Political rebelliousness: what we can learn

I’ve finished my Masters this semester. Done. Full stop. Phew. I had one subject to complete this semester and I followed on from last semester and did Education for Social Change 2. The key text for the subject was Michael Newman’s Teaching Defiance (2006). Michael’s inspiration for writing the book was the need to do something about the state of the world, in particular, the Iraq War and the so-called “coalition of the willing” – remember that catch cry? How can we forget!

Now I’m inspired to write about a current event, the asylum seekers onboard the Oceanic Viking. This event is a prime example of the subject’s content.

Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers Launch Hunger Strike

Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers Launch Hunger Strike. October 15, 2009 - Photo by Oscar Siagian/Getty Images AsiaPac

In the flavour of Newman’s book, a text for the activist teacher, the story of the asylum seekers and refugees onboard the Oceanic Viking are a clear and poetic case of resistance. Amongst the rhetoric of the Rudd government, the fear mongering of the Opposition, and the general malaise of the media circling once more like vultures around yet another sensational account of boat people, there’s some definitive action. Action taken by the asylum seekers themselves. A global show of resistance, rebelling against what seems for so many a hopeless, desperate and uncontrollable situation. We extend our sympathy, our pity, our dismay, but beyond that we really don’t know how these people feel, but can only imagine.

Who better to resist the unpalatable than those who directly face it? Newman (2006, pp. 21-23) describes political rebelliousness through the famous story of Rosa Parks and her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. It was this sole and simple act of rebelliousness that turned the civil rights movement around. Rosa’s story became the symbol of the movement, a powerful story through which to engage the common person enough to propel them into action.

Her action was premised on her personal story, her years as a quiet and determined activist, her informed beliefs, her friendships, and her experience at Highlander [where she attended a workshop on education for social change, some weeks prior to her action on the bus] (p. 23).

The asylum seekers have refused to disembark from the Oceanic Viking, not wanting to reside in an Indonesian detention centre (regardless of it being funded by Australia). This simple act of refusal has shown that asylum seekers need not be pawns in this political game of “border protection”, nor need they be slaves to the smugglers that bring them to our waters. They are humans. They are taking back control of their situation. They are saying enough is enough. They want to be listened to. They want change in these convoluted processes. They are tired of all of this, of their unfortunate circumstances that bring them here in the first place. They want a new life and they want it now.

What this act has done is expose the cracks in the armour of the Australian government’s border protection approach, particularly the time taken to process refugees and asylum seekers. It has uncovered the ludicrous bureaucracy that asylum seekers have to contend with and do so in little more than concrete blocks surrounded by barbed wire fencing. It exposes the fact that processing can be done in a timely manner – for all – not simply a select few (as in this case, where 20 odd refugees have since agreed to disembark in order to be processed). Surely this means the Australian govt can no longer hide behind rhetoric and must extend this approach to others still in detention on Australian soil and on neighbouring islands such as Christmas Is.

But it takes more than this one act of protest by the asylum seekers for this to happen. Newman believes that such an act can extend to an uprising especially if the coordinated effort is focused, and the momentum continues forward. How can we capitalise on this now to achieve better outcomes for asylum seekers now and into the future? In recounting Ghandi’s acts of rebellion-come-revolution, Newman says that what is “important above all else [is] to adopt a stance of dynamic, continuous, and generative rebelliousness” (2006, p. 37). Others now have a story to tell and retell about the Sri Lankan refugees and asylum seekers who refused detention. Perhaps the journey now begins here.

References and relevant links

ABC, 2009, Asylum seekers disembark Oceanic Viking, AM online, 14 Nov 2009, viewed 15 November 2009, http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2009/s2742794.htm

Allard, T. 2009, Sri Lankan asylum seekers ‘refuse to leave boat’, 28 October 2009, viewed 15 November 2009, http://www.theage.com.au/national/sri-lankan-asylum-seekers-refuse-to-leave-boat-20091027-hj1d.html

Newman, M. 2006, Teaching Defiance, Josey-Bass, San Francisco CA.

Zimbio, 2009, Sri Lankan Asylum seekers Launch Hunger Strike, Zimbio, viewed 15 November 2009, http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/dWlQGD-3nGk/Sri+Lankan+Asylum+Seekers+Launch+Hunger+Strike/0Fv__-nztOj


1 comment so far

  1. lorri on

    Hi Marg
    Thanks for sharing what you do. What an interesting topic and congratulations on finally finishing your Masters! WELL DONE! The question of authentic assessment in ICT is something I ponder also in my professional role. I would like to discuss it with you in the future. Feel proud of your many achievements!
    Best wishes

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