Jonah Moment at Avalon
a Report on Resistance to the Avalon Arms Fair 27 February - 4 March 2017
#DisarmAvalon2017 was a campaign aimed at disrupting if not preventing the arms fair to be produced in association with the long established and hugely popular Avalon Airshow. Named the Australian International Aerospace and Defence Exposition, it was the second such and it is now the biggest arms fair in the southern hemisphere.
Resistance to it had been in discussion and planning since the first one two years before and was affirmed at #ClosePineGap last September as the next major gig for the Melbourne based Disarm Collective and the Whistleblowers Activists and Citizens Alliance. Alas WACA and Disarm fell out and the approach to the event was fraught with divisiveness, confusion and apathy.
Nevertheless the Disarm dedicated few pulled off a remarkable opening gambit when they occupied the Melbourne University building site of proposed STELaRLab (Space, Technology, Engineering, Leadership and Research Laboratory) which is a joint project with top profiting arms maker, Lockheed Martin, a major sponsor of the Avalon arms fair and maker of the contentious F35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Ten of the Disarm Collective occupied the roof of the ten story building for three days. Banners were dropped and work disrupted. Peacebus supported the action with a banner display in Grattan Street opposite. A Peacebus picnic it became a very social occasion for activist veterans. Benny Zable, Jacob Grech and John Shipton joined us there.
Alas the action went unnoticed by corporate media and, although it got some 16,000 views on social media, it mobilised very few.
So as we approached the Avalon protest action, the only agreement we had was to assemble in the "free camp" beside the Lara BP Servo on the M1 near the Avalon exit on Monday 27 February, see who turns up and go from there.
In anticipation of this I set about establishing police liaison and set up a meeting with the local area command duty officer at the "free camp" for 9.30 am that day.
He turned up two hours late but never the less six of us, including two Quaker Grannies met Inspector Brett Harman and his offsider there, explained our purpose and left Inspector Brett with the question: "Where might the Grannies set up their offering of tea, cake and peace talk?" Quaker Grannies in the van as it were of the flying wedge of peace protest.
Inspector Brett told us he was off to meet the Airshow organisers next and would convey our inquiry and call back. He never did call back and this began the pattern of ambivalent policing which would dog our efforts for the next few days - sometimes generously tolerant, sometimes harassing.
Fifteen showed up for the first circle at the free camp later that afternoon, all known to each other from Pine Gap last September. They included Benny Zable, Quaker Grannies Helen Bayes and Peri Coleman, Peacebus crew Bec, Shanaz and I, Disarm folk Eli, "Anarchist" Dave, James Brennan and Jane Shelley, Jason Freddi and Aranda man, Chris Tomlins. In numbers we never got bigger than that.
The protest challenge was enormous. How to get noticed at an event which is on private land and surrounded by vast moat-like fields of car parking?
For the first day of the Arms Fair (Tuesday 28 March) we decided to make our presence visible by rigging banners by the M1 Freeway at sun up.
Then a convoy would depart aiming to enter the car park and get as close as possible to the ticketing and registration area.
This turned out to be easy. The yellow jackets at the gate were not security but rather parking marshals and they waved our vehicles through. Quaker Grannies set up by the carpark pedestrian gate but "Anarchist" Dave Saxton, James Brennan, Shelley and company were able to set up banners and signage uncontested in the forecourt of the ticketing and registration area.
Videos of the occupation by Anarchist Dave are to be found Here and here and here.
But not so easy for Jason Freddi and his Toyota Coaster bus though. Police spotted that it was unregistered and set about ripping off the rego plates. Shanaz, who was driving at the time, copped a $800 fine but she also managed to calm the cops and negotiate a compromise which allowed the bus to be drive to mechanic on its temporary rego permit. A remorseful Jason said later "Protest 101 - make sure all vehicles are registered."
Meanwhile I had remained at the camp to watch the banners and respond to the inevitable police presence, inevitable because Tammy, the manager of the BP Servo, was under pressure from her boss, the BP franchise holder, to clear the "free camp" of all campers during the Airshow week. Why was never made clear.
In the afternoon a weary and patient duty sergeant from Geelong appeared. He told me I was trespassing and ordered me to move on. I replied that we had met with his boss who seemed to think our camp and banner rig were okay with VicRoads.
Furthermore I suggested that making arrests and breaking up our camp might be just the social media publicity we needed to bring in more people. Whatever, we protesters would meet and talk it over. He went off giving me an hour to decide.
Thinking that a day of witness in the sun outside the Airshow would leave my comrades exhausted and in no mood for a struggle with cops at the camp, I lost heart and meekly began bringing in the banner rig in preparation for relocating to another camp somewhere as yet unknown.
But the Sergeant soon returned to say he had spoken with his inspector who had said banners and camp were okay. Police liaison had paid off. Our camp now seemed secure and furthermore my fellow protesters had also been received at the Airshow with tolerance.
The Arms Fair crew returned jubilant with the success of their day of action in the ticketing area. A natural performing space formed by temporary fences, demountables, flags and signage, Benny Zable and his gas masked death character, were in element. For six hours in the sun he held up his "Arms Trade is a Dead End" sign and posed for the selfies of passing brass.
Likewise the Grannies had been well received.
The next day we resolved to return to that ticketing forecourt and, when I had an call an all clear, sign I would move Peacebus with its Dump Trump mural in and bring up the "Scrap the F35" banner rig.
Carrying the banner rig on my shoulder, I walked it in and set it up, tying it to the camp chairs in mid courtyard. Which meant that Dave, James and company spent most of the day sitting and serving as banner ballast. But it looked great and drew much attention and comment from the arriving and departing punters.
Likewise the "Dump Trump" mural on Peacebus which was parked beside the pedestrian entrance. Lots of comment and interaction. Lots of affirmation too for we were the wild cards, the voice of dissent, the cutting edge challenge and colour of the Arms Fair.
Back at the camp that evening we were in high spirits because we had gotten so much notice and goodwill. Me too because one of our number had shown me a way to get by ticketing and into the Airs Fair itself.
My approach to *DisarmAvalon2017" action was informed by the calling to ploughshare an F35 and the mystery of how this might be accomplished and when. Suddenly the call to get near and ploughshare an F35 seemed near and blessed.
Let me say more about this calling.
It had come following the reading a challenging book, Sympathy for Jonah by David Benjamin Blower, http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/sympathy_for_jonah which my Swan Island island Peace Convergence http://swanislandpeace.org/convergence-2013/swan-island-military-base/ Christian friends had put to me onto. It is the story of Jonah and the terror and compulsion of prophetic voice, this latter a concept which my Quaker friends had opened me.
For as long as I can remember I have had "visions" and "insights" about things to come. This faculty has allowed me to be innovative as a events producer because I can literally hear and see how things are going to be and then work towards manifesting that vision. Now the talent had a name, a heritage and much more.
While in Canberra in January I had sought the advice of my AFP friends there about police liaison for Avalon. Who to talk to from both AFP and Victorian Police?
I had explained that Lockheed Martin's F35 Strike Fighter would likely be on display and maybe even flying as part of the Airshow and that it would be a target for protests.
"Likely the RAAF and the Airshow security will jump up and take notice when they know that a convicted mattock wielder was maybe heading towards an F35," my AFP friend observed.
My instant reaction was to look sideways and deny. "Who can you possibly be thinking of?" i feigned.
But on my knees in prayer and meditation in the morning light by Lake Burley Griffin the next day, thoughts arose of Bryan Law and the War on Trial movie arose and i knew my copper friend was right. It was my karma, my Bryan Law / Rockhampton Tiger Ploughshare karma.
"Ploughshare an F35!" came a voice in my head so strong that my forehead hit the ground by my knees.
And this was followed immediately by the arising of anguish and terror. These feelings were reflected back to me by the friends and family to whom I told of the calling. Some were alarmed that I had spoken of it openly on email, fearful that they might be snared in a criminal conspiracy. Others were concerned for my sanity and judgement: "You would do better work for peace out of jail, Graeme."
When it comes to prophetic voice, discernment, a key Quaker concept and very similar to the Buddhist concept of discriminating awareness, is of the essence. Was it genuine prophetic voice of the Jonah variety or a self glorifying fantasy, an egotistical delusion?
In the approach to Avalon I sat with this calling daily, noticing the ardour and the urgency cool until it was simmering as "To interrupt militarism with a Jonah moment. To ploughshare at least one F35, if not all, in this lifetime."
And when I mentioned this to my police liaison associates it would come out as a kind of embarrassment or disability or affliction.
Shrugging helplessly I would say: "You know I have this calling to make a hole in an F35, donŐt know how and donŐt know when." The divine madness of a foolish and passionate old man.
Back to Avalon and the possibility of a F35 ploughshare arising.
Information given in conversations with the marshals on Day 2 of the Arms Fair suggested that the F35s and the Prime Minister were expected the next day, Thursday 2 Feb. This turned out to be false but I had a vision of me sitting in that ticketing forecourt with my mattock sharpening it methodically and ostentatiously.
That evening Bec video recorded an interview of me speaking of our day's action and my Ploughshare calling and posted it to FaceBook.
The all night, all day roar of the M1 traffic was wearing us down. It was a harsh and psychically wearying place to be and this might account for the excess of beer, whiskey and pot we consumed that evening. Excess for me that's for sure, for the next morning I was hung over and my mind clogged with mental confusion.
When our little convoy headed off to the Airshow that morning, we were fewer. Some key Disarm folk had been called back to jobs and family responsibilities.Two trail bike cops had sat by on their bikes watching us as we prepared to depart for the Airshow. When we came to the car park entrance, we were turned away by an aggressive constable.
In order to regroup, we decided to go on down the road 5 km to the Bay, where the quiet of sea breezes and sea birds would give us relief from the M1 traffic noise. There we gathered and noticed how deflated were our spirits and how exhausted our bodies.
Quaker Grannie Helen Bayes was frail with fatigue and Benny Zable was being called away. The only decision we could make was to return to camp, rig the "Scrap the F35" banner by the M1 once more and sit by.
It was a retreat and my morale crashed. Leadership i had none. Instead i was conflicted with doubt and a sense of having offended my Ploughshare calling with hubris, that Bec's FaceBook video interview had been in excess. A sense of having fallen from grace.
Now i have a long established routine of meditation, prayer and yoga stretching, my warror spiritual practice and it is the foundation of my sanity, discernment and equinimity. When i don't practice, my mind gets ratty and peevish.
Alas the in the rush to get moving early for the three mornings previous I had deferred my practice and was paying the cost. So on the Wednesday evening Bec and I left the free camp and found a quiet place to sleep and pray in Little River, a village about 15 km away.
Thursday morning 1 Feb came clear and quiet, my meditation went deep and my spirit was restored. Acceptance and surrender arose. The holing of an F35 was meant to happen but in God's time.
But our grace was interrupted when a phone call from the camp alerted us to trouble there. The cops were back, a different duty police sergeant with a contrary message. Aggressively he had told our companions that they had to move or face arrest, trespass charges and maybe a spell in jail on remand till next Monday.
Contested space once more and Tammy, the BP manager, going off. She had now hired two security guys, both big boys, over weight and with inflated ideas about their move-on powers. "Care Bears," Chris Tomlins dubbed them. They waited about watching us with marshmallow menace.
Again we made clear our reluctance to move. The Sergeant then became friendly. Maybe Tammy was proving more a pain for him than we. He revealed that because of the policing demands of the Airshow he had no "police units" to draw upon to make arrests. He called Inspector Harman and once again we were told it was okay to stay and fly banners.
To consolidate our camp we had started up a fire in a brazier. This too was contested by Tammy who called the Fire Service. The District Fire chief came by, looked at the brazier and shook his head. "This has been lit to keep you warm, yes?" he asked as if from a script. "Yes" we affirmed and he departed letting Tammy know how his time had been wasted.
So now our protest was reduced to just six of us sitting about a brazier guarding a banner rig beside a roaring river of traffic from which we got very few toots, and maybe a total of five curiosity pull ins.
On Saturday morning 4 Feb we were witness to the thousands of cars coming off the M1 to enter the Airshow. A sense of grinding futility prevailed in me. All that effort and we were flotsam at the margins.
In the afternoon we who were left threw in the towel and retreated from Avalon to the hospitality of friends in the Otway village of Forest about 120 km away. There to rest, wash, do laundry, swim and discharge the tensions of the past few days.
My sense of futility deepened as I watched the laundry go around. What an effort, what little impact and not a F35 ploughshared. O Lord, show me the way!
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But my spirit recovered when a couple of days later I read the story of the F35 no show to the 200,000 or so Airshow punters.
On Friday 3 Feb the two F35s had arrived at Avalon from the US via Amberley RAAF base in Queensland to be greeted by PM Turnbull and military brass. "These F35s will kill ISIS" is what the PM said of the $7 billion plus acquisition. From our camp we had seen and heard them. Compared to the spectacular aerial manoeuvres of the F22 Raptors we had seen in the days before, aloft the F35 is a lumbering thing.
On Saturday 4 Feb, the two Australian owned F35s were billed to do a fly past for the Airshow patrons before they departed for Amberley en route to Guam.
Instead the Airshow patrons got anannouncement that the flight had been cancelled for fear that lightning storms might upset its dicky systems. The F35s were removed from static display and the Airshow punters saw no fly pasts on either of the public days of the Airshow. The F35s departed for Amberley on the Monday after the Airshow had closed.
Lots of questions arose. Why no fly pasts? Who makes these decisions anyway, the USAF or the RAAF? Does the F35 need USAF permission to fly? How come the two F35s on show had not been fitted with lightning protection which Lockheed Martin claim later models have? Had the RAAF been sold a couple of demo duds at $90 million a piece?
Whatever the Australian debut of the F35 became a PR disaster for Lockheed Martin, the RAAF and the Australian Government.
Check out photograph above. Note the number of cops in the crowd and their watch on the crowd. What was their watching brief? Who were they expecting?
I would like to think that talking up a ploughsharing of an F35 to cops directly and indirectly via FaceBook posts may have made its handlers excessively paranoid. One can imagine security reports being passed up the chain of command of backside covers, each level more removed from the meekness of the threat and more concerned about fallout if it happened.
But to claim that would be ego in extremity. Better to stay with the acceptance of and gratitude for mysterious ways of God and callings to ploughshare.
We had set out to target and discredit the F35 as a costly folly of unbridled military spending and had been rewarded with a major self inflicted wound by the F35 handlers themselves. So it goes.
24 March 2017