Friday, February 23, 2007

Dick Cheney Down Under - Part 3

On The Inside Of A "Violent" Protest

Breaking Down The Numbers

Story And Photos By Darryl Mason

There was the usual chanting, singing, applauding, angry speech-making through dodgy crackling sound systems. There were the hand-drawn signs and glossy 'No War' placards bearing the names of political parties. There were the tables covered with Chomsky, Pilger and Che biographies and clipboards of anti-war, anti-bombs, anti-Bush petitions.

There were a spattering of ferals, a handful of professional agitators, a bushel of politically inspired uni students and a few dozen middle-aged to elderly people who wanted Cheney to "Go Home!" and to "Free David Hicks!"

The mostly peaceful protest next to Sydney's Town Hall earlier today, held four hours before US Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Australia, certainly didn't seem to have the makings of Big Trouble.

And there wasn't Big Trouble. Far from it.

Until the MC told the crowd police had refused permission for them to march through the city and declared it was "up to youse" whether or not they wanted to defy the police and "March On!"

The police, by this time, were standing in double-strength lines between the crowd and George Street, filled with early evening commuter traffic.

A few cheers of defiance went up, and the police edged closer.

Then it was on. Kind of. Less than fifty of the protesters decided it was time for some push-me/push-you action. The police never seemed overly concerned. It was basically some 'real-time' training for the riot squad, and a chance for the eight mounted police (all female for some reason) to practice their co-ordinated line up, pull back, line up again equestrian maneuvers.

"I like the protests because you get to see these beautiful horses," said some woman in her 80s, waving a little flag that told us the only thing right about Dick Cheney was his first name.

The police had the few dozen argy-bargy protesters squeezed up against the low sandstone wall of the Town Hall, and just about every goose who decided to shove a cop or shout in his face wound up in the back of the lined up police vans that filled one lane of the busy road.

The action wasn't going off enough for one TV cameraman, so he jostled the camera himself, turning it at sharp angles as he shot the pushing and shoving action. You'd have thought he was riding a rollercoaster while copping a beating from a rugby team. Hilarious. It always looks like those cameramen must have have been neck-deep in the action, risking their lives to get the wild footage that makes the blood run a little faster. Well not this time.

And then there was the freelance photographer who didn't think there was enough action, in amongst the big squeeze, so he shoved one of the protesters trying to get out of the thick of it straight into the wall of cops (or so it appeared from my angle). The cops grabbed this guy, put him down and dragged him protesting loudly to the van. The photographer got the photos he needed.

At one point of the push and shove, if you added together the number of police and riot squad and photographers and network news camera people, you'd get a figure way above that of those actually engaging in this useful act of defiance.

I say 'useful' because it did prove very useful, indeed.

Useful for all those Jerry Bruckheimer-speed flash video edits for the news breaks, as well as producing some gritty images of raging ferals getting in cops faces for newspaper front pages.

Actually, the most aggressive yelling I witnessed came from this couple below :

From what I could gather, they weren't actually protesting and were only passing-by and didn't want to go back and cross George Street twice to get where they wanted to be, a few dozen metres away on the other side of the Town Hall from the Big Squeeze.

They gave that poor young cop a hell of a serve.

Basically, if the protester vs cops push-and-shove didn't happen, and it only lasted a few minutes at that, the only footage the evening news would have had to herald the arrival of Dick Cheney in Australia would have been the absolutely riveting shots of his plane creeping along the landing strip at Sydney airport, in the dark, and the Big Dick himself walking alone down a flight of stairs and stopping to say hello to four people on a wet tarmac.

In the end, 10 protesters were arrested, many confused tourists asked locals "Who is David Hicks?" elderly people got to admire the police horses, the riot squad got some live training minutes under their belt, the media got its mouth-frothing "violent riot" story, and John Howard got the opportunity to blame Cheney-related shutdowns of entire sections of Sydney on a few dozen protesters.

And the protesters did get to have their march in the end.

Once the push-and-shove died down, and those involved caught their breath, the police decided that there were so few people actually wanting to march that they wouldn't need to close the city streets anyway.

The protesters fit quite easily onto the 'footpath' (or sidewalk for our American readers), and then it was down to Martin Place and a bit more yelling, singing and chanting outside the American Consulate.

It's interesting to note that when something close to 500,000 Sydneysiders filled Hyde Park to the brim and flooded the city for blocks in all directions during an anti-war protest in early 2003, the evening news told us there were "tens of thousands."

Today, depending on which news you viewed, there were anything from 250 to 350 "violent" anti-Cheney demonstrators blocking traffic and causing chaos in the heart of downtown Sydney.

I asked one cop what the estimate of protester numbers was.

"Probably close to 500," he said.

"You're kidding," I said. "Are you also counting all the tourists and office workers who just happened to be passing by?"

"It's a crowd," the cop said.

"Do you count cops and riot squads as part of the 500 strong crowd as well?"

The cop laughed.

Television news crews, radio reporters, videographers, photographers and freelance media easily made up 70 to 90 of the people present. There were a good forty to fifty police, another few dozen riot squad officers, and a few dozen more 'crowd co-ordinators' from the local council.

Another 100-150 people there were just onlookers, tourists, officers workers, and people who happened to wander out of the Town Hall station and stopped to see what was going on. None of them were cheering, jeering or holding placards.

If you stripped the 350 (or 500) strong crowd of "Anti-Cheney" protesters down to those who actually turned up to protest, and weren't involved in the organisation of the protest itself, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a number bigger than 80.

And it still made news all the way around the world.

Amazing stuff.

"Violent Protest"?

I've seen more violence in the Seafood Buffet line at the Sydney Casino.

Another protest is set to be held Friday morning when Dick Cheney addresses the Australian-American Alliance at the Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks.


John Howard One Of The Few Left In The World Cheney Can Rely On To Do As He Demands, Or Begs

Howard Says Don't Blame Cheney For Long Traffic Delays Due To Greenlight Corridor Travel, Blame Protesters

Cheney Protesters Clash With Police

New York Times : "Police Have Attempted To Drive The Anti-War Protests Off The Streets. We Will Not Be Silenced"

Bias Free 'News' Headline : "Cheney Visit Brings Out The Hate In Peaceniks"

Dick Cheney Down Under - Part 1

Dick Cheney Down Under - Part 2