Saturday, 25 February 2012

We should all support Occupy Sydney's legal protest

Glenn Wall this morning at Occupy Sydney
in Martin Place
As an interstate tourist I take an interest in what happens outside business hours in the central business district (CBD). I arrived in Sydney last Saturday and got up early on Sunday morning because I had to do some work on a story. There's not much in the way of food shops where my hotel is, so I tramped down Martin Place to George Street where there's a McDonald's restaurant. On the way down the plaza I passed the Occupy Sydney people, some of them asleep on the pavement, and also a group of young people who had spilled out from one of the two nightclubs that are situated on the corner of Elizabeth Street. Then crossing the street I felt something hit my back. I turned around to see two young men looking in my direction. One of them had thrown a cigarette lighter at me as I crossed the road, and it had hit me fair and square. I didn't talk to them and I didn't stop because they were both younger than me and had probably been drinking alcohol all night.

Since then, I've stopped several times to chat with the Occupy Sydney people, including Glenn, shown in the picture, as well as with Lance and Lily. They are delightful people. They're always ready to have a chat and share a carton of chocolate milk from the convenience store down the street. They don't drink until all hours. And they don't throw cigarette lighters at the backs of passing strangers, just for kicks. Why the police are giving the Occupy Sydney people a hard time is beyond me, harmless and peaceful as they are. And they're protesting legally, so requests from the police for the to "move on" are unwarranted and illegal. Glenn told me that police harrassment has lessened in the last week. But many of these people have had to go to court to fight charges laid against them by a police force seemingly ignorant of the way the law works in Australia.

I sent an email to the Sydney City Council on Sunday morning making the comparison I have also made here - between the Occupy Sydney people who have been demonised in the Murdoch press, and the apparently respectable young people who frequent Sydney city nightclubs - but I received no reply. Clearly my experience is an embarrassment for the city authorities, but it's a tale they should heed because to continue to harrass Occupy Sydney is going to turn out to be a losing proposition. There are a mere handful of souls who regularly appear, Glenn told me, numbering about 20. Others have backed away due to the police visiting their workplaces and talking with their employers, Glenn told me.

The dedication and commitment shown by the people who comprise Occupy Sydney is salutary. Their willingness to endure discomfort and harrassment, to have lies told about them in the right-wing press, and to put up with disparaging comments made by some members of the passing public, are worth keeping in mind. Political protest is legal in Australia. And for good reason. The fight Occupy Sydney is fighting is a fight that all of us have an interest in.

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