Freedom Rally: When discomfort gets conflated with oppression
The freedom rallies that took place across the country, but primarily in Sydney and Melbourne, this past weekend are prime examples of the danger of conflating discomfort and real oppression.
The rally was part of a bigger “World Wide Rally For Freedom” movement marching across 120 cities across the globe to reclaim their freedom of speech, movement, choice, assembly and health, and ultimately stand up against what the protesters deem as excessive coronavirus restriction measures. The primary aim of the rally was to demand the end to the current restrictions and authoritarian control measures by the government in handling everything pertaining to the pandemic – lockdown laws and restrictions, vaccine rollout, border closures etc.
In a nutshell, freedom rallies are fundamentally about the discomfort and perceived oppression of the few. As such, the anti-lockdown protests were rooted in nothing but a misguided and dangerous reactionary frustration and a heavy dose of privilege.
There are many valid reasons to be frustrated by the extended lockdowns as they put a lot of pressure on individuals, families and businesses alike. The lack of government funding to support small businesses, the defective vaccine rollout, working parents having to juggle homeschooling and their jobs, the border closures, to name a few. However, as many would agree, the lockdowns aren’t repressive, but rather a necessary measure to curb a public health crisis and save lives. While many of us are uncomfortable right now, and rightfully so, we should not conflate discomfort with oppression.
Oppression is a prolonged cruel and unjust treatment or exercise of authority or power. It is the systemic weight of prejudice and discrimination on the people it effects. Oppression serves both actively and passively to perpetuate constructs of social power such as patriarchy, white supremacy and ableism. Being asked to stay home in order to keep everyone healthy and safe in the middle of a pandemic is not oppression.
Protesters who attended the rally included a mix of Australia flag waving, racist neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, anti-vaxxers, anti-testers, members of the religious right, people flying the Eureka flag, people who don’t think COVID-19 is real (and other conspiracy theories) and self-proclaimed “libertarians”.
When one is accustomed to privilege, the slight inconvenience or restriction feels like oppression. And the violent freedom rally in Sydney proved just that. It unmasked the ugliness and evils of conflating discomfort with oppression.