White politicians won’t give us anything willingly. We need collective power

Last week was a pretty big week in Australian politics. Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the Queensland election, the Australian Workers’ Union (Bill Shorten’s former union) was raided by the Australian federal police. Employment minister Michaelia Cash was asked five times if the raid was leaked in a Senate estimates and five times she said it didn’t come from her office; however, we now know this raid was leaked an hour earlier to the media by David De Garis, a staffer for Cash. On Friday the high court found Malcolm Roberts, Fiona Nash, Scott Ludlam, Larissa Waters and Barnaby Joyce were ruled to be ineligible to sit in parliament due to section 44 of the constitution. In among all of this, buried deep, Malcolm Turnbull announced that he would not be implementing the demands set out in the Uluru statement.

For those who missed it, the Uluru statement was written in May this year. It was the culmination of the work of the Referendum Council’s work. The Referendum Council had been travelling around the country to do consultations with mob about constitutional recognition. The Uluru statement itself is a conservative ask. At its heart it sought the inclusion of a “First Nations Voice” in parliament that would be enshrined in the constitution. It also sought a Makarrata commission to “supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”. These are not extreme or radical asks. They are quite moderate and already exist for other Indigenous peoples in other nations. We ask for an inch and they see a mile.

I saw a tweet the other day by Professor Megan Davis, member of the Referendum Council, about how sad she was that young people would give up hope. Immediately after that I saw a tweet with a picture of a young black girl who had just finished high school in Dubbo. I felt sad because I have to admit that Davis was right. I’m 27, just ten years older than the starry-eyed blackfellas graduating from high school and I am not hopeful. I do not believe white politicians will willingly give us anything meaningful. This process has taught me that they can’t be trusted, and using the mechanisms they create for us to gain power is not going to deliver what we want or need. Why would they establish the means for their own demise? Why would they give us anything that could take away their ability to control us? I have also learnt that being moderate does not get us anywhere.

I have been a vocal opponent of the Recognise campaign, but I do agree with one of its objectives. I think part of what they wanted to create was a campaign that would unite blackfellas. This much is right. We need a united black people. We need collective power capable of applying collective pressure. A mobilised black people who pose a threat.

The other day I was on a panel with Van Badham and Sam Dastyari discussing whether democracy is broken. I was on there as the young black “activist” type while I guess everyone else is meant to be serious. All those people on the panel had faith in the political system. They were mostly optimistic about the state of democracy. Dastyari said that people shouldn’t be afraid of admitting that people want power. I don’t mind people with principles and something to fight for, seeking power as a means to an end. That power surely must be collective though. The pursuit of concentrated power is ultimately what both major parties seek, and it’s the reason why they are often indistinguishable.

Among this white pursuit for power, black people get trampled on and our rights denied. We do have black people who try to play their games and use their methods. I have learnt that we cannot seek individual power as a means to deliver what we need. They get propped up by white politicians when their agendas coincide and are shocked when they don’t achieve what they want. What they do want though does not necessarily come from a grassroots perspective. They too have fallen to the individual pursuit of power. This type of individual power cannot work for us and never has. The big moments throughout history that have made gains for black people have been collective fights.

I know I sound like I’m without hope but I really am not. While I have little to no faith in the ability or desire of white politicians to give us what we need, I have faith in our own people. I have faith in our elders’ knowledge and those starry-eyed teenagers graduating around the country.

This article was first published by Guardian Australia on 1 November as part of their ongoing partnership with IndigenousX

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