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ast Friday, Sydney city centre was brought to a stand still with the shutdown of the iconic Harbour Bridge during morning rush hour. It really was an astonishing spectacle as the cause of it was so surprising – one man. Literally one person stopped the major city of Australia for three hours by protesting on the Harbour Bridge. The incident has highlighted the vulnerability of Sydney’s road networks, and also brings into question whether such a disruptive protest is justifiable.
The protester, Michael Fox, carried out his two hour sit-in on the bridge in order to draw attention to unfair custody ruling over his children. Because of this, 60,000 people were late for work, and train and bus services were halted. Although many disgruntled commuters felt frustrated by his disruption, others maintained a relaxed disposition in stereotypical Aussie style. This divide in commuters’ reactions sparked the argument whether it was necessary to be so disruptive in order to convey a message.
And not only have such protests been disruptive, but also provocative, such as the slutwalks that occurred this month in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. Women took to the streets in “slutty” attire to protest about the issue that is broadly described as the skinny jean argument (i.e. whether a woman’s appearance should be a factor in sexual assault cases). Similar to Fox’s protest, the public was split on whether the impact and irony of slutwalks was suitable for illustrating the campaign message.
In my opinion, the slutwalks campaign was too daring and its aggressive tone undermined the sensitive issues that it was attempting to tackle. The skinny jean argument needs to be primarily settled in the courtrooms, not on the streets. However, Fox’s protest leaves me utterly stunned – one man stopped an entire city in hope of getting his children back. He has not seen them for 10 weeks, following a bitter divorce that left the children in the mother’s full custody. Tragically, Fox’s actions and following arrest mean that it is now even less likely he will be able to see his children.
Because of the magnitude of his protest, it was inevitable that Fox would gain public interest and attention. Yet it is well understood that large amounts of attention do not always lead to positive outcomes, as portrayed in so many past news stories – the case of Madeleine McCann for instance, which has resurfaced recently as mother Kate McCann launches a book about the disappearance of her daughter. Whether such attention is justified may be irrelevant. The majority would turn the world upside-down to be reunited with the ones we love. Fox’s case is perhaps an example of this.