reflections on the g20 weekend

Wow, what an experience. I’ve written my reflections on the weekend, and it comes to 11 full pages. I’ll post a selection here, and if you’re interested in reading the full account, just email me.

I’m running late for our scheduled meeting time of 7:30am, pedalling my bike as fast as I can. As I enter the city I note, with some joy, the flashing orange signs saying “Streets closed”. I put my bike upstairs at Urban Seed and race down to arrive on the street right on 7:30. Jess, Ann, Anthony, Ross, Ash, Barry waiting there, in front of Collins St. steps, so we decide to move so as not to confuse us with Collins St or Urban Seed.

Immediately we have media approach us: first it’s a cameraman from the ABC. He asks us just to walk with sign; we say we’re not going to pose for him, but we were heading there anyway, so walk with it. Other cameramen quickly come in – channel 7. Photographers are snapping photos left, right and centre. It’s a weird, self-conscious feeling.

We cross the road at Scot’s church, aware of not jaywalking at this early stage – not wanting to give the police any reason to get rid of us. We start setting up right outside Gucci. Talking to the cops, we say we’d arranged this with John Costelloe, the G20 intelligence officer, a young guy who had been quite helpful to us. Initially wanting to partially obscure traffic, we are told to move it away from the road: we do. It takes a while to set up the tent. The media wait patiently, many of them filming. We finally get the tent up, set it up on the pedestrian crossing next to the barricade, and police immediately come and tell us to take it down. Like she’d been expecting this, Jess immediately yells at the media, “Police have said that the Third World Embassy cannot have a structure, so the Third World Embassy will have to sit out in the open.” Cameras click and whirr. We start to set up cardboard boxes on ground.

Police tell us we can’t have cardboard on the pedestrian crossing: it’s too slippery, and they don’t want us to get sued (yeah, right!). We push it back a bit; they say no, pick it up. We comply. They tell us we have to move into the corner. Jess is not impressed, but we pow wow again and decide this is acceptable: we can still see the Hyatt, and most importantly, they can still see us.

Jess is getting frustrated. Chris Duthie, the officer in charge of the operation, is being fairly antagonistic and not helpful. I’m calm, but aware of a lot of attention. We’re not wanting to back down at this early stage and give the police all the power. We make sure we’re clear on what we can and can’t do so no misunderstandings happen later.

We pow-wow (the first of many) and decide this is not the battle we want to fight. We want to maintain a long presence here. We set up our banners, saying “Jesus invites all to the table” pointing to the Hyatt and “3rd world and environment embassy” pointing to the road. By the time all is done, we have moved only a matter of a couple of metres.

The overnight shift:

I’m woken at around 3:15am by a text from Jess saying, “g20 christian collective having barricades errerted (sic) around them and are going 2 b asked 2 move. PLEASE NOTIFY MEDIA” There’s a text message from her there too, but by the time I get it and then ring her, I might as well have just rung her. So I do: she explains that they were just woken to the sound of barricades being erected around them and they are being asked to move and need to decide what to do. I suggest they check what the police situation is – whether they would arrest us for not moving – and decide then. Not worth getting arrested for. Our continued presence is what’s important.

They do check. Jess asks, “What if we don’t move?” The policeman says, “We’ll physically move you.” Jess asks, “Will you arrest us?” The policeman says, “No, we’ll just physically move you.” Three of the group refuse to move, as a form of protest to our being shifted. The police carry them down the road to the edge of the new barricades.

A God moment (one of many):

At one stage I go down the front of the party, right to the police barricades, because someone says that they’ve moved the Collins St. barriers back to where they were on the first night, and we might therefore have a chance to return there. I quickly see this is not the case, but there is a man ranting at the police, doing a clearly rehearsed spiel about masks – and how the police are the masks of the state. I recognise him even with his balaclava on, as the anarchist guy Fred I met the day before. When he finishes, he dramatically whips his balaclava off, screaming, “I am not a terrorist!!” I go over and greet him warmly, shaking his hand and saying g’day. He says he heard we got moved during the night, and this is something I am soon to hear from tons of people – how this news travelled so fast can only be put down to word of mouth from my indymedia article. I look at police, who are watching the crowd, and wonder whether there is any bewilderment in this obviously Christian guy (with Jesus on his shirt) greeting this angry anarchist so warmly, and being warmly greeted back. I smile, thinking that right here, in the embrace of the alienated, is the Kingdom of God, and head back to the others.

The ubiquitous Credo cross:

At one point when police were particularly toey, they get their crowd control officers to tell us they must take the Credo cross behind the lines: immediately I feel annoyed, but almost as quickly, excited. The Credo cross gets to go where we all can’t! This symbol of a poor palestinian jew getting in behind the lines seems wonderful. We’re given the choice between them taking it behind the barricades or us taking it to a safe place. I like the idea of it getting in too much to pass up the opportunity. It still strikes me as a remarkable symbol. There is some confusion as to where they want to put it, as we had initially agreed to it going behind the lines so long as it was visible to us. They reneged on that deal, and so I asked for it back (also so I was ready with the camera). Initially they refuse, saying that it will be safer behind the lines. Eventually we persuade them to give it back: I make sure to get some pictures of the policeman carrying the cross.

Breaking our fast:

Later we decide to break our fast around 6:30pm, ready to pack up and leave at 7:30pm
. Ash goes to make some dinner, and doesn’t return till around 7:30; we decide to wait for him (“just 5 more minutes…”). We begin by inviting police to join us; not surprisingly, none of them take us up on the offer. During the meal we again get up and offer food to them; again, it is refused. That’s ok. Just asking them feels right.

It’s an entirely freegan feast, totally provided for out of the abundane of our society; a real, concrete example of the providence of God. We begin our meal with Jess telling the story of how we came to have two Picnic bars – given to us by police on Friday. This is deeply significant for us, in expressing the inclusiveness of God and there being “enough for all” – so we break these together as our communion feast. Then we share some freegan wine to finish off. And then we tuck in.

There is much talk, much laughter, and much sharing of stories. This is true community. An amazing experience of shared life, with no division, no stereotyping, no hate.

The formal part of our meal is a time which Barry leads, encouraging us to think about where we have met God this weekend. We go around the circle; people who have been here for 60 hours sharing with those who have been here for one. I begin with “I could talk for days on this…” eliciting much laughter, as my almost nonexistent voice belies my words. I get teary as I talk about the way activists have responded to our presence and actions here, and about this moment as the culmination of months of planning and indeed of a life of faith. What could be better than this moment, where we embody everything we profess to believe, a moment where all are invited to the table, where we have homeless people as much a part of us as anyone else, our enemies invited, a feast that embodies the providence of God, and the love of Christ? I share about my moment the day before with anarchist fred and the police, and about the blessing and curse of the media. I know there are things we could’ve done better, that we have not been perfect; but I know too in this moment that God has graced us with covering over those imperfections.

I thank Jess for her self-control this weekend, because I know that I’ve held her back a few times, and Julie for looking after our girls, enabling me to take part in this weekend.

As we finish the meal, we pass the peace among ourselves, and then among the police. Only one of the twenty or so refuses to shake our hand. This is another expression of what we’re about – that while we oppose what they stand for, we mean these individuals no harm, rather including them in the alternative society we have set about to create.

Plenty more where these came from.

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