Scott Parkin, a 35 year old resident of Houston, Texas, was arrested on Saturday, September 10th at a café in the inner-northern Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, as he was on his way to run a workshop at a local community centre on the successes of the US peace movement’s campaign against Halliburton, and primarily about their use of street theatre. Scott is a promoter of non-violent direct action (NVDA), a popular theory amongst a large amount of activists.
Scott was arrested, interrogated, detained without charge for 6 days and then deported under anti-terrorism legislation as a “threat to national security”, in a move that Liz Thompson of the National Anti-Deportation Alliance called “a major attack on dissent, free speech and the anti-war movement.”
Now, back at home in Houston, Scott is facing an AU$11,700 (NZ$12,775) bill from the Australian government – he is being asked to pay $124 per day of his detention, plus his flight and return flights and accommodation for his two police minders. All this just a couple of weeks before Scott’s visa was due to expire and he was to return to the USA of his own accord.
So why was he arrested? Bob Brown, a Federal Senator for the Australian Greens, has suggested that it came after a request from the US Government (Scott is extremely knowledgeable on Halliburton and it’s links to the US Federal Government, and has written a number of articles on this subject). This has been strongly denied by Australian Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock.
Another possibility was suggested by Melbourne daily newspaper The Age (“‘Spirited’ protest advice led to US activist’s deportation”, Sept 14th).
sources told The Age Mr Parkin’s visa was cancelled because of what he was teaching in his workshops, including techniques for preventing police from taking protesters away for arrest
So, what exactly was this workshop that The Age mentions? Well, I was there, so allow me to expand a little.
Prior to the 30A Convergence against the Forbes Global CEOs Conference in Sydney (a convergence which both myself and Scott, plus over 1000 others, attended), there was a conference called Subplot held at a community centre in Newtown, a suburb of Sydney. At this conference, workshops and discussions were held on a range of topics, from climate change to Indymedia, from a history of Forbes to anti-racism and beyond.
On Monday, we had practical training for the anti-Forbes protests, including legal and medical information, discussion on likely police tactics, and more. One workshop that was run by a couple of people (including Scott) and attended by about 20 people was a workshop on NVDA blockading tactics. We had a lot of fun, with a few “cops” pushing and pulling the rest of us “protesters” while we tried to remain together in a tight formation. At one point, a number of us noticed some people repeatedly walking back and forth past our workshop (which was held outside on a grassy patch). We discussed this, and then figured it did not matter as we were not doing anything illegal. I even found a way to put my former life as a high school rugby player to good use, offering suggestions of body positioning that would lessen the chance of police being able to move you, even if they had a size advantage. Late in the workshop, we had a discussion on the possibility of de-arresting people and a number of us, myself included, offered tips on how to do this if people desired to do so. At no point do I remember Scott making any comments on this topic whatsoever. I note with interest that I was not arrested, detained without charge, deported and left with a huge bill. I also note that none of the Australian citizens involved were arrested either.
So, what is one to make of this? Many Australian activists are claiming that this arrest was intended to intimidate them and scare them away from protesting. Tactics such as the ones promoted by Scott Parkin are proving to be effective throughout the USA, and, as they are legal, the authorities are having trouble in curbing this dissent. John Howard is soon to push through a number of pieces of contentious legislation, including voluntary student unionism and industrial relations reform. Additionally, there is the question of foreign policy and Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war. Is Howard’s government scared that the successful NVDA tactics used in the US peace movement could be exported to Australia? If so, and such an assumption is not a hard one to make, then Scott’s deportation begins to make sense indeed. If I was a young, inexperienced Australian activist watching this drama unfold, I would likely be seriously questioning what risks I would be willing to take. If, coupled with Scott’s deportation, I had also seen first-hand what happened on Tuesday night at the anti-Forbes counter protest (where mounted police were seen whipping protesters with horse whips while others charged protesters who had already retreated and another beat a protester 10-15 times in the head with a baton) I would find it easy to come to the conclusion that Australia is already well on the road to becoming a police state where all dissent is criminalised, but also the simultaneous conclusion that it was too dangerous to try to combat it.
So, I end this post with a note to any Australian activists reading this. Firstly, thanks for your hospitality and your inspiration while I was in Australia. Secondly, best of luck for the future, and no matter what, keep fighting for your beliefs. Without them, there is nothing.