I went to the Welcome Refugees rally last weekend. The idea was that it was a show of strength in order to support Australia changing its draconian treatment of refugees, and especially how that should relate to children refugees. It has been for at least 10 years – and as far as I am concerned, will remain so for the foreseeable future – an ugly situation that doesn’t appear to have a solution – or at least a solution that any of the large political parties are willing to embrace. There is a belief that there are votes in being cruel to fellow human beings – and if that doesn’t peel back the skin of Australia’s multiculturalism and expose the ugly flesh of racism below, I don’t know what will.
Smarter men and women than I have made justifications about the policy – and everybody is desperate to claim the moral high ground of compassion – which is fair enough, but only some people are genuinely acting in a compassionate way. If your definition of compassion is limited by people dying on someone else’s doorstop instead of on the way to yours, then I suggest you re-acquaint yourself with what compassion actually means.
Enough about that. I’ve made the same arguments before, and I won’t make them here again. Instead, I wanted to jot down some thoughts about the rally. My job, currently, is all about organisation – that is, getting people to organise themselves to make something happen. It’s a funny art and science and it requires considerably different skills and talents to those that I needed to develop as a teacher. Still, it’s stimulating enough, and I’m learning to look at things like rallies and marches with a more critical eye than I might have had previously.
The key – and this is something that Get Up, the Climate Change movements and, no doubt, many others have worked out long before I did, is that it’s not enough to motivate just your group or your cohort. Real power for social change seems to occur more often when groups of people form larger groups- there is a multiplying factor here that brings with it a kind of power of its own. Amanda Tattersall knew this – that’s why the Sydney Alliance, for example, is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
But the real question is how does one bring together disparate groups for the purpose of enacting social change? After all, at the March yesterday there were members from the Greens, the Socialist Alternative, Resistance and then a whole range of faith-based groups, including Jews for Refugees – a group that is not known for their affection for pro-Palestinian resistance movements. In this case, a cause was enough – both groups were willing to overlook other issues for the sake of a single issue.