Occupy Sydney Festival Of Dissent and SIX MONTH ANNIVERSARY

The festival of dissent will begin at 9:30am on Friday the 13th when we OCCUPY THE COURTS (The Downing Centre on Liverpool Street) to show solidarity for occupiers in court that day. Feel free to come in your best Friday 13th fancy dress. Many people are fighting camping charges on that day so tent monsters and sleeping bag dwellers are very welcome at the court solidarity action.

At 6pm, Occupy Friday will kick off with workshops including Yoga, Circus and (yet to be confirmed) the Anti-Coal Seam Gas struggle. If you would like to run a workshop, please either write it on the wall of this event or just spontaneously hold it on the night. Occupy Fridays also includes Alain’s Friday Night Sustainable Cinema, Tiny Tents Taskforce, placard & political art making and respectful, constructive political discourse! Please come armed with ideas, musical instruments, a plate of food and sleeping gear if you wish to sleep over!

On Saturday morning, a contingent of occupiers will be heading to Parramatta to support Occupy Parramatta, more info @ http://www.facebook.com/groups/OccupyParramatta/

At 1:30pm on Saturday, Occupy Sydney Free School kicks off. More information coming soon about the workshops being held. Free School will be followed by our SIX MONTH anniversary General Assembly.

After the General Assembly, The Festival of Dissent will culminate with more workshops, political discussions, a forum (twitter: #osforums) about Occupy Sydney in the future, music, dancing, art, and JUBILATION when at midnight, we reach six months, which is no mean feat given the various forces that have been against us over the past six months.

If you have ever been involved or wanted to be involved in Occupy Sydney, please come down to celebrate six months of Occupy Sydney and OCCUPY FOR A BETTER WORLD. If there are any workshops, skills or ideas that you would like to contribute or announce, please do so on this event page!

Occupy Sydney has already made history, now let’s make the future!

More info coming soon….

Event page here...Invite your friends!

What a Difference 90 Minutes Makes…

Vicki, one of our very dedicated Occupiers, was arrested when she turned up late to the copshop to report. She was treated in a deliberately dehumanising manner in order to punish her for something that she hasn’t been found guilty of yet. This is her account. Read more of Vicki’s blog posts at Peacock Dreams

So I am pretty sure we can all think of something we have been late for. That dinner, that party, that appointment that may have been totally forgotten due to lost diary / IPhone / insert own way of managing calendar here.

It however becomes a totally different situation when that 90 minutes costs you a night of your freedom and exposes you to a whole new level of degradation.

This post is long. Its just my personal account of my Friday night because I think its important for people to know how our police force, thos who many people choose to put blind faith in, act.

To explain the back story: I am currently subject to draconian bail conditions based on an Occupy Sydney action related to Greece. We protested, art was mistaken for something dangerous, NSW Police overreacted in glorious Technicolor. Part of said bail conditions are me reporting to the police twice a week.

On Friday, after spending pretty much the whole day between bed and sofa, with one outing to purchase a DVD to entertain my addled brain (True Blood is good for that) I was about to pass out for the 1000th time at 11pm when I suddenly had a realisation of ‘oh crap’. my reporting time ends at 10pm, I had missed it. After chucking on a pair of jeans, my glasses and literally speeding down King Street to Newtown police station I arrived around 11.30pm. Out of breath I tried my best to explain the situation of why I was late to a highly unsympathetic officer who I could pretty much tell didn’t care right from the get go. After 15 minutes or so of ominous waiting, I was placed under arrest for breaching my bail.

So at midnight I am taken downstairs into the docks, where processing begins. It’s clearly a slow night, as my only company is an older man who doesn’t seem to mind the fact he’s been arrested. he is being let out as I am being brought in and it becomes clear that maybe someone needed to bump up their arrest quota. so after an hour or so sitting on a freezing cold metal bench I am packed off to a holding cell for the night. Oh and the light doesn’t turn off. Joy. Did I mention I had been in bed sick all day? Just checking…..

So after about an hour of drifting in and out of consciousness I am awoken by the screams of someone being brought into the docks. I couldn’t see him at this stage but I could certainly hear him. His abuse of the arresting police was artistic but under my current conditions I wasn’t in a state to fully appreciate it and I spent the next half an hour hoping he shuts the hell up because buddy, some of us are trying to sleep here. This is where it starts to get interesting by the way, so thanks for staying with me so far.

Angry Drunk Guy (or ADG as I will refer to him from now on) is now brought back to the holding cell next to mine. Yup. he’s hammered, screaming at the tops of his lungs, kicking the door, the walls, the cops are screaming, and something inside me snaps. Its now that I turn into a total girl and start crying. Yes I know, not particularly hardcore but by now (guessing 2am) I was exhausted, sick, tired etc. the crying gives way to mild hyperventilation which after about five minutes turns into full blown panic attack. I have luckily avoided these since I was a kid but right now, it’s all coming back to me at alarming speed. everything goes white, and I have to sit on the floor with my head between my knees to even attempt to breath.

Its worth noting that this feels like it goes on for about 14 days. At one stage I hear pone of the cops telling ADG to please be quiet because its upsetting the girl in the next cell. thanks for the concern boys but maybe checking on me could have been an option here. Now correct me if I am wrong but I am pretty sure that the cells have cameras in them. I have to ask why they allowed me to continue like this unchecked for at least 10 minutes. But this is just the first utter fuck up by the NSW Police that I will be talking about. Brace yourself, it gets worse.

So just as I manage to get myself breathing, and try to go back to sleep (AGD has passed out by this point thankfully) Newtown’s finest decide that now is the time to move me to Surry Hills. so half asleep and pretty wiped out I am taken back into the fluorescent box of the dock to wait for transport. Its freezing so I ask for a blanket to be told no because I am going in five minutes., Forty minutes later I am taken to a van and driven to Surry Hills. Its around 4am.

Arriving to Surry Hills I am taken inside to be processed where I encounter the hero of this story. The one cop who is actually pleasant and sympathetic. Upon being asked what I did to get arrested, I tell him I reported an hour and half late. He replies with a ‘you’re joking’ so heavily tainted with annoyance that I am quick to understand that finally, someone with some humanity. He proceeds to get me into my cell as quickly as possible so I can get some sleep (its 4.30am by now approx) he also tells me that I could have been asked to produce a medical certificate rather than being arrested. Apparently its discretion of the officer. Interesting.

Finally, I think, I manage to pass out in a freezing cold, over air-conditioned, noisy box hiding under a pile of utterly rubbish ‘blankets’ which are covered in holes, using my jumper as a pillow.

I am rudely awoken after probably an hour by fluorescent lights going on (what is it with cops and their obsession with flouro? Did they not get the memo about mood lighting!?) and I again silently thank the cop from the night before for grabbing me a shit load of fruit (as a vegan I am unable to eat anything I am offered in the way of ‘food’ and I use inverted commas seriously. I am pretty sure that dogs would turn their noses up at this crap let alone those of us who choose an ethical diet which harms no living being. The wait begins for my legal aid call to discuss my bail hearing later this morning. I think its about 7am by this point.

Now male readers apologies for the next bit, because a) you won’t be able to identity with the truest nature of the wrongness and b) its eugh. To make matters worse it’s that special time of the month where as well as wanting to kill people you require certain items to enable yourself to be comfortable. I had made sure that I was able to bring a box of tampons from my stuff (they kept my bag at Newtown) but now this morning, the charming (female I may add) officer tells me they are unable to open property. Now this causes a problem. The items they are able to give me are no use for varying reasons too personal to go into here which basically leaves me utterly fucked. I am told by the female officer they aren’t a hotel (really? there was me thinking I had checked into the Hilton in my sleep, I HATE it when I do that) I am told that I can’t have a shower because as a male prison they don’t have the facility for women (here’s a suggestion for that one: don’t hold women there. problem solved, next) so it’s safe to say that by the time I am called to speak to Legal Aid I am feeling decidedly subpar.

Legal Aid and actually appearing via videolink to Parramatta bail court takes all of an hour from start to finish, and is probably the bit of the day I feel normal the most as I am out of solitary confinement and able to walk about a bit. Speaking to the other 7 people (all male) who are up for bail breaches I am heartbroken to hear the story of the guy in after me. His failing? calling his son to wish him happy birthday. Ladies and gentlemen, our police force. clap clap etc.

I am refused a phone call. I overhear two officers talking about how the Australian prison system would be better if, and I quote. ‘they didn’t have to adhere to the UN and shit’. I am again put back in my box and held for a further four hours or so (after my bail has been continued, no changes, this took the magistrate all of 45 seconds to approve FYI)

at around 1pm I am roused (having passed out finally for an hour or so) and let go. papers are signed, personal property is returned and with one last dig about me not being late again I all out. I nearly cry again when I see the four people waiting outside for me, Occupy Sydney does arrest solidarity so well we should bottle it and seel it to other Occupy sites. I can’t begin to express how amazing it is to come out after 14 hours or whatever and see friendly faces, read your twitter and FB feed and just read pure love from those who have been there themselves, those who understand, those who also see the system for what it is: a time wasting, bullying, prisoner grooming hamster wheel which once you fall into won’t let you out without a damn hard fight.

So, next time you are running late for something and it feels like the end of the world, ask yourself what will the consequence be? the cold shoulder from a loved one, the anger of a friend, or the wrath of a police officer which through their poor judgment ends up robbing you of your liberty for just over half a day. Ask yourself why we give these people this kind of power over anyone, what happened to innocent until proven guilty? Because right now Australia , we live in what’s fast becoming a police state. And this my friends is why we #occupy.

Occupy Sydney acts to throw Serco Overboard

Smashing up people’s lives: your tax dollars at work.

 Serco is famously known (to those who have heard of it) as “the biggest company you’ve never heard of” best described as a company that provides a collection of services, Serco holds the contracts for most of the traffic light systems in England, all the traffic light systems in Ireland, as well as holding a lot of government contracts for technical & IT support in Australia. As well as these services, Serco provides far more sinister services.  Serco runs Australia’s immigration detention centres at a profit. Human rights of refugees are abused while Australian taxpayers foot a one billion dollar bill.  By passing the buck onto Serco’s “care and protection” of asylum seekers, the Australian government is able to essentially turn a blind eye to practices that are designed  to trigger mental health issues in people who are already survivors of torture and trauma and leave it up to inadequate internal disciplinary action, unless of course the media applies intense pressure to the government.

Media pressure has been applied in the case of hunger strikes (Serco did not hold the contracts at that time, another for-profit company did), and the suicides of certain asylum seekers, the latest victim being an Iranian refugee just a few weeks ago.  He was fleeing from persecution in Iran, the same persecution that had killed his brother in Iran. He got to Australia only to find that any hope of freedom from persecution was dashed. Persecution of refugees is rife in Australia. He died of despair. It’s appalling that people are denied asylum when the very places they seek asylum in often had a part in destabilising their home countries (e.g. America, Britain, Australia)

Of course, the media often sides with the government and does Serco’s bidding, Demonising “boat people”. The Murdoch press loves to editorialise about asylum seekers, labeling them as heartless, irresponsible people who actually have an alternative to getting on a leaky boat to Australia with their children in a last bid for survival, and a burden on the taxpayer. The problem with media coverage like this is that it draws attention away from the realities. Realities like the fact that the humanitarian stream is the smallest immigration stream among any of the department of immigration’s streams, the highest being the skilled migrant stream. Another reality that the sensationalisers of refugee issues don’t want you to know is that the largest proportion of visa overstayers hail from Great Britain. The other fact that they don’t want you to think about is that all but two percent of us are boat people. All of us but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders came from overseas, the government-corporation partnership depends on people falling for their divide and conquer tactics.

Can you see why Serco would want you to hate refugees when they’re making one billion dollars a year from locking up refugees? So make sure you do your own research, these people’s quality of life depend on public awareness and the public’s willingness to act out against policies that harm fellow 99%ers.

Serco is also reaping the benefits of what I like to call the prison cell-off. Serco is gaining contracts for prisons built and previously run by state governments. Serco did not have to foot the bill to build these prisons, taxpayers did, but Serco gets to ride on the taxpayer gravy train by running them. Internationally, the rate of convictions and recidivism tends to go up when prisons are run privately for profit. Really, it’s a no-brainer. If a company is profiting from locking up prisoners it will lobby the government and attempt to sway public discourse to wards passing more punitive criminal laws. Internally, it’s likely to make only tokenistic attempts to rehabilitate inmates, because re-offending leads to profit. The criminal (in)justice system then becomes a trade in human lives. Prisoners and asylum seekers stop becoming inmates and start becoming assets; commodities. In England, Serco famously won a contract with the government on the proviso that it would build extra beds into the facility. What the government didn’t think of when it was running the prison was just to put beds in the existing toilets rather than spending on building. That’s what Serco did to maximize profits.

 Despite the fact that Serco has a history of violating the UN Convention on the Rights Of the Child*, Serco has scored a contract for WA’s new juvenile detention facility. This is in the wake of a damning ruling by the High Court in England after the death of 14 year old Adam Rickwood who hung himself while on remand at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, where it was found that he had fallen victim to a system failure and an “unlawful regime”.  An inquest found that he was not the only young person suffering, and it’s important to note that he was being held on remand, so his case hadn’t yet gone to trial. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? The judicial enquiry found that young people had been restrained by employees yanking back the child’s thumb, or a blow to the child’s nose or ribs, which at the time amounted to unlawful restraint. Mr Justice Foskett, The judge who presided over the case, said:

 “The children and young persons sent to [secure training centres] were sent there because they had acted unlawfully and to learn to obey the law, yet many of them were subject to unlawful actions during their detention. I need, I think, say no more.”

 Now Serco is set to take over the operation of Sydney Ferries from the NSW Government. The Manly Jetcat service was taken over by a private company several years ago (now known as the Manly Fast Ferry) fares went through the roof with no actual benefit to the consumer to justify these price hikes. Given Serco’s track record, I daresay we’ll be seeing more of those fatal ferry accidents, lower quality service and higher costs for commuters, even though taxpayer money was used to build Sydney ferries.

Serco in a nutshell: you can usually get away with ORGANISED CRIME as long as it’s a private-sector public-sector partnership.

Photo: Liam Kesteven

On the 9th of March 2012 for International Stop Serco day, Occupy Sydney participants took part in protests outside Villawood Detention Centre, Chris Bowen’s (Federal Minister for locking up refugees) office, and Occupy Sydney staged an action against the Sydney Ferries takeover (video below) an autonomous occupy group also occupied a Sydney Ferry, dropping banners saying “Smash Serco Scum”, “Throw Serco Overboard” and “Fire Serco”. Actions were also held in Western Australia and the UK, among other places.

In my opinion, companies like Serco and the governments who hand Serco contracts willy-nilly are the real terrorists!

One can’t help but wonder if there is some grand plan to mismanage Sydney ferries so much that they become leaky boats, send them over to Indonesia with people smugglers to pick up some of those much maligned boat people to drop straight to detention centres so that Serco can make a killing. Did I mention that NSW Police will be patrolling ferries as the new revenue protection thugs? Maybe they can pick up a few custodial inmates for Serco along the way….

*In terms of detention of juvenile offenders, the UNCROC states that they must be treated with leniency, rehabilitation must be the main focus and imprisonment must only be used as a last resort.

@antloewenstein’s blog is an excellent source of information regarding Serco

Guantanamo style media censorship in Australian immigration detention centres: Sydney Morning Herald

Photos of Occupy Sydney ferry action: Liam Kesteven

Photos of Occupy Sydney ferry action: Yarek Gasiorek

Sydney Action against Serco: Article by unknown.

Leaked Serco Manual Details How to “strike” Asylum Seekers: SMH