20 May 2014

I Protest

Last week Joe Hockey and the Government delivered one of the most hotly debated federal budgets for a long time. Across the country lobby groups, welfare advocates and disgruntled lefties have gone into meltdown, attacking the budget as heartless, hypocritical, unfair and, of course, sexist. Some of the more active objectors have taken to public protests as a result.

I’m not here to comment on the merits of the budget either way, but I am simultaneously amused and horrified at exactly what people consider to be a good protest these days.

The highest profile protest was, of course, the group that joined the audience of QandA to protest whatever it was Christopher Pyne was trying to say. They managed to cause a significant enough disturbance that the programme had to be suspended while the protest was dealt with. Similar groups have joined the audience since that night and attempted similar disturbances, but ABC management and the unflappable Tony Jones have been keeping a tight rein on audiences, prompting some viewers to condemn the show as undemocratic.

Other groups have attempted to physically intimidate Julie Bishop (are they mad? I wouldn’t take her on…) while earlier this week a public lecture by former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella had to be abandoned because she couldn’t be heard over the protest groups angry at what the government she is no longer a part of is doing.

And following the illustrious and not-at-all-pointless March in March, many activists have begun to organise and execute the imaginatively-named “March in May” events. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next month. The key players in all this describe the protests as “democracy in action," which all sounds very stirring and admirable, except for one small problem.

It’s bullshit.

Democracy has nothing to do with being loud enough to drown out your opposition. It has nothing to do with confronting your political opponents with physical resistance, or with causing public discussions to be shut down. Democracy – the rule of the people – is about giving equal voice to all points of view, and then allowing the public to vote on what they want. The voices and votes of people you don’t agree with count just as much as your own, whether you like it or not. Indeed, there are systems of government that routinely use force and coercion to silence their opponents, but they aren’t democracies. As Winston Churchill put it: “it has been said that democracy is the worst from of government – except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

You know what democracy in action really looks like? An election. Like the one the current Government won less than a year ago. If you have a problem with their policies, fine. So do I. But don’t let’s kid ourselves that shouting the government down by being as noisy as possible has anything to do with democracy. Even if your protest chant rhymes, the only place you’re likely to get any credit for it is in a middle school poetry recital. And even then, probably not.

And I’m not saying don’t protest. By all means jump up and down until you are blue in the face to get your point across. I may well join you. The country needs a diverse range of opinions to function as an effective democracy. But if the highest form of debate you can manage is chanting your two-liner over and over until everyone else gives up and goes home, you haven’t won the debate. You’ve killed it.

On the other hand, you could look amongst your ranks to find the skilled orators, talented minds and experienced analysts among you to craft a decent argument. You could have someone stand up respectfully and ask it on QandA (if that's still a forum you take seriously), or post it on your own blog, or write to your newspaper or local member. There are plenty of ways to articulate your point of view politely and effectively.

And if you don’t have any skilled orators, talented minds or experienced analysts…

SHUT THE HELL UP

and leave the debate to the grown-ups.

Make of that what you will.




Garry with 2 Rs
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