by Martin SheehanNews Weekly
Eyewitness Report: S11 protests win few friends
, September 23, 2000
The protests outside the Crown Casino in Melbourne for the World Economic Forum got off to a slow start, with early morning rain marring proceedings. At 9 am, only a handful of protesters were to be seen outside the Casino at the Queens Bridge entrance. But by late morning, numbers had swelled around the casino to perhaps around 2,500 — far less than had been anticipated by the protest organisers, S11, who had predicted 10,000.
The coalition of radicals represented by S11 included groups such as the pro-Cuban Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) and the Trotskyite, International Socialist Organisation (ISO). These, and many others, such as the Australian Greens and the Socialist Workers Party, had established themselves on a grassy area, near the Queen Bridge entrance to Crown. Tents and stalls were erected, providing first aid and hot beverages to the faithful.
By mid-morning a carnival-like atmosphere characterised the protest. People seemed more interested in dancing to the band playing Afro-Carribean tunes and listening to the many speakers — haranguing the crowd on the themes of feminism, capitalist greed and the perfidy of multinationals — than in actually fomenting revolution.
A roving group of school children moved around, visiting the various points of protest around the Casino. Wearing their full school uniforms and carrying a banner marked “School Students Against Corporate Greed” the students were obviously the star attraction for many protesters, who cheered loudly when they appeared.
There seemed little in the way of organisation for the protest, however, with protest marshals often giving incoherent or contradictory instructions to the crowd. For instance, one group charged up onto the Kings Way overpass in order to prevent a truck and a number of cars from passing. As one of their own number pointed out, though, this action was pointless, as there was no entrance to the Casino accessible from the overpass.
The only protest marshals who seemed to have any understanding of how to organise, were the many AMWU representatives scattered amongst the protesters. What seemed most astonishing about the protest, however, was the obvious class differences between those protesting and those whose job it was to guard the conference patrons within.
While very few of the conference attendees had their Armani suits ruffled by the protesters, many of the police and security guards, were verbally abused and physically threatened.
Despite their feral appearance, most of the protesters were sons and daughters of middle class families, some wearing the uniforms of expensive and private schools, who spent the day abusing the very working class they claimed to be representing.
Overall the day conjured up images of the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s, with bands of ignorant youth, fired by a genuine though incoherent idealism, bent on abusing and trampling on all that their elders believed sacred. And like the Cultural Revolution, this enthusiasm was being manipulated by those with more sinister objectives: the various Marxist, anarchist and Trotskyite groups, who obviously loved the violence and mayhem for its own sake.
And this is a great pity, because an oportunity to present a reasonable and moderate analysis of globalisation and economic rationalism has been hijacked by groups with a totalitarian and intolerant agenda.