An undergraduate student at the Australian National University has launched a peaceful protest against the deregulation of the university sector in an effort to re-frame student activism in Australia.
Canberran Louis Klee, who was a student in Quebec during the 2012 student riots, has committed himself to a “read-in” outside the office of ANU vice-chancellor Ian Young for one week and is encouraging other peaceful protesters to join him.
Mr Klee said his campaign was a reaction to Professor Young’s support of the deregulation process and the negative reaction the media and wider public have had to the at-times-violent student protests of last week.
“I decided to launch a read-in to emphasise the pacifist manifestation of protest in contrast to the image the media projected about students protesting at universities and even on the Q&A program,” he said. “I wanted to make the simple act of reading something subversive because, after all, universities are places where critical thinking takes place.”
While some of the actions at student protests last week disappointed him, Mr Klee said he shared the protesters' concerns and strong feelings.
“I’m not trying to oppose their actions, but I also think that if we’re going to build momentum as a student movement, we need to be creative, responsible and project an image that is appealing to everyone as these changes will affect everyone.”
Mr Klee said his decision to launch a read-in was reinforced by the reaction of some journalists, particularly Annabel Crabb, who argued on Sunday that soviet-era protests are outdated and ineffective.
“While I disagree with the condescending tone of Crabb’s article on the student protests, she’s right about the fact that we need to more creative in how we voice our concerns,” he said.
When asked on Twitter what she thought of Mr Klee's protest, Crabb tweeted that his protest was "a simple and clever idea".
Mr Klee said his experiences in Montreal shaped his thoughts about protest mobilisation and Australian students could learn by following such examples. “The Montreal student protests mobilised people very effectively and creatively, and was the biggest social movement in Canada’s history.”
ANU Students Association president Cam Wilson said Mr Klee’s protest demonstrated the diversity of students opposing the changes to the tertiary sector. "All kinds of students have been united in their discontent over proposed higher education changes,” he said.
“There's plenty of energy from students who are responding in creative ways: letter writing campaigns, videos, infographics and more."