Who we want to be
Palm Sunday is a religious celebration marking Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The “triumphal” entry sees Jesus riding a donkey to shouts of acclamation and palm waving on the part of those the gospels call the “little ones” – the disappointed, displaced, downtrodden, persecuted. The procession is a form of community protest, street theatre – confronting the powers of temple and state, raising hopes for social justice, cultural change.
The annual Palm Sunday rally and march in Sydney (and similar events in other Australian cities), repeats the protest in creative and remarkably faithful fashion. This year’s rally on March 25 saw the churches involved, alongside other faith groups and various unions, GetUp!, Refugee Action Coalition, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Grandmothers Against Detention, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the NSW Greens, Labor for Refugees, Doctors for Refugees and Amnesty International.
“Refugees are welcome here!” the protesters shouted. “Not Manus, not Nauru!”
Last year, refugees on Manus Island were moved from the old detention centre to other prison camps. A Human Rights Watch report in October documented frequent and brutal assaults. So far only 230 have been accepted under the US resettlement deal from Manus and Nauru. Iranian, Somali and Syrian refugees are blocked from going to the US by the Trump administration’s travel ban. And Iranians are the largest national group on Manus and Nauru, where over 1,500 refugees and asylum seekers remain.
Of course, there is anger. And yet most placards expressed calls for justice in terms of inclusive, positive values: compassion, equality, human dignity. To the extent we remain in thrall to competitive and fearful individualism, heartless ambition, a winner-takes-all or win-at-all-costs mentality, these are counter-cultural values.
The day before, a massive crowd of 10,000 gathered at Martin Place to march on Parliament House. The Time2Choose march called for clean, renewable energy, and the protection of water, land and communities. A large group of First Nations people, including Aunty Shirley Lomas of the Gamilaroi and Waka Waka Aboriginal nations, led the march. Placards read: “Clean air, clean water for my kids!”; “No CSG in the Pilliga”; “Go solar now”; “Water, not coal – protect our water”.
The Sydney-based group Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE) is an amalgamation of different campaign groups – a multicultural organisation with Indigenous leadership. Its aim, according to spokesperson Laura Lyons, entails “fighting to make change under this current government, and under any future governments”. It’s about standing up to racism, greed and inequality, standing up for fair processing, free and equal access to clean air and water, justice, peace and unity.
Cultural change is not easy. That’s one reason we so often succumb to cynicism or revert to personal attacks and scapegoating. Cultural change demands the difficult and patient work of social critique and institutional reform.
To risk a comment on the ball-tampering scandal, there is opportunity to reflect on who we want to be. Our test cricketers have long been regarded sore losers, as famous for sledging as for sporting prowess. Exposed for cheating, one temptation is to scapegoat a few sorry players and members of staff rather than addressing issues of team culture. The decision, in the wake of the scandal, for players to shake hands with South African opponents prior to competition, is surely a step in the right direction.
Such a step shows that our players see the value in sporting behaviour. By shaking hands, they acknowledge the prowess of the opposition. They also pay respect to the code of cricket and the audiences worldwide who believe in the ability of the players, the excitement of well-matched competition, and the spirit and integrity of the game.
It’s not just about sport but a deeper matter of identity. Do we want to play fair? Can we persist in the face of challenges – inspired by resistance to colonialism, by decades of activism on asylum seekers and climate change – in the broad-based cooperation needed to drive cultural change for a fairer, more inclusive society?