The past week has brought significant public attention to several serious, deep-rooted problems within the United States, drawing people to the streets across the world, amid a pandemic, to fight for change.
Appalling police brutality and complicity has once again resulted in the death of a non-threatening, cooperative Black man; the President of the United States has proven himself to be an aspirant fascist dictator; and lawless rioting and looting has engulfed vast swathes of every major city. All of this has happened in just one week.
Times like these make it easy to ask: what the hell is going on in the land of the free?
For decades, the United States has almost universally been seen as the leading example of democracy, freedom and successful society in the world. Now, it’s easy to argue the opposite: that the United States has become a prime example of what happens when a society is allowed to become bitterly divided.
Like so many others, I wish I had an answer to why this is happening, but I just don’t. No amount of thinking will ever allow me to understand why such deep division has come to exist in the United States. Part of me feels that it’s always been there, deep under the surface, and has been enabled by the utter depravity of Donald Trump — a man whose despicable lack of empathy for and understanding of those around him has brought the United States to what is arguably its most divided state since the Civil War.
Throughout the past week, I’ve had discussions with numerous people about what’s going on, and one thing is abundantly clear: people are angry with the world right now, and want change. It’s rare for something to get a majority of people my age politically fired up, but this week has well and truly done it.
We’re angry and concerned about what our future world looks like. We want our voices to be noticed, rather than dismissed in the old tradition of ‘children should be seen and not heard’. Something needs to change, and it needs to change now.
As idealistic as it sounds, imagine if the world was a place where everybody was equal and respected. A world where someone’s personal, political, or religious beliefs do not form the foundation of how they judge others. A world where a person of colour can have an encounter with police, without feeling threatened. A world where a woman can walk around by herself late at night, without fearing for her safety. A world where aggrieved people can peacefully protest, without fear of being forcefully moved on by armed soldiers. Imagine that world.
These problems are not exclusive to the United States, either. Right here in Australia, similar (though not nearly as divisive) problems exist. For example, in the last week, there have been at least three major news stories on law enforcement mistreating Aboriginal teenagers: a video of a NSW Police officer performing an unnecessarily forceful arrest; a video depicting an unlawful strip-search being conducted; and the High Court of Australia finding that unlawful teargassing was conducted at the Don Dale Youth Detention centre in 2014.
Ultimately, the most crucial thing to do is to stay aware of what’s going on. Don’t blindly accept what the government tells you. Challenge ideas, question why things are the way they are. Ignorance is only bliss for those who want you to be ignorant.
For decades, a simple pattern has repeated itself over and over: something happens, it gets in the news cycle for a few days or weeks, people raise awareness, then we forget, and nothing changes. Don’t allow the death of George Floyd to be in vain. Do something useful. Something more than just posting a black photo on your social media pages. Reflect on your own behaviour and attitudes. Make change. Hold people accountable. Challenge intolerant bigots. Whatever it is that you do, make a difference.
This time, let’s change for good.