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November 15, 2005

How not to protest in the 21st Century

This one is particularly for my Australian readers.

Some background

Recently, in Australia, the federal government was returned with an unusual majority in both the Senate (upper house) and House of Representatives (like the Commons or Congress, the lower house).

All of a sudden, the Government found itself in the position to do pretty much whatever it wanted. Not being known for its moderation, (or frankly competence,or human decency either - oops, that might get me gaoled soon, given some of their new "anti terror" laws (really anti civil liberties laws, but anyhoo)) they have thrust on the Australian populace a deeply unpopular radical reworking of our entire industrial relations system, with very little debate in parliament, to the benefit of no one other than employer groups (and given I am a real capitalist, that is someone who risks their capital to build companies, you can't just dismiss my position on this as being self interested - in many ways it is the opposite of that).

But, all this is kind of beside the point.

Right now, many thousands (probably several hundreds of thousands) are marching in the streets to protest. And you know what this will achieve? $%&# All. What on earth could such an outmoded form of protest hope to achieve other than to make the opponents of the bill look antediluvian, obstructionist, and easily parodied? If you want to achieve an outcome, first you have to work out the force involved. Who can you co-opt or force into siding with you? Nearly a decade ago, a massive outpouring of public support for Aboriginal Australians, culminating in marches of hundreds of thousands achieved precisely nothing. You have to learn from the past, and not repeat its mistakes.

So who can you get on your side? Well, forget the Federal Opposition - out numbered, in no position to do anything for you whatsoever, and frankly pathetic. The only people whose actions matter to you are members of the government. And what chance do you have of getting them to change their mind? Plenty. Marginal members, the ones who hold their seats by margins which could easily be lost at the next election are always terrified of issues like this. But, you have to put the pressure on them. Here is a little program which would cost next to nothing in money or effort to organize.

  1. Identify the most marginal government seats, and their margins
  2. Get people who live in these seats to write to their members, with their names, pointing out that they live in their electorate, and that there is no chance of them voting for the member should the bill get passed
  3. Watch these members get very worried indeed, and put a lot of party room pressure on the Prime Minister

But instead we get 60's style marches, with all and sundry chiming in, chanting stupid slogans, with Trotskyists and Maoists carrying banners, making it ever so easy for everyone involved to be tarred with their brush.

How bloody stupid can you get?

November 15, 2005 in from the "if you always do what you always did department" | Permalink


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I hear where you're coming from, but I disagree. The protest march yesterday (were you there?), was a throwback to the 60's (but bigger!) and will not change the course of the government's policy, but as Greg Combet eloquently put it... (and I misquote!) This is not just about wages or conditions or unfair dismissal. This is about a spirit of community and caring which is gradually being eroded in the name of efficiency and competetiveness. and what better way to celebrate community than to get out and march with your neighbours and colleagues... support each other.

To 'win' this battle and avoid being totally subsumed into the 'greedy way' will need a lot of hearts and minds. Yesterday's protest, and gatherings like it are essential to reinforce the feeling that you are not alone, because people who are alone get afraid.

Posted by: woowoowoo | Nov 16, 2005 2:20:55 PM

I think protests like that also help get media attention, it's for the PR. The leading TV news stories and the front page articles about the protests keep the Industrial Relations laws on the public agenda.

I agree that protests often bring out the loonies and radicals, but it provokes discussion and debate which i think is a good thing.

Posted by: Dan | Nov 18, 2005 1:56:27 PM

The unions are doing all of the marginal seats campaigning that you suggest but you don't hear about it because it's not newsworthy. A big march is. That's already a reason in favour of it (as long as the other part is being done). But woowoowoo makes the other point - we are not inspired to take further action by the individual actions of writing/emailing/phoning/visiting politicians.
I attended and was inspired that thousands of others felt like me.

Posted by: Grant | Nov 18, 2005 5:25:36 PM

Stupid? Watch footage of the Question Time with the prime minister (QTWTPM) on the to be (new) employment regulations, and then watch QTWTPM on the terrorism bill. There bloody more behaved at a tennis match.

Posted by: Fabian De Rango | Nov 23, 2005 1:07:52 AM

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Posted by: fivefingers | Sep 9, 2010 11:35:41 AM

The leading TV news stories and the front page articles about the protests keep the Industrial Relations laws on the public agenda.

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