How To Trigger A Flood Of Right-Wing Troll Tears: Mention #changethedate

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Yesterday, we shared a post on social media that argues for #changethedate. The reaction wasn’t all that surprising, although it was still alarming. Chris Graham explains.

There are many ways to upset Australians. One, apparently, is to cheat in the cricket. But by far the most reliable way to short circuit the delicate sensibilities of a proud, red-blooded Australian (mostly) male is to mention #changethedate.

You know that argument… the one about moving our national day to a date which doesn’t coincide with the slaughter and dispossession of another people, done in our names, and from which non-Aboriginal Australians still benefit.

By way of example, a few weeks ago, in partnership with the Sparkke Change Beverage Company, New Matilda launched what is easily our most elaborate, labour-intensive love so far – a campaign to #changethedate. Or more specifically, a campaign to spark an immediate and ongoing national conversation about changing the date.

I say immediate and ongoing because anything would be preferable to our usual practice, which is to engage in a frenzied, almighty media shit storm the week before January 26, followed by a year of silence.

But since we launched the Great Aussie Beer Bash, the response has been interesting, and unfortunately a little instructive. There have been two dominant reactions – deafening silence, and unbridled outrage. I’ll deal with the latter first.

A Facebook post shared by the Sparkke crew yesterday, appears to have found its way onto the walls of a few ‘conservative folk’. Which is how this happened in the comments section.

Admittedly, some of the arguments put forward by the Patriots are quite compelling. There’s this from Dillon Rogers: “Fuck off you brain dead fucks.” And this from Alan Russell: “Piss off and get your dole money ya morons.”

And this from Tony Robinson: “Cooooooooooooonnss.” Says Sean Wade: “Fuk off if you support this it is you that are racist. Fit in or fuck off.”

Robert Vlakic had this to offer: “How about you go and fuck your self and stick your beverage up your ass.”

And there’s quite a bit more like that.

Bruce Mason, in his defence, did actually attempt to articulate an argument, although it may have been lost in the delivery, and the rambling: “Your racist rants of radical & activists has no place in modern Australia. & stop graffiting our cenotaphs Anzac Day a day both black & white laid down their lives for . & white fellas aren’t invaders & Europeans its 2018 tell ya radicals to accept we live as one we celebrate as one.”

Glad you mentioned Anzac Day, Bruce. World War 1 was like, 100 years ago wasn’t it? Maybe time to move on?

In any event, my favourite comment is this one from Phil Black: “Wake up you brain dead dullars get a life put your energy into something productive like the Bells Line Expressway wake up or fall off the perch!!”

I consider myself a well-read journalist, but I’ll admit to previously having no idea about the Bells Line Expressway clusterfuck, and all the associated pain inflicted on the long-suffering residents of Lithgow, until Mr Black brought it up. Where’s Andrew Bolt when you need him, right?

As to the other response from most of the rest of Australia – the ones who don’t get on social media and scream abuse and boost hatred – it’s been somewhat underwhelming.

In January this year, more than 60,000 people crammed the streets of Melbourne CBD to protest January 26. Tens of thousands marched in other cities and towns around the country. In addition, polls in the lead up to the last Australia Day showed there was significant support for changing the date. This is because the argument to keep it is clearly ridiculous.

But if you think progress will come from a single march on a single day, or by saying ‘yes’ to a phone poll, then you’ve misunderstood the depth of ignorance and political cowardice that pervades our nation.

Bad things happened to Aboriginal people, in our name, because of our silence. And things will stay the same today unless we start speaking up.

In the interests of overcoming one of the chief objections, changing the date of Australia Day is by no means the greatest priority confronting our nation. But here’s some surprising information – it doesn’t have to be. We are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Changing the date does not prevent us from providing better health or schooling, or alleviating poverty. It complements it.

It’s also something we can fix relatively easily (the others are not). It can represent progress. It can start a movement of change. It can light a flame.

But silence is consent – none of it can happen without ongoing discussion. You might support #abolishthedate. You might support m8 (May 8) as the alternative day. You might not support any of it at all. But the issue is not going away – guaranteed we’ll be discussing it again in 2019, and 2020… etc etc. Better to deal with it now.

If you believe that the date of Australia Day is a national affront; if you believe that whatever day it lands on it, it shouldn’t be one that marks someone else’s slaughter; if you believe that a mature nation should have ongoing mature discussions on issues that affect us; and if you want to drown out the voices that promote hatred or indifference to the obvious pain that January 26 causes a valued and significant percentage of the population, then don’t wait until January next year to start talking about it. The conversations have to start now.

The fact is, the #changethedate debate may be complex and emotional, but it’s going to happen, sooner or later. Nations evolve – even Australia – and while the rest of the colonising nations on earth have made significant progress in reconciling their past, pressure will continue to mount on Australia internationally, while-ever we remain silent and indifferent.

This issue affects us all – it is about who we are as a nation, and what underpins our national character. And so finally, if you’re still wavering on the issue – if you still think there’s nothing wrong with expecting all Australians to embrace January 26 when more than half a million of them still mourn the past and present injustices – then maybe try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Think about how you might feel in a couple of weeks if, during an Anzac Day dawn service, an Aboriginal person walked up to you draped in a Turkish flag and reminded you that World War I was 100 years ago, so maybe it’s time to move on.

That’s no more or less obscene than parading our national pride on the day that marks the slaughter of another people. The difference is, Aboriginal people don’t do that, and never would. Collectively, as a nation, we do.

So stop screaming, and start talking – tell us what you think in the comments section below, and help us get a mature conversation started.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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