I have often been labelled, for better or for worse, as a bit of a bleeding heart leftie. A vegetarian since kindergarten, I’m the type that beams at lanky young things in Greens T-shirts holding handing out how-to-vote cards on election day. I bawl at same sex “commitment ceremonies”, I would rather pay more taxes and have better facilities, and I even recently bought a bike.
However this time, I’m with the shock jocks. I have even surprised myself, but I think those smelly-looking, unshaven, disorganised hippies blocking trams and causing chaos in capital cities up and down the east coast, trying desperately to scramble on board the “occupy” protests are a DISGRACE.
Granted, I haven’t been to any of the ‘sites’. Or spoken to anyone involved. But I have trawled though hours of raw footage from the Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne attempts at a protest and I don’t like what I saw one bit.
One of the things that has been so incredible about the Occupy Wall Street protests that have captured the world’s attention for a month now, is how united and articulate the participants are. They appear to have a deep understanding of the issues that they are protesting about, and a clear desire for real change. They are angry about America’s sky-high unemployment rate, they are angry that the banks that caused the global financial crisis appear to have emerged unscathed and they are furious that successive governments, Republican and Democrat alike, have refused to curb their spending while the little guy on the street feels the heat. And they have managed to explain that clearly and concisely to the waiting media time and time again.
What we saw from Occupy Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane was the opposite of that. It looked to me like a group of professional protesters, their numbers bulked up by a handful of bored teenagers generally disillusioned with the world.
They couldn’t agree on what they were protesting. Aboriginal land rights, gay and lesbian acceptance, and general annoyance at the big four banks were some of the topics brought up in a quick survey of those in attendance. All issues worth discussing, debating and even protesting? Sure. But if anything, bringing up a grab bag of grievances at a protest aiming to emulate a highly successful movement from the other side of the world diminishes the power of some of their more valid arguments.
To me, the power of a protest is showing the government, the world, “the man” how strongly a community feels about one issue. The protests against the war in Iraq, although ultimately achieving little, at least demonstrated how emphatically lots of Australians felt about our involvement. Protests are a strong visual snapshot of the public mood and the only message that the occupy protests in Australia sent is that several hundred people are dissatisfied about a number of issues... which is hardly going to make the powers that be sit up and pay attention.
I am proud of my comrades in America, fighting against a system that seems to need genuine change. And I don’t believe that Australia is perfect. But I think that those who left Occupy Sydney to go back to their homes in the suburbs and their week day jobs need to think about what’s important to them, and what they really want to be made better before they next hit the street.
The opinions expressed in The 7PM Side Project blog do not necessarily reflect those of The 7PM Project or the Ten Network.