Address to Palm Sunday marchers 2002
SUSAN CONNOLLY RSJ
This is the text of the address by Susan Connolly to the crowd of Palm Sunday marchers gathered in Belmore Park, Sydney, on 24th March last. It was a silent march of ‘Compassion for Refugees. Peace and Justice’.
THERE ARE THOSE WHO SAY that we mustn’t burden people with too many images and facts about injustice in the world; that people can become paralysed when presented with the horrors that others suffer. There are those who say that work for justice must not be ‘strident’ and that a more gentle approach is warranted.
Your presence here in such numbers today is evidence that we can all deal with the unpalatable facts of injustice quite well, and that using our anger together, using our imagination and creativity together, directing our thirst for truth and justice together, we can reverse injustices and the great harm to human beings which they cause.
I rather like the fairly strident approach which Jesus took on this day so many years ago. He went in to the very halls of the Treasury and knocked the machinery of exploitation and insult to God to the floor. The image of gentle Jesus meek and mild which is the foremost caricature of him in today’s world is way off the mark. His indictment of the powerbrokers of his day makes riveting reading. He attacked hypocrisy and blindness with startling vehemence. (Matt 23:1-39)
He knew when to be silent and he knew when to speak, and he says to us today that it is high time we spoke, and that our voice must become louder and louder in defence of the poor, and those who have no voice.
Let us not be afraid of being ‘bleeding hearts’, if only because bleeding hearts can see the bleedin’ obvious, which is that human beings have hearts of flesh, not stone, and that the only true humanity is that which weeps at cruelty and injustice and puts itself on the line to reverse the inhumanity which constantly dogs us.
Leadership is a service, that’s why both Church and Government leaders are called ‘ministers’. The service leadership renders is to authorise initiatives and actions which promote the good of all of us. We are here to call upon those who have been entrusted with the privilege of leading us to start leading.
We want leaders in Government, Church and Media who can tap in to the true heart of the people, who could encourage us to face the huge human problems of the world as though it was the people who mattered, all of the people. We want leaders who can distil from our magnificent traditions the best and fairest ways of dealing with all people. ‘Advance Australia Fair’ has little to do with complexion or landscape. ‘Fair’ if it is to be at all useful, is about being fair, being just.
We want Leaders who would never again stoop to humiliating our Defence Forces by setting them upon unarmed families, and who would not pass slick, furtive bills in Parliament which say that parts of Australia are not parts of Australia for certain purposes. Leaders who would honour the International Conventions that we have signed, and who would take the Declaration of Human Rights seriously.
Leaders who would not lie or mislead, who would not shore up their electoral prospects by appealing to the worst in us. Leaders who would not accuse nameless, faceless, voiceless and traumatised people of being murderous parents. Leaders who would recognise that when they accuse people of manipulation, it could well be that it is just their breath blowing back in their faces.
We want Leaders who recognise the internationally accepted legal position that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that this must apply to everyone, including asylum seekers. It is simply wrong to lock up people who have done no wrong and are charged with no crime.
We want Leaders who would never be guilty of locking up the children of asylum seekers for months and even years on end, in places unfit for our home-grown rapists and murderers.
We need Leaders who would not use incorrect terminology when it suits them, like saying ‘illegal immigrant’ instead of ‘asylum seeker’, a distinction any primary school child could understand, if taught.
Leaders who are not afraid of the facts, who make them known, who take responsibility for the attitudes and actions they take in regard to those facts. Leaders who don’t say, ‘I didn’t know…’
Leaders who would take the risk of trusting that the Australian people are not quite the stupid, selfish or superficial sheep portrayed by talkback radio and tabloid press.
Let us remember, though, that our leaders are very much like ourselves. They are all fairly ordinary, just like us. In fact, we are all frighteningly ordinary, with the same ordinariness which allowed the mob to put Jesus to death, which allowed the Nazi mass murderers to operate, the same ordinariness which today in Australia allows and rationalises the existence of camps like Woomera.
We need a bit of inspiration. But we are not totally dependent on our leaders for this because they are only a reflection of ourselves. We can, and do, inspire and support each other at all levels of society and when we find out the facts, as Rural Australians for Refugees have so beautifully reminded us, our hearts change.
We will not be numbed into paralysis by the facts. No, indeed. We will be spurred to do good, to reverse the trends, to get the information, to tell our friends, to visit those detained behind razor wire, to talk turkey to our political representatives. We will keep demanding that indiscriminate and open-ended detention of asylum seekers, as is carried out in Australia, is inhuman and unnecessary.
Of course there is a cost in all this. Jesus had a bleeding heart, and at the end it was because they stuck a spear in it. The prize for telling the truth may indeed be a crown of thorns. So as we march off in silence, let us think about the cost, and also the alternative.
Susan Connelly RSJ works within the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies and in association with the Timorese asylum seekers. She brought the Choir Anin Murak from East Timor in 2000 for a five-week tour of NSW.