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TALK LESS, DO MORE
Photo by Mirah Curzer
By Melanie Schoo
I don’t know about you, but I’m so tired. Every day it’s like there’s an onslaught of things to be angry, exasperated and upset by. I know that there will always be things in the world, both close to home and far away that I don’t agree with, but it seems like the volume and the coverage is building to such a frantic pace that there’s no escape.
It seems like every time I look at the news, I read about people, businesses and governments acting in ways that go against my values, and what I thought were the basic principles of human rights. It’s exhausting, infuriating and unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Apart from feelings of incredible rage and disgust, what I hate most of all is feeling impotent. I know that what is happening is unforgivable, but like most people, I’m unsure about what I can do to help. I get angry when I read the news, I post snarky comments on social media and lament with friends about how fucked up everything is, and then nothing changes, except there is more to be angry about.
Although there are plenty of contenders, there is currently one topic that is causing me considerable outrage and distress. The detention of children seeking asylum. I’ve been appalled by the American border staff separating children from their parents and, a little closer to home, the Australian government’s ongoing determination to demonize and mistreat people seeking asylum to score points with the electorate.
I don’t know when putting children in cages became a topic for political debate instead of something unforgivably cruel and symbolic of the most oppressive regimes in human history, but here we are. Apparently this cruelty is justified because it saves lives (if you’re Australian) or prevents crimes (if you’re American). Whilst our governments are more than happy to start wars, they seem to have little concern for those that become displaced or threatened as a result.
When Robert DeNiro stood on stage at the Tony Awards and said “Fuck Trump” I smiled and agreed with him, shared a few funny tweets, and then, nothing else happened. Because nothing will ever change unless our anger and our indignation inspires us to do something more consequential than rage tweet.
We can’t just retweet a few memes and sign some internet petitions, and assume that this will be enough to inspire change. We need to translate this anger and helplessness into action that seeks to highlight the injustice, from a human and political perspective.
To that end, those that have managed to turn hate, fear and anger into something else inspire me. Here are two Australian examples that I am especially fond of, and use to guide my actions when I feel overwhelmed by all that is wrong with the world.
In 2015, Dr Susan Carland an Australian academic, author, feminist and media commentator, decided to donate a dollar to UNICEF for every hateful tweet she received. And she received a lot: in addition to being an outspoken feminist—
which is guaranteed to inspire trolls—Dr Carland is also a Muslim, converting to Islam when she was 19. Instead of retreating from Twitter, she decided that she wouldn’t be defined or confined by the rage of others. Instead, inspired by the teachings of her faith, she decided to “take the higher road and be a force for good in the world, not because people necessarily deserve it but because it is simply the right thing to do.” In two weeks, she raised over $1,000.
In 2001, a teacher, Kon Karapanagiotidis, learned that people seeking asylum were living in the community with no support or access to basic items like food or shelter. This inspired the creation of a student-run and community funded food bank. On 8 June 2001, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) was established, and is now the largest Australian independent human rights organisation for refugees and people seeking asylum.
This little class project has turned into a service that helps to feed, house, support and advocate for the rights of thousands of people every year.
Now, when the Australian government announces a policy or position on people seeking asylum that I disagree with (this happens with alarming frequency) I rage tweet and snark on Facebook, but then I make a donation to the ASRC. It’s not a lot, but it’s a small contribution towards something that makes a difference.
This method of venting can add up to significant revenue for not-for-profits. Following the election of Donald Trump, the ACLU saw a significant increase in donations, which was repeated this month as people donated variations of the number 72 in response to the President’s birthday, raising more than $1 million in one day. In November 2016, Planned Parenthood received over 20,000 donations in Mike Pence’s name, so that Pence is notified each time.
But, it’s not just about donations. This isn’t always possible or practical and doesn’t necessarily promote legislative visibility or push for change. Voices matter. Shouting into an echo chamber or tweeting at a politician is a waste of your voice; instead use it to write letters to newspapers, and write to and call politicians, every week (these have to be recorded and responded to, as opposed to social media comments). Talk to your parents and friends, boycott companies that support or profit from these practices (and tell them), but most importantly, vote with your values.
Meaningful and lasting social change doesn’t come from discomfort. Anger is important, but unless it ignites action, we will continue to feel hopeless. In 15 years’ time, when my nieces and nephews are old enough to learn about this time in our world, I want to be able to tell them that I did what I could to stand on the right side of history.
Melanie is a communications professional who has worked in the not-for-profit sector for more than 15 years. A reformed social media addict, she has been condemned, attacked, and blocked by most right-wing tabloid journalists for being a “rabid leftie feminist social justice warrior”. She has a pair of 24-year-old Doc Martens, a fondness for Harry Potter and some very spoilt pet poodles. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.
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