Dallas Elvery peers through the gloom to discern a glimmer of hope.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Theodore Parker (famously quoted by both Martin Luther King and Barak Obama)
There are always a lot of things happening in the public sphere that can be criticised, and not give us cause to be happy. Substantial positive outcomes are generally achieved over a long time period, an essential part of Parker’s words, about the “long arc of moral history”.
So, our hope must be built from substantial things that carry us across the barren and confronting times. The barren times can be brutal, with many lives damaged and with very long-term damaging consequences for large numbers of people. For example, the era of ‘McCarthyism’ in the ‘Land of the Free’ (USA) led to the imprisonment of hundreds of innocent people and destroyed the jobs and careers of over 10,000 people. Very few of these people recovered fully from that abuse.
We need robust hope. I guess there are a few elements to this, and some clichés are relevant. Clichés like:
- “We must celebrate the profound breakthroughs and ignore the noise.“
- “The best is the enemy of the good”. In so many situations, aspiration for the absolute best can be the enemy of achieving the attainable good.
- “Advancements will be achieved through compromise”. They will often require unholy alliances. They will often be incomplete and imperfect. They will mostly receive pushback, both covert, and overt. Sometimes they will be reversed, at least for a time.
- We need a “vigorous honesty” to underpin our thinking, to build and refine our understanding of issues, to inform our analysis and guide our action.
- “Indefatigable patience” is necessary. In 1933, the ‘Australian Aborigines League’ (AAL) presented a petition to the Federal Parliament. It contained a very reasonable log of claims that included a request for an ‘Aboriginal Voice to Parliament’. The idea is yet to be seriously discussed at any government level but continues to hold out hope for way forward for a great many, and has a real possibility of finally being seriously discussed where it matters in the foreseeable future.
- “The highest value is not to have the most astute critique, rather it is to grow in our understanding of the ‘art of the possible’.”.
- Everyone needs a village, not just children: a village that supports, but equally importantly, one that also challenges.
- We need “quality analysis of how power is operating in our society”. This is essential to enable us to be on the right side of history in our conversations and in our meaning making. I would suggest that this is a fundamental part of hope building.
Over our lifetimes there have been a great many extremely important advancements within our society and within the global community. To mention some within Australia:
- the 1967 referendum granting full citizenship to indigenous peoples,
- the establishment of the NDIS and its bipartisan support,
- Neo-liberal changes to our economy were being pushed for by powerful forces in our society when in the 1980s the ALP chose to adopt them. However, the way the Hawke-Keating Government implemented those changes in Australia meant that those changes very much benefited people across all our society, a vastly different story to many of the OECD countries.
There are so many more examples. We have lived in astounding times. There is much to celebrate, while sadly, there is also a great deal more desperately needing change, and there are very real setbacks. Our basis for hope must be in the achievements, no matter how incremental, and in the honesty, the courage and the idealism of ongoing struggle. If our hope is based on achieving quick perfect results without any setbacks, then hope will be hard to find and regularly dashed.
Hope can be built by being attuned to recognising the significant, and by developing a habit of celebrating important changes, in our conversations together. Henry ford famously said, “history is bunk”. Henry Ford was a smart cookie, but when it comes to history, Henry was oh so very wrong!
If we take an example, and reflect on it in more detail, this might be illustrated. Let us spend a little time reflecting on the history of female political leadership in Australia:
- In 1989, Rosemary Follett became the first ever Chief Minister of the ACT, and in so doing, became the first ever female leader of an Australian Government. Sadly, it was a minority government and lasted less than a year before losing a no confidence motion, thus moving to opposition.
- In 1990, two Australian women became Premiers, Carmen Lawrence (WA) & Joan Kirner (Vic). Both were given the role by their parties in catastrophic circumstances and were both expected to lose the ensuing elections right from the start. Both received continuous vitriolic attack and denigration during the short terms of their Premierships.
A great many would not have been surprised if that had been the end of the female leadership experiment in Australia for a long many years.
However, things continued to evolve in that sphere:
- In the year 2001 in the Northern Territory, Clare Martin took her party to an election win from opposition. The first Australian female political leader to do so.
- In 2009, Anna Bligh was the first female party leader in Australia to win a state election.
- A short time later, Julia Gillard became the first woman to lead an Australian Government. She later survived an election, although she was materially weakened.
- In 2015, an Australian woman of Polish descent (Annastacia Palaszczuk) led her party to win the QLD election from opposition. The first female state leader in Australia to do so.
- It almost went unnoticed, but a few years ago both NSW and Qld had women as Governors at the same time as their Premiers were women.
- Making this even more significant is the fact that three of Australia’s female premiers and governors have had non-Western-European origins. That is three out of a so far total of nineteen women (8 Vice-Regal and 11 Gov’t leaders), compared to the exceedingly rare exceptions to Anglo-Celts among male leaders.
This covers many significant milestones but is not an exhaustive list.
These elements combine to represent one of the greatest shifts in the Australian psyche since Federation. A huge stride in the Australian equality project.
All virtually unheralded. Perhaps because by the beginning of the 21st century, it did not seem remarkable. But it was.
If we keep on this track, perhaps Yasmin Abdel-Magied will be prime minister in 2034!!
These changes represent a critical landmark in an exceedingly long process to allow women equal access to all areas of our society. It’s a process that gained significant support in the nineteenth century, but is far from fully realised, yet each small change is extremely significant.
The whole of this culture-shattering political revolution took place in less than two decades. A crack appeared in an otherwise implacable barrier that had stood for more than a century, and across Australia, people allowed themselves to make choices according to a new reality. It was one more incremental step on an exceptionally long journey.
We have since seen a partial ‘snap back’ in this area, demonstrated only last year in that it was not possible for Tania Plibersek to consider putting her hand up for the leadership of her party in 2019. This is part of the ongoing legacy of how we allowed ourselves to act so badly against Julia Gillard. The pushback has been brutal and ingeniously calculated. The pushback hopefully will be a momentary setback.
Regardless of this, for Australian women the underlying reality (the narrative) of their lives has changed. There is now a new normal. The essence of citizenship for all Australians has incrementally changed in a powerful and positive way.
Above is one example, among so many. It is worth briefly mentioning one more, one that is still fresh in our memories. A short time ago, a time period that is metaphoric nanosecond in terms of society reform, through a messy and many times hurtful process, the marriage equality legislation made it through parliament.
The long journey to that point was characterised by decades of community activism, passionate activists, bravehearted creativity, heartbreaking destructive debate across our society and violent abuse by authorities. In the end it was passed by a divided parliament, led by a reluctant PM, helped through by hastily patched together unholy alliances, and all done through a cynically flawed and hurtful process.
Despite all this, a substantive result was achieved. A powerful, astonishingly beautiful, visceral, and inspiring result. It is freeing and affirming for so many people. It has uplifted the lived reality of a great many.
A longstanding underlying toxic narrative of our society was challenged, and its power diminished (at least a little). A narrative that had been baked into our society from the beginning. The essence of Australian citizenship substantially changed in a powerful and positive way.
More and more we need to use our conversations together to help each other to see through the noisy distortions and superficial critiques. It is essential that we find our hope in the profound change processes that percolate along beneath the crass noise and conniving influencing that is flooding our society.
Recognising and celebrating substantive advancements (even if small), and the idealism and moral courage that enable them, are crucial building blocks of resilient hope. A hope that can be nurtured in our conversations together.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope – Martin Luther King Jr
“Australia is a nation of compassion. Courage and compassion. And the third of these great values: resilience.” – Kevin Rudd
Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA articles are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position.