Are Australians really frustrated with the federal government? The organisers of March in March certainly think so

Are Australians really frustrated with the federal government? The organisers of March in March certainly think so.

March in March 2014 is not a Labor Party thing. I know because I asked Nick Martin, the assistant national secretary of the Australian Labor Party.

It's not a unions thing. I know because Ged Kearney, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said so, although you can tell she'd love it to work: ''If people want to have a say because they are angry about the way the country is run by this government, by all means take this opportunity to get out there and do it.''

It's not a Greens thing. I asked Christine Milne's office and they confirmed it wasn't them.

<i>Illustration:</i> Pat Campbell

Illustration: Pat Campbell

Sam Mclean, national director of GetUp!, says it's not them either. Plus, there would have been a thousand ''Dear Jenna'' emails in my inbox by now - not that there's anything wrong with that.

I feel fairly confident I don't have to ask the Prime Minister's office if March in March is organised by the Liberals or the Nationals.

What is it? It's what looks like an authentic public reaction to the Abbott government's way of running Australia - which means it's not only about asylum seekers; or climate change; or education funding; or union bashing; or attacks on universal healthcare coverage.

Here's what MiM says about itself on Facebook: ''March in March Australia 2014 will be three days of peaceful assemblies, non-partisan citizens' marches and rallies at Federal Parliament and around Australia to protest against government decisions that are against the common good of our nation.''

Those kinds of events are usually run by existing groups - political parties and single issue groups with experienced organisers and huge email lists they can milk for support. The people running MiM have none of this - but in some respects, organising has become easier because of the glories of social media. I'm yet to be persuaded that the organising that happens on social media is somehow less effective than walking for hours in the sun and listening to speeches on a borrowed PA.

Yes, MiM smells like grassroots, looks like grassroots, sounds like grassroots, strangely, in a country which has been overrun by top-down political organising.

Ariadne Vromen, associate professor in politics at the University of Sydney, says it's a dilemma of contemporary activism.

''Formal organisations are increasingly being criticised for making top-down decisions for participants … [but] those organisations bring scale, resources and experience to a campaign.''

Still, she's reminded of the Not Happy, John! movement of 2004, which developed momentum through stunts and slogans. It marked the beginning of the great unravelling of Howard's authority.

Only 15 per cent of Australians have ever been on a protest march, says Vromen: ''But protest attendance is still problematically held up as the gold standard for participation by most activists and scholars.''

Yet the MiM organisers are convinced Australians will rally.

MiM has a national admin panel of eight, none of whom appear to be bigwigs (or even medium-sized ones) in any political party.

Craig Batty, an educational designer who lives in regional NSW, is the spokesman and says he's never been a party member. He's never been an activist before. But he's had enough.

He will be marching in Canberra on Monday, March 17 from 10am. It's a strange time of day for a protest, to be honest; and it smacks a little of the pathetic Convoy of No Consequence, organised around the campaign of radio announcer Alan Jones. Batty says it's important to do this on a sitting day at the seat of government.

He is not troubled by the fact that it's a work day: ''I have rock solid certainty that we will beat Alan Jones by at least 1000 people … people are really frustrated about broken promises and lies.''

Says Vromen: ''No matter how strongly people feel, the threshold for engagement is very high to get ordinary people on the streets to protest - and for a weekday it may be even harder.

''A movement needs a lot of time, encouragement, and organising to develop and build critical mass.''

Are Australians really that frustrated with the federal government?

William Bowe thinks so - but that a lot of the anger is directed at Tony Abbott: ''He is doing remarkably badly for a newly elected prime minister.''

The leeway the electorate grants to those who've just won an election is already gone - and Abbott is 10 to 30 per cent behind all the other prime ministers.

Bowe is an election analyst and blogger for Crikey. He says in every piece of polling and research he has seen, Australians are far closer to the positions of the Labor Party than they are to the positions of the Liberal Party.

Bowe says Australians are now thinking: ''This is not the government we were promised.''

But can the sentiment that underpins March in March have an impact? Shouldn't we just stay at home and wait to utilise the site where we can really demonstrate our power: the ballot box?

Kirsty McLaren, an associate researcher in politics at the Australian National University, says rallies alone would never be enough. But when they are used to demonstrate public anger, that can have a serious impact.

''It can have an agenda-setting effect, and that is with the broader population, with politicians and also with journalists.

''Protests often contribute to the success of other actions,'' she says.

So far, at least in Australia, it hasn't worked for our foreign aid involvement, for single parents. It's been reasonably successful on reproductive rights. And an absolute and tragic failure on the serious matter of climate change and the environment, with the Franklin Dam as the notable exception.

McLaren says sometimes these movements are about developing a social movement.

''Gay pride marches are a way of creating and presenting a collective identity and that's a way of pressuring for policy changes.''

March in March plans to spring up everywhere. Nicola Bell lives in Newcastle with her husband, who is a nurse, and their two-year-old, Gabriel.

She says she's never been much of a protester, nor are her friends.

''I'm an ordinary wife and mother; and we go to church … when I was younger, I was in the army reserve.

''I'm marching because I want to show the Prime Minister that this is not just an inner-city elite thing.''

Bell, 34, says she wants Abbott to take a more compassionate view on asylum seekers, on Medicare, on education.

She says: ''The government works at the behest of the people, not the other way around.

''I'm not going to give the government my silent consent … you are not doing it in my name.''

Me? I'll probably end up going to see what turns up. I'm all for grassroots. But I love them to sprout up through the ballot box.