Protestors scale the bridge

Media Release

8 July 2011 – for immediate release

6:45am

Peace week culminates in candle vigil & tense stand-off with police

Swan Island Peace Convergence – Queenscliff

A week of protests at the top-secret military base on Swan Island is currently at a tense, pre-dawn stand-off as protesters breach police lines.

Meanwhile, the quiet Queenscliff street leading to the bridge to the island is a scene of meditating peace activists amid hundreds of candles representing war deaths in Afghanistan.

The convergence in Queenscliff has continued all week as a protest against the unnecessary and ineffective war in Afghanistan, and to draw attention to the role that the top secret Swan Island base plays in the war. The war is now into its tenth year – as long as Australia’s involvement in Vietnam.

The morning began with the road being blocked with hundreds of candles lit to remember the 28 Australian soldiers and the countless innocent Afghan lives lost in this tragic conflict. The nonviolent group attended and held a silent vigil for all those affected by the suffering and prayed for peace to emerge.

Shortly afterwards two activists were able to scale the bridge leading to the island and unfurl a peace banner.  Baptist pastor Simon Moyle (34) and University lecturer Jessica Morrison (35) remain clinging to the fence out of police reach.

Both Moyle and Morrison are recently returned from Afghanistan where they have seen first-hand the human suffering and pain caused by the war.  Rev. Moyle stated,

For too many years powerful interests have fought over power in Afghanistan at the expense of its people. War has not liberated them; it has only created more grief. Now is the time to listen to Afghan voices asking us: ‘Why not love? Why not peace?'”

Ms Morrison added,

People in Afghanistan who I met with were clear that foreign troops are funding and fueling terrorism by their presence, and must withdraw. Afghan citizens need to be able to lead the recovery of their country.”

The convergence continues to call for the Australian government to listen to the will of the Australian people, who overwhelmingly want our troops withdrawn from this needless war. The group has also indicated that their activism will continue in a variety of ways until this happens.

Photos and video footage of arrests and the blockade available on request.

Photos and background info also available at http://www.swanislandpeace.org

For further comment call Khristo Newall at the scene on 0431 519 577 or 0402 857 915.

 

Finding old friends

As for many people, my teenage years were framed with a handful of special friends with whom I journeyed through a turbulent adolescence. Over the years I’ve lost touch with most of these friends and wonder how they’re doing. Facebook is giving me updates on their lives, but not a chance to reconnect.

Today I bumped into one of these teenage ‘besties’. Literally. He was on the police line facing me in our morning blockade.

It was bizarre. I hadn’t seen him since I was a gangly girl, and he a bashful boy – crashing in our group in lounge rooms, and walking the streets in Geelong. And now here we were – me resisting the state, and he protecting it. Life had clearly taken us on different paths.

I went up to him and had the reunion that I’d imagined happening in somewhat different circumstances. I confessed that I had a big crush on him when I was at high school (in hindsight, a little unnecessary in front of his police colleagues). I remembered helping him carry his feret cage home from woodwork class in school; he remembered that I barrack for Collingwood (go ‘pies!).

It was yet another reminder of the shared humanity across the picket lines, which has been such a powerful feature of the week.

There has been more mutual respect between ourselves and police than I have ever experienced in protests involving arrests. This, however, made it much more personal. It made me reflect about how I came to be who I was – from that gangly girl to a woman who seeks to blockade a military base. About what it was that led me to this place, and my friend to his.

So as with every morning of the Convergence, I sung, talked about Afghanistan and sat on the road. But this morning there was something different that was present for me . . .

After the usual three rounds of refusing to move from the road and being carried off, I was arrested. I took the familiar ride in the back of the police van and into custody. My solitary time waiting to be processed brought back more teenage memories, and how they were significant in forming my life’s perspective: My desire to help those who struggled in their life situations; the passion that my new-found Christian faith gave me to make a difference in the world; my jobs in social work that made me think in new ways about the social and political situations we are in; role models that challenged me to wonder how I can work towards peace and justice in the world.

I took bail and returned to the gates of the base to chat to my old friend. Sitting amid the police trucks that were catering for the 180 police that are here to police us, we shared more about our lives – work, family, siblings.

We choose different places to be, and sometimes that places us in conflict with each other. And amidst this, we all stand together here in our humanity.

Clip of action 7 July 2011

footage by Curtis Moyes greenbrainfilms

clip at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PetS0jPFl2g

photos from jon-osborne.com of day 3 of blockade

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Police asking group to move off the road

Police removing protesters from gate

Sharon reading names of people who have been killed in Afghanistan

Jessica sharing about Afghanistan before being arrested

 

 

Khristo’s photos of today – 7th July

Awesome Afghanistan article on ABC’s Drum website today

Afghanistan: Australia’s code of Silence by Kellie Tranter is a brilliant article on today’s Drum about the complete lack of progress in Afghanistan and the Australian government’s silence on the real issues. Very timely indeed given our actions down here . . .

Third day of protests, third day of arrests – Media Release

Peace activists have been arrested on the third consecutive day of the blockade of the Swan Island military base. A small but determined group of protesters was met by a large police presence, and two were arrested as the group attempted to keep the base closed.

The convergence has been continuing all week as a protest against the unnecessary and ineffective war in Afghanistan, and to draw attention to the role that the top-secret Swan Island base plays in the war. The war is now into its tenth year – as long than Australia’s involvement in Vietnam.

While the group protesting has been small, they are aware that they have the support of most Australians;

‘Poll after poll has indicated that the public do not support Australian lives being put on the line, with over 60% of Australians wanting troops to come home,’

said co-organiser Jess Morrison. Ms Morrison also stated that,

‘Having been in Afghanistan, I have seen the devastating results of this conflict and I know personally the cost in innocent lives for the Afghan people, as well as the cost to Australian soldiers. This war has never made sense, and it is now time for the Australian government to listen to the people.’

The two protesters arrested this morning were Olivia Ball, a PhD student and parent of two from Clifton Hill, and Jessica Morrison, a university lecturer from Fitzroy. Both were charged and then bailed to appear in the Geelong court later this month.

Other protesters remained, and continuing with singing, meditations and reading names of some who have died in this war, both Australians and Afghans.

The Swan Island Peace Convergence will continue until Friday and plan to continue to blockade the base each day. More arrests are expected.

Photos of arrests and blockade available on request.

For further comment call Jessica Morrison on 0431 519 577 or Simon Moyle 0402 857 915.

Musings of a Wednesday arrestee

Today (July 6th) I was arrested at the gates of the Swan Island military base in Queenscliff. It didn’t take long to get arrested today – the police were a little impatient. Paul and I were charged on summons after only being removed from the road twice and hauled off to the divvy van after our third arm linking effort. However I must say that being dragged of the road today by the coppers was a very gentle experience, which reflected the general positive vibes we received from the police we encountered throughout our travels through the court system today. I think this reflects the feelings of so many ordinary Australians that we are right to be taking action against the war. Before being arrested I was able to share with the picket one of my favourite anti-war songs by Malvina Reynolds “We hate to seem them go” – check it out on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P13qbp1XQZI I also enjoyed singing “Living on a prayer” led by Jess, who knew it was such an inspiring anti-war song?

I was privileged to spend my time in the van and cells with Paul today. The solidarity of going through the process with Paul, sharing our reflections and thoughts and laughter was testament to how being arrested in an act of civil disobedience can be such an enriching experience. We spent our time workshopping some new chants and songs to bring to the next demo with perhaps our greatest breakthrough being “If you’re happy and you know it – end the war!”

Eventually about six hours after our arrest we had been processed, photographed, etc enough times to be spat out in the dock in the Geelong Court. We had already been warned in the lock up in Geelong that our scheduled Magistrate was quite grumpy and he didn’t disappoint. He did allow us to have our say though on why we had committed the crime of “Hindering police” and “Unreasonably obstructing a roadway”. I explained that after ten years of war I didn’t feel it was right that Australia being at war was so “normalized” and that I had marched in 2001 and again in 2003 but it was clear that it was necessary for Australians to undertake civil disobedience to try and stop this war, (well something like this anyway – I was a little intimidated and perhaps not quite this articulate – but the general message was clear!). I also emphasized that I believed that we had to “be the change we wished to see in the world” and that we had to try to stop the violence of the war with non-violent actions. Paul also shared that as a school teacher he spoke to students about issues such as war but had now come to the position that he had to act not just talk and take non-violent action against the war.

Then the Magistrate sentenced us. Whilst he acknowledged that there was much debate about the Afghanistan War in the public, that we had the right to protest (indeed we do!), the right to express our opinions and the right to undertake civil disobedience. However we were not being sentenced for exercising any of these rights but because the Victorian Police have been given the task of keeping our roads clear and we had hindered them in that duty. It seemed to me that he had missed the point by decontextualising our action in this way, which is what often happens in trials of political activists. We were not just blocking a random back road in Queenscliff, but a road that led to an Australian Defence Facility that due to its SAS training and ASIS operations is an important part of the Australian war machine. A war machine that is currently occupying Afghanistan as part of the imperialist U.S. war in Afghanistan. We were sitting on the road to disrupt this war machine to protest the Afghanistan War through non-violent direct action. If this was a simple case of people just randomly getting in the way of police keeping a road clear, how does the Magistrate explain the 180 police present at the demo throughout the week, the mounted police, the spotlights, van mounted camera’s etc This response from the state seems a little over the top to a case of 30 people simply getting onto a road! The Magistrate also encouraged us to direct our protests at politicians rather than take such actions. Once again he seemed to missed the point of DIRECT action!

He then sentenced me to a $400 fine with a conviction. Paul did not receive a conviction but received the same fine, which I thought was a little harsh given it was his first offence compared to my rather longer list of convictions. Oh well – sorry Paul, I think it was a case of guilt by association.

I have now returned home from the Blockade as the world of paid work beckons however I return home feeling empowered and with a strong sense of mission that I am committed to working with others to help build a much larger movement of direct action targeting the Swan Island military base to help stop the Afghanistan War. I saw in the energy, solidarity and actions of those present at this protest the seeds of a much larger movement. I look forwarded to returning soon to Bridge St in Queenscliff to again “get in the way” of the war machine but I want to be linking arms with hundreds of people, holding that road for longer and packing out the local police stations and court houses with our acts of non-violent resistance.

by Davey

More arrests today at Swan Island protest

 

Early this morning two further activists were arrested and many others were dragged off the road as the Swan Island Peace Convergence continued into its third day.

Davey Hellier (38, Bushland Management worker from Belgrave) and Paul Ellis, (26, teacher from Warragul) elected to refuse bail and were later fined $400 each at Geelong Magistrate’s Court.

About 30 people attempted to block workers getting to work on the top secret Swan Island military base.  They sang  songs and read out the names of people who have died in the war in Afghanistan, both allied troops and Afghan people.   When cars approached the base seeking to enter they offered nonviolent resistance to being moved.

Yesterday four members of the group were arrested and faced the Geelong Magistrate’s Court.  They were found guilty of blocking a road and obstructing police, but given no penalty.

In giving the sentence the Magistrate stated that she took into account the early guilty plea and their impassioned statements against the war.  She said many people in society agreed with the defendant’s position on the war.

The Swan Island Peace Convergence will continue until Friday and plan to continue to blockade the base each day. More arrests are expected.

Photos of arrests and blockade available on request.

Photos also available at www.swanislandpeace.org

For further comment call Jessica Morrison on 0431 519 577 or Simon Moyle 0402 857 915

Photos from today