Sunday, November 19, 2006

Melbourne's oedipal revolt

Freedom of speech and assembly are vital in a democracy and must be guaranteed even if they involve some irrationality and infringement of rights of non-participating citizens. But the scenes in Melbourne yesterday, engineered by a tiny group of militant thugs, in assaulting police and journalists and in destroying property, create the basis for non-reflective, repressive policies that threaten these basic rights of dissent. Thuggish actions are intrinsically unethical.

Those who carried out these attacks may be from dysfunctional families and revolting against mum or dad – there is no coherent message in their claims and, in the main, they just seem to want to let off steam. They are apparently 'rehearsing for a revolution' against capitalism’s tyrannies by voicing oedipal concerns – ‘mommy I won’t eat my broccoli’. In practical terms they comprise a disparate group of greens and the socialist left.

The protests were irrationally directed against the globalization summit. But greater international economic integration via globalization is the best chance the world has for prosperity and peace. Developing countries need developed country know-how and capital. Developed countries need the cheap labour and enormous markets offered by newly-emerging economies. The rapid economic development of the Asian region is proof of that and the best way of addressing Africa’s serious economic difficulties is by reducing trade barriers that restrict export of the agricultural products African countries produce. Even issues of climate change will mainly harm poor countries and can in part be addressed by negotiation with developed countries – these were precisely the concerns being discussed at yesterday’s G20 meet.

Furthermore, we are less likely to have global wars if most countries are prosperous – the problems that confront the world’s civilized nations from Islam stem basically from the fact that Islamic countries contain millions of miserable, resentful losers.

The morons at yesterday’s demonstration (look here to see if the term ‘moron’ is appropriate) are hardly likely to appreciate such arguments. As much as anything their unfocused efforts seemed to be mainly a Saturday afternoon’s bout of shouting and cop-bashing. Only 7 thugs were arrested yesterday – ‘for biting police’ amoong other things. Arresting them probably won’t change much – indeed these riffraff treat an arrest as a badge of honour. But those who assault anyone should be charged with assault and those who damage property should be provided with a comprehensive bill. The police in fact turned a blind eye to much of their violence (here, here) though, tonight on the TV news, it seems they are finally going after the worst of these thugs.

The protest flopped almost totally today. Even Labor Premier Steve Bracks came out and called them cowards. Their only minor victory was that The Age, as usual, gave these creeps front page coverage two days in a row.


Anonymous said...

One possible solution to this problem that happens every time is that the organizers of each march must post a bond that will be defaulted if there is sufficient violence. This will give greater incentives for organizers to police who they permit to march with them.

As this happens repeatedly at these events, even if the mass of the march is non-violent, the organizers are in part responsible for the violence and costs imposed on others by these groups. A bond system (which is used in other industries where there are externalities or other property rights problems) would deal with this.

Your post is also consistent with my perception (though would like to see statistics of this) is that crimes committed at demonstrations are not sufficiently policed. At sporting events, much milder forms of violence are dealt with, with the result that tens of thousands of people meet regularly at many sporting events (not all it should be noted) without riots.

Why should violence at demonstrations be treated any differently?

rabee said...

Thanks for the links and the pictures Harry.

Yobbo "was arrested for standing around on a street corner and convicted and $405." Impressive.

N. Pepperell said...

Speaking more as a matter of general principle, than as a comment on this specific incident - I'm not convinced that "the organizers are in part responsible" for violence that happens at an event if, as in your example, the event unfolds generally in a nonviolent manner. If the organisers have organised for or incited violence in some specific way, this becomes a different matter. Without this explicit connection, however, I'm not clear how an organiser would have the ability to police the behaviour of others who also have their own independent rights to assemble and protest...

I'm also not sure sporting events are the correct analogy, as the significance of the right being exercised - to assemble, to engage in political speech, etc. - is more important, as a civic matter, than the ability to attend an event at an entertainment venue. This doesn't mean that violence at protests shouldn't be policed - just that your analogy suggests something more expansive than this: I might be happy to eject someone from a sportsground for behaviour that might be perfectly appropriate to that same person's right to assemble and exercise political speech in a public space...

Anonymous said...

Hi N. Pepperell.
I appreciated your comments, and would like to comment further, drawing on new information today.

If an event does unfold generally in a nonviolent manner - then any event can have bad luck with gatecrashers of a sort. However, my perception is a certain set of events are now regularly crashed by violent protesters. While the police can be the sole institution to attempt to prevent this, it is worth inquiring if organizers of these events if they do not approve of the violence can take steps to stop this. My recollection of the discussion in the Age was that these protestors were not separate in the sense they moved back and forth between the main protest and their own actions. It is hard to believe that at least some groups in a relatively small protest were not aware of this. I agree that it is not straightforward for organizers to deal with this except by more explicitly structuring the protests and cooperating more actively with the police to quickly deal with the problem as it arises. Will discuss this in more detail below.

While I agree there are important differences in principle to sporting events, I would like to highlight a few points. First, in the policing, my experience at AFL events is that the police adopt a zero tolerance approach of much milder behavior than the violent protesters. People have been ejected for fighting, throwing things. I presume if they were caught damaging the sportsground they would also be ejected. I don't see why this specific behavior should be tolerated in a demonstration. The police commissioner, speaking on 774 this morning said that it was not possible to conduct arrests at these events (unlike as it seems to be the case at the AFL). She knows much more about policing than I ever will but it would be interesting to hear if there are other views or if additional resources would be required.

Second, there is an interesting parallel between the violent protestors and soccer hooligans. It would be interesting to know how the soccer hooligan problem is dealt with. It is presumably easier to exclude a hooligan from a soccer ground than a hooligan from a march. If legal, exclusion from marches would require greater cooperation from organizers to identify and exclude political hooligans.

If organizers are unwilling to do so, a bond system such as suggested in the earlier post might provide an incentive to do so. If the resources required to enforce the law are too great, a lesser cost way would shift some of the costs onto march organizers. If March organizers can organize observers of police activities (as was reported in the Age) it is not beyond their ability to monitor participation by known hooligans.

SJ said...

What a load of crap, Harry.

One person arrested. That's "Melbourne's Oedipal Revolt"?

Next you can regale us with tales of the moles building mountains in your front yard.

Tanya said...

Good post, Harry: I wish Australia’s ‘social progressives’ would give up on the knee-jerk silliness of their anti-globalization stance.

The bond-posting idea discussed here is an interesting one. I do think it is important to not presume coordination between the multiple groups participating in protests such as this. Protests often have one or a small number of major organizers - typically mainstream-type groups - and these are the groups that are in contact with authorities over permits, etc. But they are 'spontaneously' joined by other - usually more radical - groups at the protest. The major organizers have no effective say over the behaviour of extreme groups. They are often as intimidated by these groups and - though many won't admit to it - welcome active policing.

For example: In the nineties, I was involved in organizing a number of large anti-woodchipping rallies. These were very large rallies but also organized with tightly-issue-focused and thoroughly peaceful intentions. We were the major organizing group but constantly had to watch for encroachment from extremely radical groups who's main intent was to use any means possible to "bring on the revolution." Our group had to hide and constantly the location of our organizing meetings so they wouldn't be hijacked by these lunatics but, of course, we couldn't hide the announcements of the time and location of the actual rallies. Dealing with wackos like these was a major component of our campaign – rampant woodchippers on one-side, crazy ‘revolutionaries’ on the other.

Bond-posting requirements would not work. However, more active policing on the violet minorities would be a very good idea. As for the majority of protesters, a little more education on the benefits of globalization would be helpful.

Tanya said...

Oops .. that should be violent and not violet minorites. :o)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tanya,

I was very interested to read your comments about being involved in organizing a rally and dealing with violent revolutionaries. It would be interesting to hear what you think has changed such that the level of violence has increased (if it has - which is my perception). Maybe later organizers are less careful than your group might have been - either actively or tacitly by turning the other way as violent actions were being prepared.

Your discussion of deterring the revolutionaries went further than I thought might have occurred. Radicals (in all sides of politics) can often be heavily involved in organizing because they are highly committed. On Saturday's march I was thinking of more tacit cooperation with the violent revolutionaries by at least some organizing groups rather than active cooperation.

The question remains though. Is the best response

1. Zero tolerance type policing at rallies? This presumably would require much larger levels of police which is costly and may have coordination problems (going on the comments of the Police Commissioner)

2. Greater ostracising by organizers of violent revolutionary groups and more active cooperation with the police.

If violent revolutionaries are more of a problem now either because of a change in the level of tacit cooperation by march organizers or the tactics of the violent revolutionary groups, then organizers do have to take more of a role then they previously had to (and might feel comfortable) in carrying out a lower cost way of preserving nonviolent political activity. The bond proposal is aimed to encourage taking such a role by shifting some of the work to organizers - my preference (though if those more experienced and knowledgeable can say it is not practical then another method is required) is for zero tolerance of violence at demonstrations.

Anonymous said...

P.S. (sentence continued) in combination with more active measures by organizers either voluntarily or with encouragement with a bond system - that could maybe be implemented through the existing permit system.

hc said...

SJ, There were 7 arrested and more arrests to follow.

As usual you didn't read the post - a major point was that it was a small minority of a small protest group that caused problems.

N. Pepperell said...

Anon - A zero tolerance policy toward illegal behaviour can be exercised in different ways - and probably, at base, comes down to practical policing strategy: what the police believe, in context, will best enable them to control the situation. In context, the police may well feel that it would lead to more violence to intervene aggressively at the time - such a judgment doesn't prevent criminal charges from being made after the fact, if appropriate.

Systematic involvement of protests organisers in violent acts can, it seems to me, be dealt with under existing legal frameworks - I'm not sure a bond measure would do anything other than disproportionately target more responsible participants... (And there are other issues, in terms of imposing monetary barriers to political assembly and speech... And even the potential to provide incentives for violence by those who might have something against the groups who have posted bonds...)

Spontaneous support provided by a crowd is more complex - but, if we're talking about something that actually is spontaneous, rather than pre-planned, I'm still not completely sure what an organiser could do about the situation (unless, of course, they're standing on the street egging people on...). I'd still tend to fall back on existing laws: are specific members of a crowd behaving violently, etc. It then becomes essentially a practical policing question again...

Tanya said...


I agree that some of the anti-globalization protestors are more violent than some other protesters. Ironically, the violent anti-globalizationists are very well connected globally and have learnt tactics from ‘successful’ protests such as those in Seattle.

I also agree that extremists often do well simply because they are organized but I think you’ll find that much of the serious work of arranging a successful (ie. large) rally is coordinated and conducted by more mainstream groups – this is in large part because radicals are fundamentally incapable at building the types of coalitions needed for large-scale activities. Extremist groups can only work when they are small – they are too full of contentious nut-jobs to get it together to work effectively with others. That’s why it is better for police or others to think of them as small guerilla groups that are loosely connected to groups that are often a long way away geographically rather than to generalize them and their activities to large-scale protests such as Saturday’s.

That said, mainstream rally organizers (not that most mainstreamers like to think of themselves as mainstream, but that’s what they are in the scheme of things) do demonstrate a range of problems with dealing with extremist groups.

Firstly, they’re keen to maximize rally participants as they think it gives more weight to their demands and thus they are loathe to knock anyone back.

Secondly, most organizers are thorough inclusionists by nature – they want to see the best in everyone (accept those that they are protesting against) and are congenitally incapable of saying no … and besides, what’s the point of kicking up a fuss as extremists will go and highjack anything. (See Harry’s comments on the backgrounds / motivations of these folk: from long experience, I know that he is completely correct.)

And, thirdly, most organizers are new kids on the block – they think they are big time but they are just the latest round of deeply-committeds – and thus they just don’t have the savviness to recognize the problems associated with radical groups and nor the skills to develop appropriate strategies to deal with them …. including making anonymous calls to the cops to advise them of what the radicals might be up to.

Seasoned organizers, however, know that they need the support of the middle class and the middle class (including those with concerns about what they think are the negative impacts of globalization) don’t like violence so they might do what they can (usually in a covert way) to discourage extremist groups. But, because they act covertly, you are unlikely to see what it is that they have done. And, because of the nature of social organizing, ACTIVE seasoned organizers are few and far between.

Bonds are an interesting idea but because of the sorts of issues mentioned here there is no way that they can work. The police should police. Sensible organizers should assist where they can but it is neither ideal or realistic to expect that they will do so. Instead, I think it is very important that the Commissioner takes a good look at what it is that happened on Saturday and consider whether police procedures where followed correctly and if so, whether they should be revised to ensure that crossing of the first lot of barriers should have been accepted and whether it is acceptable to have police left on their own.

Other than that, I agree with all of N. Pepperell’s concerns and suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Hi N. Pepperell, Tanya,

Thank you for your comments - both of which were most interesting - I appreciate the concerns though am still perhaps a bit less inclined to rule something out - ultimately it depends on costs and benefits - at this point would need more information than I have and appreciate that others have more information and it will be up to them. If the costs of protests became considerably larger then perhaps it is an idea worth returning to. Tanya's discussion, in particular, has highlighted important practical problems with such a scheme.


SJ said...

Harry Says: "SJ, There were 7 arrested"

Yeah, I should've said one person charged.

Harry Says: "As usual you didn't read the post..."

Huh? My first ever comment here, and it's "as usual"? Don't be a jerk, Harry.

jack said...

Tanya. Are you Tanya Costello (nee Coleman)? I know your father. He's another libertarian.

Tanya said...

No, Jack. And, I'm more the somewhat classical liberal type of the Chipp variety.

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