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(en) Australia, Melbourne, a comprehensive account of participant of s11/12/13

From Steve Wright <pmargin@xchange.anarki.net>
Date Wed, 20 Sep 2000 03:24:39 -0400


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      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E
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I got back to Melbourne today, to find one friend's detailed account of last
week's actions against the WEF.

Here it is . . .

________

s11/12/13

Hi everyone, Just sending out a group message to let you all know a little about
todays S11 anti-world economic forum (WEF) protests in melbourne. For those who
arent too familiar with the situation, basically the WEF is a meeting of 1000
of the worlds top corporate and government heads which whilst making no formal
decisions brings the people who run our world together to network, make deals
and come up with new ways to screw us over.

For the last 6-12 months people have been organising around the country to
protest and blockade the forum ala Seattle style. I wasnt too involved in the
organising beyond doing promo messages on radio 3cr and interviewing people
about it all. I wont go into the organising side too much because there were
all the usual splits between the socialsits, anarchists, greens, christians and
unions with most factions deciding to organise in their own way.

All in all there was a lot of hype leading up to today both amongst the left and
the media. Just about everyone Ive ever known through the squat and anarchist
and forest protest scenes seemed to be talking about coming and I saw loads of
people today I hadnt seen on a demo in years. There was a lot of protester hype
about tear gas as well due to seattle and the main booklet produced for the
protest talked about how to deal with rubber bullets. Whilst I think its good to
be prepared for any situation the paranoia got a little out of hands at times-
Australian cops have never used tear gas against a city based demo after all and
they arent even armed with rubber bullets! For the medias part they did the
usual demonising trip particularly as two of the trot groups organised high
school walkouts with about 1000 students rocking up.

Anyway onto what actually happened. I stayed over with my friend J last night
who Ive done troublemaking stuff with on and off for years and whom I know as a
solid and dependable fellow to be in a scrum with. Wed made a bodgy banner
reading "Footy Fans Against Mass Murder" the day before which became smudged and
almost unreadable in the heavy rains later in the morning. A few years ago J and
I did an action against norman schwarzkopf under the footy fans moniker and
there is a wbsite at www.geocities.com/footyfans2000 if you want to know more.

Got up at 6am and got to the protest around 7-30am. The wef was being held at
crown casino which those of you who have been to melbourne would know is an
insane place to hold such an event. The casino is a massive complex situated
across the river from the central business district with 52 entrances, numerous
shopping arcades and carparks, a number of roads running through it and a big
hotel where the forum was held.

Whilst the numerous roads, entrances and exits appeared to make it difficult to
blockade it also meant that the cops would have an impossible time keeping
people from sneaking in. So last night they erected a giant cyclone fence around
the whole casino complex cutting down the exits and entrances to around 7
options. By the time J and I got there this morning all seven of these points
were blocked with hundreds of people at each one.

Initially we were worried as there only appeared to be a few thousand people
there and it was raining heavily. We thought the cops might go for a mass arrest
or just attack us whilst the numbers were relatively even. The casino and
shopping section of the complex were already closed down (and have now been
closed until Thursday) costing the fuckers millions. The cops had already made a
few attempts to break through at one point, but had been unsuccessful. It soon
became clear that they werent going to go for a mass arrest despite media hype
in the days preceding about the government opening up country prisons and the
like. They simply didnt have the numbers to pull off such an operation whilst
ensuring we didnt storm the casino.

Fairly early on we saw some action. The cops were building up numbers across the
road from a blockaded entrance where busloads of staff and WEF delegates were
trapped by the crowd. Rather than waiting for them to come to us the crowd went
to them and about 500 people piled on and pushed the 100 police out of the area.
Whilst our numbers were reasonably low at this point it seemed the cops were
even more thinly spread. I think they were more concerned in the end with us
storming the casino complex than with getting the majority of the delegates in.
Despite there being 2000 cops and about the same number of security their
numbers all day were concentrated either within the complex or at points where
they were unlikely to get delegates through, but which protestors may have
ripped down. Whenever they tried to have a go at breaking a blockade they only
seemed able to muster about 100 cops with 10 to 20 horses. These numbers simply
werent enough.

Between 7-30am and 9-30am our numbers seemed to grow, particularly as the
weather got better. With each gate held by a few hundred people there was a
roving mass of about 1000-3000 who just wandered about looking for trouble.
Every now and then the cops would try and open up a point and loads of people
would just pile in and hold the line. Whilst the cops occasionally threw punches
the level of violence was generally low for such a rowdy demonstration. The
majority of cops were not armed with batons and the only times they baton
charged the crowd seemed to be when people had bailed up individual delegates
cars. Some people were badly hurt during these baton charges, but there were
only 20 or 30 people badly injured during the protest and considering there were
eventually over 10 000 blockading this was fairly low.

Unfortunately I missed these events, but dennis napthine the leader of the
conservative party in victoria was bailed up in his car for a while and richard
court, the conservative premier of western australia was also bailed up for
about an hour! The tv had footage of an aboriginal guy dancing on his car bonnet
which Im sure brought smiles to all those who have kids locked up under his
mandatory sentencing laws.

J and I saw some of the action. we were in one section where there were two
ramps through which delegates were trying to get in. the bottom one was blocked
and the police brought in horses. We piled in with everyone and ended up at the
back. Ive never seen this before, but the crowd actually managed to push the
horses back and out of the area. Then before we knew it they were trying to get
the delegates in through the top ramp. Suddenly the whole crowd turned and J and
I were at the front of the crowd and pushing through the cops. We all linked
arms and whilst it was intense being pushed along by hundreds of people we
managed to break through the police lines within about ten minutes. In no time
we were at the top of the ramp and the cops ran off with delegates rushing into
their buses which also left in a hurry. Everyone was cheering as J said "I felt
like I was 20 again".

So thats pretty much how it went down. Most of the demo was relatively non
violent with people just using their numbers to break any police attempts to get
delegates in. A few people got dragged into the casino grounds and beaten by
security and the odd cop and protestor threw punches or put the knee in, but no
one seemed to want to take it into real aggro. Whilst some delegates did get in
the majority undoubtedly did not although every person you ran into seemed to
have a different opinion on this and the rumour mill was working overtime as
usual. One friend saw a shot of the conference on the tv and said the majority
of seats were definitely empty.

One of the interesting things about the protest was that it was genuinely quite
autonomous. There were all sorts there- greens, unionists, trots, anarchists,
students, punks, ravers, indie kids, etc, etc, but no group had the numbers to
impose their will on the rest. whilst the majority were young there were loads
in their 40s and even some in their 60s and 70s.

As you can imagine there was no lack of small groups trying to tell people what
to do- a small anarchist black bloc (50 or so) kept trying to get people to
smash their way into the casino and beat the cops up. non violence types kept
trying to get us to sit down and not push the cops. the various socialist groups
kept trying to direct people around with their bloody megaphones whilst
educating us about why we were there. All were generally ignored.

Occasionally people would follow these groups, but in the main people seemed
fairly relaxed and as I said tended to wander about and if there was trouble
going on theyd join in, help out and then move on. I decided not to join the
black bloc pretty much as soon as I got there because like all the other small
groupings they seemed out of step with everyone else. They undoubtedly did some
cool stuff and pushed a big dumpster into the cops at one point which was quite
amusing, but the demo seemed militant enough and I felt more like being part of
the majority. On a number of occasions when we pushed through police lines or
repelled an attack a small group of cops or delegates got isolated in the crowd.
Theyd be terrified, but rather than beating them up (which we easily could have
done) people would just scream "Go Home" and chase them off.

I personally thought it was fine that the crowd didnt arc up the violence
against the cops. After all why bother when you can achieve your goal without
it. If we had of got into major battles they would have been forced to escalate
things and a lot more people would have been hurt. After the first few hours
they seemed largely content just to defend the casino and realistically we
didnt have a hope in hell of really busting in there. Despite what some
anarchos think my experience is that without the cops provoking us with a lot of
violence its rare to see a large crowd attack them in this country, and we would
have had to do so to get in. Also people were well aware that there were 2000
security and 1000 cops inside the buildings with the security guards were
absolutely hanging for a fight. Even with our numbers we would have had to be
pretty geared up to take them on. Since most people werent that geared up I saw
little point in going down that road.

So in the end after about two hours of pushing and shoving the cops pretty much
gave up. Every hour or two theyd try and open up an area and then people would
just steam in break up their lines and push them away. By midday it was sunny
and thousands more kept turning up. It took on the feel of a street festival
with people milling around up and down the river. There was big puppet parade, a
couple of womens actions and people just hanging out having a laugh. Ran into
lots of old faces.

One thing that pleased me was the number of folks with black flags and the large
number of young anarchists, most of whom Id never seen before. There were lots
of people from interstate, but it was obvious that there are lots of new crew
active outside the usual circles.  J and I also had loads of footy fans come up
and talk to us about our banner and how football has been wrecked in this state,
etc, etc. This was funny as our banner was primarily a joke, but good because it
showed the diversity of the crowd. I certainly wasnt the only one wearing club
colours. There were also lots of IWW people there, but as we tend to operate
more as a network than a faction all of us were spread out amongst the black
bloc, rank and file union scenes, in the first aid group, doing funny bugger
stuff (clowns against capitalism, footy fans, etc), food not bombs, etc.

My band were meant to play on the main stage which after police negotiations had
been set up across from the main protest site. In the end our opportunity to
bring revolutionary rock to the masses was lost. Loads of trots made boring
speeches from the stage which quickly reduced their audience from about 1000 to
100. Then all these other bands kept pushing in front of us and because we
couldnt be fucked fighting over our slot our playing time kept getting pushed
further and further back. Then it began raining again around 5pm so the stage
got shut down and we missed out. By this stage we were too tired to care, but it
was a bit of pain as wed had to drag our gear miles in from the road as the
cops werent letting any cars through.

Full credit to the Black Star crew who ran the stage though as they also did all
other events over the weekend too- a couple of talks, a punk gig, an alternative
(mainly leftie) conference, etc and will have the PA there for two more days
yet. Some anarchos criticised them for working with the unions and liasing with
police, but given theyve taken 10 years to raise the money to have about $20
000 worth of sound gear I can understand them not wanting to take too many
risks. Better to keep the resource safe and available for the kind of Reclaim
the Streets parties, benefit gigs and other events they usually do. Food Not
Bombs also kept about 2000 people fed which was a major effort and unionists
with mainly greens and anarchos provided first aid and legal support whilst the
trots sold papers.

By the time we left (about 6pm) I was fucking exhausted. Things were still at a
stand off, but most people were heading home although thousands were still
dancing around huge techno sound systems that were set up at two different
locations. People were having a huge percussion jam in one area and the sound
was deafening with the cops once again looking very worried.

All in all it has to be said we basically won. The cops were forced to block off
a number of roads into the city, but basically ceded the area outside the casino
to us. People were openly spray painting everywhere and the whole complex was
covered in slogans. The WEF organisers admitted that up to a quarter of the
delegates didnt get in which means we probably stopped even more. The casino
itself was shut costing them tens of millions plus cop and security costs. A
number of shops in the city also panicked with Nike boarding up their windows
and all the MacDonalds were full of security.

Bill Gates decided to stay in Sydney for the Olympics rather than fly down and
the Prime Minister was brought in around 6pm by boat, which was hilarious as
with all the rain the only boats that could fit under the casino bridges were
rubber dinghys with speed boat engines. These boats could only fit one suit in
with two cops to stop them falling in the water and people kept dropping eggs
and stuff on them. The PM must have got soaked!

At the end of the day I think our numbers and determination largely carried it,
but probably all the hype about Seattle, DC, May Day in London, etc helped as
the cops were also afraid to escalate things for fear we would run riot in the
city. This meant that despite the news coverage making out that the protest was
ultra violent and crazed it was, outside a few incidents, one of the more laid
back ones Ive been at considering the numbers and stakes involved.

The forum continues for two more days. Tomorrow the unions are marching to the
site for an official demo. They have said they will protest and not blockade,
but given what happened today it will be hard for them to stop at least some of
the 10 000-12 000 rank and file members from joining in. However the numbers
will be down in the morning as all the build up was for today and because many
people took the day off work for today and wont get another tomorrow. As for me
Ill probably head down in the mid morning as I need a break after 12 hours
today and have volunteer work I cant really get out of. Wednesday though will
be the really hard day as numbers will no doubt peter out again so Ill be there
then.

Well Ive rattled on enough. See you all later, Love, I.

Hi folks, Had a little break, but thought Id update yall on my experiences of
the final two days of protests against the World Economic Forum in Melbourne.

Tuesday S12

Decided to have a rest and woke up late at 10am. Listened to the news and heard
that the cops decided to go in hard and early attacking the pickets at around
6-30am when numbers were minimal. With the numbers less than even they used
batons and injured a number of people. Some delegates were still kept out though
most got in. The crowd was always going to be smaller on this day as most of the
hype and promotion had gone into pushing S11 as opposed to three days of action
and because people were exhausted from the previous day or were unable to afford
more than a day off work.

I got down there for 11am when the Union rally which brought down about 10 000
unionists for a protest. Some union support had already come in with a faction
of the CFMEU (construction, forestry, mining unions) supplying the stage and a
first aid team and the AMWU (Metalworkers, Manufacturing- the only local union
whose leaders are not in the Labour party) supplying some tents, tarps, etc as
well as having semi official presence through the whole thing. Loads of union
members had already come down individually or were involved with organising the
blockades. About 700 building workers from Sydney also rocked up.  A few IWW
people brought along others from their work as well.

Trades Hall, the local union umbrella group, had not endorsed the blockade and
stuck to speeches, but surprisingly allowed some blockaders on stage to request
that unionists join the pickets (although Trades Hall made it clear they would
be on their own if they did).

A few cool stories came out during the speeches. Building workers in Western
Australia put a 3 day work ban on a government project in response to what they
described as the WA Premiers "provocative" attempts to force his way into the
forum the day before. One of the leaders of the AMWU said the blockade had
helped his union as at a picket line in rural Victoria the day before striking
workers had invaded their factory to chase off scabs. The local cops were unable
to come and turf the strikers out because all their numbers had been sent down
to Melbourne!

In an act of incredible stupidity the cops attacked one of the blockade points
with a baton charge just as the union demo was breaking up. This then meant that
many more unionists hung around to support the pickets and push the cops back
where they had had a go at the line.

Not all unionists were so supportive though. A crew of about 30 burly guys
including one of the leaders of the CFMEU (lots of factional shit obviously
going down there) went down and threatened blockaders who were not allowing
staff in. Rather than using health and safety issues to pull out all the union
workers at the casino this crew got into scuffles with pickets and eventually
got the staff through the line. Whilst this picket line was not union endorsed
this activity was obviously pretty scabby.

I went off to tutor migrants for a few hours in the afternoon and by the time I
returned at 4pm the picket line numbers at the 7 entrances had picked up
although they were still fairly small compared to the previous day. There were
probably about 3000 or 4000 people milling about with a few sound systems going.
The tension was a lot higher due to the police violence of the morning, but the
cops seemed largely content to play a waiting game.

There were a few incidents though with one friend getting kneed in the head by a
cop when he tried to stop someone from getting nicked for spraypainting "We Love
You Vandana". The India eco-feminist Vandana Shiva had been inside the forum and
when asked on a panel why she thought the protesters were there she read out a
statement prepared by Greens and Radio 3CR. In another incident some picketers
chased off photographers from The Herald Sun, the tabloid paper that had slagged
us off mercilessly.

As it got dark the scene became really surreal as the Casino still turned on all
their neon lights which were flashing into the night with no one about except
lines and lines of cops. By about 8pm in the evening the numbers on each
entrance were pretty low with most concentrated at two gates which the delegates
buses appeared to be pointing at. The cops wound up making a major push at
another gate where there were only 30 or so people. They baton charged their way
through before sealing the intersection with a row of police horses and cops
three rows deep on either side of the road. Everyone who had been on the picket
was battered and a police inquiry is now to be held as the cops could have
easily moved people aside since they outnumbered the pickets 20 to 1.

We got down there as fast as we could and helped some injured people, but the
cop numbers were immense and beyond throwing the odd missile (which I didnt
bother doing) there was little we could do as we were way outnumbered and
outgunned. People abused the shit out of the cops to little avail although one
woman in her 70s shook up a few since I dont think they expected such abuse
from a pensioner. The buses left full of delegates, but at least theyd had to
wait until 8pm to get them out.

Wednesday S13 Woke up at 6am, tuned into 3CR (the station I do a show at and who
broadcast regular updates from the protest) and found out the cops had gone in
with the batons even earlier than the day before and that it was already too
late to do much. Decided to catch some more sleep and got down about 10am. Found
out a few of the black bloc had been pinched (the rest stopped masking up after
this) and that two friends had been batoned that morning after finding
themselves behind police lines by mistake! When they and 20 or so others
appeared behind the cops the cops freaked out and got stuck in. Luckily they
werent badly hurt.

Wandering around the pickets was eerie as the casino complex is huge and whole
areas were empty of people. I kept expecting one of the security thugs to jump
the fence and have a go at me. I joined with a small group trying to stop a few
delegates getting in or out, but the cops easily pushed us aside.

Most people werent bothering any more with the pickets as the cops now had the
numbers and the majority of delegates who stuck around were inside already. 600
delegates according to the media had however decided to just give up and headed
up to Sydney for the Olympics. A number had had to wait in buses for 5 hours the
previous day or stay on at the forum long into the night. Rich bastards arent
used to waiting so most decided just to fuck off.

Things were looking a bit sad until mid day when it was decided that we would
all march into the city. Id been helping out Food Not Bombs for a while with
chopping vegies (they must have fed a few 1000 people a day), but decided to
join the march. Opinions were divided on whether to march with the hardcore
wanting to stay on the pickets till the bitter end, but it was a good idea in my
opinion and certainly livened things up.

We marched for about an hour and half and shut down most of the central business
district. A big truck pumped out music with MCs rapping over the top and
speakers pointing out the corporate crimes of the various companies whose
offices we passed. The cops looked exhausted as they ran to keep up with us, but
since they had kept most of their numbers back at the Casino they had no chance
of halting the march. They concentrated a few numbers at MacDonalds, Nike and
the Stock Exchange, but the weirdest thing was that they had a line of cops
outside three separate Darrell Lea shops. Darrell Lea is a locally owned
chocolate shop so no one could work out what the fuck they were doing there
whilst they left banks and investment companies unprotected.

The march was fucking great and lifted everyones spirits. After two days the
sun finally came out and our parade gave us a chance to enjoy it whilst talking
with people in the street, handing out Indymedia bulletins and proving to people
that the cops had had the monopoly on the aggro since we were obviously a
largely peaceable lot. Nevertheless I took the opportunity to remind the small
numbers of cops outside the Stock Exchange that we now outnumbered them and if
we wanted to could whip em.

By the time the march got back to the Casino site the numbers seemed to have
swelled to about 5000 and the marchers did a lap of the casino before stretching
out to fully encircle it. I left the march to help out some more with Food Not
Bombs. Luckily they had loads of bread thanks to the guys (not their boss) at a
local organic bakery who often support picket lines and the like and who had
baked up about a hundred extra loaves for FNB. The FNB crew seem to be on a roll
at the moment with loads of new young women from the Food Cooperative getting
involved and forcing the punks to clean up their act and widen the circle of
participants. As when they laid on food during the MUA picket in 1998 their
perseverance in cooking day after day won them loads of respect.

With the pickets essentially abandoned people were now just partying with a few
mobile sound systems dotted about the place as well as the main stage going. At
around 5pm things started to get a little more tense with senior cops
threatening to reopen the still sealed roads to traffic by sweeping the area
with riot cops. This was fairly obviously a bluff, since the only times the riot
cops had attacked people had been when they had outnumbered protestors at least
two to one, but the main stage (Black Star Club P.A.) decided not to take any
chances and packed down around 6pm. A mobile system was brought up to the main
area and as it became dark FNB and another food stall also packed down since no
one really wanted or needed (except First Aid/Legal Crew) to hang about till the
riot cops did come.

Unfortunately around this time a car load of plain clothes cops decided to run
the gauntlet of the still blocked road knocking a woman down in the process.
Despite what they have since claimed in the media the bastards didn't even hang
around to check if she was okay. Unfortunately for them some of the Indymedia
crew filmed the whole thing. Two of them came down to FNB and asked us to escort
them as the cops behind the Casino lines had been pointing them out and they
were worried their film would get nabbed. About 10 of us helped get them out of
the area and their footage made it on to the news that night which certainly
embarassed the cops.

I helped with the pack downs and then watched those crazy multicultural/lingual
hip hop kids Curse Ov Dialect play before heading off with friends to Trades
Hall to celebrate and watch a rough video edit of the 3 days actions. Whilst Id
been there for most of it the video brought home the diversity of groups and
actions that went down over the three days. We later heard that the cops baton
charged the last 50 people who were still hanging about at the Casino at 9pm.

AFTERTHOUGHTS The day after the protests ended the Victorian Labour Premier
Steve Bracks came out and echoed Prime Minister Howard by describing protestors
as "UnAustralian". He also stated that those injured by the cops "got what they
deserved" and promised the cops, security, casino staff and their families a
free barbecue and state reception in the coming weeks as a reward for their
efforts. A lot of people have been shocked by this coming from the Labour Party,
but really why would you expect anything different? Bracks is certainly not
going to repeat the mistakes of the last Premier, Jeff Kennet, who failed to
back up the cops when they were sued for assaulting protestors and gays and
lesbians and who thus lost their support. Nonetheless throwing a picnic for
bashers is pretty fucking disgusting.

I knocked up 200 posters today under the moniker of the "Injured Protestors
League" which have pictures of bashed up picketers and evil riot cops and which
state "No Picnics For Hit and Run Thugs. Why is Bracks Rewarding Police
Violence? Why Is There No Government Barbecue For The Victims of Thug Attacks?"
The Premiers Office number is on there as well as the Indymedia site. I
wandered around the city during peak hour sticking up posters on poles at all
the major intersections (and keeping an eye out for cops) and loads of people
seemed to be stopping and reading them (if only because the city is usually
barren of posters).

The legal teams are now sorting through hundreds of witness statements and
intend to push the official Ombudsmans inquiry as far as it will go (probably
not very). This protest was the first to use a legal observer team based on the
London Defence and Monitoring Group model and people are confident of suing the
cops successfully as they openly broke just about regulation in the book with
the baton charges and compliance holds.

All in all I think the protest was highly successful in bringing together a
diverse number of groups and causing loads of problems for the Forum and its
organisers. Barring the baton charges the cops ceded the outside of the Casino
to us for three days with three major roads remaining shut for the whole
protest. We partially shut the Forum down for one day and the whole thing was
unable to operate properly due to the constant noise and protests outside. Forum
organisers and delegates were forced to acknowledge some of our concerns in a
token way and have said that after S26 (Prague) that they will be changing the
way they do these events. Which probably means they will become more covert.

The Casino lost over $10 million in gambling revenue alone and still has to
compensate a number of workers and businesses. The clean up operation for the
grafitti on cop barricades, the Casino and neighbouring buildings is half a
million alone so that should give you some idea of just how much spray painting
went on.

Much of the local media demonised us, but many of the local papers, one major
paper and some of the TV and Radio networks actually ran statements about why we
were there and focussing on the cop violence. Most of the various messages were
lost though in the focus on violence, but really what else can you expect when
all the major Australian media conglomerates had delegates present as part of
the Forum? Certainly people in Australia now know that the WEF exists and that
at least 10-20 000 rat bags are opposed to it.

In terms of injuries and burn out things came out pretty well too. The level of
injuries, whilst unacceptable, was pretty low considering what we pulled off and
who we went up against. There were probably about 100-150 semi to serious
injuries which compared to say the 1991 Canberra AIDEX blockade is tiny. Fewer
people were injured at S11-13 than at the recent footy grand final. All the same
I was one of the vast majority who didnt get whacked so it is different for me.

Whilst the Trot based Socialist Alliance spent a lot of time showing off in the
media a lot of the basics (First Aid, Food Not Bombs, Legal Observers,
indymedia, etc) were coordinated through the AWOL meetings which brought
anarchists, greens and independent types together on the basis of affinity
groups. Most of the people involved with these activities were tired by the end
of the week, but the general feeling was one of reinvigoration. Certainly a lot
of long time troublemakers got reacquainted and loads of people I know are
talking about getting back into doing things. People I know in the music scene
who hadnt been on a demo before are now talking about getting active although
the reality of this remains to be seen.

On a personal level I had a largely good time. The only time I really lost my
cool or felt powerless was when the cops smashed through the pickets on Tuesday
night. Other than that I was impressed with the way so many groups worked
together and just ignored the hippy moron minority and the paper sellers. It was
great for me to catch up with so many old troublemaking friends and enjoy the
solidarity of fighting back together.

Well that will more than do it I think. If you want to see photos, read other
reports, etc check out the site at www.melbourne.indymedia.org

Catch you round

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