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Occupy Papua New Guinea Takes On Government, Wins

Occupy WallStreet / News Analysis
Published: Friday 13 April 2012
“Over 10,000 gather at Sir John Guise Stadium in Papua New Guinea.”
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In another example of the power of popular resistance, Papua New Guineans this week appear to have successfully stopped the government from delaying elections and implementing a controversial Judicial Conduct Law that would allow the legislature to remove judges. In front of a massive crowd organized by labor unions, churches, social media groups, and civil society organizations, PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill promised to hold elections on time.

The protests were organized in part by student activists and bloggers affiliated with Occupy Waigani, a group that formed last month to occupy Parliament in protest of the Judicial Conduct Law. Among other efforts, Occupiers in PNG are also working to address the exploitation of local resources by corporate interests and unequal development in the country. #OccupyWallStreet stands in solidarity with Occupiers and dissidents everywhere. (See below for a timeline of events in PNG!)

Occupy Wall Street has always been part of a global movement for economic justice and people-powered democracy. In addition to the Arab Spring protests that continue to challenge oppressive regimes from Tunisia to Bahrain, #OWS drew much of our inspiration from the Indignados in Spain and Portugal, the popular assemblies in Greece, the Icelandic Revolution against debt and austerity, the on-going Chilean student protests, and more. Following the Occupation of Liberty Square in New York City, Occupy protests took place on every continent. On the October 15, 2011 global day of action alone, Occupy demonstrations occurred in at least 950 cities in 82 countries.

The Occupy movement has taken hold across the world and remains especially active in countries like Australia, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Germany, and Italy. Last week in Russia, protesters erected tents in Red Square during a protest against government corruption (predictably, they were quickly arrested by Russian police). However, Occupy protests have appeared in all parts of the world, from China to Argentina, and each place has contributed a unique perspective and experience to the Global Revolution to take back our lives from the Global 1%, in whatever form they take.

While our causes may appear disparate, we share a common opposition to abusive government and economic inequality. Whether by the greedy removal of vital fuel subsidies for the 99% in Nigeria last year or the imposition of military rule in Egypt, the people everywhere will no longer tolerate elite misrule. Everywhere, we are demanding true self-government and real democracy - not governments run by banksters, autocrats, corporations, and corrupt politicians. And everywhere, our diverse and localized movements share tactics like the peaceful occupation of public space, mass demonstrations, nonviolent resistance, and the use of social media and horizontal consensus-based democracy to organize online and in the world. As activists in all parts of the world borrow ideas and imagery from one another and adapt them to local struggles, we learn from each other's innovations.

#OccupyWaigani

Last month, a student-led movement opposed to a law that would allow the government to silence dissident judges spawned an Occupy movement in Papua New Guinea. Although international media was completely silent on the events that followed, the protest grew to include broad support when the government voted to suspend elections. Earlier this week, 10,000 people gathered in the capitol of Papua New Guineau and forced the government to reverse their position. Again, beside minor coverage in Australian news, international media has been suspiciously silent. However, the activists themselves have not - using blogs and other social media, protest organizers kept their supporters around the world informed about events as they happened on the ground.

As described by one blogger in a post about Occupy Waigani:

David Wissink, the spokesman for Morobe Mines Joint Venture [a joint Australian/South African mining company in PNG], asked the question of yesterday’s historic protest: ‘So in reality what was gained?’

Most Papua New Guineans know the answer to this question. But for David’s benefit, let’s spell it out.

1) We showed the government that they are accountable to us. Now the politicians realise we are not going to let them get away with blatant disregard for us and our rights.2) We showed solidarity. Good things start to happen when ordinary Papua New Guineans stand together and start talking about issues we share as a nation.3) We showed that we are better than them. They are violent – they let our people be murdered for LNG. They don’t respect our rights – they rushed through an unconstitutional Bill without asking us at all (and now they want us to stop talking about it). They try and divide us and cause conflict between us. WE are peaceful – we marched peacefully, as a nation, and started talking about a better way for all.

David, and mining companies like the one he works for, doesn’t like it when Papua New Guineans speak out. It makes him nervous that Papua New Guineans are thinking for themselves. He thinks: “Maybe they will realise they don’t want or need companies like Newcrest telling them what to think. “Maybe they will realise they don’t need to support the corrupt government which makes so much money for the miners.¨ “Maybe they will realise they don’t need mining or foreign companies at all, because they have a better way of making a living (it’s called land).’”

So WE say congratulations to the protesters, who love their country and believe foreign corporations like MMJV and the government they corrupt are holding us back from a better way (our way). And don’t let them try and tell you that you are violent trouble-makers. They are the violent ones, stealing your land and your money. You are the peacemakers: and the future.

Occupy Waigani and their allies and supporters still need our solidarity to ensure the promise of true democracy is delivered, not only to the people of Papua New Guinea, but to everyone, everywhere.

OCCUPY TOGETHER!

Timeline

  • March 21 - One day after it is introduced and after virtually no serious consideration, the Judicial Conduct Law passes the legislature with a wide majority. Protesters call it the ¨Shut up the judges¨ bill.
  • March 22 - Bloggers and activists call for #OccupyWaigani. (Waigani is the government district of Port Moresby, the capitol.) After a meeting at the University of PNG Forum Square that lasted until 4am, students make and announce plans to ¨occupy the grounds of Parliament¨ in protest of the law, defying police orders not to. The protesters demand that a representative from the government meet with them or they threaten to march directly on the Prime Minister´s office.
  • March 23 - 2500 UPNG students and allies march to office of the Prime Minister Peter O´Neill in Waigani. A stand off with police ensues, who eventually allow the protesters to pass with escort. The students deliver an ultimatum to the PM demanding the removal of the Judicial Conduct Law and declare they will wait for response before planning more actions.
  • March 25 - In a televised nationwide address, the PM refuses to remove the law.
  • March 26 - The Community Coalition Against Corruption, students from the University of PNG, the PNG Trade Union Congress, and PNG social media networks hold a joint press conference announcing they are considering a national general strike with ¨sit-in protests in urban areas¨ by students at PNG's main universities in Port Moresby, Lae, Goroka, Madang and Rabaul.
  • March 29 - Over 4700 students skip class at the University of PNG.
  • March 30 - Thousands more students strike at Unitech in Lae, calling it #OccupyTopTown. Some also start using #OccupyPNG now that there are at least two cities participating.
  • April 5 - A student forum meets again to discuss the next course of action. During the assembly, they recieve word that the legislature voted to defer elections by a vote of 63-11.
  • April 6 - Students and Occupiers on social media release the following statement:
    We the people of Papua New Guinea are now DEMANDING the Government to RESCIND THIS MOTION TO ‘DEFER THE ELECTIONS’ IMMEDIATELY!! We DEMAND that the Elections go ahead at the appointed time. By the 27th of April, the Writs must be issued and due election process allowed to occur. We the people of Papua New Guinea declare that we will NOT RELENT IN OUR PROTEST UNTIL OUR DEMANDS ARE COMPLIED WITH!! A Coalition comprising: Trade Unions, Business Houses, TIPNG. CCAC, Civil Society Organizations, University Students, Churches and Citizens will convene a NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION and MARCH TO PARLIAMENT. [...] WEAR YOUR INDEPENDENCE DAY PNG COLOUR T-SHIRTS. WE WILL MARCH, AND WE WILL PROTEST, AND WE WILL CAMP OUTSIDE THE PARLIAMENT HOUSE UNTIL PARLIAMENT RESCINDS THE MOTION TO DEFER THE ELECTIONS!!

April 8 - Via Twitter and other social media, student leaders and activists continue to share links to #OWS, Adbusters, and Take The Square information on how to occupy.

April 9 - Another student meeting in Forum Square is held. Student leader Nou Vada tells the media:¨O'Neill has said whatever marches on Tuesday will be illegal... We need to either listen to the lawbreaker's pronouncement of law and obey or act in what is purportedly civil disobedience, as the students did a few weeks back, and negotiate our way through the blockades and the cocked weapons.¨

April 10 - 10,000 Papua New Guineans converge on Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby to protest the delay of elections and the Judicial Conduct Law. There are several Occupy-inspired signs and banners and it is organized on Twitter using #OccupyWaigani. Student, labor, and religious leaders speak out and the crowd declares ¨We Are Parliament!¨ Most of the city is shut down and there is heavy police presence around the square. Some looting occurs elsewhere, and protesters blame police for only paying attention to the protest. The Prime Minister with heavy escort arrives to address the massive crowd personally and is booed. He then promises to hold elections as planned and remove the Judicial Conduct Law (as long as a controversial judge agrees to step down) and receives cheers. Many still question whether he is trust-worthy and will carry out his promises.

April 11 - As the legislature has not yet rescinded the plan to delay elections, protesters say they are making contingency plans in the event the Prime Minister and the government do not hold elections as promised. A court has, however, issued an injunction against the Judicial Conduct Law.



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