Photo credit: Centre for Australian Progress
Last week, Progress 2019 saw some of Australia’s leading NGOs, start-ups, campaigners, advocates and change-makers descend on Melbourne Town Hall to discuss social change on an unprecedented scale.
Over 1500 change-makers had their beliefs challenged, visions galvanised and futures inspired by keynotes and workshops covering everything from ideas to strengthen our democracy to impact investing, the future of the live export campaign, equality, dismantling white supremacy, nonviolent direct action, rights for renters, a world without prisons and so much more.
As a principal partner of Progress 2019, we were there in force for the full two-day event and, safe to say, we learned a lot. For those who weren’t lucky enough to attend in person, here are some of those learnings.
1. Be proud to be maladjusted
Kumi Naidoo, a life-long social justice campaigner and current Secretary General of Amnesty International kicked off Progress 2019 with an elegant and powerful soliloquy on the issues we currently face as a global society, how we got here, and how we might get through it.
His talk touched on many pressing issues of our time and, at one point, he channelled a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, in which Dr. King talked about how the word “maladjusted” had become a dominant term in modern psychology to describe a range of modern illnesses.
Dr. King went on to say that he does not intend to ‘adjust’ himself to segregation, discrimination, bigotry or unfair economic conditions, and Naidoo echoed those sentiments. “There are certain things in our world that are so moral, so unjust,” said Naidoo, “that good, decent people should refuse to be well-adjusted. If that was relevant in the United States in the mid-60s, it’s a thousand times more relevant now.
2. Love those you disagree with
“If we are going to shift this moment of history, all of us, who call ourselves progressive, we have to learn to love the people we disagree with,” said Naidoo during his speech. His point was simple: if we can’t find the humanity in the people who have “drifted in the direction of negativity”, then it’s our fault. It’s not about pointing fingers at people for not believing in the same things – it’s about using compassion and empathy as a bridge to reunite us.
3. Could Australian democracy be more democratic?
During her lightning speech in the ‘Big Ideas to Strengthen Our Democracy’ panel, the Grattan Institute’s Danielle Wood pointed to the fact that the mining, property and gambling industries are the three biggest donors to political campaigns and asked the simple question: “What are they getting in return?” She also highlighted how 70% of political donations come from just 15% of donors. Her answer, in short, is that we need greater transparency over political donations, and that spends by political parties should be capped to help limit the influence of any vested business interests.
4. Progress is for all women – not just “some types” of women
During the ‘War of Words: Women’s Rights Edition’ panel, New York Times-bestselling author, journalist, poet, activist and founding director of Just Media, Asha Bandele, highlighted the importance of not being fooled by a “scattering of women” at the top of companies or organisations, as these moves can often be superficial and not reflective of an organisation’s commitment towards diversity and inclusion.
Bandele urged that we need to reward progress but be wary of progress, and that we need to strive for equality for all women, not just “some types” of women. Point being: our organisations should be representative of society, and women in society, as a whole – and not just wealthy white women.
5. Even Progress is a work in progress
On day one of the event, many attendees raised grievances with Progress staff regarding the inaccessibility of the event, and the danger that inaccessibility posed to those with disabilities. As a result, deputy director of the Centre for Australian Progress, Kirsty Albion, issued an apology, and appearance activist, writer and speaker Carly Findlay delivered an impassioned plea to event organisers to be better in future or risk further marginalising an already marginalised demographic. The issue illustrated the fact that even the most well-meaning organisations and individuals can fall short, and we all need to be more aware of how different people interact with different spaces.
6. A fractured political landscape is an opportunity
During a panel shared with Guardian columnist, Owen Jones, and Adam Luna of United We Dream, UK political journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan let it be known that, yes, we live in troubling political times, but that in itself is no reason for despair. From the UK to the United States and Australia, she believes we need to let go of this hope for everything to “just go back to the way it was.” The political landscape is fractured, but that means we have an opportunity to create something new. And that, she says, is exciting.
7. The people closest to the pain are closest to the solutions
Sharing the stage with O’Hagan, Adam Luna highlighted the importance of supporting and raising the voices of those who have been directly affected by issues, as opposed to trying to solve issues on their behalf. Luna coaches young leaders of colour to help them build social justice movements, and he has seen firsthand how powerful it is when you put those with lived experience at the heart of your problem-solving efforts. The mantra “nothing about us, without us” was used widely throughout the event.
8. The time for conscious capitalism is right now
During ‘Impact Investing and Social Innovation’, impact investor Joel Solomon and social capital expert Allyson Hewitt laid bare how instead of looking at money and big business as the enemy, it’s time to start channelling them for good. They are both proponents of ‘impact investing’, which is about putting your money into companies that create positive impacts for people, society and the planet.
“What is your money doing right now?” asked Solomon, author of The Clean Money Revolution. “Chances are, it’s causing harm, and you won’t like what’s it doing.” Hewitt added that now, more than ever, progressives need to be fighting to get “in to the room” with investors and businesses because of how much good can be done from the inside out.
9. The kids are taking up the climate fight
The closing panel of Progress 2019 was titled ‘What’s Next: The Millennial Revolution’. Featuring a range of inspiring young people, it was supposed to be a rallying cry to end on, and provide hope for the future of humanity on the whole. It did that to a degree, but it also served to remind the adults in the room of the type of world we’re in the process of handing down to the next generation. “We don’t want to have to fix this,” said 16-year-old activist and student Aisheeya Huq, “but you haven’t left us a choice.
10. The outlook? It’s complicated
Overall, Progress 2019 was an inspiring, yet challenging, and occasionally hilarious summation of where we’re at in 2019. The good news is that the movement for positive change is accelerating, and that as peculiar as these times are, they represent an incredible opportunity to build something completely new. But for real, tangible progress to happen, we need to get better at working together, listening to one another, giving the right people the right platforms, and promoting those committed to the long haul.