Unity in Diversity
To start with I was invited to it by non-political friends (nobody is truly apolitical but it's one thing to be political and another to be a hack). The event was organised within a week (indeed the organising group only formed in the preceding week) as a way of showing another side to cosmopolitan Australia than that seen in the recently reported mob violence. Those organising it were politically well-informed but mostly politically non-active (what I have in the past referred to somewhat derisively as 'political spectators'). However they had many relevant organisational and human relations skills that were very well transferred to the task of organising a public rally and community picnic.
I missed the rally from the State Library but from what I was told it was different from the standard protest in a few key ways. They only had a few speeches all of which were relevant. The standard protest however seems to have half-a-dozen speakers all saying pretty much the same stuff one after the other. They are chosen on the basis of what groups they represent rather than what they have to say and as a result pet issues creep into speeches and things tend to run late. The event on Sunday was different.
On the march itself there was a lack of moronic chanting. How the incessant "hey hey ho ho [insert thing one is opposed to here] has got to go!" palls for me. Chants seems to exist to make protesters feel they are all the same (rather than the disparate collection of distinct and sometimes antagonistic interests they are). Once more the event on Sunday was different (I think many of those present are the sort of person who resists regimentation at the best of times).
The kind of problems I have described for protests in general arise from the tendency protest organisers and associated movements have to be inward-looking. For many of the groups that frequent protests the purpose of such events is to help them access others within the 'activist community' - the assumption here is that one is most likely to get extra participants for your movement from among the participants of other 'like-minded' movements. So protests have more to do with cross-promotion within the crowd rather than getting a message to the wider public. As a result only the biggest protests warrant media attention. And yet the gathering on Sunday - which only numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands - got more media than would be expected for its size alone.
It was also distinctive as its focus was very much on what those gathered stand for rather than what they oppose. This helped to make it a much more relaxed and welcoming event. The picnic in the parks at the end of the march was very nice complete with some excellent live music and BYO picnic food. I had many 'small world' experiences in meeting friends there that I know via different avenues (some of whom it seems also know one another). All in all I think it was a worthwhile event and this can be attributed to some extent to the fact that its organisers were free from many of the assumptions and expectations of traditional protest organisers.