26 July 2007

Demonstrating what?

After two hundred years, those who run things have pretty much contained the power of the demonstration. Democratic franchises have been extended and the gaps between rich and poor have narrowed with the emergence of a middle class.

The last time I know of that a demo made any difference whatsoever was when 50,000 Sydneysiders took to the streets against then-Education Minister Terry Metherell in the early 1990s. The windows of State Parliament literally rattled at the sheer force of massed voices shouting "Kick! Metherell! Out!", and when Metherell subsequently resigned from the Liberal Party (because it was too mean, ha ha ha!), Liberal staffers implied that the demo had caused him to lose his marbles. I marched against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, an utter waste of time. The biggest demonstrations in history were protests against the Iraq war, and hasn't that gone well?

The demo is usually an exercise in nostalgia by some old soixante-huitards and has become the ultimate exercise in confusing activity with achievement. They think they're "keeping up the pressure" when they're really just engaging in a pantomime.

Articles like this are part of the pantomime. Individually or collectively, demonstrators who attend rallies or don't will be achieving the same. No decision by the assembled APEC leaders in September will be affected in the slightest whether or not there are protests, how big they are, or whether anyone does or doesn't get hurt. Anyone who does get hurt - regardless of their politics, their role or what they hoped to achieve - will have the added pain that they are suffering for no good reason whatsoever.

Here is the kernel of piffle in this article:
"In a few weeks you will see news pictures of activists being carted off by robocops guarding delegates to the APEC summit," said Professor Lynch. "But remember they are the guardians of democracy and the hope of a safer world that we could now create".

You could read "they" as referring to the police, if you were being a smart-arse and taking this out of context. Seriously though, "robocops" is dehumanising and denies the fact that these are working people just doing a job. Demonstrators who lose sight of that have no hesitation in injuring police, which in Australia detracts from public appeal for whatever it is you're hoping to change. It happens so often that you'd think that organising a demonstration is more trouble than it's worth.

Those who consider government policy in a carefully considered way do more for democracy that hundreds of boofheads throwing themselves at the barricades. "Activists" are not, as Lynch would claim, limited to those who wander down a newly dead-end street chanting. Indeed, crackdowns following this exuberance diminish democracy rather than enhancing it.

What is the objection to APEC anyway? Howard? Bush? Iraq? Freer trade lifting people out of poverty and removing Australians from low-value manufacturing? Against what is the "dissent", capitalism? Is this some cultural cringe where Sydney has to prove that it can do your stale old whaddawewant whendawewannit as well as Seattle or Brixton?
He said these same activists recently protested "valiantly" against the "idiocy" of Operation Talisman Sabre, the biggest military exercise on Australian soil, which has just taken place in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Professor Lynch said: "Australia's interests are better served by playing to our traditional strengths of UN peacekeeping and diplomacy."

The impact on the exercise of that demo was identical to the effect as though it had not happened. It may have generated warm feelings of self-satisfaction on the part of organisers but its wider impact was absolute zero. When the Kittyhawk battle carrier group came to Sydney, people were glad to see it and those who weren't had no impact. To participate in demonstrations was a waste of time (assuming there was any participation - I'm more switched-on politically than most, and I was completely unaware of it).

Lynch has failed to acknowledge, let alone address, the long-ignored flaws in the UN model which have made not only Bosnia and Sudan but the Bush-Halliburton adventure in Iraq possible.
Keeping an open mind and a healthy cynicism for the official line is crucial, he said. A real war on terror would address the root causes: hopelessness, injustice and oppression.

The first sentence is a truism, but the knee-jerk reaction of demos and the stuff in the second sentence reveals the intellectual poverty of that "dissent". Those who are perpetrators of those three elements cannot claim sympathy for being victims of them:

While people in this position may well be in a vicious cycle, it is for them to work out, and to leave behind these three social ills if they are to have a claim to public attention, sympathy and support. Nelson Mandela and Gerry Adams were absolutely underserving of public support until they renouned the activities that they claimed the Powers That Be were practicing upon them. No claims on their behalf (or on the "activists" who decide to excuse their recklessness by using their cause) ought be entertained, and no "demonstration" is appropriate until you're clear about what it is you're demonstrating. Being anti-US is no less lame or blanketing of injustice etc. than being unabashedly pro-US.

The whole idea of studying "dissent" is thinking about that which you're dissenting against, thinking about the change you'd like to see, then making - or being - those changes. CPACS doesn't appear to be doing that, instead proffering itself as a staging area for another lame panto. Whaddawewant? Whendawewannit? Fuck off and leave us alone, and do your wanking in private. Those of us who are actively participating in democracy are insulted that those providing a pantomime cover for thuggery would appoint themselves our guardians.

Update: Don't Tase me, Bro!

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