A crowd gathers to hear a speaker wax lyrical about the dangers of climate change. If only we had some kind of legislation to discourage pollution, a "tax" on carbon, if you will
Last week, we reported on the Occupy Wall Street protests. Since then, the protests have spread like wildfire, all across the US and around the globe. Today sparked the beginning of the Occupy Melbourne protests. Given that the Occupy Wall Street protests were in reaction to unprecedented unemployment, student and mortgage debt gripping the United States, why would anyone in Australia join the protest? The Occupy Melbourne website states:
We face similar problems with our democracy here in Victoria and Australia as people face in most other developed nations. Our democracy is unwell. Our elected representatives no longer represent their constituents, instead their ears are turned by wealthy lobby groups, whilst the common interests of the people they were elected to represent, are ignored. Some levels of our government are also rife with corruption.
It’s time our elected representatives actually started representing the 99% of the population who don’t have enormous wealth and political influence. Who suffer the social, economic and environmental consequences of corporate greed. Who work to generate enormous wealth for a mere 1% of the population.
Inspired by the actions of those striving for democracy in North Africa and the Middle East, and similar demonstrations throughout Europe and more recently, in the United States. From these events, “Occupy Together”, a global social movement for real democracy, has grown. It is from this global movement that Occupy Melbourne has grown.
Being a Melbourne local, I decided to head down to the protests and see for myself what they were all about. Armed only with my trusty iPhone camera, I was determined to experience the Occupy Together movement firsthand.
If only all the protesters were this attractive
To their credit, the crowd were remarkably peaceful. Around 1pm, a crew of protesters congregated outside the Melbourne Central shopping centre precinct but were moved on by police without incident. I didn’t notice anyone behaving antagonistically or in a confrontational manner with police, and in return the police were respectful with protesters.
The protest occupies the public space on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, opposite town hall. At the entrance to the square was a young woman holding a sign proclaiming that Occupy Melbourne was an independent, politically unaffiliated protest. However, everyone I met at the protest were a part of the far left. The Socialist movement had a strong presence at the rally, as did climate change and immigration activists. I did not encounter anyone from moderate or right wing political groups– unsurprising, despite what the protest signs say.
During my time there, I heard speakers talk about the importance of being socially conscious, the dangers we face from climate change, and the apparent evils of self managed superannuation funds. They failed to inspire me, and I wasn’t alone. The crowd appeared listless and uninterested. Whether this was because the inadequate sound system made it almost impossible to hear most speakers, or whether it was due to the fact that Australia already has policies to combat most of the social ills the speakers seemed upset about, I don’t know.
When did communists become the 99%?
It’s hard to see what, if anything these protests have in common with the Occupy Wall Street and other American Occupation rallies. The current financial and economic climate of the two nations is incredibly different. Although we still don’t have a clear idea of the demands of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s not hard to see what sort of conditions have compelled them to protest.
– Record unemployment: The US has historically high levels of unemployment. In 2009, Detroit’s unemployment rate was a staggering 30%. By comparison, Australia’s current unemployment rate is around 5%
– Record student debt. The college system in the US is totally private, and students must rely on scholarships, savings or private loans to pay for education. The cost of education in the US is far higher, with bachelor’s degrees costing anywhere from 20-60 thousand dollars for a four year degree. Students are also liable to begin paying these loans back upon graduation regardless of financial circumstances. Meanwhile, Australian students are offered partial subsidization in the form of HELP loans. HELP loan payments are repaid as a portion of income tax. Australian students who fail to earn more than the threshold annual income may never have to pay their loans back.
– The US economy teeters on the brink of a double dip recession. After nearly defaulting on their debt earlier this year, and faced with a falling dollar, the economic outlook in the US is beyond grim. Australia, while no longer in surplus, has a much stronger economic outlook, and there is no indication we face the potential to default on our debt.
A friendly protester helps Guy Fawkes tweet the revolution on a macbook pro. Thank you, American corporations for providing the technology.
For what it’s worth, there was precious little talk of economics while I was there. Most of the conversation was around the climate debate. I can’t help but feel that the protesters would have summoned more anger if the lower house of parliament hadn’t just pushed through the world’s biggest per capita carbon tax. There were a few more passionate discussions surrounding immigration, mandatory detention and boat people. However, these were arguments of the extreme left. They did not even represent the moderate political left in Australia and they certainly didn’t represent the 99% of Australia.
The protests somehow seemed less coherent than even the US ones. It’s as if anyone in the Australian left with an axe to grind joined up for a loosely affiliated protest. The same people that decry American imperialism and the intrusion of US culture onto our way of life chose to co opt American protests simply so they could say “me too.” Like the US protests, it’s not immediately clear what politicians would need to do to make them happy.
The movement intends to Occupy Melbourne indefinitely, the same way protesters have occupied Zucotti Park. If that is their intention, they seem woefully unprepared. Beyond a few outdoor marquees, I didn’t see coverings of any kind, although the protest is still in its early stages and more supplies could be forthcoming. Unfortunately for the protesters, rain clouds appear to be brewing over Melbourne. Australians are an apolitical bunch at the best of times, and I fear the first round of bad weather could put a dampener on the Melbourne Occupation.
A local youth wears a SHEEPLE tshirt, just like a half dozen others I saw at the event. Another girl holds a vintage 2003 anti war sign. Another worries that his generation will be asked to clean up the future. I doubt his generation will even clean up the square
About Occupy Melbourne – Official Occupy Melbourne Site