Why Abbott should not ignore March in March

Over the weekend, a staggering number of Australians protested across the country – in all the major cities, as well as smaller towns such as Newcastle, Caboolture, Grafton, Armidale, and even Toowoomba. Mainstream media coverage has been minimal, and frequently misinformed or generalised to the point of dilution.

Tony Abbott refused to acknowledge these protests were even happening over the weekend, sheepishly wishing the St Patrick’s Day revelers a good time as he took a media conference just down the road from the Sydney protests.

Abbott should be careful about how he handles this wave of resistance and dissent. Only the most callous of autocrats would actively silence or ignore the citizens they are responsible for representing. His actions speak more to a corrupt dictator quietly giggling with his minions to an in-joke amounting to “Naw, they think they’re politics!”

Estimates of nationwide attendance range from 80,000 to 122,000.

That’s the first point I want to raise. With a population of 22.68 million, these numbers add up to around 0.4 to 0.6% of the entire Australian population. I want to put this in perspective for a second. The Day of Mourning in 1938 attracted around 0.014% of the national population – that makes this protest more than 4 times bigger proportionately than one of the most important days in Australian history. The Pro Marriage Equality protests in 2010 attracted 0.22% of the national population; again, making this 2 to 3 times bigger.

The biggest protest known to Australia’s history was the Stop the War Coalition in 2003 and 2004, which supposedly attracted 500,000 people over the period – around 2.3% of the general population. Now this was a big protest, organised over a number of years and held over a number of days. That a single day could attract a full quarter of the numbers of a two-year-long movement should speak to its significance.

To put it in international perspective, the most conservative estimate of protesters present in Tahrir Square that led to the overthrow of Egypt’s Mubarak were about one million – that’s 1.25% of Egypt’s population of around 80 million. Some other sources estimate that between 20 and 50% of the population was present, though there is reason to believe the numbers were far smaller.

It only took 1,000 protesters in Tunisia to spark the Jasmine Revolution – arguably the beginning of the movement now referred to as the Arab Spring. That’s 0.01% of Tunisia’s population.

The anti-austerity protests in Greece in 2011 began as peaceful and non-partisan, just like Australia’s anti-Abbott ones this weekend. This protest attracted 30,000 people, which is 0.27% of the national population. When the Greek Government continued to ignore protesters, it became violent.

Without comparing the natures of each individual resistance to what’s going on in Australia, the numbers seem to suggest that Abbott should probably at least acknowledge something is happening.

Maybe it’s not the wisest move to taunt anti-Abbott protesters and their allies with sarcastic captions on heartfelt signs. news.com.au’s coverage brushed the protests off as unimportant because ‘Abbott had more important things to do’, and criticised the people’s aims as vague and directionless, despite countless sources of information stating exactly why the Vote of No Confidence was being made. It also states that Tony Abbott had won a 55% two party preferred in South Australia, and that if people were unhappy with the Government they could have said so last September. Let’s remember that at Tunisia’s President Ali won 90% of the vote before being overthrown.  Just sayin’.

Then we have Tim Blair, a writer for the Daily Telegraph, who claimed that the people protesting were ‘small pods of malcontents… in some kind of protest’. See my previous post for my letter to Mr Blair. (Now that I’ve seen the blog post (instead of the pictureless print one), I can see that the ‘young protester’ mentioned with the sign boo boo boo you suk tony abit is actually a very young protester, and probably isn’t referencing Chris simpsons artist xo. However, now that I’ve seen that these young protesters are probably less than ten years old, I am wondering why Blair is attacking the ‘power’ of their statements?) Again, Blair believes there is a ‘lack of focus’ in these protests, which I assured him in my letter was not true; you can find the March in March demands clearly on their website.

Dissenters are finding the same brand of doubt that the Occupy Wall Street protesters – and their international allies – found in 2011. And as we learnt in 2011, different communities have different priorities. Some Occupy protesters were opposing fractional banking; some Marchers were opposing mandatory detention and the cruel conditions our prospective asylum seekers face in institutions such as Manus Island and Nauru. Why is there a need to reduce a protest’s intentions to a single soundbyte? I’m sure that if the media wants to do that, however, it’s not that hard: Get rid of Abbott, he is not serving the people. Easy.

Andrew Bolt – bastion of balanced views and level headedness – wrote an insightful piece about how the protesters weren’t ‘decent’ because they used swear words in their slogans. How utterly barbaric! (His words, not mine). Let’s not even start on the way he compares this hatred to the sexist vilification Julia Gillard faced when she was Prime Minister.

Perhaps the slogans wouldn’t have so much reeked of protesters having reached the end of their tether if Abbott had engaged in any sort of consultation or willingness to adapt to the people’s will since his election. I remember one of the few phrases he used watching his victory speech last September:

“A good government, a good government is one that governs for all Australians. Including those who haven’t voted for it.

Considering the demographic nature of the turnout, I get the feeling the Abbott Government’s not even governing the Australians that did vote for it anymore.

If history plays into any of its usual patterns, Tony Abbott’s claim to ignorance that there is a significant discontent in this country will only exacerbate the discontent.

The 0.6% will be 1% next month, then 2%, then 3%.

1% is 220,000 people, not that many more than turned up over the weekend; if Tunisia can overthrow a government with 1,000 people in the space of months, then I’m sure 220,000 could do a lot more, and a lot more quickly.

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3 thoughts on “Why Abbott should not ignore March in March

  1. Milo: I suggest you write in English. It would be easier to read and a comment on the article rather than a pretentious exposition of how clever you are.

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    • hey guys, no need to belittle anyone based on what language they decide to use.

      not heaps sure what solutions Milo’s really suggesting, but they’re onto some pretty true ideals I suppose.

      anyway let’s all try to stay respectful and equitable. I think we’re all in agreeance on at least one thing…!

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  2. i think this article’s dependence on numbers is both a total strategic dead-end and a conceptual catastrophe for the left. it is also ubiquitous.
    we live in a state arrangement the dominant idiom of which is count-ability, i.e. the polls. but it doesn’t take much to see the hollow inconsistency of this. we have spent too long arguing with the tragi-comic shells of alp patheticos on the false problem of ‘but the electorate doesn’t like the boat people.’ the numbers game is just one of the sideshows at the circus of modern so-called democratic life. we must call it what it is: parliamentary-totalitarianism.
    if we set aside the utter fiction of the notion of a unified or even coherent taste from whatever “the australian electorate” refers to (if anything), if we set aside the mathematically indefensible statistics-wrangling this involves, if we set aside the poverty of the political imagination of this entire field, we are left with this problem – how can we (the masses, not as a number but as a conviction to a for-all-ness of social organisation) build a new present?

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