Politics Opinion

Leave Lidia alone: Outrage over protest has gone too far

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Senator Lidia Thorpe was removed after staging a protest at the Sydney Mardi Gras on Saturday night (Screenshot via YouTube)

No matter what one's opinion is of Senator Lidia Thorpe, the public condemnation of her Mardi Gras protest is unjustified and out of control, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

ON SATURDAY EVENING at the Sydney Mardi Gras, Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe staged a protest against police by confronting an on-duty officer and then lying down in front of a float.

Initially, the float was reported by media as belonging to police participating in the march. Later this was corrected to a float representing queer youth and trans kids that was apparently behind the police vehicle.

Thorpe’s actions caused no harm, did not disrupt the parade and were seen only by those in the immediate vicinity. Police moved her on and that was the end of it.

Until the footage hit social media.

An extraordinarily disproportionate reaction to Thorpe’s protest then began and incredibly continues 48 hours later at the time of writing.

The criticisms of Thorpe are not original. They have been used against women who in some way challenge the status quo for decades. Her protest was attention–seeking, entirely personal, selfish, inappropriate, untimely, in the wrong place, destructive to others, pointless, the actions of a child, a symptom of her allegedly dodgy mental health, out of control, dangerous, damaging to her cause, damaging to her people — the sickeningly familiar litany of trivialisation, infantilisation and abuse that stifles the message by discrediting the messenger, with the added slings and arrows of racism. 

In an extraordinary moment of unity, the opinions of the extreme Right wing and the progressive Left came together in shared public contempt for Lidia Thorpe. Who knew?

It should surprise nobody that an Indigenous woman might choose to use Mardi Gras as an opportunity to express her outrage at police brutality. However, her critics were almost unanimous in their opinion that this was not the point of her protest because they can read her mind, obviously. Her protest had no point, according to them, other than to draw attention to herself.

Apparently, drawing attention to oneself (usually the objective of protesters) is some kind of offence when used as a strategy by an Indigenous woman.

It’s become clear over the last couple of days that many people have a peculiar idea of what protest is and how it should be conducted. Indeed, I’m hearing a “Rules of Protest” manifesto from the Left, one that demands approved time, place, topic, use of language, and minimisation of the risk of offence to others, the protest to be perfectly executed (don’t get the wrong float) and nobody inconvenienced.

It's also clear that many people do not like Lidia Thorpe. Which is fine. However, that so many people apparently cannot suspend their personal dislike enough to consider the substance of her protest is, to say the least, discouraging. That they dislike her so intensely, they presume without any qualms to read her mind is, quite frankly, frightening.

Perhaps the most bizarre take is one that accuses Thorpe of deliberately destroying the Mardi Gras experience of trans kids and queer youth by plonking herself down in front of their float. Thorpe has made many notable statements, however, I have never heard of her expressing any hostility towards those groups. I am baffled by the allegation that she suddenly, out of nowhere on Saturday night, took it into her head to “destroy” their march experience.

The muddled thinking of some progressives was also on display. These are the people who claimed Thorpe was “harming her cause” by protesting, apparently unaware that her “cause” is the support of the “No” vote in the proposed Voice to Parliament referendum. I had no idea that undermining the “No” vote was of such concern to this demographic, but I guess if you hate a woman enough you’ll weaponise anything, even if it goes against your own deeply held principles.

The idea that the march and everyone in it needed protection from the “destruction” allegedly visited upon the event by Lidia Thorpe is gobsmackingly ludicrous. Apart from anything else, police brutality is everyone’s concern and Mardi Gras should most certainly be able to accommodate any protest against it. The idea that a protest movement must be protected against protest is, quite frankly, bonkers.

There were police, with dogs, strip-searching march participants as Thorpe lay on the road.

It’s clear that Lidia Thorpe has a deep mistrust of White institutions. I see no reason why she shouldn’t. White institutions aren’t doing much for anyone at the moment except those so privileged they really don’t need the help.

The Senator has little respect for the Westminster system. Neither does former Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his former cabinet, who made it their business to undermine democracy and its institutions at every opportunity for far less honourable justifications than those that apparently motivate Thorpe.

I have never seen an ongoing outpouring of disgust and contempt towards any protester in this country such as I’m witnessing in real-time against Lidia Thorpe. For reasons unclear to me, it has suddenly become acceptable among the Left to instruct an Indigenous woman on how she should best protest police brutality, simply because that woman is Lidia Thorpe.

The accusations that Thorpe isn’t really concerned about police brutality at all but is just pretending she is, are quite foul and deeply cruel. Not at all what one expects from progressives, yet here we are.

The expectation, no, the demands that Thorpe behave like any other Indigenous woman with a public platform, otherwise she’ll get emotionally and mentally pulverised by people one would expect to know better, only proves that her mistrust is entirely justified.

I have no idea if Thorpe is right or wrong on many issues. I do know that she is entitled to express her views without incurring, as of last count, 48 hours of unrelenting contempt, disparagement, abuse, infantilisation and humiliating speculation about her mental health from a demographic that is sadly proving itself too unsophisticated, prejudiced and racist to accommodate the challenges Thorpe presents it with.

It's worth remembering that so-called “radicals” are necessary to the achievement of social change, contrary to the beliefs of the cosy bourgeoisie who so desperately want things nice, polite, contained and without conflict.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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