This week I’ve missed the little tent city in the centre of my town. Instead of enjoying lunchtime wanders through Occupy Melbourne to soak up the soothing vibe, City Square has returned to it’s usual arid wasteland.
The black bile continues to flow against the movement on the OM twitter stream. I get a bit shouty at the computer screen at the recurring themes. The biggest seems to be that the (insert expletives here) (insert diminutive term here) need to get a job. There’s some irony in that statement.
However all the people that I’ve talked to in the square or on the street have been gainfully employed, often highly educated and unlike the misinformation propagated by the shock jocks and Mayor Doyle, far from being dole bludgers.
Correction. One demonstrator had a bit of a moan to me about Centrelink. She was a recently separated suburban mum in her 40’s out demonstrating in the rain with her pubescent son who wanted to attend the rally. She wanted to work or retrain, feeding her family being paramount. Far from the bludging rent-a-crowd usual suspect, here was a person who’d been inspired by the collectivism and harmony of the first weekend of OM. She’d been particularly impressed by the communal kitchen and spent the week cooking healthy food for her family.
I told her, “If Occupy Melbourne does nothing else except motivate you to buy less processed junk and make better food for your kids, then it’s been an amazing success”.
But stories like this don’t tend to make their way to the blinkered, who have a high investment in the image of what the Occupy movement is about.
As for what OM stands for, there’s still a debate over it’s focus and direction. Another irony is that on the one hand some that have been attracted to OM are refreshed by its initial lack of familiar faces, that there’s a new movement of non-alligned groups and individuals. But then the same people criticise OM for its lack of leadership, direction and aims.
Serendipitously I listened to a classic Late Night Live, Phillip Adams in conversation with Gerry Stoker about the future of politics. Despite the interview being recorded 5 years ago, it could have been a fly on the wall of a discussion in the square last week, about democracy, consensus and the importance of finding a way to engage a new generation in the political process.
The way I see it, is OM is an emerging movement, strongly committed to peaceful discussion and the forgotten, time consuming process of allowing everyone to have a voice and collective decision making. This means it’s just learning to walk, let alone even being on its L Plates as a political force. If this germ of a collective is allowed to grow, I have a renewed optimism for the health and wellbeing of our planet. Cut it off at its knees and I sink back into pessimism.
It’s a movement that needs nurturing. It’s likely too unformed to turn OM into something huge and positive – just yet. But there’s hope.
Despite the unnecessary violence of last Friday, I’ve read no reports of a single window broken or threats to members of the public by OM. At it’s least it could be seen as a bunch of disparate dreamers, camping and drumming in a public space.
But at it’s most? Watch this space.
I’ll be off line over the next few days and can’t attend the rally on Saturday. I’m hoping that it’s big, peaceful and offers a few more curious souls like myself a taste of hope.
Occupy Melbourne Day 7: This in NOT what democracy looks like Mr Doyle
What a day. Between consultations with clients it was spent down on Swanston Street amongst protesters (yes I was the middle aged woman in a red trench coat and lipstick amongst the crowd on the outside of the fence shouting “This is what democracy looks like”) and watching from my birds eye view in my workplace opposite City Square. I also talked to those-that-know in the Occupy Melbourne movement, passersby and police.
The majority of people I came across in the street and at work don’t get Occupy Melbourne. Heck, most hadn’t even heard of it before today. And I’m sure they still won’t get it after the media mangles the intent and shows something suitably controversial.
What happened today was entirely the fault of Mayor Robert Doyle. For the rest of the week the police were hands off, non-antagonistic, happy and a bit bored. All that changed when the mayor ordered them to evict Occupy Melbourne supporters from City Square this morning. So the police asked them nicely to move along, go home, have a shower and a bit of nap. Occupy Melbourne opted for passive resistance instead. Did Doyle really think they’d just pack up and go quietly?
The protest had nowhere to go but the streets. No wonder the lone guard I chatted to outside the town hall at 9am looked nervous.
The media reported that at least 400 police converged on one little corner of the CBD. I asked a cop at lunchtime, having seen at least 5 city blocks packed with police vehicles, how many of them were there. “I don’t know – enough to make us feel safe”. A ratio of about 4 cops to every protester. Is that safety or overkill? With the dog squad, mounted police and riot squad all in attendance it was quite a turnout.
So why did the Council insist on the removal of the occupation today? Some suggest it’s cleaning up the city before the Queen visits. Possibly those who profit from guests paying an exorbitant room rate at the hotel overlooking the square didn't like it. Or maybe, just maybe, as I discovered when I chatted to a council employee who came down for a stickybeak at lunchtime, the real agenda may be that the council wants to begin erecting the Christmas tree in City Square. That's right, Occupy Melbourne is being auditioned as the Grinch that stole Christmas.
I don’t know why I feel the need to defend Occupy Melbourne. I'm non-aligned but went to the first day in the Square out of curiosity and was quite smitten by the protest. I like it mainly because of it’s perceived inadequacies. There's no spokesperson, clear aims, or ownership. It appears to be a truly organic, grassroots movement making it up as it goes along. Though the unions and the socialists are visible, they don’t run it. People are talking about possibilities. The usual suspects are not in charge. It has been more about talking, than shouting. This is what democracy can look like.
But the misunderstanding and venom being vented against Occupy Melbourne leaves me speechless. The hatred spewed out on Twitter, overwhelming. On the news an elderly woman said, “They (the police) should run them (the protesters) over”. Aren’t the haters a greater inditement of our society, than some people camping peacefully in a god awful city park? (For those not familiar with our civic feature – it’s a beige gravel rectangle in the heart of a place once known as “the Garden State”.)
I am still processing what I witnessed today. It has awakened my political heart and for that I’ve got to thank Occupy Melbourne, our municipal police force and yes, even Robert Doyle.
Blury iphone pic: mid-morning during the eviction of City Square. Protesters on the outside of the fence, shouting chants of support to the remaining occupiers
looking down on the Collins/Swanston Streets intersection, after police had pushed supporters up Swanston St
Worth a look
Read Samuel's Battle of City Square on his experience of being ejected and what Occupy Melbourne means to him.
Strangely, the Herald Scum's video of the eviction is worth looking at.
And even stranger, the Oz coughed up a good editorial (22.10.11)
"In a nation where open-mindedness and freedom of expression are central to the liberty we enjoy in our daily lives, we should expect the utmost reticence to restrict people's right to protest."
Anyway, I’m not a troublemaker. I’m a suburban high school teacher. I’m no radical. I’m a politics nerd, a West Wing fan. I am extremely fond of capitalism. I like stuff. I’m materialistic. I think our democracy is considerably more healthy than many of our international cousins. I make a point of letting the kids I teach know that our system is a great one, that we should protect it. Laws? They’re ace. I nearly voted Liberal once or twice. Still might, if the bigoted, zealots get the nudge.
I have my Trot tendencies, but they’re cast aside at the thought of getting my hands on the latest iPhone.
There’s a cynical picture doing the rounds on Facebook. An Occupy Wall Street crowd annotated with the branding of their clothing, cosmetics and cameras, titled “Down With Evil Corporations!”
(image via Facebook attributed to Salvatore Charles Franzese)
So if we've taken to the streets to add our voice to the call for equality, we can't be taken seriously unless we’re wearing hand-woven sackcloth?
I’ve got to admit when I sat on the ground at City Square on the weekend I couldn’t help noticing that the woman next to me was wearing designer glasses, their flashy logo twinkling whenever she moved her head. Then I moved on and thought, at least she’s here. At least I’m here. Perhaps, here in Australia with our relative wealth, we are the 1% in the global economy right now?
I wonder what would happen if one of the bankers left his glass tower on Wall Street and sat on the footpath with the protesters and listened. That’s an image I’d prefer to have in my head, than him swilling champagne and laughing at the masses.
While Occupy Melbourne began as a movement that hadn’t found its feet, slowly it is coalescing into a more cohesive voice, one of solidarity with those who struggle around the world.
Should our relative comfort mean we ignore the discomfort of others? Should we stay quiet in the fear that merely talking about the elephant in the room, how capitalism is failing so many, could brings economic collapse to our comfortable corner of the world?
I don’t think so.
Everyone has a right to adequate food, shelter and love. Do I lose the right to voice this, just because I am lucky enough to have all three?
I came away from a day in the city with an odd feeling of hope.
Hope that the generation that was only just being born at the time I was a university student flirting with radicalism, might actually save the world.
We arrived at City Square late morning, just as the carefully rehearsed speakers were finishing their monologues. As those clutching pages of notes thinned out, the speaker’s corner megaphone was handed onto anyone with something to say and the magic began to happen. I’ve always admired those who can make short, off the cuff; speeches and they were there in droves. But it was the 20-something bloke who came on after Chicken Man, talking of hope in an era of rising university fees and unaffordable rents that made me think for the first time in years that the future of our world may not be so bleak.
There was Vietnam vets, unionists, anarchists, socialist, students and a lot of ordinary people wondering through the carnival like compound. There weren’t any big names; even the lefty twitterati was conspicuous in their absence. Occupy Melbourne felt like an organic event, unorchestrated but jamming together beautifully. Some raged against the corporations, there was talk of a walk of shame up Collins Street to awaken the bankers during the week, others talked of the earth and our connections with each other.
By early afternoon the numbers had swelled from hundreds to at least a thousand. Children played in a supervised area, drummers drummed and some serious looking types sat in small circles on the grass and studiously discussed the fate of the capitalism.
What will become of Occupy Melbourne? Will it be any more than a short-lived lefty carnival? I don’t know, but like Jeff Sparrow wrote in Overland, it felt like something and I too hope it grows.
News from Day 2 via the twitterverse
About 120 (or 50 according to the official site) braved a chilly and damp night in the square , unlike the Sydney occupation shut down around midnight campers have been tolerated and even accommodated by both the police and Melbourne City Council. The forecast for a continued occupation seems optimistic.
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