Post 10: Tapping into public opinion

Molly Grover

Upon explaining my proposal to my colleague Angela and my tutor Simone in class on Thursday, a few pieces of critical feedback began to emerge.

Firstly, Angela noted that whilst collecting petition data from commuters based on geographical location, the proposal was not targeted at the 18-25 year old age group. In light of this, Simone suggested that I reposition the project as site-specific, limited to one or two Sydney train stations dominated by students, e.g. Redfern and Central.

Simone also pointed out that Transport NSW would never allow me to use their Opal systems to create a petition against the Liberal Government’s detention policies, and thus advised that I propose a guerrilla style intervention, in which passionate students are encouraged to use their Opal cards as a form of participatory petition and protest.

Further to this, Angela mentioned that a petition staged continuously and indefinitely would lose its efficacy, as frequent users would lose motivation to repeatedly engage with the action required. Thus, it would be more effective to concentrate the intervention to one day, at peak hour during the morning and evening. This would also reduce the chance of police or transport authorities dismantling the intervention. Angela also mentioned that campaigns should be used in the lead up to the day, to engage and inform students, so that they are given adequate opportunity to decide to participate.

Simone suggested that rather than aiming to manually collect merely the numerical data of the petition, the proposal should aim to capture the data in affective forms. This could take a number of forms, including the pedestrian traffic disruption caused by the event, the sounds made by the Opal cards, the movement of the gates opening and closing, the tapping of hands on the reader, the changing LED display, or the movement of bodies through the gate.

Revised Proposition:

Tapping into public opinion: An experimental petition

Generative / participatory design

Thanks to the pervasiveness of social media in contemporary society, it is easier than ever to share your personal opinion and show support for a cause. However, with the proliferation of digital self-expression comes an element of distance from reality. Proclaiming one’s views within a circle of Facebook friends has little to no impact on society’s day-to-day operation.

Passionate and educated, students in the 18-25 year old age bracket are quick to take to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to express frustration and outrage regarding Australia’s inhumane and indefinite detention of refugees in offshore processing centres. However, the situation has not improved. Manus Island may be set to eventually close, but in the meantime, both camps remain operational, housing over 1200 refugees who have been denied any hope of settling in Australia.

What if the opinions expressed by students were collected not by the digital domain, but in a physical and public manner, in such a way that could not be ignored?

I am proposing a site-specific unauthorized intervention at two student-dominated Sydney train stations: Redfern and Central. Adorning one Opal gate in each row with signs reading “Close The Camps: Tap here to sign”, I propose to create a generative petition which harnesses public opinion in an affective manner, using a touch point from the daily commute.

Combining the functions of a petition and a protest, the data generated by this single-day intervention would be collected and documented in a number of experimental forms, including audio recording of the Opal card taps, the manual counting of participants, and photography of likely disruptions of pedestrian flow through the gates. This data would then form the basis of a campaign or exhibition.

Aiming to disrupt and delay the daily commute by channeling all student protestors through the one Opal gate, such an intervention holds the potential to be noticed by the media, in the hope of affecting policymaking and creating change, as public support for the closure of camps is expressed in a physical and disruptive manner.