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What I learnt from volunteering at the Brisbane G20 Protests

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Guest post by Yasbelle Kerkow

The G20 summit hit Brisbane this weekend drawing a great deal of international attention to an otherwise unassuming city.

The G20 People’s March on Saturday, the biggest of all the protests, was a collaborative effort between 13 community groups. The march attracted around 1500 attendees who all braved the 40°C heat. My role in all this was not as a protestor but as a Volunteer Community Observer, my main task was to provide information to the protestors about their rights under the G20 Safety and Security Act.

The centre of the protests was Musgrave Park which holds a particular significance here in Brisbane. Musgrave Park is the centre of the Aboriginal community here and the home of the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy, once a week they gather here to discuss community affairs.

Which leads me to my first point:

The media totally missed the significance of the Indigenous Australian Rallies

Musgrave Park is two blocks away from the Convention Centre, where world leaders were meeting for the G20 summit. The week prior to the G20 summit people from all over the country, mostly from indigenous backgrounds, were descending on Musgrave Park and camping out. Jaggera Hall, the community centre in Musgrave Park, was locked up prior to the G20 summit without warning.

Indigenous community groups staged rallies every day for the week leading up to the G20 Summit weekend, the main theme running across these rallies was “Decolonisation Before Profits”.  There was a failing of international and domestic media to grasp the significance of Musgrave Park and the indigenous rallies that took place here. On the last day of the G20, the final Indigenous rally took place in which the Australian flag was burnt by a group of Indigenous protestors – this is largely what the media focused on. On Friday, we heard the news that an indigenous woman had died while undertaking a mandatory alcohol rehabilitation program. This was the same day as the ‘Aboriginal Death’s in Custody’ rally, and still the media said nothing.

The Queensland Police’s Scare tactics worked

The Queensland Government enforced the G20 Safety and Security Act over the weekend, an act that gave police sweeping powers in restricted areas.

In the weeks leading up to the G20 the Queensland Police released many reports aiming to discourage people from joining protests insisting that members of the public could be arrested for acts that they didn’t even realise they could be arrested for. Queensland Police even invited Brisbane Activist Groups to attend crowd control and restraint techniques demonstrations – which was interpreted as a clear threat.

Sure, we’ll come watch how you are going to restrain us.

The Queensland Police introduced Negotiators to aid police during protests. The Police Negotiators had a constant presence at Musgrave Park and despite being helpful during the weekend it was evident that they were just there to enforce additional regulation, interfering with our right to assembly.

In comparison to the March and March Protest which reportedly attracted between 4000 and 5000 people earlier in the year, the G20 People’s March numbers were low. On the day people seemed anxious; I was tasked with handing out flyers regarding legal information and I was stopped many times by concerned protestors who were worried about being arrested.

There was a real mixed bag of Protest Movements

There were both Ukrainian Anti-Putin and Putin Welcoming rallies, thankfully they decided to stage the rallies on different days. The Russian Rally baked a giant pie for Putin as a welcoming gift.

Across town, away from the People’s March, the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance organised a ‘free the markets’ rally. According to their facebook page they have, “too much common sense and personal hygiene to join one of the many socialist rallies”.

Barak Obama said some real shit about Climate Change 

During a speech at the University of Queensland, Barak Obama called on young people to “keep raising your voices [for] a world that is cleaner and that is healthier and that is sustainable”. Obama’s speech was obviously designed to put pressure on the Australian government, considering that our own Prime Minister is a climate change sceptic, who had previously said that coal is “good for humanity”.

Obama’s ability to get his agenda through in his own domestic space is problematic and I don’t imagine this speech in itself is a really big deal on an international level.  However, it may have an impact on Australia’s domestic politics and if it does manage to inspire a generation of young people to take up the challenge of collective action for better policy, he may yet have an impact.

On the last day of the summit the final Indigenous Australian Rally was held. There was a buzz in the crowd, many protestors had been camping out for days and everyone had felt they had achieved something and drawn some international attention to the plight of Indigenous people. About 200 meters before we entered Musgrave Park one of the Elders walked around the crowd whispering to everyone to start running when he said ‘go’. Suddenly the crowd of about 400 people started sprinting towards Musgrave Park. The Police lining the streets were panicked as they rushed to catch up. Evidently the Police, who had introduced sweeping new protection laws for the G20, had prepared for everything but they had not prepared for running.

Guest post by Yasbelle Kerkow

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