Peaceful activism and how to protest without getting arrested

Published 8 November 2019
A group of protesters gather on a city street Photo by Katie Jowett on Unsplash

If Jane Fonda can be arrested in her conspicuous red coat for peacefully protesting on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill, who is safe?

“For a healthy democracy to thrive, activism is essential,” says Aidan Ricketts, a lecturer at Southern Cross University and author of The Activists’ Handbook, a guide that details practicalities and legalities for campaigning and practising effective, non-violent action.

“Protest sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s not about being violent and it takes skills to engage in community activism on all levels.”

With the rapid rise in influence of Greta Thunberg, the student-led Not Business As Usual global strikes and A-list celebrities joining global movements such as #metoo and Extinction Rebellion, counter efforts on the part of authorities, including rollouts of prohibitive anti-protest laws, are on the rise. As both activism and government resistance surge, education and motivation is a lifeline.

“Despite Australia having a proud record of peacefulness in political protest, we also have a sudden upsurge in anti-protest laws,” says Ricketts, who will explore the skills and culture of contemporary activism as well as the ins and outs of Australia’s anti-protest laws as part of his Public Interest Advocacy unit at the Southern Cross School of Law and Justice Summer Law School lecture series.

The most published researcher in Australia on non-violent direct action, Ricketts is a veteran of high profile environmental campaigns including the 2014 Bentley Blockade and, more recently, protests against the Adani Australia coal mine and coal seam gas in the Pilliga Forest of northern NSW.

“The point of the unit is to empower people to engage in all forms of protest and proactive campaigns,” he says.

Self-sustainability and motivation will also be a focus.

“How do we keep going as activists in such dire times? There are methods and ways to keep each other supported and energised.”

While we live amid the 'burning, dragon-like eye' of climate change, the call of many humanitarian causes is diverse, from refugee rights to disability access to eco-fashion to anti-littering campaigns on local beaches.

“Sometimes the only opponent is apathy itself,” says Ricketts.


About the Public Interest Advocacy unit at the Summer Law School

This is a course built for anyone with a professional or personal interest in community activism, social change and the intersection of law with these areas of social engagement — including students, lawyers, industry professionals and senior administrators. Cross-institutional, non-award and international students are particularly welcome to apply. Legal and other professional practitioners may be eligible for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points.

Intensive dates: Tuesday 3 December – Saturday 7 December 2019

Time: 9am – 1pm

Location: Gold Coast campus, Southern Cross University

More information about this unit

Media contact: Sharlene King