The train, normally so quiet and empty on a Sunday afternoon, is packed. There are families, middle aged women clutching signs, men with beards and waist length dreads, an attractive woman wearing a maxi dress under a cropped denim jacket. Everyone is smiling, chatting, leaning forward to talk to their companions.
In a huge surge we exit at Melbourne Central. I have never seen it like this; not late on a Friday or Saturday night, not at peak hour on a weekday, never. We are slowly shuffled forward, unable to resist the flow of the crowd. We make our way through the twists and turns of the station and exit onto Latrobe St, directly across from the Melbourne State Library where thousands have already gathered for the March in March protest- a vote of no confidence in the current government and Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The signs are eye catching, bearing slogans such as “We need an Abbott-Proof fence” and “Welcome Refugees. Deport Abbott.” Every now and then chants arise, led by speakers and groups within the crowds, cries of “Shame, Abbott, shame” and “People, not profits.”
The vibe of the crowd is good; strong and purposeful. It is hard not to marvel at the diversity of protestors. This is not just one group. Here are not just hard-leftists. There are grandparents, elderly wheelchair-bound individuals, mums pushing babies in prams, dad’s with toddlers high atop their shoulders, men and women with dread locked hair and bare feet, groups carrying tin drums, youthful university students, individuals wearing Anonymous masks, and many, many people carrying cameras.
One speaker calls for everyone in the crowd to pull out their phones, take a picture, and upload on all social media sites with the hash tag MarchinMarch. The crowd complies. They want this to be huge. They want to be heard. This protest was not organized by the usual activist’s groups- they attended but they weren’t running it. It arose through social media, through a nationwide discontent with the Abbott government. Afterwards, we would learn the hash tag MarchinMarch had been trending at no.4 since 10AM that morning; a success. The media would indeed report on the marches but the coverage would be minimal and mildly dismissive. It would comment more on the size of the crowds and the unpreparedness of the police, than the purpose of the march and the changes Australians need to see being made. The media would, however and to their credit, report with honesty that the crowd was benign and respectful.
Many marching were doing so with the knowledge that as of September 1st in Victoria such political protests will be illegal, a law passed at 1pm on Friday 15th, dictates. This was added to the long list of things to infuriate the people of Melbourne.
The signs clearly proclaimed what many were marching for. Like me, they were marching for:
1. Australia’s National Parks and Tasmania’s old growth Forests.
2. Asylum Seekers on Manus Inland and the violation of their human rights.
3. Women’s Rights (and against Abbott appointing himself Minister for Women and against the new Paid Parental leave scheme, which will make employer’s less inclined to hire women.)
4. Climate change and the Carbon tax.
5. The Great Barrier Reef.
And much, much more. The list is endless.
As a small van trundles past to lead, blaring up-beat music and encouraging chants, the march as it begins. We all begin to creep forward, signs and banners raised, ready to show Abbott just what we think. Many people walking by or eating at café’s whip out their phones to record us as we march by. Others stare in complete confusion.
One man has a little boy atop his shoulders. The boy, no more than four or five, is pumping a chubby fist in the air and shouting in a soft, rounded child’s voice “People, not profit! People, not profit!” Other marchers turn to look and take pictures. The boy’s dad joins his son, his voice deeper, louder.
“People, not profit! People, not profit!” My friend and I join in as do dozens of others marching alongside us. I’m sure plenty will wonder what difference it will makes and perhaps it will make none, but the purpose is to express a vote of no confidence and when 30,000 people turn out in one city to march, that expression has to be heard. It’s not just Melbourne either. Thousands upon thousands of people in city after city are marching with the same purpose.
After all this, one would think Abbott would wake up and start listening. As one sign claimed, “The power of the people is greater than the people in power.”