The Big Issue : Edition 441
my word I was plunged, accidentally, into the world of protesting at the impressionable age of seven. My mother was searching for an elusive campsite in a southeast nsw forest when, after a few wrong turns in the rain, we stumbled across an anti- logging camp. The temperature gauge on the datsun had just hit the red and I remember my mother swearing as she popped the bonnet, using the tired fold- out map for shelter, and gazing blankly at the car’s steaming innards. soaking, exhausted and no doubt suffering cabin fever, she eventually just shrugged and told me there was a change of plans. The week unfolded with wafts of rainbow fabric and the spicy aromas of chai and unwashed bodies. during the days I made friends with children who had names stranger than my own, and visited blockades where I recall tree people without torsos, only spindly arms and legs protruding from huge beards. late at night we sat in circles singing ‘Rip Rip woodchip’, our dreams carried skyward on the campfire smoke. That protest made politics come to life. as we sat next to a bulldozer, picking leeches from our ankles, we felt that we were part of something meaningful. large tracts of those forests are now protected national parks, while other areas continue to be woodchipped. so, like all great protest movements, in a way we did change the world, and in a way we didn’t. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the largest coordinated global protest in history. On saturday 15 February 2003, 10 million people around the world took to the streets to raise their voices against the impending Iraq war. Many in sydney remember the day with nostalgia: the sun shone on buoyant crowds, and while the demands were serious the overwhelming atmosphere was of unity, not anger. we all know it didn’t stop the war, but it’s better to do something than nothing, right? apparently not. The protest movement in australia is on life support. small actions provide a weary skeleton, and a humble but dedicated support base put some meat on the bones. There is the occasional breath of life, but traffic-stopping, news-making (let alone policy-changing) protests are a distant memory for most. so why aren’t protests what they used to be? It’s certainly not for lack of things to oppose. Conflict in Iraq drags on, the destruction of Tasmania’s forests continues, asylum seekers are still being treated like criminals... last year, haunted by deja vu, I attended the no Offshore processing rally in sydney’s CBd. The turnout was acceptable and, for lack of other avenues of dissent, I was happy to add to the numbers. Yet, as voices crackled through the portable speakers, I couldn’t help but feel that the method was tired. Chants came in familiar waves: “say it loud, say it clear, Refugees are welcome here!” awkwardly joining in, I wished I could express a more nuanced policy analysis. Yet, silencing my inner cynic, I let myself be swept up in the moment and even found myself clapping along. “Hey Hey, Ho Ho. detention centres have got to go!” a friend sidled up next to me. “go where? To nauru?” she asked with a smirk before disappearing into the crowd. I knew what she was insinuating. It’s easy to mock today’s protest movement as being ineffective and naive. Yet history has many examples of protests being the locus of great change. Civil rights in the us, women’s right to vote and withdrawal from the war in Vietnam were all precipitated by mass movements. In australia, the tenacity of the Franklin dam protesters not only saved the river, but also sparked a national environmental movement. To measure a protest’s success against its immediate impact on government policy undoubtedly renders many protests in recent years a waste of time. But to accept this as given creates a cycle whereby we don’t take action because nothing will change... but nothing changes because we don’t take action. If we label protests as naive we discourage ourselves, our colleagues and our children from taking action. By doing so we willingly relinquish our political power to politicians, and encourage a world in which individuals silently accept injustice. Just like during my childhood holidays, the outcome of protesting is unpredictable. But it is the predictable outcome of inaction that should really be feared. » Morgana Thomas is a Sydney-based social worker and writer who still recalls all seven verses of ‘ Rip Rip Woodchip’. THe Big issue 13 – 26 sep 2013 11 eno gupro test not Doth h Morgana ThoMas claiMs iT’s TiMe for people To voice whaT They wanT, and when They wanT iT.