BY SUSAN PRICE
SYDNEY — "Wow!" was the first word that journalist John Pilger said as he stood before the 2100 people who had filled Sydney Town Hall on March 1 to hear him speak. Titled "Breaking the silence: war, propaganda and the new empire", the huge meeting was sponsored by Green Left Weekly. In his hour-long address, Pilger canvassed many issues and stridently called for people to get involved to change things for the better.
Sydney's Solidarity Choir opened the meeting, which was chaired by Lisa Macdonald, a member of the Socialist Alliance and former GLW editor.
The Australian government came under fire from Pilger for its complicity in Washington's misnamed "war on terrorism" and its treatment of asylum seekers.
The HMAS Adelaide, responsible for firing across the bow of the refugee boat at the centre of the "children overboard" lying-scandal, is now part of the fleet that is enforcing the blockade which kills 6000 Iraqi children under five years old every month.
Pilger dramatically drove this point home, pointing out, "Since September 11, 30,000 Iraqi children have died, mostly as a result of the blockade on their country. We know the tragic stories of those killed in the New York atrocity, we've seen their families grieving ... but we know almost nothing of the children of Iraq.
"Australia is not at war with Iraq, but it is at war with refugees, many of them the result of the blockade on Iraq. Sending the SAS to prevent traumatised men, women and children from landing in safety, then steering them to miserable conditions on remote Pacific islands, where several have caught malaria, is a disaster on the scale of sending troops to Vietnam", Pilger said.
Pilger took aim at mainstream media commentators who are now "shedding crocodile tears over what they call the government's 'outrageous deceit' on the 'children overboard' story, [but who] played a critical part in the false hysteria that has hardened public attitudes towards the refugees".
Describing the US military offensive after September 11 as "a war on world-wide popular resistance to an economic system that determines who will live well and who will be expendable", Pilger called for "opposition to a so-called war on terrorism, that is really a war of terrorism".
"We can no longer afford to say how depressing things are and walk away", he said. "We can no longer afford to trust those politicians who like to call their followers 'true believers' at election time, but collaborate with the enemies of those of us who keep the faith. Putting aside cherished illusions may be hard, but identifying the main source of terrorism and danger in the world is now urgent."
Pilger was optimistic about the impact of the anti-corporate globalisation and resistance movements sweeping the world. He urged anti-globalisation activists in particular not to be distracted by the lie "that September 11 has changed everything".
Recalling the hundreds of thousands of people who walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge last year in solidarity with Indigenous Australians, Pilger was at pains to impress upon the audience that such powerful spectacles are not enough.
"Nor is it enough to plant a sea of hands, or to sign sorry books. You see there's a gulf between that which feels right and that which changes things. Between compassion and political action. That gulf can only be bridged by mass action, constant and unrelenting."
Pilger was asked many questions in the hour of discussion — including how to rebuild the trade union movement. After recounting the inspiring example of the Liverpool dockers' struggle in Britain, Pilger argued that the misleadership of unions was a problem. In Australia, he argued, another problem was trade union leaders' connection with the ALP — "a party not concerned with trade union rights".
Pilger ended the evening by reading an appeal from Dita Sari, chairperson of the Indonesian Front for Labour Struggle, for funds to establish an independent newspaper in Indonesia. A bucket collection as people left raised $830 for the fund.
Hundreds of copies of GLW were sold to participants, as were dozens of subscriptions. Funds raised from ticket sales will help GLW to continue to be produced.
From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.
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