There is a beautiful story from where I grew up, on the lands of the Gomeroi people of NSW. It speaks of a cycle that has been weaving itself through humanity for thousands of years. It says that when we pass away our spirit returns to the Warumbal; the milky way, to sit in the smoke of the fires that our ancestors have lite for us. It is there that we reflect on our life, the connections we made, the late night philosophical conversations, the search for knowledge and the mark we left behind.

When it is time for us to return to continue this cycle, we come in the form of shooting stars and lay within the earth. When we are born, it is not the act of conception but rather our spirits choosing us and our time.

This story tells me that we are all here for a reason, that the problems we face are the problems we are meant to face and the small interactions we have with strangers, friends and family are exactly where we are meant to be.

And it is with this understanding of the significance of now, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, I would like to pay my respect to the Elders past, present and those who look down on us from the smoky shimmer of the night sky. It is this understanding that Welcome to Country’s weren’t tokenistic or just ceremonial practice but rather it is an acknowledgement that for our eyes to meet we are on a journey. We share the same short moment in life, and we seek nothing but the chance to live out our lives in purpose and in happiness.

We exist in interesting, challenging and exciting times. Our ability to connect globally to access news and current affairs at our fingertips has lead to a generation of agitators, questioners and the ability to mobilise across communities and national borders. It has sparked our curiosity and heightened our sense of contribution, legacy and impact.

I am not saying that this hasn’t occurred throughout Australian history, in fact our nation has a rich history of social movements that have been lead by those working in a system to change a system and those that work outside a system to effect positive change.

From the frontier wars led by warriors holding strong to their traditional lands against the tide of settlement, to leading the way for the women’s vote. From bark petitions that hang proudly in our nations capital to station walk-offs from Cumragundga to Wave Hill.

And social movements of more recent times that led to over 90% of Australia’s voted as one to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as citizens in our own nation, and national demonstrations calling on governments to take action on climate change and to end poverty in our lifetime.

But as more and more young people grow frustrated with the current state of politics, what would it take to lead a resurgence in political participation in our generation?

To amplify our skills, tools and networks to inspire, support and mobilise young people to stand-up and announce, our hopes, ideals and politics won’t be quarantined to the skate parks, street corners, or to our twitter feeds. That no longer will young people be the silent recipients of policy but rather the co-designers of the world we will inherent.

There is a wonderful quote by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, in which he said:

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined non-conformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

I believe that in every generation there are people who are born into the world that possess a keen eye for human error, injustice and oppression and that wield an ability to hold the mirror up to society and say something is not right. It is these people that devote their lives to the pursuit of positive change throughout the world.

It is these people who hold a vision that transcends class, economic status, race and religion to connect strangers, neighbors, friends and family in a mutual understand of what it is we should aspire to. These people are the disciplined non-conformists that I believe Dr King was referring too.

We need Disciplined Non-Conformists. We look to them and say things like “I am glad someone had the guts to say that” or “you said exactly what we are feeling” even “I am glad somebody is thinking like you.” We need them because they aren’t afraid to raise their hand in a room of ‘yes-men’ and say no, not this time.

Non-conforming is easy, you can be a brat, a punk, a heretic, break systems, dismantle and dismiss but to stand for something, create systems, build support, share an idea, inspire change, that takes discipline. It takes the right mix of ego and courage to believe you can succeed where others have failed or where others wish to stand in your way.

We need Disciplined Non-Conformists. We need you.

We stand at a significant point in our nations history in which we do not follow the patterns of previous generations. Young Australians are more likely to pursue higher education, more likely to travel and live overseas and more likely to start our own businesses then our parents’ generation.

But what happens when passionate, driven and socially aware young people meet a system that rewards conformity? What happens when Disciplined non-conformists meet a system that label them brats, punks, and heretics, excluding them from truly engaging a system? We switch off.

Over the past 10 years there has been a dramatic decline in political party membership and participation from young Australians. I am not a member of a political party; in fact I encourage swing voting if it is based on policy rather than personality.

In 2013, Roy Morgan Research ran a political poll in the lead up to the September Election Night. They asked voters which party would they vote for and why. The responses were mixed but here are some responses they received.

“The alternative, Tony Abbott, is a serious threat to democracy.” – Labor Supporter

“No faith in the Labor party, its people or its policies.” – Liberal Supporter

“The two parties are nasty, hypocritical people who flip flop on any issue.” – Greens Supporter

The sense of public frustration that plagues political parties is very real. This decline in political participation exists, I think because there is a disconnect between people, policy and a vision, we can subscribe too.

In 2013, I decided to run a bit of a social experiment. I called it The Visionarium: From a nation that hasn’t seen it all… The Visionarium was an online survey that ran for 6 weeks and engaged people through Twitter and Facebook. It was designed for 2 main reasons:

  1. To provide a platform for people to share their vision of the kind of future they want for Australia, and
  2. To remind myself that no matter how frustrated I was with the current state of politics, the shortsightedness and negative rhetoric, everyday Australians, like me, young and old, share common values, frustrations but also had their own visions of what change we hoped to see in our communities, nation and world.In a month over 80 people responded to the call to action. Here is a word cloud of the key words that arose from the Visionarium.

Equality; this related to gender equality, marriage equality and social equality.

Fair; relating to a fair society, pay and access to services

Respect; how we treat our elders, each other and ourselves

But it was the words that were slightly less frequent, that stood out for me:

  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Inclusive

For me, I believe these values transcend race or religion, borders and boundaries. It is the fundamental belief that I am my brothers keeper, I am my sisters keeper.

That rolling back the Racial Discrimination Act in 74 of our most vulnerable communities in the Northern Territory doesn’t just impact those communities; it impacts all of our communities.

That one person, whose rights are denied in an immigration Detention Centre for seeking a better life, impacts all of our rights, it impacts all of our freedoms.

I’d like to share two quotes that came out of the Visionarium:

“I want a vibrant democracy where talking about politics isn’t taboo and people are engaged. I also want debate that is based on facts, science and research, rather than perceptions.” – Josh, 19, VIC

“My dream is to see a generation who are not only aware of what is happening in the world around them, but wanting to engage with it, whether that be socially, politically or in their careers. My vision is for the nation to be cleaner, smarter, safer and kinder than it has been, for it to have strong, intelligent leadership and for it to be highly regarded by all in the international community.” – Emma, 20, NSW

The Visionarium was a reminder that ours is a nation of Disciplined non-conformists, even if we don’t see ourselves as such. There is a quote by Thucydides in which he says:

‘The bravest are surely those with the clearest of vision of what lies ahead, glory and danger alike, yet not withstanding goes out to meet it.”

This quote speaks of the audacity to step into the unknown and trust your intent. It speaks of the balance between courage and ego to believe you process something that will enable you to whether the storm of criticism, to overcome barriers and to be relentless in your pursuit of the change you wish to see in the world.

As we stand on the precipice of our time, looking across the path of history that has brought us to this point. We can see that the frustration frequently lies in the tension between an established system that rewards conformity and a society that aspires to provide greater education opportunities, to achieve greater social impact, that understands our role as a global citizen and the importance of a strong and growing economy.

What would it take to lead a resurgence in political participation in our generation?

It would take a political party that greater reflects our generation, that believes a nations greatest resource is its people, a party that rewards curiosity, consultation and participation. It would take a political movement of Disciplined Non-conformists.

It is this idea that behooves us to remember, change is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice, it is not something to be waited for, it is something to be achieved.

They say ‘decisions are made by those that show up’. It is our time to show up.

(Original Speech from TEDx Bond University 16th May 2014)

TEDx Talk: Political Participation
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