I originally heard about a proposed occupation in Brisbane when I was following the other global Occupy movements. I was immediately excited and very interested in being involved, as I have never really experienced anything like it before. From my (young) perspective, this was a significant and unique event, unparalleled since the anti-globalisation protests of the ’90s and early 2000s.
The first weekend of the Occupy Brisbane movement coincided with two major events: the ten year commemoration of the SIEV X refugee tragedy and a protest against coal seam gas in south-east Queensland and Australia. Both issues represent two of the many issues Australia is facing today: refugee rights and the environment. Those involved in the Occupy Brisbane movement went to these rallies to show their support and vice versa.
The general assemblies were an example of how direct democracy and communal decision-making can actually work. Like anything, disagreements came up and like every movement Occupy Brisbane had to learn how to manage these disagreements through reasoned discussion and without silencing people.
A fair system was developed, with ideas that stemmed from the organising and planning teams held accountable to the general assembly. However, the general assemblies often attempted to pass motions on issues that, in my opinion, were logistical and could have been saved for a working body.
The immediate sentiment I perceived at Occupy Brisbane was that of solidarity, a word more frequently used thanks to this movement. There was a genuine sense of compassion for people struggling here and overseas in countries like the US, Spain, Greece and especially countries in the Middle East such as Egypt, Yemen and Syria.
Underlying this was a realisation that we were all, in our own way, fighting for the same principle: the ability to govern our own lives, as individuals and as communities, free from oppression and economic injustice. This was made very clear at a rally and march organised by the occupiers of Post Office Square.
The sense of community and cooperation at the Occupy Brisbane movement was one that I have never experienced before. Everyone was willing to lend a hand with practical and necessary jobs, such as staffing the kitchen or collecting water. There was also a centre established called “Occuplay”, which provided entertainment and supervision for the children of those occupying. A people’s library was established to provide insightful and enjoyable reading for those at the square.
Perhaps the most overwhelming sense of community I witnessed at Occupy Brisbane was the willingness for people to just sit down, listen and appreciate everyone’s life stories and world views.
So what is the future of Occupy Brisbane? The Queensland Police and the Brisbane City Council shut down the assembly at Post Office Square and the subsequent Queen’s Park occupation. Despite the authorities removing all tents and camping equipment, Queen’s Park is still occupied after a consensus decision by the general assembly voted against Premier Anna Bligh’s offer to occupy the Roma Street Parklands.
Whatever the future of ongoing occupations, the movement in Brisbane has been an overwhelming success. It has drawn in large numbers of people, many not usually involved in activism. It is too early to tell, but this movement may have injected passion and political awareness in the lives of many.
People will discuss this event and could even use it as a springboard for future activism in Brisbane, as a way for people to discuss issues and organise campaigns.
The Free University of Occupied Brisbane — which was set up by a group of diverse people, looking to learn off one another and create a space for more discussion regarding the issues we all currently face — is a very significant legacy of the movement.