Messages of Hope

Hope is a bag of onions

Published / by Sandy

This week Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupted peak hour traffic for two hours when they glued themselves to the road on the corner of Gawler Place and Flinders St (a short distance from Pilgrim Uniting Church) near the SANTOS building. A 70-year-old North Plympton woman, a 65-year-old Flaxley woman, a 38-year-old Mile End woman and a 65-year-old Henley Beach South woman were charged with ‘loitering’. In a press release, the group said it was protesting against Santos and wanted the company to abandon fracking projects and invest more in renewable energy.

[In response to the protest, a Santos spokesperson said the company was a “corporate leader in climate action”, and that it had set a net-zero emissions target by 2040]

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said protests were “a regular feature of most civilised communities. People have a right to express their opinions”. An excellent statement from Commissioner Stevens, in the context of a democratic society.

What does protest look like in a country like Myanmar where a coup d’état took place on 1 February 2021 (when democratically elected members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were deposed by Myanmar’s military, which then proclaimed a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services. The results of Myanmar’s November 2020 general election were then declared invalid and a new election has been forecast at the end of the state of emergency even though most of Myanmar’s people are satisfied with the results of the election.

I was struck by this reflection by Maren Tirabassi on protest actions in Myanmar, and the creative ways that protest is able to happen even in military rule.

Hope is a bag of onions
I am praying for Myanmar and I am crying,
then I open my Australian newspaper*
and an article by “Anonymous”
tells me about new creative protest.
Some is by Generation Z surely,
those who do not remember
the horrific violence of 1988 or 2007,
but know they do not want
the coup to succeed.
The generation of “pop up” and “work around,”
is joined also by many others.
Every night is the “metal bucket protest,”
fifteen minutes of banging pots and pans.
Too short to pinpoint the homes,
and too traditional,
after all, it is
the way to drive out evil spirits.
Ten cars stop in the road, open their hoods,
tell police they’ve broken down –
traffic grinds to a halt.
A bride in a wedding dress
holds a sign telling the world
she doesn’t want her babies
to grow up under martial law.
And students cross the streets
with bags of onions,
except there are holes in the bags.
Cars stop,
while they pick up and bag again,
pick up and bag again –
onions, the same ones,
over and over again.
I am praying for Myanmar
in the midst of this terrible coup,
and my heart fills
with their tremendous courage –
today these onions do not make me cry.

(*“Eureka Street”, a publication of Jesuit Communications Australia)