Tuesday 2 April 2013

Lifelong social justice anti-war activist Bryan Law, passes away

Australian Anti-war and social justice advocate, veteran activist Bryan Law, has died in Rockhampton.  He was 58.

Bryan Law, who had recently moved from Cairns to Rockhampton awaiting trial for damage to a military helicopter, passed away after a long illness.  He was born in 1954.   

'War without end, not in our name'
He was a determined activist to the very end.

In the Cairns political landscape, the name Bryan Law is synonymous with speaking out and stirring the pot. Almost every Cairns resident is familiar with his actions and activism.  The Cairns Post infamously called him a serial pest, from a cub journo who had run out of adjectives. Serial he may be, but I prefer to label Bryan a veteran activist.

His partner, Margaret Pestorius, conveyed the news to CairnsBlog this morning. 

“Bryan passed away in Rocky.  They found him at home.  We heard this evening [Monday night].  We'll bring him home to Cairns.  We will hold vigil over the next few days in some way or another,” Margaret said. 

"He has been very sick for several years but wanted very much to stand trial for his ploughshares action - even though the trial really was a trial."

"Don't forget to stand up courageously for what is right like Bryan did," Margaret Pestorius said.

In November 2008 the veteran campaigner, political activist, and CairnsBlog columnist, underwent emergency open-heart surgery.  At that time, he had three Coronary Arterial bypass grafts, in a process that took over four hours.

"I'm still here," he told CairnsBlog at the time. "They've given me a 90% chance of surviving 10 years, so that's good I suppose."

Bryan ran for Mayor of Cairns.
Law stopping Prime Minister John Howard during a protest

Bryan Law with Steve Brech
What would the diggers say...indeed.
Bryan Law was a mighty man and a beautiful passionate soul with an amazing zest for social justice.

After he attacked an Australian Army Tiger attack helicopter with a blow from a garden mattock he told the judge at the initial mention of he elation.

“I’m glad I did it, your Honour," he told Magistrate Cameron Press.  “I’m glad that for however brief a moment that infernal helicopter death machine couldn’t fly. Couldn’t be used as a weapon.  In a time of depraved warfare in Afghanistan and of military slavery to the US empire, I’m glad I made this witness to the prophecy of Isaiah and the promise of our saviour Jesus Christ.  We must disarm."

Bryan was been arrested countless times, at least on 50 occasions.  He lost count.  He got under the skin of politicians who have taken him to court. Love or loath Bryan Law, he is one who draws a strong following from all sides. One thing is for sure - he is no armchair critic. He stands up, speaks out and acts with passion, vigor and compelling non-violent action.

He knew that after more than 30 years of activism, he was nearing the end of his battles, as his health deteriorated.

Under the banner of his organisation, Cairns Peace by Peace, he was there with his unique brand of civil disobedience and direct action.  

With Desley's "golden tiara"
With US peace activist, Kathy Kelly 
Bryan Law was there when the sealed road was being pushed through north of the Daintree River; when the Federal Government wouldn’t disclose the purpose of the top secret Pine Gap spy base; when Skyrail wanted to tear down the rainforest above Smithfield; when the USA boughtwarships into Cairns’ harbour; when the Queensland Labor government destroyed the historic Cairns Yacht Club building; when Cairns Community Radio blockedout locals.  He defaced hundreds of Cairns MP Desley Boyle's election signage, when she refused to stand up for locals of demolishing the Yacht Club building; when Cairns Council wanted to destroy City Place.  He participated in numerous protests and actions against US / Australia defence exercises, breaking into restricted zones and stopping events.  He caused a security scare when he swam in Trinity Inlet as the USS Blue Ridge was docking in Cairns.   

He took on The Cairns Post and won in court.

"It [Cairns Post] prints the most disgusting attacks on Aboriginal and Indigenous people, attacks which have no foundation in reality and which stir up the worst prejudices in our society and we’re here today to say stop it," Bryan Law said in 2002.

"Call me bitter and twisted, but the Yacht Club issue convinced me that the Labor Party has once again forgotten that it's job is to represent the community and engage with its values and desires," Bryan said in 2009.

Law was media-savvy, articulate and political astute, he always defended himself in court, standing up for his principles.

'War without end, not in our name' a slogan on his t-shirt he would stand by to the end.

“I will miss him for a multitude of reasons but most of all because of his beliefs, his integrity and his tenacity to right where he saw wrong,” former Mulgrave Councillor Ross Parisi said today.  “Ridicule and derision, by his political adversaries did not penetrate his shield of honor, it made him stronger and more determined to strive for what he believed in. It made him resilient.”

Ross Parisi said Law’s ability to articulate and persuade were some of his most endearing virtues.
He detested the abuse of power, particularly by those in authority.  He saw through the shallowness of impostors and pretenders.  

"Surrounded by all that, inside was a gentle man and a sensitive man, a caring man that loved his family, like only he could,” Ross Parisi said.

Cairns teacher and Greens political supporter, Steve Brech, said Bryan Law was his inspiration.
“After years of trying to ‘fight the system’, there I was presented with a real life Ghandi figure, full of peace, justice, democracy and a confidence I'd never encountered before,” Steve Breach said.  “Bryan will stay with me forever.”

Janine Aitken who stood for Council in 2008 and supported many of Law’s non-violent civil disobedience campaigns, remembers his passion for change.

Bryan Law with Aboriginal activist, Noel Pearson.
“While he may not have ever achieved the change he wanted, Bryan changed everyone he met,” Janine Aitken says.  “He challenged the way we looked at the world and was a great man with a brilliant sense of humour, guaranteed to make you laugh out loud.  I will miss him.  The thing with Bryan, there are plenty who knew him, but few that would stand up and claim him as a friend or even defend his right to say his piece when it differed from their own,” Aitken told CairnsBlog.  

“He was often banned from public discussions and in the last few years I've found myself arguing with others on why he shouldn't be blocked, an argument I would enviably lose.   But I am proud that I had the chance to call him a friend and I always did, despite our often opposing views.”

Former Cairns Councillor Diane Forsyth, who together orchestrated protests against the demolition of the Cairns Yacht Club in 2010, was saddened by the news of his passing.

“RIP Bryan Law my thoughts are with you Margaret, and Joseph,” Dianne Forsyth said.

Political commentator and blogger Leigh Dall'Osto says Bryan was a rare individual.

“He was one of those rare people who had passion and purpose and wasn't afraid to express either. He brought perspective, laughter and honesty to every conversation. We are all richer for having known him,” Leigh Dall'Osto said.  “He was the very definition of humanity and justice and fought along with his partner Margaret.  He will be sorely missed by many.”

In February 2011, Bryan Law wrote on CairnsBlog of his frustration over many years trying to make a change.

“I’ve spent 30 years proving to myself that an ordinary citizen is able to deploy the power of non-violence effectively to move towards peace and social justice.   I’ve learned that getting a 'Yes' from government isn’t enough. Government needs continual scrutiny and correction.

“I follow Jesus, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Dr King.  I’ve been given limited opportunities to organise collectively with others, and amplify that non-violence power to compel better behaviour from governments. The power that democratised Parliament still exists but is diffuse and uncoordinated.” Bryan Law wrote. 

Bryan always maintained a respectful relationship with the Police.
“On the whole I’d say that ‘our’ biggest weakness is a lack of experience in cooperation and mutual aid in our political life. Gossip, jealousy, fear, and ‘better than’ feelings disable us and make us smaller than we need to be.”

He said in February 2011 that he would not return to Cairns, in order to under-taken his most brazen act against Australia’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, cemented his name in the history books for attacking a Defence helicopter.

He carried out the protest in July 2011 that saw charges of $200,000 of damage levelled against him by the Federal Police and Department of Defence.

“The final public event I’ll attend in Cairns will be the ANZAC Eve vigil at the Esplanade Cenotaph on Easter Sunday,” Bryan said.  “After this, I’m going to Rockhampton to prepare for and carry out a ploughshares action against a US warplane during Exercise Talisman Sabre.”

Law justified his actions saying that it was repugnant that the Australian government was spending $6 Billion in the budget for acquiring new defence weapons.

“That’s for tanks, fighter/bombers, air warfare destroyers, drones, cruise missiles, satellites, networked electronic C3 systems - and $5 Billion to maintain existing weapons systems,” Bryan said.  “Expect the same each year for at least for the next 20 years. There is already $57 billion committed by the Rudd-Labor government over the next 20 years to the large weapons acquisitions, and the current Defence Capability plan Plan calls for $159 Billion worth of acquisition commitment by 2018. There's a call in a recent issue of The Australian for 12 nuclear powered attack submarines, at $2 Billion each, so we can ‘defend ourselves against China’ - our bestest buddies and trading partners.”

In 2005, Bryan Law, along with three other peace activists, broke into the highly-sensitive US Defense communications facility in the Northern Territory desert at Pine Gap.  They were eventually acquitted of all charges under the Special Defence Undertakings Act 1952.  Al Jazeera TV interviewed Bryan Law after the action, when, at the time, he had 30 arrests and 4 jail terms to his credit.

In October last year, he went swimming in the ocean, for the first time in 15 months.

"I went for a swim in the sea yesterday at beautiful Yeppoon, Bryan said afterwards.  "Last time I swam was just around the corner at Rosslyn Bay, just before the Rocky Tiger ploughshares action. It's taken four surgeries and a lot of treatment to recover from complications of diabetes. Yesterdays' swim, while preparing for Talisman Saber 2013 was a real hoot."

His first beach swim in years.
“After the Talisman Saber exercise, I expect to spend the rest of my life either in prison, or carrying out further acts of disarmament. I feel like I’ve reached a place of calm clarity - OK there’s a bit of fear too, and I’ll be sad to be separated from my family. Persistence is king.”

Bryan lived by his own mantra.  He said if you want peace, work for justice.   A year ago, I asked Bryan if it was all worth it.
Making peace lanterns 
“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,’ Bryan said.  “Meanwhile my family will do what it can.  So I’ll end where I began. Is it worth it? Yup!”

Bryan is survived by his partner Margaret Pestorius and their son Joseph.  

A vigil will be held over the next few days at Bryan’s home in Fernley Street.


D.J.HUNT said...

Bryan always made me laugh. I might not have always agreed with what he said, but I always respected his commitment to the causes he was passionate about. As a police officer I always knew a protest organised/run by Bryan would not involve violence and though it would always involve some kind of stunt, I knew I wasn't going to get a punch in the head, that was the way he rolled.
In recent times he became a friend and mentor to me as he tried to reign in my hotheaded nature in political discussions and issues in order to focus on the issue. He became like a big bearded angel on my shoulder and even when he wasn't there I could hear him saying "Darren, you're whineing again!!!" He never bore a grudge and we often had a laugh about how I was one of the first policeman to ever put him in handcuffs.
If someone told me 10years ago Bryan Law would have the biggest influence on my political career, I would have laughed in your face.

Malcolm Lewis said...

Thanks for this article. I have not seen Brian for years and have only got smattering of news of his peace campaigning so it really enjoyed reading this and remembering Brian's energy and commitment to nonviolence and peace.

I like many others will remember Brian.

Unknown said...

I first seen Bryan at political meetings at City Place . I got to talk to him at Cairns Central and I even manage to get a photo with him. He had a good spirit around him.

I'm glad I didnt listen to everyone's opinion about him, because we've had many great conversations on Facebook and what his critics say about him aren't true at all.

The problem with this world they believe too much what they read and not think for themselves. It's such a shame. WAKE UP!

Bryan stood up for his belief. That's great. Be Courageful guys. Everyone is human at the end of the day. Life is too short, we only have so much time to make a difference. And Bryan has done that to many people.

God bless mate.

Hans Van Veluwen said...

Vale Brian