Protest Stickers: Melbourne

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Melbourne is famous for its street art (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This summer, I spent 3 weeks travelling around Australia and New Zealand. I have already written blog posts about Sydney’s Protest Stickers, and the Lennon Wall for Hong Kong in Melbourne. Melbourne has a reputation for being Australia’s most cosmopolitan city. It is also known for its culture, particularly the restaurants, bars, boutique shops, and street art in the city’s Laneways. As it turns out, it’s also pretty good for protest stickers. Like most large cities, Melbourne’s protest stickers address issues on a range of scales, from the local, through the national, to the global. I found some stickers that I have seen elsewhere in the world, and some that are uniquely Melburnian.

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There has been a lot of debate recently about free speech and ‘no platforming’. The producer of this sticker is quite confident about the best way to counter fascist beliefs (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is alluding to Australia’s colonial history. There is no one Aboriginal name for Australia, because there was a large number of Aboriginal communities and societies when Europeans arrived. Aboriginal peoples have suffered extensive hardship, prejudice and discrimination at the hands of Europeans, and although their treatment has improved, there is still a long way to go (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Fin Free Melbourne is a group that campaigns for the banning of all shark-fin based products in Melbourne, with the ultimate goal of protecting shark species all over the world (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Climate change is an increasingly popular topic of protest stickers around the world, and Melbourne is no exception (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The School Strike for Climate is a global movement kickstarted by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. School Strike 4 Climate is an Australian organisation that coordinates strikes around the country (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

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Extinction Rebellion is another global climate movement. It started in the UK in late 2018, but now has a strong Australian branch (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Be Fair Be Vegan is a US-based campaign group that funds advertising campaigns to promote veganism. Melbourne is just one of the cities in which they have paid for advertising (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The colours on this sticker have faded, but at one point it would have been the Trans flag (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Unfortunately, I sometimes find stickers that promote racist and far-right politics. It seems that I am not the only one who took offence at the message of this sticker however, as someone has tried to erase and obscure it (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker has also provoked some debate–words and letters have been removed, covered over and written again to alter its message. Police forces around the world can be controversial, with some appreciating the safety and protection they offer, whilst others think they abuse their power and discriminate against minority groups (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is also criticising the police, alongside prisons and more broadly capitalism. Some of it has been removed, but I can still tell from the colour scheme and blood splatter that it is playing on Kill Bill, the popular 2003 Quentin Tarantino film (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is also criticising capitalism, arguing that workers deserve to keep everything (including wealth) that they generate. I don’t recognise the character in the middle of the sticker

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I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more comprehensive protest sticker! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

Book Review: The Autonomous City- A History of Urban Squatting by Alexander Vasudevan

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The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting by Alexander Vasudevan.

Alexander Vasudevan. The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting. London: Verso, 2017. RRP £16.99 paperback.

Squatting has been a feature of Western urban protest since the mid-twentieth century, although it has enjoyed varying levels of popularity. Alexander Vasudevan is an Associate Professor of Human Geography at the University of Oxford who has written extensively on the geographies of squatting in academic publications. The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting brings Vasudevan’s research to a popular audience. The book details the history of squatting in an impressive number of Western cities: New York, London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Vancouver are all covered, as well as some Italian cities.

The Autonomous City is detailed and well-researched. The broad geographical range of the book is made even more impressive when you think about how many languages the research required a working knowledge of. Anglophone geographers are beginning to acknowledge the importance of researching other places, and acknowledging research from other cultures, but many of us lack the linguistic skills to put this into practice. As such, The Autonomous City‘s international outlook is a refreshing change.

Vasudevan convincingly argues that the history of squatting is about more than standing up to excessive rents and poor quality housing. It is also about creating an alternative city. Squatters imagine a way of life drastically different from how we live now, and bring it in to being by actually living it. In this way, they demonstrate that the way things are is not the only way that they can be, that an alternative way of life is possible.

Squatting is “a form of direct action that remained first and foremost a struggle over the right to be in the city and against the commodification of land and housing.”

Vasudevan, 2017: p.232

The Autonomous City is structured by city, which makes the narrative clear and easy to follow, but can get repetitive. In each case, Vasudevan traces the history of squatting in that city, highlighting key moments and individual squats. He dedicates two chapters to New York City, the first and the last, which brings a pleasing circularity to the book’s structure. There are clear links, similarities, and points of difference between the various cities that Vasudevan discusses, but he doesn’t make those links or draw comparisons, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Another omission that I find odd is the lack of images–there are no pictures. I understand that this may have been the publisher’s decision rather than the author’s, but they are noticeable by their absence, particularly in a book that is aimed at a more popular audience.

The Autonomous City is a well-researched, well-written book that will appeal to anyone with an interest in squatting, urban resistance, or radicalism. It will also appeal to those with an interest in urban history more generally, as it looks at one way in which urban form is negotiated and contested.