a speech on asylum seekers and #lovemakesaway
The following is a short speech I was invited to give at a rally for asylum seekers on June 21, 2014. I was asked to represent #LoveMakesAWay, whose recent acts of civil disobedience have received national attention in Australia.
The audience was made up of people from all different backgrounds—socialists and seniors, Christians and cops, mums and militants. The rally was held in Cronulla outside the office of Scott Morrison, the Federal Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.
I begin today by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the Dharawal people. I pay my respects to their elders past and present. Almost all of us here today are strangers on this land—foreigners, migrants—and we must never forget this as we seek to respond to the issue of asylum seekers.
Three months ago today, eight friends and I entered the office of Scott Morrison to stage a sit-in prayer vigil. It was an act of civil disobedience, and five were arrested for trespassing. This action would unwittingly lead to the movement called Love Makes A Way. Since that first action here in Cronulla we have staged three additional sit-ins in the offices of Julie Bishop, Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten, plus some additional public actions. These actions have included the arrests of high-ranking church leaders from a range of denominations.
Why would Christians, including church leaders, risk arrest? In short, we did what we did because, like you—our friends here today—we are ashamed of Australia’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers. There is nothing morally defensible about over 1000 children in detention. There is nothing morally defensible about a detention regime that has been described by Prof. Pat McGorry as a “factory for mental illness.”
We are also convinced that the formal channels of negotiation have, in large part, broken down. In March the Uniting Church in Australia offered to house the 30 unaccompanied minors on Christmas Island, but this offer was rejected. Not long after the Baptist Church offered to accommodate the 70+ asylum seekers who were recently transferred out of Villawood, but this was also refused. Community leaders have been unable to secure meetings to express their concern about this issue. In such a desperate time what can we do to unveil the evil being done in our name?
After much consideration we decided to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience because the situation demanded, and still demands, something dramatic. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of such nonviolent direct action in this way:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
The tension in Australia right now is that as a nation we say we believe in justice, a fair go for all, but our actions stand in contradiction to this. We must continue to raise our voices against this contradiction, and to help Australians to remember who they are, beneath all the political rhetoric and fear mongering.
Love Makes A Way people believe that this means we must be willing to tell the truth, no matter the cost to us. But we think it also means refusing to dehumanise any person, even our opponents. We called ourselves ‘Love Makes A Way’ because that’s what we believe; like Martin Luther King Jr. we think that, “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
If there is an irrational hatred for asylum seekers in this country, we cannot heal that hate through greater hatred for those responsible. No: to again quote Martin Luther King Jr., “the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” It is natural that we feel angry about what is happening—it would be a concern if we didn’t feel that way. But we believe that if we want to see a nation that welcomes and embraces those desperate people who seek asylum in this country, we must first show others—including our opponents—what this looks like.
Our message to leaders like Scott Morrison has not been one of hatred, but one of invitation. We often teach people about the two hands of nonviolence: one hand says “Stop!” while the other says “Come, join us in doing what is right.” We want to invite Mr. Morrison and his colleagues to have a change of heart, and to assure them that if they are willing to change the evil policies they are enacting, we are willing to work with them for justice in this country.
Why, in the face of so much stubbornness, do I believe people can change? I believe people can change because I did. I grew up here, right near Cronulla. As a younger person I accepted all the myths about outsiders. My friends and I made jokes about Asians and Arabs and asylum seekers. I was infected by the soft racism that so often flows underneath aspects of our culture. I certainly didn’t believe asylum seekers should be welcomed. But I underwent a change. Through relationships and storytelling and mythbusting. I know others here have had the same experience. I am convinced that if it can happen to me, it can happen to others.
I finish with another quote by a well-known Australian:
From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way.
This statement comes from the maiden parliamentary speech of the Member for Cook. Mr. Morrison, we invite you to live up to these powerful words you spoke back in 2008.
In the meantime groups like Love Makes A Way will continue to stand (and sit…) against unjust policies until change comes. We will continue to encourage Australians to take bold action, to become extremists of love, those willing to nonviolently challenge the powers that be so that our brothers and sisters in detention may experience compassion rather than cruelty.