Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 11. 22 July 1970
It is time to reassess the demonstration as a tool and to examine our own ideas and methods of political action.
The demonstration is a tool with two interpenetrating uses. It is used firstly to inform the public about a cause, for example the Tour, or the War. This information is heavily laced with polemic and rhetoric to describe our stand, and persuade the public to adopt the same stand, and to take whatever action is required of this stand, withdrawing troops or Fergie as the case may be. This is the second or major raison d'etre of a demonstration. I will examine the Mobilisation of 17 July to see how efficient it was in these areas.
An estimated six hundred people marched for two hours on 17 July. In the afternoon we had a teach-in, which said the same things as were said before, to the same people as heard them before. Although these things are important, and I agree with the thoughts expressed, if not the verbal form they assumed, the whole exercise was futile, since nobody new heard anything, and for those who were there it was at once a gigantic verbal masturbation and a time consumer which required little or no thought. I will return to this point later.
The teach-in was followed by a visiting speaker whose rhetoric was out of the usual mould. Not even the questions elucidated anything new, since they mostly consisted of a statement by the questioner, prefaced with "Would you agree that . . ."
Then a concert. Cynics would say that this is the modern equivalent of martial music to get the troops out, or an attraction to boost numbers, or to keep the people there between 3 and 5. I don't know what its justification was, but it was enjoyable, I grant you.
Now the march. Forgetting those who marched because they had nothing better to do on a Friday night, the marchers were sincere, peaceful, well-organised and there were lots of banners and leaflets. But the public must be getting enured to demo's. They paid scant attention to the march, and only a trivial number came to the Town Hall to hear the speeches. I admit that I listened for only a few moments it sounded like the ninety-ninth playing of a cracked record. The press gave no real coverage of the march. The Dominion devoted four column inches to the demo, giving the number marching with a picture and what happened, and a further four column inches to the numbers marching elsewhere. No debate about the War issue, no opinion, no facts. And yet this was a good demonstration. Most would agree that it was one of the best this year, avoiding arrests and scuffles which detract from the point of the demonstration. So the only people to get anything out of the march were the marchers. So the march was a failure—it informed nobody, it persuaded nobody. The march was not just for the sake of marching even though it looked like it to some observers.
The reason the marches no longer lead to any debate about the issues outside the 'marching fraternity' is that the marches have nothing positive to offer in place of the ideas they criticise. The four demonstrations had something positive to offer-no tour and a positive effect on South Africa. These demonstrations had much more impact on the ideas of the public, even though they were partly negated by the violence which accompanied them. The only causes and ideologies which have ever swept their opponents out of power are those which had a fully thought out and publicised alternative approach (withdrawing troops is a first step—but what to do with the vacuum so formed), or those which were able to win a civil war against their opponents. We have seen that one eruption of violence by marchers leads to two by the establishment's forces, so the second alternative is not open to us on practical grounds, to say nothing of its philosophical inadequaces.
Perhaps it is unfashionable but, I think, none the less true, that truth is more closely approached alone, in contemplation and quiet thought in a library than in Willis Street on a Friday night, shouting your lungs out like six hundred sheep.
Gordon A. Findlay