Last Sunday, despite a thunderstorm and torrential downpours, thousands of Sydneysiders joined the #MarchInMarch protests. According to some media reports, this was a march of leftist extremists, the usual parade of tree-huggers and soap-dodgers. I do not believe that to be the case.
I was there. My family was there. I have a full time job, I commute to the CBD from the suburbs every day, my kids are in full time education. We saw plenty of other ordinary families just like us. Mums with push-chairs, dads with toddlers on their shoulders and many older people. From what I saw with my own eyes, this march transcended party politics and involved people from many different walks of life and political persuasions.
Media focus has been on the witty hand-made placards, which indeed signified the many different points of view on display. However, beyond the slogans and the home-made t-shirts (mine was about coal seam gas) there was a quiet sense that this was an important event, the start of something much bigger.
The story Sydney told last Sunday is of a mass of people – left, right and blocking up the middle of the road – coming together to protest about a multitude of issues, from refugees to the environment to sexual equality. The common denominator was the determination to fight to retain basic human rights. That’s what got my family out and on the streets of Sydney on March 16, 2014.
We had not been bussed to Sydney to protest, or been handed pre-printed placards to wave. We had not been bombarded by radio and newspaper adverts urging us to attend. We had not even been marshalled by GetUp to petition or parade. We simply turned up of our own accord, like so many others.
We marched, with drummers, in a joyous carnival atmosphere. And Sydney seemed to welcome us – if the tooted feedback from passing trucks and cars and cheers from passers-by can be believed.
For myself, it was a matter of common sense. Respect for science and the environment, sexual equality, acceptance of people of different faiths and cultures, and the permission to dissent. These are freedoms I thought I could take for granted, but now not so. I felt I couldn’t stand by while Australia moves backwards, to a new dark-ages of ignorance and bigotry.
The Abbott Government has pushed our buttons once too often with their reactionary and backward policies. Every newscast seems to spout new details of how the government intends to wreck and burn an already delicate landscape and sell our precious Australian country for short-term profit.
My wife Lida, feels we have been pushed too far. “People here are asking for renewable energy sources, a sustainable future for our children, clean air, safe water and food. They are demanding a stop to the rapacious exploitation of the Australian landscape by the mining industry. People are angry because right now, this country seems to be run for the benefit of a few mining magnates and media tycoons.”
For my son Connor, 20, it wasn’t just about hating Tony Abbott, he would have marched whether Liberal or Labor were in power. “These are matters of principle, separate from grubby party politicking. The protest was good, but it’s not enough. We must do more. These are issues that concern humanity as a whole – how we treat other human beings, and how we care for the environment.”
My daughter Niamh, 15, marched because she wanted to demonstrate that the recent horrors in the treatment of refugees were not done in her name. “Why should our generation grow up in a world that has been pushed backwards by a repressive Australian government? The majority of young people support gay marriage, a compassionate attitude to refugees, and we are very concerned about protecting our natural environment.”
Sydney #MarchInMarch is the story of a huge mass of people, more than any of us had hoped for, who braved the crappy weather, cynicism and apathy to make a stand. And what a joy it was, to join the many voices in a carnival spirit and to celebrate – now we know that we are not alone.