Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lizards revenge: anti- nuclear protests and political freedom

Here here for Peter Burden writing on the Australian anti-nuclear movement and the power of citizen action over the last 30 years.

Burden writes about what is often referred to as the "citizen sector", which is the sphere of collective activity involving the ongoing efforts of committed citizens to create positive social, environmental, economic and political change.

The citizen sector holds Governments and corporations to account and makes democracy and society work. It is a fundamental plank in what is often referred to as "civil society". Citizen sector organizations effectively mobilise and organise the voices and efforts of citizens to act for the common good.

For over 30 years the citizen led anti nuclear movement has beeen a vital and vibrant political force in Australia.

Reflecting on the forthcoming Lizards Revenge protest at Roxby Downs from the 14-18 July Burden writes of the power imbalances  between the citizen sector and the instiutions of state and corporate power:

Another pervasive theme that characterises the past forty years of activism is power imbalance. On one side of the struggle you have poor and sometimes dislocated indigenous people, students and concerned community members (greenies). On the other side there are billion dollar companies, the Government, State police and the media.

Such is this power imbalance that many campaigners will spend decades resisting without reward. Those who are fortunate to be involved in a campaign victory (or even a slight concession) have also seen promises betrayed and decisions reversed.

Yet, despite many crushing defeats, antinuclear activists continue to resist. They do so, not because they have nothing better to do, or because they are violent delinquents (the images commonly portrayed in the media), but because they are acting in accordance with their conscience. They are resisting environmental degradation, corporate dominance, and the continued dispossession of Aboriginal communities. They are also promoting things such as appropriate technology, de-growth economics, solidarity and antiquated notions such a citizen's right to participate in a democracy. Whatever one's political persuasion, these are all pressing moral and social issues and they deserve our most earnest engagement.

Burden reminds us that the institutions of state and corporate power use violence and force to intimidate and stiflle citizen dissent and protest. Burden reminds us of the political and legal fallout from a legal case bought by citizens arrested at an earlier 2000 demonstration at the Beverely Uranium mine which found  that protestors had been treated in a himliating and degrading way by Police.:

Yet, at the end of the trial, Supreme Court Judge Timothy Anderson was left with little doubt over which parties had behaved as uncivilized "ferals". Judge Anderson awarded $700,000 in damages to the plaintiffs. He described their imprisonment in shipping crates, as "degrading, humiliating and frightening" and noted that the action constituted an "affront to the civil liberties of the protestors". He added, "The conditions were oppressive, degrading and dirty, there was a lack of air, there was the smell from capsicum spray and up to 30 persons were crammed into a very small space."

Following from these comments, Judge Anderson found instances of police force to be unnecessary: "Some of those arrested, some being plaintiffs, were mere passive observers, several of whom were taking video footage." Judge Anderson also criticised Kevin Foley and then Police Minister Michael Wright for their "unreasonable" and "antagonistic" withdrawal from attempts to resolve the case through mediation. In plain language, Judge Anderson said: "It is my view that both ministers, in making these statements, have acted with a high-handed and contumelious disregard of the plaintiffs as citizens of the state with a right to protest, and with the right to be treated according to law if they did protest."

Burden concludes with this:

As the protest camp at Lizard's Revenge is erected and the hundreds of citizens converge, we would do well to recall this event and the words of Judge Anderson. Certainly, the right to free speech and political protest is a basic human right and a hallmark of a functioning democracy. Political protest is also an important part of ensuring the accountability of those in power.

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