Successful protest at World Economic Forum
by Andrew Jackson An estimated 30,000 people surrounded Melbourne's Crown Casino on September 11 making Day 1 of the blockade of the World Economic Forum a success. Major disruptions to the Forum were reported, including a delayed start, missing speakers, and hundreds of delegates being turned away at the gates. With many of the "World's 1000 Richest" delegates staying in the hotel at the complex, organisers knew it would be impossible to shut down the meeting entirely, but were extremely satisfied with the results of the day. Protesters braved near-freezing temperatures, pounding rain, and gale force winds up to 85km per hour, with many sleeping outside the complex overnight to ensure success. The police had erected three metre-high barricades of concrete and wire fencing around the sprawling casino complex the day before, which meant the dozen entrances that were left were easily cordonned off by the protesters. Two thousand police were deployed on the day, mostly standing several deep across the entrances facing the people. There was also a large contingent of police on horseback which were used several times in charges against protesters. An early attempt was made to break the blockade, with police trying to force protesters aside to let a bus filled with delegates through. Despite the violence used by police, the attempt was unsuccessful, with protesters cheering in victory as the bus turned away. Several other attempts to break the blockade were thwarted quickly, police being forced to retreat by the protester's numbers and determination. Arrogance or stupidity? In one of the more bizarre episodes of the day, West Australian Premier Richard Court drove up to the front entrance of the Casino and tried to run his car through the picket line. The car was successfully blocked and, when he was recognised inside the car, it became instantly surrounded by hundreds of people, who took the opportunity for a face-to-face protest against WA's mandatory sentencing laws and black deaths in custody. Premier Court was held in the car for over an hour, until the police charged through the crowd on foot and horse, beating demonstrators away from the car. In the ensuing melee several demonstrators were injured. Many protesters were dumbfounded by the experience. Said one woman who was involved in the incident, "I can't believe his arrogance. He is one of the most reviled political leaders in this country. Why would he just drive up and deliver himself to the people who hate him the most?" Senator Bob Brown, who was participating in the blockade stated that "other cars did three-point turns and left the scene. He [Court] was very provocative in pushing into the crowd. In the resultant police charge [a] young man had his face smashed and another had his wrist and hand trampled under a horse. "All of this was totally unnecessary and would not have occurred if Premier Court had had the commonsense of other delegates being chauffeured to the meeting." Non-Violent Direct Action The afternoon edition of Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper arrived on the streets during the blockade. It falsely portrayed the blockade as violent and destructive, accusing protesters of attacking ambulance crews, casino staff and police horses. Television news that evening also focused intensely on the two minor incidents mentioned earlier giving a deliberately false image of the protests. In fact the S11 protest is an outstanding achievement of non-violent blockading. As thousands steadfastly linked arms across the entrances, tens of thousands of others swirled around the Casino on foot in a truly carnival atmosphere. A sea of banners from every affiliated political group to "Grandmothers against Genetic Engineering" coloured the streets. Bands played on the main stage and people in costume took to the streets to entertain the crowds. At the barricades protesters chanted, sang and played games. Gabi Wynhausen, a union organiser from Sydney, achieved her goal of making the protest "peaceful and fun" by leading the picket line in dancing the can-can. Regular Casino patrons were turned away from the entrances when it was explained the Casino would be closed for the next three days, and with a rousing rendition of the "Crown Casino Will Steal Your Money" song. Casino Operations An agreement between the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Casino allowed Casino workers on night shift to be let out of the complex. Workers on shifts starting after the commencement of the blockade were expected to arrive by bus, and be let through if they had a Union delegate on board. However, implementing a "No-one in, no-one out" policy towards Casino access, the demonstrators linked arms, and the blockade of the Casino was total. The Casino gaming areas were closed down in the afternoon and no further workers arrived. Casino spokesman Gary O'Neill told the media that the Casino was a "reluctant participant" in the WEF, but were bullied into the job by former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett. "Basically we were forced into accepting it." Crown Casino estimates is will lose up to $10 million over three days.