Economic oppression of activists

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Targeting the financial resources of activist groups, individual activists, and organisations that support activists is a common tool of oppression.

The police, court, and legislative systems are frequently harnessed and weaponised to weaken the economic stability of a group or movement as well as financially penalise individuals for taking part in protest or civil disobedience.

Attacking the financial stability of a group or of individual people can not only put the continued existence of that group at risk but can weaken people’s ability to be involved in the community work they care about.

Economic oppression can take many forms, below are some of the most commonly seen in “Australia”.

Fines are one of the most common ways that police and governments in “Australia” economically oppress activists.

This occurs when police use their discretion to hand out fines for offences both directly or indirectly related to a protest activity.

Targeting protestors

Sometimes police will target known protestors for offences not directly related to any protest activity.

For example: during the Occupy Melbourne protests, protestors reported that Victoria Police had officers stationed on the street and were targeting protestors with jaywalking fines.

Protest specific offences

The creation of new fineable offences specifically targeting protest activities is another form of economic oppression.

Fineable offences that specifically target protest activities not only criminalise protest but also work to explicitly financially penalise individuals for engaging in protest activity.

Paying fines

While using group resources or crowdfunding to pay for fines is an important act of solidarity – and can help make participation possible for people who can’t afford potential fines – it unfortunately also depletes financial resources across the movement.

Creating financial barriers to participation

The threat of fines can also work to price people out of taking part in protest activities.

The threat or possibility of fines can have the effect that only those with the financial resources to pay potential fines feel able to participate in protest activity – creating a financial barrier to activism.

Most protest related charges are on the minor end of criminal offending. They also rarely involve any intention to put people’s immediate safety at risk.

There is an increasing trend of police prosecutors asking the courts for heavy fines and other serious penalties (such as criminal convictions, community corrections orders, and jail time) to be imposed on protestors. 

Even when these are successfully appealed, the appeals process itself creates another wave of costs and potential loss of earnings (see Court Related Costs below).

The increasing trend in criminal convictions being recorded and jail sentences being imposed creates the risk of long-term economic oppression.

In addition to the obvious loss of income that results when a person is imprisoned, having a criminal record or a record of imprisonment can impact a person’s employment options for years or a lifetime (depending on which state you are charged in and any ‘spent convictions’ scheme available). 

Criminal convictions or jail time are excessive penalties for protest related offences, which are typically on the minor end of criminal offending.

These forms of excessive penalties can create long-term economic oppression of activists, limiting their ability to work and earn income.

Aside from being stressful and time-consuming, being prosecuted for an offence can also impact finances.

In addition to paying lawyers fees, you may also have to take time out from work, and lose pay, to attend court and prepare for court.

If you are a parent or carer, you may also have to pay for childcare or replacement care while you are at court or preparing for court.

Groups engaged in protest and activist work come in a variety of forms and rarely work in complete isolation.

Money is often involved in some way or another, whether it is directly crowdsourcing funds, winning grants, government funds, or receiving support and assistance from other groups or organisations that are funded.

Receiving funding from non-community sources is often a necessity. Sadly this necessity comes with the possibility for funding to be taken away as a penalty for doing or being connected to activist work.

The threat of funding being taken away can also be weaponised to control activist work or scare off a funded group from supporting an un-funded group.

An example of this was the intention of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) in 2021 to deregister charities’ tax deductible (DGR) status if they used their resources to support or promote offences related to protest activities.

‘Supporting or promoting’ included posting or sharing posts on social media of protest activities that involved offences. 

Taking away a charity’s DGR status would place extreme financial pressure on it and could cause its financial collapse.

You can read more about this form of economic oppression in “Global Warning: the threat to climate defenders in Australia” or in the FLS submission on the proposed ACNC changes.

Another common form of economic oppression in “Australia” is the targeting of activist cars and other vehicles for roadworthy checks.

Activists involved in the No Gas blockade near Rubibi  (Broome) and the Lizards Revenge anti-nuclear protests on Arabunna lands reported their cars being targeted by police for roadworthy checks.

Protestors reported having their cars yellow-stickered for the most minor of details.

The costs of having to then take vehicles to mechanics for full checks and repairs can be a significant financial burden and divert funds away from other important parts of a campaign.

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