Protest Actions Workshop

About twenty-five people from a wide range of progressive goups attended a workshop in Adelaide on Saturday 30 March, where they shared their ideas and experiences of protest actions. They were assisted by the expert facilitation of Biff Ward, a long term activist and professional consultant.

It soon emerged that our experiences are extremely similar, even though we come from diverse backgrounds and are working on different campaigns. We have all experienced the frustration of having no obvious impact on decisions. We have all felt a sense of deja vu at protests that seemed identical to any number of others that we have attended. But there were also the inspiring and exhilarating experiences. What made these protests work when the others didn't?

Sometimes it was the hard work behind the scenes building support and attending to details. Sometimes it was the creativity of the action. Sometimes it was the trust between the protesters and the support that they gave each other.

What is clear is that the action must be congruent with the aims and with the circumstances. It's no good organising an action that can only succeed if 10,000 people turn up when you know that you'll be lucky to get twenty people. Perhaps the left has become locked into a model that worked in the Vietnam era and to a lesser extent in the mid eighties, but we need to recognise that this model doesn't fit all situations.

The most amusing story came from animal liberationists. They were dissatisfied with the inaction of the university's ethics committee over animal experi
ments, so they dressed up in bunny suits and bounced into the lecture theatre. The net result was a review of the university's practices and real changes: a successful action with a handful of people and no TV cameras.

At the end the workshop was divided into three groups to look at three issues: Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island), nuclear issues, and the men's movement. Each group came up with concrete actions and, perhaps most importantly, each group appreciated the opportunity to stop and think creatively and strategically about their campaigns. It was great to have this opportunity to step back from the tedium of business meetings to look at the bigger picture and let the ideas flow.

The workshop was organised by two Adelaide groups who focus on nonviolent protest. S.I.N.G.A. is a member of the Australian Nonviolence Network, and Praxis has most recently been very involved in anti-nuclear campaigns.

Philip White

S.I.N.G.A. Ph: (08) 364 6560