Vote 1 Grzic

Being the change you want to see was one of those mantra’s that I have often harped upon, especially in light of the changing world. For years I had felt that leaders seemed less impressive, as the clown car dispensed one joker after the next. With the latest election being held in Australia, I knew that there was little to get enthused about so my intention was to split my votes across those who would have little to no chance of getting elected, but were willing to make the effort to throw their hats into the ring.

Then up stood my brother. It’s a funny thing when a person close to you decides to run for public office. It wasn’t really an idea that came out of the blue, (he had mentioned it a few times as we were growing up,) but certainly one I wasn’t really expecting at this election. That being said, being politically engaged and doing community minded things seem to run in the family. Across the family, they make regular donations to causes around the world, argue about social justice over pancakes as well as make regular submissions to government reports.The more I thought about it, the more I should have realised it was inevitable.

Like a good brother, I did what good brothers do and agreed to help where I could. I spent a few lunches handing out How To Vote cards to those heading in for early voting, offering suggestions on how to articulate a position, or even just helping my brother to clarify in his own mind, positions on issues that he had never really had an opinion on. All of this was also good for achieving some clarity on my own points of view. (I even had occasional flashbacks to when my father was involved in politics and he used to “encourage” us to drop party political junk mail into peoples mailboxes.) All in all it wasn’t the worst way to spend a little of my time.

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The Candidate in repose

It was also interesting to meet people who traversed a world far removed from my usual bubble. People actively involved in national politics who were passionate about their candidates and their positions. They ranged from the very young handing flyers out for a relative, (Tweens, I believe the term is now.) to the octogenarian handing out for the euthanasia party. Some were quite vocal and theatrical. (The Greens candidates had their own greek tragedy performance about the current government and it’s heinous attempts to cut funding to the CSIRO.) All the groups, from the very left, to the very right were there, and to be honest, it was all quite light and relaxed. After all, these people had several hours to kill each day and the only people to talk to, were others in the same boat. In the quiet times, candidates were compared and people would happily discuss the overlaps between each others choice.

Election day arrived and it was still a civil affair, though with more people handing out flyers, there were those who made it inadvertently entertaining. Everyone had their styles. I for one, having worked a stand selling gluten free, cholesterol free, dairy free, nut free sugar free chocolate (Far tastier than it sounds.) at many a fair was using much the same approach. Polite but light. sweet william Making it fun on a day when people were queueing and wanting to get on with their days. Being moderate left, I was an easygoing person to strike up a conversation with about politics when the queue dropped off. I chatted with the Liberals (Conservatives), Labor (More lefties, democrats for my American friends.) Greens (Who always seemed convinced that this was their election.) and so on. One of the highlights was a man I was convinced was mentally unbalanced and may have been drinking for a large portion of the day. (His candidate got a seat on the senate.) One lady who represented a salt of the earth farmer by the name of Bob Katter whose gal on the ground took the passive aggressive approach to handing out flyers. “Support the farmers, vote for Bob Katter.” and when a person trapped helplessly in the queue declined, she followed it up with. “Oh, so you don’t support the farmers? I guess you don’t want to eat then.” (Her candidate made it in too.)

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A good old fashioned rally.

Then there was the Labor mob. A well oiled machine with uniform red hoodies and beanies. They wanted their people out there regardless, and with a big party behind them, they had the numbers to pick you off no matter how to tried to sneak in to the voting booth. The Liberal party had their blue and white t-shirts that highlighted the fact that they looked pretty, but were essentially useless when it came to the realities of being a person on the ground doing the work on a freezing cold, windy Sydney day. (On the plus, they had the numbers and cash to be able to afford regular cafe runs.) One of their members had developed a style where he would stop and chat with people in the queue directly in front of people from smaller and independent candidates so as to make it hard for them to hand out their flyers. Amongst all of this was the humble Australian Electoral Commission workers trying to monitor the chaos. I spoke to a young guy who had just turned eighteen and had seized the chance to get involved. When I asked as to why he was passionate about supervising the process, he told me with a gleam in his eyes, that he would earn $400, for the days work and that would cover his beer for a month.

It was interesting being involved and it became clear how slim the chances to get elected would be if you didn’t have name recognition or a massive party machine to crank out the supporters, flyers and billboards, posters showing the same heads with their plastered on smiles in perfectly coordinated outfits. The amount of printing that had gone into a few small hours of activity would be, mere hours later, consigned to the scrap heap of history. (Hopefully recycled.)

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It only feels like being in Fury Road…

Well the day was done and the battle fought. My brother didn’t get elected but the learning curve was high (for all of us.) and if you follow  the news, Australia still hasn’t got itself sorted. The fear is that with no result, it all will happen again in a few short weeks. I shall put my hand up to help the Australian Electoral Commission, after all, I will certainly need $400 worth of alcohol to get through another election.

 

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Being a change

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.

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Effort required.

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.

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So many reasons to protest.

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.

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Exercising your freedoms over designated routes only.

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.)

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And perhaps we should be.

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.