Young Christians go to Canberra seeking justice
November 8 2015Jo Knight, Tear Australia’s National Advocacy Co-ordinator, recently joined other young Christians in Canberra to lobby MPs and Senators about overseas aid and climate change. She reflects on her experience.
I must admit, there are times when I’ve felt overwhelmed by the enormity of poverty and injustice in our world. And I’ve felt equally unconvinced that my meagre offering could possibly bring about change. At these times, I’ve been tempted to stay on the sidelines, in the comfort of my apathy. But I’ve learnt that it’s in taking action, together with others, that my meagre offering is amplified into a powerful movement for change. And I’ve just returned from Canberra where, with 200 fellow Christians from all over Australia, I witnessed just that.
Voices for Justice is an annual lobbying event coordinated by the Micah Australia global poverty campaign. It brings together students and retirees, professionals and families, aid workers and church leaders to urge our leaders to restore the aid budget and address climate change, which most severely impacts the poor.
In my role as TEAR’s Advocacy Coordinator I’m privileged to work within the Micah coalition and to gather and lead people at Voices for Justice. During our time of training and worship I saw virtual strangers transformed into a united group of passionate Christian campaigners ready to advocate in Parliament House for the rights of the global poor. Over the course of two days, we met with 100 Members and Senators to discuss ways Australia can play its part in breaking down the barriers that trap people in poverty.
With me in Canberra were Ann Hansen and her 14-year-old son Joel from St Alfred’s North Blackburn. Neither had ever been to anything like Voices before. But with the tips and training provided by Micah, both were able speak with confidence with politicians about their own stories and faith and why they must use their position for good.
As I worked with Joel and other young advocates, I saw their eyes opened to the issues of climate change and aid along with the realisation that our nation’s leaders were listening to what they said. I was reminded of my own social justice journey. It began with my own youth group leaders opening my eyes to persecution in East Timor happening at the time and has since taken me to India, leadership with Oaktree, refugee law and now mobilising Christians for justice.
One of my favourite meetings was with young adults from St Alfred’s as they spoke to their local MP. I knew our hard work and training had paid off as Xanthe Weaich, Phoebe Stewart and Josh and Bekka Glover engaged in genuine dialogue on aid and climate change with great knowledge and conviction. For the Glover siblings, who grew up in Nepal, these issues are personal. The impact of cuts to aid and the changing climate affect their friends.
Young adults from Merri Creek Anglican, Mia Reynolds and Tom Allen, reflected that their meetings with politicians were “equal parts encouraging, challenging, confusing, frustrating and enlightening. We variously faced climate change denial, passionate support, party-line-spouting, faux support and insights into the workings of Australian politics. Above all, though, we were welcomed, listened to and respected: a privilege that cannot be understated.”
We have an opportunity, as the Church, to live the change we want to see. Working together we can change the conversation and aid literacy across the nation, and build a coordinated movement to pressure politicians to support the work of Australian Aid. You don’t have to wait until next year’s Voices for Justice to get involved. No matter how much time you can contribute, you can join the Campaign for Australian Aid (australianaid.org), which is a joint initiative of the Micah Australia and Make Poverty History coalitions.
Jo Knight is an experienced not-for-profit leader who is passionate about social change and mobilising people around justice issues. She is also a lawyer who has worked with refugee communities, is married to the Revd Dr Peter Carolane and worships at Merri Creek Anglican, where Peter is priest-in-charge.