On the morning after the May 14 Sydney University strike, I woke up to an empty house. It was 11am, my housemates had both left for the day, and the place was silent and completely deserted. For a few minutes I stumbled around towards the kitchen but then, suddenly overwhelmed by the events of the previous day, I sat down on the floor and started sobbing uncontrollably.
I’ve been on picket lines before, have screamed my lungs out at the cops, and have watched people get arrested alongside me, but I’ve never seen so much violence as I witnessed that day. Again and again and again, the police crashed into our picket lines with overwhelming force. Next to me my friends, people I had just met, and others who I didn’t even know, were shoved, trampled, choked, torn away and violently thrown to the ground. One student was punched in the head, another broke his leg, and another almost passed out after being placed in a headlock. Every time a car refused to respect our lines and tried to cross, the police would go on a rampage and attack us. Eventually, I lost count of how many times this happened.
At the time it all seemed Ok. We were getting attacked continually, but seemed to be holding our ground. Barely any cars at all were getting through. Often the cops couldn’t physically get us off the roads we were blocking, and when they did we managed to re-form our lines behind them almost immediately. I’ve never been much of a singer, but I sung picket songs with gusto that day. Then there were the people. I don’t think I can even find words to describe the sense of solidarity and camaraderie on the line that day. Those that I linked arms and fought the cops with were some of the most indefatigable, committed, militant and caring people I’ve ever met. The amount of compassion and support was astounding. Hugs flowed endlessly. Whenever someone was hurt, people would rush over to care for them. At one point police started to drag me away and someone ran over and pulled me out of their grip. Others were just so utterly fearless in the face of the cops’ violence and intimidation that I feel like I’ll respect them forever. In many ways, the whole thing was amazing.
The day after, though, I wasn’t feeling so great. Being at home alone with these thoughts, with images in my head of fascistic riot police smashing into picketers while others were screaming and chanting in the background, was incredibly scary. I kept imagining that the police were coming to my door to arrest me, take me away, interrogate me. Away from the others who I’d been fighting alongside, I felt very vulnerable. I thought a lot about a call centre where I’d been working recently, and how the bosses there had total control over me – power to tell me what to do with my time, to cut my shifts, to get me fired, to take away my source of income and, ultimately, to call in the riot police to smash our heads in if we ever rebelled. The feeling of living in this total, all-powerful police state was almost overwhelming.
Eventually, though, things started to get better. An email popped up from a friend back in Wollongong, where I used to live, who had seen me getting thrown to the ground by police in a video and wanted to make sure I was Ok. Someone I barely even knew called up to check how I was going. Another friend, who I had started chatting to online, made sure that somebody got in touch and had lunch on Norton Street with me. Then while I was at lunch someone else called up to talk about what we’d been through. I started to get emotional again – not because I was scared, but because people were being so incredibly nice. I couldn’t quite believe how caring everyone was. I could almost feel this amazing surge of gratitude and love for everybody running through my body. We had all looked out for each other on the picket line, now we were taking care of each other afterwards. As soon as I got home I started messaging and calling people who I’d seen get hurt or pushed around to check if they were Ok.
After that day I feel like solidarity is no longer just a word to be tossed around, but a beautiful, living, breathing thing. Of course, I’d always understood in a purely logical way that we could never take on the bosses and the state as isolated individuals because, numerically, it simply wouldn’t work. But I don’t think I’d ever really considered how emotionally necessary it is not to be alone in our fight. This system pits us against each other in so many ways – competing for places to uni, for better grades, for employment, for housing – that acting together and doing things for each other for no personal material gain seems almost like a revolutionary act. The physical, economic and emotional violence that capitalism inflicts upon us seems so intense and miserable that at times I almost feel overwhelmed. But no matter how bad it gets, I feel like if I’m with others, if we’re standing alongside each other and fighting together and caring for one another, then I can keep going, no matter what gets thrown at us.
Be safe and take care of each other, so that we can be dangerous together.