I've been thinking a lot about protest lately, after attending my first rally in a decade. My year of protest, the public kind, was 2004; I marched when the news of the Tampa broke out, I marched against Iraq, I marched in vain to save the kind of desperately needed social services that VSU legislation looked to gut. I stopped marching when the rallies were co-opted by ideas I didn't agree with, the Socialist Alternative kind. I stopped marching when the marching seemed to goad our then-government into nastier and more right-wing policies.
Since then my form of protest has been through in print and in speech. (Also at the ballot box.) I haven't felt as though I needed to get my body into the street until the ugliness of this year in politics, when the degradation of other bodies -- those of refugees, pensioners, single parents, the disabled and differently abled, the Indigenous and mentally unwell -- seemed to call for a public and symbolic retort.
This protest, #bustthebudget, was more or less impromtu, not part of the larger organised marches that were happening that weekend but a kind of picnic catharsis for the demoralised Left. I went with a friend, and we nibbled around the edges, trying to suss out the mood of the crowd while performing our attendance for the number-counters and the newspapers.
And the speeches were much as I remembered. We were about to go when the Indigenous woman pictured asked permission to make an impromptu address. She stood up and talked, not with polish but with understanding, about bipartisan contempt for black lives. The crowd became more and more uncomfortable as she asked, then pleaded, for the Left to take a stand on Indigenous issues. A group of young black men cheered her on, muted by the noise of the street. When she got down and Adam Bandt took the podium, smiling, the cheers were nearly deafening.
I've been thinking about that moment, about the hatefulness of the need for the crowd to be played in the right emotional key, and wondered about my complicity in being, despite my own cheering her on, another white face in the crowd. Another body only taking the street once a decade; safe, secure, angry, frustrated, immensely grateful. The fact is I don't know an answer, only that the reality is more important than the rhetoric, and the reality as it stands right now feels really, hopelessly fucked.
There was a quiet moment in the rhythm and sway of the loudspeaker when the crowd, collectively, bowed its head. Not in prayer; to enter contact details to a national text registry of protest. I looked at the teenage girls in the crowd, thumbs moving in a blur, and thought of the fierceness of my own sense of injustice at seventeen. And of how far we haven't come, and how far we have to go. And what the the world might look like for them in ten years' time.