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Responding to arrests

Activist campaigns in Australia have generally three options when facing the consequences of arrests and charges as a result of the campaign:

  1. "Abandon" those arrested to organise their own defence. Although very common, this approach, to some extent, represents a betrayal of those willing to risk arrest. In organising an action in which people may be arrested the organising body does take on some responsibility. Even where the "organising body" is diffuse, autonomous or network based, people involved see their actions as part of a wider political struggle. Abandoning activists who have a different political perspective, got arrested for the "wrong" reasons or because they were "too militant" is also common.
  2. "Passing off" the responsibility for the defence of those involved to another organisation such as community legal centres. The prospect of taking on large numbers of arrestees, with little or no reward, is not particularly attractive for under funded community legal centres. While an informal network of sympathetic legal workers may provide services in the case of relatively small numbers of arrestees, in larger scale actions or campaigns a coordinating body is required.
  3. Take on responsibility for the legal defence of those arrested and invest the resources of the organisation in their support. For organisations with limited resources this is difficult but possible. Some may argue that providing legal and court support would be diverting resources from the "real" campaign goals. Well-organised activist legal support can help strengthen campaign goals and help create more sustainable and radical campaigns.

In Australia, a mixture of the above practices has been evident. If direct action is to remain an effective option in political issues then abandoning activists to face the legal consequences of political action is not a realistic option, despite how easy it at first appears.