As preparation for APEC, the NSW Labor government made a list of every one of its tried and tested methods for suppressing dissent. Then it went away and thought up a few more! It used every measure it felt it could get away with — purchased a new water cannon, increased police powers, emptied jails — in order to intimidate people into not joining the September 8 "Stop Bush" protest.
The state government succeeded in making Sydney look and feel like a police state during APEC. However, despite all their best efforts (and expenditure of more than $300 million), both the state government and federal Coalition government came away looking second best after the September 8 rally.
People power is always stronger than police or military power when people are united, confident and mobilised.
The rulers know this and that's why they went to such efforts to scare people away when both their "war on terror" and "Work Choices" projects are on such thin ice and when the world's media was focused on Sydney for APEC.
Their intimidation campaign aimed to sap our confidence and willingness to come onto the streets. We responded with calm defiance and a determination in the circumstances to organise a peaceful protest. This was combined with a consistent promotion of a positive message that cut against the pro-capitalist policies of war, attacks on workers' rights and refusal to take urgent action on climate change.
It was this combination that inspired people to come out and join the protests.
The most important lesson from this protest is that people do care about social justice and will come out in support of their beliefs when they feel it will make a difference.
It also showed that the majority of people in this country support civil liberties. It is not easy for a government to take these away without paying a high political price.
However it is also clear that capitalist governments of both stripes have a long-term plan to undermine our democratic rights. Witness the comments of incoming police commissioner Andrew Scipione after the police overkill at APEC was exposed. His message was: get used to it; this is how NSW will be policed from now on!
There is only one way to ensure our civil liberties are retained — to come onto the streets to defend them. That's how we won the right to march during the Vietnam War (and in Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland). That's how we won the right to free speech in the unemployment movements of the 1930s. That's even how we won the universal right to vote, which was never given out for free but had to be fought for.
The Socialist Alliance is proud to have played such a key role in helping to organise the Stop Bush demonstration. We will continue to be involved in the anti-war movement, other campaigns for justice and the campaigns to defend and extend our democratic rights.
[Alex Bainbridge was one of the Stop Bush protest organisers and is a NSW Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance.]