Where it begins

The Curtin University Student Guild elections have been under way for the last three days, and campaigning for many days before that. Two factions hold sway: Left Action, with its uncompromisingly red posters supporting a range of social justice and funding issues, and Unity, with its simple orange posters endorsing better WiFi and upgraded cafe facilities.

I never found evidence of broader political ideology behind Unity, but Left Action is a political machine. As visible as Unity’s posters were, the red outnumbered the orange maybe tenfold. If that were not enough, chalk graffiti supporting Left Action began appearing on walls, pillars and pavements everywhere.

Some frustration with the omnipresent Left Action began showing. Enter the Curtin Capitalist Society, whose membership ostensibly attend “sexy parties containing canes, monocles, top hats and penguin suits”, and have “a love for scotch”. They fought back, partly in jest, with their own posters brandishing the immortal words “Better Dead Than Red”.

One vigilante further tore down and deposited a large number of red posters outside the Guild offices, with the note: “You left these on my campus”, signed “The Batman”. (The “faceless men” of the Labor Party missed a trick there, perhaps.)

However, it was “Better Dead Than Red” that made ripples. A Google search for “Curtin Capitalist Society” reveals some attempts at creating political rhetoric to counter the CCS, even though it had no part in the elections. There was a suggestion that the CCS was related to the Young Liberals, based on overeager speculation.

More immediately, there was suspicion among highly-strung observers that the poster was a call for violence, and that the WA police ought to get involved (but wouldn’t, because apparently we live in a society where the police only target Muslims and Aborigines). This played out at the blog of John Passant, who humourlessly characterises the CCS as “violent extremists” issuing a death threat. Passant tried to equate, at some level, the CCS poster with the infamous “Behead all those who insult the Prophet” poster that attracted national condemnation.

Not to necessarily diminish the causes Passant champions, he’s making the classic human mistake of overestimating the prevalence and savagery of one’s enemies. This mistake is the same one made by countless devotees of political faiths, and is the cause of much unnecessary trauma. In professional politics, this mistake is actively encouraged as a means of firing up voters’ sense of urgency. In all politics, the mistake is made honestly by people who forget that others have a different political lens through which they bring the world into focus.

I find it interesting to reflect on these low-level political manoeuvrings, because, as illustrated in David Marr’s account of Tony Abbott’s University days, University politics can mould the federal politicians of tomorrow. Indeed, there’s a bit of Tony Abbott in Left Action’s red posters. See if you can spot it: