Hundreds of protesters disrupted the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne this morning, blocking entrances to the Convention Exhibition Centre and heckling attendees. The conference is a who’s who of representatives from some of the biggest and most destructive companies on the planet – companies that turn police and armed thugs against indigenous people protecting their lands, that trash workers’ rights and target unionists, that are destroying the planet with their insatiable greed.
Several hundred police are deployed to facilitate the event’s running, but on several occasions the protesters look to have gotten the better of them. Before 8:00am, scores of protest leaders are arrested on spurious grounds – including offensive language and cruelty to animals – in an attempt to disorganise the blockade. One arrestee reports being assaulted, only to then be charged. “When they want to arrest people, they just create a reason. They started pushing me in the back and then I was arrested for hindering police. Most people were arrested for that or breach of the peace”, she says. “I was sitting down, and they picked me up by my scarf, choked me and pulled my hair and dragged me inside the building. The whole reception area and some of the rooms have been transformed into a police processing area. It was about twenty past seven and there were ten of us in there.”
“Too many cops, not enough justice!”
With every arrest, there are more people ready to stand up. And when the megaphones are taken, the chanting only gets louder. Attendees have to be hustled into the meeting amid howls and jeers as blockaders link arms in a human chain around the main entrance. At the other end of the building, more protesters have glued themselves to the doors to stop people entering. Some argue and remonstrate with those trying to get in.
“The oceans are rising – no more compromising!”
By 8:30, attendees are queuing up and facing the prospect of being prevented from entering. Police bash paths through the protesters. But the disruption continues. With the main entrance almost closed, attendees now assemble in groups away from the front line, only to be swarmed and berated before the cops again beat a path through and make another arrest. The conference attendees determined to push their way in are making a point. They are used to getting their way, and the reality of people disrupting their usual business is too much to bear. Half an hour later, the blockade has consolidated at the main entrance. Attendees now are forced to perform a walk of shame from the Yarra side of the building to Clarendon Street, where they enter via a back door. But soon, that avenue is closed as several dozen protesters shut it down. As the picketers rack up more victories, the chanting grows more enthusiastic.
“The people are rising – no more compromising!”
A couple of finely dressed men are hapless, traipsing up and back after being rejected by protesters at the main entrance. A cop sends them in the wrong direction. Finally getting their bearings from another cop at the other end of the building, one complains about being called “a killer and a murderer”. They run into another group just as confused. “Looks like we do have to go through the protesters…”. Nearing the front line, they hesitate. The cops are now escorting them through the gauntlet, but they can’t get through and give up. Another small victory for the blockade. Eventually, they find a line of police who let them in the back way.
Another two attendees carry themselves as though they know where they are going. They possibly spend their lives looking like they know what’s going on. That’s why they get paid the big bucks. But alas, at this moment they don’t have a clue. After walking the full length of the building, the cops tell them the bad news. Wrong way, turn back. Through the walk of shame again they plod. They split up and reconvene around the back. But the crowd is building, and the police are finding it increasingly difficult to ensure passage. The protest intermittently spills onto Clarendon Street. The mounted police are brought around to shore up the line.
“You are a wanker! You are a wanker!”
At 9:45, the cops order the blockaders to disperse. It is an admission that they don’t have total control. More conference attendees arrive. They all seem to think they know where they are going, but the air of self-assurance is repeatedly shattered as more and more walk the wrong way. More scuffles, more arrests. Cops swarm on a young protester, drive him into the cement and then pile on. The protesters surround the police and try to stop their comrade being dragged away. But police reinforcements come, and he is carried into the building for “processing”.
“Jump, jump, jump if you’re not a cop!”
It’s pretty festive between the moments of confrontation. A man with a trumpet plays the Darth Vader tune from Star Wars as prospective entrants file past. More attendees back away from the line and wander to find an alternative entry. “Don’t worry guys – we’re here for positive transformation”, a manager – we’ll call him Mr Slick – tells his two colleagues, before getting on the phone to ask for help. They stand around under some trees by the river awaiting instructions. There are another a dozen now standing about looking disoriented.
Who knows why, but they all seem to walk off in the wrong direction again. It’s like the opposite of a David Attenborough documentary about migratory birds. When hatching season is over, they know exactly where to fly. Yet in Melbourne’s spring, and armed with smartphones, these suits are like lemmings. This new batch are going for a full circumnavigation of the building. Mr Slick is on the blower again. He’s got all the way to Dock 37. Confused, he pushes on. His two friends remain in tow – he’s the smartest of them, but he’s led them to a cull-de-sac at the entrance to a Victorian Trades Hall union conference. Again to the cops for directions. After much discussion – interminable it feels – the police agree to get them in at this door.
Only a few protesters are here because the blockade is not targeting workers and unionists, only the mining company executives. More, Trades Hall supports the blockade and is checking entrants for union cards. No card, no entry. But with police help, these select entrants push past relatively easily. I’ve been walking with them for such a time that everyone assumes I’m one of them, so I go through as well. Inside is much more civilised. Quiet, air conditioned and full of cops, it’s a safe space for suits. The police here are much more friendly. Very relaxed. The people they are protecting need not raise their voices or link arms in the work they do. Corporate power doesn’t operate like that. It’s not boisterous; it doesn’t need to be. Just the quiet chatter of people destroying the planet in an orderly fashion. Our side can’t afford such luxuries – either the material ones or in our opposition to the destruction of Indigenous lands, the trampling of workers’ rights or the razing of our environment.
“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land!”
Approaching midday, outside, the protesters have lost none of the original energy after several hours. The police haven’t followed through with their threat to arrest anyone blocking access to the building – there is strength in numbers. We hear speeches from Indigenous activists fighting against fracking in the Northern Territory and against mining in Western Australia. From Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe. From former Greens federal senator Lee Rhiannon and Trades Hall just transition officer Colin Long. Tomorrow will be another day of protest and education.
“The people, united, will never be defeated!”
The blockade will resume tomorrow at 6:00am at the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre, 2 Clarendon Street, South Wharf (opposite the casino). The arrested activists face tens of thousands of dollars in fines. If you can do so, please donate to their fund here.