Sydney APEC peace demonstrations
by Andrew Collis
Sunday Ordinary 23 C
South Sydney Uniting Church
'Skirmishes don't help – discipline is what we need'
"US Gov't says Yes to Torture"
"No: Black List, Yes: Civil Liberty"
"Our Right to March"
"Bush-Howard: Axis of Evil"
"Justice Not Destruction"
"We Are Allied with Torturers – How Sad"
"Peaceful Protest, Violent World Leaders"
"We Can Stop the War"
"Solar & Wind, Not Coal or Nuclear"
"Reject Bush on Character Grounds" ...
I noticed these banners while marching toward Hyde Park with ten to fifteen thousand others, all kinds of people, ordinary people – in spite of the rain, and in spite of threats from governments, police and some media representatives over the past month or more – intimidations de-legitimating peaceful assembly, demonizing people who protest what they regard to be injustice as criminals, as violent "ferals."
The march was one of the best organized I have attended. Marshals repeatedly called for non-violence. A spirit of constructive co-operation prevailed. Marshals and First Aid officers were conspicuous.
The speakers at the Town Hall were quite inspiring. Matt Howard, a former US Marine who'd fought in Iraq in 2003–4, is now a member of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War. He made the simple point that citizens resist violent military powers that invade their country. "We are the ones causing violence in Iraq," he said, citing 600,000 deaths in Iraq since 2003. He went on to cite the example of people protesting and bringing to an end the war in Vietnam. Soldiers actually put down their weapons, and pilots dropped bombs into the ocean rather than upon the Vietnamise with whom they'd come to identify. He confessed that, in 2003, he'd followed orders to bury humanitarian aid rather than help distribute it!
Greens senator Kerry Nettle made the connections between concerns about imperial violence, and concerns for Indigenous rights, workers' rights (in the context of free-trade agreements which drive down working conditions across the Pacific), and climate change (in the context of APEC's undermining international efforts toward specific targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions). Nettle expressed concern over so-called nuclear "solutions" to global warming, warming instead to prospects of renewable technology like wind and solar power.
All the speakers expressed outrage at the barriers erected and the excessive security in the city, wondering at the message such symbols send – world leaders afraid of ordinary people; world leaders ashamed to meet face-to-face with Sydney-siders; world leaders haunted by ghosts in Iraq and Afghanistan; world leaders indifferent toward ordinary people; capitalism in a cage?
A marshal stressed again the virtues of non-violence and discipline – long-term alternatives to violence and greed. "Don't be provoked by those who want our demonstration to fail," she said, referring to some neo-Nazi and other potentially aggressive groups present. "Skirmishes don't help. Discipline is what we need."
I don't readily like crowds. They make me nervous. And yet there was something undeniably positive going on. The police presence was scary – giant cameras, microphones, guns, helicopters trained upon the crowd – and that made the courage and care of the protestors all the more striking. I was walking with people I didn't know, but singing along ("Show us what democracy looks like/This is what democracy looks like"), actually feeling safe in a vulnerable presence of courage and care.
And so, at about 12 o'clock when the marchers were settling in for speeches and music at Hyde Park, and I was walking back along Park Street toward Town Hall Station, it was frightening to witness the police riot squad with water cannon making its way toward Hyde Park, pushing us out of the way. Dorothy, Trevor and I stood stunned. What need was there for this? It made me think what it must be like for those who regularly feel intimidated by authorities; who feel unsafe in their own country; who refuse to play along with the game of the mainstream, be it nationalism or privatization, nuclear physics or nuclear families. That tension creates an expectation of violence.
In today's Gospel Jesus addresses a large crowd. What he says amounts to a harsh wisdom, a gritty realism in the face of expectations of violence. "If any of you come to me without turning your back on your mother and your father, your loved ones, your sisters and brothers, indeed your very self, you can't be my follower. Anyone who doesn't take up the cross and follow me can't be my disciple."
In other words, real love involves discipline, and real risks. "Real love always lies beyond our comfort zones [including the comfort zones of family, nation, generation].
"And [yet] a new community founded on risky, socially controversial, deep love is worth whatever discomfort and disrepute it takes. Jesus has gone that way before us, and as we gather around this table we are reminded that he was broken for it.
"… we are also reminded that on the other side of the deep waters of disrepute, scandal and death lies the 'promised land' where the new wine of mercy and peace is poured. And with the bread and wine of scandalous love, we are nourished for the unpopular journey into the ultimate love" (Nathan Nettleton).
What I felt yesterday had to do with people committing to something positive in the face of violence and derision. We often talk in the church about bearing crosses, and I suspect we often are not so clear on what we mean by that. Crosses can become merely the inconveniences of life, merely difficulties. But the cross of Jesus, if it is anything, is firstly an instrument of torture, a state-sponsored terror. It stands, firstly, for the attempt, on the part of political powers, to frighten and silence the one whose courage was/is born of love divine. I sensed something of that courage yesterday. People saying, "I choose to be courageous and to love, whatever the consequences." Amen.
South Sydney Uniting Church every Sunday 10am 56a Raglan St Waterloo, we're obviously very queer anarchist friendly, and we give good service! ~ N