Time to take to the streets over falling protest standards
The aims of any public rally or protest generally are to: draw attention to the cause, build public support, and secure a favourable response by authorities.
Australian protesters regularly score well on the first because protesters have an excellent sense of when cameras are likely to be in the vicinity, and that slogans and large, TV friendly signs and props will be useful to those editing the evening news bulletins.
But on the other two aims Australian protests are in something of a rut. Increasingly the numbers of people at public rallies are grimly thin and feature people and slogans that are more likely to inspire puzzlement than passion. This was brilliantly evidenced by two protests in Sydney this week - one which involved a mock kangaroo funeral and another calling for the Reserve Bank to drop rates - both of which were attended by only a handful of protesters. They were extreme examples but underscored the malaise affecting the wider culture of public protest in modern Australia.
The main errors tend to be the use of indecipherable stunts or props. What ever happened to burning an evil-looking effigy of a prominent public figure with blood on its hands, or ripping up or burning a photo of the target of your anger? This classic act of protest is a clear, unequivocal political statement and works brilliantly on TV. But increasingly the trend is towards stunts and props which may sound like good ideas at the Protest Planning Meeting but in practice are often all show, and no sense.
This week’s mock kangaroo funeral in Sydney was a classic case in point. Let’s put aside the rights and wrongs of Canberra’s kangaroo cull, and focus instead on the effectiveness of the protest.
It was staged at the State Parliament but signs called for action by the Prime Minister. Wrong location.
The “mock funeral” intended to symbolise the tragedy of the marsupial cull featured a black coffin, though it wasn’t kangaroo-shaped. Wrong box.
Perhaps most bewildering was the juxtaposition of the funeral procession featured a giant inflatable kangaroo which looked like it probably had its last outing in the raucous and jolly atmosphere of a Socceroos game or down the road at the FIFA FanFest.
Wrong… well, just wrong.
There were a number of signs including some made by children which, while heart-rending, were not quite the epitome of clear and concise political communication. Here’s a close look - note the laughing gunmen off to one side and the graphic blood spurts.
Sure, it drew attention to the roo cull. But middle Australia isn’t going to look at that picture and decide something must be done. More likely tilt their heads a bit to make it out and say, “Oh, that’s cute”, before heading back to looking at pictures on Facebook.
The other protest in Sydney this week was by The Investors Club outside the Reserve Bank headquarters in Martin Place. This made some of the TV bulletins that evening even though it only featured at most a dozen people. Their mission was to call on the RBA to cut the target cash rate to 2.5 per cent.
Again, set aside the relative merits of cutting interest rates to 2.5 per cent apart from the likelihood it would send investors into a wild panic, trigger a run on the dollar and possibly collapse the housing market, and focus instead on the protest.
If there was a rule book of contemporary Australian political sloganeering, the first item would surely be: never copy anything from Mark Latham.
The trouble with these protests is they are usually presented in TV bulletins as little people representing community values because they make good vision and give the appearance that the story is an issue of community of concern. But as in the case of the kangaroo funeral and the TIC demand for a 2.5% cash rate, they are often more marginal views.
These two protests this week also provide a nice opportunity to delve into the photo archives and retrieve this. In three years the precise intent of the stunt has never been satisfactorily explained.
After the 2007 Cronulla riots there was an anti-racism demonstration at Sydney’s Town Hall. Some demonstrators lined up and wrapped their faces in Australian flags. One of them held a dog.
What had this to do with not being racist?
Surely everyone would accept the dog isn’t a racist, and most people like dogs, so perhaps that’s fair enough.
But what does an Australian flag wrapped over someone’s face communicate other than “hey, take a photo!”?
Placing a flag over a face has loosely associated with the darker elements of western power ever since an American soldier briefly but ill-advisedly draped the stars ‘n’ stripes over a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad.
So taking that as a starting point, tying a flag over your face in protest at racism implies you are being oppressed in some way.
That’s it! Anti-racists are oppressed! Except ... it’s a free-assembly demonstration in front of TV cameras.
Nup, still doesn’t make sense after all these years.
What suggestions would you give to people organising a public demonstration? Over to you.
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