Sunday, September 8, 2013

From the Coalface

Standing around the gates of St Ignatius Church at the end of a laneway leading to the hall, I had a feeling of that for the first time in my life, I was a part of something - something far bigger than me.

I took the decision to hand out how to vote cards for the Greens a few weeks ago. My reasoning was clear and multidimensional.

Firstly, I live in the only Green electorate in the country. Adam Bandt, our MP, is a good guy - reasonable, rational, very intelligent, active in the community, approachable and he's done a good job over the last three years. Even better as he was the only Green member of the House of Representatives. I didn't hesitate putting a 1 next to his name on the ballot paper.

Secondly, normally a Labor voter, some of the policies coming from Labor had left a bad taste in my mouth. That and the instability in the party. I look at the job Julia Gillard did - okay, I wasn't overly happy at how she got the job, but she did a brilliant job - getting through the crap that was dished out to her with dignity and grace - good on her. Lesser women would have crumbled. Anyway, for a change, I didn't want to vote for the Labor candidate. As I said to the guy handing out Labor how to vote cards, may the best person win - but they're both pretty good choices. We are so lucky in the seat of Melbourne. Two decent, respectable, intelligent, community minded  people to vote for - not everywhere in the country had that choice.

Thirdly, after watching the Liberal Party playbook - and the influence of the Murdoch Press - I wanted to make a stance. I really felt like I had to stand up for a bit of decency, kindness, compassion and forward thinking - and in Melbourne, Adam Bandt and the Greens offered that. So after a phone call one night, I got enlisted to help out on Election Day.

It felt good to stand up for what I believe.

I've never done the how to vote thing before. I went for a run/walk with Kitt on Friday night. Kitt is a member of the Liberal Party. She's also small L liberal - just as I'm small L Labor. We agree on 90% of things. She's not overly fond of Abbott and his cronies either, but she is loyal to the party. We get on because we respect each other's considered opinion. She's thought long and hard about her commitment to the Libs - as I have to the other side of the fence. Kitt's out at every state and federal election helping around the polling booth's. She said I'd love being a part of the election juggernaut.

Another friend of mine, Bernie, works at polling booths on election days, marking off people and handing out ballot papers.

Arriving at 4 pm, I was accosted by a number of Greens folk. "Sorry guys, I've voted - just need to find Mitch."
"Ah, he's up the end, just keep going and turn left."

A few metres up the way, the representative for the Labor candidated offered me a card. I told him the same story. "May the best person win - and we have two great candidates - win-win." I told him.
"I agree," he smiled back at me.

The guys from Get Up were next. Get Up do great work. If I wasn't snaffled by the Greens I'd be handing out the Get Up score cards that objectively compare all of the big parties policies.

Dodging the Democratic Socialists, The Fred Niles guys and Family First, I finally found Mitch, donned a t-shirt, was given a heap of how to vote cards and made my way back to the front gate of the church to start work.

It was a fantastic two hours.

First up I got to have a quick chat with Adam Bandt himself - a lovely man, who appeared to have time for everybody. He came and talked to me, thanking us for helping on the campaign. I felt like a bit of a dud  - I put myself down for the two hour late shift. But still, it was great to be appreciated.

I was part of a two person team - Stacey, a party member who'd run for the Greens in local elections in the last few years got to chat while giving out our papers. A lawyer doing her articles, into animal welfare and big on getting things done in the party, her passion blew me away. She was interested as to why I, for the first times, was out on the coalface helping out.

When it comes down to it, this is the first time that I've really felt threatened by the politics of the party that has taken office. The policies, or lack of them are dire. It all just seems so short sighted.

It doesn't help that the leader comes across like George W. Bush's gormless little brother. He's shown himself to be sexist, bigotted, racist, narrow minded, short-sighted and a bully. I want none of it. Alas, the Murdoch press and a hell of a lot of dog whistling have got him in (and to my friends who voted Liberal - if you have considered your vote, I have no issue and will not judge you for it. As long as it was a considered vote... and of course Kitt.)

Regardless, for two hours, in the cold, we stood and asked people if they wanted a how to vote card. What surprised me was that a good two out of three people took the sheet.

Those who said no to the offer of a card normally did so with a thanks and a smile before walking on. There were only two very minor incidents - one guy got in Stacey's face and screwed up the paper and threw it at her. Unnecessary and it spooked her a little. Another bogan tosser made a maniacal laugh and tried to set the slip alight. In two hours, two minor events - to the couple of hundred other people - thank you for being polite when deferring the offer of a card.

At 6 pm, as the doors of the hall closes we packed up - placards were taken down, goodbyes were said and I made my way to Georgie and Thom's to shout at the television for the evening.

I'm strangely proud of myself. Though somebody who's always been a little outspoken when it comes to politics - somebody who follows alternative media  - to get more of a balanced view on things (I cancelled my subscription to The Australian the other day - I want nothing to do with Murdoch Press.) this was the first time that I've put myself out there and shown support. It's the first time I've participated in the process.

And quite frankly, it felt fantastic.

As for the results. We have a new Prime Minister. Do I like it - not at all. But rather than being a whinger, I will get on with things - and keep up the fight for decency, honour, justice, fair play for all, new ideas and forward thinking. I care about people, the environment, education, health and making this place a better, smarter country. I don't think the new government and I will see eye to eye on much.

But I'm willing to fight for what I believe. I'd rather be a  polite, rational squeaky wheel. You get more of a positive reaction that way.

What was it Gandhi said - be the changes you want to see?

Though I'll probably never get to wear the t-shirt again, I'm really, really pleased I got to do this. And snaffle the t-shirt.


Jackie K said...

Good on you for pitching in and for your very articulate thoughts on why. Like your attitude for the future too. Agree Adam Bandt is pretty impressive.

Elephant's Child said...

Agreement and applause.
Thank you.

magical_m said...

Well done!! For the first time in my life I also volunteered to hand out HTV cards on behalf of the Greens candidate in my electorate (a very, very safe Liberal electorate), not because I'm a Greens member, but because I felt so strongly that I needed to do SOMETHING. I felt that if I managed to sway even one person to consider something bigger than themselves, then I wouldn't feel so helpless that Tony Abbott was about to be given a green light to send our country back to the dark ages.

The wealthy, designer-clad thirty-somethings pushing young Archies and Rubies their Bugaboos were quite snooty when declining my card and eagerly snatching up the LNP one; making me want to scream in frustration at their insular, self-serving attitude. However, the baby boomers and elderly who took the Greens card and refused all others with comments like "when did we become such a selfish society" and "the major parties are as bad as each other, Greens are the only sensible option", made me feel as if there were at least some sensible people left in society. My upstairs neighbour (a middle-aged, gay, academic) tearing both the ALP and LNP volunteers a new one over their stances on asylum seekers was probably the highlight of my six hours though.

Even though my candidate didn't even come close to victory, we won in the Senate with Janet Rice and I feel so proud to have been part of that.

And in three years time you can bet I'll be out there again trying to sway even more people.