When the prospect of more fighting seems unbearable, look to those who never stop | Sara Saleh

The struggle for freedom is constant, no matter which side wins our elections

I won’t be forgetting the night of 18 May any time soon. For those who had any doubt, the veneer was finally off. My family carried on the following week in anxious silence. After the shock result, we were worried about the depth of the damage – the existing and the yet to come – to us as Muslims, and to other minority communities, in particular First Nations peoples.

The prospect of more fighting, more years before we would see “progress” or feel safe, seemed unbearable.

Many said not to despair, that there were some small wins in the swings, the shifts, in Tony Abbott’s loss. That there was still a large share of the voting public who rejected far-right narratives.

The morning after, a mentor and long-time activist provided some much-needed perspective. “The past has something to give us,” she said. “Recognise that in those who came before, and those yet to come.”

It is a reminder that elections aren’t the only measure of “change”, that they are not the primary arena of struggle for many communities. This is a long game – there is a distinction between outcome and impact.

There are individuals in our communities who already know this.

The “progressive left” does not need to look for an entirely new path where there are ones already laid down. Follow the lighthouses who are continuously confronting these deep seated realities and inequalities with creativity, steadfastness, and strength.

Lighthouses like Widjabul woman Larissa Baldwin who has travelled across the Northern Territory, connecting with Aboriginal communities in remote areas that normally don’t make our front page news. She has brought attention to the serious, long-term issues they have been facing, from housing to deaths in custody.

Or look to people like Roj Amedi who has been campaigning in the streets of Victoria alongside other community organising volunteers to get marginalised communities connected to each other, bypassing existing barriers like geography and language.

Or the example of Tim Lo Surdo who works to make sure local activists are trained and supported so they can keep organising and working in grassroots civil society.

Larissa, Roj, Tim, and many like them have been organising. They recognise the incredible diversities and complexities of our communities. They form solidarities. They fight for our voices and perspectives to be heard. They work every day to elevate us all.

But this isn’t just up to individuals. The truth is we cannot look for answers from a system that was never intended to give us any.

This is a nation that is built on the deliberate and ongoing exclusion and erasure of the “other”. There is no fight for freedom without acknowledging this country was built on genocide. That the settler–colonial project in Australia was created to preserve and serve white neoliberal interests. That is our starting point.

As a Muslim, I may feel like an outsider, but I am not outside the system. White supremacy is adaptive, it has been continually reproduced, made palatable, rebranded as ‘“Muslim friendly” as it manages us into surveillance, obedience and control.

Notions of “reform” are not sufficient, they are cosmetic. Reform would merely recreate benevolent empire, a more “progressive” settler-colonial entity.

Change cannot happen within existing paradigms, Labor to Liberal, from one side of the spectrum to the other, because these institutions are part of the underlying structures that create and perpetuate systems of oppression.

Settler-colonialism is the root of the problem – one we must seriously commit to abolishing. Once we truly recognise that, we can think about our part – physically, philosophically, psychologically – in helping create critically conscious movements in our communities and beyond.

We need to look past traditional power structures and towards Indigenous sovereignty and ways of honouring the traditional custodians and cultures of the land.

These transformations have already begun, Indigenous movements globally united by their struggles for self determination, reservoirs of activists and organisers connecting across continents, from Gaza to New Mexico, Naarm to Sudan, sharing a vision of transnational justice, healing, and survival.

And before we put these intersectional issues into the “too hard” basket, understand our focus is local and simple, the ask clear – allies must be prepared to do the difficult work, whilst simultaneously ceding power – as uncomfortable as this may be.

Collective work towards Indigenous liberation is indivisible from urgent action on climate change. Indigenous communities have been leading against fracking and mining companies only interested in lining their pockets at the expense of people, our health, and that of the land.

Creating any multiracial progressive coalition for economic and racial justice begins with shutting down the prison industrial complex’s punishment-for-profit products, from detention centres to prisons.

We must establish methods of accountability couched in legal protections like a human rights charter which can work to protect those on the margins.

African-American civil rights activist and educator Angela Davis has taught us that colonial power, patriarchal power, capitalist power never quit – and neither should we.

Freedom isn’t an endpoint or solution – it expands and contracts, rises and recedes – it is a constant struggle. It relies on the practice of radical hope, on imagining possibilities.

Neoliberalism forces us to think in individual terms, but it is in our communities of resistance we find necessary swells of courage and optimism.

People like us are here, we exist, and we will choose to care and to collectivise in the face of seemingly indestructible forces. Victories have been won before and they will be won again, with dignity and with love.


Sara Saleh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A feral left that doesn’t play nice, or fighting for our future? GetUp on the campaign trail | Brigid Delaney
There’s a cake, a giant papier-mache Peter Dutton head and a lot of waiting around

Brigid Delaney

14, May, 2019 @12:01 AM

Article image
Culture shock: politics upended in era of identity
Two worldviews face each other uncomprehendingly – and the flashpoint is the climate emergency

Clive Hamilton

23, Jun, 2019 @12:49 AM

Article image
Liberal activists target Tony Abbott's seat over climate change policy
Sydneysiders urged to join party in former PM’s seat to ‘shift the politics’ and speak up for the environment

Anne Davies

02, May, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
Bold change comes when we energise hope
Joy, security, fairness and care – Australians are united in aspiration and crave connected-up action

Louise Tarrant

24, Jun, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
'Hindsight is a wonderful thing': how GetUp's election campaign fell flat
In the wake of the Coalition’s shock victory, the tactics of the progressive activist group have come under scrutiny

Michael McGowan

25, May, 2019 @10:10 PM

Article image
'And this is Mosman!': genteel Warringah rocked by election rancour
In the well-heeled Sydney seat, the independent Zali Steggall has become a lightning rod for local insurgents and Tony Abbott stalwarts alike, writes Anne Davies

Anne Davies

16, May, 2019 @2:26 AM

Article image
Peter Dutton tops GetUp's 'hard right' hit list for federal election
Tony Abbott in second place as activist group looks to extend list of targets

Amy Remeikis

16, Jan, 2019 @5:01 PM

Article image
Empathy is more useful than fear in the fight for progress | John Falzon
If Australians want a fairer society, we must unite to protect one another

John Falzon

03, Jul, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Animal rights group Aussie Farms faces crackdown after nationwide protests
Attorney general asks privacy commissioner to investigate Aussie Farms and calls for boost to trespass penalties

Paul Karp

08, Apr, 2019 @10:22 AM

Article image
Essential poll: voters divided on PM's plan to crack down on environmental protests
Approval ratings dip for both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese in latest survey

Katharine Murphy Political editor

11, Nov, 2019 @10:00 PM