The first I heard about Occupy Wall Street was on the Adbusters website months ago, when they first proposed the idea to their readership. Intrigued (and sort of excited) I reposted the link to facebook, saying something like: “I wonder how this will work out?” And now I have my answer. People from all kinds of backgrounds and situations are taking part in a global movement dedicated to information sharing and open discussion about the reality of the society (and economy) we live within. I know enough about this issue to be totally honest and let you all know that I definitely DON’T know enough to be informing anyone of the statistics or the economic theory or any of that. However, I have a well functioning brain, I live in Melbourne, I’ve read the personal accounts, I’ve seen the public reaction, I documented the march on the weekend and I’ve seen photos of a guy I know with a fucked up face from pepper spray, so I’m going to get my thoughts out in this column because, you know what? I’m not really thinking about much else at the moment.
I went to the Occupy Melbourne campsite the day before it was pulled apart by the police. I was intrigued by the show of solidarity, and was eager to see how they were getting out the message to the people in the area. I’d heard some pretty dismal things about this protest- a lack of focus, too many different causes in the same area, nothing clear, a bunch of hippies and hipsters camping out in the city singing Bob Dylan songs and not getting much done in the way of deciding what the cause is actually about… and that’s largely what it came across as. I walked into the area at around 11:30am with my camera, and noticed that Melbourne was spelt wrong on the entrance sign, the banner about the USA was worded terribly, and the guys sitting in their tents weren’t particularly welcoming; I was just glared at as I walked past. I can only imagine how nine-to-fivers on their way to lunch must have reacted to this same vision (I saw a whole lot of shrugged shoulders and bemused expressions, and overheard only negative comments), and it’s not surprising that this disorganization was so largely focused on in both mainstream media and blogs. I walked away disappointed, annoyed at the chain smoking, spaced out guys playing guitar for turning it into a cliché, and at the organizers for allowing such a confusing array of things to come together under the banner of solidarity for the people struggling in America, and other parts of the world badly affected by the current economic climate.
In my mind, Melbourne was no place to protest the unfair distribution of wealth and a broken economy, because Australians are BARELY touched by this shit. Your average Australians- the voting majority- are only kind of pissed off about their quality of life. There isn’t huge unemployment, and for those who don’t have jobs, it’s often not because the jobs don’t exist. There isn’t enough to switch the uncaring out of their comfortable-couch-in-front-of-the-telly lifestyles, and they’re not going to pay attention to what a weirdly dressed dude with peircings has to say. In my experience with people in this country, the majority seem more concerned about the “boat people” getting a “free ride” from TAX PAYER’S MONEY than about the fact that the refugees are trying to escape a corrupt country where children walk the streets with guns, or a country in which death is an accepted form of punishment for a woman who is suspected of having a boyfriend of a different religion.
The day after my visit, police were sent in to the campsite to get rid of it, which eventuated in violence. There are many bloggers and journalists more informed than I who have written in the last few days about the psychological impact that police have on a protest, and I have heard rumours (which I am inclined to believe) that undercover cops were planted amongst the crowd to rile things up a little. My acquaintance who was pepper sprayed in the face said that it was done to him because he rushed out of the crowd to help an older guy up from the road who had been pushed over. Not one account I have read from within the group of protesters, or the witnesses for that matter, said that the original protestors started the violence. It all came from the riot police, and it is because of this that I believe Occupy Melbourne has now come into it’s own and is a far more relevant movement than it’s original incarnation, one full of tension, unrest and, I suppose, hurt.
Through violently displacing the participants of the protest off public property and on to the streets, without any discussion or empathy for their reasoning or ideals, the Victorian government quite literally pushed Occupy Melbourne into marching through the city the next day, marching from one area to another so they could get their shit together and formulate a plan for dealing with this newly discovered violation of what is largely perceived as the right of any
individual living in a democratic nation. Fuck caring about that original clumsy cohesion of ideas- no one deserves to be beaten up for camping in a public place, even if it is technically illegal, and no one should be told to shut the fuck up just because the Queen will be in town next week. Are you worried the Queen will think you’ve lost control over your city Doyle? Think she’ll be angry about your shitty leadership because there are protestors in your streets? WELL HOWZABOUT YOU TRY BEING A BETTER FUCKING LEADER.
I suppose this is the best example Australians have right now about the reason these protests started on Wall Street in the first place- sweeping the dirt in the visible areas away under the couch is easier than moving all the furniture around to polish the floorboards, even though the floorboards will have to polished anyway, so when you get around to it, those babies are going to be pretty fucked up from all that scum under the couch for so long.
And that’s the thing we all have to keep in mind when this issue is brought up- the actual PROBLEM these people are reacting to. The focus should not be on the lack of organization in the Melbourne camp, which will come with time, because the level of democracy they are striving for will mean that it will be a long process to get to a final statement… what’s incredible and exhilarating about this movement is the fact that they are willing to take that time, to stay true to democracy, to give anyone who cares a say in what happens next, to take all attitudes into account.
These aren’t ideals we can see in our own government: politicians bicker, they hire publicists to market themselves to the public, they launch smear campaigns, rely on spreading fear and resentment amongst the uninformed, and will ignore opposing beliefs by the people they are supposed to be representing because they aren’t the majority. There are too many people in the world for this to still be the case. It’s time for a change. The world has changed SO FUCKING MUCH in the last 50 years, even 20 years, and I’m pretty sure it’s time to polish the fucking floorboards before the new tenants come in, you know?
Occupy everything. Spread the word. Support what you believe, in any way you can. Show your discontent. Stay informed. Teach yourself. Don’t get caught up in distorted representations, read all sides and judge for yourself. As with anything. Rant over.