The Tecoma 8 are eight protestors being sued by the McDonalds corporation for peacefully protesting against their planned store in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges.
The small township of Tecoma has been fighting a two year battle against the inappropriate development of a McDonalds in its main street. To read the background to this sustained community campaign go to burgeroff.org This struggle has raised questions about the rights of local communities to have proper input into the planning process. Recent developments however raise the question, do we have the right to protest against powerful interests at all?
Roof Occupation and blockading begins
On the July 1st, McDonalds began to attempt to demolish the old Hazelvale Dairy on the development site and the community immediately began to peacefully protest in large numbers. An occupation of the roof and a determined blockade of the site to prevent trucks and contractors entering began. By the third day of the blockade, construction was shut down when the CFMEU pulled all workers off the site due to safety concerns and out of respect for the community’s wishes.
McDonalds sues the eight
In an outrageous use of the courts, on Tuesday 16th July McDonald’s began serving papers on the “Tecoma 8”, summoning them to appear in the Supreme Court on July 18th. The 8 individuals being sued are being held responsible by McDonald’s for all the damages and costs McDonald’s allegedly faces in relation to delays to construction. Melbourne’s Herald-Sun estimated the initial costs sought to be $325,000.
The interim injunction in place until the 1st August, not only places restrictions on the 8 people served but anybody who entered the McDonald’s site, without their consent, between 1 and 17 July 2013 and anybody who impeded the access of workers or vehicles to the McDonald’s site between 1 and 17 July 2013.
The injunction not only prevents all those covered from protesting non-violently within a specified area but also prevents them encouraging others to continue to non-violently resist the demolition at the site. The judge said that social media was not to be used by those covered by the injunction as “a call to arms”. The McDonald’s lawyers brought into court as evidence reams of screenshots from social media. This is arguably the most undemocratic and controversial part of the interim order.
All of the people named in the suit are accused of no more than non-violent civil disobedience resulting in minor criminal charges such as trespass. One of the eight is alleged to have momentarily delayed a truck in an incident in which they were not even charged with an offence. Others are accused of acts such as briefly being on a roof to take photos or delaying a portaloo truck! McDonald’s has also cited as evidence their “incitement” of others because they dared to give interviews to the press or encourage people to protest on social media.
McDonalds are watching you!
The level of surveillance by McDonalds of citizens protesting against them also has been extraordinary. Private security have constantly been photographing people and surveillance cameras have been erected round the site. Social media has been trawled for evidence of “incitement”. All of this evidence is now being used to identify and sue individuals includng posts from people’s personal pages. Posts from the campaign page Burger Off and the Facebook pages No MacDonalds in the Dandenong Ranges and No Maccas in the Hills were submitted as evidence. The “about” sections of both pages were cited to demonstrate their purpose to organise peaceful protests.
While unaffected Tecoma residents have attempted to continue protesting, the convoluted nature of the court rulings has been used against them. A concerted attempt has been made by the security force retained by McDonald’s to misinform, bluff and intimidate protestors by false warnings & threats backed by hundreds of intrusive photos of peaceful protestors.
A test case for civil liberties?
This is nothing short of corporate bullying of ordinary citizens of the worst kind. If this law suit stands then it sends a warning to all groups whose non-violent protest costs a large corporation or powerful interest money. A precedent whereby the courts are used to target individuals and hold them responsible for the actions of the whole demonstration could affect union pickets, environmental direct actions, students protests, or other residents groups opposing development. Do ordinary citizens need to feel they are risking their houses just to take part in a non-violent act of civil disobedience against powerful interests who can ‘buy’ their decisions through expensive court processes?