Students need to stop aimlessly protesting and burning effigies of politicians

August 22, 2014
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A police security fence has been torn down and at least one protestor has been injured by a police horse at the University of Adelaide, while Tony Abbott delivered an on campus speech last night. Chris Pyne effigies were burnt by hundreds of students on Sydney’s George Street on Wednesday. Protesting this government has definitely become a thing.

We get it – a lot of people hate the elected government. In the almost year that the Abbott government has been around, it’s seen more protests than most will in an entire term. It’s gotten to the point where you seem to hear about one every other week, and ‘Fuck Tony Abbott’ t-shirts have become items of high alternative fashion. Everybody now knows heaps of students hate Tone and assumes there will be some form of protest if a coalition MP steps foot on campus, so it seems like the more realistic goals of anti-government protesters have been met. So, why are they still happening?

The demands of last night’s Adelaide student protestors were the usual ones – there were chants opposing asylum seekers policy, uni fees, gay marriage and the workplace (and probably more). Fair enough. Most people who aren’t in support of the current government (including myself) probably don’t like the government on one or all of these grounds. The problem is with the mechanism of protests. In this case, it’s just flogging a dead horse.

I’ve previously written about my problem with protests – when your qualms with the government are not specific and can be summarised as ‘every policy they have’, they’re not going to listen to you. You’re just someone who didn’t vote for them. If you’re inconveniencing someone who doesn’t agree with you, they’ll probably disagree with you even more. When you’re protesting a specific policy or aspect of the budget, it can might be a different story, but groups of students burning giant Chris Pyne dolls probably won’t convince the Education Minister to change his stance on uni fee deregulation.

Those who disagree with this outlook argue to the effect of ‘we’re demonstrating to the public and the elected government that we’re really discontent and we want change’, rather than that they’re trying to change the government’s mind. This is understandable, even though I don’t think it’s necessary to inconvenience people.

What I’m failing to understand is why these protests are still going on. The media are having a field day with the amount of Abbott hate circling around. The public and elected government are very well aware that there’s a strong movement of people in opposition to Abbott and Co. What we’ve seen is that the Coalition doesn’t really seem to care. Until the next election, it seems like demonstrators are straining their backs and painting cardboard signs for no real reason.

I know a lot of students who are participating in these rallies. The continuation of their ‘fuck the government’ style gatherings seem to be done in benefit of the protestor more than anyone else. They have serious issues with the current leadership, and feel like they’re actively doing something about it if they hit the streets. Perhaps this is more than I can say for those like me who passively dislike the government. The problem is that the more these protests happen, the more these protestors seem like whingers.

Anecdotally, this seems true. The organisers and attendees of many of the recent student protests (who basically all protest the same things) are always the same people. After some of the biggest anti-government protests we saw back in May, the protests are getting smaller. It seems like people are taking their demands less and less seriously. While some protests may be good, even the best things lose their power when overdone. ‘Moderation in all things’ as Aristotle would say.

Earlier this week, Hijacked looked at the broad range of political activities that young people partake in, much of which are now outside the traditional forms of protest – things like online campaigns and petitions. As it turns out, young Australians are some of the most politically engaged in the country, but they’re increasingly realising that burning an effigy isn’t always the best outlet. Protesting may seem pretty badass, and you may get to tell your grandkids about how you were a part of the ‘Fuck Tony 2014’ movement, but maybe it’s time we all gave it a rest. 

Sam Caldwell

Sam Caldwell attends The University of Technology, Sydney and is studying a BA Communications (Journalism). He is also a passionate debater.

Image: Michael Croft, The University of Technology, Sydney