Maria Mardones: “I don’t want to let go of the rage”

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Maria Mardones. Photo by Alison Thorne.

“When I heard about the Seattle protest against the WTO, I knew it was significant. As the protests began moving from country to country, it became clear that coordination of the Left on a

global level was starting to occur. So, I was excited to hear on 3CR about planned protests against the World Economic Forum.

At school we’d been discussing globalisation. I knew that I needed to be one of the voices that said globalisation — capitalism — isn’t on. The Third World has been squeezed forever, and now the squeeze is on the workers of the developed countries, too.

I organised a group of students from Chisholm. We made some banners and met to discuss strategies. Our teachers —  representatives from the Australian Education Union — came into class to urge us not to go to S11. They said it would be dangerous and encouraged us to be on the other side of the river with unionists on S12. This just made our group more determined that we needed to blockade.

We also wanted to counter all the radio programs talking about radicals being unwashed with weird hair. I wanted it known that it was not just young activists who opposed capitalist globalisation, it was also a Chilean mother of two from Noble Park.

We caught the first train. We knew it was vital to get there early to build our numbers. I was surprised at the huge number of people walking toward the Casino. The weather was miserable, but the feeling among the crowd was warmth.

On Tuesday afternoon I thought I would stay, because we’d heard that the police were preparing to get the delegates out. I was at the Queens Bridge exit. We started linking arms at about 6.30. The atmosphere on this blockade was fantastic. There was a lot of music and chanting. Just after 7.00, the police attacked with no warning. We were chanting, then suddenly it was mayhem. We linked arms to try to keep the exit closed. I was in the tenth row from the front. All I could see was lines of people going down. There was nothing I could do except stand firm and hold on tight. The person in front of me got hit and fell. As she fell, I leaned forward and I got hit with a baton. The first blow I felt was just behind my shoulder. The pain was like scalding hot water. Then I fell. Police started walking on top of me. I could feel their boots. As they walked, I got hit with a baton on my back and legs and I got kicked. They screamed “Get up. Get up.” But I couldn’t. It seemed like it was never going to end.  I can’t even count the number of blows, kicks and punches that I received. The police picked me up by the arms and legs, moved me and threw me on the ground. They dragged me by my hair. I was treated like an animal.

I was shocked by what had happened. I hadn’t encountered that level of violence ever. My anger was hard to contain. I had a right to be there! That night they took away my rights to protest and my freedom of expression, and they beat me because of my opinions. I don’t want to let go of the rage — we need to hold on to it and even nurture it.

I have contacted the Ombudsman’s Office and lodged my complaint. I am also one of the people in the legal action being prepared by Slater and Gordon.

Plus, I resigned from the Labor Party. I went to my branch meeting just after S11. I spoke about what happened to me. They said I shouldn’t have been there. This was after Premier Bracks called us fascists and said we deserved what we got. I didn’t deserve it — nobody deserved to be treated the way we were treated that day. My parents were oppressed and violated in their own country, Chile. Now I have been oppressed and violated in my own country, Australia.

S11 has left me really encouraged and optimistic about the future — the Left got together and organised so effectively. Despite the police attacks, the protest was a huge success, because it has laid firm foundations for a strong Left alternative.”

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