January 21, 2017.
I am not an activist. I never cared much for politics, politicians or the monotonous drivel they always tended to spout. I was never part of a student union while at university. I never joined any protests or rallies or attended any town hall meetings. In fact, I daresay decades of listening to people go on and on about things that neither affected me nor interested me made me into one of millions of apathetic people who inhabit this earth.
I never considered myself a feminist either. Not because I didn’t believe in women’s causes such as gender equality, anti-discrimination or planned parenthood. I just never felt personally impacted by these “issues”. When I was a kid, I climbed trees and my father taught me how to fly a kite. When my sister and I got our driver’s license, he taught us how to change a car tyre because you never know if you might get stranded in the middle of nowhere with nobody to help you (mind you, this pre-dated the arrival of mobile phones). Our parents taught us to be financially independent so that we never had to rely on “marrying rich”, or marrying at all.
Reflecting on these issues now, it occurs to me that the reason why I was so apathetic is because I have been blessed – though some might just want to call me lucky – or maybe I was just too blind to see all the discrimination and inequality happening around me. It never occurred to me that I might not have got a job because I am female or that I am an immigrant; or that perhaps I was getting paid less than a male counterpart. I am not homeless, nor do I live with any kind of physical or mental disability that might challenge my day-to-day existence. I don’t have any illness that requires costly medicine or treatments. I have never experienced domestic violence, sexual violence, or indeed, any act of “random” violence or acts of terrorism.
I am blessed and never before have I been made more acutely aware of just how blessed I am until recently.
Two significant votes took place on the other side of the world from me: “Brexit” – the referendum where British citizens voted to leave the European Union; and the Presidential election in the United States which resulted in the election of a man with no prior experience in public service into the most powerful office in the country, and arguably, the world. Both of these election results were thought of as “inconceivable”, and yet, they happened.
Suddenly, all of the differences that make each of us unique became louder, more obvious and more scary.
Apart from a couple of close American friends who encouraged me to walk, most of my friends were surprised by my decision to join the Women’s March on Sydney on Saturday morning. One argued that “it’s an anti-Trump march…Maybe if it was directed at issues of domestic/sexual violence and Australian issues then I am more receptive.” I blame this misconception on the media that focused only on the man who was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States only hours before the Sydney march.
In fact, all those who were at Hyde Park would have heard, amongst others, a wheelchair-bound lawyer and disability activist give an example of the difficulties of taking public transport to Australia’s most famous beach, Bondi, in one of the most affluent suburbs of Sydney.
They will have heard the founder of OzHarvest, a non-profit organisation that saves what would have been discarded food from businesses and provide good, nutritious meals to the homeless, and how she left South Africa during the apartheid and vows to save Australia from becoming a nation of segregationists.
A young Muslim woman who serves as the director on diversity for a top Australian company declared that we are all immigrants, tenants on land owned by indigenous Australians: “Until my landlord tells me to go back to where I came from, I am not going anywhere.”
Of course, the new POTUS was mentioned. He made a point of highlighting to all of us the differences between us. He pointed at Muslims and declared them a danger to the American people. He held up all of our fears and suggested singular causes and declared solutions that were apparently clear and simple: put up a wall; ban all Muslims; stop giving jobs to other countries and give them back to Americans. He categorised people into groups – “us” and “them”.
Later the same day, I had another long debate with an American friend, herself an immigrant, who passionately told me why she supported Trump. Like many pro-Trump supporters, she believed previous administrations were corrupt, just as narcissistic as Trump has been accused to be, and that she did not want America to accept any Syrian refugees the way Germany has opened its doors to them.
Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
Friend: “I don’t want them here if I can’t tell if they are terrorists.”
Me: “But who is saying these refugees are terrorists though?”
Friend: “How can you tell they’re not? If we don’t have a system to check and track them, then I don’t want them to come in.”
Me: “This is a no-win argument because the reality is you don’t know if your next-door neighbour might be a terrorist either.”
The discussion went on much longer and once I got over the shock of hearing a friend – a perfectly intelligent woman – say all these things in support of everything my heart disagreed with, it became clear to me this is how hate spreads. It feels like a Dementor floating around our heads and turning good people against each other. Whilst I agreed with her that on a broader level, these fears cannot be ignored, the proposed solutions do nothing but engender more hate and create a bigger divide amongst people.
So why did I join the estimated eight-to-ten thousand Sydneysiders in the march? I believe in unity. I believe in equality. I believe that where love is given, love will be returned and similarly, hate begets hate. I believe that women have had to fight for equal rights at the negotiating table for generations and we are still fighting. I believe there is only one race and that is the human race. I believe all religions share the same fundamental beliefs – love, respect, honour. I believe that violence does not solve anything. I believe that words matter. I believe that actions matter and inaction can be worse.
I believe that we are all different, but we are all the same. I believe that the world is really small and that we all have to a right to be here. I believe there are more good people in the world than there are bad, and that by highlighting the bad, we are giving them the power to rule over us. I believe that those in position to help others must, in whatever way they can, big or small.
To quote newsreader and journalist, Tracey Spicer, who MC’d the Sydney march:
“Always remember: our lives begin to wither when we are silent on the things that matter.”
And so I walked in solidarity with all the men, women and children in Sydney, across Australia, and around the world who share the same beliefs and who refuse to give in to fear and hate, inequality and injustice. We all marched for our own reasons but we all marched for the same reasons. Unity gives us strength.
All photos taken by author.