It will never happen here

I always thought that I lived in a lucky country. Lucky in the sense that I thought we were all free from oppression here.

In this country, I had the opportunity to receive an education through public schooling. In this country, I never had too much trouble finding full-time paid employment. In this country, I can afford private health insurance but even if I couldn’t afford it I would still be able to get access to public health care.

Here, I am also surrounded by mostly like-minded people who treat me as an equal (for the most part). But ‘I’ am a thirty-something, white, middle-income person with little obvious disability. Not everyone in this country is in the same privileged position as me.

Recently, in this country, not ‘my’ country/ not anyone’s country/ just land as it formed over billions of years, we had a change of government. The new government was noticeably more right-wing than its predecessor.

I was shocked when the new government was elected. Shocked when they disassembled the independent climate change commission and acted toward removing environmental protections, shocked when only one women was appointed to a ministerial position even though we had recently had a female prime minister and shocked when they appointed a new human rights commissioner that had once called for the abolition of the human rights commission and intends to repeal recently introduced anti-racial discrimination laws (under the guise of freedom of speech) Those among other things.

People in this country (and from other countries wishing to seek asylum here) from the least privileged positions, who may be emerging from oppression in the past (or trying to escape from immediate threat) are now finding their path to freedom sucked from underneath them.

During secondary schooling, when I learned about one of the most infamous of oppressive regimes, Nazi Germany, I was horrified. I did not understand how such a thing could happen and in my naïvety I assumed it was an anomaly and that it could never happen again.

However, comparable oppressive regimes exist now in many countries around the globe. A comparable oppressive regime existed in this country during white settlement (oppressive to indigenous Australians) and could easily establish itself in this country again.

Some people think that education is a barrier to oppression, it probably is, but it is not impervious. Even in countries where people are well-educated, they can still remain ignorant and have that ignorance exploited.

I have just finished reading two autobiographies (given to me as Christmas presents) Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and Malala Yousafzai’s ‘I am Malala’. From these books and what little else I know of global politics, I saw a disturbing pattern emerge. It became clear to me that oppressive regimes can occur anywhere, at any time.

I can’t succinctly describe the underlying pattern that supported the oppressive regimes described in the books I was given, but I feel it. I feel it now in present day Australia. It’s a combination of discrimination, imbalance of power, biased media (in whatever form) coverage and finally mob mentality.

Just look at the way our government is treating asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. Demonizing them by insisting that they be called “illegals“, removing their access to Government funded legal aid, disbanding the Immigration Health Advisory Group overseeing asylum seeker health care and detaining them indefinitely in inadequate offshore facilities. Don’t start making excuses or you are facilitating oppression; nobody should be treated like that.

When oppression sets in, everyday people lose their freedom and find themselves committing, facilitating and turning a blind eye to atrocities that they never thought possible; as Nelson Mandela puts it the ‘The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity’.

Malala Yousafzai noted of her people after the Taliban insidiously took control of her home in Swat Valley  ‘Funny when I was little we always said Swatis were so peace-loving it was hard to find a man to slaughter a chicken’.

What freedom we have we do not owe to luck; we owe it to activists and everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of the those most in need. These are the people who can bring down oppressive regimes and importantly prevent them from establishing or re-establishing themselves.

If we want freedom for ourselves, our children and our children’s children, we are also responsible for promoting it. We should not look to others to preserve our freedom. We need to become those activists, those everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of those most in need.

As Nelson Mandela so eloquently states ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’.

Malala Yousafzai’s father, an enormous influence in the young activists life, carried around with him the following poem written by Martin Niemöller (who had lived in Nazi Germany):

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak for me.

I sincerely hope that there are enough activists, enough people unwilling to be passive bystanders in this country who can open the eyes of the majority that voted the new government in, so that crucial mistakes are not made in our country that will gradually take us down the well-worn path of oppression.

In Australia:

First they oppressed the asylum seekers,

and I did not speak out because I was not an asylum seeker…

Questions and then some

Damian was bombarding me with questions from the backseat of the car and I was answering them as fast as they came. I can’t remember what the questions were but they probably related to what I was doing at the time, which was filling the car with petrol. His head was stuck out the window in an attempt to keep my attention the entire time.

Meanwhile, I sensed that an older man using the petrol bowser beside me was trying to make eye contact with me. Given I’m not usually comfortable at petrol stations anyway (I often seem to have trouble attaching the hose or parking close enough to it) my anxiety is higher than usual and so I avoid eye contact for as long as I can. Finally, I give in and look sideways at the man, who says with a cheeky grin “Why?” (imitating Damian).

I laughed, but in comparison to Jeremy’s frequency of questions, I barely even noticed. Then I paid attention and yes, Damian asked me questions all the way to the counter to pay and all the way back. The man was still at the bowser when we returned to the car so I cheekily countered Damian’s most recent comment with “Why?” nice and loud, for the man’s benefit but I don’t think he heard.

Now Jeremy (Damian’s brother)… there is a boy who asks questions. He also insists on answers as if his life depends on it. If I don’t know the answer he says urgently “think” even if it is something insignificant to anyone else or something we could not possibly ever know.

Today, my husband was making a steak sandwich for lunch with tomato sauce, sliced tomato, cheese and beetroot. He claimed it was an ‘Aussie’ sandwich and then proceeded to put leftover potato salad in it renaming it ‘a McSurname special’ (McSurname being our family name, used in place of our surname to give us a little more anonymity).

We watched my husband take a gaping bite of the McSurname special and Jeremy asked “What can you taste first? What can you taste next? What then? What then? etc.” Jeremy wanted a second-by-second commentary on every detail of consumption.

My husband and I exchanged a knowing look and he insisted that every bite was a new experience. I attempted to explain this to Jeremy by questioning him in a similar way when he bit into his sandwich. Then I took it to another level, adding layer upon layer of questions about how the sandwich tasted, whether it tasted the same upside down and whether it tasted the same with every bite. “Think” I said with an urgent sounding voice.

Jeremy started to fake his answers to my questions after a while, not to the extent that his father does when he starts answering all Jeremy’s questions with ‘spaghetti sauce’ but slightly more convincing and so I said “See, it’s not that easy to answer is it?”. Instead of Jeremy getting annoyed though, he seemed to thrive on the attention. I said to Jeremy “You’re loving this aren’t you?” and he grins a somewhat toothless wide grin, which makes him look adorable.

Then I had a ‘light bulb moment’ and said to my husband (in front of Jeremy, as the ‘constantly asking questions’ characteristic of my children is an ongoing joke in our family) “I know how to stop him asking so many questions, we just have to ask them first” and then I extended that to having to continually talk so that he doesn’t have time to think of any questions.

Ten seconds later and I had already run out of conversation and Jeremy was gaining great pleasure beating me to it with question after question. It then occurred to me, poor Jeremy was an avid talker born to two minimalist talkers, no wonder he asks so many questions. Jeremy doesn’t only ask a lot of questions, he also likes to talk a lot about things he is interested in (cricket, Australian rules football, martial arts, music, the Universe, Star Wars, superheroes, the latest kids crazes, dinosaurs and bumosaurs) things he has done, things other people have done, big things, loud things and fast things.

My husband and I are very quiet together except for the occasional one line comment or question that can often be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I hit information overload much quicker than most other people do, so the less I have to think about the better. For example, when my husband travels overseas for a conference, I don’t even know the name of the city he is staying in (he tells me but I never absorb the information). The ”need to know’ for me is “When will you be back?”

Being an adult and having lived with my husband for over 15 yrs, we also have all the personal and general background information/ experience necessary to interpret each other’s communications (well more often than not anyway). Jeremy is a child; he has so much to learn even about the basics of life and is a little more disadvantaged by autism in that regard due to reduced social communication skills resulting in the need for more explicit explanation.

Recently, my husband read a little of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and commented to me about how Mandela noticed that in white families the children asked their parents a lot of questions whereas that was not common in his culture. Mandela explained that children in his culture learned by watching. I just laughed at my husband making note of that comment, which also stood out to me when I read it.

Different children learn in different ways. If they ask a lot of questions then that is their preferred way to learn and they shouldn’t be discouraged from learning. However, when the questions come at you a hundred miles an hour you can’t blame us for encouraging him to slow down a little to save our sanity.

When there are a lot of extremes in your household balance is a harder goal to achieve.