By Joe Montero
Second day of the spring Rebellion in Melbourne has come and gone. The big event was a swarm and blocking the end of Collins Street and the beginning of Spring Street.
Participants moved towards the destination in small groups and by different routes, from the camp at the Carton Gardens, to arrive together at the appointed time.
Not even the rain coming down at the time hindered the effort. This is the level of the commitment shown.
As the swarm hit the soaking road, traffic came to a halt. A sound system blared out catchy tunes and people danced. The rain slowed and then stopped. The scene began to look more like a party than a point of confrontation.
But it was not long before police began to arrive from various directions. Then came a sizeable unit of the Public Response Group. This is the element of the Victorian police force and is the closest the state has to a paramilitary. These are the police assigned to do most of the arresting. The mood began to change.
When the arrests began, true to form, Extinction Rebellion had its contingent of volunteers willing to be arrested, because they believe that a large enough body of arrested citizens, is likely to become an issue of itself, can generate public sympathy and put pressure on government to act.
Yesterday, the police action was merely arresting those in the way of the area they wanted to clear. Today, during the first phase of the arrests, it was different. Individuals were targeted. This brought in a new element into the policing of the Spring Rebellion in Victoria.
Police turned on the media next. One officer said rather too loudly, “we don’t want you taking pictures of what we’re doing.” Media were pushed further and further away, and eventually the footpath edge was set as the barrier. Several threat of arrest were made along the way. This border was secured by a blue line.
There have already been complaints from media sources about police behaviour. It happened during the Princes Bridge occupation on 14 September.No doubt there will be more complaints.
This is a worrying development. Especially in the context of the gradual general erosion of the right to report and rising penalties against journalists occuring across Australia, which raises some potent questions about our democracy.
Extinction Rebellion and others will have to consider the reality of the trend towards repression of free speech.
So will the targeting of individuals have to be considered. The only purpose for doing this, is to try to intimidate and deprive a movement of its leadership. When it happens, the police are being used for an openly political purpose.
In this case, it is unlikely to be effective. How can it be effective, with a movement that is not fearful and when its members have made clear their willingness to put themselves on the line, for a cause that demands no less. They will not be easily convinced to stay away.
When you come down to it, the policing style is helping Extinction Rebellion to meet its objective of disrupting business as usual and crerating media events.
Over policing is itself causing major disruption to the city. And the more they are engaged in a political act, the worse they look.
For the rebels, participation is confidence boosting, and provides the opportunity to gain experience, which can be put to ensure even more effective action in the future.