Growing up, I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I lived my childhood shifting between worlds, in a permanent state of visiting.
I lived with my single mother who looked after me on a mixture of the single parent’s pension, whatever casual job was at hand and maintenance payments from my father. She sustained herself with cigarettes and cheap wine. We moved a lot around Melbourne’s north-east. A suburb and a street was never a community, just a place where I’d be staying and an audience for potential embarrassment. When the show was over, it was time to move on.
My father did a lot of contract work overseas. He likes to think my ‘formative experiences’ were those short weeks every year I’d visit him somewhere in Asia. The rest of my family was spread through Australia. In every direction I looked, in every relationship I valued, there was distance.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t want to be the family charity-case or the poor kid at school who inexplicably sometimes got to go overseas. I wanted to be someone important with status, power and money (I could never had been a contender – sport wasn’t a natural talent). One day in early Year 8, I was called into the Vice-Principal’s office. My mother was there crying. We had been evicted. We would have to go into crisis accommodation. Only in retrospect can I say this was a major decision point in my early life. At the time I put more energy into handling the crisis by making things appear normal at school. But I took lessons from that moment. I remember the momentary terror I felt as having a house to live in was snatched away from me and how others came into support me. It was then how much I realised that we all really depend on each other – no success is ever ‘individual’. Any fool can succeed at something. But I wanted to live in a world where no one had to worry about whether they had a secure place to sleep at night.
Home is the place where you stand and fight with your community. Australia is my community. And we are a country formed directly through the crises of the modern era. Poverty, war, violence, forced evictions, racism and all manner of loss pushed people to Australia. We came here and poured all that trauma into the original inhabitants of the land. Some people foolishly write off Australia as a country with no history. But that’s mere prejudice. This is the land of all history; fragments from every global story have washed up on these shores.
There is, however, nowhere left to run. This leaves us with a choice. Hide or fight. Often we’ve attempted to hide from the world. It’s the easy response, it’s the childish response. We can cower down in our little corner, build up a pillow fort, pay the biggest kid to look after us, and then push off any other kid who wants to share our hiding spot. It kind of works for now, but do we seriously think that if anything major happens to our house (the world we inhabit) that hiding under the bed will do us any good? The other choice is to stand up and fight against the causes that pushed us and our ancestors here in the first place.
2013 is a big year for the Left in Australia. But’s it not because of the federal election itself, or its outcome. Rather, it’s the opportunity that the election presents for the broad Left to connect and work together. Yes, you just read that and it’s at this point that you probably think I’m some kind of crazy man. Just stop to consider this a moment before you bag out <insert Labor/Greens/revolutionary socialists/anarchists/miscellaneous> as obviously the primary strategy to win a just world. Firstly, what I’m not proposing is a magically Utopian land where all leftist differences magically disappear as we gather around the camp fire. What I’m proposing is a limited form of mutually beneficial cooperation in order to shift the country in the form of a broad left network.
What I’m proposing is that a network of representatives from key left groups and think-tanks meet on a regular basis with the shared aims of (a) building people power, and (b) shifting public opinion in a progressive direction. For the reformists, this broadens the scope of what parliamentary change is achievable through <insert your Party>. For the revolutionaries, it brings a post-Capitalist future that’s not barbarism closer. It’s the obvious differences between each group that will give rise to a creative tension and better decision making as long as there is a firm commitment to the shared aims. The idea would be to cooperatively act around a public policy problem in a manner that:
- Directly or indirectly leads to solving the problem
- Draws regular people into acting collectively to solve the problem
- Develops the leadership capacity and experience of regular people (the 99%, the proletarian whatever you want to call it)
The win is celebrated by network representatives as a positive outcome achieved by people acting collectively. But there needs to be strong room for dissent on the finality or limitations of the win. It’s only when we treat each other on the broad left in accordance with our own values of respect, solidarity, cooperation, free speech and honesty that we can even begin to hope to see a world running on these values.