Here is a copy of an open letter I sent to my students studying a course on community engagement. Even though I have concerns about the postal vote, as we are having it, I hope there is a very high participation rate, and want to do what I can to make it as respectful and non-judgemental as possible.
As I am sure you know, the Australian Government recently announced a postal survey about the attitude of Australians towards same-sex marriage (commonly known as a postal vote).
As this is a course on community engagement, I strongly encourage you to participate in the postal survey (if you are eligible to do so) even though participation is voluntary. More importantly I encourage you to engage in thoughtful, constructive reflection and discussion in relations to the issues involved.
One of my fears with the postal survey is that it will polarise communities and create division. People on both sides of the debate feel very strongly about the issue and the debate is going to be ugly at times.
I urge you to use the coming weeks and months to practice some skills that are vital to community engagement practitioners: listening, being non-judgemental and accepting differing views, while at the same time thinking carefully about what you are hearing.
In other words, think hard about what you hear but be gentle with the people involved.
If you are in a conversation with somebody (face-to-face or online) be willing to temporarily suspend some of your values and beliefs to better understand what they are saying. Once you have really heard and understood them, critically reflect on their claims. Do their arguments and logic stand up to careful scrutiny? What hopes and fears lie beneath their position? Where can you agree with them and where can you not?
Think also about the impact your comments has on others, and resist belittling, hateful or aggressive language. If you are subjected to belittling, hateful or aggressive language; be strong, respond thoughtfully rather than blindly reacting, and take care of yourself (e.g., by making sure you have people around who will nurture and support you).
One of the challenges of community engagement in planning and decision making is ensuring that we don’t just hear from those with strong feelings and “the usual suspects.” We know that people with strong views on same-sex marriage are likely to cast their “vote” but it is important that we hear from a wide cross section of Australians.
Regardless of your position I hope you will have your say by making sure you are enrolled to vote and returning the survey when you receive it.
In order to “vote”, you need to be enrolled on the Australian electoral roll, with your current details, by Thursday 24 August.
If you are not enrolled, you can enrol online here.
If you are already enrolled, you can check your enrolment details, including your current postal address, are up to date here. If you need to (e.g., you’ve recently moved) you can update your details here.
The postal survey will be conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and you can find out more about the process here. Forms will sent out (to those listed on the electoral roll) on 12 September, and forms should be returned by Friday 27 October.
If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:
- 3 reasons I do not support a postal vote on same-sex marriage
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- Principles of nonviolence
- Why I’ve gone rainbow-coloured
- What are complex problems?
- What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
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