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Entries Tagged as 'Understanding people'

Occupy Sydney: peaceful, democratic gathering erased by NSW Police in dawn raid

October 23rd, 2011 · 3 Comments

Occupy Sydney 077

Welcome to Occupy Sydney

For the past week, Sydney residents gathered in Martin Place to participate in a 24/7 forum to discuss creating futures that are more inclusive, just and sustainable. In the heart of the city, Martin Place is wide enough to host hundreds of people while accommodating passers by. This patch of Sydney, squeezed between the corporate foyers of the Reserve and Westpac banks, is an otherwise under-utilised resource.

What an atmosphere

Were the people that gathered peaceful and inclusive? Yes, and they were kind and generous, too. Personally, I found the way the space was organised colourful, welcoming and cushy (sleeping bags abound), if untidy… but in a city dotted with deep craters surrounded by trucks, cranes and pollution, a few sleeping bags and hand-made signs was hardly an affront to Sydney’s visual amenity.

Good for the local economy

The proprietors of the local coffee cart couldn’t believe their luck, and started a late night service to feed hungry visitors to the site. An employee of a chocolate shop down the road enthused that visitors have been “stock[ing] up on chocolate and coffee“. Of the five closest food retailers, I’d be surprised if one of them didn’t see an upturn in sales as a result of this dead city space becoming a hive of activity.

Didn’t the #occupy movement start in Wall Street? This isn’t America!

At the time of writing, more than 1500 cities are hosting #occupy gatherings. ‘Wall St’ influence, excesses and gambles are shaping the lives of people in multiple ways. Many of the same questions about fairness, equity and sustainability Americans are asking ought to be addressed here, too. Australians have their own grievances, concerns, hopes and dreams and many would like to advocate, discuss and debate these in an inclusive, open forum.

So who shows up to this stuff?

The Australian #occupy spaces were given far more mainstream media coverage than your average Friday night “Politics in the Pub”… So with a nudge like that, it wasn’t just the ‘usual suspects’ that showed up.

Participants have come from a mix of backgrounds and experiences.  While we didn’t often talk about our backgrounds, in my conversations at #OccupySydney I spoke with carers, lawyers, bankers, wharfies, engineers, homeless, contractors, jobless, university students, teachers, marketers and scientists… People from all walks of life had come for a multitude of reasons.

Politically, there were people who consider themselves swinging voters, others were a-political. There were capitalists, greenies, anarchists, socialists and conspiracy theorists, and each treated the others with respect and humanity.

In our complex world, expecting people to come together with a single grievance or solution is unrealistic. It’s in the coming together, the conversations, the dialogue, that common ground is found.

So why gather at all?

Sydney has plenty of places where you can eat, drink, take drugs to loud music, gamble money on sport or in machines, and buy stuff. There are plenty of places where you can have a picnic, read a book, have a swim or go for a walk. But public spaces where people are welcome to gather with fellow citizens, 24/7 to talk about addressing systemic problems and find ways to organise to build better futures? Well, that hasn’t really happened before.

In a functioning democracy, with shift-workers pulling nights and contractors slogging it out during the days, gathering during a fixed window of time isn’t an inclusive approach. The web has influenced our “’round the clock” world where we connect electronically with whoever’s awake; if anything, this lifestyle shift has given rise to the acceptability and practical necessity of a public space for 24/7 political conversations.

Occupy Sydney in pictures

Every now and then, I snapped a photo to capture my experiences at Occupy Sydney. I worked every day this week, so I was only there for a few hours at a time. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be sharing these photos via the web, but I decided to write this blog post after what happened this morning…

Occupy Sydney - We have the power to begin the world over
“We have the power to begin the world over” – the sleeping bags of a selection of Sydney’s idealists in the foreground as a General Assembly takes place (background).

Occupy Sydney - Monday night General Assembly
A General Assembly (meeting)takes place on Monday night. You can read more about these in my original Occupy Sydney blog post. This one took place on the amphitheatre steps… Because a few of Sydney’s homeless people use these steps to eat their dinner, it was agreed the General Assemblies would happen away from the comfort of the steps to ensure #OccupySydney participants weren’t breaking the homeless peoples’ routine.

Occupy Sydney - a family bring lamingtons in support
“We can’t camp out with you, but we support what you’re doing…” A dad and daughter bring lamingtons to Occupy Sydney. The lamingtons were well received, as were the pizzas, salads, crackers, biscuits… much of the food was donated by people supportive of this democratic process.

Occupy Sydney - 1 in 10 Australians in poverty
“More than 2.2 million Australians live below the poverty line” – one of the many hand-made posters inviting passers-by to consider the world from another point of view. In a city filled with luxury handbag shops and ads for TV shows and yogurt, why not inspire people to reflect, think or act, rather than just consume?

Occupy Sydney - Discussion in progress please join
“Discussion in progress, please join”… One of the many signs that made it clear to all citizens that this space was for everyone. For a city where many bars and clubs will happily exclude people based on age, race, gender or dress, this was refreshingly inclusive. And no cover charge.

Occupy Sydney - Jazz band rocks Martin Place
This band rocked. I asked them who they were and when they were playing their next gig, and they said they’d prefer not to plug their next gig because it was more important that people focused their attention on keeping Martin Place vibrant.

Occupy Sydney - One person's point of view
Another of the many hand made signs. None of the signs could truly capture the sentiment or feelings of the thousands who participated in the first week, but the positivity of, “We Occupy Martin Place because another world is possible!” does a pretty good job.

Occupy Sydney - Everyone is Welcome
“Everyone is welcome” the pink flag to the left (obscured) reads, “What if we were prepared to sacrifice our comfort for change?”. The banner is part of a city-wide art exhibition. The serendipity of its placement reassured many of those sleeping under street lights.

Danny's charm... reminding police they're in the 99%, too.
Throughout the week, the ever-present police were hanging around talking to each other and mostly looking bored.  They had joined the force to catch bad guys, and now they were stuck here watching people discuss massive corporate crimes that were well outside their jurisdiction… Must have been frustrating for them. Occasionally they’d read a poster or engage in a brief conversation about political ideas. I spoke to police every time I visited Occupy Sydney, and not once did they advise me that I was participating in an activity that was “in breach of the city’s camping regulations”.  They sure didn’t manage to warn anyone that because people were sacrificing their comfort for something they believed in, riot police and bomb squad personnel would soon be deployed.

Danny (pictured, above) recognised the ever-present risk of violence, and made himself a billboard to advocate for police pay and conditions. He is a true lover of peace and happiness. Every city could do with a few of him. If you ever see him, say G’day to him, and pat his dog, Smarty.

Occupy Sydney - Week 1 statement agreed by General Assembly
The Occupy Sydney statement that was created through consensus by the participants of Occupy Sydney on Friday. The riot police showed up on the Saturday rally that celebrated one week. The police “kettled” the protest by lining the only two exits out of Occupy Sydney. There had been plans for some participants on Saturday to leave the space and do a tour of Sydney, highlighting some of the misdeeds of various corporations who occupy the city buildings.

Through a democratic process, it was agreed that the police presence meant it would not be appropriate to embark on the tour. Such a tour would have involved the crowd confronting two lines of riot police. A walk would risk violence, and as a peaceful democratic movement, we agreed the tour would instead take place in small groups later in the week.

And so the people stayed. They stayed and played music, talked, shared political ideas, and handed leaflets with cartoons and jokes on them. They stayed and ate sausages on bread rolls. It was a laid-back picnic protest. It wasn’t what a few of the gung-ho activist types would have liked (they rightly argued that the riot police showing up was intimidating and unnecessary, and if citizens had to cross a line of riot police to go for a walk on public streets, than so be it)…But it was a global movement expressed with an Australian flavour… Many of us weren’t rusted on activists… We were simply participating in a democratic action.  The presence of riot police was more bemusing than anything.  We weren’t doing anything that would call for riot police! This isn’t a police state, after all.

Martin Place "returned to citizens" - as long as they're wearing blue

This morning I woke to the news that the riot police moved in at 5am. I’ve read reports that those who were asleep were woken and given 5 minutes to vacate the space. Tired, indignant, sleepy, angry… Some participants decided that their peaceful protest, a statement aimed in part at strengthening democracy, didn’t deserve the riot squad, and chose to stand their ground.

An hour before daybreak, away from the transparency and accountability of sunlight and cameras, the police pounced. They destroyed the signs that quoted statistics about poverty and pollution, and the people were dragged away. A number were arrested. The space was cleared of both character and civility. The area between the Reserve and Westpac banks was made plain, boring and uninviting again.

I felt sick. I felt sorry for the people who were busy keeping the space alive overnight… Holding the space for those of us that showed up during the day. I wondered what happened to the people who I’d talk to. To the gentle souls like Alan, who suggested to me that if everybody shared, nobody would go without:

I was gutted. I tweeted:

"Occupy Love" somehow survived the waterblasting of Martin Place
Pictured: In this exact spot, every hour for a week, conversations about peace took place. Today, storm troopers with guns and tasers instead took pride of place. I wonder what refreshing ideas were discussed here today? NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch explained it was time “to return Martin Place to the community of Sydney.”. The community of Sydney already had the space, thanks Mark. No matter how hard you scrub, the ideas that were discussed here, the connections that were sparked, remain.

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Category: Change Agency · Communication and connection · From the frontlines of the future · Future · Guide to better living · Imagining Australia · Our living planet · Peace between people · The Explorer's Handbook · Things that make you go hmmm · Understanding people

The world as a canvas

October 9th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Check out these pics. I’m sitting in the Fair Trade Cafe in Glebe and I got talking to a German photographer. She’s showing me her photos from New York. It’s cool to see how she’s taken other people’s art (buildings, signs etc) and made them her own artworks through composition. It’s cool to think about people using the world as their canvas – creating buildings, signs, parks etc – must be satisfying to create art that people live in, experience and appreciate.

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Postsecret – taking the inside out

September 28th, 2007 · No Comments

Postsecret has been around for ages. Every now and then, someone will send me a link to it. It’s a site that speaks to people. Two friends emailed me the link in the past week, so I thought it was about time I mentioned it here. Check it out.

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Category: Understanding people

Popculture? Spinwall

July 1st, 2007 · 2 Comments

Got an email from Dan Ilic today letting me know about a viral campaign featured on spinwall. I hadn’t heard of the site, but it seems like a good place to get a wrap up of the pop-culture scene in a few clicks. This site definitely goes best with tabbed browsing, because there are so many stories you’ll want to click on, you can set your tabs up and read away…

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Category: Understanding people

Affluenza: notes from a Clive Hamilton & Richard Denniss talk

August 3rd, 2005 · 1 Comment

affluenza.jpgAffluenza: When too much is never enough has been written by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute. Following the book’s launch, they spoke at Gleebooks on June 7, 2005.

They spoke to a packed house, with standing room only. I scratched notes as I listened and you will find these below. Some are direct quotes from Hamilton / Denniss, a few are just thoughts that I scratched as I listened.

The notes highlight some of the ideas Affluenza explores.

MARKETING CULTURE:

The function of at $7k bbq is to drive up desire… $300 bbq’s stop looking good. Now bbqs are selling for $2-3k…

Most Australians have doubts about a money driven life. 83% have criticised a ‘decline in values’.

Now we are bombarded with promotions for things that no-one even knew we needed 10 years ago.

Mobile phones, PC, plasma TV , private health and education, third bathrooms… These were not considered essential items in Australia 20 years ago.

Many of us have a failure to distinguish between want and need.

Some of the best-paid psychologists work in marketing. Much of their work:

  • Creates and project new insecuirities
  • Implies that happiness is only a purchase away

Are a portion of Australians shopaholics? Gambling and alcohol consumption can become obsessive – what about shopping?

AUSTRALIA’S SELF PERCEPTION:

We’re defining ourselves by the products we’re going without.

BBQ’s used to provide a wonderful snapshot of Australian egalaterianism: where people gather to share in food and conversation. Now it’s about “outdoor kitchens” and impressing others with our worldly success.

Despite our ‘laid back’ image, Australians are some of the hardest workers in the world.

ANNUAL LEAVE:
Australia: 4 weeks
EUROPE: 6 weeks

Isolation can be a significant by-product of the pursuit of material wealth.

In Australia personal debt is between $6-14k

IMPORTANT REALISATION: AUSTRALIA IS AN AFFLUENT SOCIETY

Australia moved out of ‘Struggle Street’ a while ago.

We need to admit that we’re rich and cope with that.

We used to be the lucky country… now have 3 times and much and do we consider ourselves lucky?

What is the meaning of life? What should I do? These questions are more often answered through television than tibet: consumption now drives how many of us define ourselves.

Consumption used to be one box in our lives… now it seems to be all of them.

Has money taken on a spiritual character?

The problem isn’t necessarily about money or consumption. It’s about a sense of attachement with money: our attitude to material posessions.

Are we raising consumers or citizens?

THE MYTH OF AUSTRALIA’S ASPIRATIONAL VOTERS

During the most recent elections, citizens caught up in a desire to be materially richer were labelled ‘aspirational voters’, but you can be materially content and still be aspirational.

Who isn’t aspirational?

Who doesn’t aspire to next year being better? Who are the retrogrades?

THE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY CAN ONLY BE SOLVED BY SOLVING THE PROBLEMS OF AFFLUENZA

Poverty is an issue: we don’t lack the money to fix it. We lack the will.

Solving the problems of poverty can only be solved by solving the problems of affluence.

The cure for Affluenza is collective: the politics of downshifting.

DOWNSHIFTING

Means choosing to live a rich life instead of a life of riches.

Deciding when ‘enough’ is: escaping the consumption cycle.

RESPONSES TO AFFLUENZA

The response to affluenza as a concept seems to have taken the form of:
“We have a responsibility to the market… We can’t just ‘downshift’.” so are neoliberals the new opressors?

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