occupy melbourne - view from the sidelines

Last Friday morning as I left for my psychiatrist appointment I thought, I'll leave some extra time - there's that protest thing happening in the city. News of the Occupy Melbourne people being evicted from the city square had been on the radio that morning and I was curious. I've been following Occupy Melbourne all week on Facebook (after seeing their ads on Facebook - Facebook advertising can be quite seductive sometimes) and it has occurred to me that if this protest had been happening 28 years ago, I would have been there. Predictably the tram stops before the city square and everyone gets out. I move around trying to see what's happening. There are still some people in the square. I end up looking through the recently erected security fence near Brunettis and talking about the distribution of power and wealth in this country with an older woman from the country. She seems to think that protesters are deluded, that we have it good here. I explain what I think the protest is about while thinking about how I regularly meet people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless and how it is part of my job to refer people for material aid because their payments are not enough for food AND housing. How even working families find it hard to afford a rented house in Melbourne.  How my family isn't poor or vulnerable but my mum has been on a public hospital waiting list for knee surgery for ages (and it still doesn't seem closer). That here in my suburb we don't have a local open entry high school, our primary school is surrounded by cracked asphalt and weed trees and has been without a library for the best part of two years.  That said we are lucky to live here, and to have the papers that grant us that right. Still, Australia is a very rich country and those abundant riches are not as evident in our health, education and welfare systems as they could be. Or in the way we welcome people who come to live here. So yeah, I guess I get the bit about being the 99%. The police are removing people from the city square and it is horrifying. It crosses my mind that if you were looking for an illustration of how the 1% use force to crush the 99%  and where power lies in our society, here you have it. Ugly.
view from the security fence at the city square

At my appointment, I discuss what I have seen with my psychiatrist and she is unexpectedly sympathetic to the cause of Occupy Melbourne. I tell her about how ugly the force used by the police appears, how wrong. I suggest that it feels a bit like a some fights that start in families, that once the fighting starts, no matter who is right or wrong, it's ugly for everyone.We agree that Occupy Melbourne could have been left to their devices in the city square, that it was an orderly protest and would have hurt no-one.
Moving up Swanston street
Police pushing up Swanston street


I go back to the city after my appointment and Swanston street has been closed. The protesters are corralled at the intersection on Bourke and Collins street. There are crowds of bystanders, many calling shame, shame, shame as the police shove, push and use all kinds of force. At one point what I was seeing was so brutal that I feel myself holding back the tears, not quite succeeding and I'm sure I only saw a tiny part of it.  I'm remembering demonstrations that I took part in as a student in the eighties and I don't recall this degree of police violence. There were all sorts of police there, regular police, mounted police, the dog squad, riot police - or the so called Public Order Response Team. Kind of ironic given that prior to the cops turning up, there was public order, the protest was mostly confined to the city square and the trams were running freely. It feels like such a massive display of force and the atmosphere around it is charged and outraged. People are standing on seats, getting as close as they can with there, phones, cameras and ipads. There is is this sense of bearing witness, of recording what is happening because it feels so wrong. But still the horrible violence continues.
bystanders with phones - this was at what appeared to be a particularly violent patch - protesters had been pushed back from the intersection of Collins and Swanston street
Some first hand accounts gleaned from Facebook
A Firsthand Account of Being Arrested for Protesting


Stomper Girl said...

Thanks for this story J. A hundred bucks says they only got evicted because of the Royal Visit, somebody up high had a big panic methinks.

Suse said...

I think they were evicted because Doyle is an arrogant so and so who chose to wield his power simply because he can, rather than demonstrate good governance (and common sense) and listen to his constituents. ie. I'm boss so suck it up, plebs.

Victoria doesn't feel very democratic lately. I despair.

Cardemom said...

I've just started reading your blog although I have ogled your photos a few times in the past. It's lovely, thoughtful, and brave. Thank you for writing it. C.