Protest marches divide the left

General news0
Jaegara Hall
Jennie Harvey, Sam Watson and Jim Beatson at Jaegara Hall on Tuesday

The community forum held at Jagera Hall on Tuesday to discuss the Queensland Government’s war on civil liberties generated passionate debate around the value of protest marches as a form of engendering change.

Organised by the Cloudland Collective, the intent of the evening was to bring the experience of three activists from the seventies to bear on the discussion about how best to respond to the Newman Government’s ongoing attack on civil liberties and the Abbot Government’s emulation of the slash and burn approach to everything that smells faintly progressive, humanist or libertarian.

Sam Watson, Jim Beatson and Jenny Harvey were all University of Queensland students and activists at the height of the Joh Bjelke Petersen years and engaged in a variety of protests and other actions.

Sam Watson remains deeply involved in Socialist politics and activism. Jim Beatson has built on his long experience at 4ZZZ FM moving to Northern NSW and being actively involved in The Greens mayor of Byron Shire Council. Jenny Harvey continues to advocate for public education and regional affairs from her position as a regional school teacher and union rep.

Inflaming passions

It was Jim Beatson who raised passions on the evening with his observation that “if you think you are going to change the world by marching and shouting you are deluded.”

His contention is that actions designed to co-op and derail the media are more important than actions which the media cn portray as the radical looney fringe.

“If you provide the news with its fodder that those opposing the government are outsiders and fringe dwellers, you are helping the government do its job,” he said.

Many members of the audience were shocked into making comments from the floor during his speech and denouncing him during the forty minute question and answer session.

“You are using me as a straw man for the more fundamental argument about how we build a progressive movement for change that isolates and identifies the government’s radical agenda,” Bestson said.

A common thread

While the lines were starkly drawn in this forum, Westender has come across very similar discussion at a number of fora.

Advocates for high profile speakers, targetted social media campaigns and media friendly actions against the VLAD laws, offshore processing of refugees and sacrificing public assets to coal companies have expressed frustration at a number of organising committees that the emphasis is so firmly on the protest march that there is little room to discuss anything else.

The facilitator at one committee meeting actually said without any sense of irony, “These ideas are all well and good and I support them, but we have a rally to organise for three week’s time and we still have a large number of decisions to make.”

Looking forward

Given that the context of the Cloudland meeting at Jaegera is the forthcoming G20 summit, and the mounting calls for a major March in March against the Abbot Government it becomes critical that this debate is resolved and soon.

Rather than attempting to discuss the value, or the appropriate context of protest as a form of raising awareness, it seems more fruitful to develop new mechanisms for shifting the mainstream.

As an activist attempting to engage with mainstream politics to drive change and as the publisher of Westender trying to create a mainstream publication advocating for a compassionate and holistic leadership it seems critical to me that we build alternatives. Rather than protesting against the counter-reformation governments we have elected, who are clearly ruling as the vassals of corporate feudalism, it is critical that we build and sell an alternative.

This year, some of us need to suit up in black and occupy the police, but even larger numbers need to hold an alternative G20 to outline a more sensible future than the extractive, oppressive and dominant paradigm that sacrifices the 99% to satisfy the one percent. That is certainly where we will direct the resources of this publication.

Disclaimer: Geoff Ebbs is the publisher of Westender and candidate for The Greens in the Griffith by-election.

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