In a major show of support, around 200 people gathered at Melbourne’s Trades Hall building on Friday night for a public meeting entitled “Protest On Trial”. The meeting was intended to discuss the increase in police brutality towards demonstrations and the criminalisation of protesters. In particular the meeting gathered together participants from Occupy Melbourne and those on trial for protesting against Israeli owned shop Max Brenner.
Erin Buckley from the Occupy Melbourne legal team discussed the ongoing legal fallout of the police assault on protesters in Melbourne’s City Square in October last year, as well as the harassment by the Melbourne City Council and the police of Occupy protesters in Melbourne’s parks. She drew out the absurdities of the attempt to stifle legitimate dissent and made a radical critique of the way the legal system weighs on those challenging the status quo.
Jeff Sparrow highlighted the increasingly right wing trajectory of Zionism internationally and the pattern here in Australia. He spoke about the tightening of controls of the pro- Israel establishment and their attempts to crack down on any (even mild) critique of the state. Jeff was one of the Austudy 5, who were targeted for arrest following a militant student demonstration in 1992 opposing a move from the then Labor Government to abolish Austudy and replace it with a loan. He compared the crackdown then, and now and noted the increasing aggressiveness of the state police towards protesters.
Inbal Sinai, an activist from Anarchists Against the Wall, highlighted military order 101, in force in the West Bank from 1967 until the present, which criminalizes civic activities including: organizing and participating in protests; taking part in assemblies or vigils; waving flags and other political symbols; printing and distributing political material. In addition, the order deems any acts of influencing public opinion as prohibited “political incitement”. She revealed the brutality of the Israeli state and made a compelling case for why the Palestinian political prisoners need to have our unconditional support.
Kevin Bracken, the State Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, pointing out the use of the “besetting” charge against picketers at an industrial dispute at Visy in 2010. He made a similar point to Jeff in suggesting that many infringements on our civil liberties are brought in slowly “If you put a frog in boiling water it will jump straight out. But if you put it in cold water and raise the temperature, it won’t notice it is boiling, and boil to death.” He urged us to maintain a vigilant attitudes to our civil liberties and the importance of ongoing mobilisation to defend them.
Vashti Kenway, one of the defendants in the case, discussed the civil liberties implications of the Max Brenner trial. She pointed to the collusion between the political authorities and the corporations in backing apartheid Israel. She concluded with the old union slogan ‘Touch One, Touch All’ and made the point that the attacks on Occupy and pro-Palestine protesters today would be an attack on unions and other social movements tomorrow.
Several speakers highlighted the importance of the Palestine Solidarity rally on May 18 to show that protestors were not intimidated from showing support to our brothers and sisters in Palestine.
Over $2,000 was raised for the defence fund by the auction of art works by Azlan McLennan and Van Rudd, and donations on the door.
The organisers extend a big thankyou to all those who helped make the evening a success.