Australian police in two cities now have decided to follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in the US and Europe and forcibly break up peaceful Occupy protests. But rather than deter this broad non-partisan movement of the 99%, it is helping it grow and re-occupy.
Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Spanish “Indignants” and Occupy Wall Street, the movement is drawing in many who don’t normally protest. Apart from challenging the vast inequalities of wealth and power, Occupy is now also being driven by outrage at the military-style attacks by police and other repressive units of the state.
Occupations of public space — by a movement that is very broad and non-partisan — have become an important means for ordinary people to challenge the power of the elites and to share ideas about alternatives to this rotten system, which is geared to the interests of the 1%.
Occupy’s success is confounding the elites, who are divided over how to react.
When asked his opinion, the federal Treasurer Wayne Swan was careful not to dismiss the Occupy movement. He said he understood why people were concerned about wealth inequalities, hastily adding he only supported “peaceful protests”.
But Melbourne's lord mayor Robert Doyle described the Occupy protesters in that City Square as “self-righteous, narcissistic, self-indulgent rabble”.
Doyle has been working hand in glove with Murdoch's Herald Sun — which even published the names and photographs of “key” protesters — to get the camp removed. He is now under growing pressure to investigate the extraordinary police attack on Occupy Melbourne on October 21. Many people were injured and 95 were arrested (only to be later released without charge).
Sydney’s lord mayor Clover Moore tweeted her support for the “principles” of the Occupy movement on October 18, but stopped short of saying she supported Occupy Sydney.
She refused to allow the protesters in Martin Place to use tents and, when pressed, passed the buck saying that NSW Police had discretion to stop people erecting tents.
Yet Moore protested she hadn't been consulted about the police’s pre-dawn raid on October 23. A statement from Moore that said, in part, "the City respects the right of people to protest” clearly angered the police, which responded that they didn’t need Clover Moore’s permission to carry out “law enforcement” duties.
Armed police — including a bomb disposal unit — attacked sleeping protesters, bloodying noses and dragging people from Martin Place. No warning was given. When a drowsy protester asked to see a copy of the move-on notice, a police inspector simply pointed to a council sign nearby forbidding “camping”.
Operation Goulding involved about 200 police against fewer than 100 people sleeping — without tents — in Martin Place. Forty people were arrested — all but nine were later released without charge.
Video footage uploaded to YouTube videos clearly shows the police used excessive force.
The previous day, hundreds of police stood by — in a clear attempt to intimidate — as Occupy Sydney held a peaceful rally and concert, attended by about 1000 people.
It was a strange scene: armed police, with stun guns, dogs, horses, and scores of ambulances and police rescue vehicles, stood at both ends of the rally in which up to 1000 people, young and old, enjoyed speakers, music and workshops on a sunny Spring afternoon.
The police were clearly set up for a major clash. They didn’t get one, and at the end of the day snatched two people — later alleging that one had attacked a police officer with a torch (although witnesses dispute the police account).
Before dawn the next day — with no mainstream media to witness — the police attacked.
Headlines such as “Occupy protest turns violent” simply generate more support for the Occupy movement. Too many people can see the hypocrisy of governments here hailing the Arab Spring protests as a “flowing of democracy” while authorising the trampling of rights here.
This hypocrisy is not only bringing more people into the movement, they come with a clear understanding of corporate power — and how it’s preserved. This is a worrying phenomenon for some corporate mouthpieces such as Murdoch’s Australian, which has even editorialised against restricting people’s freedom of speech.
Violent attacks on peaceful Occupy protests have not only helped galvanise support, they have delivered a forceful, if bruising, lesson to some who are new to politics. It has clarified the role of the police — to protect the rights and property of the 1% — with force if necessary.
Conservative commentator Gerard Henderson, who also supports the police violence, has disparaged Occupy protesters for their "sense of entitlement". How dare they expect so much, he asks.
After 35 years of profits-first orthodoxy — cuts to social services, ecological vandalism, loss of job security and wage cuts as corporate profits and CEO's pay soars — the 99% are fed up. We, the 99%, are entitled to better.
[This article first appeared in Online Opinion.]