In an opinion piece in the Age titled “I doubt I’ll bother attending another climate rally”, Nicola Philp laments: “I have begun to think that this traditional form of mass protest may have run its course. In the age of social media and very busy lives, such disruption to passers-by may actually be detrimental to the cause and serve to tick people off more than engage them with the issue of protest”.
She’s wrong. After the re-election of the coal-loving Liberals, and the announcement by the Queensland Labor government that they’ll fast track approvals for the Adani coal mine, last week’s climate march was a beacon of hope.
Thousands of mostly young, angry protesters flooded the steps of Parliament House and spilled on to the intersection with homemade signs and banners. When we began to march, the streets of Melbourne were filled with the sound of thousands of voices demanding change.
Passers-by I saw clapped and cheered from sidewalks and trams. I looked up to see people smiling and waving from the windows and balconies of restaurants and office buildings. Construction workers stopped what they were doing to watch and egg us on from the scaffolding above.
And why wouldn’t they? Countless surveys have long shown the majority are on our side.
The ABC’s 2019 Federal Election Vote Compass found more than 80 percent of Australians want the government to take more action on climate change. Nearly 90 percent want more renewable energy. And as for disruptive protests – despite the protestations of both Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, who wish they’d stay in school – a ReachTel poll showed 63 percent support the high school strikers who’ve skipped class to attend protests just like this one.
After bringing us such modest reforms as the right to vote without owning property, women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day, the end of the Vietnam War, civil rights, equal pay, land rights legislation, free education, the fall of Tony Abbott and marriage equality, to name a few, has the humble tradition of mass protest finally “run its course”?
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish high school student who sparked the global School Strikes for Climate, doesn’t think so.
According to Greta, “We can’t save the world by playing by the rules” because “our civilisation is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money”.
She’s right. Those with vested interests in polluting industries like fossil fuels, and the politicians who serve them, won’t give in without a fight. Disruptive and defiant mass protests have forced the issue of climate change to the centre of politics, an issue the rich and powerful would rather ignore.
Now is the time to keep building on that momentum. We need a mass movement to keep the pressure up and show those in power we are prepared to disrupt their precious economy in order to preserve the planet for future generations.
Philp is right about one thing: “We will soon be unable to look our children in the eyes and tell them it will be OK unless we act fast and act big”. As capitalism propels us toward climate catastrophe, I couldn’t look my potential kids in the eyes if I hadn’t been at that rally.