Occupy Sydney has mobilised more than 3000 people in two rallies and smaller actions, gathered together a diverse range of people engaging in many hours of discussions and debate, within general assemblies, working groups, creative art groups, on social networking media and on the occupysydney.org.au website. It organised Saturday free schools and education workshops in Hyde Park, and a Corporate Greed Tour on Saturday, November 19.
Participation and support have come from homeless people, workers, unemployed, students, pensioners and a range of organised groupings including unions, community, anarchist and socialist parties and groups, as well as a strange array of right-wing reactionary racist groupings. They have been drawn to the Occupy movement around the slogans of “Human need, not corporate greed”, “We are the 99%” and “We won't pay for their crisis”.
Some are new to political activism; some are older activists reactivated and inspired by the movement. An Occupy Sydney leaflet advertising the November 5 rally said: “The resistance around the world against corrupt governments and the devastating effects of the global financial crisis has exposed the realities of the world in which we live. We live in a world where we produce a surplus of food and yet millions starve. We live in a world where the 1% that created the financial crisis are bailed out and rewarded, while the 99% pay the price through their wages, their houses and their pensions. We live in a country that has never been so unequal and our environment has never been so devastated.
“The events in Tunisia and Egypt, the events beginning in Greece, in Spain and in the United States show us that united in action, the 99% can change the world and determine the type of society we want to live in.”
Police have continually tried to portray Occupy Sydney as potentially violent and to intimidate people from being involved by stationing large contingents of police and riot squad around Occupy Sydney rallies and actions. Participants have regularly faced police violence, intimidation and harassment from the first day.
Every attempt by Occupy Sydney to secure a base, a site for the movement to stay, so it can attract new people and grow, has been met with a range of police violence, bullying and harassment – eviction, arrests, warnings and infringement notices that have conditions attached to stop people returning at the risk of further fines. Police even targeted and surrounded people for handing out leaflets and for having a sign for Occupy Sydney events at the November 13 Newtown Festival.
The first rally, on October, 15 began a week of peacefully occupying Martin Place in front of the Reserve Bank. But police and council officers soon told the occupiers to remove camping equipment, such as tents, kitchen and other infrastructure set up at Martin Place.
On October 23, Occupy Sydney was evicted at 5am by more than 100 police and riot police. Soon after police ordered people to leave, they beat and attacked occupiers as they awoke, arrested 40 people and destroyed and confiscated their possessions, which were later crushed in a garbage truck. Most were issued with fines and released; 10 people were charged with failing to comply with a council/police order, and some face additional charges.
At least 55 people have been arrested and 22 face charges related to Occupy Sydney activities. Court dates for arrestees start from November 17.
The police are not acting alone; they get their orders from the state government. Neither the O’Farrell Coalition state government nor the Gillard Labor federal government wants a movement developing, especially among young people, that explains how the 1%, the ruling capitalist class, exploit and oppress the 99%, the majority of working people.
While the Sydney lord mayor has said she supports the Occupy movement, she has not lifted a finger to help Occupy Sydney find a legal site to stay.
November 5 rally
More than 1500 people marched to Martin Place from the Sydney Town Hall on November 5 in support of Occupy Sydney. The police took the organisers to the Supreme Court to force a route change and attached extra conditions to the march permit to force participants to disperse from Martin Place at 4:30pm. The police presence was extreme. At least six police horses, the Tactical Response Group, large police vans for mass arrests, a police ambulance and numerous uniformed police tried to intimidate the rally, in case it should go down to the park behind Wynyard Station.
After the rally and march, Occupy Sydney held a mass general assembly at Martin Place to show how Occupy Sydney democracy works, and also to discuss whether to comply with the 4:30pm deadline to disperse. Participants decided to leave and reconvene in Hyde Park a short walk away.
Police then spent hours harassing Occupy Sydney in Hyde Park, trying to pick off people and provoke retaliation. Three people were arrested and given infringement notices or fined. OS stayed to 2am and all agreed to reconvene the next day at a general assembly in Hyde Park.
Occupy Sydney has unleashed an array of widely differing political opinions and ideas.
Some liberals and other idealists have pushed the idea that we should really encompass the 100% – that we have a common humanity with the 1% and that we will all be affected, for example, by the increased extreme weather events and unpredictability from human-induced climate change.
But while some individuals in the 1% may support decreasing carbon emissions, as part of the capitalist class, the basis of their ownership, power and control is extracting profits from the exploitation of the 99% and the planet’s resources, especially those of poorer countries. The underlying needs of capitalism contradict human needs and will do nothing for the future of ourselves or the planet.
Arguing that we are all in it together contradicts the main ideas of the Occupy movement, which places the blame for the crisis on the 1%. It will only divert attention away from identifying as part of the 99% and let the ruling class 1% go on running things as they have been doing.
Others have advocated that we should all be looking for personal happiness, where human solidarity is not mentioned and solidarity with the oppressed is not discussed.
There are ongoing discussions and debates around whether Occupy Sydney is political, and has an ideology, and what the 99% consists of.
Anti-socialist rhetoric has come from committed anarchists and liberals in an attempt to scapegoat socialists for the inevitable problems the new and emerging movement faces under the present economic and political conditions.
The Occupy Sydney experience with the police and a long debate in the November 12 general assembly have exposed the real role of the police. New people attracted to Occupy Sydney and to politics and activism may not understand how the 99% are oppressed under capitalism, and naively think that police are part of the 99%. But some liberals have gone further in discussion on social media and in Occupy Sydney by trying to portray sections of Occupy Sydney that they disagree with, particularly socialists, as advocating violence during these discussions. Occupy Sydney has said time and time again that the responsibility for the violence is with the state and the police and that Occupy Sydney is non-violent.
Occupy is not a revolutionary movement, but it has inspired thousands of the 99% around the world and brought together many people for the first time to discuss how their lives are affected by the 1%. Some have come to the conclusion that one day we will rise up in our millions and get rid of the 1%, the capitalism class that oppress us.
Occupy Sydney is supported solidarity with Qantas workers with a protest on November 24 at 5pm outside the Angel Place venue where CEO Alan Joyce spoke. OS also initiated a picket inside Coles to support the Baiada poultry workers’ strike and picket line in Victoria.