They say a week is a long time in politics, and that was most certainly the case in the third week of January. It was a seven day period that began with a tragedy on the streets of Melbourne and the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, and ended with yet another ‘celebration’ of Invasion Day here in Australia, and the introduction of a selective Muslim and refugee ban in America.
In between, debate raged about the Centrelink automated debt recovery system, the use of an image of two young girls wearing hijab in Australia Day promotions, and the ‘Leader of the Free World’ expressed his support for the use of torture and removed funding for international aid organisations that also provided access to safe abortion — amongst other things.
I have to admit that faced with the seemingly unrelenting onslaught, and the sheer horror of it all, the desire to run and hide, to go and live off-grid in an ecologically sustainable commune of like minded people is strong. But the conclusion I came to at the end of 2016 and that firmed for me into this new year is that rather than retreating, now, more than ever, is the time to remain firmly committed to principles and related action.
Despite the heavy feelings that this time brings, plainly this is not the first time the world has faced these kinds of circumstances, with cleverer historical minds than I drawing parallels with previous tumultuous periods in history — including both the rise of Hitler and the Enlightenment. Indeed many of our community have lived and are living through armed conflicts and extreme hostility and have done so for decades. For them it might be argued that the populist recognition of crisis is the luxury of privilege.
Nonetheless for those of us wondering now what this means for us now, it may be useful to think of the times we have looked back at those other terrible periods in history and thought to ourselves “if I was alive then, I most certainly would have…”.
Well, we are alive now, and now is the time for us to do what we must.
I am greatly heartened to be part of a strong community of resistors, human rights defenders, climate warriors, traditional custodians and first people—people collectively and passionately committed to their part in protecting and producing a sustainable world. It is heartening to see a growing resistance movement made up of everyone from advocacy organisations and everyday people, to national parks rangers, and governments. The breadth and frequency of massive public protest reminds us we are not alone and that there are many many good people seeing and feeling as we do.
Within the direct sphere of community health I believe there is a special role, and indeed obligation for health professionals and services to play, both advocating and resisting in this rapidly changing world we live in.
Health professionals historically, and indeed currently, typically enjoy a level of confidence, trust and respect in the broader community that means what we say and do carries with it some weight. In many cases we can enjoy a degree of protection around our capacity to speak out that others do not enjoy.
Not only this, but we are uniquely placed to observe and experience, up close, the human face of the policy and other change around us, and given the direct health effects that arise from social exclusion, discrimination of all sorts, climate change and economic inequality it is arguably core business for us to speak out against these broader issues that will impact on health.
And so my ‘To Do’ list for 2017 is clear. I am resolved to do what I can to be part of the force for good. In this first instance to be attuned to the impact that these broader debates are having on my community, in particular on people of color, those of Muslim faith and heritage and those dependent upon state support. I will also aim to be attuned to refugees and all peoples whose rights and standing within our community are dangerously precarious and who as consequence are experiencing unparalleled social exclusion, discrimination and related health impacts.
More broadly I will be making sure that I, and those I work with, are as focused as possible on the greatest risk of all — the critical threat to the planet presented by inaction on climate change. And finally, in recognition of the connection between us all globally we at cohealth will be working to support international efforts to redress the withdrawal of aid funding to fund reproductive services for women around the world—recognising that the choice and rights of women are ultimately the measure of the health of any community.
I encourage each and every one of you to also commit to do what you can. If you need inspiration try looking at the many options on this handy What do I do about Trump website. And if you need strategies to help you personally cope in the face of unrelenting bad news, then I highly recommend How to Avoid being Psychologically Destroyed by your Newsfeed.
Whilst I don’t believe that a literal place called hell exists, I do wholeheartedly support the sentiment behind former US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleitch’s, declaration that: ”The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”
We can’t remain neutral. We must resist.