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Diary Of A Protest – A NZer At WTO Sydney

"Diary of a protest" are the verbatim email reports from Garrick Martin of Wellington who attended the WTO mini-ministerial protests in Sydney last week, which has been largely misreported and misunderstood.

Diary Of A Protest

by Garrick Martin

"These protests, marches and rallies in Sydney highlighted the irony of the WTO and government policies which seek to liberalise trade and constraints on capital, while preventing the free movement of people. These protests were explicitly linked to the struggles of the dispossessed people around the world and the free trade policies of the developed rich countries at the expense of those still developing.

"Yesterday (Thursday 14 November) began with a general convergence in central city made up of a number of groups: socialist (in red), anarchist and autonomous affinity groups in orange, green bloc, queer bloc, indigenous folks, church groups, a big student union/education group, and the awesome 'reclaim the streets' crew - plus odds and sods and a smallish black bloc who frankly looked goofy in their masks. There was a reasonable NZ contingent - some greenies I know, plus the PGA and Indymedia (independent non-corporate media) types.

"There were a lot of young people and a surprising number of middle-age and older folks. There was also a range of nationalities - I especially noticed the Brazilians and Palestinians - they were right into it. All in all, there would have been at least 50 Kiwis involved in the demonstrations, a number of them living in Australia.

"Most of the church groups declined to go in the march - wary of the threats of police violence - promulgated by the media's continual talk of a hard-line police response to demonstrators who go too far. But they (the church groups) did attend the Hyde Park Rally.

"The protest was creative, colourful, cheerful and well organized. People had come from a vast range of different angles to protest about globalisation. 'Snackfoods Against Globalisation' was about the most extreme.

"The gathering point for most protesters was by the World Bank office and DFAT offices (Oz equivalent to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs). However, a large police presence had barricaded those buildings in anticipation.

"No march permit was given to any of the organizers, but there was never any doubt that a march would occur regardless. The crowd set out on a four-hour tour of central Sydney, stopping at major intersections for a while to 'reclaim the streets' party style, then moving on.

"One of the main objectives was ACM (Australian Correctional Management - the private company) that runs Woomera and other concentration camps for refugees. It was on route to the ACM that the first arrests were made, which resulted in attempts to de-arrest the people which resulted in further arrests of three friends of mine. They are all out now, although one of them has his arm in a sling following a pretty heavy-duty arm lock.

"It was also at this time the cops sent in the horses. The incident took place in a small narrow street where they had already arrested a guy from New Zealand. Eight mounted police charged the crowd who had no place to go. The horses (these weren't ponies either!) were pulled up, there was no room to turn around, so they tried to back the horses out. They (the horses) became skittish and a couple bolted and the woman journalist was trod on.

"The Australian printed the next day that the protesters pushed her under the horses which is just bullshit. This was typical. The Australian media didn't cover the issues at all and instead just sensationalized the protests. I've heard since that some of their un-sourced pre-written stories have even appeared in New Zealand papers. I didn't see any New Zealand media there.

"There were a couple of thousand people on the march, I'd say. The Indymedia estimates were four to five thousand, and the Australian media estimates were five hundred - more bullshit. The unity and organization and some of the chants and songs impressed me. My favourite was 'Regime change begins at home!'

"By 11 am, we'd roamed back to the Town Hall area, blocking off the whole road in front of the hall for a 'No War' rally. Then back to a march again stopping at a McDonalds and the US consulate - also well barricaded by police. Three women stripped and poured red paint over themselves lying on a US flag as a war protest and were arrested. Eventually we wandered back to the Hyde Park rally and stayed there for the rest of the day.

"On Friday a three-kilometer march of about 1500 people moved to the Novotel Hotel flanked by police until we came to the fences they'd put up in sight of the hotel. The police presence was large - perhaps as many as the marchers - with helicopters, cops on horses and trail bikes, and maybe 20 dog-handlers.

"Some groups raced around the fence, trying to knock it down; twice they almost succeeded, but the police pushed them back. It was a perfect TV and photo opp to show the 'protest violence.' Some individuals were getting picked off by cops in coveralls, who would race in, grab someone at random then drag them off. A group of protesters would swarm around them and try to de-arrest them, which tended to heighten the tension. There were about 35 arrests on Friday.

"By the time I left at mid-day, most people were ready to leave. There was relatively little violence - in spite of what the Oz media said, and in spite of the strong feelings the crowd felt about what was happening to their country - to the world - by people in the hotel just metres away. The impact of free-trade is so screamingly obvious."


- Garrick Martin, 29, has been involved in environmental and social justice activism for a number of years both in New Zealand and Australia. For the past year he has a member of Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA). Until recently a Christchurch resident, Garrick returns to Wellington on Monday 18th November and can be reached on (04) 385-7232. This article was submitted by Arena.

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