Australia blockade unjustly vilified by police, media and left

Three factions team up to twist the truth about the recent police persecution of Blockade Australia (BA) activists.

One, of course, is the NSW Police themselves. Another is the Australian established media and the other, finally, is the organized Australian left. They’re all annoying, but since it’s the only one I expect anything decent from, I think the latter faction annoys me the most.

After BA’s march in Sydney’s CBD last Monday, several of them were arrested. Their bail conditions include the kind of anti-association warrants usually reserved for bicycles, not using encrypted communication apps, and not entering the CBD. Their possible penalties include up to $22,000 in fines or two years in prison.

During that march, a car drove through the demonstrators. It is fortunate that no one has died. The driver was fined only $469 and 3 penalty points, considerably less punishment than what BA activists have to deal with. The practical difference between marching down a street and trying to run into people is not that any of these acts are violent, it seems. It’s that only one has the whole police force of the NSW Police against him.

The NSW Police are making an example of BA activists to impress the Australian activist scene with their current agenda and associated capacity. They have become a “super-judicial force” to take on the most dangerous Australian of all: a young, nonviolent climate activist.

The police bending the law with seemingly impunity is nothing radically new, but it is extremely transparent at the moment.

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BA members tried to meet quietly in a park outside Sydney on Wednesday to discuss next steps after being repeatedly mugged, jailed and harassed by NSW police. In that park they were again ambushed (for the third time) by a battalion of militarized agents. NSW Police also appear to have used “creative” bail laws to torment Mali Cooper, who blocked traffic in the Sydney Harbor Tunnel on Monday by locking himself to a car with a bicycle lock.

She was arrested again on her way home to Lismore after police “calculated” she wouldn’t be home in time to meet bail.

It is a campaign of quite blatant repression of a peaceful group of activists. And it’s only half the story because journalists are barred from legal proceedings related to BA arrests. That doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for the Australian media though, as most of them don’t care what the justice system is doing here.

They are preoccupied with rejecting BA members, covering them up and encouraging people to fantasize about possible punishments for them.

I was listening to 2GB on the day of the Monday rally. For the unforgivable crime of stopping some cars for a while, bloodthirsty callers raged who called back that these activists should have their cars crushed, sent to forced labor, forced to pick fruit, their benefits canceled (of course), in had to be placed in solitary confinement. imprisonment of two years and so on.

The Daily Telegraph has since stalked and drugged BA members and published intimate details about their private lives, along with The Daily Mail. On Tuesday night, Mali went on The Project to explain herself (which she did brilliantly) and to get Kate Langbroek’s talk for being “extremely divisive” and “privileged”.

It’s really low-hanging fruit to lecture tree huggers that they care about things, a pastime that Aussies have learned to love. A frenzy of anti-activist fervor was cultivated during the Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019; it’s very easy to rekindle that soil-feeding anger against activists.

Camouflaged NSW police idiots chased BA activists, who were caught red-handed hiding behind a log while peeking at them on private property. First they played dead fish, then they hastily improvised some bullshit to arrest BA members for.

It’s an amazing, ridiculous story, but not one that most Australian journalists cared about. The majority of them vomited the NSW Police spin about “fearing for their lives”. I admire the mental gymnastics it takes to accept that Judge Dredd would tremble in fear of an unarmed rookie over a cup of tea in the bush.

For this display of state repression and the assembled cheer team, it’s sad to see that much of the organized left in Australia doesn’t seem to care.

I found myself in a minority of the Australian left-wing voices by helping to promote and encourage attendance at last week’s mobilization. A comrade told me that climate activism is a hard sell because it is fighting an invisible enemy. And finally, they said, the NSW police went out of their way to make participating in the mobilization truly intimidating. That is all very true, but it does not alter the fact that many local left-wing voices did not even recognize the mobilization.

I suspect the center-left party is kidding itself that the new Labor government will fix everything. More generally, I wonder if during the pandemic the Australian left has become entrenched in the idea that their ultimate political output should be just delivering impeccable hot takes via social media. To be honest, for much of the pandemic, that was all we could do. But now these voices have given up every other role.

I think if you see yourself as part of the activist left in Australia, your output should also include… promoting activist movements.

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I have seen a vanguard of online leftists in Australia tear apart BA’s tactics and blame them for being the catalyst for further state repression. (As if the state had no intention of suppressing any more after all.) We like to talk about a “diversity of tactics” on the left, which means an environment of acceptance for the way different factions pursue different strategies to help the same goals to achieve.

For some leftists, that “diversity” actually means: they take action and I snap at it afterwards.

Elsewhere, I was called names for supporting disruptive activism. “They’re blocking ambulances,” I hear breathlessly. I’ve been here long enough to remember when this accusation started: when the rightists cried hypothetical ambulances being attacked by activists. That was in 2019, when XR and mine blockades protested. (Never mind ambulances actually being let through blockades. It’s just a “brain worm” to tax grassroots activism with.)

The problem here is that many people shared my distaste for the anti-lockdown movement and came across my commentary during the pandemic, but now they have discovered where our paths part. They are shocked to find out that I don’t mind a few traffic jams. But you have the same attitude as Ray Hadley about disruptive protest, so you’re not my comrade. I want to stand on the barricades. You’d rather be on Twitter whining about traffic delays and hypothetical ambulances.

If more of the Australian left can mobilize for activists who suffer most from the police, we will be stronger. With that power we will disrupt with greater numbers and power, and the risk of superjudicial agents will be better distributed. We will be able to talk more forcefully back to the media, and eventually back to the police.

The actions of the NSW Police and their media cheerleading team are reprehensible; but I believe that fighting back against this repressive climate starts with the left. I really hope more comrades will stop sitting on their hands.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom makes weekly videos on YouTube commenting on Australia’s political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.