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.