Tunnel Picket observation: 8 January 2014

From Andrew Kelly: Letter sent to Age, before I noticed the word limit (three times too long)

I must take issue with your paper’s characterisation of this morning’s East West Link protest as violent. I was there. We formed a line and were pushed back by police: that is pretty much all that happened. No one needed medical attention.

Your article opens “Protests at east-west link drilling sites again turned violent, with one man arrested and claims of punches being thrown.” This sentence is misleading.

The man arrested was Tony Murphy, but it was for standing on the road when he had stepped down off the curb. It had not the slightest relation to violence.

There was a punch but only one. It was thrown by an officer into Mel Gregson’s face. Her arms were linked with those of her neighbours at the time so she was unable to protect herself. Evidently it was not a killer blow but it was hard enough so that her head struck that of the person standing behind her and for a short time afterwards her nose bled. There is an important issue here. Over the weeks she is being repeatedly targeted, not because of anything physical she does — she is not exactly burly — but simply because she is one of the organisers. It looks very much like police officers, if not their commanders, are making a political decision to harass someone for their prominence in a political campaign.

We have held some 40 pickets so far. For the first month there was not a single arrest. In the second burst of geotesting just before Christmas there were six arrests for what was called assault. But no one has been summonsed and they never will: we have footage of all of them and they consist of things like a young man bending over to help someone off the ground and then being hauled off by four or five officers. (Afterwards I watched this young man shaking hands, smiling and laughing, with the arresting officer.) Every one of these charges is empty and ridiculous.

There is not one police officer who can come forward to say they were struck (or were kicked or spat at or anything remotely similar), because none have been. We do nothing intended to hurt or intimidate anyone. Almost all of us are even determined to be polite, though that is not always so easy.

Three times protestors have locked themselves onto drill-rigs with D-locks around their necks. This needless to say is not a posture conducive to acts of aggression or violence. Quite the reverse it is makes one entirely vulnerable.

But this tactic does pretty much what all of our actions as picketers do: by putting our bodies on the line we are trying to block work on this absurd project. It is non-violent civil disobedience. When we are pushed or dragged away, we will try and hold our ground, but that is all — it looks rough then and it can be a frightening experience. I have seen people in tears afterwards and been close to it myself. In the media of course only these kind of moments, a tiny fraction, get all the attention.

Terry Mulder asks us not be violent. Maybe I should ask him not to be cruel to kittens. Does he actually believe we are violent ruffians? Or is he just making it up? Certainly he has never come down to see for himself, much less tried to speak with us. In fact we might have a lot in common, since it wasn’t that many years ago that he too was an opponent of the project (“You can’t build your way out of congestion”).