Sunday, October 04, 2009

my husband the criminal hero

It's funny what can happen when you lose your voice. Body language and gestures, nodding, pointing, shaking and clapping take over. Whatever it takes to get the message across when words fail.

This is the situation we find ourselves in in Tasmania. Two and a half years ago Gunns dodged the usual process and forum for gaining approval of a major project in the state. Their proposed pulp mill (planned for the Tamar Valley) was looking shaky, with serious doubts emerging about the health and safety of surrounding communities should the mill be built. Gunns took the unprecedented step of withdrawing from the state's assessment process. Conveniently, within two days the government had introduced legislation paving the way for the mill to be approved with only the shallowest of assessments. In that moment, Tasmanians were muted. Despite protest after protest (and still more protests), multiple surveys indicating the majority of Tasmanians don't want this mill, and are appalled by the flawed process, voters blocks and repeated court action the government has supported the mill to the tune of several million of our dollars, granted the required approvals and bent over backwards to make it easy for Gunns to proceed. The people have been silenced. In effect we have lost our voice.

And when you lose your voice, you resort to whatever form of expression it takes to make yourself heard, perhaps even civil disobedience... or pots and pans.

It's funny really. Two years ago I would never have imagined myself participating in civil disobedience. Back then I thought it was daring delivering pamphlets for the Wilderness Society, or marching in a protest rally. The thought of disobeying the law and flirting with arrest did not even enter my mind. But after years of being muzzled, one does what one must.

Last year we undertook peaceful protest training and today was the day to put it into action. The state government staged a community forum as a modicum of listening. TAP into a better Tasmania planned to upstage the event with a noisy protest featuring: pots and pans. Enter Pulp the Mill. Our goal was to peacefully participate in an act of civil disobedience, with a number of members being arrested in order to draw attention to the need for an independent inquiry into the shambles that was the pulp mill assessment process.

About thirty of us arrived on site to the chorus of whistles, bells, pots, pans, drums, and horns.

It quickly became obvious that the police would not allow us to just swan up the driveway to the school entrance, so, after rather ironically gathering outside the local police station, we slipped around the back and came around the side of the building exactly where we wanted to be. The police, having to keep protesters on the footpath under control, were not prepared for this. At the same time, the crowd were instantaneously emboldened by our actions and started pouring down the driveway. Police were running everywhere to hold back the noisy, pressing crowd while we stood peacefully behind our banners and waited to be confronted.

Moments later a policeman came our way and asked us to leave the property.

I had previously decided I did not want to be arrested, and emboldened by adrenalin and exhilaration I almost threw caution to the wind. The voice of reason called me back and I slipped way quietly into the mob and watched from a distance. Frank and sixteen others declined to follow orders. They were also joined by four others who peacefully fell into line. After being advised they were trespassing and had only a short window of opportunity to leave, all 21 were arrested, though allowed to remain standing where they were. (While the police figured out what to do perhaps?)

Meanwhile the crowd went crazy, banging, whistling, cheering, waving support across the school yard as the police worked to contain us to the footpaths.

Eventually a paddy wagon came to start taking the peaceful protesters away. Suddenly the footpath crowd were in a frenzy, clapping, cheering, drumming, expressing their support in whatever way they could. The first wagon load were barely able to make it through the crowd for the twenty metre drive to the station, after which the police held off collecting the remainder until people had begun to leave.

Finally all the protesters were dispatched to the station for processing and charging. They went quietly and peacefully. (That's my Frank being searched before climbing into the van there)

Wow... what a day! I felt proud, scared, detached, exhilarated, confused all in one. I also felt incredibly sad. I'm not sad because Frank is in jail... he's home now, released within thirty minutes or so of being transported to the police station. I collected him from a park outside the bail exclusion zone (let's hope he doesn't get any quotes in Beaconsfield for a little while!) and we set off home.

No, I'm sad that it has come to this. That the people of Tasmania feel so disenfranchised. So silenced. So marginalised by their government that they feel compelled to resort to civil disobedience and arrest to make themselves heard. It shouldn't be this way. Government should be for the people, not for big business. People should be heard. Our views should be respected - we voted for them, damn it!

Maybe I'll get brave and stand firm until I'm arrested next time. I don't know. A criminal record is pretty serious business, even if it is only a minor charge. And you know I've always been a goody two shoes! If not, I'll be there, peacefully protesting until I'm asked to move on. Supporting to the degree I can.

Because we must stop this dirty, stinking, rotten pulp mill (to quote a favourite personality down here - Peter Cundall that is)

No Pulp Mill!
We can, we will, stop the mill!
And we might even find our voice while we're at it!

Before you drown in despair over this hideous state of affairs, have a giggle over this one. Probably meaningless if you aren't Tasmanian, but quite funny if you are!

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At 9:51 pm, October 05, 2009, Anonymous Wanasai Hunn said...

congratulations you and your husband are brave and principled people who have my respect and gratitude for standing up for this wonderful place we live

At 7:08 am, October 06, 2009, Anonymous karen weldrick said...

I am so proud of everyone who stepped outside their comfort zone at Beaconsfield on Sunday and offered themselves for arrest. Like you say ... ordinary people who would never normally consider breaking the law are being forced into this situation by a compliant and disrespectful government.

At 9:49 am, October 06, 2009, Blogger Robyn said...

Wow. I can't believe its taking such a long time to get the pulp mill issue resolved. While I don't know that I'd be so passionate about it myself, good for you guys for having the courage of your convictions and making a peaceful stand.

At 4:19 pm, October 07, 2009, Anonymous grant said...

Well, now I have even more reasons to say I'm proud to know Frank and Cecily (not their real names). Good on you. I agree Cecily that it is terribly sad that all of the 'normal' - socially-sanctioned platforms for dissent and dialogue have been exhausted and ignored. On you for acting peacefully and powerfully.

At 10:22 pm, October 09, 2009, Blogger Sandy's Notes said...

Yay Frank:-) Goody two shoes, ya me too. With your clean record though, they may need you somewhere else Cecily. Boy after all this time, you would think they'd start to listen.

At 6:53 pm, October 22, 2009, Blogger Mike S said...

Wow!! So nice to get back to reading & come here to see you guys still have your integrity intact. I agree, 'hero' is fitting. The hard part of tackling any corporation, even WITH gov't help, is realizing that the corporation isn't human, just a money making machine for the greedy in far too many cases. When those you elect are less than helpful it's even harder. Nothing worth having comes easily as a rule, just keep on fighting hoping that eventually they'll tire of paying bribes & lawyers.

Love the video. May adapt that to some ads the Tribe's thinking of running if we decide to enforce some of our laws that we've been letting slide.


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