One of the things that I love about traveling is meeting different people and sharing their experience of their own country. On my last great trip I met some amazing people who in their own way are shaping their country.
Recently one of the places I had spent some time has been in the news. It was a fairly secular country but more and more, under the present leadership that country has been changing. One of the things I tried to do when I travelled was to just stay in one area for a while in the hopes that I could see a little beyond the surface.
One of the friends I made on the journey was quite concerned about the changes that were taking place in their country. Months later when I saw them again they remarked over a beer that they were feeling less safe walking down the street in than they did only a few months ago. Freedoms of the press were being curtailed, a more hardline religious tone was coming out of their leaders and many terrible things were occurring in the country as it was heading towards an election.
My friend was justifiably concerned about the direction they felt their nation was going but they also were living in a position where they were less comfortable saying anything in any format that might have been interpreted as negative of their leaders. (Even as I write this I was conscious to not provide anything that might make them easily identifiable.) It seems strange to me, as I follow the news of that country, to see what has happened in such a short period of time.
I take a lot of things for granted. The idea that my country will always remain my country as I think of it is one of them. Maybe that is why I went to the protest a couple of weekends back? For those of you in Australia, I would hope that you are aware of what has been happening in New South Wales and especially Sydney in relation to the changing of laws to limit where and what time you can go to bars. The removal of elected councils that fall into the same development areas that the government is trying to push an infrastructure project through, the new powers that are being given to police and law enforcement agencies that given them greater authority as to where I can go and whom I can congregate with.
All these changes mean more to me now than they previously did because I have witnessed just how quickly these little changes can impact on the life I want to lead. Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in breaking laws or getting into trouble, but now the police can decide that a group of people coming together over an issue could be considered a threat to public safety and they can make us disperse. They can decide that if I am gong somewhere they don’t like they can pass a law restricting my movements. There is also less recourse for people like me to challenge these decisions and even less transparency from our officials to justify their decisions.
I watched and I listened and the more I listened the more concerned I became. The people cheered at the right moments, the speakers were loud and angry. The police stood around and made certain that the protestors stayed in the designated area. Walked the designated route at the designated time. Several undercover police moved through the crowd. All in all, it was a perfectly acceptable protest.
I found myself chuckling as one speaker announced that if things didn’t change, the elected officials of our state would get a nasty surprise in three years. Yup. Three years. Does anyone remember Kony 2014, or even what you were doing last weekend? This protest was likely to achieve nothing because the people in power know that in three years, if by some miracle someone remembers, they may get voted out of office.
It would scarcely matter by then as they will have destroyed Sydney’s night life enough that the developers can move into the parts of the city that have been off limits to them because of thriving businesses. The elected councils that were removed and replaced with people beholden to the same corporation that is trying to get the massive building project up and running may go back to the people but by then all the official approvals will have been passed and the project commenced. Perhaps even a few brown paper bags will have been filled with money or the promise of future employment secured.
How do I know this? The corruption is always there. Not limited to any nation. Everyone knows it. I have heard people speak of former ministers well known for such flexible behaviour. These days it appears less and less like something they care to hide and I am complicit in this. I vote once every few years and then I go back to my life. I bitch and moan about my leaders but I never joined a party, or took any time to find someone that would stand up for what I wanted. (Or God forbid, stood up myself.)
Be the change you want to see in the world is a quote I see get bandied about from time to time. Perhaps it is time for me to figure out how to do that beyond the walls of a Facebook like.