When I was studying history at high school, one thing I remember the most was the signs. Angry baby boomers marching down streets in our capital cities holding signs designed to stick in the mind of people who were ambivalent towards Australia’s involvement in Vietnam. Signs were a great way of encapsulating political beliefs and packaging them for the evening news or the next day’s newspapers.
Signs still hold a soft spot for people, even if these days, they are used by crackpots like the Westboro Baptist Church and whichever turkey made this signs:
The ALP and various other anti – Liberal forces got a lot of mileage from those signs, held behind Tony Abbott and members of his shadow cabinet at the now notorious Convoy of No Consequence, that messy, unfocused group of mutterers who listen so attentively to talkback radio or contribute comments to Andrew Bolt’s blog. It was fair enough that the ALP and other progressive forces got so much mileage from that sign – Abbott had no place being there, mingling with the barking mad brigade. If it wasn’t for the presence of the King of the Tinfoil Hats, Alan Jones, he may not have even been there – though I suspect Captain Awkward was not that savvy at that point in time. Abbott also should have distanced himself far away from the sign and the offensive implications of its message. That he didn’t denounce the signs shows either a. how clueless he is as a leader or b. how awkward a tightrope Abbott walks, having to give time and space to such people.
Flashing forward to this year, the March in March was similar to the Convoy in that it was expressing a vague idea that the Government Should Resign, except that on this occasion, the numbers were far larger, the atmosphere was, from all accounts, much more reasonable and the signs were, for the most part, less offensive. That didn’t stop media outlets and various Liberal supporters from focusing on the odd sign here and there that called for the smashing of democracy and various dire fates for Tony Abbott – such as this.
Therein lays one of the problems for marches like the one on Saturday – no matter how carefully you organise such events, there will be people who arrive that will provide material for your critics. Already, we have seen reactionary forces starting to use the offensive signs in the same way the ALP used Ditch the Witch. (Andrew Bolt seems to relish such moments – so many offensive signs for him to riff on).
It looks as though the march was a great day out for the people who went – a chance to make some signs, have a march, express their disgust at a government that is proving to be more reactionary and vengeful against the progressive movement, the environment movement and those who depend on government support than most people could have predicted. It was like a massive tweetup – thousands of people frustrated that Twitter hasn’t influenced people enough to stop supporting the Coalition, so they have taken to the streets, met up and had a good old fashioned shout. Baby boomers, in particular, would have been enraptured – to them, it was just like the old days. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a positive thing to be able to express your views, especially as that’s not the case in many countries. Though, I am still disappointed that no-one made up signs like this:
However, I did like these signs, which summed up the link between the rallies and Twitter for me :
Like with Twitter, the aftermath of the march has been entirely predictable. There has been comment on how much the media didn’t cover the march, or were dismissive about it from Mr. Denmore and others (though, as ever, Denmore provides the best expression of this view). Other participants, such as Van Badham, claimed it was part of a “new activism” and Wendy Bacon as also enthusiastic and heartened by the number of attendees – one would hope so, because she spoke at the Sydney march. There was even a conspiracy theory about the “media silence” from one of the Canberra organisers.
Then there was the Hoopla piece that neatly encapsulated two opposing views of the march. In it, Meshel Laurie, a well known TV personality, decried that critics were “too cool for school” (a curious comment from someone who has a TV outlet and resultant profile from which to gain an audience for her views) whilst Elle Hardy pointed out that the rally was unfocused and featured dodgy signs. Finally, we saw Tad Tietze pointing out in this tweet that the rally wasn’t anti – politics, and was mostly partisan towards the political class.
(I suspect Dr. Tietze, like many of his fellow travellers, would have liked more “smash the state” Socialist alliance placards that we used to see in old rallies.) All understandable and consistent responses from those commentators.
In essence, there’s truth in all of their accounts (except the ABC conspiracy theory). They were all correct in a way – it is a new kind of activism, in that it closely resembles the continuing “conversation” on Twitter, where a range of agendas, topics and ideas are tossed around on a daily basis. Like Twitter, this rally was unfocused, shouty and filled with signs and pictures where a range of people expressed their grievances. Like with Twitter, however, the energy and rage generated in the march will most likely dissipate and be a warm memory – as in “did you remember when we saw this sign? Good times.” Again, not a bad thing, but if the people organising the rally were expecting to influence any swinging voters with the rally, they will most likely be in for a rude shock. The good news for them, however, is the continued bumbling and mediocrity of the Coalition Government. The next election, like all of our elections, will be fought on the economy. There’s not a lot that this government has done that could be considered positive in terms of growing it or even managing it.