2016 was bittersweet. It is a sentiment I have heard and read many people express over the last few days. I am admittedly not one that indulges in new year celebrations and resolutions, but I have felt a pull to reflect on what has been a defining year. For me, there was the joy of marrying my beautiful partner Sophie and being able to celebrate our union with family and friends. It was without question the pinnacle of the year. Furthermore, I've thoroughly enjoyed teaching, writing and playing an active part in supporting a range of community initiatives. I feel I am acutely aware of how privleged I am and I hope I never lose sight of the responsibility that comes with it.
However there's no denying that events (and non-events) across the year have cast a long shadow across my heart. Between the dire lack of action on climate change, the growing tenctacles of trickle-down economics, the heinous violence in the Middle East, the resurgence of overtly racist politics and the debacle that was the U.S. Presidential Election (I felt the Bern), I was emotionally spent by the end of the year. I must admit that I underestimated the toll all of this had on my wellbeing. For the first time in years, I reached a point where I detected a sense of dread as I contemplated what was in store across 2017. Not simply because of the likes of Trump taking office, but because of the apparent trajetory humanity is charting. Perhaps this was punctuated as I watched 'Planet Earth II' towards the end of the year, soaking in the glory of our ecosystems. All the while knowing that virtually all of what I was marvelling at, is on track to be lost within a decade or two. Unless of course, we change this flight path.
This year I have been reminded of how fast hope can evaporate. Particularly when the challenges to both people and planet require systems change. When you work at the grassroots but know that so much more could happen if policy and investment was driven by public interests. Not the greed of a morally unconscious few. When the levers of power appear to be tainted and tilted well beyond our grasp. When people succumb to triablism and other forms of divison. When you are sensitive to the injustices of the world and the cost of each backward step. Especially as many of our freedoms, though we are quick to forget, have been pried out of the hands of oppressors. There's the rub though. Our history as a species has been filled with struggles for progress. Filled with regressive marches backward that are only recognised for their depravity in the ensuing years. Filled with unlikely victories when destraction and division lose their hold.
Thankfully, over these last few weeks , I've slowed down, settled into my bones and found a sense of calm again. I've been offered gentle reminders of my responsibility. To join waves of resistance against injustice in Australia and beyond. To lend my voice to new ways of being in the world. To be among those who are creating and strengthening new stories for our species. I am not brimming with hope, nor am I huddled in the shadows of despair. I am somewhere between, determined to champion what I value. Not out of a sense of burdensome responsibility or the assurance of any success, but because I know of no other way to live.
In the unceasing ebb and flow of justice and oppression we must all dig channels as best we may, that at the propitious moment somewhat of the swelling tide may be conducted to the barren places of life. - Jane Addams - Twenty Years at Hull House
We are still processing what has happened. To many, the previously inconceivable has become a reality. Donald Trump is the next POTUS. I've been an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders since he first announced his candidacy in May2015, all the way from Australia. Like millions in the U.S. and beyond, he filled me with a great deal of hope. Not only because he is clearly a man of passion and integrity, but because he is a proponent of the bold the systems change that his country and indeed, the world, needs.
This is a sad day for many reasons. I personally feel that the Democratic Party and Hilary Clinton have a lot to answer for. Their rigging of the primaries (startng from 2014) and their general misreading of the pulse of the people has often beggared belief. It could be strongly argued that we would not be in this predicament if the Democratic Party had truly understood that this was an anti-establishment election. If both Clinton and the Democratic Party could see past their obsession with an #iamwithher apparatus and sense the mood on the streets and in people's homes. I don't say this rub salt in wounds or fan flames of hatred. I only stress the above because I feel that there's an inclination to squarely blame mysoginy for the result. I think, as often is the case, that there is a lot more complexity to the situation than that. In the final assesment, I believe that Democrats were too blinkered and arrogant to recognise that they sent forward a deeply flawed candidate that largely represented what people are weary of. Business as usual.
Alas there's little utility in the blame game now. I am less interested in political punditry and more concerned with what we do from here. Why would a Sri Lankan living in Australia care so much about a U.S. Election? There are clear global consequences. Be it action on climate change, war or trade. There is so much on the line.
So what do we do from here? I think its important for us not to descend down the path of labelling those who voted for Trump as a 'basket of deplorables' as Clinton did on the campaign trail. There are many parallels with the Brexit vote in the UK as well as the rise of One Nation in Australia. Hear me out. I am not suggesting that mysoginy, racism , bigotry, pro-violence and anti-science views should be welcomed with open arms. Quite the contrary. However I think that there's much we can learn from the rise of (predominantly) white far right-wing movements. I'd argue that beneath the toxic veneer of ignorance and prejudice are people who feel deeply disenfranchised. Particularly in a context where 'whiteness' does not lord over minorities as it once did. People who are victims of social and economic policies that have left them behind and are thus vulnerable to empty rhetoric of systems change , suspectible to vile scapegoating. I am not suggesting that there is no personal responsibility here. I am not suggesting that there isn't a strong undercurrent of white supremacy that seems to underpin phenomena such as Trump, Brexit or One Nation. But there is a wider social and economic context within which these views are being fermented.
Once the dust settles, I believe that these developments can offer us insight into what an appropriate response could be. To borrow the sentiment expressed by Naomi Klein last night , the void left by neoliberal policies needs to be filled with a progressive imperative. If not, it will be filled by facism. This response will need to be bold and far-reaching. It will require systems change and thus re-imagining our political, social and economic policies. The good news is that there millions who are yearning for such a vision as they recognise the need for systems change, they recognise the deep failings of trickle-down economics, of consumerism, of war and the madness of not situating ourselves in an ecological reality. One does not need to look further than the movement Bernie Sanders led (and arguably still leads) to see that young people can rally behind an authentic and bold progressive vision. As a voting bloc, milennials have the most at stake across this planet. We are already inheriting a planet where we will have to contend with climate change and profound levels of income and wealth inequality. We are inheriting political systems mired with special interests that are laser focused on the short term and almost always diamterically opposed to the interests of the public. This is precisely why enthusiasm for Clinton was so low and many who did vote for her, voted out of fear.No manner of fear mongering and celebrity endorsements could hide the the centrist, incremental heart of her campaign.
So yes, things just got a whole lot harder! We must grieve but it is vital that we do not let it extinguish all hope. We must summon the strength to take resposibility and help forge a positive global response. Starting with our own backyards. Both present and future generations depend on this.
Whether its the setbacks to action on climate change, the rising tide of prejudice or the policies that widen inequality, we must educate ourselves and raise our intensity. We cannot wait for politicians to play catch up and pin our hopes to the incremental change that they prefer. We cannot rely on activism at the fringes from a privileged distance. We will all need to speak up, walk the talk, exercise initiative, protest and put our bodies on the line. Yet, as the inspiring Murrawah Johnson (An Indigeous Climate Activist) said at a Sydney Peace Prize event last night, we must also be willing 'to be led'. Led by those with vision and deep ancestral knowledge, by those who have recognised and fought these struggles for so long. Led by those who have been marginalised. Led by those who lend voice to other ways of being in the world...as clearly, this is not working.
A friend and fellow activist Adebayo C Akomolafe shared words that carried deep resonance.
"Shadows are not all we think they are - dark places have stunning opportunities for unprecedented justice.'
So as devastating as this result is. I choose to raise my level of responsibility and uncover opportunities for justice. If this has been your struggle, I yearn for you to continue! If it hasn't, it is my deep hope that you join in. We need you.