Posted by: Selma
I caught my neighbour, Lawrie, making a banner in his garden today. Dual slogans in a towering font :
STOP GLOBAL WARMING
TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ
He is preparing the banner as part of a protest he is joining at the upcoming APEC summit in Sydney on September 7 and 8. He and 200 of his like-minded, idealistic student mates will be wearing T-shirts they will have screen-printed themselves and carrying banners adorned with slogans that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1960s.
I like Lawrie.He is a cool guy. He reads Jack Kerouac and listens to Miles Davis. He is a 19 year old law student bursting with hope and optimism. He wants to work for Amnesty International when he finishes his degree. He rescues injured native wildlife and volunteers with the Sydney City Mission handing out blankets, tea and kind words to people living on the streets who have forgotten what kindness is. He is articulate, intelligent and funny. Yet I worry that his idealism will get him in trouble.
The NSW Police Force has been granted extraordinary powers during the APEC extravaganza. Restricted and declared areas will be created in Sydney where the general public and in particular, protestors, will not be allowed to go. A 5km fence almost 3 metres high will secure the restricted zone which will include the Sydney Opera House and the northern part of the CBD. For those who breach the restricted zone there will be a 6 month jail term. Police will have the power to stop and search anyone in and around these areas. Protestors caught carrying a prohibited item such as a banner pole can face up to 2 years in jail. Sounds a bit like I fought the law and the law won.
I’m not saying that an APEC summit is a bad thing. It is essential that the nations of the world support a multilateral trading system; that they tackle climate change and discuss regional economic cooperation. These issues are important. It is also important that the general public be kept safe on these occasions and measures be put in place to protect the world leaders who participate in these events. But it is just as important that young people like Lawrie have a vehicle for protest that does not end up being to their detriment.
Lawrie is right. It is distressing that troops who no longer need to be there are still in Iraq; it is upsetting that many governments, but particularly the Australian government, lack a meaningful political response to climate change. He should protest. He must. But I don’t want him to end up in jail for it because then he might lose his infectious desire to make the world a better place. And that would be tragic.