Over a hundred protesters gathered at Town Hall on Saturday in yet another rally decrying NSW anti-protest laws. Deanna “Violet” Maree Coco – who was sentenced to over a year in prison under the new laws but has since been released on bail – made the most of her reinstated freedoms by speaking at the rally.
In April, Coco blocked one lane of traffic on the Harbour bridge with a hire truck for 25 minutes, lighting a flare on top of the trunk as she live-streamed the action alongside fellow protesters to "draw attention to the climate and ecological emergency.”
On December 2nd, Coco was fined $2500 and sentenced to 15 months in prison with a non-parole period of eight months but was released on bail pending an appeal of her jail sentence. The appeal will be held next March in court.
“I’m just so grateful for the response of everybody to not let this go unchallenged, and it is the strength of this community that has not only granted me my bail and got me out here,” Coco said at the rally, surrounded by a close-knit group of activists.
The rally followed a similar protest outside the Downing Centre courts on December 13 when Coco was released on bail after spending 11 days in Silverwater prison.
“I’m just so grateful that people are standing up against the attack on our democracy and protecting our right to protest, especially in such as important issue in protecting our planet and the environment from the collapse,” Coco told Vertigo.
“I really want to see a liveable planet for our kids and for ourselves, and that involves stopping the government from investing in fossil fuel industries, stopping fossil fuels totally, and protecting and restoring our ecosystems”.
Members of Blockade Australia, Extinction Rebellion and Fireproof Australia attended the protest at Town Hall, including Mali Cooper, who blocked the Sydney Harbour tunnel earlier this year when she locked herself to her car's steering wheel with a bike lock.
These groups, which are well known for non-violent disruptive climate protests – including supergluing themselves to roads and Andy Warhol paintings, scaling coal extractors and blocking rail lines – are the targets of the government’s amended protest laws.
Under the laws that passed in April with Labor’s support, protesters that block major roads or infrastructure face up to two years in jail and a $22,000 fine. The laws have been criticised by groups such as Amnesty International, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, and the Greens as “anti-democratic” and “draconian”.
“I’m here because the right to peaceful protest is something that we have to protect, and sadly what we are seeing is an attack on our democracy through the attack on our rights to protest,” NSW Greens Senator Jenny Leong told Vertigo at the rally.
After speeches at Town Hall, protesters marched through the city to NSW parliament under a close police eye. One protester also took the opportunity to walk his pug.
“We’re here today to protest the anti-democratic and anti-protest laws introduced into NSW in the last year,” environmental officer for Sydney University’s SRC, Simon Upitis told Vertigo.
“We think that it is absolutely unjust that the people who are standing up for ordinary people and standing up for the planet are going to jail, while the real climate criminals, the fossil fuel companies, are being protected by the government.”
Photography by Aston Brown