Interview with an Occupy Perth organiser

Gerry Georgatos interviewed Dave from Occupy Perth regarding protests against the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (COGM) in Perth this weekend

GERRY: Dave, can you give me a little insight into the brief history of the Occupy movement?
DAVE: The occupation movement has really come about through social media - so I have as much insight into the history as you do. We are fascinated by the potential for historians to look back and analyse the movement, as all the social media from beginning to end will be documented online. This will certainly be a unique movement in that sense. As the second occupation to spring up in Australia I can say that originally our motivation was out of solidarity with the Wall Street protesters. We saw how inspired they were by international occupation. We soon realised, through the messages of the occupy movement, that Australia as much as anywhere else had these issues which needed to be discussed. You know as well as we do the extent to which injustice penetrates so many sections of Australian society, however many of us were unaware of the terrible state our democratic system is in. The Occupy Wall Street message has really made us consider this.

GERRY: Dave, tell me about why Australia, what injustices do you see here?
DAVE: Gerry, we are still unsure of what we want to see change in Australia, there are so many injustices that we are really struggling to isolate a few. In a broader sense we are trying to raise awareness of the fact that the Australian public aren't represented nearly as well as they believe they are in the decision making process of this country, and that there is tremendous corporate influence which undermines their democractic freedoms. We would hope that we can engage regular people from all walks of life who aren't typically involved in activism and motivate them to question the status quo. Our hopes for the CHOGM are manifold, firstly we hope to support the other protest groups and help get their messages heard as well as ours. Besides that we hope to engage with these activists and try to get them to convert their energies to our movement once CHOGM is over, as we believe we are fighting for the notion of a democracy in which groups such of theirs can genuinely make a difference. It is our belief that under the current system, they are too easily brushed aside and ignored. It's very unhealthy.

GERRY: Dave, have the various tiers of Police been in touch? How many do you think you can get inspired for the CHOGM event? Will you OCCUPY per se Forrest Place?
DAVE: The Police have contacted us, they were incredibly friendly, supportive and non-judgemental. We were very impressed by their enthusiasm for our cause. Joining with the CHOGM Action Network was our decision prior to Police contact, they basically got in touch to explain that by doing this we could forego the complex permit process. We aren't limiting our actions to the CHOGM. The CHOGM is merely a platform for us to enlist support for our November occupation, an ongoing protest during which we will occupy a city space day after day in solidarity with the Wall st protesters. There will be efforts starting in almost all the Australian capitals within the next couple of weeks, many have planned October 15th action. We will also be planning a small effort for this date to get our name out there before CHOGM. We look forward to seeing things unfold over the next few weeks.

GERRY: I note in an interview with a Murdoch University journalist student you estimated 100 would turn up to CHOGM protest at Forrest Place?
DAVE: When we discussed estimates with the Murdoch journalism student, the 100 figure was based on what we saw at the time. Things have exploded since and we've had to revise our estimates. We would now expect to see approximately 1000 OccupyPerth supporters at CHOGM. Then with the publicity from this event, support from other protest groups and the general increase in awareness of our cause, we would like to see nearly 2000 turn out for our mid-November effort. This would be fantastic, and really cause our message to reach a lot of people.

GERRY: Is the Occupy Perth movement 'coordinated' by an Australia wide cooperative, or from input from the USA, or by WA folk only?
DAVE: We are all West Australian folk. I am myself a UWA student, the other admins are West Australian and so are the majority of the supporters.

GERRY: Do you feel that the Occupy Movement world wide has gained adequate traction?
DAVE: The movements world-wide are expanding exponentially. It's really inspirational. As one of the first international occupations, we have seen in just the last week or so, the expansion of the occupation into every English speaking country in the world (except New Zealand). Also what should be noted is a changing sentiment in the mainstream media. For some time at the beginning there was a high level of scepticism and mockery by many journalists, who thought this would fail. Now that it has been ongoing for so many weeks, become so well established and spread across the globe they have been forced to revise their earlier stance. It is still very early days, but we're very optimistic that this can only get bigger and bigger. There are hundreds of thousands of Australians who work longer hours, for less pay and more debt. If we can reach these people and help them understand that refugees and graffiti vandals aren't to blame, that the real culprit is a government which has been bought by large corporations and the wealthiest 1%. A government that doesn't care about them. Then our cause will be unstoppable.

GERRY: Dave, how do you compare the OCCUPY movement to the perceived social media inspired movements in the Middle East and North Africa?
DAVE: Social media has proven itself an extremely powerful tool for change in recent times. The Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring have shown us how easily people are able to organise their efforts without the suppressive forces of government and the mass media. Many would suggest that this type of social media uprising is leaderless by definition, however I think the technology still needs to evolve further. The way it is now, even though people are able communicate instantaneously, it still takes an individual to step out of the fray and establish a movement through a more traditional approach, before the sentiment of the people can be translated into action. Another pitfall of the social media platform is that censorship is starting to penetrate. For example, despite the unprecedented frequency of tweets with the hashtag #occupywallstreet, the term is yet to become a trending topic. This is because Twitter's corporate investors have decided that they want the topic suppressed. It is a relatively small example, but I believe it speaks of an inherent weakness in a system which allows its corporate interests to control the content on its service. This will have to change.

GERRY: Dave, western governments in effect encouraged the peoples' will in these regions and further more to the point they demanded of governments to respect the right to protest and of the freedom of speech, and subsequently asked for leaders to stand down, however the response on Brooklyn Bridget was to have 700 arrested - how would you describe their apparent hypocrisy?
DAVE: Brilliant point Gerry. The perfect example was David Cameron praising Arab Spring protestors use of social media, then a month later seeking to censor the social media platforms as a tool of the London riots. Unfortunately, I think this speaks to the greater reality that hypocrisy is the lifeblood of the western world. In recent history, particularly in the age of wikileaks, the West has been found to have perpetrated almost all crimes they have previously condemned governments for. Sadly this is the way things seem to be. What is even sadder is a majority of the general public don't know or don't care, and they gladly re-elect the people who let these things happen. As for the 700 arrested on the Brooklyn bridge, I think this is a very sinister kind of policing. During the Arab Spring governments suppressed their opponents to keep them quiet, however it seems in the West that police are only focused on the media image. Those people weren't kettled for hours on the Brooklyn bridge for their safety or to stop traffic delays, they were held to get the media attention, to piss off the NYC residents and turn public sentiment against the occupation. There is something very unsettling about police action motivated by image or publicity.

GERRY: Dave, to the OCCUPY movement appears one of the most inspirational efforts since the civil rights movements around the world during the sixties, do you have any further comment to this?
DAVE: It is hard to comment on this question as a young person, having not lived during the civil rights movement. Many have drawn this comparison though, so if it is true, it is extremely inspiring to imagine we are a part of something nearly as important.

GERRY: In Australia, the 11 wealthiest individuals earn the equivalent of the bottom 850,000 households, or two million people, any comment?
DAVE: I wasn't aware of this statistic, very interesting. Our position on this, in general, is that we believe a person is entitled to their wealth if they have earned it through honest practices, treating their workers as they would like to be treated, doing the best they can for the world community and their local community, ensuring all their actions and decisions are ethical. Without defaming the 11 individuals mentioned, I would be surprised if all of them ticked the boxes. Ideally there wouldn't be such a disparity of wealth, and such ridiculous accumulation, however that is an argument we aren't focusing on.

GERRY: What is the position of the OCCUPY Perth and OCCUPY Australia-wide groups on Aboriginal disparity and injustices?
DAVE: At this stage we haven't discussed Aboriginal rights extensively. Obviously we're all disgusted by the injustices Aboriginals face in their lives. An issue we have discussed is that of an increasingly privatised prison system, which has no incentive to effectively rehabilitate its prisoners, and as an industry invests enormous lobbying power into legislation which seeks to imprison the most marginalised and vulnerable of society. This is obviously an issue which effects the Aboriginal community, as we are all aware of the gross disparity in the prison population. We have some Aboriginal supporters, and we will be uniting with the CHOGM Action Network who have a strong stance on Aboriginal issues. We ask that any Aboriginal rights groups get in touch with us, let us know their concerns then we will consider these issues once we form our official statement of aims/demands. We also ask that any Aboriginal folk get in touch, support us and attend our actions on the street.

GERRY: Will you blockade? If you had thousands at the OCCUPY at the CHOGM would you for instance do a sit-in and blockade the Queen's motorcade, this would capture the news media and world's attention?
DAVE: We have a strict policy against this type of action. We will not be disrupting, obstructing or ruining any aspect of the CHOGM event. We are attempting to get the general public on side, win the hearts and minds of the people so to speak, and we don't believe this type of direct action will achieve this. If we are aware of any supporters attempting to do something like this, we will discourage it strongly.

GERRY: What has happened to the 700 arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge?
DAVE: I've been too busy to follow the outcome for the 700 arrested, however I imagine they were held for a period of time then released. This has been the case for a large majority of those arrested during Occupy Wall Street protest. For those not released, the occupywallst legal team have been able to raise bail money to have them freed.

GERRY: Do you envisage arrests?
DAVE: We hope that there won't be arrests in Perth, however there will always be an element of any protest group who decide to break ranks and act violently. We will do all we can to keep everyone around us safe. We represent the occupation movement world-wide and want to do our best to portray the movement in the best light possible.

GERRY: What do you think of the police numbers for the CHOGM?
DAVE: The police presence will be immense. We were told by the mother of a Police officer that they have had a years warning that they cannot be off work for any reason. We also imagine that in front of the world media they'll not be tolerant of any disruption, so we do hope everyone maintains our non-violent philosophy.

GERRY: Many, like myself, believe that the right to protest should be obliged by a democractic society and should not require permits and other various permission.
DAVE: We don't believe that you should have to make any applications to protest. It is a ridiculous erosion of our civil liberties. That being said, if we had been denied permission we would or protested regardless, so in all honesty the system is just an exercise of beaurocracy that as you say yourself, can be ignored.

GERRY: What will make the OCCUPY Perth movement a success?
DAVE: We already consider the support we've gained a success, obviously we'd like enough people to turn out at CHOGM to have regular people asking, "what is occupy perth?". We just want as many people as possible to know about us, look us up, get in touch.

GERRY: How much contact have you had from authorities and news media?
DAVE: We have had very little contact from government authorities. Our government contact has included the events team for CHOGM and the WA Police. Aside from this we have been contacted by the leadership of the CHOGM action network, the international leadership of the Occupy Together organisation, the leadership of the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide occupations and only a few journalists. Fairfax media, the Murdoch uni student and a freelance journalist.

GERRY: How much contact from people in Perth?
DAVE: We've had contact from dozens of interested people via email, and have almost 1000 followers across facebook and twitter. This has accumulated over the space of just over a week. I am unaware of anyone having any contact with authorities. They seem genuinely disinterested in us. We were a bit paranoid before the police contacted us, but things are different now that we know they support what we're doing. At this stage I'm unsure as to whether they understand that after CHOGM, we plan to choose a space in the city and occupy it indefinitely. They will certainly change their opinion of us once this happens I imagine. We can only hope that they support us, the police are always on the brink of industrial action and they are very much the type of people we are fighting for.

DAVE: This movement is bigger than people realise. The vast majority of Australians have never heard of OccupyWallSt, and those that have are mostly unaware of its global extent. I believe it will be a long time before social media overpowers the mass media. This is simply because social media requires thought, it requires effort and involvement. The majority of people don't want to receive information in this way. The western governments are losing power, and I think they won't let go of it easily. The more they feel threatened, the more they will introduce surveillance, censorship and bogus legislation to erode the rights of their citizens. It's a dangerous prospect.

Glad you got in touch Gerry.