We are peaceful, war is not: Building the APEC protest


Organising is underway for demonstrations during the APEC summit, which PM John Howard is hosting in Sydney on September 8-9 and which US President George Bush and other "world leaders" will be attending. The Stop Bush collective is organising a convergence for September 8, aiming to draw people onto the streets to protest against the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. The protest will also call for urgent action to stop environmental destruction and for the defence of workers' rights.

The presence of Bush, the world's leading mass murderer and climate vandal, provides an obvious focal point for these different social movements to unite and mobilise around. The Stop Bush collective is united in the desire to use the demonstrations to give a big, ongoing boost to the movements that oppose Howard's agenda and to drive him from power in the next federal election. However, a range of debates have opened up inside and outside of the organising collective, centred on what type of protest should be held, what tactics will be used at the protest, and how the demonstration can be most effectively built.

The federal Coalition government and the NSW Labor government are certainly very clear on what tactics they'll be using: fear, intimidation and division. The corporate media is already helping to whip up "security" hysteria, spreading threats of "anti-terror" repression of protesters. The scare campaign is clearly aimed at terrorising people into staying away from the APEC demonstrations by insinuating that they will be "violent".

The demands around the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the environment and Howard's anti-worker legislation have the support of the majority of Australians. However, this sentiment has not been expressed in strong, ongoing social movements. Resistance believes that our challenge is to build the largest APEC protest possible, in order to strengthen these movements and demonstrate our rejection of Bush's and Howard's policies.

We need to explain to people that our aim is to build a mass, peaceful rally focused on these common political demands. That is: make clear that the threat of violence comes not from protesters but from the federal and state governments. We must assert our right to protest in the context of a crackdown on civil liberties.

To do this we have to build alliances in the lead-up to the summit — with trade unions, community groups and NGOs. Some of these groups have already indicated to activists in the Stop Bush collective that they are hesitant to come behind the protest because of fears about violence.

A central debate in the collective has been around the question of whether we should explicitly publicise the protest as a peaceful demonstration.

Although members of the International Socialist Organisation and student-based left group Solidarity have stated that they believe the Stop Bush coalition should aim to organise a peaceful protest, they have opposed the idea that the coalition should describe the protest as "peaceful" on its publicity material. To do this, they argue, would be to capitulate to the government and media fear campaign and exclude those who are planning to use other tactics at the protest.

Resistance members, together with members of the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative and independent activists, have argued that the Stop Bush coalition should publicly declare its aim to organise a peaceful protest. This position has nothing to do with "capitulation", or with some naive belief that it will prevent the corporate media from portraying us, and not the police and the government, as being violent. It aimed at helping make the demonstrations a success by removing any barriers to building the broadest possible united protest.

Publicly explaining that the Stop Bush collective is aiming to hold a peaceful rally will make it easier to mount a political defence against government attempts to deny us our right to protest. This doesn't mean that we should not defend protesters who face police repression during or after the demonstration regardless of what tactics they use, as is the case in our defence of the protesters targeted in the G20 raids.

However, in the lead-up to APEC we need to have an open and democratic discussion about tactics with the different forces who plan to protest. Not all tactics will help strengthen the movement, and we want to convince people through the coalition that the best tactic for APEC is to organise a united, non-violent, mass rally.

Resistance is not a pacifist organisation. We reject the idea that non-violence is the only tactic that can be used in the battle against oppression. For example, we support the right of Iraqis to resist the US-led occupation by any means necessary.

For Resistance the question is: what tactics at APEC will mobilise the greatest number of people possible, assert our democratic right to protest, and involve the greatest number of people in sustained political action? We believe that holding a mass rally will clearly be the most inclusive and effective tactic.

The "stop Bush-make Howard history" protest will have the most significant impact if it helps gives people confidence in their collective power and defend the legitimacy of mass protest in the face of the government/media scare campaign.

The APEC protests will also provide us with the opportunity to develop and strengthen the links between the environment movement, trade unions and the anti-war movement, and to develop the organisational capacity of the anti-war movement by fostering the self-organisation of people around the protests, in community groups, on campus and on high schools.

This is also why Resistance has initiated a "Stop Bush and Howard" NSW-wide, counter-APEC student conference, to be held at Sydney University on June 1. Terry Hicks, father of former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks, will be one of the speakers at the conference.

The conference will bring together activists from campuses throughout the state to discuss how students can build the APEC demonstrations on campuses and among the broader community. Resistance has also initiated meetings of high school students in Sydney and Wollongong. Secondary students are already organising on their schools to get their classmates to take part in protests during APEC.

[To get in touch about organising a meeting on your school or to find out more about the counter-APEC student conference phone Simon on 0438 297 552. To find out how to get involved in the Stop Bush coalition, visit http://www.stopbush2007.org.]