Toxic patriotism is not the answer, change is

25 Jan 2020

Patriotism that should be about a love of the land and people has become instead about a justification for bigotry and racism, about instilling hatred in the perceived ‘other’, and about providing a comfortable smokescreen for government looking after its own interests at the expense of the rest of us.

Toxic Patriotism is not the answer, change is

This year, more and more Australians are waking up to the need for change.

Specifically, change on how we manage land and water to prepare for the fire season.

However, this change is not so simple.

The logistics of such change are considerable, but they are not the biggest challenge. Instead, the biggest obstacles to creating change come in the form of those who profit from maintaining the system as it is, despite that system brining little benefit to the country – either the people or the environment.

The benefit this system brings is purely measured in terms of profit for the few and, in the eyes of the profiteers at least, far outweighs any and all other concerns.

Waking up to a realisation that your political leaders may not actually have the best interests of the citizenry or the lands and waters we rely on is a bitter pill for many to swallow. It can be hard to accept that their decisions are influenced more by lobby groups than by common sense or the greater good.

Most Indigenous peoples are all too familiar with this reality, both in terms of promoting better management of land and water, and in dealing with the reality that governments do not have our best interests at heart.

Some people have struggled to see a connection between Australia Day and the current concerns over Australia’s refusal to embrace climate change. The last Guardian article I wrote was met with countless people failing to understand how I could draw a connection to the colonial experiment that is Australia and the current situations that we find ourselves in.

For me however, they are intrinsically linked.

For what single date better signifies all that is wrong with Australia than a country that blindly chooses to celebrate the worst of its own history? What date better paints a picture of a nation desperately clinging to an outdated colonial identity rather than embracing all that is special about the continent they now reside on and doing everything in its power to protect it? And indeed, what could be a better date to protest Australia’s inaction on climate change, inaction on Indigenous rights, inaction on putting the rights of the people in front of corporate interests?

Despite conservative commentators wilfully pretending that opposition to Australia Day is solely about a date in the calendar, for at least the last 82 years since the first official Day of Mourning was held in Sydney, January 26th has provided a platform for Indigenous peoples to call for change. Be it in the form of self-determination, Treaty, stopping Aboriginal deaths in custody, changing child removal practices, or any other number of issues.

Australia Day protests, whether they are operating under the name of Invasion Day, Survival Day or Day of Mourning, have always been about highlighting injustice and rallying support to worthy causes.

It is not simply a ‘White Australian vs Indigenous peoples’ issue, firstly because there’s lots of people living here who are neither (and has been for some time now), but also because there are millions of non-Indigenous people who support these calls for change and, to be fair to the other side, at least 4 Indigenous people who apparently want everything to stay how it is – probably more but conservative media only ever seems to bring out the same few for some reason.

Change the Date has always been synonymous with Change the Nation, but as social media has brought this 80+ year old debate into the mainstream something seemed to have gotten lost in translation over the past few years, which is why many of us have abandoned the #Changethedate hashtag in favour of #Changethenation – to keep the conversation on track with what it has always been about.

All that has changed this year with the fire season is that it has brought home, for many, the realities of a possible apocalyptic near-future for Australia if we do not change.

Understanding how toxic patriotism has become in Australia is essential to this challenge.

Patriotism that should be about a love of the land and people has become instead about a justification for bigotry and racism, about instilling hatred in the perceived ‘other’, and about providing a comfortable smokescreen for government looking after its own interests at the expense of the rest of us.

That is why January 26th, the ultimate day for toxic patriotism, has always been the perfect day to call for change, to rally for support, to highlight problems and offer solutions, and to come together and grow the movement of those who want to change the nation for the better, because the only other option is to continue to blindly support the same course of action, the same way of thinking, that got us into this mess in the first place.

Indigenous peoples are not the problem, but we may well be Australia’s best hope for a solution.

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