Swan Island Peace Convergence Day 3 : Resistance to Afghanistan War continues

On July 6th, the day after the death of another Australian soldier in Afghanistan was announced, the protests at the Swan Island Military Base continued. Two more activists were arrested at the morning picket of the gates. Charged with “Hindering police” and “obstructing a roadway” they faced the Geelong Magistrates Court where they given a $400 fine each. Read an account from one arrestee of their day. Some great photos of the days action can be viewed here

Account of the days event from an arrestee

Today (July 6th) I was arrested at the gates of the Swan Island military base in Queenscliff. It didn’t take long to get arrested today – the police were a little impatient. Paul and I were charged on summons after only being removed from the road twice and hauled off to the divvy van after our third arm linking effort. However I must say that being dragged of the road today by the coppers was a very gentle experience, which reflected the general positive vibes we received from the police we encountered throughout our travels through the court system today. I think this reflects the feelings of so many ordinary Australians that we are right to be taking action against the war. Before being arrested I was able to share with the picket one of my favourite anti-war songs by Malvina Reynolds “We hate to seem them go” – check it out on Youtube. I also enjoyed singing “Living on a prayer” led by Jess, who knew it was such an inspiring anti-war song?

I was privileged to spend my time in the van and cells with Paul today. The solidarity of going through the process with Paul, sharing our reflections and thoughts and laughter was testament to how being arrested in an act of civil disobedience can be such an enriching experience. We spent our time workshopping some new chants and songs to bring to the next demo with perhaps our greatest breakthrough being “If you’re happy and you know it – end the war!”

Eventually about six hours after our arrest we had been processed, photographed, etc enough times to be spat out in the dock in the Geelong Court. We had already been warned in the lock up in Geelong that our scheduled Magistrate was quite grumpy and he didn’t disappoint. He did allow us to have our say though on why we had committed the crime of “Hindering police” and “Unreasonably obstructing a roadway”. I explained that after ten years of war I didn’t feel it was right that Australia being at war was so “normalized” and that I had marched in 2001 and again in 2003 but it was clear that it was necessary for Australians to undertake civil disobedience to try and stop this war, (well something like this anyway – I was a little intimidated and perhaps not quite this articulate – but the general message was clear!). I also emphasized that I believed that we had to “be the change we wished to see in the world” and that we had to try to stop the violence of the war with non-violent actions. Paul also shared that as a teacher he spoke to students about issues such as war but had now come to the position that he had to act not just talk and take non-violent action against the war.

Then the Magistrate sentenced us. Whilst he acknowledged that there was much debate about the Afghanistan War in the public, that we had the right to protest (indeed we do!), the right to express our opinions and the right to undertake civil disobedience. However we were not being sentenced for exercising any of these rights but because the Victorian Police have been given the task of keeping our roads clear and we had hindered them in that duty. It seemed to me that he had missed the point by decontextualising our action in this way, which is what often happens in trials of political activists. We were not just blocking a random back road in Queenscliff, but a road that led to an Australian Defence Facility that due to its SAS training and ASIS operations is an important part of the Australian war machine. A war machine that is currently occupying Afghanistan as part of the imperialist U.S. war in Afghanistan. We were sitting on the road to disrupt this war machine to protest the Afghanistan War through non-violent direct action. If this was a simple case of people just randomly getting in the way of police keeping a road clear, how does the Magistrate explain the 180 police present at the demo throughout the week, the mounted police, the spotlights, van mounted camera’s etc This response from the state seems a little over the top to a case of 30 people simply getting onto a road! The Magistrate also encouraged us to direct our protests at politicians rather than take such actions. Once again he seemed to missed the point of DIRECT action!

He then sentenced me to a $400 fine with a conviction. Paul did not receive a conviction but received the same fine, which I thought was a little harsh given it was his first offence compared to my rather longer list of convictions. Oh well – sorry Paul, I think it was a case of guilt by association.

I have now returned home from the Blockade as the world of paid work beckons however I return home feeling empowered and with a strong sense of mission that I am committed to working with others to help build a much larger movement of direct action targeting the Swan Island military base to help stop the Afghanistan War. I saw in the energy, solidarity and actions of those present at this protest the seeds of a much larger movement. I look forwarded to returning soon to Bridge St in Queenscliff to again “get in the way” of the war machine but I want to be linking arms with hundreds of people, holding that road for longer and packing out the local police stations and court houses with our acts of non-violent resistance.