On Social Media and Left Wing Ideals In the 2013 Australian National Election

On Sunday afternoon, my housemate’s girlfriend was sitting in my lounge room, staring at the computer, tears forming in her eyes.

She was furious- and a bit scared- like many other Australians must have been. She babbled in frustration, clicking furiously through news articles and political analysis, telling me she needs to know more, needs to learn about it all. And then she said the thing I’ve heard and seen come from so many like-minded mouths and fingers: “I’m thinking about leaving the country”.

When this is said in response to the outcome of this election, I feel a little… concerned. When someone says, “I can’t live in a country run by Tony Abbott”, all I’m hearing is “I’m too impatient/apathetic/exhausted to stick around to try and implement the change I want to see”.

Dude, don’t give up. Australia needs all its lefties now more than ever. We’ve got a conservative government, brought in to power by propaganda pretending to be news coverage- but, really, it’s possible this government’s reign won’t last longer than three years. In the meantime, we’ve got to ensure that those of us with progressive ideas, compassion, and the desire to live sustainably don’t allow our voices to be muted. And we have to act.

Soon, communities around the country will become increasingly affected by environmental concerns- or, more specifically, the new government’s lack thereof. Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor at the School of Science at Griffith University, has predicted that as a result of the Coalition government’s environmental policies, it is viable that we will see more direct action being taken in environmental conservation by individuals, as well as more litigation. These communities will need the support of the wider population to give their valid concerns and trials a much-needed boost in volume. And what about the Great Barrier Reef? That’s already been fucked with.

We have to keep the level of care we had about politics in the lead up to the election going, and we’ve got to keep shouting in outrage when we feel the urge- conservation will probably not be the only issue that blows up in the face of cult-of-personality voters. And if we have DO have passionate feels, we shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to social media to express them, as seemed to be the majority of cases in the lead up to this election (admittedly, myself included).

While social media is a space for information sharing and discussion, it is also a breeding ground for circle jerking and preaching to the converted. Almost all of the people I am connected with through facebook share many of the same basic lefty ideals, and many of us spent much of the last few weeks sharing anti-Tony Abbott and pro left-leaning party stories with each other. We shared and bitched and liked and joked, and spoke the praises of those parties with progressive ideas for the future, but this had no discernable impact on the audience we hoped to reach, those who were willing to blindly follow the lead of Murdoch and Rinehart owned newspapers in voting for the Coalition.

I’m starting to think that maybe it is BECAUSE of how prolific left wing social media users were in their political tweeting and status updating, that we’ve found ourselves in this situation.

This election was the second in which social media played a large role in discussion. It was the first in which citizens, politicians and journalists alike were properly accustomed to a life permeated by social media, the first in which everyone had their expression-of-feelings/thoughts-via-facebook/twitter-habits fully formed. So, the negative emotions felt towards the potential for a Coalition government could and would be spread all over the damn internet, for anyone to see, as soon as we felt them.

And it just so happened that this process provided a sense of release. We felt appeased as soon as we re-tweeted a video supporting our views, or shared an analysis on various policies and political game playing. We passed it on, many of us perhaps feeling like we were doing our part- all we could do- to spread the word, and to raise awareness. And we felt a little relief every time we publicly and instantaneously expressed our disgust with Liberal Party policies.

But we only made ourselves and our friends more informed. Sure, those of us who voted did it with a better understanding than we would have without this information sharing… but realistically, all the shares and the memes and the dolan-style-cartoons did little more than provide a way to spend time online. We evidently weren’t reaching anyone we wanted to reach. No significant amount of conversions to the light-side happened. Instead, these digital gestures of sort-of-protest seem to have watered down the power of the message, seem to have dispersed it, making it all but hidden amongst everything else in the bottomless hole of information that is The Internet, much like above the line Sex Party votes trickled down into enabling smaller conservative parties places in the senate. The message- the intention- disappeared.

It seems as if a life with instant connectivity is a life easily doomed to instant gratification; just let the anger go in 140 characters and allow yourself to be tricked in to feeling better about everything. Man, I really said what was on my mind etc. My voice has truly been heard (but it hasn’t, not really).

And instant gratification of this sort leads to an unfortunate thing: the idea, the passion, is no longer given time to fester. It is rarely given the opportunity to grow in to something solid, capable of any impact. The words we type have power, but the further they spread without any direct action being taken, the more the meaning is lost. Being able to share online quells our desire to share in real life, and thus the opportunity to interact with other humans in a physical, meaningful way is lost before the idea to do so is even conceived.

I’m talking about things like standing on the street with some placards and a willingness to talk to strangers, to sign petitions and encourage others to do so. I’m talking about finding a way to distribute left-wing ideas and political alternatives as far as right-wing propaganda currently does. Out of the facebook news feeds and the houses filled with record collections and books on philosophy, and in to the suburbs and rural areas, where progressive, inventive and positive ideas for the future of our country (and humanity as a whole) are not normally given a chance to propagate. I want to say LET’S START A NEWSPAPER AND SEND IT EVERYWHERE, but for now, this is not a thing I am able to do…

So while I knuckle down and continue my studies over the next 12 months, I’ll assess what the Coalition government actually does to and for our country. Then I, and everyone else, should act accordingly. We have to keep our resolve firm, and channel any aggression and anger into creativity, humanitarianism and meaningful activism. Ears and minds must be kept open to the truthful intention behind speeches, articles, news broadcasts. We shouldn’t move to another country because of the new government, and we can’t give up on the logic and compassion that drove us to wail at our screens when they were elected in. We have to stay focussed on positive results- both those of the newly elected Government, and those envisioned by the parties, organisations and communities who oppose it.

A few hours after completion of this week’s collections of words for this column, I read something my fellow CPNer Lyndon Blue wrote that sums it up with a lot more humour and creativity than I:

“Still waiting for the bit where Rupert Murdoch interrupts the scheduled TV programming, wheezing with laughter, announcing the election as an elaborate prank based on an in-joke with Gina Reinhart to see if he could get Australia to vote for the biggest buffoon available, with the most unpleasant policies they could think of.
“You mongrels crack me up!” He wipes a tear of mirth from his eye.
“You actually did it! Anyone would think you don’t care about poor retirees, sick people, refugees, people who need foreign aid, trees, coral reefs, climate change…well, nature altogether – public transport, the media, the internet, students – heck, anything really – you even sweetened the deal with those loonies in the senate! Classic. You went the extra mile. Touché. The Aussie sense of humour is alive and well.”
Tony emerges from behind the curtain, in stitches – he slaps the mogul on the back and the pair exchange a quick bro-fist. Regaining his composure, Tony announces a new election date; Malcolm Turnbull is Liberal leader and the party will proceed with a platform that is questionable but not, in actual fact, batshit insane…

Any day now…

But until then I guess we start signing online petitions (and writing letters and making phone calls and writing excellent punk songs and causing ruckus and generally, collectively attempting to make things more difficult for A-grade drongos in Canberra).”