My dear boy, you can’t imagine what anonymity is like in a profession like mine – it’s like a warm cloak

(Max, arms dealer, Mission Impossible)

Last year, I wrote an opinion piece for a local newspaper, decrying the demonization of the ‘mall rats’ – people who spend time in the mall and behave in (sometimes) offensive ways. This provoked a few fiery letters in reply, some rather personal. It got me thinking about the extent to which public, prophetic & protest action can be sustained in rural and regional areas.

In urban areas, protest is generally anonymous. Unless the protestor is arrested, or appears in the media, her actions are hidden from her neighbours, and others on whom he relies for other endeavours, such as employment or community activities. Most forms of protest (vigil, rally, public meeting etc), when they take place in the centre of a metropolis, remain anonymous. For example, I took part in a rally against the Iraq war in 2001; I could be close to certain that no-one could discover I was there unless I told them. In this sense, I can protest with impunity or fear of censure, because no-one will punish me for it.

However, take this protest to a regional, rural or even suburban area, and your cloak of anonymity is quickly whipped off. It is like uninhibited dancing on a darkened stage upon which a spotlight is unexpectedly trained. There is a feeling of vulnerability, of everyone knowing. This is because in rural/regional areas, it is easy to know who people are, especially if such towns have their own newspapers. Those that don’t are small enough for everyone to know everyone directly. Once a protest becomes public in a regional/rural area, people become attackable, boxed, their face in the cross-hairs of those who support what is being undermined by the protest.

Of course, if protest & closed community is the total end of your endeavours, then this is not a worry. Protest and damn the consequences. However, I’m seeking to build an alternative world inspired and sustained by Jesus, and in this I assume that in every person there is the potential to do and be good. Therefore, the good I attempt to do, I want to do in partnership with others. I want my public actions to be prophetic, not simply protest-ant.

But this partnership can be threatened by our prophetic actions. Those we wish to partner with (morally, logistically, financially etc) will, at some point, become offended by our actions. Even if they are not offended, they may feel unable to cooperate with us because they need to co-operate with others who are offended. Though they exist in metropoli, these links of interdependence are more obvious and less distant in regional/rural areas.

Some of our partners in community activities in Bendigo may be quite happy to co-operate on some initiatives, such as a community art project, but may be appalled at being associated with a group who protests publically. For example, if I protest against the production of the Bushmaster military vehicle in Bendigo, I may anger a wide variety of people: politicians who have lobbied for this business; people are employed by this business, and their families; and the general population, because I am criticising a local ‘success’.

So, what to do? Obviously, refusing to engage in any kind of political action is inexcusable, so these are my thoughts so far:

·         Choose issues carefully and keep to them

·         Start with dialogue

·         Continually articulate the issues respectfully

·         If confrontation becomes necessary or unavoidable, prepare for backlash

·         A ‘coalition of the willing’ is necessary