20 March 2023

Alison Pennington’s new book, Gen F’ed, is a good summary of how the ‘fair go’ has been withdrawn from young Australians, and an argument that we need to organise (not just rally) to restore it: “One core reason that movements reliant on protests lose steam is they aren’t emerging from, or translating into, ongoing associations between people — organisation. Organisations are structures that people affiliate to, or become members of, which coordinate and cohere their combined campaign efforts over time. The most impactful organisations throughout history have involved large numbers of people not just participating in political activities, but also practising democratic decision-making — whether they be movements, political parties or unions. Big protests are powerful when they represent organisation. For instance, the Vietnam Moratorium protests involved hundreds of different campaign groups who debated the merits of the nation going to war, developed a stance together, and mobilised at massive central rallies. Today’s infrequent protests are more likely to involve thousands of separate individuals or friendship groups congregating in one place. Rally organisers circulate placards among the crowd to create the illusion of an organised voice. This isn’t real power. Big rallies that are unsupported by real organisation can also cause lasting damage to the people’s belief in their democratic power when their demands are not immediately realised. For instance, without stronger anti-war organisations across society, Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to march the country to war in Iraq in 2003, despite national protests, permanently altered Australians’ belief in their capacity to influence the political decision-making process. Post-rally demoralisation is already setting in for young people. After diligently researching, deeply feeling, and seeking a common community, many turn out for rallies only to return home and ask, ‘What next?’ When they pull blanks, social media platforms are all they have. People need somewhere to brush the gravel from the graze and plough on together, stronger. When they push for political change and don’t achieve their aims, organisations and institutions should catch their fall, and help them return, with more effective tactics in the future.”