Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Melbourne, or what became the Story of the Riot Police and the Peaceful Protesters

There's been something in the air the last year. The Libyan and Egyptian agitation for regime change. Slut Walk. The Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to hundreds of countries around the world. People are standing up for what they believe in. Or in this case, sitting in.

I watched the events unfold in City Square in Melbourne yesterday on Twitter, Facebook and the online media from my office at work. Several of my friends were down there, and had been down there on and off for the six days that the Occupy Melbourne camp had existed. Sharing poetry. Looking after security and the camp kitchen. When things began to escalate, I was worried for them.

 I feel the only way to label these photos is "Before riot police arrived ...

An eviction notice was served on the camp at 7am. A heavy police presence arrived. The campers began to be fenced in.

Then the riot police descended. Riot police. A group of hitherto peaceful, well behaved protesters who were chanting and had linked arms to defend their tents warrant riot police? We've seen riots in Melbourne, and this wasn't one.

...and after." (Images from The Age)

I don't consider myself a political person. I want to write. I want the people whose job it is to oversee the country to do their damn jobs. I haven't been down to the Occupy Melbourne camp this week because it's a situation I only tenuously understand. But I believe the government should be reminded at every opportunity that they're here for the people, all the people, not only to grease the wheels in order for businesses to make profits, and they had my support: I am sickened by corporate greed. Bailouts. CEO bonuses that go beyond vulgar and border on vile.

Sometime around the middle of the day, when protesters had been pushed into the street. (Image from Facebook.) From the Age: "Greens MP Colleen Hartland, who was there as an observer, said: 'Police in riot gear just started to push me and once that happened I decided that I would be joining in.' "

I can also see the other side. The protesters said they would leave when they were asked, and they didn't. Some businesses in the square were hurting. But this remained, until the police were involved, a peaceful protest.

Waking up this morning, I was appalled by the images and news stories that greeted me. The crowing by a certain newspaper that a job had been well down. The repeated statement by Doyle and the police that the police were "giving back the square to the citizens of Melbourne".

These are the citizens of Melbourne.

A protest doesn't only belong to those who directly participate in it. It affects everyone who walks by and sees it, who reads about it on the news or sees a picture on Twitter. The protest isn't the point after all. Its job is to be the catalyst for enduring social change. And there is a change in the air.


  1. I had work at the Regent last night but I was in the city since 12. But I was astounded at the number of police that were there. And even blocking off Swanston street from Collins to Burke was a bloody nuisance, having to go through arcades with both incoming and oncoming traffic. I just said I wish they had this number of police in the city everyday doing their proper job; dealing with crime. This protest wasn't a crime. It was a 'hear us' statement. And disregarding that they aren't Melburnians just shows what type of government we live in.

  2. I am appalled at the way the police acted in Melbourne. I am tempted to say that this is what you should expect from Victorian police, but I fear that the Queensland police would be little better.

    If there is change in the air, the 'powers that be' are doing the best to suppress that change.

    The problem is that while there appears to be widespread agreement that the way things are in so many spheres of our society is unacceptable, there is no alternative. Worse, there appears not to be much of a conversation occurring in search of an alternative.

    We really need that conversation.