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Sunday, August 26, 2007

APEC protesters: 'We will not be silenced' by Alex Bainbridge


Thousands of people will gather at Sydney Town Hall on September 8 in what is expected to be the largest protest demonstration during the coming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

We will be gathering to protest the ongoing, inhumane slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know that there are people dying every day — people whose lives could be saved if the Bush and Howard governments made a simple policy change. We know that these lives are lost not in a noble struggle for “democracy”, but in a shameful war of conquest, a war to plunder the resources of the Middle East in favour of the corporate interests for whom US President George Bush and PM John Howard rule.

We will be taking a stand in favour of genuine action to stem the global warming threat. We know that humanity is staring down the barrel of an environmental disaster and we cannot sit back while the shyster in Kirribilli House peddles nuclear power and so-called “clean coal” as if that were an earnest response. And we will be protesting against every manifestation of labour exploitation in the Asia Pacific region and throughout the world. “Economic cooperation” is the title of the summit, but we know they mean economic cooperation for the rich. They may use words like “trade liberalisation”, but we know that this is the kind of “economic cooperation” that results in Work Choices in Australia, Nike sweatshops in Indonesia and trade union activists jailed and beaten in capitalist South Korea.

After we have gathered in large numbers, then we will march. Just like the people who marched against the Vietnam War, we will be taking to the streets in defence of people’s lives and in defence of our own humanity. In circumstances like this, it is not an option for us to sit on the sidelines. We’re fully aware of what is at stake in this protest. We know that every time they display their new water cannon or show off their Taser guns, there is a veiled threat against us. Some of the threats are not-so-veiled. Shock jock Alan Jones is urging police violence to sweep the protesters off the streets and the Liberals want to ban all protests except in the Domain!

Not in my 17 years of activism can I think of any time where it has been so clear that the political establishment does not want a protest to take place. The fact that they are so scared of what people power can achieve on this occasion is itself a demonstration of how important it is to come out and join this protest, despite the intimidation and despite the veiled threats. Some people are sceptical about what protesting can achieve.

They’ve fallen for the bluff of the Kirribilli shyster who claimed that he would not listen to the million-strong anti-war protest in February 2003. When he said he wouldn’t listen, Howard lied. He lied then just as surely as he lied about “children overboard” and the “never, ever” GST. Howard did listen, but he also made a cynical calculation. When he went to war without the authorisation of parliament and against the majority opinion in Australia, he calculated that his decision would demoralise important sections of the anti-war movement that could have stopped him in his tracks if it continued to mobilise on the same scale.

He counted on the confusion that his “support the troops” line would bring once the shooting war started and he knew the Labor “opposition” would be treacherous. However, every struggle leaves a legacy. And even that massive, worldwide anti-war protest, which superficially seems to have been ignored, made a difference. It meant that the “shock and awe” invasion was less shocking and less awful than it otherwise would have been — the warmongers said so at the time. It also gave the Iraqi people more confidence to fight back. In short, it helped create the conditions that mean that the US is losing the war! Protesting does make a difference.

We will be marching during APEC because we have not forgotten the successful protest movements of the past. We have not forgotten the campaign against the Vietnam War and the campaign to save the Franklin River. We have not forgotten that David Hicks was languishing for years in Guantanamo Bay until the pressure of a public protest campaign forced the Howard government to act. We followed the story of our French sisters and brothers who early last year forced their government to withdraw an unfair labour law.

We remember that Margaret Thatcher’s government in Britain was forced to repeal the hated poll tax even after it had passed through parliament because of the protest movement that refused to give up. Looking back further, we’re aware that just about all the reforms that we’ve achieved in the past — including universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery and the eight hour day — have all been won as a result of committed protest movements. So we will be marching during APEC and we will not be relegated to the back streets. Our lives are too important to be sacrificed for their profits. We will march and we will not be silenced!

[Alex Bainbridge is a spokesperson for the Stop Bush Coalition. Visit for more information.]
From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #722 29 August 2007.

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