With two weeks to go before the Olympics hit Sydney, the city is ground zero for all manner of protestors, activists and anyone with a beef about the Games. Which, as it turns out, is a lot of people.
As September 15 nears, a diverse array of groups is coming together to host a massive protest in front of the world during the opening ceremonies.
"The Olympics have big impacts on a city," says tenant worker Hazel Blunden of the Olympic Impact Coalition.
"If Toronto gets the Games, you'll probably find out for yourself. Rents have been going continuously up, and people are being chucked out of their rental accommodations as landlords are doing short-term rentals to Olympic visitors."
With government heedless of the consequences, the Coalition has taken the issue into its own hands, setting up a 24-hour homeless info line for the duration in case of forced evictions or police harassment. Volunteer lawyers have been enlisted to take on any such cases, says Blunden. "We're trying to safeguard people's rights."
"We're very concerned about this racist federal government that we have," says Ray Jackson of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, his thick Aussie drawl reverberating with anger down the staticky line from Sydney.
Jackson has been fielding calls from worldwide media as his group mobilizes over 350 First Nations as the Olympic opening fast approaches. "Prime Minister John Howard has turned the clock on indigenous issues back to the 1950s, when Aborigines had no rights at all," he says.
Peace camp Currently, Aboriginal groups have established a "peace camp" in Victoria Park, a few kilometres from Sydney's business district and directly in the path of the opening ceremonies' procession.
Plans are for the anti-Olympic movement and its allies, such as the S-11 campaign against the September 11 World Economic Forum in Melbourne (six hours away), to converge in a mass rally on the site September 15 as international media and spectators descend on the city.
"We expect 80- to 100,000 people to be at rallies around Sydney," says Jackson. "The police are telling us that no one is allowed to march in Sydney. This city has been locked down, and is in the process of being locked down still further, and human rights are being taken away."
Still, the word continues to spread online through the Sydney Independent Media Centre (www.sydney.indymedia.org) and the Sydney Alternative Media Centre (www.samcentre.org), which are drawing on tactics developed during the WTO protest in Seattle.