Even 17-year-old Will Connolly admits it was unwise for him to smash an egg on the back of Australian senator’s head. In Connolly’s defense, an egg to the back of the head was a less than what Fraser Anning’s deserved, after his racist comments after the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand (he blamed the attack on Muslim immigration). Nevertheless, it got Connelly, now affectionately known around the world as “Egg Boy,” two jabs in the head from the angry politician.
When I watch the footage Egg Boy’s defiant act, I see a miniature social movement. More specifically, I see at least three mistakes that many of us aspiring antiracists are making. If we really want to change the world, we’re going to have to learn from these mistakes.
Eggboy’s action was purely therapeutic.
It’s always cathartic to watch someone ambush a racist with dairy products. And in a perfect world, there might be an ASMR channel on Youtube of such things. However, actions like that aren’t great for much more than expressing one’s displeasure.
Sure. Expressing disapproval is the essence of protest. And, without question, protest is a vital part of pursuing social progress. Protests can attract otherwise passive supporters of the status quo to the movement by showing bystanders just how many people are in favor of change. In that way, protests can grow our capacity for change by growing the number of movement participants.
However, expressing antiracist values will not magically cause white power structures to dissolve. To change the world, we’ll have to learn to do more than rage tweet, march, and throw eggs at leaders we disagree with. We’ll have do those things that put pressure on the system to change.
Eggboy didn’t have a plan.
It’s obvious that Connolly was not working a strategy that day. He obviously knew he was going to do one thing: egg the senator. After that? Nothing. He didn’t even put his guard up or run, and his lack of planning got him whopped in the face—twice. This is a cautionary tale: one does not simply run out to confront the powers that be on a whim.
Many people don’t understand how essential planning is to pursuing change. There seems to be this widespread misconception that successful change movements generally begin as the spontaneous reactions of an outraged populace that spread like wildfire. Many seem to think that the key to victory is in the rightness of the cause or the passion of the participants. However, many movement scholars and veterans agree that planning is often the key to victory.
So often, our responses to injustices involve one limited action, usually in reaction to some outrageous political event. An unjust policy is implemented, a civilian is killed by police, a racist is elected president, and we’re so mad about it that we plan a one-day march! TAKe THaT, RaCiSM!
This white power structure has been around for centuries! It can handle a one-day march. What else you got?
People need to plan to intentionally fight racism, as a group, for more than one day! They should be planning to block some kind of backlash from the system (because there will, without question, be a backlash). They should be planning several possible actions to respond to repression. And they absolutely should be planning to use more than one tactic.
Eggboy went egging alone.
That was obviously, on a practical level, unwise because it left him vulnerable to the senator’s retaliation. One should never do that. But allow me to get meta about it for a moment.
The type of person that leaves home to egg a politician by themselves is a rare individual. Not many people do that type of action. It’s truly a remarkable quality. And yet, the power for social progress is not exclusively concentrated in those individuals that are willing to stand in front of a tank or climb the Statue of Liberty. The power to change our society is in the group.
Something must be said about our tendency to underestimate our collective power. Many think that it is the exceptional individuals who will change the world. In fact, they’re depending on these exceptional individuals to emerge as a prerequisite for change. That is unnecessary. The world will change when the nameless masses understand that they are the reservoir of power upon which the status quo depends.
Thank God for the exceptional individuals who are willing to spring into acton, even if that means they’ll do so by themselves at with great risk. We need rebel types like them.
We also need elderly folks who will flood the phone lines when the young activists get arrested for marching. We need pastors who are willing to open their facilities for movement meetings. We need families that are willing to sponsor persecuted migrants. Everyone has a part to play. The future doesn’t belong to the exceptional, it belongs to us all.
Learning Our Lesson
Will has been hailed by some as a national hero. A GoFundMe was started in his honor to raise support for any legal fees he incurred for attacking the senator. It has raised thousands of dollars that he says he’ll donate to the victims of the Christchurch shooting.
He seems to feel he’s learned a some valuable lessons. We should too.
A cacophony of individual, symbolic righteous stands against racism will not magically produce the antiracist society we desire. A bunch of reactionary, one-off anti-racist demonstrations probably won’t do the trick either—even if they involve lots of really passionate demonstrators. Instead, we need to think strategically about using our collective power to do something that actually influences the social and political realities that harm the vulnerable and oppressed. Otherwise, we’re just throwing eggs at the problem.