My thoughts on the NUS (National Union of Students) decision to change the venue of the protest the night before. Which I feel is done for an incredibly soft and false argument that has resulted in a demobilised rally.
Moving the venue was a politically stupid idea as:
- The event had being promoted since the start of semester. To change it the night before means a number of people will rock up at the advertised location. Imagine the effect on a student who was coming to their first protest to find out the venue has changed significantly or not see anything and wonder what is going on.
- It is a federal issue not a state issue. It makes no political sense to have it at state parliament house.
- State parliament is awkward to get to via public transport, a hike from the closest major train station and a significant enough distance from the original location to put people off going there who rock up at the advertised location.
- There is no one at Parliament house who doesn’t work there. You’re not taking the issue out into a high-density population area where you can reach the general public unlike Murray st Mall.
- Many peaceful protests have happened at Murray st Mall over the last several years that didn’t have council approval without anyone who didn’t want to get arrested being arrested, including student actions last year
The Reason given by the NUS for changing the location is that they didn’t want to put students in harms way by having an unauthorized protest. This is an extremely soft argument as a peaceful protest in Murray st Mall, even without authorization has happened countless times over the last several years with no one getting arrested that didn’t want to.
It is not illegal to have a gathering in a public space and voice a political demand. Perth city Rangers can’t stop a peaceful protest from happening and there has never being a case where they have. On the very occasional time when Perth city council rangers have confiscated un-authorised stalls or police have blocked the march route no has being arrested that didn’t wasn’t prepared to be. Even in those occasional instances, no one arrested has ever being convicted.
Where not exactly protesting in Mexico, where student protesters went ‘missing’ under mysterious. Even then Mexican students continued coming out to protest.
Where not exactly in Chile where riot police often hurl tear gas at student protests. Even then many students continue to come out and protest, where they have forced the government to change its position on education fees.
Where not exactly in Quebec, where police offices have being known to kettle protests and use tear gas. Students in the face of this state violence have won significant victories by sustained protest
We are in Australia where many peaceful protests have happen recently in the originally chosen location without a permit and no one has being arrested or otherwise put in harms way.
NUS made the decision in part based on advice from unions WA. Unions WA have a long history of working with the ALP to demobilize social movements. As someone who was involved in organising protests against the budget last year, I can attest to the fact they did bugger all to help build the protests when there was a real sentiment to have it. Another notable instance was their role in demobilizing the anti-Iraq war movement.
The NUS also didn’t have a serious plan of how to get people who rocked up at the advertised venue to the new one. At the start time of the protest, 12:30pm there wasn’t anyone from the NUS at the original location re-directing people to the new one. Not only this, but the NUS were against having a pre-rally gathering at the original venue and then going as a group to parliament.
I have it on good authority that numerous people were milling around the original location with signs and looking very confused.
All of this was a major contributor to the protest being short on numbers compared to last years and felt very flat without much chanting and no marching.
Many of the people who have being involved in this campaign for years and done a lot of work to build the protest were not consulted about changing the venue. A discussion between several people involved in the Murdoch education campaign group showed clear support to stick with the original venue.
The manner in which this decision was made, it’s timing and effect it has had means I can’t help but think this is a case of the ALP working to demobilise the student movement in WA.
It again raises the need to fight against bureaucracy and for democracy within the student movement. To achieve a broad united student movement that can build a strong campaign for education rights I firmly believe education action networks need to be established and built outside of the NUS.