An exploration of the fun and pleasurable dimensions of the S11 anti-globalisation protests in Melbourne in 2000. This is a chapter from Free NRG: Notes from the Edge of the Dancefloor, edited by Graham St John.
From September 11-13 2000, Crown Casino in Melbourne was the venue for the Asia-Pacific meeting of the World Economic Forum. During these three days, thousands of people did their best to get in the way, in a blockade organised by a loose alliance of critics of corporate-led globalisation which called itself S11.
Looked at from one perspective, the blockade wasn’t much fun. While only 20 or so protesters were arrested, 400 claimed that they had been injured by police, and 50 required hospital treatment of some kind. There was a systematic removal of police identification badges, frequent baton charges, and continual intimidation. Even when police were not attempting to smash their way through pickets, a general sense of threat permeated the gathering. Large numbers of Victorian police moved around the Casino in formation, some on horseback, and the police helicopters which hovered overhead produced a menacing aural backdrop. On the last day of the protest, one participant remembered that she was ‘dragged along Spencer Street by my hair, dodging vicious kicks and thumps’. Another was run over by an unmarked police vehicle, which sped off leaving her and her comrades in its wake.
However, if the conflict between police and protesters raises a number of important questions, it does not exhaust the experience, range, invention, or significance of the S11 protest. Typically, at around the same time as the hit-and-run by police, four activists ran a lap of the Casino in the buff, to the delight and cheers of many on-lookers. Over the three days of the blockade, violence, trepidation and excited dramatic display coexisted in this shifting, paradoxical, unstable way. Even journalists employed by the mainstream media were forced to concede that a kind of political carnival was unfolding. Elizabeth Wynhausen of The Australian called it a ‘sort of carnival of the left’ (12/9/2000, p. 4). Damien Carrick of ABC Radio postulated a similar view in his report on the morning of September 11 for AM:
It’s quite interesting, it oscillates between a carnival, and … you have ten foot puppets, you have twenty foot dragons, all sorts of colourful drumming, and what have you. The fountains in front of Crown Casino, which are quite enormous, have been filled with detergent, so as we speak there are clouds of bubbles wafting over the street. But then every now and again the atmosphere turns when buses or cars try to enter, and the protest becomes quite serious and the atmosphere changes quite dramatically. And then five, ten minutes later it changes back again, so the atmosphere is really quite strange.
In this chapter, we focus on these more irreverent and pleasurable aspects of S11. We trace the carnivalesque nature of the blockade as it unfolded in both urban space and cyberspace. We document its debt to the tactics and techniques developed by DiY collectives at the fringes of Australian dance and youth cultures. Finally, we pose the pressing question—can such carnivalesque gatherings represent an effective form of protest against global capitalism?
- ‘Everyone is a Journalist’—Cyberspace and S11 351
- ‘A Carnival of the Left’— Urban Public Space and S11 356
- Unity and Difference in the Political Ritual 360
- Conclusion 366
- Movements_Campaigns - Anti capitalism_Corporate
- Movements_Campaigns - Anti capitalism_Corporate - S11 World Economic Forum Melbourne