So last night I went to bed with the news that even though the Coalition extended the sitting of the Senate, their ‘education reform’ bill failed 33 to 31 in favour of doing sweet fuck all to our education system because it doesn’t need to be privatised. The protests that spread around the country, of which I was a part of (that is me, with the Mohawk, getting roughed up by the ever-so-friendly NSW riot police) seemed to be in vain with Pyne so adamant the reforms would pass the Senate – but after the fact, I feel I now see the bigger picture. I remember straight after the protests in May, where my bright-blonde Mohawk was emblazoned across commercial TV, the Daily Telegraph and the like – the common response from people who knew I was involved in the protests was, ‘good on ya!’. However, when I showed them the decent bruises the police gave me that day; the students who were arrested for what I would consider seemingly innocuous ‘infringements’ – and the nonplussed attitude of the government to the students revolt; the question was asked by these very same people – what’s the point? They may have a point – was it going to all be in vain? As it was with similar student protests in California in 2009, Britain in 2010, Chile in 2011 – and countless protests before that? Was I, and for that matter, and my fellow students, on the wrong side of history? With the trend, especially in the UK and America, towards a more privatised and individualized take on higher education, was Australia just going through the motions of destiny? Were we fighting the inevitable forces of the market? With a conservative government campaigning in an age of ‘austerity’ – were we doomed? I’m frequently told by people (predominantly those that don’t bother to get out into the streets, mind you) that there is very little point to protesting. These same people would never suggest that there is NO point whatsoever, but that the cost-benefit analysis of protesting in the modern age displays a net loss to the individual protesting. The time and effort taken to organise the rally; doll up your ‘F U PYNE’ signs; coupled with the risk of being injured or arrested, the likelihood of further rallies taking up our precious time in our 24/7 lives; escalating acts of civil disobedience and protests (while faced with the moral dilemma of backing – or not – those deemed to ‘take it too far’). And all the while with the end result of the matter being practically out of your control! When Pyne and the Coalition shit out these reforms to higher education it was quite clear it wasn’t for the benefit of me and students like me… so why would they care that I was out in the street with a coarse voice and a bad attitude?
Although I wanted to effect change, I couldn’t help but think the doubters had a point. When the reforms were first announced, the Coalition spoke with a confidence and swagger that many would read as an ‘iron-clad’ assurance that the reforms were already locked in – it was inevitable. When I took to the streets in that first major protest against the reforms, I honestly thought our message would be in vain. They would (I thought) convince a couple of independents, the Labor party would oppose (weakly) some – but not all aspects – and the bill would pass by a slim majority at some stage or another over the next couple of months. We’d all jump on Facebook to caps lock a ‘FUCK U ABBOTT’, cry ourselves to sleep and wake up the next day with a mountain of debt and little inclination to un-do what cannot be un-done. But if the failure of the bill to pass the Senate says anything, it is this… protest DOES work! Shorten was on my radio in the car today (not in a literal sense, that’d be weird), saying something along the lines of ‘give yourselves a pat on the back if you helped oppose the reforms’, and although he never specifically mentioned the student movement, I’d like to think that was what he was alluding to. And that is when it struck me, we weren’t protesting so that the Coalition would hear us (they won’t) – we were making sure that Labor, the Greens, PUP and the independents didn’t screw us over! Let us not forget in the wake of some recent disturbing statements from the former PM Keating, the Labor party has a fervent history of privatizing and deregulating too. Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred – that is why we need to send a message to those who may straddle towards the fence on a particular issue, or who think it is of no consequence which way the matter goes – that they are wrong, and that we do care! So if you’ve got something to say, say it! I guarantee you… someone will hear it. I hope you enjoyed my first blog – sign-up and comment… please, I need friends!