Musician Brenton Moore keenly attended yesterday’s #KeepSydneyOpen rally, only to find that it was more a party than serious demonstration.
The sky above is cloudy. It has been raining all morning, and the threat of a repeat performance plays, underneath the music at Belmore Park. Those there early had crowded around a ute that had been pimped out with hi-fi equipment. The DJs within nervously mix in anticipation of the oncoming horde. The electricity of hope and action is palpable, for this is the stand. The first of many on the streets and in Parliament, the optimal aim being the reanimation of the corpse of the Harbour City.
The crowd quadruples in half an hour. Soon there are signs everywhere, two of my favourites being “Fuck the aristocracy, power to the people,” or the favourably trite, “Boo government.”
Nearby, a group poses for photos in their elaborately thought-out outfits that match elaborately thought-out signs. A curious thought flashes to me as I wonder if the event has drawn in those wishing to been seen rather than being heard? If so, how many? And does it really matter?
I supposed not, for the bigger the spectacle, the more attention.
The first words of the day belong to our MC, Tyson Koh. He rouses the audience with a wonderfully barbed message, lashed toward the unfeeling heart of the Baird Government. His towering English foretells the end of the senseless lockout laws, a message that is met with the nod of collective heads. Up with this, we will not put. We want music and culture to thrive in venues that are historically important, and we want the blanket ban that covers Sydney evenings to be pierced and rent asunder.
Shepherded by our organisers, we commence our march. Ahead of me, the protest signs float like ships over an angry sea of people. Screams of unified complaint ripple past, weaving their way to the front of the crowd. As we enter the tunnel on Campbell Street, we all let loose, to make the best use of the acoustics. I feel like I’m in a crowd of children. Not because they’re making noise, but because they’re making noise here. Why only here? I know there are nice acoustics, but guys, there’s a good ten thousand of us, right? We can do this all the way.
As we make our way through the streets, I notice a lot of the people are trying to keep dancing and singing. Two girls to my right loudly sing Fight for your right but they only knew the chorus. People snap photos, of course, as it is a spectacle to be seen. But every time the noise picks up, it just as quickly dies down. Why can’t we get a chant going here, people? Why can’t we make some real noise? Do you care? Suddenly, I feel the odd vibe that people are too embarrassed to be seen as caring. By this stage, people’s umbrellas keep getting caught in my hair, and my back hurts, but I want to see this through. This is important to me. I’d signed petitions and written letters, so a shouty level of pointed discourse was the bare minimum for me.
As we pass into Hyde Park, we meet our destination. Tyson retakes the mic and reiterates why we’re all here and what needs to happen. He then introduces Art Vs Science, who open with their song You got to stop from their album, Off the edge of the earth and into forever, which strikes at the true meaning of the rally. Parlez-Vous Francais? was lead into a unironic Beastie Boys cover of Fight for your right, almost like the girls in the crowd foreshadowed the event. Definitely a highlight of the arvo. But I still wonder, is this a good slogan for this campaign? As far as I see it, fighting for our right to party seems to be the last thing we should cling to.
But this rally is not about that, as our event hosts continually state. #KeepSydneyOpen is about keeping a thriving culture alive, a coursing live music scene, and on a meta-level, securing our livelihoods.
Bernard Keane is next on the mic, who eloquently highlights not only the harm wrought by the legislation, but also the external forces that magnify it. He speaks of the general acceptance of hysteria and fear mongering that pervades through certain media outlets – a strong message that is largely unheard, as by now the crowd has started to dissipate.
Why? Was everyone just here for the free show?
Tyson rejoins us to state that 15,000 are in attendance. A cheer goes up, but the crowd I stand in doesn’t approach that number. Where have they all gone? Was it clear to them now that this wouldn’t be quite the party they wanted? Why are they not still here, seeking out that petition that was being circulated?
Instead, I received an invite to the after-party.
So this is a party? Am I right, that we’re all here to party and, problem solved? We are there, is that enough? Is mere attendance the silently agreed upon goal?
Tyson announces our success. We’d won this round. But it doesn’t feel like it. Is the Government playing rope-a-dope? Are they even in the ring? Is all we are doing trash talking to a wall before the fight?
As Tyson sums it all up with a Mike Baird sound-clip remix, I notice there are few seeking out donate spots, or petitions to sign. The possibility of unsigned petitions chides me. Fifteen thousand dissenters carved in complaint means more than one day that lawmakers can ignore. (If they deal in facts, as should we.) We should now produce black and white certainties, not the subjective greys I witness at this event.
Ahead of the Brisbane rally, I feel a united effort needs to be focused on, one where petitions are signed and voices are hoarse. The mood of Brisbane streets needs to be independent of ours.
For a repeat performance, one with a fuckload of people saying, “Nah,” to the Beastie Boys, in pursuit of differing goals, will be seen as a triumph from those that we oppose.