The ‘No’ Vote Isn’t The End
The resounding ‘No’ vote of the Voice to Parliament referendum was painful to witness, but I can’t say I’m shocked. For months now, we’ve had to hear how non-Indigenous Australians perceive Indigenous people; we’ve had to hear politicians weaponising our mere existence; and we’ve borne witness to how easily disinformation can be conjured and spread. The entire experience has been traumatic, but the ‘No’ vote just proved what we always knew: Australia still feeds off its racist colonial roots.
Understanding the power of the media and the influence that journalists have, I stayed silent on my own opinion on the Voice. Throughout the campaign, my opinion changed constantly, and I didn’t want to confuse anyone else. I’d also seen other Indigenous people get torn to shreds from both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters (by both non-Indigenous and Indigenous people) for simply sharing their thoughts. Instead, I chose to platform other Indigenous perspectives from those I’ve long looked up to, to understand and shape my own opinion and to inform Junkee’s readers. I found great clarity in their words and I hoped it would have the same effect for others.
I’ve always respected Blak sovereign ‘No’ voters. I respect whatever decision Indigenous people made on this referendum because either choice came with a laundry list of consequences. We were made to pick a side of a coin which had the power to harm us either way it flipped.
When I stepped toward the voting booth I was still unsure of my decision. Looking down at the proposal and the empty box for my answer was an out-of-body experience. It felt like the weight of my ancestors were on my shoulders. I voted ‘Yes’. Not because I felt it was going to end racism and inequality for my people, like some ‘Yes’ campaigners more or less relayed. I voted ‘Yes’ because I hoped it would help foster beneficial dialogue between First Nations peoples and the government. I hoped it would be the start of something. It wasn’t an easy choice, and I felt angry that I was being forced to make it.
This whole Voice to Parliament referendum has been messy, violent, and abusive to us First Nations peoples. I’ve seen both non-Indigenous sides of the campaign spew racist rhetoric. I’ve read that the Voice will ‘re-racialise’ Australia, which is impossible given this nation was built off of race warfare. I’ve also read that a ‘Yes’ vote was more morally acceptable — not only does that perspective take away Indigenous self-determination, but it also encourages the white saviour complex. Despite these beliefs, there was still a small part of me that hoped Australia would at least support something that had the small possibility of bringing about positive change. I see now that that was naive.
I live in the Grayndler electorate, which recorded the second-highest ‘Yes’ vote in the country and the highest in NSW at 74.3 percent. I’m in an inner-city bubble which is largely shielded from how the rest of the country feels towards the Voice and towards Indigenous people at large. As Amy McQuire put it, the ‘No’ vote was largely a racist one. Blak ‘No’ voters only made a small amount of the 60 percent of Australians who rejected the Voice. “It is racism underlying the way they still see First Nations peoples. First Nations people are seen as ‘threats’, as ‘criminals’, and as unworthy of justice, let alone a voice,” Amy wrote. When the news rolled in that the overwhelming majority of Australia rejected the most benign form of Indigenous representation, I didn’t feel anger or sadness. I felt the veil being lifted from my eyes. It only confirmed what I always knew deep down: this nation doesn’t care enough about us.
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Sure, to go through this entire painful experience just for the referendum to fail is gut-wrenching. Indigenous ‘Yes’ campaigners have called for a national week of silence to reflect on and process the loss of the Voice to Parliament. While I absolutely respect their decision, I’ve decided that I don’t want to be silent this week.
The loss hasn’t changed anything. The fight for our mob still continues as it always has. We will stand up and continue to prove our power and show the rest of Australia that we aren’t going anywhere.
Yes, I’m in pain that the true nature of this country has been revealed, but that pain fuels my drive for a better future for my mob. I’m hoping that now the rest of Australia can see what we’ve always seen, and stand alongside us as we walk towards the next hurdle.
Image: Stewart Munro / Unsplash