I’m not a person who has ever attended rallies or protests.
Over the years, the most interest I could muster has been to watch them on TV and alternatively scoff or agree with the message of each of them. However, in the last three weeks I’ve now been to three rallies in Sydney. I’m not going to write about why I’ve suddenly got up off my butt and taken the hour-long trip into the centre of Sydney three times in three weeks – that’s for another day. I am going to talk about how two very different rallies were treated by the public, the mainstream media, and the police.
I attended the ‘Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccines’ (MMAMV) on both the 20th and 27th of November. On both Saturdays I got to Sydney’s Hyde Park a few hours before the official start time just to see where things were and how this whole rally thing worked; a bit like a first-time flyer arriving at the airport early to see the planes before the flight and with that same mix of nervousness and excitement.
I immediately noticed the scale of the police operation for the rallies. In fact, even three or four blocks away from the park there were groups of no less than four police, mostly more, on almost every street corner.
Walking through the park from the Cenotaph north towards the Archibald Fountain, I saw more police than I ever have seen in my life. In the park these were no longer the groups of four or six I’d seen on the streets, but big clumps of perhaps a dozen or more police. Neither were these the general duties officers in their sky-blue shirts and hi-vis vests I’d seen on the streets – these were heavy troops, the NSW Police’s Public Order and Riot Squad. No hi-vis vests here, these were replaced with their dark para-military uniforms replete with body armour and combat gloves, all of them very visibly armed. It was hard to estimate, but there were hundreds and hundreds of police at both these rallies. You could see the police cars, vans, and buses lined up against the side of the street.
For a first-time rally, this was very off-putting. I just wanted to go and see people speak about their views, but to have such an oppressive show of force was not the Australia I grew up in. A side note here, none of these police were wearing masks when we arrived, but by the time the marches through the city started, every single officer had donned a mask. Apparently, Covid knows when they are on the job or not?
Contrast this to the Teachers’ strike on Tuesday the 7th of December at the same place when it wasn’t until I got to the Archibald Fountain at Hyde Park that I saw a solitary pair of NSW Police officers. That was the story of the rally – minimal police presence throughout the day. In fact, the only place where the NSW Police deployed their heavy-duty riot police was to keep a group of about 250 ex-teachers, who’d lost their jobs because they refused to comply with the vaccine mandate, away from the main body of the teachers’ rally.
The difference in policing was stark; it was as if one rally was tacitly approved by the powers that be and the other was not. I’m just speculating, clearly, as surely police treat all the citizens they serve equally without any favouritism based on the message being espoused…
The tone of these events was also very different.
As I walked toward the teachers’ rally, blocking the footpath in the park were 4 A-Frame signboards with QR code check-in posters. When I stopped and looked at them in surprise, I noticed everyone going to the rally was checking in and wearing masks. Okay, this rally might not be for me, I think. As I was contemplating this overt Covid signalling I heard very clearly over the PA system that this event is a ‘Covid-safe event’ and everyone should check-in, wear masks at all times, and show their vaccine pass to one of the event marshals. All of this, even though none of these things are required for outdoor events.
Take the MMAMV rallies: there were no masks, no check-ins, and no requirements to show anyone your vaccination status. I can’t help but wonder if this is one of the reasons the police presence was so different. The ‘compliant’ offer no threat to the State, especially when they are falling over themselves to over-comply with non-existent rules and thus require very little force by police on the day. Whereas the non-compliant are just that – non-compliant. That scares the State, and they must be met with as much intimidating force as they can muster.
Another contrast was the sense of openness that each rally fostered. The teachers’ rally was very tightly organised by the Teachers Federation. They had thousands and thousands of red t-shirts made up for the day with their very simple message ‘More than thanks’ emblazoned across the front. In fact, two out of three people at the rally were wearing their brand-new red t-shirts. They had their sky-blue Teacher’s Federation Flags and printed placards along with the various handmade signs. The overall sense was one of sameness. They were all marching for one purpose, if you were not part of the red-shirt brigade, you were not part of the rally.
At the MMAMV rallies, there were lots of groups with lots of messages, but there was a sense of anyone was welcome with whatever message you had as long as it roughly aligned with the message of keeping the government from mandating away the basic freedoms of personal autonomy and choice. There was anti-vaccine, anti-mandate, anti-lockdown, anti-corruption, anti-big government, Indigenous rights, anti-Chinese Communist Party, and many more messages to name. There were flags of all flavours: Australian flags (both blue and red), Greece, Poland, Italy, France, and again the list could go on. The flags and banners were organic. Every flag and banner was welcome and created a sense that this was a rally for all the people of the city.
What about those messages? Again, the teachers’ rally was laser-focused and didn’t stray from the point. They want more money, the 2.5 per cent pay rise offered was not good enough – they wanted 7.5 per cent minimum. In a time where thousands of their colleagues across the country are being forced out of their jobs due to vaccine mandates, where education standards have been falling for years, where the curriculum has been weighed down by non-core subjects that don’t prepare students for the real world, teachers have their hands out for more taxpayer money. The message rang hollow.
On the other hand, those at the MMAMV rallies were asking for the right to work and earn a living, to not be arbitrarily sacked for making a personal choice about their own healthcare, to be able to visit family and friends interstate and abroad without having to comply with Orwellian identification and tracking rules. They want to live without having to produce papers to authorised persons and to not ever be placed in home detention living under ‘states of emergency’ for months on end. Not once did they ask for more money. A stark contrast in what motivated these two groups to march.
Lastly, there was the media and how they portrayed these rallies. It was here that probably the most egregious mismatch in the rallies was to be seen.
The MMAMV rallies were not covered until 15 to 20 minutes into the nightly news bulletins. On some bulletins, the rallies were not covered at all. When they were covered it was dismissive, finding only the craziest of the messages on display to show to the audience and not what lay at the heart of the rally. ‘Anti-vaxxers’ was one label, ‘far-right wing’ was another – except that even a cursory look at the crowd showed Indigenous flags and people marching proudly with all other races and creeds together.
Calls for freedom from oppressive, callous, and uncaring politicians and public sector bureaucrats were mocked as ludicrous and pure fantasy. And worst of all, the crowd numbers were completely fudged. At no point did I see reports of more than 10,000 while some media set the number as low as a few thousand. My best estimates put both MMAMV rallies at 100,000 people each week. It’s actually very easy to go online punch in the location, estimate the density of people per square meter, and come up with a fairly accurate number. One wonders why the media never bothered to do that? I guess accuracy in reporting is not a thing in 2021.
In contrast, the teachers’ rally was the lead item on the six o’clock news with journalists breathlessly reporting that thousands and thousands brought the city to a standstill, no less. Here, the best estimate was around 15,000 to 20,000 people. If you weren’t on the ground and just relied on the mainstream bulletins after the rallies, this was clearly reported as a bigger and more important rally. There were interviews with the teachers, exerts from speeches, and not a hint of derision or scorn. Teachers had the right to march and the cause was, in the media’s opinion, a worthy one.
For someone who has never been to rallies before and has only ever looked at the reports on TV with a sort of vague disinterest, it was shocking to see that the reality on the ground at each event bore no relation to what the rest of the population was told. It is little wonder the corporate media is roundly distrusted, and the distrust is growing by the day. Every person out there on the ground believes their eyes and sees the truth and when that doesn’t gel with what you’re being told it’s jarring.
It was a tale of two rallies; one message that was approved by the media, and one that was not. I urge you all to get out on the street and see for yourself what is really going on.
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