It’s traditional at the end of the year to start thinking about the next one. But while some will be glad to see the back of 2023, many of us might find it difficult to leave this year behind.
For many Australians, especially First Nations peoples, the failure of the referendum to secure an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament will leave a lasting stain. Not to mention the disappointing realisation that promoting fear and confusion can be a powerful tactic with which to sway the Australian people.
Many of us are facing real and urgent pressures as the costs of living continue to rise, and the new RBA governor warns Aussies to avoid going to the dentist if they don’t want her to slap them with another mortgage hike.
And, at the time of writing, the west coast of Australia is in the grip of an unprecedented Spring heatwave, which we know is likely a harbinger of what’s to come across the country.
How are we to live in the face of such appalling violence and injustice? And to ensure that it does not undermine the multiculturalism of which Australians are so proud?
For AEU members, this year has been a doozy – with workforce shortages, intensifying workloads (how was that even be possible?), and concerns about student wellbeing all creating ever greater stress-loads. Not to mention finding ourselves still campaigning for something as basic as full funding for public schools, adequate support for our TAFEs, and better investment in early learning – despite having a Labor government at the helm at both state and federal levels.
Yet, after all that, there is one disaster that has shaken Australians (and the rest of world) more than any other this year. We watched, horrified, as news reports came in of October’s brutal Hamas attack on Israeli settlers. Reports of hundreds of young adults, parents, and particularly women and children killed in the cruellest and, frankly, most gleeful manner imaginable. Hundreds more taken hostage, many of them children still yet unaware their parents are dead.
While we were still reeling from those stories and images, it became clear that the scale of the Israeli retaliation would be devastating. Where the horror of the Hamas attack came from its specificity – the brutality with which women and children were targeted – the unprecedented devastation wrought on Palestinian cities by Israel was appalling for being totally indiscriminate. More children have died per day during the Israeli assault than during any other conflict in living memory.
How are we to live in the face of such appalling violence and injustice? And, with reports of both antisemitism and Islamophobia on the rise, ensure that it does not undermine the multiculturalism of which Australians are so proud?
There is a simple answer to this divisiveness. One that also offers a way to face the many other challenges that have defined this year. Solidarity.
En masse, we can make our demands heard – on public education, on the climate, on unforgivable wars. Even when we don’t get the immediate results we want, we can still take a stand.
Large-scale global and political events can leave us feeling helpless as individuals. What can each of us do against climate change, political embarrassment, or a brutal military campaign against innocent civilians? On our own, very little.
But, as shown by the hundreds of thousands of Australians taking to the streets to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, we are stronger together. Those protests, including the School Strike for Palestine, have given voice to support for Palestinians that has been lacking in the Australian media. Those worldwide protests may not appear to have a direct impact on the Israel government – or indeed, our own government, who has been curiously reticent to impose the sort of sanctions Russia faced after invading Ukraine – but they have arguably added pressure to negotiations for a ceasefire.
Of course, solidarity is about more than instant change. Activism is crucial. En masse, we can make our demands heard – on public education, on the climate, on unforgivable wars. Even when we don’t get the immediate results we want, we can still take a stand.
We can stand with the First Nations Australians whose dreams of a Voice have been shattered. We can stand with working Australians penalised by the government that is supposed to be looking out for them. We can stand with suffering peoples on the other side of the world and amplify their voices.
The answer to helplessness is solidarity. Standing together with and for those in need. With and for those whose voices would otherwise go unheard. There’s a reason for hope in 2024 and it’s us – the world may change, but the people, when united, will never be divided.