Where do we go from here?

Justine Toh grapples with disunity in our nation in the lead up to the Voice Referendum. Can we unite despite our different views?

Some weeks ago while walking to the tram, a lady tried to give me a Yes pamphlet. No thanks, I’m good, I said, smiling at her, which was apparently as good as a Fight Club nod because she handed me a Yes badge instead. 

While waiting for the lights, I heard the next person she approached decline any handout: “No, thanks, I have a brain”. I hope I misheard.  

I was going to ask if he needed to be so rude but because I wasn’t sure of his exact words, confronting the guy didn’t seem right. But neither was what I did instead: nothing. 

If the Voice to Parliament fails this Saturday, as all the polls indicate, we’ll wake up Sunday facing a new question: where do we go from here? 

Forty years ago, the political scientist Benedict Anderson defined a nation as an “imagined community”. Imagined, because no one person could ever possibly know all their fellow citizens.  

Imagined as a community because despite inequalities or divisions, “the nation is always conceived”, Anderson writes, “as deep, horizontal comradeship”. Seems a bit optimistic right now. 

We’ve typically imagined reconciliation as needing to occur between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. What if it’s an even bigger, daunting call to unite a divided, motley mix of Yes and No voters, those hailing from cities, suburbs, and regions, the older and the younger, the political left and right, the radicals and the disaffected, those who were born here, flew here, whatever.  

Even, apparently, those with brains and those without? I don’t know who we need to be to be worthy of that task. But that guy and I ended up on the same tram, practically sitting next to each other. I’ll guess we’ll find out. 


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