The perversities of violence

Patrick Harrison's article in Green Left ('ASIO should stop harassing activists') concerns me in a very personal way.

I participated in the USyd strikes. During my participation I observed various kinds of violence, and various threats of violence.

In response to my participation in one particular picket, which involved drumming and making other noises, a medical student, feeling that his strike breaking attendance at a lecture was disrupted, punched a friend of mine in the head and later threatened to physically fight me. He was restrained by police and other students, however police did not take any further action.

At another action that I was involved in, which again involved noise disruptions, I later learned that a friend was confronted by another student who proceeded to call her a 'crazy Asian bitch' and threatened to break her nose.

I was also present at the incident in which police violently removed disruptive students from a lecture hall (throwing them on the ground, forcing knees into their backs, necks, and heads). I also saw police officers dragging students down staircases and attacking people who were trying to film the incident.

I saw a few picket lines that stood their ground in an effort to enforce the seriousness of the strike. This involved people standing their ground in the face of cars, trucks, and pedestrians who wished to break the picket lines. I did not see any picketers strike, grab, or restrain picket breakers, but I did police pushing picketers out of the way, and cars trying to force their way through people. I also saw footage of drivers recklessly accelerating against picketers.

My point here is that it is perverse that police seem to be interested in the potential violence of people who picket rather than the actual violence that picketers experience. It is also perverse that many people observe the violence of police arrests and assume that the arrestees must have done something to deserve the treatment they receive.

A further perversity is that the people who participate in these strikes generally do so because they are concerned about the severe damage that progressive, cumulative changes has made to their work and study conditions. Such changes attack the ability of teachers, researchers, general staff, and students to both participate in the ideals of university, while at the same time live a life that is fulfilling, and meets their own needs and the needs of their dependants.

The actions of police investigators described in Harrison's article genuinely intimidate people who put their safety on the line to defend the things they believe are important. Anyone who participates in a picket or other strike action now has genuine reason to feel that they are being watched, and will be potentially punished for daring to defend their working conditions. Personally, I feel that even writing about this in such a public way exposes me to further surveillance, intimidation, and potential arrest.

Returning to perversities, the actual violence that I have seen and experienced was solely perpetrated by strike breakers and police, not strikers. To me, chanting, yelling, standing one's ground, drumming, and interrupting lectures are non-violent actions that in no way warrant the kind of violent responses that I have described. They also do not warrant the kind of intimidation and shaming that has been levelled at strikers, which has the effect of driving savage rifts between 'good' strikers and marginalised 'trouble makers'.

Many people who have not experienced the kinds of things that I am talking about may find this kind of thing hard to relate to. My hope however is that people make a genuine attempt to understand the experiences of those who are marginalised and beaten down by actual everyday violence, and gain the confidence to refuse the fear mongering effects of police intimidation.

Perhaps the ultimate perversity is that too often impressions of violence are projected on to people who are merely struggling to make a genuine difference in their lives, rather than on those who violently defend everyday violence. I think one of the best ways to combat this marginalisation is to have as many open discussions as we can about the intimidation, violence, and harassment we experience, and make the effort to support each other in doing so. The more we show how unacceptable these things are, the harder it is for people in power to get away with it. Making the effort to appreciate the experiences of those who are effected by violence can make a world of difference.