarded as the most violent episode of the entire three days. This time more than a dozen demonstrators ended up in hospital, and journalists (including the TVNZ Assignment crew) were among those attacked by the police.
The highlight of the day was supposed to be the union march and rally organised by Trades Hall. Throughout the build up to S11, the unions had kept their distance from the other protestors, and had even played along with the media bullshit about protestors' plans for violence. But last minute negotiations had seen the unions agree to lead a march to the casino at 10.30am on Tuesday, Sept 11. In the end, it probably would have been better if they had stayed on the other side of the river, as originally planned. The march was impressive enough, with up to 5000 unionists taking part. The march ended at the stage on the south side of the river on Queensbridge St, where unionists listened to a few speeches before being given the rest of the day off. Some chose to wonder around the casino. I saw none make an effort to join the blockade. I did see unionists verbally abuse and taunt people who had spent the last day and a half putting their bodies on the line to make the blockade a success. And I did hear of unionists crossing the picket line and overpowering blockaders to ensure that casino workers could get in. This was a treachorous act against the likes of Food Not Bombs who had supported the unions during the recent waterfront dispute and who were also prominent throughout the S11 campaign. Union boss Brian Boyd rubbed salt into the wound by claiming their actions in breaching the picket line "showed unions were the true voice of working class protest in Victoria". So much for the "spirit of Seattle".
Later in the morning I met up with some members of the Black Bloc. As in Seattle, some (but by no means all) anarchists in Melbourne chose to organise themselves into a single group wearing mainly black and with their faces covered with black or red and black bandanas. They would coordinate their actions with the other demonstrators, but not be tied down to a set location or follow the "directions" of protest marshals. The Melbourne black bloc consisted of about 40 anarchists, including some from Sydney and New Zealand. Some were members of long-standing affinity groups, but the 40 had only come together as a group a few days earlier. At times they acted as a single group, and at others they split into smaller groups, staying in touch by cellphone. The attitude of the other demonstrators towards the Black Bloc was mixed. Some felt that the masks dehumanised the Black Bloc, and I must admit I found it difficult to have a conversation with someone whose face I couldn't see. But the Black Bloc did gain respect by giving their support when it was needed. Not long after I joined up with the Black Bloc members, a marshal came up and explained that some unionists were trying to get people through the blockade and could they please come and help!
At noon on the Tuesday (S12) the Black Bloc gathered in a secluded corner near the tent city for a meeting. Members raised their hands and spoke in turn. There was discussion of the tension between unionists and other protestors. Some of the Black Bloc were anarcho-syndicalists and were keen to make sure union members stayed to support the blockade. There was also a suggestion that members of the Black Bloc jump the barricades and storm the casino! However, it was noted that rushing into the arms of several hundred police officers and out of site of the other demonstrators was likely to lead to serious personal injury. A consensus was reached according to which those who wanted to storm the barricades would, while the others would support this action if it eventuated. As far as I know it didn't!
Apart from the Black Bloc, the anarchist presence at Melbourne took the form of individual protestors with black flags, smaller groups like Food Not Bombs and the IWW who operate according to basically anarchist principles, and the anarchist symbol (the circle A), which along with other graffiti could be seen on nearly every available wall, footpath and lamp post on and around the casino by the Tuesday. I also spotted some anarchist posters, but it was a pity that an anarchist book or information stall could not have been organised within the tent city on Queensbridge St. Every other political group in Melbourne seemed to have set up a table, along with the Falun Gong, who had quite an impressive display outlining the oppression they faced in China.
That's about it. Writing these posts has been just about as exhausting as running around outside the Crown Casino. I'm sure I don't have to remind everyone that they're based on my own personal observations and opinions. Don't rely on what I've told you. Read the eyewitness accounts on the Indymedia site and talk to other people who were there.
So where to from here? I was impressed by the restraint and commitment to non-violence demonstrated by protestors in Melbourne. But one thing we should learn from Melbourne (and Seattle) is that as far as the cops and media is concerned, it doesn't make a difference. As long as we stand up to the bastards we're considered fair game. Peaceful blockades are now considered acts of violence by the press. Dozens of people ended up in hospital, including a woman who was run over by an unmarked police car. Perhaps its time to change tactics, if only to prevent so many of our people getting injured. Gone are the days when police issued warnings and then moved in to make arrests. Now it's in with the batons and horses (or tear gas and pepper spray) without warning. I'm pretty sure sitting down and linking arms is not the best way to defend oneself against this kind of attack. Any suggestions?