Melbourne’s Murdoch-owned Herald Sun is again having a lie-based sook fest about those of us involved in the October 2011 Occupy Melbourne events.
For two days it has run with the usual slanders against protesters, displaying an oh-so familiar disdain for anyone critical of corporate control of, well, anything.
We “shut down the city”, says the paper. Reality check: City Square – a small patch of gravel and pavement at the corner of Collins and Swanston Street, was open as never before. More members of the general public – protesters, visitors, the curious, supporters – made use of the space during the course of that week than probably had been the case over the course of the preceding month. It was transformed into a democratic forum for people who are otherwise ignored by governments. The police, not the protesters, eventually shut down the city to evict us.
One of the most curious charges levelled at the time was that we had erected “structures” – tents and marquees. Some crime. It is this charge that the 8 May Herald Sun editorial repeats as justification for the protest’s eviction. You want to see structures in public parks? Get on down to the Spring Fashion Festival, which takes over the square every year. But you’ll never see the Prada-wearing set at that gathering splayed out on the pavement by cops.
Or try the International Flower and Garden Show in Carlton Gardens, or the Grand Prix in Albert Park. Those events even fence the areas to deny the public entry – unless of course you are prepared to pay the big bucks.
Nothing like that at Occupy Melbourne; no one was denied entry. That was actually part of the point of the event. The democratic space that exists in this country has been gradually eroded over decades. Part of that process has been greater privatisation or corporatisation of public space. Access has become further restricted, just as in official politics, to those with economic resources. Citizenship and the rights associated with it are increasingly bound up with the ability to splash the cash.
The Herald Sun’s condescending and prejudiced charge that we “turn[ed] the centre of the city into a slum” is indicative of its attitudes in this regard. Social responsibility, according to Murdoch’s poodles, is an economic transaction. “Democracy” is conducted in the corporate boxes and suites on offer to the highest bidder. Workers and the poor are not welcome participants; we are instead expected to meekly defer as spectators to the running of the world.
For a brief moment, we took some of that space back. That’s what irks the Herald Sun.
We collectively are described as “people who were once called anarchists, seeking to overthrow governments and society in general”. To be fair, that’s actually not a bad description of some of us, although what exactly overthrowing “society in general” is supposed to mean I have no idea.
The reality, however, for anyone who cared to participate, was that a stream of young workers from the suburbs came to the event – people with shit casual jobs, from areas with few amenities and who rightly felt that they have been left out and let down by the system. They generally had not been involved in protests previously. The fact that the event went on for days gave them an opportunity they previously had been denied.
This was something that couldn’t be ignored: the young workers were not politically organised, but by and large they were more radical in outlook than the students who are regularly charged with living in a bubble and being behind every social protest. At Occupy, the masses of students were missing; the battlers for whom the Herald Sun always claims to speak were out in force – and they were pissed off with the system.
“Violence, as happened when protesters defied police ... is unacceptable”, lectures the editorial. Actually, the cops, under instruction from the Liberal lord mayor and state premier, launched a vicious assault that left dozens injured, battered and bruised. That was violence. Onlookers who played no part in the protest were stunned. They saw that it wasn’t us. That’s partly what prompted several thousand people to converge on the city in protest after the eviction had taken place.
The Herald Sun labels us “selfish” and complains that “now the community is to foot the bill” for our actions. But those involved know exactly what went down. And it wasn’t our call. We had every right to be there.
I have no doubt that there are people all through this city who hope – after absorbing the spirit of the event, participating in the exchange of ideas, tasting the democracy of the street, and glimpsing the possibility of a future that puts human need above corporate greed – that there will be more opportunities like Occupy.
And I know that they will agree, to paraphrase Alice Walker, that activism – fighting for something better than the shitty system currently on offer – was the rent we paid for occupying that square.