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21st century protest from Cairo to Don Dale

  • 04 December 2017


For those who protest in the 21st century, whether for peace, women's liberation, LGBTI rights or Indigenous justice, power and oppression provide the thematic framework for their opposition and desire for change. The internet has provided those lacking the structural upper hand with a powerful means of access and communication.

However, sustaining the drive for protest online is exhausting. Protests on social media demand that you care, that you care publicly, and that you give wholeheartedly to a cause. There's the fear that silence can be interpreted as complicity. It's compassionate to recognise that a person's compassion and empathy has its limits.

To invest time and heart into a protest means it has to run longer than the expiration date on a viral bit on social media. Snap protests, while well intentioned and driven by the passion of the moment, are often subjected to the whimsical and fast-changing news cycle.

And any campaign lacking a regular output of visual and audio media, especially in a media-restrictive environment, such as the Don Dale Detention Centre, has less chance of inspiring a coherent message.

Protests against Don Dale call for everything from the removal of the Northern Territory government, to the end of children in detention, to addressing domestic violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. What it shows is that the issue of youth justice doesn't exist in isolation, and so doesn't lend itself as easily to the brevity associated with social media.

In fact the internet can confuse a situation, making it uninteresting or confusing to an apolitical bystander. In her book Twitter and Tear Gas, professor and journalist Zeynep Tufekci writes:

'Whereas a social movement has to persuade people to act, a government or a powerful group defending the status quo only has to create enough confusion to paralyse people into inaction. The internet ... can asymmetrically empower governments by allowing them to develop new forms of censorship based not on blocking information, but on making available information unusable.'


"What is a protest if not an expression of communal anger? But are protests supposed to be just about emotions, about expression?"


There's no reason to judge the success of a protest by whether it achieved its desired outcome: the adage 'it's a marathon, not a sprint' rings true. Effective change is a matter of increment; it has to happen at every strata of society. Protests bear the brunt of proving success, when the burden for change