Actions such as anti-Adani marches, vegan invasions and the Telstra staff strike are showy and dramatic, but inevitably lead right back to the status quo.

Consider the non-effects: citizens on mass took to the streets to protest against invasions in Iraq both times. And yet wars raged.

There was Occupy Wall Street. Invasion Day marches. Women's Marches. Take Back the Night. Schools Strike 4 Climate.

The imagery is impressive and the passion palpable, but it is surprising how little these protests really achieved.

The massive energy dwarfs the pitiful results. And while peaceful protests are one thing, riled-up, cranky crowds spitting venom and demanding legislative changes like petulant children are quite another.

Conservationist and former Greens leader Bob Brown led a march on the Adani HQ in Brisbane earlier this month to protest their proposed mine in the Galilee Basin. Picture: AAP/Dave Hunt
Conservationist and former Greens leader Bob Brown led a march on the Adani HQ in Brisbane earlier this month to protest their proposed mine in the Galilee Basin. Picture: AAP/Dave Hunt

Perhaps we are more educated now, seeing the Adani convoy's use of fossil fuel to motor up the East coast and the vegans' threats to many living things while saving a few as ironic, immature or shortsighted.

The kind of protesting that stomps and demands has lost its bite perhaps because in this country "rebelling" against "The Man" became an action that required official pre-warning and approval - unthinkable in olden times.

Maybe it is too simply easy now to whip up a crowd. An appeal via Twitter or Facebook can quickly gain momentum and give the incensed something to rail at.

George Christensen waves a green banner as pro-mining activists await Bob Brown's convoy.
George Christensen waves a green banner as pro-mining activists await Bob Brown's convoy. Emma Murray

But that is where it pulls up, because even if those raging get out from behind their laptops and actually turn out to protest, or sit in, it grinds to a halt when the placards are packed away and the loudspeakers are boxed up.

So why do protesters do it? Because it channels their energy. Because it often worked in the past. But now, in this way, movements simply don't move.

They fizzle out or are silenced in a wave of arrests and bans because they don't have the roots, the links and the contacts that used to underpin an en masse gathering.

Protest groups are not connected to the machines of change that used to grind into action when the people rose up or stomped their feet on the street in a desperate demand for attention from decision makers.

Protesters might want change, but have lost that vital know-how required to convert political energy into policy.

Protesters during a Stop Adani rally in Brisbane earlier this month. Picture: AAP/Dave Hunt
Protesters during a Stop Adani rally in Brisbane earlier this month. Picture: AAP/Dave Hunt

Social media can find, recruit and mobilise supporters. It can fundraise.

But those who engage in slacktivism - ie. get worked up by a post rather than a deep understanding of the nuances of an issue - have been found to be less likely to stay the course.

Slacktivists tend to lack stickability, with the next shiny cause just a click away.

In the new wave of protesting, too many people who go for the high of being part of a cause are unprepared for the grind of lobbying, letter writing and negotiating that is part of bringing about change.

They holler slogans, pull stunts and call names, but it is more anger than action.

The crowd at the protest. Picture: supplied
The crowd at the protest. Picture: supplied

Meeting face-to-face and developing human rather than virtual relationships - invariably the richest form of communication most likely to lead to clear message delivery - has seemingly gone the way of the dodo.

A comprehensive Harvard University analysis of protests that swayed decision makers or brought about social change in days of yore found that three things were needed if the agitators have a snowball's chance in hell of effecting change: fastidious organisation, a message that resonated beyond the core supporters and - importantly - utter nonviolence.

People have never had more direct access to their decision-makers. A letter written to a member of parliament is received in a moment rather than a week.

People have never had more legislated access to government-held documents, with all departments at all levels required to adhere to Freedom of Information requirements. And there has never been a time when we could reach more strangers in an instant.

In this new era of communication, the incensed and disaffected have far better, faster ways to broadcast their views than old-school street protesters did. What a pity we can't seem channel this into change.

@Janefynes



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