March on CHOGM gains momentum

Issue 

BY EWAN SAUNDERS & TIM STEWART
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BRISBANE — Plans for a massive march on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October are gaining momentum, with plans by community groups and environmental and social justice organisations in the CHOGM Action Network now well advanced.

The "March on CHOGM" is set to be one of the largest and most politically charged mass spectacles yet of the ever-growing Australian component of the global anti-corporate movement.

Taking a route through the city centre, the march is set to come to a finale at Musgrave Park, just metres from where police barricades are expected to be raised to protect the government representatives attending CHOGM.

The ALP state government, proud host to the international forum, has done its best to legitimise CHOGM by announcing a week-long program of fireworks and fairy floss. The People's Centre, People's Day, People's Festival, and People's Forum have all been carefully formulated to deflect criticism of CHOGM and weaken the appeal of a mass political protest.

The ALP has claimed that CHOGM is a legitimate political institution, a "champion of the poor" concerned with "people-centred development".

The planned protests therefore, Labor claims, are "anti-democratic". There is "no excuse for any violent or disruptive behaviour during CHOGM", Premier Peter Beattie has said, because "protesters can peacefully demonstrate their opposition by expressing their views on the internet".

The planned March on CHOGM follows the tradition of militant mass marches in Quebec City and Genoa, where tens, even hundreds, of thousands have descended on the international summits demanding an end to the policies of the free market.

The militant mass march also has the prospect of mobilising the widest number of people around demands such as cancelling Third World debt, boycotting the World Trade Organisation talks in Qatar, and calling for a treaty between government and Aboriginal Australia.

The last demand is what inspires Murri community leader Sam Watson, who told Green Left Weekly "the March on CHOGM is a critical opportunity for the Aboriginal political movement to seize the world stage and take the political struggle to a global platform. With the vast number of international media in Brisbane on October 6, it is up to us to impress the message of our protest on them."

Watson also rejected recent reports that Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has been contacted by Aboriginal leaders requesting support for land claims, stating "Mugabe is an example of a violent, despotic thug and these are the sorts of people we should be challenging at CHOGM".

"We need to join the March on CHOGM, as Aboriginal nations of this country seek justice and not just talk about reconciliation. The historical clock cannot move forward without a treaty between the government and Aboriginal people of this country," said Watson.

Among groups already planning creative additions to the march are Queers Eradicating Economic Rationalism, who are involved in planning a queer contingent, and the Queensland Conservation Council, who plan to address global climate change issues.

Friends of the Earth, which is planning to join the March on CHOGM, remains unconvinced of the Beattie government's call that "the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and protesters are on the same side when it comes to the effects of globalisation on poor countries".

Hamish Alcorn of FoE Brisbane told Green Left "CHOGM's agenda is to convince [us], with a lot of flowery rhetoric, that the Third World countries should [support] free trade agreements like the General Agreement on Trade and Services."

"We believe GATS will subordinate the social and economic needs of local communities to corporate profits."

Beattie has tried to put some distance between CHOGM and institutions like the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, saying "people should not confuse CHOGM with major international financial or trade conferences that are also held on a regular basis".

But he admits that, in the end, CHOGM is a forum committed to "free trade", arguing "CHOGM recognises the significant contribution that enhanced export opportunities can make for reducing poverty, and is calling for improved market access for the exports of all countries, particularly developing countries, and the removal of all barriers to the exports of the least developed countries".

The scene is set for a political confrontation to occur between those who are at the helm of the globalisation ship, and those who stand in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.

In the view of its organisers, the March on CHOGM will ensure that those wanting to add their voice are incorporated into protest plans.

Alcorn told Green Left "the reason why FOE is interested in the March on CHOGM is because there are many groups and individuals who are wanting to protest and the March on CHOGM is a vehicle for including the broadest range of people possible."

"We respect that some people may want to engage in civil disobedience-type actions but the key component of our call is to have as big and diverse an action as possible."

[To find out more about the March on CHOGM, check the web site on <http://www.chogm-action-network>.]