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(en) Australia, Reflections on 30A - The recent Sydney mobilisations against Forbes

Date Sun, 11 Sep 2005 10:59:35 +0300


Having just got back from a long week of conferences, protests and
actions in Sydney I wanted to try and collate my impressions and
reflections on 30A and the gatherings around it. 30A was a mixed
bag, some success and lots to learn from for the future. I left Sydney
feeling reasonably positive about the experience and that the areas
the actions fell down in might take some work to resolve but aren’t
rocket science, they are easily within our grasp if we so choose.
I went to Sydney with limited expectations. Given that there is
currently hardly a coordinated radical movement against
neo-liberalism I wasn’t expecting more than a few random
actions and at best 2000 people on the Tuesday night. I think some
people may have come with near delusions, almost S11 style in
grandeur. I wasn’t even expecting anything as coordinated at the
mobilisations around the WTO mini-ministerial in November of
2003, and these actions were indeed smaller. However there were
still almost similar numbers and a lot of new, young, energetic
radical faces. What was lacking was more good organising and
experience. Since September 11 2001 the movement against
neo-liberalism in Australia has been in steady decline, unable to
develop a coherent analysis and praxis under this new regime of
power that could facilitate the development of large mobilisations
against it. The question of how neo-liberalism is to be challenged
under the war on terror are yet to be answered. The Forbes
mobilisations, despite their limitations, proved to me that there is
still a convergence of people to at least pose the question to. And I
think this is the heartening fact about 30A, briefly breaking that
isolation that we feel in our everyday struggles.

SpokesCouncils

There were significant numbers at the so-called spokescouncils,
anywhere from 100-120 people. Given that the authoritarian socialist
groups stayed away this time around it is almost as many as for the
WTO. A big hole however was that no one from the 30A network
came (or was invited) so that people could get a better idea of what
had been planned and what the current situation in terms of
organising was. There seemed to be very little information to
distribute. The spokescouncils however were hardly that. They were
essentially mass meetings. Perhaps only half the people were
organised in affinity groups which in some ways made the
spokescouncil already impossible. This again is related back to the
current state of the movement, there are just not the daily campaigns
going on in which people are already organised, and not a strong
political culture where new people have space to learn about
self-organisation. Many of those who participated in S11 got a rapid
and radical political education from participating in things like the
Jabiluka, East Timor, Goolengook and MUA campaigns. These
kind of daily struggles are just not currently present. There was a
noticeable lack of people at Forbes who had previously participated
in large counter-mobilisations, this meant that skills were not being
passed on. Any possibility of building a radical opposition to
neo-liberalism means sharing those knowledges and this didn’t
happen to the degree it should have at 30A.

Pre-convergence coordination and communication

Finding out information about plans for the convergence before
heading to Sydney was quite difficult. Arriving in Sydney however it
seems like part of this was related to the fact that very little had been
organised beyond the Tuesday night march. It’s a credit to
people that in a few days so many actions we able to be thrown
together. In future much better communications systems need to be
set up for those coming from out of town. A positive was the three or
four different convergence booklets that were put together.

Subplot and SSF

The Sydney Social Forum fell down quite a bit on my expectations,
and I think those of the organisers. Less people came than the
previous year despite the mobilisations. The space felt empty and
lacked vibrancy. At a fundamental level it lacked popular support and
at an even more fundamental level there is a lack of campaigns and
activities that are even required to call such a convergence. Again
the problem comes back the current stagnation of radical social
movements in Australia.

Subplot, despite the lesser amount of money and energy that went
into organising it had a fairly decent turnout, perhaps up to 150
people. It served as a good convergence point for people organising
direct action at 30A and in this sense fulfilled it’s purpose.
Similarly the convergence space at the Nunnery was also highly
advantageous, without which the mobilisations would have been
significantly splintered. A convergence space thought out far more in
advance however would also have been good, especially for people
coming from interstate.

Tuesday night was very mixed. There were some great moments;
the march was very lively, loud and energetic with sounds systems, a
samba band and lots of noise, and the spontaneous deconstruction of
the heavily fortified concrete and steel fence was quite inspiring.
Breaching what appeared to be an impenetrable barrier was a great
confidence boost to the crowd as was the commitment to engage in
active disobedience and the refusal to submit to state authority. It
sent a message that the elite should indeed be fearful and take us
into account as much as they did in planning for the conference. We
were a significant thorn in their side, making Forbes move the
opening dinner, forcing them to justify their handouts from the NSW
government and massive police spending, making corporate power
an issue, demonstrating that there was opposition to it and raining
on their PR parade. They were also forced to put up barriers around
the opera house turn away thousands of visitors.

Other positives were the George Bush Snr hoax whereby a fake
press release was sent out and website constructed informing media
that the former President would be in attendance. The media
swallowed it whole, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) in
particular, and they were forced to acknowledge their mistake in
print delegitimising themselves by demonstrating they were willing
to believe any information that came to them with a Forbes logo on
it. Hopefully this raised questions amongst people as to how
trustworthy any information they would print about the protest
would be. SMH got their own back printing a highly derogatory piece
the next day and quoting only the police saying just 500 people had
showed up and neglecting to mention the breach in the fence.

Tuesday night also had significant problems mostly stemming from
the fact that the venue had been changed. By 5.30 this was well
known, what was not well known or confirmed was where they had
moved to. This information only arrived and hour or two later.
Before five o’clock dozens of delegates were leaving unhindered
from the Stamford hotel and boarding busses for the venue. Even
100 people of the 1500 people just 2 minutes away could have
seriously slowed this, 3-400 would potentially have stopped it. But
there was no capacity to communicate and make decisions
autonomously and no way to accurately gather information. We were
set in the tracks that 30A had set for the evening.

This is where the failures of the spokes council were most
pronounced and also the lack of communication groups like ixpress
in Melbourne. We had no ability to converge and swarm out. There
were no delegates from affinity groups who could talk to each other,
no signals to draw them together to meet, no communication and
thus no organisation or action. Once we knew where the dinner was
actually being held there was no way to decide what to do. At least
the trots weren’t shouting at people through megaphones but in
this vacuum of power the autonomous groups could have
coordinated directly democratic decision making structures in the
street, but instead nothing happened. This failure however isn’t
necessarily a major obstacle to overcome, skill share trainings and
practice could easily facilitate it. A bigger contingent of experienced
activists (now all to cynical it seems) would have helped enormously
in this regard.

A brief however well done to the puppet makers, they were great,
and the mobile Indymedia van which served as a wireless net access
point and was uploading stories from the street. Wednesday

Wednesday was always going to be small. Some groups accurately
assessed the situation and had successful actions, and others
didn’t. The reclaim the streets was a disappointment and there
was never going to be enough people to make it a success. It seems
to often that when people don’t know what kind of action to do
they fall back on doing a reclaim the streets. RTS is unfortunately far
past it’s used by date. London RTS hasn’t existed in
anything like it’s real form for at least 4 years. The tactic has had
it’s time. If people aren’t assured they are going to get at
least 500 people it’s not worth it anyway. The RTS in Sydney
became an RTP, a reclaim the pavement and was profoundly
disempowering. Instead of wasting energy fighting with cops as to
whether or not we can walk on the road much more targeted and
specific actions with a concrete political basis need to be developed
and RTS has to stop being some kind of default action people do
when they can’t imagine anything else.

Similarly on Wednesday morning people thought they were going to
be able to blockade the conference which was never a possibility. A
more accurate estimate of our power is required if we are to be
effective at anything. Again I would put part of this down to a lack of
experience and the missing presence of more seasoned activists who
might have been able to bring people back to earth before so much
energy was wasted. However on Wednesday there was one action
that was overwhelmingly successful, the shut down of ANZ
branches in the CBD. Activists targeted three ANZ branches due to
it’s participation in the Iraqi Reconstruction Bank and thus
funding of theneo-colonisation. In response to the actions and
occupations ANZ shut down all it’s branches in the central
business district. Activists did similar actions on Thursday and
Friday, again closing all branches. If people are able to keep this up
and maintain focus there could be a real chance of affecting
ANZ’s operations in Iraq. Here quite successfully people were
able to assess their capacities and create genuinely achievable goals.

The media of course could see no connection between Forbes and
ANZ. ANZ were not at the Forbes conference so what were they
doing? Unable to comprehend that protestors weren’t
specifically against Forbes but against their corporate neo-liberal
agenda the media were baffled as to why protestors weren’t
down at the conference gates. Moving away from the terrain the
police had set up on their terms was a great move, instead activists
set the agenda and took the initiative and were duly rewarded.
inConclusion There is much to learn from the A30 actions, all in all
it’s a mixed bag, though I came away feeling fairly good about it
all. I had fairly limited expectations and they were exceeded to some
extent. The question needs to be continually asked however, how
useful are these protests? What are we setting out to achieve? The
A30 actions brought activists together from around the country and
hopefully built relationships that will be ongoing and can serve as a
basis for ongoing campaigns. It also kept the issue of unfettered
corporate power on the political agenda, something that can be built
on. Hopefully much was learned in terms of generating self-activity
and self-organisation that can be extended further, despite the
limitations in these areas.

People have already begun talking about the possibilities of counter
actions to the G20 in Melbourne next year. These however will be as
limited as the actions against Forbes if daily struggles and campaigns
are not built. Post S11 the movement shifted into an ideological
abstraction and created something known as the “anti-capitalist
activist”, completely removed from the daily struggles that
created the movement in the first place. If future actions are to be
successful at all activity must move into the everyday and create
ongoing laboratories of resistance that build roots, skills and
construct possibilities in the here and now.
------------------------------------------
* A personal account on A30 published in Sydney Indymedia
of an antiauthoritarian anticapitalist
Sunday, 4 September 2005
Copied from anarkismo.net

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