Friday, 28 August 2015

Border Force protest: Democracy prevails in Melbourne. [UPDATED]

Say what you will about our social media-obsessed culture: The ability to motivate and coordinate groups of people into action is unprecedented. Today saw a mass demonstration in front of Melbourne's iconic Flinders Street Station that was borne of a moronic press release from a shiny, newly branded and armed Apparatchik of Australia's reeling conservative government called Border Force. An activist and columnist for the Guardian named Van Badham that I follow on Twitter put out a call for a 'snap protest' to take place at the same time this assault on democracy was scheduled to commence patrolling Melbourne's CBD like a time-traveling Gestapo from 1930s Germany.

Throughout this afternoon embarrassed authority figureheads have been fleeing this press release like fleas from a drowning dog. So I joyously present it to you in all its Goebbels-like cold-bloodedness (highlights mine):
28-08-2015 - This weekend Australian Border Force (ABF) officers will for the first time join forces with a diverse team of transport and enforcement agencies to target crime in the Melbourne Central Business District (CBD) as part of Operation Fortitude.

Tonight and tomorrow evening (Friday 28 and Saturday 29 August 2015) Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, the Sheriff’s Office, Taxi Services Commission and the ABF will join Victoria Police as part of the inter-agency operation.

With a particular focus on people travelling to, from and around the CBD, the group of agencies will work together to support the best interests of Melbournians, targeting everything from anti-social behaviour to outstanding warrants.

ABF Regional Commander Victoria and Tasmania, Don Smith, is proud the ABF will be participating in the operation.

"While the ABF regularly conducts a range of compliance field-work, this is the first time we’ve been involved in an inter-agency operation of this nature and we’re very proud be able to support each of our organisations to achieve our common mission of promoting a secure and cohesive society here in Melbourne."

"ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with," Mr Smith said.

"You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it’s only a matter of time before you’re caught out."

The inter-agency outfit will continue to work together on an ongoing basis to target crime in and around the Melbourne CBD to make the city a safer place for everyone.

Media opportunity
Operation Fortitude will be launched by representatives from each participating agency at 2pm today (Friday 28 August 2015) on the steps of Flinders Street Railway Station.
Like a couple hundred other Melburnians, I was on the steps of Flinders Street Station a few minutes after 2:00 to protest this absurd attack on democratic Australian society given a US-military-style cartoon monicker like Operation Fortitude.

To steal from one of my tweets: 'Operation Ineptitude/Turpitude/Platitude/Servitude/Ingratitude ... anything but Fortitude.'

I've been a permanent visa holder in Australia since 2008 but am not in the habit of having my passport on my person. It wasn't my plight that motivated me to hop a train and join the protest, however. It was the image of my exotic-looking wife, an Australian resident almost all her life, being stopped on a sidewalk by some dim-witted bootlicker questioning her right to be in this country. According to bright bulb 'ABF Regional Commander Victoria and Tasmania Don Smith' this wasn't an impossible scenario -- the press release unequivocally stated 'ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with'. Imagining that scenario -- my Indo-Fijian-Australian wife, who's busted her ass to become a successful executive in the country her family relocated to when she was a child being grilled by some fuckwit who lives in his/her parents' basement in some far-off Melbourne suburb -- was what made being in front of Flinders Street Station at 2:00 mandatory.

Here's what it looked like:
Demonstrators massed in front of Flinders Street Station. For a spontaneous demonstration it was remarkably coordinated, with organisers wielding bullhorns and others holding anti-Border Force signs. Most people filed in and out of the station like typical urbanites, showing no interest in and/or concern about the demonstration, but I unsurprisingly heard a Metro PSO mutter 'disaffected uni students' in answer to a question about the demonstrators. PSOs are mall cops in more threatening garb, unrenowned for intellectual discourse. Or appreciating the underpinnings of a functional, fire-breathing democracy.

With a cue from one particularly fired up organiser the crowd was coaxed to begin occupying the busy intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets, the symbolic crossroads of Melbourne's CBD.

At this point there was absolutely no police involvement. Demonstrators literally walked out into auto and tram traffic and occupied the intersection. Trams were immediately halted but cars continued to snake through.

I'm a guy who's put several hundred thousand miles/kms on cars both here and in the States, so my natural inclination is to sympathise with drivers suddenly caught in a human blockade. At the same time, the only way to gain attention in the modern age is to inconvenience SOMEONE, and on this gloriously sunny Friday in Melbourne, it was those driving into the CBD via St Kilda Road and along Flinders Street.

The crowd was led through a variety of chants that included 'This not a police state ... No racism, no hate', 'Border force -- off our streets' and the more indelicate 'Fuck off -- Border force'.

The only person I witnessed attempting to disrupt the demonstration was the guy in the black and yellow sweatpants on the left of this photo. To my eyes he was a taxi driver, but that's only a guess. He was clearly trying to get demonstrators out of the intersection ... to no avail.

Nobody was moving for the guy but he kept trying. When he worked his way back towards the woman holding a microphone he actually attempted to push and/or grab her. Without missing a beat she squirmed from his grip and continued speaking. The dude was overmatched in every possible way.

I include this photo because it shows woman with the microphone standing proudly ... and Mr Sweatpants is nowhere to be found. A variety of speakers took turns at the mic. All spoke with more passion and moral clarity than the PM of this country, a tiny bully hooked on the juice of disgraced US neo-cons, clinging to the fear and loathing of all available 'others' for popular support. Of course I didn't agree with every utterance of fellow demonstrators but this wasn't a pep rally -- it was a battle cry. My fight isn't everyone's, and vice versa, but I was proud to be amidst people willing to stand and be counted.

The crowd definitely skewed young but was well-behaved and focused. I saw one nitwit wearing a balaclava like he was planning on shattering plate glass windows in broad daylight but he, like everyone else, did nothing to harm the cause. The Murdoch media depends on a handful of idiots to provide chum for their disruption-averse readership to feast upon and point fingers at before switching their plasma screens back over to the 'reality' of cooking and home renovation contests. Thankfully this day provided no such distractions.

You get so accustomed to people spewing anti-Muslim fear-mongering -- again, a lifeblood of Murdoch media -- that it's a genuine shock to see someone holding a sign defending Muslims' rights to call Australia home.

Swanston Street trams backed up at Flinders Street. For once a horse-drawn carriage was a more efficient, if outdated and cruel, mode of transportation.

At 2:40 pm, exactly a half-hour after inhabiting it, protesters began leaving the intersection. We moved en masse toward Flinders Street Station, where Border Force officers on hand to make a ceremonial procession were forced to leave with a police escort. As I rode a train back to Balaclava my Twitter feed was filled with backtracking by Abbott government spokespeople and the cancellation of the Border Force rollout in the Melbourne CBD.

By next week well-paid media spinners will no doubt provide an elixer for this catastrophic clusterfuck, and newly outfitted Border Force henchmen and women will be patrolling the streets of Melbourne like they were soldiers in the Korean DMZ.

But ... on this blissful Friday, people power prevailed.

And that, dear readers, is cause for celebration.

Lots of satisfying reading in the mainstream media this Saturday morning.

We Shut Them Up and a brilliant First Dog on the Moon cartoon from the Guardian.

A Case of Uniformed Insanity and Farce Leaves Tony Abbott Under Fire from the Age.

Greens, union demand answers over controversial cancelled Operation Fortitude on the ABC news website.

Border farce and hot air fills the leadership vacuum from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Even the ethical cesspool called the Herald Sun has a story halfway down its homepage titled 'Border farce: Backlash puts stop to visa crackdown'. I won't link to it, just like I won't walk into my kitchen and shove my head into the garbage can.

Also, I learned via late-night Twitter exchange with Van Badham that she's in New Zealand, meaning she was on the other side of the Tasman from Australia when she summoned people like me to descend on Flinders Street Station yesterday afternoon. She took zero credit for playing a role, but I disagreed.

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