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Cops disapprove of free speech in Lakemba

Stuart's blog - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 4:02pm

On Wednesday 24 September, five Sydney anarchists were harassed and intimidated by over 20 cops and banned from Lakemba station for six hours. (Yet they wouldn't allow us to catch a train there to leave the area.) Our crime? Demonstrating solidarity with Muslims in Lakemba.

There was a meeting organised to make placards showing solidarity with Sydney's Muslim community, which was and is feeling the heat. The Abbott regime had announced a heightened terror alert and the capitalist media helped out with sensationalist coverage to induce public paranoia about Islamist terrorist attacks. Abbott had declared ominously that some freedoms will have to be sacrificed for the sakeof security. It was quite alarming.

Those of us with some knowledge of history were reminded perhaps of Hitler's dissolution of parliament following the mysterious burning down of the Reichstag in 1933. "Our country is under attack," was the gist of his declaration at the time. This served to justify in the public mind the introduction of repressive measures. Evil intentions of a mysterious enemy necessitated suspension of democratic freedomslong taken for granted. The slide into outright fascism happens more easily than you might expect.


With these three placards, five of us caught the train to Lakemba via Redfernfrom Newtown, displaying them to the public on the way. As we waited to cross the road to the station two young white guys in a car made Islamophobic comments in response to the messages on our placards.

We were apprehensive going out there on the train but knew we had to act. It was a small gesture but we couldn't sit back and do nothing as Abbott and Co. ramped up the fear factor. They seemed to be hoping and waiting for an atrocity such as a public beheading so that they could swing into action with a big clampdown on everyone's civil liberties and human rights.

After arriving at Lakemba we went and stood beside a small park next to the station. We displayed our 3 signs to the passing traffic and pedestrians. People were looking at us. We attracted a fair bit of attention.The first comment we had was from a young guy passing by, "What's wrong with Muslims?" He'd seen the sign saying 'I'M AFRAID OF...' but perhaps didn't read the whole thing. Hearts sank at the prospect of our message being misunderstood in this atmosphere of tension.

We felt conspicuous. We walked around the corner into the shopping precinct of Haldon St. People read our signs and took photos. We founda new position on the footpath and stayed there for perhaps 20 minutes or half an hour, facing the road and showing our signs. Two young men drove past in a car. "THAT'S what I'm talking about!!" exclaimed oneafter reading the H8 COPS NOT MUSLIMS sign.

A couple of people came up and thanked us. One even said we'd made his day. We gained confidence as we realised that people understood ourmessage and appreciated the support.

One 'respectable-looking' local community member, perhaps a small businessperson, opened up to us. He told us that his wife was eighth generation Australian but he'd suggested she stay home today as she wore a Muslim head covering. I started to realise the pressure people in Lakemba had been under and Muslims in Australia generally, after the recent well-publicised raids on the homes of Muslims by a federal government that denied it was feeding public prejudice against Muslims.  When in actual fact that is exactly what it's been doing.

The guy who'd organised the protest did a spiel on camera, explaining why we were there. He was filmed by another member of our group. I talked too and was filmed. The protest organiser conducted a short interview with the member of the Lakemba community who had approached us. I believe all this footage was to be put on youtube.

We wound up our protest and went to a nearby restaurant to buy some takeaway falafel rolls for a late lunch. People were friendly towards us, and appreciative once they realised we were on their side, not the government's.

Eating our falafel rolls (delicious!) we returned to the station. Turned out we had only nine minutes to wait for our train back toNewtown. All of a sudden I caught sight of five or six uniformed police approaching. Uh oh. I realised they wouldn't like our signs. Especially the one that said H8 COPS NOT MUSLIMS. Nevertheless I wasconfident that there was nothing they could do to us as we'd done nothing wrong or illegal. We had merely exercised our right to free speech.

The cops surrounded us, harassing and intimidating us, particularly the woman with the H8 COPS sign. She defended herself well, explaining that she was a Muslim. The police were angry. They spoke of the young Muslim man who'd stabbed 2 police officers before being shot dead inMelbourne the night before. One of them told us we should be gratefulto be living in this beautiful country. We certainly weren't gratefulfor the harassment!

There was heated argument. A member of the public, possibly a Muslim, came to our aid on the station platform. One of the cops asked the manwhether he needed any help, trying to intimidate him and drive him away. But the man stood his ground and remained among us, exercising his right to observe the public debate.

Our train arrived but the cops forbade us to board it. More uniformed cops emerged from one of the carriages. The argument raged. A cop with glasses asserted that there had been 147 acts of terrorism in Australia. I asked him to name one. He said nothing. One of our groupmentioned the bombing outside Sydney's Hilton Hotel in 1978 and said that it had been the government that had carried out that one. Still more cops came down the station stairs towards us. It was unbelievable. (Even now I cannot believe the State's reaction to five peaceful protesters with three placards who were leaving anyway! Yet I saw it. It did happen!)

A second train pulled into the station. Again we were prevented from leaving. People got off, others got on, looking at us and probably wondering what was going on. I held up my placard so that people on the train could see it: GOVERNMENTS ARE THE REAL TERRORISTS. The police demanded our identification, one person at a time. They were aggressive.

I felt like calling their bluff and refusing their orders. They had no right to harass us when we'd done nothing wrong or illegal. They threatened us with fines and court action. I produced my ID and a cop took down my details from my driver's licence. We didn't feel like getting arrested. One of our number was accused by a cop of being a'professional protester.' The cop reckoned he recognised the guy's face.

The cop returned my ID and ordered me out of the station, telling me I was banned from there for 6 hours.

A woman who'd been standing watching with a young daughter from the footbridge over the station said she'd started counting the cops but stopped at 20. There were more than that, too many to count. Around 30 maybe.

Walking with my placard on the roadbridge over the railway I was called an idiot by a white woman with a child. She told me not to come stirring up trouble with a provocative sign in her community. Before I could respond a man, possibly Muslim, who'd overheard her, told me he'd lived in Lakemba for 20 years and that I was welcome.

Frustrated at not being allowed to catch a train, our group decided to catch a taxi back to Newtown instead. We got into a cab beside thepark where we'd started our demo. We asked to be taken back to Newtown. The cab driver said it would take too long to get to Newtown in the evening peak hour traffic. He suggested catching a train from Belmore, the next station along towards the city. He took us to Belmore station.

We told him what we'd done and what had happened. He mentioned harassment by 800 cops and told us that nobody was allowed to say anything, there was no free speech. The community had suffered the oppression of saturation policing. Anyone speaking out would be targeted. He warned us to be careful. The authorities could lock you up in an institution, give you a tablet and say you're crazy, then you would be f***ed. He had children and didn't want anything to happen to them so he felt powerless to change the situation.

On the train from Belmore, would you believe it, more cops! They came through the train checking people's tickets. We all had tickets. However the cops discovered that one member of our group had a concession card that was out of date. So they gave him a hard time over that. There were six or eight cops.

On Sunday 5 October there was a bigger event organised. A speakout inthat small park next to Lakemba station on NRL grand final day. Canterbury Bulldogs supporters drove past waving flags, noisily proclaiming allegiance to their team. There was an atmosphere of excitement. We listened to a succession of speakers. There was an open mike. Many people got up and had their say. It was a hot, sunny day.

When the speakout ended a small group of us went to Belmore, where mobs of Bulldogs supporters had taken over the main street near the station. The police wouldn't allow us to march with our banners, but march with them we did once we were out of reach. Cops chased peoplethrough the crowds to stop them displaying the banners.

Some Bulldogs supporters didn't like the banners. I got the feeling they thought politics shouldn't be mixed with sport. I saw a young guy snatch away a big banner being displayed and throw it to the ground.

We realised there was potential for dangerous misunderstanding. A bigbanner reading STOP STATE TERRORISM could be misinterpreted. Muslims could take that as an accusation that they were terrorists. When anarchists talk of the State we mean the government, the (repressive)apparatus of the nation state. Other people might think it means stop terrorism in the state of New South Wales. Or people might think we're tarring Muslims generally with the brush of the Islamic State extremists.

Some of the Bulldogs fans agreed with our message and we chanted energetically together with them, "Side by side!" It felt awesome to be in cross-community solidarity against racism, bigotry and government repression.

The police eventually managed to disperse the small number of political activists in the crowd and pushed some of us down a sidestreet. From there eight of us retreated down a back lane, only to have a drone hovering above us. Whether the machine belonged to the police and was keeping us under surveillance, or whether it was controlled bysomeone else entirely I don't know, but it was a bizarre and unsettling experience. I for one had never seen a drone before.


Categories: Blog

Reflections on Sydney's first-ever Anarchist Bookfair

Jay's blog - Wed, 23/04/2014 - 6:22pm

This article was originally written for Anarcho-Syndicalist Review. By Jay Kerr & Sid Parissi.

A collective of anarchists organised a significant political event in March 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Although initiated by the Jura Collective that operates a long running bookshop, events and organising centre, it quickly grew into an autonomous collective of various groups and individuals. Previous bookfairs had been held in Melbourne, a city some 900km to the south, but none had been held elsewhere in the country. This article is an account of the preparation for the event by Jay, one of the organising collective and impressions of the day by Sid, a member of the Jura Collective.

In the Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin discussed the notion that everything we enjoy in the present is because of the combined efforts of people in the past and people in the present; these words ring true in organising the first Sydney Anarchist Bookfair.

Over six months of preparation boiled down to a one day event that took place in March this year at Addison Road Community Centre, building on the work of anarchists around the world who have been organising anarchist bookfairs for decades and the encompassing the efforts of a dynamic anarchist movement in Sydney.

From the early days in London some thirty years ago, when the first Anarchist Bookfair was launched, the idea has spread across the globe. It was with that in mind that a few members of Jura Books got to thinking that Sydney, being the largest city in Australia, really should have its own.

A call out was made to anarchists across the city and before too long a collective was formed comprising of members from Jura and the Black Rose Social Centre in Newtown as well as independent, non-aligned anarchists. True to Australia’s composition as a ‘nation of immigrants’, several of the collective members were migrant workers from Europe; anarchists passing through or long term residents, working collectively alongside Australian born anarchists in establishing the parameters of this new addition to the tapestry of global anarchist bookfairs.

From the first collective meeting important decisions were made on the structure of the group, the desired limits in the size of the collective, and the inclusion of other groups. The collective aimed at being a nucleus, making consensus-based decisions with input and support from the wider anarchist community.  Practicalities of the event were debated and discussed ranging from who should be invited to hold a stall or give a talk; should the collective define themes for the Bookfair talks or invite topic suggestions from potential speakers; should there be childcare and how should it be run, where is the best space to hold such an event? Some tough choices had to be made.

Acknowledging the past work of comrades around the globe, emails were sent to London and Dublin for their advice. A range of suggestions were given, practical advice that stood us in good stead, indicating the importance of setting deadlines, defining the parameters and highlighting some issues that have arisen for them over the years. Who knew that the decline in fist fights at the London Bookfair over the years corresponds directly with the decline of alcohol sales?

Organising an event of this size and trying to satisfy all requests and desires of anarchists and activists in the movement is a tough job. Stress hit hard at times and in the collective tensions became frayed, while at other times consensus decision making itself was put to the test as divisions on what and, more importantly, who the Bookfair should include brought differences over anarchist politics to the fore. Where no consensus was viable the default fell to the negative with no action taken, a situation that can (and did) hit proactive organising hard and raises issues for organising on a wider scale.

But, in general, the experience of organising the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair was positive as cool heads tended to prevail.  Sydney’s anarchist community rallied to support the event with positive suggestions and contributions, promoting far and wide, from emails and online posts to flyering and poster distribution across the city; a vital part of the success of any event, especially an anarchist bookfair.

Our combined efforts were duly rewarded when between 500 and 700 people turned out to Addison Road Community Centre, browsing the stalls inside Gumbramorra Hall, and attending talks and discussions in the Latin American hut next door or over at Speakers Corner on the lawn. Anarchist Bookfairs promote anarchist ideas through attraction, offering a relaxed, non-partisan atmosphere for people to engage with others in discussing new ideas. The success of the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair, a collective effort built on the work of people from around the world, on the work of years past, offers hope for the future. Anarchist Bookfairs are worth spreading.


Impressions of the day.

Anarchists take over a former military base! Well, not quite but we did manage to fill out a large and smaller hall and a large grassed area of a former military base that had been handed over for community use. The place is now a busy community-use area and the site of a weekly market and two reuse/recycle outfits in addition to many of its other functions. Think of a mini Christiania, but not squatted. We had a great start to the day with an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ that was given by Aboriginal Elder Ray Jackson.

Wow, what a day! Everyone smiling, talking, laughing, discussing.... 30 different stalls in the big hall, anarchist, Wobbly, union, and the largest number from community groups who each paid $50 for a table – and everyone I talked to thought it was well worth it, in fact, excited about the opportunity. It was an opportunity to spread knowledge about their group, network with other groups and generally have an anti-authoritarian festival. So, Jura ran a number of tables, including ones for PM Press and AK Press, and general anarchist books. In addition, other stalls were organised by Black Rose, Melbourne anarchists, Wobblies from Sydney and Melbourne, anti-nuclear, vegan, leftist T-shirts for sale... and many more.

Besides the stalls there was vegan food and drink, and free apples and water available from the information centre, music from individual troubadours and also from the anarchist Riff Raff Marching Band, physical stuff like yoga and women’s self defence, a join-in singing group, an open ‘DIY’ area and a ‘tune-up-your-bike’ space. One of the organisers sorted out the child care, with a certified child care worker on site – They were dressed as pirates! Then there were the discussion meetings on a variety of topics. These included: Oppression of Australia’s Indigenous People, a discussion on a university strike, on Bakunin’s 200th Birthday, the Spanish Revolution, two on feminist and anarcha-feminist topics, environmental issues, and one by Michael Schmidt on ‘Global Fire: The lmpact of Revolutionary Anarchism’.

It was great to see such a variety of people attending, from babies to an anarchist elder Jack Granchoff in his ‘80s. Most were younger, in their 20’s and 30’s, with, at a guess, a good gender balance, and perhaps even more women than men. The young children running around having fun and the range of participants demonstrated that, in many ways, this was an evolving, maturing and culturally-richer anarchist and near-anarchist milieu than in the past. From a book-sales point of view, it was really encouraging to get so many books, pamphlets and other material out to people who don’t often get to the shop. So, yes, it was a bookfair, but it was much more than just that.

This writer didn’t get to the after party, but those who went said it was a blast. And everyone’s keen to build on this year’s strengths and lessons learned, and have another next year.

Categories: Blog