Lismore. Saturday, 1.10pm
A bloke with a Tibetan bronze trumpet that looks about a hundred years old blows a fat note over the march.
It’s a sound that resonates deep in the collective psyche: a marshalling sound calling citizens in from the fields, a warning sound (Barabarians at the gate!), a lonely sound like a foghorn in the dark calling out, ‘I am here. Where are you?’
It is also a very loud sound; the bloke is walking right next me when he lays that ancient audio like a blanket over the thousands who march down Molesworth Street. It nearly scares breakfast out of me.
With my ears ringing but undies still clean, I step out from the march and take momentary respite on the shaded footpath. The sun is turning me redder than the red shirts of the marchers. There is so much red, the Thai president must be worried.
A man says something to me as he marches past, but I’m deaf. I just smile back at him and nod. He holds a placard that says, ‘If you’re not angry you’re not paying attention.’
Yep, there’s plenty to keep you from paying attention to what’s really happening to this wide, brown lease. Plenty of distractions.
There are cooking shows, talent shows, reality shows, sporting shows… Then there’s the news: asylum seekers threatening Australia; bikies threatening Australia; greenies threatening Australia; unions, intellectuals, forests – all threatening Australia.
There are even distractions that are not on television – like work, beer, pursuit of romantic bliss, and Facebook.
Placards bob along the river of red: ‘Seeking asylum is a human right’, ‘Serve us, not corporations’, ‘Stop dumping on our reef’, ‘Stop fracking Mother Earth’, ‘Hands off penalty rates’, ‘Education is real wealth’.
For those paying attention, the dissatisfactions are many.
Luckily, we live in a society where you can protest when dissatisfied. The right to assembly is a vital part of democracy, right up there with voting every few years. Actually, it was the right to assembly that was the basis for the novel concept of ‘rule by the people’ (democracy) when it was developed in Athens more than two millenia ago.
These days, there is a tendency for governments to play down the importance of peaceful protest as a legitimate part of democracy. Voting is a lot easier to manipulate than real outpourings of disaffection.
Slowly my hearing returns. I hear voices singing, ‘We shall overcome.’ I hear a chant from three little boys, about seven years old, as they walk past: ‘Get rid of Abbott! Get rid of Abbott!’
I feel uncomfortable with the kids’ chant. Not sure why…
I rejoin the march near a placard that says, ‘1080 the Rabbott.’ Now, I like the wit, integrity and succintness of most of the placards here. But not this one. And earlier I saw a placard that said ‘Ditch the Prick’. Another called Abbott a dickhead.
Maybe it’s the manners my mother taught me. Yes. But personal abuse is not only rude, it’s counterproductive. Personal attacks on the PM are offensive (remember Julia, Bob Brown’s bitch?). They are not the way to win the hearts and minds of the Australian majority; the people who aren’t at this march. And that’s the objective here, right?
Behind me I hear more children chanting. Oh no. This group has heard the kids in front chanting ‘Get rid of Abbott’ and have copied. Kids copy stuff. And we are the role models.
I stop to let the wee chanters pass.
The two boys and three girls have misheard the chant. With real protest gusto and a raised fist, they’re chanting: ‘Give me a rabbit! Give me a rabbit!’