Some days it doesn’t feel possible to write, speak, cook, eat, watch, listen, dream, much less have hope that these will be possible in the future. 2018 had plenty of those moments. Despair, I guess, is what it comes down to.
Bad things are easier to notice. I recently met someone who works in a casino. He said that when high-rolling gamblers lose, they instantly explode. Slap hands to sweating foreheads, yell swear words, blame the dealer. When they win, they hardly make a sound. A little grunt of recognition, nothing more. Winning was how things are supposed to go, they reasoned, and losing, though statistically more likely, was catastrophe. Unlike a win, the potency of loss didn’t diminish with time. Pretty soon it all swirled into despair. Gambling minimised the good until the bad floated swollen overhead like a gigantic blimp.
It’s important to remember moments of hope. Because without them, what’s the point? These are some hopeful moments from 2018 that came to my mind – mainly Australian and US stories, which has made me want to make sure I read more news from elsewhere in 2019.
26 January – Largest ever Invasion Day protests
Up to 60,000 people rallied in Melbourne on a sweaty day last January. Having walked from Parliament House, across tram lines and stalled intersections, they stopped to sit on melting tar outside Flinders Street Station, listening to speakers protest the racism of governments past and present. The moment marked a turning point, even dwarfing the Australia Day crowds, as more sought to acknowledge the violence of Australia’s colonisation. Activist Gary Foley predicted that 100,000 people would come to this year’s rally. Soon, we’ll see if he’s right.
24 March – The March for Our Lives
Emma Gonzales emerged as a major voice for gun control in the US after seventeen people were killed by a lone gunman at her high school in February. Her speech at the March for Our Lives, including 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence (the duration of the shooting), was one of its most powerful moments. 11-year-old Naomi Wadler also spoke for African American victims, “simply statistics instead of vibrant girls and women,” and whose stories were never front page news. Their voices were grief-stricken, angry, and loud. “We call BS” became a new anthem for hope.
21 June – Victorian Parliament votes to begin Treaty framework
The beginning of the Treaty process in Victoria, recognising the sovereignty of Indigenous people, will be an important story to follow in 2019. Though a Treaty process was introduced in South Australia (“paused” by the incoming Liberal government) and the Northern Territory, neither have progressed to legislation. It remains to be seen how the concept of sovereignty will work, and whether it will increase momentum for the federal government to enact the Uluru Statement from the Heart, but it’s an exciting time to be in Victoria.
10 July – Tham Luang cave rescue
This was the good news story to end all good news stories. The plan to save the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach after they’d prowled into the bowels of an underwater cave mesmerised the world. The rescue was nail-biting, unbelievable, a miracle. It was also such a simple story – catastrophe averted, life preserved. I loved this story, and all the “did you know that in the Thai cave rescue [insert wild and crazy fact here]” stories that bloomed like mushrooms for weeks afterwards. Everyone had their stake in the rescue, including a Japanese luminous tile company. It was, in the end, all about helping.
29 July – Ahed Tamimi released from prison
If 2018 was full of fierce young women who didn’t give a fuck, then 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi was their queen. She was imprisoned with her mother early in 2018 for hitting an Israeli officer and quickly became an international symbol of the Palestinian fight against occupation. She said she used her time in prison to learn international law, hoping to continue fighting. “Yes, it’s true it’s a big responsibility,” she told The Guardian, “but I am certain I am up for it.”
The Caravan – Since 2017
For over a year, people have trekked in large groups, for safety, from Central America to the US-Mexico border seeking refuge. The president has painted this as an invasion, threatening to call a national emergency, but while the debate is poisonous, it is worth remembering that the story of migration remains one of hope. Despite the physical and verbal attacks, and the humanitarian crisis that it represents, the caravan asserts rights to safety and freedom that transcend borders, fanned by the hope carried in human hearts.
24 August – Peter Dutton does not become PM
Usually I find the phrase “it could be worse” to be pretty unhelpful, but in this case, it’s appropriate. It was deeply satisfying to see Dutton dismissed from the race for PM after his own buccaneering attempt to roll Malcolm Turnbull. The Liberal far-right got a small taste of what’s surely coming for them at the next election – total poo-stained defeat.
October - Kids off Nauru campaign
Asylum-seekers in Australian immigration detention have led one of the longest and most sustained protest campaigns in our history. People my age grew up with horrific images of hunger strikes and sewn lips at Woomera, and now witness the fight for medical evacuations on Manus and Nauru. This year, the election of Kerryn Phelps, an independent in a blue-ribbon Liberal seat who ran on a Kids Off Nauru platform, evidenced a turning point in a debate which has slumbered apathetically for so long. People began to listen.
7 November - US mid-term elections
The US mid-terms saw a number of historic appointments to congress. Among them, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who became the first Muslim women elected, and Deb Haaland and Sharice Davis who are the first Native American congresswomen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at 29, is the youngest ever elected senator, and is already shaping the debate with her ambitious Green New Deal and ideas on lifting the marginal tax rate for multi-millionaires. If you switched off from US politics for self-preservation, now is an excellent time to switch back on.
Business wakes up to climate change
Throughout the year, it’s become obvious that the business community regards climate change as a serious threat. From energy to oil, companies have called on government to set policy to curb emissions. While motivations can be questioned, the important thing is that these calls revealed the ideological basis for ignoring climate change. We have reached the point where the CEO of Woodside Petroleum is calling for the Paris Agreement to be honoured. Whether you see that as lip-service, or proof that fossil fuels are no longer a lucrative industry, when money talks, governments (generally) listen.
30 November - Schools Strike 4 Climate Action
These grassroots climate protests were held in massive numbers across the country, led by school students. The impact they made in the climate debate cannot be underestimated - some commentators are even comparing their organising in strikes and walkouts to activism during the Vietnam War. Seed, a climate justice network run by young Indigenous students even staged a sit-in in Parliament. There are more school strikes on the horizon, with the next one scheduled for March. I once heard a climate activist say that one of the best things you can do is learn to be led (by the right people, in the right direction). I think we found our leaders. Bring on 2019.