Participatory democracy in the COVID era: a chat with law lecturer Aidan Ricketts

Published 20 September 2021
Lockdown protest

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing public State of Emergency declared by governments around the world, is the concept of participatory democracy on hold?

Southern Cross University law lecturer and author of ‘The Activists’ Handbook: A Step by Step Guide to Participatory Democracy’ Aidan Ricketts tackles this topic in our latest episode of the SCU Buzz podcast.

He chats to first year law student Amy Mazzarella about the concept of participatory democracy and why it’s so important, how success of social movements can be measured, and the Australian political response to disruptive protest.

“In Australia, our social movements have a very good track record of non-violence. It’s a very important core value,” Aidan said.

“People usually start with writing to politicians, letters to the editor and signing petitions. But when those things don’t work and people feel routinely ignored, that’s when you start to see disruptive protest. That's how women got the vote, that's how Australia got out of the Vietnam war and that's how we stopped fracking in the Northern Rivers. So, there's a long and proud history of that,” he said.

As COVID-19 has spread to each corner of the world, our governments and communities have put measures in place to contain the virus through lockdowns, border closures, and drastic public health measures. This has left many grappling with changes to their routine, financial security, daily freedoms and separation from loved ones.

It’s also resulted in numerous protests which breached public health measures. So, were these protestors just exercising their democratic rights? And was the protest helpful or harmful to their cause?

It's not that cut and dried, says Aidan, who notes the vast majority of protests are defined by their focus on the greater good – to counter climate change, to save forests, to stop deaths in custody or police brutality.

“The pandemic and the lockdowns present us with some very complicated and intersecting issues. One of the difficulties with the anti-lockdown protests is that it’s more questionable whether they’re about individual rights or for the greater good. But that’s not hard and fast. People could argue that the erosion of liberty is also a general issue,” Aidan said.

“This massive surveillance state that we've created to deal with the pandemic is concerning. And we would need to know that it was going to be wound back after the immediate threat of the pandemic was gone, we would need to know that we weren't going to just react to this way every time a new sickness comes along.”

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Media contact: Content team content@scu.edu.au