Why we Marched in March
On Sunday I Marched in March through Brisbane with thousands of people. Guesstimates of just how many varied from 2000 (ridiculous) to 8000 (a tad optimistic). All I can add is that there was a far greater density of people – in Queens Square and in the streets of the CBD – than I have seen on previous occasions. In November, it was claimed there were 5000 in the Square demanding action on climate change. And then, as on Sunday, Brisbane was far outnumbered by Melbourne, reputed to have 50,000 marchers.
On this occasion there was no single big issue. If there was a rallying cry, it was 'Not in our name'. The message – to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his government – was loud and clear; that a whole load of policies that were not fleshed out, or even mentioned, by the LNP prior to the election campaign have not gone down well with many Australians. No one believed, for example, that 'stopping the boats' was going to involve such a secretive Ministry for Immigration and Border Security, the alienation of the Indonesian government, and conditions so intolerable in detention camps that they would lead to riot and death. Although many Australians may well have voted for change at the last election, they do not believe they gave Abbott a mandate to expunge scientists from Canberra; or exclude groups and individuals from long-standing legal rights to object to proposed resource development.
Whichever political party the marchers may, or may not, have supported in the past, did not seem particularly relevant here. This was an outburst of the moment.
It was the first time some of them had ever made a banner and taken to the streets of their town or city. Among the plethora of placards, some were witty, others deadly serious; some ridiculed, others pleaded; some stated bluntly, others questioned rhetorically; some were confined to two- or three-word slogans, while others attempted dot-point lists. The areas of concern were many and various: the treatment of asylum seekers; the absence of a realistic climate change action plan; protection of the environment, and the Great Barrier Reef in particular; health service provisions; Gonski education funding reforms; gay marriage; native title rights; the Trans-Pacific Partnership; penalty (overtime) rates; fracking; corporate greed; women's rights; the threat to democracy...
The overwhelming impression I got, however, was of a huge bunch of people that had come together out of concern for the direction in which their country is headed: a society that is less humane than it was; a nation that has lost credibility among its near neighbours as well as on the world stage; citizens overlorded by leaders motivated by greed rather than grace (in the sense of unconstrained good will); individuals who believe their rights have been eroded and their beliefs discounted. The signs spoke of fear for country and the loss of core values.
Critics have asked, what was the point of such action? This form of protest is surely outmoded and ineffectual. Interestingly, however, this weekend was organised on social media, and reported by social media, and those who tweeted while they were there, posted photos and are now blogging about the event, feel connected with like minds in a manner that could not be achieved by other means, especially by emailing or calling their political representatives. Empowerment has been generated by this populist movement, and it will not be debilitated by cynicism or debased by trolls.
Another example of this effect was the outstanding reaction to WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam's speech a couple of weeks ago, in which he denounced Tony Abbott's policies, perspective and presentation. The not-far-short of 800,000 hits Senator Ludlam has notched up on YouTube so far happened because, thanks to social rather than mainstream media, people listened and thought: 'Yeah, he's got that spot on. At last someone has stood up and said exactly what I think.' And promptly shared it with friends across the country, if not the world. Mainstream media only covered it once it went viral. The power of the people will change the system. Or economic collapse. It is only a question of when.
Many in this great groundswell aspire to a different kind of political process and momentum. Increasingly, traditional parties fail to step up to the plate, motivated as they are by short-termism and fear of radical, unpopular but ever more necessary policies to develop renewable energy alternatives, conserve resources and curb our obsession with growth.
I was, and still am, a Labour supporter in the UK. But in Australia I have been so disappointed with a party that is almost interchangeable with the other one when it comes to the issue I consider to be top of the agenda. I have been dejected but now I realise that the people I spent a few hours with on a hot Sunday afternoon in Brisbane had more gumption than an equivocation of pollies will ever have unless a few more of them stick their necks out and truly represent those who elected them.