'Lock up war criminals, not protesters'

Issue 

Sydney is to be shut down in the lead-up to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit from September 2. US warmonger-in-chief George Bush will be attending amid an unprecedented amount of money and effort being spent on security.

Thousands of people angry about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fossil-fuel and nuclear obsession of Western leaders and attacks on workers' rights across the globe will be converging on Sydney for the Stop Bush protest on September 8.

Green Left Weekly spoke to activists about why they will be protesting and about the security hype and intimidation coming from the NSW political establishment.

Alex Bainbridge, a spokesperson for the Stop Bush Coalition, which is organising the main protest during APEC, said that given the extraordinary attempts by the NSW ALP government and police to intimidate people into not taking part in the APEC protest, the event will go down in history as a line in the sand for democratic rights.

"We're urging people to defy all attempts by the NSW police and government to intimidate us from taking to the streets when Bush and Howard are in town for APEC. You cannot look the other way in the face of such massive injustice as the bloody war in Iraq, or attacks on workers' rights. It's especially important to take a stand given that the Howard government is complicit in this war, and we know Howard's got worse planned for workers if he gets back in."

"We now also have to defend our democratic right to protest, another reason to join us on September 8", Bainbridge said. "These protests will go down in history as helping push Howard, and his rotten policies, out. The bigger they are, the stronger the message we also send to any incoming Labor government that we will not stand for a paler imitation of the Coalition."

Paddy Gibson, also from the Stop Bush Coalition, believes PM John Howard is using APEC to enforce policies that are deeply unpopular. "He's showcasing the US-Australian alliance and the relationship with George Bush. This alliance has many aspects, but the worst is the war in the Middle East and the promotion of nuclear power."

Gibson, who is one of the 29 "excluded people" prevented under the new police powers from entering the "prohibited zone" in central Sydney, has rejected attempts to restrict the right to protest. "Why is the NSW Labor government attempting to suppress protest against these deeply unpopular policies?", he asked.

"I have never been convicted of any offense. I have, however, been involved in organising anti-war activity since the invasion of Iraq."

Two NSW unions are supporting the Stop Bush Coalition protest — the Maritime Union of Australia and the Fire Brigades Employees Union (FBEU). FBEU senior vice-president Jim Casey said his union had three concerns about APEC. "First, the economic agenda pursued by APEC, and other organisations like it, is a neoliberal one and, as public sector workers, our industry is particularly susceptible to neoliberal attacks. Howard's Work Choices is the local expression of that global agenda, and our union opposes it and all legislation like it.

"Secondly, we are mobilising against Bush and the war on Iraq. We're doing this as citizens of a country that has been dragged into the war and, as firefighters and emergency services personnel we're pretty much on the front line when it comes to terrorist attacks. Finally, the criminalisation of protest is something we're very concerned about."

Wenny Theresia, an activist in the Australian Student Environment Network, is helping organise anti-nuclear protesters for APEC. "I'm concerned about the nuclear push at APEC and afterwards. Australia is positioning itself to export more coal and greater quantities of uranium, neither of which are solutions to climate change." Theresia is also concerned about the new US-led nuclear pact, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, that Howard is keen to sign Australia on to.

Commenting on the police powers during APEC, Theresia said that, while police intimidation has had "a serious impact on the activist community, it may also have the effect of making us more determined to demonstrate on that day".

Pip Hinman, anti-war activist and Socialist Alliance candidate for the federal NSW seat of Grayndler, said that if the NSW state government's efforts at intimidation and threats is a forerunner of what's in store under a federal ALP government, the social movements have a lot of work ahead of them to defend basic rights.

"The Howard and Iemma governments are united in their 'violent protester' black propaganda. They have every reason to be nervous because the issues we are highlighting at the APEC protest actually concern the great majority of Australians. They want to make out that we are somehow abnormal for not just having an opinion, but also taking a public stand on matters of international significance and encouraging others to do the same.

"It's concerning that it's been the NSW ALP that has brought in draconian laws that hark back to 1950s McCathyism: secret lists of people who cannot be identified, and who are not allowed to exercise their democratic right to protest", Hinman said.

"That red scare campaign was defeated back then, and we'll do the same again. But we'll have to rebuild the strong social movements of unionists and anti-war and other social justice activists to defeat these latest attempts to scare us out of organising public dissent."

Lauren Carroll Harris, an activist in the socialist youth organisation Resistance, is helping to organise the high school walkout against Bush on September 5. The student walkout has received a lot of attention from the corporate media, and the NSW minister of education John Della Bosca has sent letters to principals warning them against allowing political action on schools.

"I haven't seen this sort of police intimidation against young people [before]", she told GLW. "The scare campaign is outrageous. The authorities talk about the disruption we're causing! What really is disrupting is the 2.8 metre high fence that will divide Sydney; the clearways across Sydney; the no-go zones and ID checks that will be taking place. Some $170 million is being spent on APEC 'security'. That's a massive waste of resources given that public hospitals, education and housing are all in dire need of extra funding.

"Attempts to silence young people who are overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq and the economic policies of APEC will not work. The authorities want to strip people of their confidence to protest, but young people are not so easily cowered. We'll be standing up and defending the right to protest.

"Young people don't want to inherit a world where profit comes before human lives and our planet. The war criminals coming to town should be locked up, not the protesters."

[For more information about the Stop Bush Coalition protest or to get involved visit http://www.stopbush2007.org.]

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