When Protesting Goes Too Far

I am a firm believer in protests. They are a pillar of democracy which allow the public to have a voice and tell the government exactly what they’re thinking. As a student, I resent most of the changes to university fees that have been announced in the budget, but I admit, I’m not one to protest about it. In that sense, protesters are also speaking out for those who don’t want to speak up. For that, I am grateful.

But there comes a time when protesting can get out of hand. On Monday the 19th of May, I was in the lecture theatre when members of the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) surrounded Sophie Mirabella which saw her have to be escorted out by police. This comes off the back of Julie Bishop being jostled by students at the University of Sydney the week before. There’s something to be said about the lack of respect that we hold for politicians. Love them or hate them, I believe that it’s still important to respect these people. I don’t agree with Ms Mirabella on almost all of her views, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to say to her “you don’t deserve to exist”.

Initially, this is how the protest began. A student from SAlt was standing at the front of the lecture, telling us about their cause. That is until the student started to personally attack Ms Mirabella. Attacking a politician with words isn’t going to solve anything and it is definitely not going to help your cause. In fact, it degrades your cause. In my view, as soon as you start swearing, it just shows that you’re angry; it doesn’t show what you’re angry about. To actually show to the general public and to the politician that you know what you’re talking about, there’s a need for intellectual debate. The Liberal Party was no better as they began personally attacking SAlt members.

I should point out that most protests in Australia are peaceful, well-planned and for (arguably) good reasons. These types of protests are not the ones I take issue with. When the protest started to get violent, I realised that it was time to take a step back and have a look at what we’re fighting for. Students around Australia are fighting for a fair budget, but do we have to get physical to get our message across? Some say yes, it’s the only way to get attention. To me, violence is never the answer. In fact, my tutor was hit in the head by one of the megaphones that a SAlt member was carrying and Christopher Pyne is characterising the mobbing of Ms Bishop assault. Is this really what we want politicians to see? A group of angry university students who resort to violence? It may get a politician’s attention, but for all the wrong reasons.

Further, due to this protest, a room full of first year politics students were deprived of half an hour of learning. Education that we paid for (and could be paying more for soon). Why interrupt this lecture for so long? Many of the students that I spoke to were angered by the interruption because they simply wanted to hear her speak on “politics and the media”. Some students also said that they didn’t find the protest constructive at all and was simply a waste of their time. Yes, we were entertained for a small amount of time, but as it continued the excitement wore off and frustration set in. So really, SAlt was protesting for education, whilst interrupting it.

Dear students everywhere, it’s time that we stop getting violent. I know you’re angry and I know that violence has made Tony Abbott aware of our feelings, but I think that there’s something to say about our actions when the Prime Minister of Australia is scared to even come near us. It’s time to start stimulating debate without menacing fists and personal attacks. Let’s show politicians what we’ve really got to offer: Informed opinions and passion. We’re not just fighting for us, we’re fighting for the next generation.

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13 comments

  1. Hi Mikaela,

    I agree. If any social-civil rights movement is going to gain traction and some broad based support from within the thinking members of the community, non-violent protest much be respected and practiced.

    Likewise respect for the democratically elected government members should be upheld.

    Asking difficult questions (of them) and offering alternative viable solutions is much more effective than a rude, aggressive rabble on display.

    Given the supposed “adult” mainstream media’s distraction towards the Winkgate beat-up, it maybe asking the media for a higher level of maturity to hold focus on the drab policy details of higher education funding in Australia – compared to other stupid media self-generated distractions. Now the ugly violence is the story.

    Getting the best Australia wide lecturers online (to teach) and letting the others go could be a way of getting better educational outcomes with less net costs. A virtual class is a cheaper to run class.
    WIN – WIN.

    1. Well said Rolly! Thanks for your comment :)

  2. Half Past Human (hph) · · Reply

    Hello Mikaela,

    Well done. An excellent article. If I were a second year media and communications and politics student at the University of Melbourne; this is the kind of article I would write, publish, and after completing my studies, attach to my resume when applying for a job in the Corporate world. Best of luck. Oh by the way, you ain’t seen a *real* violent student protest yet! Believe me: I’m an old man.

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you so much! I appreciate your kind words. Have a lovely weekend.

  3. Hi Mikaela,

    Thank you for your article.
    While I understand the intent of your argument and its general principles, I do disagree with some of your general statements.

    Like you, I am a firm believer in protests and their place in democracy and I do not condone violence. However I do believe that politicians need to earn respect rather than expect it.
    I do not respect our current PM because I do not believe that he has any respect for those entrusted to his care. This does not mean that I wish him harm, but I certainly would not shake his hand or sensor my disapproval.

    I also feel that many protests in Australia have led to naught. When a group of people are motivated enough to shake off their apathy, acknowledge the risk and still unites as one voice, the government should take notice. How many others of like mind who do not (or cannot) participate still cheer them on? Nevertheless, politicians act as if the only legitimate voice is that of the national election – convenient that it is still 2 years away.

    Are we as a nation to put up with social and environmental sabotage until the next election? When peaceful protests fail, what is the next step? I do not suggest that we are at the point of a tyrannical dictatorship, but rather that we take example from European nations who seem to be less apathetic and do not just ‘roll over’ and let the government do what it wants because of a supposed ‘mandate’.

    Politicians need to be brought back down to the level of the people and feel the fear when the people are angry, not just read about in the polls.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your comment and thoughts. You definitely have some valid points and honestly, I wish I had the answer to some of the questions, but I’m not sure anyone does. I believe that there does need to be some sort of solution to make politicians listen – whether it be your European example, or something else.
      I just hope that students can continue to protest (without violence, or threatening remarks) and eventually someone will listen. It may be a passive way of dealing with things, but that’s just my personality.

      Besides, it’s very unlikely that this Budget will be passed anyway (from what I’ve heard – not an expert opinion), so I’m sure we’ll see some changes made.

      Thanks again! It was great to hear your thoughts.

  4. […] intimidated while presenting a lecture.  Mikaela Davis, a student present at the lecture, said members of the Socialist Alternative surrounded and personally attacked Ms Mirabella.  The headline in The Herald Sun read ‘…rowdy protesters disrupt Melbourne University […]

  5. davey mac · · Reply

    hi, are you able to be a bit clearer by what you mean as the “violence” you say you experienced? It is unclear what you mean, given you just allude to something like “violence”. Or is it that you consider SAlt generally violent in their yelling and carrying on? Was it an accident that your tutor got knocked, or was it something more sinister (as you suggest by lack of context)?

    1. Hi Davey,
      Thanks for your comment. Violence can mean a lot of different things. In this context I felt that the intimidation factor alone was quite violent. I felt as though when Sophie Mirabella was mobbed that it was quite a ‘violent’ action.
      In regards to my tutor, all I know is that she was knocked in the head.
      Thanks again,
      Mikaela

      1. davey mac · ·

        Well, OK, as you say you have a very subjective idea of violence. Don’t you think you needed to define exactly what you meant when you called it “violent”? This is a pretty serious and dishonest omission from your article, particularly when what you actually wrote was “do we have to get physical to get our message across? Some say yes, it’s the only way to get attention”. “Violence” has a very specific meaning in a political context such as this, and you failed to give it your own alternative meaning. However in say that it was “physical” you do the equivalent of what ever half arsed herald sun journalist does and take a photo of the police beating the crap out of peaceful protesters and call it a “violent protest”.

        This was a form of non-violent direct action. The point of the action, whether you agree or not, is that there can be no business-as-usual on Australian campuses for any agents of the LNP who want to destroy public education. Except perhaps for Mirabella’s feelings, no one was hurt. How would you stage a “non-violent” protest (within your definition) if these are your aims? Have not protests like this stimulated the debate (people are actually paying attention to your blog)?

        The entire philosophy of the LNP is based in university deregulation – do you really think that Abbott/Pyne etc can be convinced by polite debate and good argument? That, I believe, is naive to the point of absurdity.

        Also: Given you have no idea about the circumstances of your tutor being knocked on the head, don’t you think it is also dishonest to suggest that the tutor was in some way a target for the protest?

  6. mr abbott & his coalition made promises-they have no broken them. they should be held accountable. no one forces any of them to make any promises-let alone ones that cannot be kept. he & mr hockey have used this situation to pursue things that are basically about shifting the burden to regular people & away from wealthy-but dont think that the benefits will flow equally to the regular person. they wont & they have not.

    youll have to excuse me if you dont understand some of the terms/words im using-Im an American.

    that abbott looks like a total jerk-he made that gillard look good during the parliament question times ive seen over the years. im not surprised at all this is happening. i was dissappointed aussies elected him. prepare for the same sorts of outcomes as have occured in the uk since the cameron government pushed thru a similar budget scheme after coming into office.

    if you need more $$$ for healthcare & education-then raise taxes, not fees. its all the same money, but taxes hit regular people less & rich more.

    why isnt protection of their property as important as health, education, etc? it isnt.

  7. i should also say, that if cuts are to be made-cuts for the sake of cutting, not because its wasteful, unnecessary, etc-then those cuts should be bourne across the board-health, education-and defense, etc-everything, equally, across-the-board. abbott & hockey did no such thing. shame on them.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your comments. It’s great to here the opinion of someone outside Australia!
      It seems that they have said that they are going to alter the budget (in regards to education as well). So we’ll see how that goes.
      Thanks again,
      Mikaela

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