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Society under Surveillance

I sent a letter about the following incident to the editor of Sydney Morning Herald. Of course they didn't publish it. 

 
At 9pm on Thursday 22 June at Bankstown station I was taken off the train to Liverpool by police. They searched my bag and me. Reason? They said a guard saw someone of my description put something down the front of my pants. 
They took away my backpack and an officer put it on a seat on the platform and looked inside. Meanwhile they took me up in the lift into a room on the station concourse. About six of them surrounded me, ready to jump on and subdue me at the first sign of resistance.  They asked whether I was wearing underwear, before making me undo my pants so that they could have a bit of a look.  (What the guard had probably seen on the train's surveillance camera was me putting something, my wallet or handkerchief perhaps, in my pocket, at the front of my pants.) 
 
They did a cursory rather than thorough search, suggesting that they didn't expect to actually find something, such as an illicit drug, weapon or explosive, but rather were carrying out routine harassment and humiliation. They were responding to a report rather than acting on their own initiative.  It was a quiet night. Not many people around.  They were probably bored.  In my hand I had a copy of The Match! - an anarchist journal from the US, that I'd been reading on the train. That issue happened to contain a letter to the editor from me critical of NSW Police!  I put it on the table so that I could undo my pants as they ordered. 
 
"What are you reading?" one cop asked. "A magazine," I replied, stating the bleeding obvious. They didn't look at it or pursue the line of questioning. 
 
"Where did you catch the train?" 
 
"Erskineville." 
 
"What were you doing there?" 
 
"I was browsing bookshops in Newtown." 
 
I answered their questions to begin with so as not to appear suspicious, as if I had something to hide.  But after a while I refused to answer any more.  Why should I submit to the harassment?  I'd done nothing wrong and didn't have to explain myself to them. They seemed to respect my right not to cooperate further.  One cop made a comment to the effect that they can't be too careful these days, with all the things that are going on. What was he alluding to there, I wonder?  Was I a terror suspect, a potential suicide bomber?  There was another remark, that I was 'unusual.'  Unusual?  Because I was someone of anglo appearance, in the ethnically diverse Bankstown area?  Because they don't usually 'profile' (harass) people like me?  When I've seen them harassing someone it's generally a young non-white person. 
 
At the end I was asked whether there was anything I wanted to say to the police.  Well yes, there were a few things, but I wasn't going to say them!  All I wanted was to get away from them and resume my journey home.  Another passenger on the platform, who must have seen what happened, asked whether I was going to take the matter further. 
 
I thought of the last time I lodged a complaint against police, of the officer smiling to himself as he wrote down details of long-lasting pain inflicted gratuitously on me during an arrest at a protest against John Howard in Darwin. Of course nothing came of the complaint.  I ended up taking some action of my own, naming and shaming publicly the officer concerned.
 
I was publicly harassed and humiliated for nothing.  What kind of totalitarian police state do we live in?  Am I supposed to feel grateful I wasn't bashed or shot dead? Police get paid generous salaries from taxpayers' dollars to waste their own time and other people's. 
Funnily enough, before boarding the train I'd noticed the sign at Erskineville station saying, 'If you see something, say something.'  There's a photo of someone talking to police.  To the guard who dobbed me in, I'd like to say, "Congratulations! You have made an impressive contribution to the government's Fear, Suspicion and Paranoia campaign." The government wants us all to feel threatened by shadowy (Islamist) terrorist organisations. 
 
It's a case of deja vu.  Up until 1990 it was the communist threat that we were told to fear, the Soviet Union and 'reds under the bed.'  The fear of 'the other' is always promoted - those who are not like 'we good people' and who want to do us harm.  Our good, strong government is supposed to be there to protect us and save us from evil. Though unfortunately we do have to sacrifice some of our liberties in return for the security provided. Whereas in reality the main threat to our freedom is the government itself, any government, and usually its business end, the police. 
 
(By the way, isn't it bizarre how they have that announcement on the trains advising that if you're feeling unwell, don't risk boarding the train?  The announcement claims that there are medical staff at stations waiting to treat your illness. Is there anyone that actually believes this obvious lie?  Many stations are not staffed at all most of the time.)
 
This incident caused me to reflect. The fact is that these days we're all being subjected to unprecedented surveillance.  Privacy is becoming an outmoded concept.  Just think of the trains for example.  The old trains have no cameras in them but the new ones have, I think, 8 cameras in each carriage.  That makes 64 on one train.  How does one guard monitor that many?  S/he could not possibly see all that is going on, and how good would the resolution and detail of an image be?  But that's probably not the point.  Increasingly, in this modern version of the panopticon - a prison in which many cells are simultaneously visible from a central vantage point - someone could be watching us at any time.  We don't know whether someone is seeing us at a particular time but we get used to acting at all times as if we are being watched.  
 
The all-seeing god of earlier times has been replaced by the ubiquitous surveillance cameras, in train stations, shopping precincts and other public areas.  We don't know who is watching us, whether images are being recorded and stored, and if so, for how long.  Who has access to all this footage?  We don't know. 
 
Add to this the vast amount of data being gathered from electronic communications.  Billions of people volunteer masses of personal information without knowing who has access to it and what it will be used for.  George Orwell would be horrified to see the nightmarish dystopia in his novel '1984' becoming the accepted reality.  How long before the surveillance cameras are in each room, including bedrooms and bathrooms, as we learn to welcome the benevolent gaze of Big Brother in every aspect of our lives?  Who could possibly object?  Only those with something to hide.  All decent citizens naturally want to see the end of the scourges of pedophilia and violence against women. 
 
We know that information is power but too often we continue to surrender it without a fight to bosses like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who seem to aspire to divine status.  Yes, life is as always a struggle to survive, make ends meet and somehow preserve our sanity, but shouldn't we be trying to redress the power imbalance, or at least taking the time to stop and think where we're heading with this mass surveillance society, before it really is too late?  Just because Big Brother wears a smile and has a soothing voice doesn't mean he's our friend.  Ps. Do not put your bag on the seat. Doors closing. Please stand clear.  
 
 
Society Under Surveillance
 
I sent a letter about the following incident to the editor of Sydney Morning Herald. Of course they didn't publish it. 
At 9pm on Thursday 22 June at Bankstown station I was taken off the train to Liverpool by police. They searched my bag and me. Reason? They said a guard saw someone of my description put something down the front of my pants. 
They took away my backpack and an officer put it on a seat on the platform and looked inside. Meanwhile they took me up in the lift into a room on the station concourse. About six of them surrounded me, ready to jump on and subdue me at the first sign of resistance.  They asked whether I was wearing underwear, before making me undo my pants so that they could have a bit of a look.  (What the guard had probably seen on the train's surveillance camera was me putting something, my wallet or handkerchief perhaps, in my pocket, at the front of my pants.) 
 
They did a cursory rather than thorough search, suggesting that they didn't expect to actually find something, such as an illicit drug, weapon or explosive, but rather were carrying out routine harassment and humiliation. They were responding to a report rather than acting on their own initiative.  It was a quiet night. Not many people around.  They were probably bored.  In my hand I had a copy of The Match! - an anarchist journal from the US, that I'd been reading on the train. That issue happened to contain a letter to the editor from me critical of NSW Police!  I put it on the table so that I could undo my pants as they ordered. 
 
"What are you reading?" one cop asked. "A magazine," I replied, stating the bleeding obvious. They didn't look at it or pursue the line of questioning. 
 
"Where did you catch the train?" 
 
"Erskineville." 
 
"What were you doing there?" 
 
"I was browsing bookshops in Newtown." 
 
I answered their questions to begin with so as not to appear suspicious, as if I had something to hide.  But after a while I refused to answer any more.  Why should I submit to the harassment?  I'd done nothing wrong and didn't have to explain myself to them. They seemed to respect my right not to cooperate further.  One cop made a comment to the effect that they can't be too careful these days, with all the things that are going on. What was he alluding to there, I wonder?  Was I a terror suspect, a potential suicide bomber?  There was another remark, that I was 'unusual.'  Unusual?  Because I was someone of anglo appearance, in the ethnically diverse Bankstown area?  Because they don't usually 'profile' (harass) people like me?  When I've seen them harassing someone it's generally a young non-white person. 
 
At the end I was asked whether there was anything I wanted to say to the police.  Well yes, there were a few things, but I wasn't going to say them!  All I wanted was to get away from them and resume my journey home.  Another passenger on the platform, who must have seen what happened, asked whether I was going to take the matter further. 
 
I thought of the last time I lodged a complaint against police, of the officer smiling to himself as he wrote down details of long-lasting pain inflicted gratuitously on me during an arrest at a protest against John Howard in Darwin. Of course nothing came of the complaint.  I ended up taking some action of my own, naming and shaming publicly the officer concerned.
 
I was publicly harassed and humiliated for nothing.  What kind of totalitarian police state do we live in?  Am I supposed to feel grateful I wasn't bashed or shot dead? Police get paid generous salaries from taxpayers' dollars to waste their own time and other people's. 
Funnily enough, before boarding the train I'd noticed the sign at Erskineville station saying, 'If you see something, say something.'  There's a photo of someone talking to police.  To the guard who dobbed me in, I'd like to say, "Congratulations! You have made an impressive contribution to the government's Fear, Suspicion and Paranoia campaign." The government wants us all to feel threatened by shadowy (Islamist) terrorist organisations. 
 
It's a case of deja vu.  Up until 1990 it was the communist threat that we were told to fear, the Soviet Union and 'reds under the bed.'  The fear of 'the other' is always promoted - those who are not like 'we good people' and who want to do us harm.  Our good, strong government is supposed to be there to protect us and save us from evil. Though unfortunately we do have to sacrifice some of our liberties in return for the security provided. Whereas in reality the main threat to our freedom is the government itself, any government, and usually its business end, the police. 
 
(By the way, isn't it bizarre how they have that announcement on the trains advising that if you're feeling unwell, don't risk boarding the train?  The announcement claims that there are medical staff at stations waiting to treat your illness. Is there anyone that actually believes this obvious lie?  Many stations are not staffed at all most of the time.)
 
This incident caused me to reflect. The fact is that these days we're all being subjected to unprecedented surveillance.  Privacy is becoming an outmoded concept.  Just think of the trains for example.  The old trains have no cameras in them but the new ones have, I think, 8 cameras in each carriage.  That makes 64 on one train.  How does one guard monitor that many?  S/he could not possibly see all that is going on, and how good would the resolution and detail of an image be?  But that's probably not the point.  Increasingly, in this modern version of the panopticon - a prison in which many cells are simultaneously visible from a central vantage point - someone could be watching us at any time.  We don't know whether someone is seeing us at a particular time but we get used to acting at all times as if we are being watched.  
 
The all-seeing god of earlier times has been replaced by the ubiquitous surveillance cameras, in train stations, shopping precincts and other public areas.  We don't know who is watching us, whether images are being recorded and stored, and if so, for how long.  Who has access to all this footage?  We don't know. 
 
Add to this the vast amount of data being gathered from electronic communications.  Billions of people volunteer masses of personal information without knowing who has access to it and what it will be used for.  George Orwell would be horrified to see the nightmarish dystopia in his novel '1984' becoming the accepted reality.  How long before the surveillance cameras are in each room, including bedrooms and bathrooms, as we learn to welcome the benevolent gaze of Big Brother in every aspect of our lives?  Who could possibly object?  Only those with something to hide.  All decent citizens naturally want to see the end of the scourges of pedophilia and violence against women. 
 
We know that information is power but too often we continue to surrender it without a fight to bosses like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who seem to aspire to divine status.  Yes, life is as always a struggle to survive, make ends meet and somehow preserve our sanity, but shouldn't we be trying to redress the power imbalance, or at least taking the time to stop and think where we're heading with this mass surveillance society, before it really is too late?  Just because Big Brother wears a smile and has a soothing voice doesn't mean he's our friend.  Ps. Do not put your bag on the seat. Doors closing. Please stand clear.  
 
 

Don't vote your life away!

The electoral commission's been sending me letters for a while now, demanding I pay a $160 fine for not voting. They've cancelled my driver's licence and sicced their debt collectors Dun & Bradstreet onto me, threatened to steal money from my bank account, or steal my belongings and sell them to pay their debt. Still I haven't given in to this criminal gang, these terrorists known as 'the government.'

I've lost count of how many letters I've received, threatening me, trying to intimidate me, but I've ignored them all, as I've done for more than 20 years. I stopped voting in the early '90s after I realised that it's pointless. How will they actually get the money out of me?

It seems the State's repressive apparatus isn't really all that efficient. If they steal the money from my bank account I won't be able to stop them. But my friend said they'll have to get a court order to do that.

They keep reminding us that voting's compulsory. A lot of people say they vote, or at least get their name ticked off at the polling booth so that they don't get fined. But how well do they actually enforce this law?

Past generations fought for the right to vote. But not for the State's right to compel us to vote! Voting was made compulsory in Australia in 1924 because of falling voter turnouts. That's nearly a century ago now. Logically the right to vote implies the right not to vote. So it's no longer a right but a duty.

I suspect there are thousands upon thousands of people in Australia who don't vote, many of whom aren't even on the electoral roll, even though both these things are compulsory. The number's probably rising too, as more and more get pissed off with the system.

The media tries to whip up enthusiasm for the election by broadcasting the words of politicians. They try to make it seem exciting. Your vote counts! Isn't democracy wonderful? Anything could happen on the day! The most important election since World War II! (Did they say that one again this time?) We have so much freedom! Aren't we grateful to our masters for giving us the right to vote?

We all know that the promises and words of politicians are worthless. Because unless we're rich enough to give them big donations, we can't hold them accountable. Before the election they pretend to be interested in community issues, but afterwards they don't want to know you.

Some say to get off the electoral roll. But how do you do that? I've moved 3 or 4 times but they always manage to track me down. Others say to tell them you have a religious objection to voting. But why should I lie? I haven't done anything wrong.

Each time I voted I felt like a mug after. For getting sucked in to the bullshit. "Come on, you've got to support our friend so-and-so! She's standing for the Greens and you know they do a lot of good work! They're not anarchist but it's a step in the right direction!" Yeah right. Candidates I voted for didn't win, and even if they had, they wouldn't have been able to achieve anything worthwhile.

Recently the Australian Electoral Commission sent me a warning letter, saying that I may be prosecuted if I don't vote in the 2 July election, and fined up to $180. Well, again I didn't vote in your election on Saturday, 2 July, so suck shit, you pathetic authoritarian bastards!

I went past Petersham TAFE college on the way to the Jura monthly collective meeting and there seemed to be a polling booth there. I was accosted outside on the footpath by party workers trying to give me their how-to-vote cards. I declined them all and asked whether there was a sausage sizzle. (I'm a vegetarian most of the time but when it comes to sausage sizzles I'm afraid I can't help myself!) Some polling booths have sausage sizzles but, no, this one apparently didn't.

Seems a polling booth up the road had one. Too bad! Nope, they missed their chance at seducing me with a sausage sizzle. Glad I didn't get sucked into supporting the stupid system of selecting slavedrivers.

I look forward to a new series of intimidating letters from the AEC.

 

 

Work for a bowl of rice a day

I did work for the dole at various places around Darwin a few years back: Vinnies, Larrakia Nation office (the Larrakia are the traditional owners of the Darwin area), and at the Aviation Heritage Centre. I had arranged to work at some other place I can't remember the name of (I think it was a housing co-op) but that fell through. I was angry about being made to do slave labour. I wanted to protest and resist it but I was on a good behaviour bond with a suspended jail sentence for political activity hanging over me at the time. I was luckier than other people, even though I certainly didn't feel lucky! I only ever had to do 1 day a week. Others were made to do more: 2 days, or maybe even 4! They sure seemed to come down harder on the young, and on those who complained about having to do it. At Vinnies I knew the person in charge from activist circles I'd worked in. Gave us breakfast with the long grassers (homeless people). This person was pretty cool and had us painting a pergola. I think she let us go home early and ticked off our names as if we'd worked the whole day.

Larrakia Nation was pretty slack. Once we mowed the grass in the bushtucker garden at the back of Royal Darwin Hospital. Another time wewere clearing infestations of the mimosa pigra weed along the banks of Rapid Creek near the university. I pretended I didn't know how to use the whippersnipper or brushcutter or whatever it was so I ended up just collecting the pieces the other guys cut down. As Larrakia rangers they were getting paid something like a proper wage, I believe. CDEP (Community Development Employment Program) pay plus top up.

I remember doing a bit of work in the garden at the Larrakia Nation office on a couple of days, and shovelling up dirt in the car park at the back another day. But a lot of the time we didn't have to work there as it was badly organised. We'd sit around talking for hours, waiting for someone in authority to tell us to do something. Those in charge never knew how many people who were supposed to be there for WftD would actually turn up. There might be 18 names on the list, but 6 or 7 would turn up. Or maybe 1 or none. A few times I showed up there to find I was the only one. Some guy told me, "You always turn up. But no-one else is here. So I'll just tick your name off and you can go." The Aviation Heritage Centre was a museum featuring a B-52 bomber from the USA, surrounded by many smaller aircraft and artifacts going back to WWII and earlier. I used to enjoy reading the info and learning history while dusting and polishing the planes and things and sweeping the floor.

There were also 2 Aboriginal women and a tall Sudanese man doing WftD there. The woman from WA said the WftD was demeaning. There was nothing much we could do about it though.

One day I wore an old t-shirt a friend had given me. He'd sprayed ANARCHY NOW on the back in red. I thought the writing had faded and was hardly visible any more. Unfortunately it was visible and the boss noticed it even though he couldn't make out what it said. He marched up to me and said, "You're not working inside with that on your shirt! What's it say? Wanker? Go outside and sweep the leaves out of the big carpark out the front!" (I thought, "There's only one wanker around here, mate, and it's not me!") But I didn't say that. I said, "I'm not going back outside unless I get some sunscreen to put on. (Because I'd got a bit sunburnt working out there before.) Boss man storms off in a huff.

One time he made me stay back late and help lift a heavy bbq into a dumpster. I hurt my back doing that. The following week I forked out $27 to see a doctor who thought I was faking back pain. (Good luck getting bulk billing in Darwin! They made you feel like a criminal just for asking.) Just so I didn't have to do slavery that week. I hated it. Had to do it another week instead.

That boss was a prick. He'd sit upstairs bludging in his air-conditioned office while the rest of us, paid staff and slaves alike, soldiered on in the heat and humidity. Once during a break he bragged to us how he'd bought a car, an old bomb, in Darwin for a few hundred bucks, and had it shipped over to East Timor where he sold it to a Timorese guy for $3000.

After I left I heard from my friend who still worked there in the shop and doing the guided tours, that they caught that boss with his hand in the till. The board sacked him but didn't press charges. I think I had to do WftD for 6 months, 1 day a week. Centrelink bureaucrats surprised me at one stage. They told me I didn't have to do any more of it. I thought they were mistaken but I didn't argue! Later they discovered their mistake and I had to go and work the remaining couple of days.

All in all it was a shitty experience being a slave. I'd always thought that if I were ever told to do Work for the Dole I'd refuse, find a way out of it somehow. But when it happened I couldn't get out of it. Not that I had the worst of it. Plenty of people copped it a lot worse than me. Aboriginal people particularly.

I heard of people in remote communities like Kalkaringi being made to do 30 hours a week work for the dole and on top of that getting punished with income management as well. If they refused this slavery they'd get no money. The government wouldn't dare try that on in a place like Sydney. They seem to use the NT as a sort of social laboratory and Aboriginal people as guinea pigs, to see how much abuse of people's human rights they can get away with.

In conclusion I can sum up my limited experience by saying that Work for the Dole is really about more than work. It's about power and control. It's rich bastard governments punishing people who are unemployed. It's class warfare, and race warfare. If people are doing that work they're not unemployed and should at least be paid award wages like anyone else. Anything less is bullshit.

 

Cops disapprove of free speech in Lakemba

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 sake of security. It was quite alarming.

How I became an anarchist - by Stuart

People ask you sometimes why you are an anarchist. I wonder how anyone can not be an anarchist! Anyone who looks around and really thinks about things will be likely to reach the same conclusion.

The system we currently live under, of capitalism and hierarchical government, so often seems to bring out the worst in people, the ignorance, laziness, fear, hate and violence that we are all capable of. These negative human attributes can be promoted, manipulated and exploited by cynical politicians and others looking to give their careers a boost. The words of a Dead Kennedys song, When Ya Get Drafted, come to mind, '...Fan the fires of racist hatred, war is coming back in style, especially when you build the bombs that blow big cities off the map. Guess who profits when we build 'em back up. Big business gets what big business wants. Call the army, call the navy, stocked with kids from slums. If you can't afford a slick attorney we might make you a spy...'