- by Natalie Alexander
Confessions of a Closet Activist
“Subvert the system” I silently chant as I navigate my way around the oppressive asylum seeker detention centre. My own Government is resolute in not settling asylum seekers. Their message is simple: ‘If you come to Australia illegally by boat, there is no way you will ever make Australia home.’ These words run through my head as I am escorted by security to a waiting room.
The barbed wired fences surrounding the centre pale into insignificance compared to the draconian policies that wrap these asylum seekers up in a strangle hold. I have a short time to sit with an asylum seeker. Knowing these impenetrable policies that have turned a crisis of humanity into a dominating discourse of border control leaves me totally exasperated.
"These words run through my head as I am escorted by security to a waiting room."
As I pass the necessary security checks, I know my time will be brief and my words will be clipped. This is what I want to say: “I stand by you, you have a right to be here, welcome, you are safe, there is hope.” Instead I see faces filled with anguish from the months or the years of waiting. They are suspended in an indeterminable period of waiting. The lengthy processing of asylum seekers in Australia is a disgrace.
Hope deferred indeed makes the heart sick and I’ve seen it time and time again where the mental health of these people deteriorates with every second of the ticking clock. They are waiting…..waiting to be sent back…..waiting to be sent elsewhere…..waiting to stay locked up…..waiting to be sent to a third world country…waiting and not being told anything….silence….days and days of silence. Sadly, under the harshest of policies, very few are waiting to be settled in Australia. This is the injustice that puts the fire in my belly to take action to effect social change. Yes the government has saved lives at sea by ‘turning back the boats.’ But do we stop for a moment and consider what happens when those boats are turned back? Imagine what that must be like. Have you sat face to face with a person who has fled persecution in fear and traversed the seas in utter desperation? For those who have made it to our shores why do we continue to construct them as ‘illegals?’ All peoples have a right to seek protection under International Law. (UNHCR.org)
"The lengthy processing of asylum seekers in Australia is a disgrace."
The Oxford dictionary defines an activist as “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” History has gifted us with many heroes who have taken this path. Too many to mention but the likes of Martin Luther King Jnr, Malala Yousafzai, and our own Eddie Mabo are just the tip of the iceberg for inspiring campaigners. I’m not a bold, up front, campaigning type of woman but in the face of oppression I cannot stay silent. I haven’t led a campaign or brought about social change. However, taking a leaf out of Bob Marley’s song “Get up, stand up;” that’s exactly what I do. I use whatever it takes to get up and stand up for the rights of the marginally oppressed.
".......in the face of oppression I cannot stay silent." In my activist tool bag I have used a wide array of means to raise consciousness by taking a stand. My tools include poetry, dance, art, wearing political slogans, spoken word, knitting teddies for children in detention, written word, silent protests, letters to the paper, marches, music, running for causes, baking cupcakes with political messages (my favourite), participating in flash mobs, singing (and I CAN’T sing)! It’s all about starting a conversation in whatever means possible. Anyone can be an activist but the essential ingredient is passion.
Can I subvert the system? I don’t think so. But if I choose to sit on my laurels then the system remains as an unchallenged ugly bastion rising in its own perverted glory. So when I meet with the asylum seeker, I ditch the labels because in that moment, I am connecting with the spirit of humanity. Black, white, illegal, legal, whatever the jargon, it’s irrelevant. What is vitally important is that if we have the capacity to do so, take action. In the words of Bob Marley: “Live for your self and you will live in vain; live for others and you will live again”
Natalie Alexander is passionate about human rights issues, matters of the mind and interfaith insights. When not in deep thought, Natalie loves to travel, drink good coffee and keep fit where she resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. See all previous articles by Natalie Alexander