Saturday, October 22, 2011

Regarding the 'Occupy Melbourne' Protests.

Thankfully these protests have been gaining traction in the media of late, because the message is important, it affects most of us, and it is a good sign the media blackout and denial have lifted.

I agree with the message, that being, poor people shouldn't pay more tax than rich people, that Governmental representation should be equal for all people; not just those with money, that lobby groups that leverage lawmakers are funded by massive corporations, and that basically; most of everything is owned by a tiny minority, while the rest of us have to pay to live on planet Earth.

And we've all heard the argument- "They should spend more time working jobs than occupying the city". Sounds like a prima facie fair assessment, if it weren't for the fact that thousands and thousands of people in this country alone did work jobs, lost them when those jobs were farmed overseas to increase profit for the shareholders, and now have nothing to do but look for new jobs and protest about the unfair situation we're in.

With all that said, there is a right and wrong way of going about things.

In the link below you can watch a video of police moving protesters on:

This is their job, they were ordered to do it, and there is nothing wrong with moving protesters on when they have been formally informed that they have a time limit (which was generous in the first place), and that time limit has passed.

When you look at the footage, it shows standard operational tactics being employed, those tactics being correct usage of non aggressive body language (walking with arms clasped together at the front), moving the crowd back in a line and only using proportional force to the threat when necessary. If someone pushes back, it's assault, and they get dragged out of the line and cuffed. How much it hurts is entirely contingent upon their level of cooperation.

But I'm not writing this about the police, I want to talk about the protesters.

Who was the police liason for the protest group? Why didn't they brief the protesters in the correct way to act in a media based non violent action?

When the police move the line forward, you can clearly hear protesters screaming "Get your hands off me!", and generally screaming in general. No one was beating them. They were free to leave at any time, and if they put their hands up and broke the line, they would have been escorted away, not grabbed and dragged.

The point here is that screaming is not conducive to non violent protest. Non violent protest involves singing non confrontational and peaceful songs, linking arms, sitting down, staying calm, and above all- having someone in charge who at all times stands with and communicated with the police officer tasked with liason with the protesters.

If they really wanted to stay, they shouldn't scream at police and on camera, they should lock themselves to something with thumb cuffs (available from any sex shop) or a bicycle lock, and make their point that way.

Before you accuse me of being an armchair critic, I should point out that in the late '90s I was the nonviolent action coordinator for The Wilderness Society, North Queensland Conservation Council, The Sydney Environmental Defenders Office, and many other groups, leading peaceful and successful demonstrations all over Australia. My job was to brief all protestors in what is and isn't acceptable in a non violent action campaign, and to ensure those orders were carried out, or I would personally hand over any non compliant protesters to the police liason officer myself. I also shared my knowledge in lecture tours of all major Australian Universities.

If you want to have a protest or demonstration, the eyes of the world are on you more than ever. The media plays the biggest part in all of this now, and if you manage your protest effectively, you reach the eyes and ears of the REAL 99%.

If you mess it up acting like screaming victims of police brutality that isn't happening, the people on the other side of the TV screen write your cause off as anarchist bullshit, and you have lost the people you need to further build the momentum of your movement.

Downtown occupation isn't the point. It's only phase one. It's an emotional leaflet drop.

You need to reach the people at home. They need to sympathise with you and your cause (and this won't happen when everyone is wearing kaftans and dreadlocks, sorry). And when they sympathise, letters get written to politicians, massive boycotts are organised against offending companies, criminal proceedings are handed out to guilty politicians and bankers, and then you get the system you want.

It's a long drawn-out process, and you don't get two chances to get Mr and Mrs suburbia involved. Don't write them off as sheep, they are your target audience.

Appeal to them, and get them on board.

In the meantime, stop with the histrionics and disorganised campaigning, and work out how to get your message across positively utilising all forms of media.

Round 1: You've failed.

I'd quickly like to link to a blog that offers a differing perspective even though I don't agree with their thoughts on police tactics. I'm tired, so I won't go point-by-point, but if the author at a later stage wants to have a meaningful debate on it, I'd be happy to.

This is knifey, from 'the internet'.


Ghismonda said...

You are so on the money here (well, in my opinion anyway). I sincerely hope that your queries and advice reach the appropriate ears and that the Occupy Melbourne crew get their (media) act together for the next round. What they are doing out there is huge and necessary and so important.

I have spent some time on the Occupy Melbourne facebook page in an effort to understand the objectives and strategies of the people (those who have access to that particular form of social media, in any case) who are involved in, or who are at the very least interested enough to communicate about the protest. The OM people (what a great acronym) appear to be divided in their perceptions of the police (not surprising) and there are people on the OM site working hard to reinforce to the police haters in their group that their protest is a peaceful protest (I was most excited to see the Jedi Code quoted there this morning). This was after a number of members fought amongst themselves last night over the posting of a photo of a smiling policewoman on the page that was accompanied by a less than scornful comment. I confess to feeling some despair after reading the comments that followed. If people are unable to practice non-violence in their communication with others in their own camp, how can they practice non-violence in their dealings with those who oppose their actions? This morning the question of whether or not the police are on their side continues to be discussed.
I have also spent some time on the Victoria Police Forcebook page. There are a number of people on the VP site who believe that if the protesters had behaved in a non-violent/peaceful manner, they would have been responded to in a different way. While there are no guarantees, it's worth changing behaviour next time, right? I am reminded of Einstein's definition of insanity. I await the next round.

Anonymous said...

I've shared this with a few anarchist friends of mine as a very level headed and much needed point of view regarding this protests. Thank you for putting my feelings so succinctly into words!

Kevin Boers said...

If he won't I will and let's start with were was the legal basis for the "eviction". If you can answer that then we can have a good debate. But you won't find it there was no legal basis for their removal in this manner.

knifey said...

Ghismonda- Thanks so much for putting your thoughts into text here. You're talking about exactly what I was thinking, and it makes me feel good to see there are others out there questioning as I have been. I am in no way questioning the rights of the movement, because I am one of the 99% too. But so are the police. And while we all know there just have to be idiots (on both sides) who feel the need to be aggressive where it isn't called for, anyone who knows anything about media knows the whole point could have been successfully made without a hint of trouble. So thanks!

knifey said...

Anonymous- Thank you for that. I had to have a giggle when I got a comment from an anarchist called 'Anonymous'... (A good-natured one of course!)

knifey said...

Kevin Boers said...

"If he won't I will and let's start with were was the legal basis for the "eviction". If you can answer that then we can have a good debate. But you won't find it there was no legal basis for their removal in this manner."

Hi Kevin. Well, to be honest, I'm glad you asked; because this is how we all learn and grow and other good things. So let's begin!

The legal basis for the eviction is simple. Although the occupiers are (we will assume) citizens of Melbourne, and they do absolutely have the right to hold peaceful protests whenever they like, the venue wasn't suitable. What I mean here, is that several cultural events had to be cancelled (what was the cost culturally and financially to the organisers of these events?), and businesses were being disrupted. I could see from the coverage that there would have been disruptions to tram, taxi, bicycle, and private vehicle routes at times also.

And so, this worthy protest can and should have been staged at a larger location better suited for the expected numbers. Of course there were a lot of people involved (which is excellent), but instead of camping out, why not hold daily marches through the city, hold press conferences on the State Parliament steps, and other actions that don't basically cut off that area from the thousands and thousands of other people who still have jobs and need to go to them, etc?

Also, the occupiers were given a specific amount of time in which they were allowed to occupy the space (the fact Doyle signed off on this actually blows my mind!), and the people who were removed, were the people who didn't leave when their allotted time was up. It's not a civil liberties issue, it's simple a matter of "We gave you a week, now please go, as other people need this space too".

People are crying injustice at the fact the police waded in there (and I'm not going to make any friends saying this), but as an armed security officer, it's my job to do the same thing from time to time. If the occupiers left when they said they would, there would have been no police action to speak of. But when they didn't go, they disobeyed a police directive, which is a criminal act, and can be arrested and charged accordingly. The fact the activists on the whole weren't charged speaks very highly on behalf of police handling of the issue.

I hope this sheds light on your point, and if you have any further questions or need clarifying, I'm more than happy to respond.


knifey said...

Oh, I should also mention as a general note, the video available showing the police grabbing people by the head and pulling them from the line of occupiers does look horrible. It looks horrible, and it feels horrible, and it pretty much is horrible. It is also standard tactics when moving people (especially when their arms are wrapped around each other and unavailable). This is because if you move the head, the body will follow, so that's why they do it. If people don't want to get hurt, they can let go of their friends, and go peacefully. Because holding on to something or someone when you are being arrested is resisting arrest. People don't seem to like that fact, but there it is.

There is also talk of police in riot gear, and the use of horses, and how Orwellian and Toffleresque it all is, but really, they're just tools to get the police job done, nothing more. And if no one fights the police, or resists, or makes it overly difficult for them to go and do their (thankless) job, then those same no-ones won't be broadsided by a horse, capsicum sprayed, or dragged away by their head.

Understand, if you resist, fight, shout, act aggressively, disobey, or break your word with the police; they will move you whether you like it or not, and if you had've obeyed the law, it will never have happened.

And while some protesters see themselves on the news being dragged through the dirt and think "Yeah! I've really shown how fascist those pigs are!", what has really happened is everyone else watching on TV goes "What a douche bag!", and you lose support. Thus the point of my original post.

Thanks for the discussion.

Ghismonda said...

I suspect you have your finger on the media pulse, however, should you have missed a beat:

Robin said...

Hi Knifey - thanks so much for putting this out there - I came over from Heathen Scripture. I had been thinking much the same (although I believe there were quite a few cases where police did use unnecessary violence).

knifey said...

Ghismonda - Great link, thank you for sharing!

Ordinary People said...

Totally totally agree - the occupy movement is getting nowhere fast without the Ordinary People on their side

Anonymous said...

I am offended by your comment about dread locks. I don't have dread locks but having them is a personal choice, should i instead wear a suit and high heels?
Please don't tell me how to dress. Also in my experience having dreadlocks doesn't actually make you more of a lefty or a hippie although there are a higher percentage of those people who do have them.

I mean, do you seriously suggest people with dreadlocks shave their heads before protesting so that people will listen?

knifey said...

I'm glad you have a strong point of view about dreads, but don't take what I said as an attack. "Please don't tell me how to dress." What I said isn't my opinion on how you should look in your personal life (I used to have dreads too, although you made it clear you don't.)

The point though is, in a media campaign (which is what this is whether you like it or not), in order to 'win votes' so to speak, and reach the masses who are quite conservative and basically don't like ferals, it's important to put your best people out the front. It's about being organised. Sure you can have anarchists and leftists and anti-corporates, and students, and whoever else, all in it together, but that ends up in deadlocked consensus decision making and media failure- every time. Why do you think the candidates for the Green party all wear suits and look conservative? BECAUSE IF THEY DIDN'T, THEY'D NEVER GET ANYWHERE!

So, without trying to sound mean, stop being so sensitive and see it for what it is. Your target audience will be put off by people with dreads and piercings and hippie clothes and any number of other things (and by me- I'm covered in tattoos), and that's just how it is when you want the support of the silent majority. Yes, wearing a suit is actually an excellent media strategy!

I wrote this blog because the homogenous mass that is Occupy Melbourne totally fucked up an amazing opportunity to spread their message, and has degenerated into countless blogs from whingeing middle class white kids shocked because they got hurt by a cop, facebook rants about how evil the police all are, and how all the different sub-sections of OM all have different agendas and can't agree on anything other than "corporate greed is bad".

It's embarrassing, it's a wasted opportunity, and it's no-one's fault but the organisers and participants themselves for not knowing what they were getting in for. It's amazing to me how many people have been saying they did nothing wrong and the police should be punished for breaking them up and evicting them, when that's what cops do!

So in short, you kinda had your chance to do it your way, with dreads and whatever other personal choices being respected as relevant options in a media based action, it turned into a joke where people got hurt through their own stupidity, and if you want a different result next time, maybe listen to the experts instead of getting offended over the rules of appealing to media. I didn't make them up, I just pass them on. To help you. If that offends you, I really can't sugar coat reality for you.

One last thing- if you see a cop in riot gear, or advancing in a line, just leave. Don't say anything, don't do anything, just leave. Then you won't get hurt, and the internet will be free of so many hundreds of posts from 'victims of brutality'. They're police, not babysitters. They carry weapons and are lawfully licensed to use them. And if you don't leave a place when they tell you to, if you resist arrest (in any way), they will determine for themselves the appropriate use of force in the moment, and you'll lose. Stop sooking, and learn how to run a demonstration.

I'm sick of all the whingeing from this camp. You've made greater Australia side with the banks and the mega corps, and that is no mean feat.

Ghismonda said...

Go Knifey!

Ghismonda said...

Jordan said...

Go knifey! Nice post. In some disagreement with your support of police tactics though. Ok I agree with you about the middle class sooks and the misinformed rants on Facebook. I avoided the camp due to the sense of self righteousness I perceived from the campers, though like you I support the movement on principle. However your conclusions on police action, in my opinion, are wrong. It was excessive and unnecessarily violent. I mean this was a hundred peaceful protestors who were as about as dangerous as a confest healing workshop. This wasn't the London riots! The Victorian police have a history of excessive violence. Remember the mothers and children protesting the Kennet era school closures who bloodily beaten by Hagen wielding cops? You are at odds with the Australian newspaper, known for it's conservatism, which condemned police and government action as excessively violent. Cheers for the post. Nice to read a sober analysis.

knifey said...

Hi Jordan,

You post gives me a good opportunity to clear something up. I don't endorse the level of force used by police, or condone it, or even approve of it.

But what I am saying is that this is Victoria Police (as you pointed out), and you should just expect it. Right or wrong, that's just where we're at.

As much as I feel the protestors got it wrong, so did the police, and so did Robert Doyle.Everybody loses. But it's not too late to turn things around, and my original point was if OM can get a non violent action coordinator n to run whatever happens next, the police can't get violent, and the media can't spin it, because it's managed and documented. And then Om wins.

Ghismonda said...

“When it gets down to having to use violence then you are playing the systems games. The establishment irritates you, pull your beard and flick your face to make you fight, because once they have you violent then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don't know how to handle is non-violence and humour.“ John Lennon