On September 11th, 2000, Melbourne, Australia saw a huge disruption outside the Crown Casino. This was due to the protest group s11, who were attempting to shut down the World Economic Forum. The protest lasted the full 3 days of the Forum, and while considered a failure, caused a massive media frenzy, not unlike the Seattle WTO Protests. Here, I attempt to answer some of the questions surrounding the s11 protests, and related issues.
Rightio. First up, what exactly is s11?
Good question. s11 was a loosely knit collection of different groups, many of which had differing or conflicting reasons for wanting to shut down the World Economic Forum (WEF). While the most popular reason was because of Globalisation, There were people protesting against a wide range of Domestic affairs.
What other Domestic affairs?
Just as examples, the Mandatory sentencing laws (which are felt by many people here to discriminate against aboriginal australians) and the Government's policies on IVF treatment for Lesbian women.
How about that Globalisation thing? I think I've heard about that.
Globalisation is a concept that requires a good grounding in economic theory to understand properly. To put it as simply as I can, it is a concept that includes the abolishment of international trade barriers, and the creation of multi-national corporations. I don't fully understand it meself, so I couldn't give you a full explanation
But those things don't sound so bad. Why would you protest against them?
I actually thought about this too. The main bone of contention is the whole corporatism of of the thing, and the fact that these corporations don't actually belong to any particular nation
And that's bad because?
It makes them almost unaccountable for their actions. For example, many corporations, while having offices in Europe and America, where executives get US$5000 a week paychecks, do their manufacturing in places like Indonesia and China, where they can get away with paying people "starvation wages"
Wow, that's really bad. But that doesn't seem that bad, at least they pay them!
But that's just an example. Most third world countries are in serious debt to first world countries. Or, more accurately, Companies in first world countries. As a result, it's in the corporations' best interests to keep them in debt because then they can use the cheap labour in those countries
But that's how corporations tend to work. They do things the cheapest way possible. Even a lot of "respectable" corporations are guilty of this
I guess. Anyway, what happenned in Melbourne that was so newsworthy?
Thanks for putting us back on track. :-) Well, the main reason was due to the appalling behaviour of some of the protesters
What kind of Behaviour?
Well, mostly stopping delegates from getting into the Forum (in many instances, they slashed the tires of buses and cars), and a lot of assaulting of police. In one incident, two protesters poured a bottle of urine onto two policemen underneath a bridge.
That's what pretty much everyone else thought (including the protest organisers). A lot of the protesters were pretty counterproductive, in that many of their actions turned the public off of them.
Was it really that bad
Well, to be honest, I don't know, I wasn't there. From what I heard, there was a lot of violence aimed at the police (who were only doing their jobs in protecting the rights of others), and that is what the media reported. The majority of the protesters were probably quite peaceful, if a tad vocal. The media simply didn't pick up on that.
Why the hell not?
There are two answers to this question:
- Media in general tend to go for the more exciting stories. If there was a choice between a violent protest and a peaceful protest, which one do you think you'd want to see? Media outlets already know that question, and use that knowledge to get you to watch/read their show/newspaper.
- Most Newspapers and Television stations are actually controlled by the very same Multinational corporations that s11 are protesting against. It's in their interest to get you to dislike the protestors. And how do they do it? By selecting the terrible images of them, and omitting the good images
Isn't that a rather cynical way of looking at it?
Probably, but in looking at issues such as this, a little cynicism goes a long way. When you look at anything at all, what you see is what you interpret. If you see a boy and girl walking along a street together, we naturally assume that they're boyfriend/girlfriend. It doesn't occur to us that they might just be friends meeting their partners. We see the evidence we have, and then make an assumption. We do this to an even greater extent when we view news coverage, because we expect the news to give us an unbiased view of events. We don't think that for everything the news shows us, there's always something they're not showing us, and that's a big thing with this protest
How do I know you're not leaving anything out?
You don't. What I'm giving you is a report on the events as interpreted by me. Certainly, I'm as biased as any other report, possibly more. Take what I say with a grain of salt, and if you want, research the event from other people's perspectives. I've placed a few good websites in the Referenced links section, so you can go to those.
Nice speech. Anyway, what does this have to do with the WTO protests in Seattle
The two protests pretty much are against the same thing (globalisation). The Seattle protest was a bit more newsworthy because of how far it got out of hand. (It got so bad that police could not control the protesters. The American National Guard had to be called in to control them) In comparison, the Melbourne Protests were much more civil. But while the protests were successful in breaking up the WTO conference in Seattle, they were unsuccessful in Melbourne.
What about the Police in Melbourne? How far did they get involved?
Glad you asked that question. The Assault of police was a big issue in the newspapers. Aside from the urine dip, police were pelted with glass, nails and ball-bearings. Many protesters felt the police had it coming
The police were given an order to keep the peace. Some protesters wanted to disrupt the peace. Inevitably, there were clashes. In many cases, Police had to use force to keep protesters out of the casino. On the second morning, the police used batons to clear a large group of protesters away from one of the entrances so the delegates could get through. Many protesters were injured in this attempt. Although, Ambulances couldn't get through to help them
Again I ask: Why?
Well, at least on the first day, the protesters were pretty much attacking everything that moved. At least one Paramedic unit was seized when protesters yanked open the door, shoved the paramedic out, and took the keys. The irony is that the Paramedic was headed towards a group of injured protesters
Why on earth did they do that?
I dunno. That's one question that will likely never be answered.
Well, just to finish off with, what's your opinion of the events in question?
My opinion? I think the protesters are fighting against something that is already completely entrenched into our culture. Globalisation and capitalism has proved to be very enticing concepts to our society, and I don't think any amount of protesting will stop them
Some Useful Sites about s11
- s11's Website - This is the official site. Learn about their philosphies and goals
- Rehame Media Monitoring - Here you can find transcripts of Australian Radio and Television news coverages and talkback radio. Be warned, you have to pay for the transcripts
- news.com.au - This is the electronic version of a large amount of Australian Newspapers. Just go to the Search engine and type in "s11"