Story By Amaani Siddeek & Emilia Roux
On the 26th of January 2021, thousands gathered across the country to protest against the Australia Day celebrations.
Between organisers, solidarity groups, and anti-establishment revolutionaries, protest movements are far more than a group of people uniting under a common cause.
Elizabeth Jarrett, a Gumbaynggir Dunghuttie Bundjalung woman and lead organiser of the Invasion Day 2021 protest, said the protest was an invitation for all to show solidarity with the Indigenous people of Australia.
“Invasion Day is always about solidarity, you know, it’s always about please come and support us no matter who you are,” said Ms. Jarrett.
But after an impromptu gathering breached agreements with the police, Ms. Jarrett clarified that there was a difference between being an ally and being an interloper.
“After we’d peacefully dispersed our crowd, and officially called the rally over, I do know that the [Australian Communist Party] were the ones in charge of the next little march, which ended up turning into police arrests and fines, which is not cool with us,” said Ms. Jarrett.
“You don’t come to a protest to say it’s like… going to someone else’s birthday party and blowing out their candles.”
Meet the Organiser: Elizabeth Jarrett
Professor James Goodman, noted that for protests, “that have focused on particular sectors of the community,” allies should recognise and respect that community’s leadership.
Not all groups agree on what a successful protest looks like. While organisers like Elizabeth Jarrett protest for their cause, others like the Australian Communist Party and the Socialist Alternative believe these issues to be a part of a wider cause.
Joseph Wannous, a spokesperson for the ACP, said that a protest’s “success” looks different to everyone.
“In terms of the one in The Domain, how do you measure that type of thing? Like, is it getting land rights back? Or, is it bringing awareness to the issue? I’ve got pretty high standards myself,” said Mr. Wannous.
Meet the Australian Communist Party: Ally or Interloper?
Differing views of success and how to achieve that is one of the reasons protests can escalate into clashes of violence, and according to Goodman, can even transform into broader movements.
“There’s a long history of groups seeking to produce more far-reaching change in society, more revolutionary change,” said Goodman, a sentiment that is echoed by the ACP and SA’s website manifestos.
However, clashes between revolutionary groups and authorities have given groups like the ACP and SA a negative reputation among protest organisers.
But Ms. Jarrett isn’t quick to denounce the aid of solidarity groups, saying that what Australia needs is better education on how to be a “good ally.”
“Don’t get yourself fined. Don’t make us look like rubbish. But sadly, a couple of people and whatever happened didn’t go that way,” said Ms. Jarrett.
“Luckily, that’s why we have the Palestinians all the time. A big Muslim presence, Asian presence. Like everyone knows, it’s Invasion Day. Are you proud to invade the land? If not, come and commemorate with us and share some peace and prosperity and education.”
It’s a sentiment that the Free Palestine Movement founder, Nasser Mashni, can relate to.
Meet the Free Palestine Movement: Ally or Interloper?
The Palestinian movement and Indigenous Rights movement have been closely allied, with both groups showing solidarity at each other’s protests.
At their best, protests can be a powerful change-making tool, and at worst, they can provide the conditions for violence and uproar – a fear that has increasingly become a deterrent for many people of the public.
But to people like Vinil Kae, who have attended many protests over the years, they believe we can expect more protesting than ever before.
“The problems of our world haven’t just disappeared underneath the pandemic, whether it’s the issues facing the Indigenous people, the increasing poverty in our society, or the environmental crisis,” said Mr. Kae.