Monday, March 17, 2014

For What It's Worth

If you aren’t involved in the progressive side of social media, you’d be forgiven for not having the faintest clue about the March in March before seeing last night’s television news. After seeing the coverage, you’re probably not much better off. It was a strange series of events which grew from   and within social media, a passionate but unfocussed mass of strangers shouting at a government that isn’t listening, about a range of issues.

Everyone with even a vague interest in Australian politics is analysing and interpreting the March In March events which were held this weekend, climaxing today with a Letter of No Confidence in the Abbott Government being hand delivered to Greens MP Adam Bandt.

That was the end point of the three-day March in March event, and by the reckoning of the organisers, it was a success. Not everyone agreed. The event drew criticism for having no single issue to focus on, and no possibility of an acceptable resolution…at least according to various external definitions proposed by conservative commentators. Apparently, in order to be “valid”, a nonconformist lefty protest must conform to the standards set by the conservative right.

There were the unavoidable comparisons with the conservatives' last big protest action, the Convoy of No Confidence, including one by Jacqueline Maley who was herself the target of Alan Jones’ wrath at that very protest.

The gathering, which was matched by similar events around Australia, was a left-wing echo of the infamous ‘‘Convoy of No Confidence’’ rallies held against Julia Gillard's former Labor government, at which Mr Abbott and other Coalition MPs appeared alongside offensive signs, to much public criticism.

In every way possible, the March in March was the antithesis of the Convey of No Confidence.

It looked as though mainstream media would ignore the event. Ultimately, it was covered, but too often, with a cynical sneer. Firstly, Jacqueline Maley opened her report in the Sydney Morning Herald with the whimsically irrelevant comment that

“Socialists, it seems, are not made of sugar.”

Goodoh then.

Sky News Australia’s Sunday night team of right wing commentators Chris Kenny and Paul Murray chose to emphasize the handful of tasteless and couple of downright offensive placards that were caught on camera yesterday. No respect was paid to the overwhelming majority of protesters who were both well behaved, and carrying a wild array of pithy or humorous and downright blunt slogans. 

Their colleague at Sky, political reporter Laura Jayes tweeted at lunchtime today, asking for people to forward to her pictures of the worst, most offensive placards. What on earth is she planning to do with them?

Several media outlets and plenty on social media have commented that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten chose not to appear at any of the rallies, drawing another comparison with the Convoy of No Confidence, where then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, along with Coalition faces Sophie Mirrabella, Bronwyn Bishop, Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce and others stood on a podium in Canberra, flanked by banners referring to Prime Minister Gillard as “Bob Brown’s Bitch” and calling for someone – anyone – to “Ditch the Witch”. These are the enduring images of the anti-Carbon Tax protest.

The only politician from either major party to comment on the March in March was Warren Mundine, who tweeted his disapproval. Note that he had to google the name of the rally - that's how thoroughly the mainstream media ignored it.

Despite the organisers’ pleas for civility, it was always probable that a few wowsers would disregard good sense. Where Sky News Australia is happy to give these sad characters publicity by shining a light on their deplorable placards, I am not. Sadly, their selfishness has allowed the mainstream media to obscure the real story, which is that over 100,000 Australians gave up their Sundays to express their disappointment with the current government.

The ALP must not allow itself to be so easily distracted. Labor MPs chose wisely in refusing to associate themselves with March in March. Now they should be studying the vision of the events, tracking down transcripts of speeches and talking to their constituents to pinpoint the issues that progressive and centre Australians care about: respect and care for asylum seekers, protecting the environment, fast broadband, gay rights, equality, honesty and transparency in government. The marchers knew that catching the acknowledgement of the Abbott Government was highly unlikely; this protest is a message to Labor.

The same social media that allowed the March in March to become a reality was euphoric last night, as marchers celebrated a shared experience. Over 100,000 potential Labor voters are so frustrated with Australian politics, they attended protest rallies in what was largely a series of organised venting sessions, but they did it together, with little more than a few tasteless placards in the negative column.

Social media is already rippling with talk of the next rallies, protests and boycotts. 

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