Protests are a funny one aren’t they? Lately I’ve been to a few that have stuck in my craw. On Saturday it was FuckWalk – a protest against Baillieu’s swear laws, a cause which I wholeheartedly agree with, although the protest was also used to promote a broader social agenda. I didn’t originally intend to go, but found myself at Bourke St mall and the protestors just marched up to me.
It was a pretty young crowd, with a a predominance of hippy left-wing fashions – dyed hair, dreadies, piercings, badges, berets, hoodies, sloganed T-shirts. Socialist Alliance and Resistance spoke at the rally and SA had a large banner right at the front – it seemed like they had organised it.
As I arrived, one of the speakers was yelling ‘Unfuck Victoria!’ and getting the crowd to repeat it after him. They obliged. I stood on a bench so as to get a better view of the speakers.
One of the girls behind me commented, ‘You’d think they would have thought a bit harder about what they were going to say!’ I turned around and said in solidarity, ‘Yeah, Unfuck Victoria?’ She laughed: ‘Sounds like they’re trying to give back its virginity or something!’ Then she offered me some of her popcorn.
The last speaker compared the laws to Nazism – ‘since when was all these Nazi views imposed on us as a country,’ – and called on the crowd to ‘fuck being a conformist – fight now.’ He compared this amassing of people to the Arab spring ‘All over the world, people are getting together and telling the government to get fucked!.. Fuck you! We are not fucking prisoners!’ He then invited people to come to a a ‘meeting’ at Melbourne University on Thursday night (I’ve since realised this is the Economic and Social Outlook conference), where Abbott, Ferguson, Swan and other politicians would talk about ‘how they control you and the resources boom.’ ‘Come along and tell them to get fucked!’ he shouted in a sandpaper voice. The aggressive tone was quite brutal on my hangovered ears.
This doesn’t seem like the best tactic to engage people. The aggression is one thing, and to my mind, that’s obviously wrong, although there’s undoubtedly a fine line between revving people up and coming on a bit too strong. The situation with the event being so Socialist is a bit of a different thing though.
It reminds me of the Wikileaks protest, where there was a sea of red Socialist flags and crackly loudspeaker which denounced neo-liberalism and the Northern Territory intervention. At that protest, it seemed to me like freedom of expression was being claimed as a socialist or ultra-left-wing issue, which would have alienated some potential supporters. Some of my friends who rocked up to that protest in full solidarity with the cause, but left quickly once they absorbed the tone of it.
But as someone pointed out to me when I was bitching about red flags at Wikileaks, freedom of expression (which is what both of these protests were about) means just that – so you can’t really criticise people for choosing whatever mode of expression they want. Some people feel similarly about Greens triangles – in the past, I’ve heard that some concerned members of environment groups have tried to get people to put them away at climate rallies, for fear that the cause would be branded as a political issue owned by The Greens.
The thing with Socialist Alliance is, whether or not you agree with all of their views, at least they’re out there and doing something about issues they care about (some of which I care about, too, but obviously not enough to organise a protest about it). If Socialist Alliance do dominate protests, isn’t that because they’re the ones that bothered to show up? If more people were committed enough to come, the composition of the crowd would become more diverse. But I know some people, who might potentially come, are alienated by the heavy presence of the Socialist types. So it’s a bit of a Catch 22.