17 September 2007

Protesting APEC

September 8-9 was the annual APEC forum, and it was big news in Sydney. It was such a big deal that Sydney was basically shut down on Friday for a declared holiday.

Why was it such a big deal? Because APEC brought George W Bush to town, and people wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to protest the war, globalisation, climate change, human rights violations and just about everything else. Leading up to the big weekend, the Stop Bush Coalition planned a major protest and attempted to get their plans approved by the police. The two groups didn't exactly see eye to eye on the protest, though—during the last week, the protesters were forced to alter their protest route. The police promised a strong showing and even purchased a $700,000 water cannon. I had planned on attending the protest, but decided in the last week to stay away.
However, as the protest began Saturday morning, the news coverage revealed no problems. I decided to join the protest rally at Hyde Park, their destination. Reports later in the day revealed 3500 police and either 10,000 (protester count), 5000 (police count), or 3000 (media count) protesters. There were only 17 arrests, 14 of which were quickly released, some within minutes of being cuffed, and two policemen were injured. All in all, it was a rather tame rally, especially compared to what the police were predicting.

Post-rally, both sides claimed victory and questioned the other side. The police claimed their strong showing prevented trouble, while the protesters said they planned a peaceful rally all along and wondered aloud why the police felt it necessary to bring such numbers.

Personally, I thought both sides came off as foolish. I understand the police's need for safety, but I felt they were heavy-handed. A water cannon? 3500 officers? Snipers on rooftops and in choppers? A little much. But I also thought the protesters came off as petulant attention seekers, a least the ones on the news. I suppose the media shares some guilt in this as well. Too many of the protesters I saw in the park appeared either misguided or disinterested in the cause.

All in all, I left the rally dejected. The police and the government seemed oppressive and the protesters' message was lost in their chase for attention. On a good note, I'm going to turn this into a paper. We have to write about a conflict for my Peace and Conflict Studies class. I'm not going to discuss the rally itself, but rather the planning, or lack thereof, between the protesters and the police. Without having done too much research yet, I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

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