Anti-Burqa Protest in King George Square Meets Counter Protest
I recently grabbed my camera and headed down to an anti-burqa protest being organised by APDM (Australian Patriots Defence Movement). What was particularly interesting about this protest, from a photographic journalism perspective, was the fact that a counter-protest had been called by left wing groups, to protest the implied racism of an anti-burqa demonstration. This seemed like a good opportunity to get some news worthy photos.
Upon arriving I found the protest already underway. The anti-burqa protesters were outnumbered by anti-racism protesters by about 4-1. Nevertheless they were plugging away undeterred. As the day progressed the protesters got noisier and more aggressive, but the police were doing a good job of keeping combative participants separated. I moved through the crowd unhindered, along with about 5 other photographers and a guy doing sound recordings, attempting to get the interesting shots. There were some interesting exchanges: a few clashes that brought the police in to separate combatants (but no real fisticuffs), a lot of slogan chanting, lines of opposing protestors drawn up against each other, and even heated discussions with protestors attempting to convince each other of their position. I found this one of the most interesting interactions of the day. Even amongst the heated exchanges, people from the opposite sides were still prepared to try and use reason to convince the other of their point of view. Compared to the chaos that was only starting to unfold in Brixton London on that day, this was a very civilised protest.
At one point there seemed to be a police preference for guarding the APDM from the left wing protestors, but I think this was unintentional. I did overhear a Senior-Constable instructing his men to ensure they kept out of the melee unless a specific danger of violence appeared imminent, so as to avoid any appearance of favouritism. The police appeared restrained and polite when dealing with these instances.
As the day wore on tempers wore thinner. At one point, a senior member of the APDM ranks raised his hand towards a female anti-racism protestor as if to hit her (but didn’t). I wasn’t able to get a photograph of this particular incident, but apparently he was shoved first by another protestor. You can see more here: http://theantibogan.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/australian-patriots-defence-movement-of-the-bowels/ I only came in on the tail end of this incident so cannot provide a full account of what happened. This same person had also resorted to name calling, picking on one colourfully dressed young man in particular, referring to him as tinkerbell and inferring that he was homosexual.
Behaviour wasn’t perfect on the anti-racism side either. A couple of male anti-racism protestors were particularly provocative, though not violent. Later in the day a woman had raised a sign saying “this guy is an idiot” while standing next to one of the anti-burqa protestors. I’m not sure what the point of this was.
However apart from these and a couple of heated exchanges where the police interceded, both groups of protestors were surprisingly restrained given their close quarters and the extent of yelling and chanting going on.
I eventually ran out of battery power (I had two old inca Canon batteries – which only managed 160 odd photos each – I expected 400 atleast going by the performance of the batteries in the Olympus, which I had neglected to bring along), and kicking myself for not having bought batteries earlier, ran down to JB HiFi to get a new battery. By the time I got back the APDM group were walking away from the square, apparently having had enough, and the anti-racism protestors were having a last cheer before moving off themselves.
(Full Flickr set click here)