WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED
By Danusia Kaska, Coordinator of the Xavier Social Justice Network (XSJN)
I don’t know the name of the man who had the chalk in his hand, but I wish I could tell him how much his actions meant to me during the Walk for Yes march in Melbourne last Sunday.
He wrote “Vote Yes” in chalk anywhere he could. Once. Twice. Three times. Over and over again. Just two words, repetitively. Watching him, I felt moved to tears.
Chalk Man, if you’re reading this, I hope you know how you lifted my inspiration level even higher than I thought possible.
During our hours under a clear blue sky, I did not hear a single negative word, nor did I encounter a solitary hint of aggression from anyone at all on the day, be they marchers or onlookers. Even though it was the first weekend of the school holidays, people all across the CBD made allowances for the crowd and waited patiently to make their way through. It must have been the gentleness and harmony of the marchers that infused the collective mood of the non-participants and bystanders.
So why did I feel compelled to attend the march? The answer is simple but deeply sincere. I feel passionate about voting Yes in the referendum on 14 October. Because of that, I truly care about being with others who want to amend the Constitution so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have their say on matters that affect them.
I don’t really fit the profile of a serial marcher, but I do believe in showing support for issues that I deem important. In the past, I’ve participated in the Palm Sunday march for refugees because the issue is close to my heart, both personally and professionally. Many years ago, I also joined those who espoused the notion of an independent Timor Leste. Showing my support, along with others who share my thoughts, is part of who I am.
On Sunday, on my way to the CBD, I was looking forward to joining other passionate people, hearing their words, hoping to learn more about the Voice. By doing so and by listening to people who are knowledgeable on the issue, I felt that I would be able to help inspire others around me before the referendum.
I wasn’t sure what kind of atmosphere I was expecting and whether there would be a counter-protest or not, nor did I have the slightest clue as to how many people would turn out. So it was a wonderful and heart-warming surprise to see such a huge crowd – and to soak up the uplifting, positive mood that prevailed.
How many people were there? Various estimates were published by news outlets, but the figures varied from 30,000 to 50,000. While I’m too young to know anything about the anti-conscription Vietnam marches, there have been many commentators who have compared the scale of the two that are more than half a century apart.
The joy permeated everything, as did the peaceful atmosphere. People all around me, complete strangers, were talking to me and sharing in the moment, Words resonated strongly and we clapped and cheered and chanted together. I loved reading the creative words on placards and hearing the lyrics of popular songs specifically amended to reflect the Voice! Some people were even dancing to music played by a band whose members focused on singing about voting Yes.
It was amazing to see the diversity of people, spanning unions to church groups, young and the old, many children on the shoulders of adults, with some pets in “Vote Yes” T-shirts. There were even people using walking sticks or in wheelchairs and some using walking frames. Even onlookers were clapping and cheering, taking it all in and snapping photos on their mobile phones. Later, after the march was over, people smiled to each other on public transport or in the streets on the way home, just because they were wearing a “Yes” T-shirt or holding a “Yes” sign.
To me, the three most memorable moments were: first, hearing young children chant and sing joyfully; second, the band’s catchy music as everyone sang and danced in the street; third, the care and compassion shown by those in the crowd. This was a caring crowd showing integrity and respect, showcasing the best of the Australian people.
This was a moment to feel proud to be Australian, walking alongside others who care deeply on voting yes to The Voice and showing our respect to our First Nations People.
The views expressed here are the author’s own.