INactivism

Posted on August 22, 2007

3


Feel bad. Right this minute a bus is leaving the La Trobe Agora bound for the city and the ‘National Day of Action’ against fees, ‘voluntary student unionism’ and cuts in tertiary education. Its National Union of Students stuff. Big stuff.
There might even be a few hundred people there. Maybe even a couple thousand.
I won’t be one of them. Seven hours of class today. An overdue assignment.
I could skip half of the above for the sake of the protest. But then I feel it won’t make much difference anyway. (Can’t even rely on Labour completely. They did introduce HECS after all. Maybe HECS wasn’t such a bad thing. If I had to choose between more HECS/fees and the total obliteration of lesser populated disciplines, I’d go with HECS)

But maybe thats the reason to fight. The socialists argue that there was a battle under Hawke and Keating, an even bigger battle under Howard and whoever wins the next election, guess what…? More battles.

Decent tertiary education, like any other part of education generally, will always need defending. Now more than ever. So why aren’t I there? I mean apart from class and work I need to do? I feel the need to be counted, to be able to say years from now ‘well it didn’t work, but i was there.’ But as things are, I won’t be able to say that. I was part of many anti-VSU protests. But that legislation got through in the end…

I guess i’m not sure of the value of demonstrations anymore. Our mass protest against Iraq’s invasion didn’t stop our government. Folks in the US must feel the same. Doesn’t mean it has no use, or is a waste of energy. Or is it?

What other forms of protest are there? What other methods of producing change, or defending the good things in our society? Tempted as I am to think that the blogging community can do it single handedly, I’m not that optimistic.

In his book, The Weapons of the Weak, James C. Scott details one Malaysian peasant village and its politics in the nineteen sixties and seventies. Open peasant rebellion in Malaysia usually resulted in a crushing by authorities. So thats out. And organising a bigger rebellion would just mean more casualties. And anything big enough to succeed at that time was simply impossible to organise. These people didn’t have iPhones for pity sake. Still don’t.

But the downtrodden rice farmer and field worker has other methods of resistance don’t they?
And they don’t involve organisation. Here are some items from Scott’s list: lying, theft, disimulation, foot-dragging, non-compliance, back-biting, slander and gossip
‘White-anting’ some call it. They are all behaviours that people usually object to in social situations. Its interesting then that Scott thinks they are the main instruments by which oppressed people can help themselves. Not flag waving. That just gets you shot.
(Great review of Scott’s book here)
But I won’t be shot for protesting against the Howard government. At worst, I might be photographed and databased somewhere. Maybe, if ‘they’ have sufficient resources and technology to bother. But no great threat really. Its more that I see Scott’s point in making a distinction between different kids of resistance. One the one hand we have ‘open, selfless, organised, communal activism that rejects the basis of dominance rather than supports it’ to use a common socialist expression. On the other, we have peasants doing all the petty things above when no-ones watching, while on the surface just going along with the system as it is.

True, I’m not a peasant. But for the purposes of relative power and relative wealth in my society, I might as well be. Perhaps I’m one of the better-off peasants. But the point remains. I am not a big player. As a student, minimum wage worker, renter and so on I am an exceedingly small player. Which is why I choose more petty and less symbolic acts of resistance than those advocated by my Marxist colleagues. Such as blogging which covers gossip and slander. Only paying the civil infringement fines that I can afford (none) covers non-compliance and theft. I’m sure there are other ways I’m rocking the system to its core, but I can’t recall right now. Maybe I’ll get on the ‘red bus’ to APEC after all.

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