On Saturday, once again the streets were full with thousands defying state intimidation from the police, marching from the State Library to take over Treasury Gardens, but the force of thousands was not enough for the re-occupation to be successful – and the police didn’t even have to break it up.
Over the past week or so, simmering political divisions eventually became clear, manifesting in a small but influential group that stacked out the organising groups, driving an agenda against confrontation and disruption, against political aims and against debate. Beginning with a reluctance to protest against the Queen and Robert Doyle, the obsession with confining our actions under the narrow scope of legality meant that the inevitable need to disrupt things, defy unjust laws and to defend a camp against the state didn’t happen.
Robert Doyle had made it clear that we were not allowed to set up camp anywhere and that any camp would be broken up by the police. So in order to set up a successful camp, we were going to have to defy that and defend it. And so, despite the thousands in Treasury Gardens, the political division between challenging the state and appeasing it was brought open.
The General Assembly voted to march to Bowen Lane and set up camp there instead. This was overwhelmingly voted upon but once we got there, and some began setting up tents, many of the logistical groups like the Kitchen, refused to help put the camp into practice, defying the democratic decision.
The argument that the legal position of setting up a camp in RMIT was weaker because it was private land is bullshit. Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberation Plaza, which is the site of the Occupy Wall Street camp is privately owned by a corporation. They set up camp anyway and the force of numbers and the will to defend it, meant that they police haven’t been able to clear people off. It has not stopped people from supporting it and growing the camp.
The meeting at RMIT to discuss where to go next saw many dwindle away. We were running from one location to another, trying to find somewhere the council would let us camp. Some suggested running outside of council boundaries to Edinburgh gardens, and led a split because the rest of the group didn’t want to go somewhere outside of the city where no one would see us.
For me, this kept raising the political issue that you have to challenge the state to get anywhere. You need to defy unjust laws. There was a small minority that didn’t want to do that, and through the undemocratic manoeuvres within consensus decision making (which I can’t be fucked going into) they managed to avoid the necessary challenge to the state, whether it was because of their careers, their desire to be respectable, or the mistake that they think we can win anything by playing by the rules.
In America, camps continue to defy eviction orders, defend themselves, are confronted with much worse violence from the state including the use of rubber bullets, and this confrontation is what keeps bringing more supporters to the occupations and makes it stronger.
Rosa Parks wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if she’d just sat at the back of the bus, not wanting to disrupt things or challenge the law. Mubarak would still be in power in Egypt if the occupiers in Tahrir Square didn’t defend themselves and just moved from square to square.
And the Fair Work Australia ruling on Qantas shows once again that the state isn’t on our side. It’s another example of why we need to defy the law in order to win anything. We don’t have the right to strike in this country. And workers around the world have always had to confront the state trying to send them back to work. It’s by fighting that we win.