By Situation Theatre 23/5/2019
We must offer hope to those hurting in the wake of Saturday’s infuriating result. Alienating the masses and tearing each other apart will get us nowhere.
Millions of Australians are shocked, hurting, and angry. Some want to move to New Zealand, others want to excise Queensland from Australian territory, and many more are dismissing ordinary people as reactionary morons.
Prisoners on Nauru and Manus have lost all hope.
Progressives are divided on the lessons of Saturday’s devastating result, raging against each other for drawing a different conclusion.
Meanwhile, Labor is defiantly drawing the worst possible lessons from their electoral loss. Last night on 730, Labor Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon said “we’re going to talk more about coal jobs, we’re gonna talk more about getting gas out of the ground so we can fuel our manufacturing industry”.
With due respect to the magnificent creatures, he certainly does show the political acumen of a gibbon. It is absolutely important to better connect with regional communities, but you don’t do that by clinging to the past and condemning the future just as desperately as the Coalition. You do it by talking about a just transition and campaigning on an Australian version of a Green New Deal. Perhaps we shouldn’t take advice on political strategy from a man who just suffered a 9.8% swing against him in his electorate.
Anger, division, misguided analysis, and lost hope are all understandable reactions to the re-election of the cruellest and most regressive government in living memory.
But unless we channel our strong emotions into more positive outlets, we will only compound the tragedy.
To divide against each other and to patronise half the population is dooming ourselves to repeating history’s mistakes. As author Jeff Sparrow writes in his 2018 book Trigger Warnings:
For many on the left, arguments against oppression had become entwined with a hostility to ordinary people in a way that made anti-PC and other culture war sallies incredibly successful. It was easy to dismiss activists as elitists when those activists wore their disdain for the public almost as a badge of pride.
In the context of climate emergency and ecological breakdown, ongoing torture of refugees offshore, continued disrespect and oppression of Indigenous Australians, as well as crippling rates of poverty and disturbing rates of wealth inequality, we must resist further alienating working people and direct our anger towards the true enemies of social and environmental justice.
By now it’s pretty clear who our real enemies are: the Coalition, the Murdoch press and the fossil fuel industry are at the top of the list.
One silver lining of the re-election of this patently corrupt government is the intensity of opposition from at least 49% of the population which can fuel the fires of a mass social movement.
We’ve seen how quickly extremist governments generate public protest, whether that be the uptick in movement building after Abbott’s election or the women’s marches and pro-immigration protests after Trump’s inauguration.
Conversely, we’ve seen how election of centrists who market themselves as progressives, such as Barack Obama, can be demobilising. Despite his fairness rhetoric and based on his equivocation on climate, refugees, and inequality, it’s likely that Bill Shorten would have been such a centrist Prime Minister.
Given this history, the optimism of the will shown by solidarity activist Paddy Gibson in the aftermath of the election is entirely justified.
“Let’s just say this is a re run of the 1969 election when everyone thought Labor would win and then they didn’t. The class struggle and social movements radicalised and exploded then next election was Whitlam...”
There are other reasons for optimism. A recent BBC article quoted research by political scientist at Harvard University, Erica Chenoweth, which showed that it only takes 3.5% of the population actively participating in protests to bring about serious political change.
The climate movement Extinction Rebellion was inspired by this research. Their recent campaign of civil disobedience in London had an extraordinary impact on public opinion, leading to rapid declaration of a climate emergency across the UK.
It’s important to remember that only 27.76% of people voted for the Liberal Party, and a significant majority did not vote for the Coalition (58.3%).
3.5% is a very small proportion of the nearly half of voters who oppose the government, many of those with a burning passion.
It’s worth keeping these facts in mind to realise that despite the loss, the numbers, and the history of political change, are both very much on our side.
For the world’s most vulnerable people who are disappearing beneath the waves, for the refugees still tortured on Manus, for the Aboriginal people who die ten years younger than other Australians, for the millions of our compatriots who languish in poverty, the left must not yet again tear itself apart in recrimination. Nor can we afford to alienate the millions of working people that were taken in by the lies of the likes of Morrison, Murdoch, and Palmer.
Let’s instead unite and direct our justified anger towards our true enemies in power. Let’s embrace the public and build the movement necessary to take down this infected cyst of a government.