Liberate the Narrative – Share the Power

If you follow me over on twitter, you already know I occasionally have mini-rants (aka threads). And, yes, I do like GIFs.

This was today’s thread:

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I usually leave it at that, and move on. However, this time I decided to turn a thread of twitter posts into a blog post.

In Australia, like other nations that were colonised by Europeans, First Peoples have not only embraced the digital era but are leading it.

For too long, the narrative has been controlled by those in power, but with new forms of communication comes a shift in power. Thanks to digital technology, everyday citizens are taking control of the narrative, simply by engaging with others on social media. And this is shifting both the narrative and the power.

Perhaps it’s a 360° shift, with similarities to that moment in the mid-1400s when Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press capable of mass publications. Before then, printing was done using the block method (Tang Dynasty, China) or by hand (Europe, Asia and the Middle-East).

Books (aka information and knowledge) produced by hand or block-printing were time consuming and expensive. Gutenberg’s invention made access more affordable, and many see it as sparking social movements such as the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution.

Sometime later, in the streets of Europe, the working-class and change-makers were able to shift the narrative and power by publishing socio-political pamphlets and dispersing them amongst the people.

And many generations later, radio and television enabled major shifts in the way humans access news and information. We were seeing war, famine, social activism and moon-walks from the comfort of our homes. Domestically and globally, people were more connected than ever before.

However, there were still limitations to how people could be part of the narrative – let alone steer the conversations.

As revolutionary as the printing press, radio and television were, the next big step in communications was mind-blowing. Although, perhaps not at its beginning. I remember connecting to the web in 1992 and it was unbelievably slow – and dull.

Roll forward a bit, past that annoying whirl whirl tick clang whirl sound. People power has been digitised. *Easy access to social media and accessible digital platforms has given the people the ability to shift the power through taking back control of the narrative in an unprecedented manner.


* side note: there are still digital divides and inequities that need addressing. Not everyone can afford hardware or connectivity, or even access public computers. Not everyone has opportunities to learn digital literacy, and some lack capacity. Some nations even heavily restrict citizens’ access to online spaces. As much as digital connectivity is changing the world, it will never fully be a form of power for the people if some are excluded or left behind.

Previous shifts in power, through publication and dispersion of information, was class-based. This latest revolutionary movement, thanks to the accessibility of digital platforms and shifts in shared values, is intersectional.

And some find this disconcerting. In a brave new world – courage is needed. Courage to embrace change. Courage to withstand the increasing hate. The many who have benefited from power and privilege are feeling as if their long-held status quo is under threat. Resistance is inevitable.

When you’re accustomed to power and privilege, equity feels like oppression.

Social change is rarely easy. Weapons and/or tools are often needed. In the digital era, words are the tools for change.

Like in the post-Gutenberg era, both the publishing and consumption of information has become more accessible to a diverse range of people. And there are less barriers to publishing, to being heard. We are living in a revolutionary era.

Whereas that last revolution of words broke down the elite class-based control of information and opinion, this one is being driven by diverse voices – including Black, POC and First Peoples.

There is still a lot more work to be done, but there are visible signs of change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, film-makers and artists are winning mainstream awards and finding international markets. Own voice books and literary journals are being published. And diversity in media is being discussed more often, but there’s a long way to go before real change is seen there.

In Australia, similar to other nations that were colonised by Europeans, First Peoples have not only embraced the digital era but are leading it. Personally, it took me a while to forget those unimpressive dial-up days from my 30s, but I’m now an avid middle-aged digital native.

Social media has given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people unprecedented means to connect with family and friends, to influence/support social-political movements for change, to contribute to broader discussions and, importantly, to have a laugh.

With a stronger voice comes more obvious push-back. Trolls, racists, the ignorant, and allies take up a lot of space, time and energy on social media. Being able to crack a joke or drop some GIFs is an expression of self-care and a show of strength.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there are no safe spaces online, just as there are no guaranteed safe spaces offline. However, with 231 years of experience resisting colonisation, trolls and attention-seeking mainstream media aren’t going to drive us off social media or other digital spaces.

The past January, like every January, was hellish for many First Peoples in Australia. Online and offline. Racism from settler-colonialists, racism in the media, and racism from the government.

Together, we got through it. And yes there were some laughs and deadly GIFs. I’d like to hope that more non-Indigenous Australians are now listening and willing to support us to change the nation.

With every major shift in technology, and the social change movements they enable, comes resistance. Yes, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, fascists and other bigots, and their apologists, will get louder. They will try harder to push us offline, to silence us. They don’t want to see the status quo changed.

Journalists, talk-show hosts and other workers in media who’ve not reflected on their own power and privilege will continue to feel as if they are being challenged by the public whenever they express biased worldviews or make apologies for the racists they broadcast.

And if some of them see this as bullying, or view a couple of reasoned comments as a social media pile-on, then they’ve not been paying attention. The media no longer control the narrative. They are not gods floating on some cloud, gracing us with their wisdom. We are their equals. We too have words.

This is a new era. The digital era. The peoples’ era. The status quo is having a status update, and those with old world power cannot delete that.

This is indeed a revolutionary time. And, as a child of the sixties, I am glad to be alive to not only see the birth of yet another social revolution — but to dive right it.

Publish, write, create, tweet – be a positive contributor to the revolution. From the printing press to digital platforms, technology has given the people the means to control the narrative and change the world. Use it – be fearless – help heal the world.

 


Recent, relevant articles I’ve written in Australian media:

Debunking: It was hard for convicts, too 5 February 2019

Saving lives is more important than playing colonial dress-ups 25 January 2019

Calling All Settler Colonialists 15 January 2019

Change the date? Change the nation 25 January 2019

For their Own Good – fiction published by Meanjin


I’ve a current start up project that aims to use story to change the narrative of colonisation. Titled Cook Gets Cooked Commemorative Cookbook, it’s an anthology of fiction, poetry, essays, cartoons and satirical recipes in response to the hyperbole of Cook 2020.  If you’d like to find out more, click here.

I eat words for breakfast – sort of. My writing is what pays the bills. If you like the content I produce, or even my twitter rants, one off contributions help me keep writing, or monthly support via Patreon, are welcomed.