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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.

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

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  1. Kate posted the following on October 24, 2011 at 12:44 am.

    I really enjoying reading this, and meeting you down there this week. What a marvellous week it was. I am truly inspired by the ideas and generousity if the people I had the pleasure of spending time with. Your closing paragraph says it so well. Imagine if there was always a safe, creative and inspiring space, like occupy sydney was, in our city. Standing this morning in an emptied Martin Place as police laughed at those CoS art flags.. It was a sad and unnecessary end to a wonderful week.

  2. Wendy Bacon posted the following on October 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm.

    You have done a great job of capturing spirit and issues – not that I was there that much but this portrays what I saw and felt. Absolutely NO need for eviction.

  3. Dan Paquin posted the following on October 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm.

    Visited Syd. and Mel. on a NZ cruise last year. Wonder ful AU and would sider lifvg thr if US is eaten by ants. BUT, wht the hck is ths polcestff? fricvkn illumin. d

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Occupy Sydney: palpitations in the heart of the financial district

October 18th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Democracy is an evolving system that by definition people are supposed to be able to change. In Sydney, a diverse range of locals are flexing their democratic muscle…

Outside the Reserve Bank in Sydney’s Martin Place, at 8.30pm last night, participants of #OccupySydney were organised. As if the architects of the city had planned it this way, a row of steps just outside the bank make for a natural amphitheatre. In that space, an engaging, entertaining meeting between 150 Sydney-siders was taking place. This meeting was almost certainly more participatory and engaging than the meetings usually held in the skyscrapers here in Sydney’s financial district.

The group are inspired by #OWS or Occupy Wall Street, a citizen movement that began 4 weeks ago in New York and has spread to cities around the world. Yesterday was Day 3, and much of the conversation was about how to make sure Sydney’s residents feel welcome and included in this public space: a space decorated by signs and constructed not of fixtures and fittings, but milk-crates and sleeping bags. (‘Permanent’ structures, like tents, have already been confiscated by police).

As a speaker speaks, the audience participate by using their hands to communicate with each other and the speaker. Imagine speaking to 150 people, and having them offering instant feedback; like a television ‘worm’ during an election debate. There’s “I agree” (palms up, wiggling fingers), “I disagree” (palms down, wiggling fingers), “I object strongly and want to speak” (forearms crossed in front of face) and “wrap it up, this is taking too long” (forearms rolling in front of each other). These protocols proved very effective for the hour I was there, allowing instant votes to be held on matters of procedure, consistently seeking and achieving consensus.

Not everyone would be sleeping there tonight, but some would choose to… 24/7, people are welcome join in: to ask questions, to debate, and to imagine futures for their city, their country and the world.

If you’re wondering what the participants stand for, well, a few themes have emerged: equity, sustainability and democracy.

On the economy, to quote business writer Alan Kohler, “while [most people’s] wages are going nowhere, being cut, or disappearing as jobs are lost, CEOs are still making ever more money”. The expression, “We are the 99%” has become a rallying cry of some participants, who are telling their personal stories via the web.

On the environment, we know climate change is real, and many signals – from our air and water quality to species extinction – indicate that we need to embrace renewable energy and less environmentally destructive practices. Despite this, capital continues to pour into incredibly environmentally destructive projects, with muted democratic oversight.

Our governments are filled with politicians who need corporate support to run their election campaigns, so their power is shared with the corporations who get them in. It’s a kind of bastardised democracy that many of the protesters believe can improved upon with greater citizen participation… An example of such participation might be citizens’ juries.

This world, and this country, are facing real challenges, and these citizens are wanting to tackle many of them head-on. So, what does success look like to these people? Well, in chalk on the footpath I saw a note: it read, “Change the system before the system changes you!”. To what degree will the #occupy movement be able to gather the momentum and judgement needed to ‘change the system’? Only time will tell.

Category: Communication and connection

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  1. Pingback from Occupy Sydney: peaceful, democratic gathering erased by NSW Police in dawn raid

    […] Occupy Sydney: palpitations in the heart of the financial district […]

  2. Abe Quadan posted the following on October 25, 2011 at 6:20 am.

    Hi all

    It is great to see ordinary people rising up and challenge the financial monsters of this world. We pay through the nose in good times and we still pay dearly in bad times. They make obscene amounts of profits in good times and we bail them out with our money in bad times (it is usually their own creation). Like a saw they take in either direction and with every move. I suggest that the name of the movement be changed from occupy (this is a violent word) to Reclaim Our Future in similar fashion to the women movement of Reclaim the Night. It is our future that the banks own and shape with us having no say. Reclaim is about taking back what we naturally own, our future. We shouldn’t leave our future in the hands of a few greedy bankers. best wishes and continue the non violent protest.

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Re-connect with your best bits: start with why

August 30th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Your passions – the stuff that gets you enthusiastic – the things you’re interested in… These are your best bits.

Too many of us spend too much of our lives with our best bits wrapped up by the daily grind of the what we do. In this 18 minute talk, Simon Sinek is convinced that if we put our best bits out the front where they belong, people will want more.

“Sell to people who believe what you believe – hire people who believe what you believe” is the mantra of Simon, the “Start with why” guy.

If you’re interested in engaging family, friends, colleagues or customers with what you do, then grab your best bits and watch this.

Thanks to Treffyn & Renee, who independent of each other sent me this. 🙂


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Category: Communication and connection

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  1. Louise posted the following on September 23, 2011 at 10:19 pm.

    What a great talk! Thanks for sharing that on your blog Tim.

    I attended your talk at a conference in Sydney recently and was really impressed with your seamless presentation, as well as your views on communication.

    I was just reading up on your blog in preparation for a talk that I now have to give about what the conference was like.

    Look forward to reading more of your blogs!

    PS: Simon’s talk reminded me of the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People where Stephen Covey said “there are some people you just instinctively trust, because you know their nature” or words to that effect. It all starts with why..

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In honour of futurist, Jan Lee Martin

August 9th, 2011 · 4 Comments

Few people have had as powerful an influence on my life as futurist and educator, Jan Lee Martin. It is with a heavy heart that I write this, because last night, Jan passed away.

This biography I found on the web introduces you to Jan as a professional, if you don’t already know her by reputation:

Jan Lee Martin has always lived in the future. As public relations manager for IBM in New Zealand in the 1960s, she participated in the early excitement of the computer revolution. She was a manager at a time when young people, and especially young women, were not expected to be managers.  And she began a career in public relations when very few people knew what that meant.  (She says many still don’t.)

For nearly 20 years she ran her own public relations consultancy in Sydney, working with senior executives of government, private and not-for-profit organizations to improve their internal and external communication with stakeholders.  It was when she sold that consultancy, and began to explore the boundaries of change, that she met the field of future studies.  In the mid-90s she and some of Australia’s leading futurists established the Futures Foundation as an independent centre for learning about the future.

Seven years later, the Foundation merged with the Future of Work Foundation, and Jan was able to hand over the chair and concentrate on other activities. For some years she continued to edit Future News and contribute to the website, and she still works on special projects with colleagues in the futuring community.

She is a regular speaker at conferences in Australia and elsewhere; has worked as a senior executive coach for a major bank; occasionally writes for media; and maintains her family and community interests in Sydney and at Pearl Beach on the Central Coast of New South Wales.  She has a special interest in changing ideas of what we mean by success; in changes in the way we measure performance (and success);  and in the changing relationships between organizations and others in their host communities.

Jan Lee Martin is co-chair of the Millennium Project in Australia (a WFUNA organization), a professional member of the World Future Society and a member of the World Futures Studies Federation.  She has contributed to many publications including the Australia and New Zealand Public Relations Manual, the standard text in communication degree courses; and The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, the  standard text in futures studies degree courses.  She is a member of the editorial board of the international Journal of Futures Studies and is listed in the World Future Society’s Directory of people who write and speak about the future.

Jan Lee Martin is co-chair of the Millennium Project in Australia, a professional member of the World Future Society and a member of the World Futures Studies Federation.

No biography can ever capture a person’s essence, and this is especially true of Jan… She was so deeply committed to understanding our world and helping make it better. It was that spirit that I found so inspiring.

For 30 years Jan Lee Martin and Peter Lazar have been a dynamic duo – two communication professionals who, having established successful public relations practices, became powerful advocates of the application of foresight and futures studies… Playing leadership roles in the establishment of a futurist community in Australia.

A decade ago, Jan and Peter came and spoke to Communication students at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. I was in the audience, and their presentations, at the intersection of communication and futures were life changing. For me, I went from believing that I would be a communication professional (working in organisational communication), to discovering a new possibility – helping organisations grow in all facets by collaborating with them in pursuing inspiring futures.

A story about Jan from the boardroom

A few years later, Jan was speaking at a boardroom presentation of partners at Ernst & Young. I was a budding futurist and she was kind enough to include me so I could come and see her in action. I reflect on this moment because it goes some small way towards capturing what made her so inspiring:

Initially, the audience (mostly men) were openly hostile to the concept of a “futurist” presenting to them. One of Jan’s opening slides was an illustration of a teddy bear who sat rather pensively in the corner of the frame, confessing that the more the bear learns, the more the bear realises how much there is to learn! A disarming slide, filled with humility – not a quality a large accounting firm had seen much of in the boardroom, I’d imagine!

As Jan introduced the audience expertly to her perspectives, the participants began to come around. The presentation was a wonderful balance of science and sociology, of modern thinking and ancient wisdom. Models and ideas that are – ridiculously – still not embraced by corporate Australia were introduced in such plain English and in such a compelling manner… Jan’s sense of purpose was obvious, the positive nature of her intentions was clear. She was – as ever – so grounded and so generous. She told the story of the professor with the glass vase… The vase has room for rocks, pebbles and sand… But only if we start by putting the rocks in first… Jan recommended us all to fill our “vases” first with the ‘big rocks’ of family and friends. By now the audience were in… Now leaning forward, Jan shared with us a quote of her own, something she had penned back in 1988… ““Like any living system, including you and me, an organisation depends upon successful relationships if it is to survive and prosper.”. This pearl of wisdom is perfect for Jan, as it combines those two fields she brought together, communication and futures.

Professionally, this is a very sad time for the foresight and futures community; a movement that is still young, but a movement that Jan played such an important role in sparking and amplifying in Australia.

Jan Lee Martin brought her professionalism, diplomacy and generosity to a practice that needed a credible, passionate advocate. Her passing is a great loss to our community.

Jan’s commitment to identify “inspiring ways to create the future” lives on in the lives of the many people she touched through her lifetime, not the least of which is mine.

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  1. Jarra McGrath posted the following on August 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm.

    Beautiful mate. I didn’t know Jan but now feel like I’ve missed something spectacular. I’m sorry for your loss. But so grateful for all the wisdom she left for us in you.


  2. Martin Hanlon posted the following on November 1, 2011 at 7:24 pm.

    Well said Tim. Only just heard the devastating news. Jan was a truly inspirational woman. Martin

  3. Pingback from Project Australia >> 2011 – it’s a wrap!

    […] We were saddened by the passing of our Honorary Elder, Stella Cornelius, and one of our foundational supporters, Jan Lee Martin. […]

  4. John Renesch posted the following on April 18, 2012 at 9:43 am.

    Tim, I did not know Jan passed away and today my email to her bounced back and i searched and found your blog. Obviously, I hadn’t been in close contact with her recently but she had been a Fellow in a group I put together – Global Collaborators’ Alliance. Thanks for your post. John

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Whopperlust invites Americans to trade their attention, dignity for hamburgers

July 4th, 2011 · No Comments

Love creativity? This is a great example of creative advertising. Burger King in the US set up their own “Whopper” interactive TV channel where you are paid in burgers to sit and watch a whopper. The longer you watch, the more free burgers you get. (5 minutes = 1 whopper).

Anyone who’s seen The Meatrix (highly recommended) will know why I avoid fast food burgers altogether, but it’s still clever marketing.

To see this TV channel in action, here’s a guy trying to get a free burger (offensive language warning) skip to 2min20sec to see how the channel can tell if you’re still paying attention.

The audience for this unique campaign isn’t just people who watch Direct TV channel 111, but the various audiences that will extend the campaign through social media and word of mouth. Definitely an example for anyone looking for clues about the future of advertising & marketing… If you’re going to be boring with a standard old ‘product as hero’ shot… Do it in a creative and entertaining way!

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Category: Communication and connection · Corporate craziness · Future

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