It sounds like the start of a joke. A Rabbi and a bunch of Christians walk into an office, carrying stuffed toys.
But it’s no joke. Indeed, from the Abbott Government’s perspective, it’s potentially a very dangerous development in the ongoing publicity war of cruelty against asylum seekers seeking refuge on Australia’s shores.
Tonight in Adelaide, Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky (Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue), Rev. Jennifer Hughes and Rev John Hughes (Brougham Place Uniting Church), Ellen Mitchell (Rosefield Uniting Church), Kate Leaney and Amy Bradshaw (Activate Community (ACC)), Jana Norman and Rev Sandy Boyce (Pilgrim Uniting Church) and Peri Coleman (Religious Society of Friends (Quakers, North Adelaide Meeting) became the latest faith leaders to be arrested for refusing to leave the office of a federal parliamentarian until they get an answer to one simple question.
When will the 983 asylum seeker children being held in mandatory detention be released.
The eight Christians and one Jew staged a sit-in at the Mt Barker offices of MP Jamie Briggs, the Member for Mayo and the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.
The Inverbrackie Alternative Place Of Detention falls within Briggs’ electorate.
The group is from a growing faith-based movement called Love Makes A Way, and today’s action was the fifth in the past few months. Protests have already been staged at the offices of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison (NSW), Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (WA), Prime Minister Tony Abbott (NSW) and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (Victoria).
Love Makes A Way started out as a movement of Australian Christians demanding “an end to Australia's inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action.”
But today, Love Makes A Way jumped faiths, with Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky becoming the first non-Christian faith leader to join the protest.
In a written statement, Rabbi Kaminsky, explained why she was prepared to engage in civil disobedience, and be arrested.
“I am risking arrest today because the most-repeated teaching in the Hebrew Bible is to treat the stranger with kindness,” Rabbi Kaminsky said.
“We Jews trace our roots back to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt 3000 years ago and re-enact the agony of slavery each year at the festival of Passover.
“The International Refugee law that our government is undermining was written to say 'never again' after the Holocaust.
“I cannot stand idly by and watch my government keep some of the world's most vulnerable children in detention when my faith commands me to act."
And arrested she was, along with the others.
After arriving at 10am, the group spent the day praying and singing in the reception area of the electorate office. By 5.30pm, three police from Mt Barker arrived and asked the nine protestors to leave. They all refused.
Six more police arrived, and each protestor was arrested and walked from the premises.
One of the organisers of the protest, Craig Mitchell told New Matilda this evening the protest was a local action with national aspirations.
“We’ve been wanting to do something that might make a difference but at the same time is respectful,” said Mr Mitchell, whose daughter Ellen was arrested as part of the group.
“It’s something we can do locally to put our faith and our values into action, but Love Makes A Way is seeking to be a national movement.
“We’ve heard whispers from other parts of the country that it might spread.”
Mr Mitchell said the protest was well planned, and focused.
“It’s not about trying to be arrested, and it’s not about getting your name in paper,” he said.
“If those children in detention are suffering we’re prepared to suffer as well, not just for sake of changing policy, but changing the hearts and minds of those [making the policies].
“The group aimed to always be respectful of the staff in Jamie Briggs’ office, and respectful of the police.
“So we’re prepared to be arrested, but we won’t resist arrest. We will be peaceful, non-violent, praying and singing songs.
“We’ve ensured we kept entrances clear and we’ve tried as much as possible to not be an obstruction.
“But we’re not wanting to compromise by saying ‘We will just leave, and walk out without a suitable response.’”
In a twist on previous sit-ins, each one of the Adelaide protestors brought a stuffed toy – a symbolic reminder of why they’re protesting.
The toys were left at Jamie Briggs. God only knows what he’s going to do with them.
* New Matilda will update this story in the morning.
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