Rest as Resistance

25 Jan 2022

Mililma May, Larrakia/Tiwi woman and co-founder of Uprising of the People writes about rest as resistance during a global pandemic and rise of white supremacists anti-vax groups.

This year I will not be protesting by walking down the streets…

As the joy and fulfillment of tinsel covered trees, pavlova filled bowls and deafening fireworks of the holiday period fade into 2022,  my stomach churns with the passing of each January day.

The knowledge that the holidays are ending, and that last weekend of the wet season school holiday is creeping up sends a wave of grief and frustration over me. But this new year also brings a weary call to action.

The build-up of Invasion Day posts start to fill my Instagram feed, further dampening my enthusiasm.

I am too tired to move.

It’s almost shameful to admit that this year I dread January 26th .

Not only is January 26th a reminder of the deeply violent invasion of our country, but it is also a reminder that the fight continues not only against colonialism but also against the colonised Blackfullas.

Such colonisation has been exemplified by COVID-19. The pandemic has shone an aggressively bright light on the Blackfulla-white-supremacists in bed with anti-vax-neo-nazis. This toxic relationship, like all abusive relationships leaves the family and friends of the victim burnt out, drained and unwillingly immobilised.

As a proud Larrakia Tiwi woman, who has been outspoken and organised  protests in the past I am angry: but more than that I am overwhelmingly exhausted by the violence and harm this abusive relationship has caused. In the past, my resistance to this relationship might have been a protest. Before any protest we ask for our Elders guidance; for there is no self-determination without our Elders. We then invite members of our community with talents and resources to come together. Community and kinship are the foundation of sovereignty. All our protests in the past have been grassroots: Larrakia led and community driven. We intentionally use art; music, poetry, and dance, as a way of ensuring the space we make is as safe as possible for all who come. In the past, we might have taken to the streets, proudly wearing our flags, flying our signs high and asserting our sovereignty. We would have yelled and chanted. Clenched our fists in the air with pride.

I love that feeling of marching down the road with my family, my community and my allies.

But it does not sit right anymore because we have seen grassroots movements being co-opted by white supremacists who present a very real danger to our people and our movements for justice and land rights. We have seen this in the Anti-Vax protest in Darwin that happened in November; the protest was taking place amidst a sea of nationalistic symbols and swastikas and attendees pre-meditated violence by showing up with “water that had some sort of chemical in it” that they threw at police officers. 

Those marching fail to comprehend the devastation of COVID-19 in our communities and the importance of our access to vaccines that would previously have been denied to us. I fear January 26 will be the same and I don’t want to be present for that.

This year I will not be protesting by walking down the streets. I will not be resisting by holding up traffic in the city.

It simply does not feel safe. 

It is not COVID safe, and it does not feel safe from white-supremacists-anti-vaxxers. 

Our movement is not about violence and provocation, it is about honouring culture, community and ancestors. This is why for our protests, we intentionally choose guitars, pens, paper, and our voices to de-escalate and prevent any violence that may be forced upon us. Our mob simply do not have the privilege to show up to a protest armed with chemically infused water.[1] The choice of violence is a value of white supremacy. Violence is not the Larrakia way.

At a time when the Northern Territory has already seen two deaths from COVID, both of whom were Aboriginal women, and when our remote communities are being inundated with COVID cases and a lack of medical resources, I think  there must be another way to resist

When I think of revolutionary movements; they take time, energy, and they demand intelligence. These same descriptions remind me of my totem: the danggalaba, the saltwater crocodile.

The danggalaba is a dinosaur. An ancient creature that has managed to not only survive extinction at the hands of guns, but now lives and thrives.

The thing about the danggalaba is that they are clever with how they exert their energy. They rest, and they rest a lot. You can often see them bathing in the sun along the riverbanks or cruising along the river systems of the tropics. They only hunt when it is absolutely necessary, and most importantly, they plan, they organise, and they prioritise their time and energy.

Like our totems, our languages hold deep wisdom. In Murrinpatha, more specifically the Garaman family language, there is a saying “Ngay ngem”. It means two things: I am sitting, I am living.

Over in the United States organisations, and movements by the name of Black Power Naps and The Nap Ministry have revolutionised and challenged the way black people have been conditioned not to rest.

Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa from Black Power Naps researched ‘nap gaps’ between Black and White Americans and found that Black people get one hour less sleep per night than white people and take longer to fall asleep. Sleep deprivation exacerbates fatigue, exhaustion, bad moods and poor mental health. Black Power Naps aim to re-imagine the way Black people experience rest. They want to challenge the idea of being unproductive or lazy when resting.[2] Their name alone empowers me to nap with the vigour of The Black Panthers.

Tricia Hersey from The Nap Institute developed the “REST IS RESISTANCE” framework using performance art, site-specific installations and community organising to install sacred and safe spaces for the community to rest together. When the world has historically seen action and protect as justice, Hersey has reconceptualised concepts of resistance, “we believe rest is a form of resistance” and we need to “name sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue”.[3] This resistance to grind culture and constant action further encourages me to lay down.

It is reassuring to me in the frameworks of Black Power Naps and The Nap Ministry, that taking a break from marching the streets of Larrakia Country on January 26th is the best act of resistance I can do at this time.

My disgust and horror at  the overtness of white supremacists hijacking the Blackfulla Self-Determination movement has left me lying on the tiles, staring at the fan that pushes the monsoon breeze over me.

I can hear the jungle fowls outside foraging through the garden outside my louvers, green tree frogs burst out laughing. I sit up and admire the glistening leaves of the just-rained-on-palms.

I am the danggalaba.

Ngay ngem.

The sun that once shone on my ancestors’ faces, shines through the trees, and lets me know that I can just sit and be. That is resistance. That is revolutionary.




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