#LetThemStay: Visual representations of protests and community mobilization for asylum seekers in Australia
The indefinite mandatory detention on the mainland and in offshore processing centers of asylum seekers applying for protection in Australia is particularly controversial due to the government’s notoriously harsh policy. In response, large-scale public protests have been staged across the country in recent years to register popular dissent and convey concerns to decision-makers. However, dominant media representations of protests have historically been largely negative, often cast as ineffectual at best, and at worst, violent clashes that alienate the broader population from the cause in question. This paper outlines a visual analysis of media representations of protests that took place in February 2016 against the proposed deportation of 267 asylum seekers from the Australian mainland as part of the #LetThemStay campaign. Through the analysis of four photographs from a range of media outlets, we found that depicting peaceful protests methods and community mobilization complicated dominant understandings of protests and protesters. Indeed, #LetThemStay demonstrated the political power of compassionate solidarity between participants afforded the privilege of safe residency and citizenship, and those forcibly absent who are denied such rights. As such, the paper highlights the impact of peaceful protesting, while also recognizing its limitations in changing Australia’s punitive asylum seeker policies.