Working Across Divides

Posted Thursday June 9, 2011 by Lisa Gunders in |

Just lately I’ve been attending organising meetings for the World Refugee Day Rally in Brisbane later this month. The rally is 1pm in Brisbane Square (top of the Queen Street Mall) on Saturday 25 June. You can find further details here if you’re interested.

Some of the things that interest me about these meetings are the dynamics and how different these are at the grass roots to what we see in our political leaders. It makes me sick to the stomach with disgust and despair at the way that our political leaders, especially Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, seem obsessed with each other and the competition to see who can go furthest and fastest in the race to deny asylum seekers and refugees their legal and human rights.

What I see in these meetings is so very different. Mind you, it is scary going along. The people sitting around those tables are seriously committed activists, and I’m often the only one there who does not represent an organisation at the forefront of human rights and does not have a solid history of activism. But they are also from very different backgrounds, with very different sets of beliefs and ways of working. Yet they put aside their differences to come together and work for a common cause. Hardline socialists and Christians, gay marriage advocates and ministers of religion sitting side by side, each—at least for the duration of the meeting—respecting where the other is coming from and offering their resources in the fight for justice for people denied the right to speak out for themselves. It’s marvellous.

U2 tragic time again: For a long time a comment from an interview I once heard has stuck with me. I had actually forgotten it was Bono and thought it was Bob Geldof until I looked it up just now. Andrew Denton asked him whether he spoke to the Pope about the need for condoms to fight AIDS in Africa. With acknowledgement to the ABC, here is the relevant part of the interview:

ANDREW DENTON: You talk about AIDS, something that you’re very strong about. You said that one of the most significant meetings in your life was with Pope John Paul II, whose – and the Vatican’s policy on condoms, of course, has been one of the reasons AIDS has been allowed to spread. Did you talk with him about that?

BONO: No, we went to meet with Pope John Paul on debt forgiveness, which they were very good at, but it was interesting. An Irish person – a lot of people have very strong feelings about the Pope in Ireland, for and against, particularly women, because of his attitude towards condoms, and, of course, in Africa, condoms are a – you know, are a necessity. But the truth of it is – is I have learned a respect for conservatives that I wasn’t expecting to have. Don’t ask them, don’t ask nuns to give out condoms. Let’s get other people to give out the condoms. They can do something else. 

The agreed-upon basis for assistance to the AIDS emergency in Africa is called ABC — Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms. Everyone knows that, including the nuns. They just don’t do the C bit. Because, actually, it’s OK. It’s OK, you don’t – nuns don’t have to give out the condoms. Somebody else can do it.

In the WRD organising meetings, we don’t ask the nuns to give out condoms. So far, at least, each person contributes at a level that they are equipped to do and works in the places and with the people that they feel they can work with. As the person with the least to contribute I certainly appreciate this. I might, of course, be missing the politics behind it, and anyone with more knowledge and experience is welcome to comment, but for now, as someone with a background in political communication, I’m finding this both interesting and refreshing.

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