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Pay attention, PM, else it may be at your peril

Scenes from the March in March rally at Parliament House.

Scenes from the March in March rally at Parliament House.

The Prime Minister does just a few unscripted events in his busy schedule. You'd have to, just to break the tedium of the mouse wheel of endless meetings; and speeches; and appointments. We all want that - a few surprises in our lives. Consumers love that too - that's one of the reasons we find ourselves unable to resist the siren link to a story saying: ''You'll never believe what happened next.''

That line, popular with BuzzFeed, Upworthy and others, is at the heart of emotional trafficking. We click because we think we care. University of Sydney political science academic Ariadne Vromen says: ''Mainstream media are more scared of emotion than ordinary people are.''

Just lately, there has been a whole lot of unreported emotion and maybe that's because it's so hard to report, unless it's linked to what we usually understand as crime. Take March in March, which gathered more than 50,000 people around Australia at various events around the country over the past three days with barely a word about it in the mainstream.

Compare that with the turnout for radio presenter Alan Jones' Convoy of No Consequence a few years ago, well-advertised and reported but with barely a handful of people, and those who were there were mostly my age (let me tell you, people, the future is not with me).

I interviewed Ariadne a few weeks ago about March in March where she was sceptical about the numbers it would draw, without organised networks. But she is impressed at the turnout and sees this grassroots activism as a living example of what's been described by US politics professor Lance Bennett as ''connective action''. We are loosely connected by our ideals and not by someone telling us what to think and do; our medium's structure might be corporate but the content is not.

Those people at March in March told their friends and their Facebooks and their Twitter accounts what they were doing on the weekend. And they shared the experience. You won't see much reporting of the emotion - but there was plenty.

Nor did we see, until a few days after the event, this story of kids acting as journalists.

So, the Prime Minister bumps into school kids. He does it quite often, said his spokeswoman on Monday. He will occasionally photobomb a school excursion. OK, she didn't say photobomb, but that's what happens.

Students suddenly see the PM striding towards them. He stops, says hello; takes questions. Then he will pose for a photo.

It's brilliant and can only encourage young people to think about life as an active citizen; or maybe even a politician. He certainly provoked 14-year-old Lucy-Jazz (LJ) Margeit, of Sydney, to think of taking up political life.

Last week, spontaneously, Abbott stopped a group of students from LJ's school, Newtown High School of Performing Arts. They were in Canberra researching sustainability: wind farms, biogas energy, CSIRO, Questacon.

Pretty sure every school group now has kids like this (terrifying). Bombarded him with questions. All the time, there was a video camera running, courtesy of another year 9, Aria McCarthy-Lochner.

Laughter, calling out - a modern classroom, so much better than the sit-down, shut-up style we had to suffer in the 1960s. But they were listening, they took him seriously.

The Prime Minister said he would take three questions. They came quickly: carbon tax, gay marriage.When he asked for ''a bloke's question'', another three came rapid fire, all about refugees.

Then one more - he was generous with his time. And he called on LJ, who said: ''I was just wondering … why is a man a minister for women? And why is a man in control of the rights for women?''

I interviewed LJ to ask her what she thought about the PM's response - that humans can have empathy for other humans and you don't need to be a woman to understand the issues facing women.

She says she tried to talk to him about her school's peer support program, which uses kids from diverse backgrounds as a way of connecting her community together. LJ is a serious young woman. She's planning on taking legal studies in her senior years - and that might be the path to politics.

The Prime Minister didn't convince the kids - the ones who could be voting for him the election after next. LJ said that the feeling after the chance meeting was pride at their journalistic skills rather than awe at Abbott's answers: ''We just grilled the Prime Minister.''

There are ways we respond now and we get to make our own news services - it might not be perfect or always accurate but it links us together to let us know others feel the same way. We are Marching in March. We are watching someone else's children on YouTube take on the Prime Minister. We read tweets we think might be coming from someone who has links in cabinet. We read a Facebook post from Newcastle's Linda Drummond who, tweethandedly, makes us all buy SPC peaches and shape the decision of the Victorian government to spend $20 million-plus restructuring a company.

And feelings are worth reporting - that's how voters decide. We hear what politicians say and respond. It's one reason South Australia's poll didn't go quite as seamlessly as the federal government might have expected. We weren't waiting for polls to tell us what to think. We told each other. 

It also makes it tougher for politicians who think they can control the message; or more seriously, stem the tide of our discontent. Politicians and media organisations who ignore that, ignore we can share it ourselves. They need to start taking part in our conversations and paying attention.

Twitter @jennaprice or email jenna_p@bigpond.net.au

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