It’s strange, but as someone who spends a lot of her time speaking about politics and undertaking protests, I cannot get into the current Australian interest in the US elections. The fascination with the American political scene is a constant in this country. It’s understandable considering the impact that it has on the rest of the world. Yet as an activist and writer who took to this platform partly to challenge the way some people in this country view things, the cynical side of me wonders how much longer it will take before people take the situation here as seriously.
It’s fascinating, for example, to hear about all of Trump’s shortfalls when we, as a country, managed to vote a party headed by the likes of Tony Abbott into power. A white man who despite his obvious shortfalls clearly felt he was qualified enough to hold the portfolios of “Indigenous Affairs” and “Women”. A man who not only managed to reinvoke images of terra nullius by stating that before the British arrived there was “nothing but bush” here, but who also was at one point accused of physically threatening a female student union opponent back in his student days.
Speaking of violence against women, while it may be horrifying to some that a man who is currently being accused of rape and sexual assault may be heading up the US soon, we’re not strangers to potential leaders being investigated for such things. If the criticism is Trump’s wealth and his disconnection from the experience of most Americans, Turnbull’s got that part pretty well covered here.
It goes further than this though. I’ve been drawn into debates with regards to Hilary Clinton’s “warmongering”. Regardless of my individual thoughts on that matter, when our own leadership have constantly engaged us in wars that have little to do with us except maintaining larger allies, I start wondering if we need to have more discussions of onshore warmongering.
Our governments have allowed foreign powers to test bombs on Aboriginal lands. It was only a few weeks ago that protests were happening out at Pine Gap; a nearly 50-year-old spy facility on Arrernte lands that enables the US to carry out drone attacks across the globe. We had gigantic protests against our involvement in Iraq; not to mention Vietnam; yet we seem to forget this each year when ANZAC Day rolls around and the inaccurate rhetoric of “fighting for our country” is reinforced.
More subtly though, Australians frequently show an ignorance in the battles for rights people are having on this very soil yet readily show solidarity for similar battles happening in the US. I have to wonder if it’s because the privilege of distance makes it easier for some to take a stand rather than deal with what’s under their nose.
It was heartening recently to see a massive show of online solidarity from Australians when they “checked in” on Facebook to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. This action was undertaken to show support for Sioux people who are trying to protect their waters from the damage that the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline – a crude oil pipeline – could do. Yet similar battles have been raging in Australia on Aboriginal lands for a long time now and it barely generates a whisper. How many people, for example, are aware of the protests against fracking proposals in Aboriginal communities all across the NT? Or have checked in online to the Gallilee Basin in support of Indigenous protests regarding the Carmichael Mine?
In Melbourne, it was not surprising to me that we got about twice the number of people out to a “Black Lives Matter” rally in solidarity with the American movement than was managed two weeks later at a rally against Don Dale and police brutality towards Indigenous people. Australia has a hard time acknowledging its racism and it’s easier to point the finger across the Pacific and say that they have the “real problem”.
Yet when it’s pointed out to us by Americans that actually, we could be doing better here, the reaction tends to be one of hostility. Americans, for example, seem to have moved on from thinking that Blackface is ever acceptable, as pointed out to us by musician Harry Connick Jr years ago. We, however, not only continue to engage in this offensive practice, we also continue to defend it month after month. We’ll react when an international artist refers to Aboriginal people as “like dinosaurs” yet when an Australian cartoonist draws a racist cartoon depicting Aboriginal people as drunk people who don’t know their own children, the discussion turns to one of “free speech” and how oppressive the Racial Discrimination Act is for white men.
So I find it hard to care about the US election, regardless of how important its outcome will be globally. There are too many battles going on here of which far too much of the public remain blissfully ignorant, whether they choose to remain in this state because it perpetuates their privilege or because reflecting internally is just too difficult. Until we start being honest about this stuff and working to change it, we really have little business judging who the American public decides to vote in as their president.