The climate crisis is causing hellish disruption around Australia. In the past week alone, more than a quarter of NSW government areas have been declared disaster zones, and evacuation orders have affected 47,000 people. Meanwhile, many victims of the earlier Lismore floods are still homeless, after 4,000 buildings were rendered uninhabitable by the record-breaking deluge. Beyond our corner of the world, people in the poorest countries are suffering the worst effects of climate change.
The phrase “natural disaster” can offer the convenient impression that such extreme weather events are unavoidable tragedies, akin to a meteor shower or an earthquake. Nobody is responsible, so politicians can shake their heads and offer brief thoughts and prayers, while business can continue as usual.
But this is a smokescreen to protect the fossil fuel industry from blame. In a just society, these climate vandals, who have known about the greenhouse effect for decades, would be held responsible for their premeditated crimes against humanity and the environment. Instead, they are rewarded, with profits for gas giants Santos and Woodside Petroleum set to double this year.
The real criminals, we are told, are those who protest for climate action. In the last few weeks, Blockade Australia activists have been described as “dangerous”, “professional pests” and “bloody idiots”, as they have dared to disrupt commuters in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. The subsequent treatment of these activists is a significant attack on democracy and a grim illustration of how the system works at every level to defend and uphold the death drive of the coal, oil and gas bosses.
On 19 June, the Blockade Australia camp in Colo, north-west of Sydney, was raided by police. One hundred uniformed officers entered the camp, assisted by a dog squad, riot police, helicopter units and the Raptor Squad—the menacing name of the organised crime elite task force.
The raid followed activists’ discovery of two armed police officers, who were lying face down in the scrub above the Colo property. Dressed in camouflage, they remained motionless and unresponsive upon being approached, before an unmarked black vehicle sped onto the site and the two men bolted towards it. The car raced down a driveway towards a dead end, hitting and injuring two people, according to witnesses. Despite the activists having no weapons, police have claimed that they “feared for their lives” as activists surrounded the car and demanded they identify themselves.
Two hours later, the cops returned with a vengeance. According to a statement from Blockade Australia, the raiders smashed the windows of every vehicle on the property, seized mobile phones, and trampled on food and personal possessions. Seven people were arrested, and 40 were detained before being removed from the campsite.
Of the seven, five were subjected to punitive bail conditions. Two arrestees, Tim Neville and Max Curmi, were refused bail and will be imprisoned until their court date. At the time of writing, they have been held together in an isolation cell in Parklea Prison for twenty days, deprived of sunlight and exercise, according to Blockade Australia’s Facebook page.
In the days after the raid, another activist was arrested by plain-clothed police at a Sydney train station. Four of the activists were charged with “aid of commission of crime”, the crime being a traffic offence that had not yet occurred. Evidently, just thinking about protesting can now land you in prison in New South Wales.
Max Curmi published a statement from jail connecting the repression to the ongoing destruction of the planet:
“I am a political prisoner. I am being held on premeditated charges, because I refuse to let this system continue destroying this continent, the climate, and our right to a liveable future. I am in a cage, because we are upholding the truth and backing the experts who are saying we need to make transformational change now in order to survive.
“We need to stop destroying the world for profit, and that means dismantling and replacing the current legal, political and economic frameworks that encourage the exploitation of this earth and those living on it. We need systems that are set up to minimise environmental impacts, protect what remains, and repair the damage that Australia and its allies have done to our planet.
“This system is going to destroy us all ... It cannot facilitate the transformational change we need. The power-holders work every day, in the parliaments, the courts and the uniforms, to protect and preserve this exploitation system.”
Blockade Australia’s “week of disruption”, which began a week after the raid, aimed to disrupt the Sydney CBD to force the powerful to act on climate change. Approximately 50 people took part in the first day of action, and one activist, Mali Cooper, locked herself to the steering wheel of a car that blocked access to the Harbour Tunnel.
Mali and the 22 others arrested during the week face up to two years in prison and fines of $22,000 under anti-protest laws introduced earlier this year by the state government. Mali was held in custody for 30 hours before being granted bail on the condition that she return to her flood-ravaged hometown, Lismore, within 72 hours. But she was pulled over and rearrested on her way home, as police anticipated that she wouldn’t reach Lismore in time and was thus in breach of her bail conditions.
After two days, the group called off further action on their Telegram channel, citing the need to “rest, regroup and support one another”. The impact of the repression clearly took its intended toll on the group. On top of the personal hardship of losing basic liberties, most arrestees were subject to bail conditions that denied them the ability to communicate with any other Blockade Australia activists.
Blockade Australia arrestees deserve solidarity from all who value the essential democratic right to protest. Often, demanding justice doesn’t make you popular—it’s not like we have a mainstream media monopoly on our side. But justice is rarely won through polite protests that abide by the ever-narrowing boundaries of lawful democratic expression. History is made by determined minorities who have used disruptive protest to galvanise others in rebellion. Abolishing the fossil fuel industry is an immense but necessary task. It will require an upheaval of the entire economic system of production and distribution. Needless to say, a few roads will be blocked along the way.
Academic workers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have achieved a stunning victory with a serious campaign of industrial action, centred on an open-ended strike. Their approach is a model for unionists in Australia.
NTEU Fightback, a rank-and-file union group of the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Sydney, is calling on staff to vote No in the upcoming ballot on the proposed enterprise agreement. The campaign was launched at a forum on 25 May, attended by over 50 people. A members’ meeting on 13 June will consider the agreement. This week will probably be the first time that members are provided with a full list of proposed changes to our working conditions.
The South Australian government has followed New South Wales and Victoria to undermine democratic rights. A bi-partisan bill has been rushed through parliament’s lower house, which proposes fines up to $50,000 or three months in jail if protesters “intentionally or recklessly obstruct the public place”.
A recent NBC News poll found that 70 percent of US voters don’t want Joe Biden to recontest the presidency next year. Sixty percent feel likewise about Donald Trump. Yet the two men are currently odds-on to face each other in a 2024 re-run of the 2020 presidential election.
Allyship presents itself as a way that people can show support for the rights of an oppressed group that they themselves are not a part of without “taking the space” of those who are oppressed. Marxists, conversely, argue that solidarity is the key way we can win reforms for, and ultimately liberate, the oppressed. Allyship and solidarity might sound like much the same thing, but there are important differences in these strategies for social change.
Australia is facing a full-blown housing emergency. House prices have been increasing faster than wages for decades, meaning that for many people, the prospect of ever owning a home is now vanishingly remote.