Safe Schools and trashed offices


[toh-tal-i-tair-ee-uh n]


  1. Of or relating to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
  2. Exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic.

……….You can imagine my initial complete lack of surprise upon seeing Cory Bernardi’s tweet about ‘lefty totalitarians’ recently. Synonymous with the loony left or commie pinko, lefty totalitarian is a derogatory buzzword thrown around in this country while discussing any policy left of center-right. Multinational tax reform? That’s socialist. Closing down horrific offshore refugee hell-camps? Damn Maoists. It’s all a bit silly really. In our democracy, left wing views are no more a gateway to left wing totalitarianism than right wing views are gateways to fascism*. It’s a rather simplistic view that relies almost exclusively on the perception of politics as a single line; with the points along the line representing various political attitudes and systems. The line infers that political attitudes proximal to eachother are connected in some meaningful way, as though one could become a bit of a Stalin after spending too much time campaigning for the local library. This idea stymies the conversation in which we move a little closer to each other, not by discarding our beliefs but augmenting them — perhaps with more consideration of the human impact, or a more nuanced understanding of the practicalities involved. Surely we can all express our political ideas, safe in the knowledge that such meaningless, dismissive buzzwords have absolutely no basis in reality. I mean, after all, it’s not as if groups of enraged socialist students go around trashing the offices of sitting Australian Senators in politically charged acts of revenge.

*and that’s not very much at all


Photo: Twitter/@talexander_9

… shit

……….Don’t get me wrong, I loathe Cory Bernardi’s political views. During my primary schooling in rural Australia through the 90s I was relentlessly bullied, excluded, and sometimes physically assaulted. All the while, the slur of choice for the bullies was, fag, gaybo, homo. As a scrawny, quiet kid I wasn’t sure what it meant, but surely it was a horrible thing. Perhaps as a response, or just as a means of survival, I erected a wall of hypermasculine conformity around my true identity. I wish I could say that my wall never hurt anybody else, but that would be untrue; I’ll never be able to forget or forgive myself for the bullying that I stood idly by in an attempt to shield myself from harm. Perhaps my actions caused someone else to hide their true self – the thought haunts me. As a queer 27 year old man I’m still unpicking the tangled baggage of my formative years, with every step towards the reconciliation of my identity marred by the increasingly quiet but omnipresent voices of those bullies.

Fag, gaybo, homo

……….What I mean to say is that I am a staunch supporter of the Safe Schools program. The idea that LGBTQIA bullying might take its rightful place as a dreadful historical artifact akin to corporal punishment fills me with hope. We’re not talking about harmless playground banter, we’re talking about real developmental traumas that can scar a person for life, or as is far more likely in young LGBTQIA people, cause them to take their own life. As much as I wish my childhood had been different, I count myself as extremely lucky. I have amazingly supportive friends and family, and never reached that point of utter despair and despondency so many young Australians reach from which there is no turning back.

……….So you can imagine my utter disgust at the Turnbull government moving to gut the program and restricting it to highschools where it will undoubtedly do a world of good – just likely not enough nor soon enough. Politically, it’s a huge blow for Turnbull who has had to reveal all too soon that the new consultative approach to leadership wasn’t with the Australian people, but with the fringe nutjobs of his own party. The Prime Minister’s utter inability to reign in the extreme influence of his colleagues is quickly reducing the value of his brand. All across the country, resentful leftists like myself who might have once drunkenly proposed voting Liberal to get Plibs and Albo on the ticket are coming to the cold realization (albeit, thankfully before the election) that Turnbull really never had control; just an inexplicable, beautiful, brief moment when the rest of his party didn’t open their mouths. RIP Leather Jacket Malcom Turnbull.

……….Actual political backlash has already begun with the Victorian government vowing to keep the program intact following approval by their curriculum experts. Hopefully more states will follow suit (edit: Since time of writing the ACT has joined Victoria in offering to fund the original program)  but the result is apparently disastrous for the Turnbull government. Venturing online, you can see the ‘safe schools save lives’ display pictures proliferating on social platforms, a tip of the iceberg of public sentiment. People are absolutely seething about this issue, and that rage will undoubtedly affect both the outcome of the upcoming election and the prominence of LGBTQIA issues in public discourse. All across the country, people who had been lulled into a sense of calm political apathy by the-not-Tony-Abbottness-of-Malcom are getting our ‘One Termbull’ t-shirts ready at the printers. The gutting of safe schools was the moment the left had been waiting for, and it will make Malcom Turnbull pay dearly for it.

……….We live in a chaotic world. Just 70 years ago the entire planet was plunged into darkness and depravity because of the actions of a few men. You might have heard the argument that, if you compare something to Hitler you’ve lost, I think it’s time we scrap that idea. Economic and social disenfranchisement across the world is creating a fertile breeding ground for extreme views. Noam Chomsky recently ascribed the rise of Donald Trump to the same societal ‘breakdown’ that birthed Hitler. Additionally, the politics of fear are difficult to combat, it’s far easier to insinuate that there is a small pool opportunity that the others are taking than to explain the strength (both social, and in the long term, economically) of a multicultural, inclusive, participatory Australia. More and more people are getting frustrated with the apparent inaction of our elected officials and are considering more drastic alternatives while wondering ‘would totalitarianism be so bad if it was our guy?*’

*or gal

……….Social progress is painfully slow, but I believe it’s happening inexorably. In our democracy it’s not simply a matter of really wanting to get your way, but how willing you are to ignore the statistical insignificance of your actions and try to change people’s minds. Some people are willing to embrace a little change throughout their lifetime, some are willing to embrace a lot. But at some point there is a limit to how much change we can really bring about until we ourselves pass on, and let the next generation build upon what we’ve left behind. I don’t want to sound defeatist however, the technological revolution of the past few decades has shattered the unilateral nature of media as we knew it; more than ever before we, as individuals, through our effort, talent, and kindness can affect change in other people on a massive scale. While these technologies come with new pitfalls, it seems hard to imagine how democracy functioned without them. I sincerely believe that we’re witnessing an awakening, as more of the world’s minds are linked by the internet. I’m certain that the old prejudices will start to disappear as we’re confronted by the unfiltered experiences of others. But I could be wrong, and as I’ve said it’s slow, hard going.

……….If we look back at history there are countless examples of those who suffered to bring about change. If you’re as furious about the gutting of Safe Schools as I am, we’re both there too, as part of history. In the future, people will look back at the actions we take now – I hope they’ll think we did enough. We have democracy, we have this new technology, in my opinion we have them on the ropes. It just might take a few more decades than we’d otherwise like. And yes, that delay will be measured in human suffering – but what we can’t do is give into violence, blind hate, or totalitarian thought ourselves. I doubt there were very few people who approved of the action to trash Bernardi’s office who weren’t already supporters of Safe Schools; on the other hand it seems quite likely that these actions have galvanized support against Safe Schools around conservative poster-boy Cory Bernardi, as well as reinforcing the idea of the loony left.

……….I get it, you’re angry. You were in a group. You tore up some pamphlets, knocked over a few tables and thought it was no big deal. But imagine if right wing protesters did the same thing; stormed into Penny Wong’s office, tore up her pamphlets, and frightened her staff. How would we feel about them? Would we feel more or less inclined to engage with them and be persuaded by their arguments? If it’s difficult to persuade your ideological opponents at the best of times, it’s outright impossible if they’re filled with righteous indignation. We have to be smarter, not louder, more compassionate, not more violent. We must lean away from the totalitarian view that opposing voices don’t have a right to be heard – all it will do is harden their hearts to us, and as great as firing up our base is, in the end, they’re the ones we need to persuade. In the age of Donald Trump we can ill afford to propagate the attitude that since our own ideas are right, we are exempt from criticism, consequence, or law. As much progress as we’ve made, it could all be lost in an instant if the world yields to hate.  As preposterously slow and infuriating as the democratic process is, it also protects us from the hands of tyrants. We can’t afford to open the Pandora’s box of political violence, nor give our opponents any ammunition to claim the moral highground. I know it’s hard to the point of impossibility, I know it’s unfair to ask, but that’s how it is.

……….To the protesters. I imagine that you’re wonderful, kind, and loving people. I support your right to a voice, and admire your passion; but in this case, I think you made a serious error of judgement.

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