A little while ago Scott Day wrote about how people asked him why he was protesting when he looked like a “normal” person and gave a very good answer: to make Australia a nation made by the people, for the people and with honest prosperity. It got me thinking about why I protest.
Unlike a few of the others at Occupy Melbourne I’m more likely to be mistaken for a bikie than a hippy: a crew cut, thick silver necklace, dark glasses, work boots, a default facial expression many mistake for scowling and a heavy build.
My background might also suggest that I would more naturally tend towards a conservative worldview: other than being a young, white male I was raised in a middle class family, went to the best public schools up until year 9 at which point I transferred into one of the prestigious Adelaide boys’ schools and lived in a blue-ribbon suburb of a city that prides itself on its heritage as a non-penal settlement.
But, while this would be sufficient for the superficial to become enraged or at least confused at the suggestion I am not a registered Liberal voter, there are many other factors in my personal life that have made it plain to me that conservatism is not the way to live.
My family’s background is one particularly strong factor. Both of my parents are and were (my mother died a few years ago) from working/lower middle class families and associated themselves with the working class; my father is the son of a career tram/bus driver and a teacher and grew up in Newcastle; my mother was the daughter of a hotel night manager (killed on the job in 1968) and a nurse and grew up somewhere in Sydney (I’m not sure exactly where).
My father’s family has always been strongly involved in left wing politics and unionism and has always encouraged education (personal and as a career) because of its importance to personal enlightenment. I can’t say much about my mother’s family as I didn’t get the chance to learn much about them but from the work my mother did I gather that they can’t have been all that bad.
My mother completed her Diploma of Teaching in 1971 and immediately sought out positions in rural (i.e., Newcastle) or disadvantaged schools. I’m not sure of the exact details but I know that it was fairly early on that my mother noticed the exclusion of children with disabilities (particularly mentally handicapped children) and the absence of any real education for those children and decided to act upon it. By 1977, when only 27 years old, she had been made Director of the Integrated Special Education Preschool – Australia’s first inclusive preschool – and had created the first school holiday programs for intellectually disabled children in Australia.
In 1978 my mother was invited to move to South Australia by the Kindergarten Union in order to act as a curriculum advisor, a role that she continued in for special education, early childhood education and aboriginal education right up until she became too ill to work. She was also an academic and a prolific researcher until my sister and I were born (at which point she slowed down and completed a PhD).
Funnily enough, my mother and I did not get along very well but I have always appreciated and respected her work. From her I learned that it is not enough to notice a problem – you have to do something about it because you cannot rely on others to fix it. I also learned that there are truly tragic situations being lived in every day in Australia and even if you can’t do much to help, even the smallest acts of kindness can have a huge impact on those in need.
I have learned a lot from my father but I suppose one might say that it was a more subtle education. The work my mother did before she got ill was more obvious as it was her career and as a child I accompanied her to work during the holidays and sometimes to play music for the children at the kindergartens she worked for.
Much of what I have learned from my father has come from hours of talking. I suppose you could say that he has helped me to develop a political framework for understanding the world; the “why” you should help others rather than the “what” or “how” you should help others that my mother taught me. Our conversations have also been very helpful for keeping me grounded in a world where people would quite happily have your head in the clouds so they could flog you $450 hair straighteners* or 3D televisions or sneak 15 minutes of ads into each hour of television without you noticing. I’m fairly sure that he once explained that the reason he resigned from his job as State IT Director in a Commonwealth Public Service department was essentially because he didn’t like meetings, nor the people in them, and was more happy to be on the frontline actually doing something.
It took a while for me to notice it but my father taught me to treat pretty well every person I met with the basic respect that any person on the planet should deserve (the exception being ardent right-wingers, but more on that below). I don’t act or think in a racist or sexist manner because it never occurred to me that that would be an appropriate way to act. I also learned that you don’t have to hate someone just because you have a difference of opinion – something that is lost on many people, especially those trolling us at the moment. If they’re just going to attack you then there’s probably not much point trying but you have to at least give them the opportunity.
That basic assumption of equality is why I have specifically looked for volunteering opportunities to assist new migrants to Australia. Many in this country are willing to write off asylum-seekers, refugees and even plain immigrants to this country for whatever reason but frankly they’re just human beings like everyone else and deserve a fair go from their new countrymen. To me, hating someone who has had to escape their country to have even the smallest chance of survival or a decent life is a massive dick move.
So when people ask me why I’m not a conservative in spite of a middle class upbringing and private education I tell them it’s because I have no innate hatreds and that I was raised to recognise problems in the world and try to do something about it. My personal circumstances should mean that I am in a much better position to help those in need.
In Memoriam, Dr. Katherine Susannah Kenny (Wallace) 19/11/1950 – 3/7/2009