Why We Need to Be ‘Political’ Now

Happy Monday everyone,

I can hear the cheers, the crowd’s going wild because—yes!—after far too long, the interminable Quiet on the Australian Front is being broken by a blog post: huzzah! So welcome back to another iteration of Deep Monday everyone.

Now, this today’s thoughts were prompted by a Facebook post shared by fantasy writer Isobelle Carmody over the weekend which really resonated with me (the link is here, if you’d like to take a look at it). Then, of course, I didn’t save it, so while trying to figure out where I saw it, I headed to faithful Google, and happened to stumble across this article too, which is another great example of what I’m talking about.

It is easy, if you are privileged, to refuse to be ‘political’. By virtue of being the beneficiaries of those institutional systems which function to elevate some people and populations at the expense of others, it is easy to disavow any political beliefs or actions. After all, if we personally are not suffering, why invest time, money, and energy into political research, debate, and action? The answer to this is both simple, and complex. To begin with, it is ridiculously easy for us to be entirely absorbed by the minutiae of our everyday lives: to be focused on our marriage, or our children’s schooling problems, or our studies, or our career. Adding in concern about politics on top of all of that can seem overwhelming and exhausting. Besides, if you are not the victim of overt oppression—if you are, for example, white, middle-class, heterosexual—then the issues that form the nucleus of sociopolitical discussion can all seem a little irrelevant. Yet there are irrefutable facts that must also be acknowledged:

  1. That you are not suffering or being chewed up and spat out by the endless churn of the social machine does not mean that others aren’t. Our personal experience is not universal.
  2. All human beings deserve access to the same human rights: food, water, shelter, access to universal health care and social welfare (don’t get me started on this in the USA), and freedom from oppression.
  3. Thus, if points 1. and 2. are acknowledged, it is inevitable that we reach this final point: if there are people suffering and not being treated as human beings, then we need to take action to rectify that.

What this means, is that if we as an individual can knowingly choose to avoid discussing or considering sociopolitical issues in our communities, in our countries, and across the world, then we  are an element that is continuing to perpetuate it. If we’re not fighting against injustice, then inevitably we support it, because the dominant system carries the greater weight, and our inaction and our silence thus displays tacit agreement which only bolsters that oppressive dominant system.

What this means, is that if we as an individual can knowingly choose to avoid discussing or considering sociopolitical issues in our communities, in our countries, and across the world, then we  are an element that is continuing to perpetuate it. If we’re not fighting against injustice, then inevitably we support it, because the dominant system carries the greater weight, and our inaction and our silence thus displays tacit agreement which only bolsters that dominant oppressive system.

Words are incredibly potent: they can sway opinions, they can twist the truth (as Trump shows every single day), they can rouse a people: they have power. And we can use them to start discussion, to refuse to be silenced about the mistreatment of others, as a rallying cry to end global and national injustices which crush the different and the disadvantaged so that life will be easier and rosier for those on top. And we can show up. For rallies, for marches, for discussions, to listen to POC and oppressed communities about how we can better amplify their voices and support them as we fight to achieve equity.

One of my most sincere regrets since we started living in the US is that I didn’t attend any of the Women’s Marches held across the country. I had the time, I was here, I could have gone… But I decided not to. Why? Well, I think at the time (it was much earlier in our stay), I was concerned about what could go wrong, and what that would mean as both as Australian citizen, and as someone living in the US on an Australian government passport. Despite knowing the chances of anything going wrong were infinitesimally small, I felt as though I couldn’t justify to myself the risk of anything happen which might either reflect poorly on the country I’m supposed to be representing, or on James. But I believe that was a mistake.

The reason that I could distance myself from those marches—though I oppose discrimination in all its forms, and I find Trump absolutely repugnant—is because I am privileged. I’m not an American citizen. Trump isn’t my president. The disturbing regressive patriarchal decisions being made about women (their health, their bodies, their freedoms) in this country do not affect me. I am fortunate in that I am, for the most part, exempt from the repercussions of American political decisions. But as I have noted before, choosing not to march, not to stand up and have my dissent heard (even if I would have only been a tiny, tiny cog in a far larger machine) was  a mistake. We need to show up and be heard: to tell the world that we as a people, regardless of what you do or who you are or where you live, do not and will not accept and or ignore the oppression of our fellow human beings.

Oppressed populations have had to struggle for their right to survive for centuries; the flow-on effects of antiquated discriminatory systems remain evident in our ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’ contemporary society. After all, it is not so long ago that homosexuality was illegal throughout the western world. It was not until 1994 that Australia’s Keating Government passed the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act which legislated that all sexual acts between consenting adults over the age of 18 were not to be subject to any arbitrary interference under the law of Commonwealth (1). And yet the ‘gay panic defence’ (whereby a charge of murder can be downgraded on the basis of the defendant’s claim that they were ‘provoked’ by a sexual advance by the victim) still exists in South Australia (2). In the US as of 2014, a total of 12 states still had anti-sodomy laws a decade after it had been ruled that they were unconstitutional (3).

Racially, Indigenous Australians weren’t entitled to the same rights as white/European Australians until the national referendum of 1967 (though the claim that Indigenous Australians were classed under the ‘Flora and Fauna Act’ until 1967 is a popular myth) (4). Even today, the Australian Constitution fails to recognise that Australia had a native population prior to the arrival of the British in 1788 (5). Similarly, while (white) women in the USA were given the vote in 1920, it was not until the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed that states were legally forbidden from “imposing discriminatory restrictions on who can vote,” and it was only then that (theoretically) that WOC were also granted the same rights as their white counterparts (6).  Yet people of colour throughout the USA remain the targets of voter intimidation and widespread social oppression: one needs only look at the distribution of wealth in the US and the racial profiling and persecution of POC by government-sanctioned institutions such as the police, to see this oppression continuing in the contemporary day. Earlier this year, the Texas Senate passed Texas Senate Bill 25, which, while preventing a mother from suing her doctor if she gave birth to a deformed or disabled child—even if the doctor knew of the potential condition and didn’t tell the parents—also provides the legal wiggle room for pro-life doctors to feasibly omit information about any defects and disorders discovered during prenatal care, thus impeding the mother’s choice to pursue an abortion (7).

These are very narrow samples of the historical events which have definitively placed the rights, privileges and desires of the dominant social group above those marginalised due to their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation… The list goes on, and so do these disgusting acts of discrimination on a daily basis in our communities, in our countries and across our globe. How can anyone look at our shared history, and doubt that their voice matters in issues of injustice and oppression?

It is going to be uncomfortable at times to be political: people will disagree with you, the endless trolls on the internet are liable to abuse you, your friends and family may distance themselves from you or struggle to understand your choices… But the fact that you can choose to be political, that you can decide to preserve your own comfort, speaks volumes for the fact that there are literally millions of people who don’t have that choice. Whose skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification—in short, their ‘divergence’ from the hegemonic social ‘norms’—means that they are made uncomfortable by others. Who, in effect, must be political: because what is at stake is their humanity in the eyes of other people.

There is not, there cannot be, shame for those who have previously shied away from social justice issues or political discussion, or proactive action against oppression and discrimination: it is only in acknowledging how easy it is to not care when you don’t have to, that we can recognise our own privilege in society, and decide that we must act for those who can’t simply choose not to care.

–Ana.

[Below, I’ve compile the list of references–websites, articles, etc–that I’ve used for this blog post. If you have any further issues or questions, some of the below may prove helpful.]

References

  1. Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994. Australian Government Federal Register of Legislation.
  2. Winsor, Ben. “A definitive timeline of LGBT+ rights in Australia.” SBS. 22 March, 2017.
  3. “12 states still ban sodomy a decade after court ruling.” USA Today. April 21, 2014.
  4. Sutton, Ron. “Myths persist about the 1967 referendum.” SBS. 10 Mar, 2014.
  5. Irving, Helen. “Indigenous Recognition and Constitutional Myths.” Constitutional Critique — The University of Sydney. 09 June, 2017.
  6. “Who got the right to vote when? A History of Voting Rights in America.” Aljazeera.
  7. Tousignant, Lauren. “Texas bill could allow doctors to withhold information from pregnant women.” New York Post. 22 March, 2017.
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