East West Link protesters admit they are losing the PR war and plan to bring children to future demonstrations

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Herald Sun: East West Link protesters admit they are losing the PR war and plan to bring children to future demonstrations. Alex White. (8 February 2014)

East West Link protesters admitted they are losing the “propaganda war” and are vowing to bring their children and try to get arrested in a bid to boost publicity.

Almost 30 protesters attended a three hour strategy meeting held at Fitzroy Pool on Alexander Parade yesterday afternoon, floating ideas to ramp up the anti-tunnel campaign.

Tactics raised included parents bringing their children to boost numbers, questioning police at picket events, not allowing workers to leave drill sites and wearing business attire to prove some activists held jobs.

Socialist Party member Mel Gregson co-chaired the meeting with serial activist Anthony Main.

Should children participate in protests? Have your say by leaving a comment in the box below.

Ms Gregson said the Napthine Government had been successful at painting protesters as “toffy, cigar smoking, wealthy” inner city dwellers, who were trying to make the commute difficult for outer suburban drivers.

East West Link Protesters pictured at a drill on the corner of Princes Street and Nicholson Street, Carlton North. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Chief protester Mr Main, boasted protests at drill sites had cost taxpayers millions of dollars and remained adamant the project would not go ahead.

“Clearly we have touched them in a very sore spot,” he said.

“If we hadn’t touched them in a sore spot, there is no way they would have spent what is probably now well in excess of $2 million on police operations to combat our pickets.

“What we have been trying to do is keep the pressure on them by trying to targeting the drilling blokes.”

Bizarrely Ms Gregson told the crowd divisions had grown among the protesters in respect to political ideologies as well as media tactics.

She said some members of the group had raised an issue with Mr Main being the media spokesman because of his ‘bogan’ accent.

The crowd also discussed future protests about the new laws put to State Parliament last month by the Napthine Government, which will give police greater powers to ‘move on” protesters who block property or workplaces.

East west link protesters fear police will use the new legislation to target activists in leadership roles in a bid to bring about the group’s collapse.

The new laws were brought in to combat increasingly violent clashes between activists and officers.

On January 8 a skirmish broke out after the Linking Melbourne Authority resumed drilling at the request of the three short-listed bidders to build the project.

On Wednesday police were expected to charge a man after he chained himself by the neck to an East West Link drilling rig.

The 31-year-old managed to break through security and climbed on to a rig with a fellow demonstrator.

At the meeting protesters shunned the idea of future ‘lock-ons’ saying it was too much of an individual action.

Despite continuous protesting the Linking Melbourne Authority has denied delays to the project.

The final round of drilling on the $6 billion to $8 billion tunnel linking the Eastern Freeway to CityLink was expected to be finished in January.

Angela 16 hours ago
An open letter to the Herald Sun Reporter who attended the Picket Line Training Session for Protesters against the East West Link Tunnel

I am the parent who suggested we take our children out to protest

Dear reporter,

So you were there in the room when I suggested that ‘tactic’. Although you were incognito, I’d like to let you know, for the record, that I would still have made that suggestion even if you’d made yourself known. You pulled out my suggestion, from the many others that were made during the meeting and put it completely out of context. (You even made it the headline of your article.) Clever readers would know this already. Unfortunately, not-so-clever readers were sold hook, line and sinker. You even made it the topic of your ‘have your say’ comments section.

Well, now I am going to have my say.

Firstly, I made the suggestion in the context of a discussion surrounding the past successes of community-based campaigns. I raised my hand and gave the example of local schools whose community members campaigned against their closures during the Kennett government. One campaign succeeded in stopping the closure through the help of teachers, parents, and yes, children; students who did not want to see their beloved school closed down. It was this example which brought me to the suggestion that families bring their children along to protests. After all, it is families, and the idea of ‘family’ that often brings a human side to politics. (Tony Abbott did it with his daughters, now grown women, but still his children.)

There was never any mention of using children as human shields, or of having their wellbeing endangered or risked for the sake of ‘making a political point’. The suggestion was an invitation to those attending the meeting to bring (not force) their children to peacefully protest against a tunnel that will have a huge impact on their future lives. It was never taken on as a ‘tactic’ or a ‘strategy’ and during the sum up of the first half of the meeting, the suggestion was not even mentioned.

Secondly, my two eldest children have already attended many rallies, marches and picket lines for a variety of causes, both here and overseas. They have always attended of their own free will, and have developed a great enthusiasm for issues they feel strongly about. I would never force my child to attend any political event that they did not agree with. And, I would immediately remove my child from any event where violence occurred. Thankfully, I have never had to do this.

Thirdly, there is no law in Victoria or Australia which explicitly banns parents from taking their children to protests. Understandably, Child Protection and DHS would get involved if the child were exposed to any danger, for example, say if tear gas were known to be used. But we are responsible parents, and furthermore, peaceful protesters. Even the law (as it currently stands) acknowledges that. Victoria has a proud tradition of successful protest campaigns starting with the Eureka Stockade in 1854. It’s part of our schools’ curriculum and we even have a monument here in Melbourne dedicated to this great uprising; the Eureka Skydeck in Southbank.

Lastly, I guess the real inspiration for me making that suggestion, at that meeting, in the heat of the moment, was because of Scout Finch. Yes, Scout Finch, the young daughter of Atticus Finch from the film ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. In that seminal scene, Scout and her brother Jem, against their father’s advice, sneak down to the jail house to watch their father face down the ‘mob’. This mob was a sad group of poor white farmers desperate to give Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl, a trial by fire. Scout bravely, and I guess a little naively, steps between the jail house and the angry mob, completely unaware that the townsfolk she knows so well are ready to kill a man. Scout gives a cheery hello to Mr. Cunningham whose son Scout is friends with at school. Unbeknownst to Scout is the fact that by opening up a simple dialogue with the men, she has brought a piece of humanity back to a very ugly situation. She was NOT a human shield, but rather a reminder of the humanity that exists within all of us. Even angry, pitch-fork wielding, Herald Sun readers. While I don’t blame Herald Sun readers, I do hold its reporters responsible for inciting hatred and spreading misconceptions and fear amongst its readership. This hatred is especially directed towards people whose only crime is that of simply holding a different opinion.

So Herald Sun reporter, you win this time. I won’t be taking my child down to the picket line tomorrow morning, or any other morning. And it’s not because I’m afraid the protesters ‘might turn nasty’. It’s not because I’m afraid the police will start roughhousing protesters. On the whole, the police have been respectful to protesters with some even sharing their sunscreen and water. It’s because I’m afraid that my child, and my family, would be the object of all the vitriol, ignorance and utter hatred that you have instilled in your readership against those who just want to protest peacefully and have their voices heard.

Angela

Fully-employed, tax paying resident of Yarra Council

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