Culture //

Sandstone and suffering

Blythe Worthy was at the St John’s College protests.

Two Thursdays ago, I hadn’t decided whether I was going to go to the stealth demonstration, now known as #pyneatusyd, at St John’s College. Stuck in a meeting at my internship in Camperdown, my phone wouldn’t stop vibrating, and I checked it to find no less than 34 notifications. The secret planning group for the demonstration, aimed at Liberal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, was abuzz with excited anticipation, and I was convinced to join in. I met them in Manning at 5:30pm on the dot for a briefing before we headed down to St John’s to intercept Pyne at the Liberal Club’s Howard Cup debating tournament.

My ambivalence turned to uneasiness when I met up with my friend. She bit her lip distractedly. “I think it’s going to be really intense tonight.” I nodded, but we met up with the rest of the group anyway. I didn’t want to let an opportunity to demonstrate against fee deregulation go to waste and I was keen on covering the demonstration for a magazine I work for, so when the group picked up their banners after a short strategy meeting, we left with them. The few security guards we passed were talking on walkie-talkies. At one point, we had to hide from a group of riot police who meandered past us, completely unaware that the grassy mound to their left hid around 50 activists, bristling with grim determination.

Once we got near St John’s a female leader of the protest turned around. “We’re going to have to run now, guys.” And, in a fairly scattered group, we did just that. By the time I arrived at the college, protesters were attempting to enter the hall in order to disrupt the proceedings. We already knew we’d be outnumbered.

There was a single security guard attempting to fend off protesters, but no sign of the riot police yet. I was pushed up against the door by the swell of demonstrators and then there was a shout. “Police!” I turned to film the riot cops arrive and they immediately began shoving their way forcefully through the crowd, something we’d anticipated.

The police wedged me against a solid wall of people and then, when I was obviously immobile, they became more and more forceful. Almost everyone was screaming and yelling, and I felt suffocated by the crush of people around me. I was trying in vain to tell the officer in front of me to stop repeatedly pushing my friend over backwards as there was a chair behind her and his action was only hurting her. Eventually, I was able to drag her a few feet away, and we stood together, chanting and watching the police swarm over the building.

I checked my Twitter and learned that by tweeting about the protest I’d become a target for Liberal troll abuse. I added it to the long list of things I’d known would happen the minute I answered those Facebook messages three hours before