A substantial protest against George Bush

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7000-10,000 march in Sydney against George Bush

With no damage to the flowerpots

Bob Gould

I write this tired and stiff, sitting behind the counter in my shop late at night and I have to get up at 5am to get the bus to Canberra for another demonstration against Bush, so I’ll try to be brief.

This demonstration against Bush was the first serious test of the impact of the split in the Sydney antiwar movement imposed by the conservative forces a few months ago. The protest was organised by the Stop the War Coalition, which consists mainly of a number of socialist groups, a number of local antiwar committees, several Labor Party branches and some Green and more leftist peace organisations.

The demonstration was more or less boycotted by the leaders of the official left, although the breakaway Peace and Justice Coalition and the more conservative groups grudgingly gave it some publicity in the last couple of days.

The leaders of the more conservative organisations were notable by their absence, although a few grim-faced individuals from that camp were present to have a look.

The pre-publicity for the demonstration was very effective. The city and suburbs were plastered with posters and the mass media gave forewarning of the demonstration in the Sun Herald last Sunday and there was an article today in the Murdoch paper, The Australian, which despite its obvious red-baiting intent turned out to be good publicity and gave the time and place of the demonstrations in each city.

In addition to this, an anonymous donor paid the $3000 cost of a good-sized ad in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday. The net effect of all this was to make a fair number of the potential demonstrators aware of the event.

The coppers were reasonably co-operative. There was a last-minute hitch when the Sydney City Council initially refused use of the Town Hall steps and Town Hall Square, arguing that unless $14,000 was paid to move some flowerpots to a safer spot the demonstration couldn’t proceed. The coalition faced down the council and conducted political agitation over 24 hours for the right to demonstrate, and the council backed off, finally giving written permission. In the event, nothing cruel or indecent happened to even one flowerpot at the demonstration.

The two most popular speakers of the 12 or so, were Greens Senator Bob Brown and the courageous, independent-minded Tasmanian Labor MP Harry Quick, who has just won his battle for re-endorsement by the Labor Party in the next elections. They both got thunderous ovations, as did Father Brian Gore, the Columban missionary priest.

Both Brown and Father Gore, as well as attacking the US occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration and US imperialism, also sharply criticised the Chinese Stalinist premier, who also has just arrived in Australia, for the Chinese bureaucracy’s treatment of the Falungong religious sect, its crushing of real trade unionism and its great-power Han chauvinism in Tibet and Sinkiang. This also got considerable applause, although the overwhelming thrust of the protest was against US and Australian imperialism in Iraq.

Another popular cause was the struggle of the Palestinian people, and all speakers who referred to the Palestinian struggle got considerable applause.

The ethnic mix of the protest was pretty healthy. There were quite a few Islamic people, including, for obvious reasons, the Syrian Society. There were a number of Greens banners and all the socialist groups, which had put a lot of effort into building the demonstration, were well represented.

The age composition was also pretty healthy. Quite a few high-school and university students, a large number of city workers in suits, and quite a few battle-scarred veterans such as myself going back to the Vietnam period. I ran into quite a few people I hadn’t seen for years.

The only conspicuously absent group was the forces linked with the various bureaucracies, which suggests the event would have been even larger if the split had been avoided. The thinking individuals within the bureaucracies that split away seemed very troubled by the size and vigour of the protest.

I spent a bit of time earbashing some of them about the mistake they had made in splitting and suggesting that they quietly find ways to go back to building a united coalition, and some of them didn’t seem entirely unreceptive to that idea, even as delivered in one of Bob Gould’s well-known ear-bashings.

In Sydney this is the last week before the start of daylight saving and the media is dominated by the Rugby World Cup, which is having an adverse effect on retailing in my kind of business because everyone is glued to the television, so it’s quite an achievement getting a substantial demonstration running against the World Cup on television. There was a bit of light rain a couple of times, but none of the protesters seemed to care. A very popular chant, with powerful overtones of the 1966 LBJ visit was: “Hey, hey, George Bush, how many kids have you killed today?”

Hall Greenland, another old hand, commented to me as we marched along in the dusk that the demonstration had the combative and militant spirit of the earlier Vietnam demonstrations, when we had to fight for the right to use the streets, before the Vietnam antiwar movement had become popular. Betwween 7000 and 10,000 is, of course, not the enormous numbers we got in February, but it’s a respectable start towards rebuilding the antiwar movement in the face of the ostensible military victory of the imperialist war machine, and in the face of an unnecessary split in the Sydney antiwar movement.

All the people who participated, swimming against the stream, in building this demonstration were pretty excited by the result. Only a fool would expect the differences between us to disappear, but common struggle for an agreed objective with good results is effective way to build up an antiwar movement with practical unity despite differences. It’s 11.40pm. I’m closing the shop and going to bed. I’ll provide a report tomorrow on the Canberra demonstration.

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