I’ve been in Australia now for a little bit over a month touring with my film END:CIV, and my brain is full. I’ve learned so much in my short amount of time here, that it goes to show how lived experience can pack in more education than books ever will.
On my second week here, I took part in the 40th celebration of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The short story is that four aboriginal activists set up an beach umbrella in front of the parliament building, to protest the government’s refusal to acknowledge aboriginal sovereignty. Forty years later, and the embassy (which is now a small structure) and the sacred fire are still there. The anniversary celebration was timed to coincide with “Australia Day” or more appropriately “Invasion Day” or the day Captain Cook arrived in the land down under and unleashed the 200 year plus wave of violence against aboriginal people and the natural environment here. You see, the British didn’t consider the aborigines to be people, they considered them part of the fauna and declared Australia “Terra Nullius” or empty land. You can watch an interview I did with aboriginal activist Robbie Thorpe speaking about the embassy here.
According to some scientists, aboriginal people have been inhabiting the Australian continent for 40,000 years, although new evidence suggests that they may have been here for over 120,000 years. Regardless, aboriginal land management practices were sustainable, but with the arrival of civilization, deforestation, game farming, agriculture, cities and mining have destroyed many ecosystems. Extractive industries are the darlings of the Australian government, or more accurately, they run Australia, so unless a serious culture of resistance is organized here, these mechanisms will continue to gobble up the continent’s natural “resources.”
END:CIV has been extremely well received here. At the screening in Adelaide, long time anti-mining activist, Uncle Kevin Buzzacutt said the film had fired him up and gave him more energy to continue fighting. Uncle Kevin belongs to the Arabunna Nation and has been working to shut down the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, which extracts copper and uranium. Even though the mine is not in Arabunna territory, BHP Billiton, the owner of the operation, extracts over 35 million litres of water a day from Uncle Kevin’s people’s land.
Yep, the Olympic dam mine is in the desert, and I went to visit the area to shoot video for the next dispatch of “Stop the Flows.” Uncle Kevin’s nephew, Peter Watts was kind enough to guide us through the outback and show us the water sources that are being depleted. The Australian bush is gorgeous. Even at 44 degree temperatures (around 112 Fahrenheit) plants and animals abound in this arid landscape. I saw kangaroos, emus, dingos, crows, lizards and magpies. Peter also treated us to several types of “bush tucker” (food) that grows wild in South Australia. As you can imagine water is in short supply, and the desert can’t sustain both a mine and it’s local inhabitants. In other words the mine has to go.
The mine itself is massive. The first two nights we camped in its vicinity, and the glow from it’s floodlights lit up the sky all night long. We bought tickets to the tour of the mine and were told that video and photos were prohibited. But we were able to record the entire spectacle using a hidden mobile phone video camera. As expected, the tour guide told us of BHP’s commitment to the environment and to safety, but when asked if he knew that uranium from their mine was used to fuel the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, he claimed ignorance. The fact is that it’s true. It was also revealed that BHP pays nothing for the water it uses to operate the mine. To make matters worst, the Australian government recently approved the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine and if not stopped it will become the largest open pit mine in the world. Expect a full video report in the next few weeks. I’m still raising funds to help pay for this report, so if you have a few bucks to spare, click here.
While I’ve been traveling, emails have been piling up in my inbox asking me about the ant-black bloc column by Chris Hedges entitled: “The Cancer of Occupy.” People want to know what I think since I’ve been staunch supporter of the tactic, but also because Derrick Jensen is quoted in the article. I will not write a full retort, because aside from being about two weeks too late, there’s been plenty of thoughtful responses that I can get behind, mainly David Graeber’s “Concerning the violent peace-police: an open letter to Chris Hedges.” But I’ll throw a few thoughts in for good measure.
I’ve rarely experienced the collective solidarity that I witnessed in Toronto during the anti-G20 “Get off the Fence” march. The black bloc in that march thwarted a 1 billion dollar security apparatus and smashed up the financial district and shopping districts of a major north American city. Proving that even under the watchful eye of the state, extraordinary actions can be accomplished and shattering the myth that the police are unbeatable.
Furthermore, if you take a look at Egypt’s Ultras, they were instrumental in the street fighting that eventually forced Hosni Mubarak to resign. The Ultras are soccer hooligans who cut their teeth fighting the cops after matches during Mubarak’s reign. How else is someone to gain experience engaging security personnel, blockading roads and disabling infrastructure? People who engage in black bloc tactics get “on the job training” and learn decentralized organization, working within affinity groups, security culture, de-arresting comrades and counter surveillance among other things. Have black bloc tactics brought down civilization? Certainly not. But they have been useful tools for propaganda, morale raising and promoting militancy, as well as the things I mentioned above.
What I do agree with is Jensen’s assertion that our movements should be strategic about how and when tactics are used. Having a long term goal informs how we deploy tactics and helps us prioritize the risks we take. If our actions increase the risk of getting comrades jailed, it better be worth it, otherwise we are simply sacrificing people and community resources to actions that don’t make a dent in the infrastructure of civilization.
Finally, I find it hard to swallow that many people are willing to write off Jensen completely, because they don’t agree with his stance on the black bloc. That is simply intellectual laziness and political purism. Of course we are not going to agree with everything a person says or writes, as I know many people who view my videos don’t agree with all my opinions. But many have chosen this as opportunity to attack and attempt to discredit one of the best and bravest writers we have, and I’m not talking about Hedges. Like I said a few years ago of Naomi Klein, just because she said some things I found problematic in Copenhagen and in Toronto, doesn’t make “No Logo” or “The Shock Doctrine” invalid.
With that said, I’m off to Melbourne tomorrow, then on to Wollongong and concluding the Australian tour in Brisbane. Stay tuned for more angst from the road.