Which side are you on?

“Freedom and democracy” is the 21st century catch cry of Western countries like ours, the self-proclaimed “liberal democracies”. Sadly, the reality is the polar opposite of the ideal. Modern Western liberal democracies have become and are becoming progressively more repressive. The trend is particularly noticeable looking at how government responded to peaceful protests.

The use of battalions of police, and indeed of the riot squad, to break up the peaceful protests of the Occupy movement, first in Melbourne and then in Sydney, was an appalling demonstration of official contempt for the rights of citizens to group together in a non-violent fashion to express their opinions, and an equally appalling abuse of state power to repress what should be the fundamental right of citizens in a truly liberal democracy to associate and protest.

That intolerance is continuing if not escalating. Most recently in New South Wales we have seen riot police called in to deal with protests by students and staff at Sydney Uni about staff cuts in education.

When you compare this overbearing and heavy-handed approach to what happened, for example, in the 1970s, when protests were larger and more widespread and when buildings were in fact occupied at Sydney University, you cannot help but feel that there is nothing “liberal” about our governments and nothing democratic about their behaviour.

The trend is afflicting other “Western liberal democracies” as well. In the US one need only mention the notorious clip of police spraying peaceful – in fact, seated – protesters with pepper spray. And here’s the State violence captured in Montreal, Quebec, Canada (watch the final scene):

In 1985 Dr Howard Zinn gave evidence for the defense at the criminal trial of the AVCO Plowshares 7, saying: “The only way democracy can be restored in the area of foreign policy is if the American people assert themselves in various ways. Non-violent civil disobedience is not something outside of the realm of democracy, democracy requires civil disobedience. Without civil disobedience democracy doesn’t exist.”

Zinn’s message is even more urgent now than it was 25 years ago.

And coincidental to the fact that Zinn was talking about restoring democracy to foreign policy, two Australian peace activists, Bryan Law and Graeme Dunstan, today appear in Rockhampton Court charged with doing wilful damage to an Australian Army Tiger helicopter during the Talisman Sabre war games in July last year. It is almost comical to watch Bryan Law enter the Rockhampton air base, pedal slowly across the tarmac on his tricycle and strike the helicopter with a garden mattock.

The blow made a small hole in a carbon fibre door but effectively temporarily disabled the machine. The Defence Department claim the repair cost to be $180,000.

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