Tuesday 20 October 2009

Bryan Law: Was it all worth it?

The young reporters at the Cairns Post call him a serial pest. A serial protester. A serial stirrer. A serial activist. They've almost run out of ideas. When you can't debate and analyse a complex issue, it's much easier to call someone names. Stick and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me, so goes the age old saying.

Unfortunately, it's all too common for today's mainstream "journalists", the ones that Murdoch is betting we'll pay to read, often don't understand how one event is connected to another.

Someone's showing their age, and it's not Bryan Law.

Last week was big for me. Two arrests, two convictions, time in both the Cairns watch-house and the emergency department of the Cairns Base Hospital, and two new medications for my heart. I’ve got $1,000 in fines to deal with, and a lot of criticism from some quarters for “attention-seeking behaviour”.

No less a luminary than Desley Boyle, member for Cairns, has declared herself to be “over” my “protests with a muddy message”.

It’s time to ask myself whether it’s worth it. It’s a lot of aggravation, and it didn’t achieve everything I wanted. Yesterday was my son Joseph’s 11th birthday, and he spent most of the week worrying about whether I’d be around for it (luckily I was). So what was it all for?

Mostly I wanted to show the people of Cairns just what’s going on in the world around them, and the ways in which we are complicit in some of the worst crimes imaginable against humanity and this beautiful planet of ours.

The USS Blue Ridge docked in Cairns Inlet last Monday. The USS Blue Ridge is the flag ship of the US 7th Fleet. It’s not so heavily armed in itself. Its job is command, control and communication for all the US Navy vessels in east Asia and the western Pacific. If the order comes from Hawaii or Washington to launch nuclear weapons, it will be the USS Blue Ridge that authenticates and transmits that order. If Hawaii and Washington drop off the net for some reason it will be the USS Blue Ridge that decides when and how to respond. This ship has a part to play in the destruction of our planet.

Many of you will say such a scenario is extreme and unlikely. I say you’re guilty of wishful thinking. On 12 October, the very day the USS Blue Ridge docked in Cairns, North Korea fired five short range missiles into the Yellow Sea and warned South Korea to stay out of its territorial waters.

Hilary Clinton responded to the launch as if it was a provocation and part of North Korea’s nuclear program. If you think the USS Blue Ridge wasn’t involved in watching and planning to respond to these launches (even while tied to the wharf in Cairns), you’re a fool.

What wasn’t published in the Washington Post was that the US and South Korea were engaging in “war games” in South Korea and the Yellow Sea at the time, and North Korea regularly demands that such exercises stay away from its country. The USS George Washington, and its attendant battle group were in the Yellow Sea. The USS George Washington is a modern nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed “super carrier” capable of scraping east Asia clean of life. It’s a key part of the 7th Fleet and based in Yokosuka Japan – the same home port as the USS Blue Ridge.

Now on board the USS Blue Ridge there is a large public relations team, and one of their duties is to promote the “peace-loving, democracy-defending nature of the US Navy which just loves children and cuddly puppy dogs”. So in the few days before this ship arrived the Cairns Post was full of human interest stories, along with the message that bucket-loads of money will be ours for hosting this ship.

So the first goal I had was to push this phony message off the front pages and spread the truth instead. The USS Blue Ridge is offensive to God and a crime against humanity. I met with partial success. The PR pap was diminished in effect, but it was very hard to get accurate information published about what this ship actually does. Away from the mass media I would have spoken to a hundred people from Cairns (3 Magistrates, 20 Police, 10 nurses, 3 doctors, and a few score general citizens), which along with Cairns Blog is where the core message gets through.

The second goal was to highlight what’s going on in Afghanistan, where the US General commanding NATO forces has declared the eight years of war so far (with hundreds of thousands of dead) a failure.

The day after the USS Blue Ridge tied up in Cairns it was revealed that the US is quietly deploying 13,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and that this is in addition to a request by General Stanley McChrystal for 40,000 more troops.

Last week Peace by Peace (half a dozen die-hard peaceniks) got some attention for this situation by also organising protests against the Blue Ridge.

As I write this story I feel my resolve strengthening by the minute. These wars we fight, and the criminal waste of money and resources on the Blue Ridge instead of schools, hospitals and housing – just cannot be allowed to continue. I admit that my efforts, and the efforts of my friends, are only small in effect. Tiny. Minuscule if not molecular. But I can look my son in the eyes and we both know that acting out of conscience is the only valid way to live.

When I wrote my statement on Sunday that received a lot of feedback on CairnsBlog, I complained about the way my political representatives hadn’t returned phone calls or discussed with me the issues around the Blue ridge visit. Since then ALP Federal MP Jim Turnour rang me up (he supports the bucket-load of money). Cairns Mayor Val Schier has e-mailed me and we’ll speak soon. Desley Boyle made media comment about how fucked up I am while revealing her ignorance of military or strategic issues.

The mass media gave me lots of coverage that was restricted to the mechanics of my protest, but largely failed to inform about the underlying issues. John Rainbird wrote on CairnsCoev and CairnsBlog very perceptively about the media and cultural dynamics of “news value” in our society. I’ll be doing some breakfast show interviews with SEA FM and HOT FM this week, and intend to continue a dialogue with the Cairns Post.

On top of all that it was a nice swim in the Trinity Inlet. On Tuesday I had my first ever bed-side Court hearing, with Mr Comans SM presiding, and he saw fit to grant me bail without conditions. Likewise Mr McFadden A/SM and Ms Coates SM declined to imprison me, and all three recognised the civil disobedience nature of my actions. Cairns Police, led by Acting Inspector Denis Fitzpatrick, were universally professional and respectful. I find all of that encouraging.

If more citizens of good conscience in Cairns took up nonviolence and civil disobedience as a tool for political and social formation in Cairns we might achieve a better class of politician, and a better class of democracy than the standard we presently (is enjoy the right word?). Meanwhile my family will do what it can.

So I’ll end where I began. Is it worth it? Yup!


Ross Parisi said...

Bryan Law's resolve apart from many other descriptive, seems to evoke commentary of a cultural ilk as well. I thought I would add my selection courtesy of Rudyard Kipling.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Daryl Douglass said...

Good to see that your heart problem wasn't more serious and that you got to be there for your son's 11th birthday.

You may be able to look your son in the eye and know that you've done what you feel is right, but how will he go at school when the other kids taunt him about you having a criminal record and going for a swim in crocodile infested waters? You may have got the media attentuion you were seeking, but did you stop to think about the domino effect it could have on your family? Your son may be proud of you, but kids being kids, I hope you also taught him how to stick up for himself. In this day and age, turning the other cheek just gets you another hit in the head.

You asked yourself, was it worth it? Well, was it really?? You caused a lot of stress to a young boy, who didn't know whether his father would be around for his birthday.

As for the $1000 fine, how many children in impoverished countries would it have bought pencils and writing paper for so they could get an education and improve their lot and perhaps NOT become suicide bombers?? There's a bloke in town sending blankets and shoes to Mongolia who hardly gets any media attention , and you chuck $1000 away into the government coffers for the sake of a couple of radio interviews.

By puting on your display, just how did you intend to open Cairns people's eyes to the rest of the world?? All my work mates just saw croc bait!! People aren't blind, with world news and the internet, I'm sure that most are very aware of what is going on and how much is being kept from them.

Your old time activist stunts, I'm afraid, are more cause for amusement than raising concern these days.

Yes, the Blue Ridge may have a part in the possible destruction of the world, just as any military machine plays its part (including the Naval Base in Cairns), but it is also playing a vital role in letting you jump into the inlet and voice your opinion in public. And tell me, how much did you pay for your medical treatment in Cairns Base Hospital??

I could address every one of your statements, but that would just drag on. Suffice to say, Nobody in their right mind glorifies or promotes war or aggression (except maybe GW), but it is an unfortunate part of human existance.

It is fine to take a stand on aggression, but one thing I have NEVER heard any activist offer is any sort of viable alternative. If you have some, please post them so they can be discussed. One bloke did once and got nailed to a tree for his efforts. You gotta realise that there are some people out there you just can't negotiate with.

Alison Bird said...

Thanks for this valuable discussion. I found Bryan's contribution to be moving and inspiring,
Geoff's questions respectful and Bryan's answers interesting.

Daryl's heckling is somehow offensive.

I have no doubt that Bryan's son has been taught how to stand up for what he believes. The lessons were not simply with words but with his father's courageous example.

How extraordinary to suggest Bryan should blend into the apathetic crowd rather than stand up for what he believes!

On a positive note, I have read stats revealing that children of activist parents suffer less depression and suicide - they just have more reason to feel hopeful for the future.

There are just so many issues that deserve attention and it is simply an old trick to "divide and rule" by saying thousands are starving so don't put your effort and money into world peace.

We all need to tackle what we can when the opportunity arises. A child may well ask how can you donate to a charity in Mongolia but look away from a challenge to world peace that presents on your doorstep?

Like the child who stated the obvious when watching the emperor parading his new clothes, a child (such as Bryan's) could ask why does Australia support an aggressor and spend so much money doing so?

Bryan has offered viable alternatives to aggression - historical examples of non-violent direct action that have made a difference. I admire Bryan's courage and appreciate the information he has shared with us.

Terry Spackman said...

Well said Alison.

Daryl, are you realy sugesting we should not make protests against visiting warships because it wouldn't be alowed in some other countries?

I think Joseph will stand a good chance of growing up to be aware of the propergander of governments and main stream media and not be one of the "sheep" that believe every bit of bullshit like "We have to invade Iraq because they have Weapons of Mass Distuction". Remember that one?

Deborah said...

Good on'ya, Alison (and Bryan).

The sentiments and opinion demonstrated in Daryl's comments shows exactly why the world is in the predicament it is in. What happened to the demonstrations that used to take place to oppose Vietnam - the tens of thousands of people out in the streets in all the cities to make sure their voice was heard? What do we have now? Our planet and all its people are under the greatest level of threat ever to exist and in a town of 130,000+, a handful of courageous people are willing to stand up to say that military aggression is the wrong way to go.

Standing up has all been replaced with "political correctness" and not making too much of a fuss in front of your "mates" because they will think less of you if you stand up for something - anything. And that unfortunately is the message being taught to children - DON'T do anything about anything - just hang out with your mates and your mobiles and devote the majority of your communcation skills to facebook and twitter.

We cannot all devote our time to assisting the same causes - perhaps Daryl can elaborate on what he does to assist people in Mongolia? I have been criticised for example because I help wildlife and not humans. But everything is interconnected and everything we help has flow on effects somewhere, so all efforts to fix a problem, heal something, help somebody are beneficial. The work I do DOES help humans whether they choose to see the connection or not, and any and ALL actions to protest aggression help everyone on the planet. Does anybody think that nuclear fallout stays confined to a country's borders? Does anybody think that a certain middle eastern country lobbing just one ICBM onto a certain little Jewish country won't have a direct impact on them?

Keep at it Bryan and co.

Al said...

Very nice Ross Parisi, though hope Bryan will see it as a relevant response to his piece. Now that you've contributed to the cultural ilk, perhaps I could continue with my own favourite piece by T.H.White.
Enjoy Bryan, and continue to learn. The wisdom therein may also assist Daryl Douglass with answers to his own questions:

Of Learning, Merlin the magician said: “That is the one thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love and lose your money to a monster, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics or know you honour trampled into the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the poor mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear of distrust and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn – pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics, why you can start to make a cartwheel out of appropriate wood or spend 50 years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough.”

T. H. White, The Sword in the Stone, 1938

Rob Williams said...

Seems that Daryl has lost hope. It’s all too much. Seems like Daryl is saying, "If you can’t beat em, join em." I say if you can’t beat em, find someone who can." Good work Bryan. Our Laws are designed to keep us in our place and keep us quiet. But Civil disobedience is something everyone is involved in every day. It’s just that self righteous people, like Daryl, haven’t been caught yet.

DiverseLA said...

I used to be stationed on the USS Blue Ridge (2000-2004). And visited Cairns during that time.

Thanks for showing your love Bryan!