Words by Alejo (he/him), 20 NSW
Talking to your relatives about politics is a daunting thing. I should know, I do it constantly, and honestly, now that I’m writing this out, it might be a reason for my diagnosed anxiety disorder.
You might not have a strong opinion on a subject or know what they’re talking about. And if you are passionate and informed, even if they aren’t, you don’t want to contradict your elders – particularly if you come from a migrant background like I do. Certainly, you don’t know how forceful you can be, or how animated you’re allowed to get.
They’ve got their years of life experience; you’ve got your youthful sense of urgency – it’s just a mess.
But in having these conversations, you come to understand one another far better than if you had avoided the conversation and stayed in your bubble.
We assume things about the people around us that we can find aren’t true if we stop and ask and really listen to what they have to say. In many ways, that’s the point of the Voice to Parliament: stop assuming what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need or what they think about an issue, and just ask.
So, last week – after being inspired by the Uluru Statement from the Hearts Ring Your Rello campaign – I sat down for a 20-minute phone call with my Abuela. While talking to her about family goings-on (like my cousin studying history at uni next year, or my sister’s quest to find a job worth her time and talent), I ask her about the Voice. She tells me she worked in Aboriginal Affairs for 10 years (I had never heard about this before) and she explains that she’s spent 50 years in this country and has to know that it’s a place capable of moving forward and doing right by “the most amazing and wonderful culture on the planet.”
Sure, not all conversations are going to be as positive as that. But hopefully you can at least reach a deeper understanding with the people closest to you or take the opportunity to connect with your relatives and just have a yarn.
My call with my Abuelo didn’t flip him one way or the other, but I got to talk to him just before he left for Argentina. How often, in this pandemic of loneliness and age of digital isolation, do we stop to connect with the loved ones not in our immediate vicinity? I don’t call my family nearly as much as I should, and this gave me the spur I needed – an opportunity to use political discussion as a bridge rather than a chasm.
The same thing goes for your friends. My first conversation about the Voice was over lunch with my friend while a group of us were helping her move. I was undecided between progressive no and yes, but she helped clarify a few things and nudged me into Yes.
I’ve got a couple chain-smoking leftier-than-thou mates who I’m worried are going to vote No – progressively. Talking about it is going to give you a better understanding of each other and how you will BOTH vote.
For a debunking of “Progressive No”, check out the GOAT @senatorbriggs on X and Instagram.
If you don’t feel equipped to have these conversations, then I rate www.ulurustatement.org.au, the website for the organisation that ran the grassroots process that created the Voice idea. They are the ones who solidified my Yes. You should also add their socials, after all, they’re the ones who launched the #RingYourRelos campaign that inspired this piece. And they’ve got plenty of resources you can pass along to friends and fam, including informative yarning sessions and FAQ’s.
Referendum Day (October 14) is fast approaching. It’s an incredibly rare moment in history. Voting in a referendum to change the constitution is one of the most meaningful and powerful things we do as citizens. When our Constitution was first drafted, Indigenous people were excluded, discarded, and disenfranchised. Our framers assumed a national future where Indigenous people literally ceased to exist.
But they entrusted all ordinary Australian citizens with the power to amend that constitution and to reframe that national future. We (not the old white dudes from 122 years ago) are the owners of the Constitution. It is one of our greatest responsibilities as Australian adults to care for and amend it.
As someone who has only recently won the right to vote, I am so passionate about making sure I exercise that obligation responsibly for the sake of those who can’t yet… my niece and nephew, my cousins, the kids I coach.
Being prepared and informed ourselves when stepping into that ballot box is a start. But we need to also make sure all the people we love, and who we share our lives and land with, meet this historic moment with the seriousness and earnestness the moment demands.