‘Right to March’ Movement 1977-1979

Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet
 hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
 recalls the forgotten tiger,
 and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
 and how shall mind be sober,
 since blood's red thread still binds us fast in history?
 Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
 troubling the children's sleep'; laying
 a reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.
                          -- Trains by Judith Wright

[Publishers Note: Here are excerpts from an article published in the Social DemocraticRights_thumb.jpgAlternatives Magazine which was a beacon of light in the dark days of the Bjelke-Peterson era. It gives some insight into movement politics, as distinct from issues based politics sponsored by political parties of the Left. At that time, a protagonist of movement politics was Dan O’Neill, a veteran of the 1967 civil liberties march after the first ban on street marches by Premier Nicklin. Ten years later, on 22 October 1977, Dan stood at the top of the steps of King George Square steps with his back to 1,000 police and beseeched the crowd of 5,000 people in the square:

We have to build a movement which is systematic, organised, non-violent and absolutely massive.

The temperature was in the high 30s [cf People Rally at G20, 37 years later]. Wonderful poet Judith Wright, curiously oblivious of the crowds eagerness to march against uranium mining and export (was it her deafness?), had just finished speaking … for over 2 hours in the searing heat … or was it because she was unconsciously delaying the inevitable confrontation with police?

Nevertheless, after abortive attempts by Ian Henderson and Bob Phelps from Campaign against Nuclear Power (CANP) to martial people in twos and threes out of the square, Dan O’Neill finally put an end to the pussyfooting declaring that we mass in formation out of King George Square:
1977 arrest
So what I propose we do is to link arms in a sign of defiance and to march from the square. When we are confronted by police we should raise our arms in a sign of massive civil disobedience (that will fill the police watchouses) and bring the system to a standstill.

In the following three hours, 418 people were arrested in the largest single mass arrest in Australian history. I am no advocate for either issue politics or movement politics – but we should be aware of these formations and how they arise in resistance struggles – Ian Curr, 11 Dec 2014, participant of the democratic rights struggles. ]

CIVIL LIBERTIES IN QUEENSLAND: a nonviolent political campaign

by Ralph Summy and Mark Plunkett
[excerpts from SOCIAL ALTERNATIVES Vol. 1 Nos. 617, 1980 73]

u're all under arrestWith the exception of the anti Vietnam War campaigns of the sixties and early seventies, as well as some protracted industrial disputes, the years 1977-80 in Queensland witnessed Australia’s biggest protest movement of the post World War II period.

Moreover, what had become known as the ‘Right to March‘ movement was one of, if not the biggest sustained protest in the entire history of the State of Queensland.

In September 1977, the Queensland Government banned political street marches, thereby triggering off a statewide civil liberties campaign of defiance that resulted in some two thousand people being arrested, locked up, and fined, and about one hundred being imprisoned.

That such dissident fervour could be generated in a state like Queensland, generally regarded as having the most unenlightened politics and most reactionary government of any of Australia’s six states, came as a surprise to many people. Its two million population comprises mainly conservative and apathetic citizens whose politics are grounded in an ambiance of affluent complacency and no intellectualism.

This article will focus on the dynamics of the nonviolent political action that characterised the campaign. It will examine how the Queensland civil liberties movement non-violently challenged Parliament, Government, Police, Courts, Prison and the Public. It will show how the movement, by harnessing nonviolent techniques, was able to:

1) twice plunge the Government budget into deficit, and financially break the Queensland Police Force, thereby proving it was cheaper to allow marches than to stop them,

2) contribute to the downfall of the leaders of both the State Liberal and Labor Parties,

3) cause a great upheaval in the Queensland Coalition Government, the discord spilling over into the federal sphere,

4) generate nationwide debate and concern on the issue,

5 )expose the authoritarianism and injustice of the Queensland political system, recruit and radicalise a great number of individuals,

6) recruit and radicalise a great number of individuals,

7) win widespread third party support from numerous non participants,

8) and force ultimately the State Government to relax the
march ban.

 This article will focus on the dynamics of the nonviolent political action that characterised the campaign. It will examine how the Queensland civil liberties movement could recruit and radicalise a great number of individuals, and thereby win widespread third party support from numerous non-participants,

Sit down in the 'Valley of Death'
Sit down in the ‘Valley of Death’ – Albert Street Brisbane 22 Oct 1977

The aim was to ultimately force the State Government to relax the March ban.

Despite these successes, the campaign revealed many shortcomings. Since the principles of nonviolence were applied in only primitive form, the movement had far greater potential than it ever realised.

However, it was in the streets against the nonviolent demonstrators that the Government, through its agent, the police, most strikingly revealed its hypocrisy. Senior police officers when briefing police prior to an attempted march created the impression of an impending ‘riotous situation’.

Police repression
The Queensland Police Journal, official organ of the Queensland Police Union of Employees, ran articles on the Brisbane riots of 1919, ‘in order to afford our readers an opportunity of forming an opinion of the recent upheaval in our midst’. One article referred to the heavy police casualty list, detailing bayonet wounds, lacerations, broken ribs, and bullet wounds to the feet and backs of heads. In such an atmosphere it is not surprising that the police overreacted and created the violence they were supposed to prevent.

At one rally it was reported that police even placed sharpshooters on nearby tall buildings overlooking King George Square.

The Queensland Secretary of the Australian Journalist Association, Norm Harriden, described the strong-arm way in which the police made their arrests:

‘They were twisting people’s arms up behind their backs so they had to react and then a couple of other policemen would move in on the arrested person. That’s a technique they haven’t been using recently.’

If protesters saw the police roughing up a fellow marcher, they would shout, ‘Assault! Assault!’

The leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Don Chipp, commented in the Australian Senate that:

Senator Georges did not create the force and violence, the police did.

Perhaps the worst aspects took place under cover. The Special Branch police engaged in spying, surveillance, clandestine photography, intimidation, and harassment of protesters.

Harassment of leaders
The break-ins that occurred during rallies into the homes of leaders were thought to be the work of the plainclothes force. Their invasions into people’s privacy would presumably have been conducted to give them information not only for containing the movement but also for preventing certain people’s entry into or promotion in the state public service.

Against the full panoply of the Bjelke-Petersen regime’s heavy-handed lawlessness and violence, the nonviolent strategy of the movement, no matter how imperfectly conceived and executed, was bound to attract some third party support. The regime’s arrogance and ignorance played directly into the hands of the movement. However, chastened now after its first encounter with nonviolence, the regime may devise a more sophisticated approach if it projects the conflict into a second stage.

Alternative Media
The movement also set up its own media. Demonstrations were video-taped not only to provide evidence at court trials but so students and others could see what the television stations refused to show. A few enterprising actionists set up a pirate radio station 4PR. Known as the people’s radio, it made a number of broadcasts in FM at 94 kilohertz.

Thanks to Radical Times for this footage shot by Bruce Dickson

What if the movement grows…
Should this occur, an imperative will exist for the movement to counter with a deeper understanding of nonviolent theory and a more judicious use of the armoury of nonviolent methods. The use of nonviolent means against violent repression creates an asymmetrical conflict situation in which the two forces are using different weapons systems.

The skillful, determined and extensive application of nonviolent techniques will throw a violent opponent off balance.Arrests in Right to march

His/her violence will rebound against him/her, as in jiu-jitsu.

According to Gandhi, the process is similar to that of a person violently striking water with a sword; it is the person’s arm which becomes dislocated.

Total no of arrests in right to march campaign

Summer campaign
Whilst the movement triggered considerable third-party support, which it then often assisted. It rarely engaged directly in soliciting the initial support.

One important exception was the 1977-78 summer campaign conducted by Dan O’Neill and Jane Gruchy who toured the length and breadth of Queensland, reaching country areas as far away from Brisbane as the Atherton Tableland.

The purpose of the tour was to explain to country people (whose media exposure was decidedly one dimensional) the central issues involved and seek their organisational support.

The success of the tour can probably be measured by contrasting the extensive degree of protest that subsequently occurred in the provincial cities and towns with that which rarely developed during the years of the anti-Vietnam War campaign or during the 1971 tour of the Springbok rugby team.

To read the full article – Civil Liberties Movement

• These figures represent the Brisbane total in 1977 alone. Two or three hundred more should be included for marches conducted in provincial cities and towns. For example quite a lot of people were arrested in Townsville (1977-1979).


CIA and political police

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