Oct 29, 2011 1
This morning I have the time to be down in Forrest Place, sitting at OccupyPerth. On the other hand, this morning I have the time to write about OccupyPerth, and things to say. Regrettably, they’re mutually exclusive options, since my netbook isn’t charged. And so I’m here writing, because I believe it’s the more effective use of my time. And so, at greater than expected length, this is my Perth. This is my Occupy. This is my why.
For those who are reading this from afar, a small and peaceful happening in isolated Perth likely hasn’t made your news. Yesterday, the CHOGM – the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – opened here. It’s something that happens bi-annually in various cities, where a staggering amount of money is spent to close off public spaces, sweep the streets of the embarrassing homeless, and to host a summit of monarchs, prime ministers and presidents, not to mention war-criminals who also fall into one or another of those categories. But that’s another rant, and one that’s been well covered elsewhere.
Yesterday morning, a surprisingly large and enthusiastic protest march happened here. People came along for all kinds of reasons – a colourful and chaotic swirl of concerns that they have chosen to raise. Corporate greed, genocide in Sri Lanka, their objections to CHOGM, democracy (or rather, lack thereof) in Zimbabwe, fractional reserve banking, equal marriage, climate change, refugee rights, deaths in custody, mining, and more. All those and a profound wish to demonstrate that the shiny, sanitised face Perth has presented to the CHOGM delegates is not the city we inhabit from day-to-day. A photograph of a protester holding up a sign saying ‘shit’s fucked up and bullshit’ has been doing the rounds for the last couple of weeks, and that probably comes closest to expressing the overall sentiment.
Riot police and mounted police lined up along the perimeter of the restricted area, watching for violence that never came. Police officers herded me into the media pack, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t wearing the necessary credentials, which was surprising and pleasing given that I’d expected them to throw me out. The local media ranted about it being ‘unfocussed’. The people were there for a multitude of personal reasons, and few people agreed on all the things others were there to say. And I thought hard about it all.
Upon returning to Forrest Place, the protest shifted from the hands of the CHOGM demonstrators to those who had been working to get OccupyPerth off the ground, and people stayed there with their concerns, issues, signs and opinions. The previous month, I’d been reading a diverse mix of commentary around the OccupyX events, and until this week I’d not managed to form a consistent opinion. This month, after speaking to a number of people, and in particular one wonderful man who’d spend time at OccupySydney, my opinion has crystalised into solid support.
Like Perth’s CHOGM demonstration, I believe OccupyX isn’t fundamentally about presenting a single, coherent and targeted message or set of demands. Its value and meaning has everything to do with the stubborn occupation of a public space, generally in the face of disapproval and sometimes violent resistance, and to control that space in a manner such that people can express their frustration, anger, sadness, opinions, hopes and fears. People arrive, sometimes with well-argued concerns, but often with inarticulate, uninformed or plain incomprehensible things to say. Things are sometimes – often – organised poorly, randomly, or even in a manner that involves internal oppression within the gathering.
But the micromanagement, the perfection or otherwise, the execution, the persistent presence of only a small group of people in some cities, these things are not really the point. It’s okay for things not to be done optimally, because the point is to be there and – ever more in the face of official resistance – to occupy and to assert that we have every right to gather and to speak. To assert that we haven’t, that we can be moved away, to be told that we’ve made our point and must return home is against everything in which I believe. Return to your homes people; your government has everything under control.
Last night, in the midst of this, I had a realisation. To encroach upon the ability of ordinary people to gather and to speak of their concerns is to move collective dialogue into the domain of the privileged. The people with homes and private spaces that accommodate gathering. The people without thin common walls, and the threat of eviction in the event of such an action. The people who have never, and will never, have the experience of university that funnels many into large groups who have spaces in which to gather, but are so often elitist and alienate the working class. The people who live on our streets and simply don’t have a home.
And so (in addition to a fundamental belief that it is right for citizens to be able to assemble in a public space and to speak) no matter how bizarre, random, or even factually incorrect people’s words may seem to me, I have spent time at OccupyPerth because I cannot watch the crack-downs and removals in other cities without a rising horror that these remove the freedom to speak and organise from the people who need it most.
There will always be some measure of chaos, disagreement and sheer randomness in any movement that attempts to accommodate the ability of all to speak. Some people will inevitably be oppressed by the movement for the views they air, unfortunate as that is. Because we are human, fallible, confused, we will do things that are peculiar, strange, poorly thought out or articulated or plain half-arsed. And that is not the end of the world. The point of OccupyX is not, in the eyes of many, to evangelise, to overthrow or to charm the media or to change the whole world. It is okay not to be perfect, because the point is not, and never has been, perfection. The point of OccupyX is to occupy, and for it to exist – tautological is it is – is sufficient reason for it to exist.