S11 was a 3-day protest in Melbourne
between September 11 and 13, 2000. Unfortunately however this first date now has other connotations
The aim of the protest was to shut down a "WEF" - World Economic Forum asia-pacific region meeting at Crown Casino. Basically a meeting for the new rulers of the world (the WEF is a policy group made up of 1,000 CEOs of large corporations, founded by the WTO in 1971), the PR hype states that they're "committed to improving the state of the world", but as is the case with most other multinational corporate NGOs, the agenda can be honestly trimmed down to "who can we screw to make some more cash?". Globalisation in the most sinister, cold sense - Globalisation of the type that fosters "Free Trade Zones" where Nike and the like can make their products in third world countries while circumventing the local labour laws; letting them pay people a pittance, avert their eyes while "local contractors" subject the workers to sub-human conditions, and then pull-out at a moment's notice whenever someone outside notices and it's going to affect their PR.
For some in Melbourne it had potent local symbolism as well; Crown Casino was built in the mid 1990s under dodgy circumstances - in the height of the "jobs for the boys" era under state Premier Jeff Kennett, the tender was given to Ron Walker, long time friend of the premier, above major other offers, and then given huge tax breaks and concessions. So the complex itself was a symbol of the rich-helping-the-rich locally as well as the conference being a global symbol of it.
As far as local marginal politics go, it was beautiful. Many criticised the apparent lack of reasons for people being there; in fact it was the multitude that they were really attacking. In the spirit of the Zapatistas ("Many 'yes's and one 'NO!'") the ways people viewed the world were different, and the exact reasons for people being there did vary, but the consensus was that these varied messages had to be passed on to those inside the conference that their world view and modus-operandi was untenable, and the only way to do this was to try and stop the meeting altogether. Usually local activist politics involve a lot of squabbling; DSP vs ISO vs Resistance vs ACTU vs AWOL, but in this case there was much cooperation between groups.
Tens of thousands of people were there (the numbers vary depending who you ask, but it's always "tens of thousands"), and the conference was mostly shut down. The first day saw most delegates prevented from entering (in buses) until 3 hours or so after the conference started. The police (who became the imperial guard for three days) on the first day took a don't-intervene-unless-necessary approach; there were some baton-strikes but the injuries were relatively minimal. The complex appeared like a fortress; huge concrete and chicken wire barricades erected by police surrounding the 1-mile frontage of the casino complex, making it difficult for buses to get in to start with, except through small entry/exit portals blocked by police in riot gear.
The second day, however, was far more brutal. At about 7:30 in the morning, at a relatively unguarded gate, police attacked with brute force: Horses were ridden over people sitting down, batons were used to stab into the crowd of people sitting at the gates; rather than dragging people aside the tactic was simply to trample and disable those on the ground. A couple of dozen people were injured; broken arms, facial injuries, people lost teeth; things were getting more severe. Yes, this is not exactly Stalinist Russia, but state-sanctioned violence of this kind is something really unseen in Australia. Tuesday night was even worse; baton strikes into the crowd, police hanging over the side of the fences, swinging wildly into the crowd with their batons left more injured; at least one person got a fractured skull, many were knocked unconscious, and when the police finally did break through the crowd, it was untempered bloodlust: they attacked reporters, first aid people, and completely unrelated bystanders on the other side of the road, including well-known comedian Rod Quantock.
The Wednesday was calmer than Tuesday, simply because after the violence of the previous day, many people liked-having-their-teeth-intact-thankyou-very-much and were no longer keen on turning up. There were limited baton-charges on the Wednesday morning, and by the Wednesday afternoon things had pretty much calmed down; the police were mostly calm, and everyone was in a pretty good and triumphant mood - there was a march through the city ("corporate scumbag tour") visiting Nike and mining companies and the like; and after that things kinda calmed down. At about 5pm on Wednesday afternoon, however, I saw (and got on video) the most disturbing incident I witnessed for the three days: an unmarked police car drove into a crowd (when it's clear, even on my video, that they could have driven around it), dragging someone under their wheels for a few metres then bouncing over them and speeding off into the distance; luckily nobody was killed, the woman injured spent a few nights in hospital.
These three days were the start of a few things: they brought the global anti-corporate movement to Melbourne, they introduced me to the world of independent media (the Melbourne indymedia centre was founded a bit before S11) - I carried a video camera with me and some of my footage was broadcast on community television, police violence was carried out at an unseen scale in recent Australian history, and the corporate media generally made fools of themselves to us who were there, vomiting out xenophobic, stereotypical representations of the "activist lunatic" as 'fact'. Pretty much every corporate report contained distortions; extensive media claims of protestor violence (usually accompanied by footage of police beating people up), even though thoroughly investigated, were never brought close to being proven, and I got some good footage of one corporate reporter trying to start a fight with someone standing in the background of a shot with a sign, then abusing random strangers later on. The provocation didn't work, and people laughed at his petty attacks. Strange times, indeed.
The Police were, well, varied - most of the police manning the fence were quite friendly, I chatted to some, it seemed many agreed with us and objected to being politicised to the extent they were; asked to intervene in what was essentially a political situation. The people who did the damage, however, were of two kinds - there were many country cops there, who varied too - many weren't so friendly: one threatened to break my "f***king camera" because I was a "stupid smelly c**t" - and apparently we all were according to him and the corporate media; incidentally I don't look like your stereotypical activist, in fact I turn up to some protests in a suit (when I'm not videoing) as a point of semiotic-subversion; I usually look quite conservative - apparently this guy just wanted to stir me.. so I smiled and waved at him and videoed his face for a while until he got uneasy and stopped staring. The other kind of dangerous cop was members of the "FRU" - the "Force Response Unit", created, you guessed it, by Jeff Kennett's government in the early 90s to intervene in political and union disputes, or "public disorder". The FRU were the ones who stepped on people, conducted baton charges and generally acted like bloodthirsty thugs; these were the ones who attacked reporters and bashed up Rod Quantock - the FRU first came to public notice when they attacked (in front of television cameras) completely passive protestors at a school in a relatively affluent suburb who didn't like the fact that their state school was being closed down (Richmond Secondary College, 1993) - this case led to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damages awarded to those attacked. Back to the point, most police didn't wear badges (which is against their regulations) so as to avoid identification in later Ombudsman complaints or lawsuits; there's a good chance this is why the Ombudsman's report into the incident after hundreds upon hundreds of complains basically said "there was evidence of misconduct but we can't identify anything specifically because nobody has identified those responsible." While this violence wasn't extreme in an international context, locally it was highly significant and still stands as the most extreme outburst in recent memory by Australian police. In contrast, however, some of their antics were quite amusing; they had video crews who insisted upon filming me among others; they recorded everyone with a video camera, so I recorded them, and waved, grinning. Two guys in suits with radios followed friends of mine who had cameras (apparently the Federal Police "covert" people, must have thought they were James Bond), and their representatives seemed to have no idea what was going on and how the protest worked - they were looking for a hierarchical organisation; dragging away people they assumed to be leaders, only to release them with some lame justification ("someone told us he had ball bearings in his bag") when they discovered that they weren't some head-honcho with the power to stop the whole thing. Solid hierarchies are not how these things go.
Anyway, despite the police attacks and slander by corporate media, those three days in 2000 should stand as a reminder that another world really is possible. It's almost a lost era now, in the wake of increasing police violence towards protests evident in recent protests against the EU in Spain, and in Rome, and the shooting death in Genoa of Carlo Giuliani at the hands of the Police. Since the other September 11, government policy worldwide has gone alarmingly to the right; introducing laws that could make it a crime to join nominated (not even publically) organisations under the name of "stopping terrorism". As a counterpoint to this, I'll finish with a quote by a towering figure of the history of America:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.