G20 Protests: The Good, the Bad and the Useless

The G20 summit has begun in Brisbane this week, a gathering of the world leaders from the top 20 economies. Funnily enough most of them were already in the neighbourhood attending an APEC summit, where some pretty important shit was decided (though just how decided is arguable). Hopefully it’ll turn into an interesting meeting, despite Tony Abbot and Joe Hockey’s endless intoning about how this’ll be all about something as vaguely pedestrian as jobs and growth. There’s already a bit of spice about with the PM’s embarrassment about being the only leader who doesn’t want to mention climate change, and a bit of military showboating with RAN frigates and a surveillance plane keeping an eye on four Russian warships steaming south towards international waters just outside our EEC. Good stuff.

Security’s a bit ridiculous, with bans on bows (of all types) and easily throwable objects like tin cans and eggs in the secure zone that covers most of the Brisbane CBD. There’s been a bit of grumbling and satire about the inability to boil an egg in the city at the moment, though nothing close to the level of the Chaser’s visit to APEC way back when. But there can be no collection of powerful men (and a few powerful women) without some protests, and distaste for the current political status quo and a desire to make that distaste known will find a way!

Free-Tibet supporters floated large black balloons with a banner asking the G20 to unite in forcing China to free Tibet, raising a few questions: 1. Do they realise that China is a G20 nation; 2. Do they really think anyone in the G20 still gives a damn enough about Tibet to ruin their attempts at becoming ascendant China’s best mate; and 3. How long before the One China folk turn up to chase them off?

A few people from Oxfam dressed up in life guard outfits and the comically oversized heads of a few of the leaders (including Merkel, Abbot, Obama and Modi) in order to warn against ‘inequality rising.’ Not exactly as dramatic as black balloons carrying a banner, but it’s pleasant, light-hearted and attracted a lot of people to take photos, and I’ve got a lotta respect for people willing to wear giant heads for hours at a time in a Brisbane heatwave for a good cause.

Far more serious is the protest about indigenous deaths in custody, which I assume is attempting to embarrass the government in front of the rest of the world. It’s a cause I most definitely support, but can’t help but wonder if this is the best audience for the protests. I can’t help but imagine that there’s not going to be a whole lot of coverage of an Australian death in custody protest, and that the gathered leadership is pretty good at tuning out name-calling like “Genocidal 20.”

Perhaps my favourite so far, and the one that seems most… appropriate? let’s say appropriate. The one that seems the most appropriate so far was on Bondi Beach, where hundreds of protesters buried their heads in the sand, symbolic of the Abbot government’s continued wilful ignorance and refusal to acknowledge climate change. I like this one. It uses an internationally recognisable location, makes it’s point cleverly but not obliquely and doesn’t accuse the other leaders of genocide (seriously, what’s with that?) I’m not exactly a big fan of most protests, but this one’s alright.

Finally, let me mention the folks from PETA, who sent a trio of girls stripped down to their briefs, some strategically placed stickers and a mess of green body paint to encourage the approaching international dignitaries to embrace a vegan diet. Now, I’m torn between having a go at PETA for continuing their trend of blatant sexism objectifying women in order to garner attention and controversy (especially because you only need to Google ‘PETA’ and ‘sexist’ to find a bunch of articles doing it better than I ever could), and making a joke about how threatening to put your clothes back on is hardly the best way to get a bunch of men to do what you want. That long sentence does both, so I’ll close this paragraph simply with this: Really PETA? Really?

I’ve always found a lot of these kinds of protests strange. I mean, I get that it’s an international audience but aside from the possibility of a mention in the BBC’s G20 coverage what exactly are people trying to achieve? I mean, Xi Jinping certainly doesn’t care if a handful of Aussies think he needs to extend more democratic rights to Hong Kong, Narendra Modi wouldn’t care about Tibet beyond maybe – maybe! – sticking it to China, and I doubt Dilma Rousseff is all that worried about the rights of indigenous Australians. Yes it raises local awareness, but local awareness is likely fleeting. A big part of the reason I like the Bondi protests is that it reinforces something already filling the media, that our biggest strategic and trading partners are concerned about climate change but the Abbott government wants to ignore it (and is even bragging about ditching the Carbon Tax).

There’s also the problem that with all the different groups protesting about different things at once they simply become a wall of white noise that’s even easier to ignore. This is a problem that has tended to effect left-wing protests in Australia (as well as the lack of achievable goals) over the past few years, such as during the Occupy Sydney/Martin Place movement and the March in March … er … marches.

So I’m not gonna bet on a lot of these protests’ success. But hey, I’m a political cynic.

Anyway, let’s see what the rest of the summit brings. Here’s hoping for a few more laughs.

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