Moral Melbourne: Occupy Melbourne Reflection
I wanted to wait until both the metaphorical and literal dust had settled from the Occupy Melbourne protests before bashing out this column. It can be difficult to consider all the implications of a protest while it's at its emotional peak. In New York, where the Occupy brand started, the protests pulse on as many people are getting arrested despite their peaceful stance. In our town, a few dozen Occupy Melbourne protesters are still lying under the stars in The Treasury Gardens weeks after eviction from City Square. The value:burden ratio of their continual occupation is now worth considering.
The common public response to the protest in Melbourne was to question what the whole point was. In broad terms, Occupy Melbourne is one of the many global echoes of the Occupy Wall Street saga. The original OWS protest was an uproar at major banks and corporations' ability to influence the democratic system. It's also a cry for governing powers to hold Wall Street responsible for the economic downturn that is ailing America, thus affecting the world.
For our city the occupation was a varied collection of philosophies coming together to express a common disdain for, to put it lightly, poor economic practices around the globe. This began with hundreds of people gathering at City Square on Swanston St and about a hundred of which pitched tents and tarps to sleep under. After almost a week of occupation, a massive team of police officers physically evicted the protesters. Oh hello, just in time to clean up the square for the Queen's visit the follow week. It was a confronting process to witness as people were dragged from their 'This Is A Peaceful Protest' signs and stuffed into cop cars for removal.
The flip side to the occupation of City Square was that the surrounding small business suffered as a result. Private restaurant and cafe owners copped less clientele, ironically, putting more financial pressure on them. I hate using the term 'tax payer' to evoke disdain, but 'tax payer' funded police resources were used. Police power was tied up for hours just to extract protestors who refused to leave when the official eviction was announced. Point being, there are practical repercussions to any protests. What has to be deemed in the minds of the participants is whether the long term benefit outweighs the short term disruption caused. Hard to say.
The Occupy Melbourne gathering got solid media attention, went rampant on social media platforms and brought about much discussion amongst people who were long oblivious to global phenomenon. It created a mindset of sensitivity towards capitalist corruption that provoked people to discuss their personal threshold of how much corporate greed they are willing to stand. All positive contributions to a global movement. Change has to start somewhere.
Yet as the momentum of the protest in Melbourne is now boarding on lethargic, how much more value can be added to movement is questionable.
It's in the hands of the protestors still raging on to determine the ethics of continuing a stance that uses other people's resources and public space. If the campaign is snowballing towards a revolution that will strengthen humanity in the future, then yay for sleeping in parks. If not, then maybe it's more responsible to march down other avenues. That's a dialogue I hope they're having.