Today I was asked who my heroes are. My heroes aren’t academics or famous people. They’re ordinary people. They are people who found a way to give their issues a voice. My heroes are people like climate change activist Mali Cooper, the 22-year-old Lismore woman who was among 12 people charged for blocking the entry to the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. Mali and her friends brought Sydney to a standstill and they did it knowing the consequences under the new NSW protest laws. It’s no longer a $400 fine. Protesters now face up to two years jailtime and/or a fine of $22k.
Mali and her crew made an impact, they stopped a city going to work and made them talk about climate. And it might have cost them jailtime, but they say, even so, it was worth it. To me, that’s a hero.
They faced people at their angriest – and in their cars. Bloody hell, if you take two seconds longer than they think you should to accelerate on a green light people go nuts. I can’t imagine the heat that Mali and the team took in the tunnel. That takes guts. They knew that it was going to create a media frenzy and that the conservative opinions would be against them.
Most of the media pushback was around the disruption and the inconvenience caused to people going about their daily grind. Democracy isn’t always convenient. Maybe someone needs to tell capitalism. And in case you haven’t noticed, climate change doesn’t care about convenience.
Yep, protest is inconvenient. But then so is having government after government who haven’t protected your future. It’s inconvenient having your house burnt to the ground or flooded from climate change effects. Just ask anyone in our area living in a tent in their flood-damaged home. Being on the phone to an insurance company day after day is inconvenient. So is being homeless. Stopping traffic is a minor issue when it comes to the bigger conversation. And maybe we do need to be made uncomfortable. Maybe we do need to be temporarily inconvenienced. This is the idea of protest – it’s to push important conversations to the forefront.
This is non-violent protest. The legal basis of the right to protest in NSW is the common law right to peaceful assembly, which can be traced back to the Magna Carta. The right is further protected by the Australian Constitution under the implied freedom of political communication. Except in NSW. It seems our State government is keen on taking us back to the good old Bjelke days of Queensland when the then premier made it illegal to have a public gathering of more than five people. It didn’t discourage activists. It just fueled violent clashes between the public and police.
These new laws, passed in April this year are meant to deter activists. The fines aren’t really designed to impact on public protest related to industrial grievances. Generally those public assemblies will be done with police permission. The issue is around protesting the effects of forestry, mining, and climate change or animal welfare; the big environmental issues of our era. Basically, if you lock on – then you will be locked up.
So, I have an idea. I’m in my 50s. Maybe instead of leaving it to the young, we oldies need to get out there. It’s time we clocked off and locked on. On the upside, when they take us away to enjoy two years of incarceration, that will be the closest we’ve come in a long time to accessing affordable accommodation.
The future needs us to be radical. Our kids need us to be dangerous. It’s good to remember; in a compliance- obsessed world, no one ever subverted the dominant paradigm with permission.
We need to protest the anti-protest laws. I’ll put in the application. Lock On.