In Narrm Melbourne, in Kulin Nation lands and waters, we are used to protesting injustice and being the loudest voice in Australia. Around 8,000 at a conservative estimate attended the sit-in protest, more cleansing ceremony than an angry mob taking over the city. Despite what the conservative media here say, this is a movement towards Aboriginal sovereignty and land rights being recognised and enshrined in a future Treaty. The international support, from all over the world, but particularly all over Aotearoa, continues to build on existing relationships of solidarity and shared struggle for decolonisation and Indigenous rights. The presence of Marama Fox at the most recent protest, carrying with her the Tino Rangatiratanga flag and the tautoko of thousands, brought tears to our eyes and gladdened our hearts. We are in this together.
Melbourne based artist Léuli Eshraghi
On Friday night I attended my first protest on Queen Street, the protest was against the closure of over 150 remote Aboriginal communities in Australia. Myself along with a couple of fellow artists, who make socially conscious work, left Lisa Reihana’s opening at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki to be apart of a collective that needed us more.
Not everyone was as positive about the protest as I was – one of the good friends I went with. “Is the protest going to change anything?” he asked. That comment forced me to think about my positioning as a non-Australian. Why was it important for me to attend? Why do we protest? Why do I protest?
Political change doesn’t happen over night. In 1997 when the New Zealand government decided to develop Bastion Point for housing instead of giving the land back to Ngāti Whātua the local iwi occupied the land in protest, lasting 506 days. Ten years would pass before the Waitangi Tribunal decided that Ngāti Whātua’s grievances were valid and land, plus compensation was to be given back to the iwi.
In a technologically reliant world you can’t underestimate the power of showing up. SOS Blak Australia is about us showing solidarity with Indigenous Australia. Seeing Pacific flags amongst slogans like “SOS Blak Australia”, proved that this protest in whatever small way was about the mobilisation of communities. In a colonial system where survival is number one for our Pacific communities, the attribution of Pacific flags to the cause is big. Real big.
I’ve seen many important protests in the last year in various forms. From a group of NZ Hip Hop artists creating a song responding to the injustices of the Teina Pora case to the series of performances/public interventions by collective Oceania Interrupted. All of which might not have directly made any obvious political changes but are so integral to raising awareness and showing the world that people are committing crimes against humanity in our own backyard.
I am an artist who uses my art practice as a platform for social and political issues. I know that my art won’t change the world directly, but it’s still a necessary voice. Like political art practices the Queen Street march against the closure of remote Aboriginal communities in Australia is a small part of a bigger picture.
And so I still protest.
I protest for what I believe in. I protest to aid those who are not being heard. I protest with hope of change. I might not get to see it in my life time, but we all protest with a sincere desire to make the world a better place.