Well.. this badge marks the turning point in my life where I shifted from basically not being politically active.. To what was my first direct action. Then I started getting involved in campaigning around the issue of refugees & asylum seekers. The inhumane treatment of refugees & asylum seekers & the whole closed borders approach.. It was really obviously racist with discriminatory overtones & the Refugee Action Collective Coalition or RACC as they were known.. They were the kind of organisation that were leading that campaigning in the community & on the streets and they were the ones that I connected with first & I participated in some actions with them outside of the private company that ran the detention centres. It was around the time of the Tampa affair & I always credit John Howard with being the reason why I went into politics. That is always the silver lining of really bad or conservative or divisive Members of Parliament.. They create a whole generation of people that want to have a different approach. I was living in Newtown. I moved here as a nineteen year old. That’s when I got involved in refugee campaigning & activism. I was living in a share house with people who were very politically active.. I felt a need to be able to speak out because I was really unimpressed & concerned about the policy. In my current job as the Greens Member that represents the electorate of Newtown that also includes Redfern & parts of Waterloo.. Whenever we ask people in this community what issues they care about.. They talk about big picture things like climate change as well as inequality & refugee rights. We treat the passions & the things people care about globally as if they are local issues. They should be just as important. The sad reality is that we are seeing bipartisan support for the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers & refugees where basically there has been no strong opposition to the cruel treatment of people in offshore & onshore detention centres. It requires more leadership & understanding & accepting that people wouldn’t come to this country unless they are fleeing serious persecution or serious threats. At that time when I was with RACC it was for me the fact of people standing together & engaging in actions that was great. I was just one of the people who would go along to those things.. I was just one of the bodies that turned up to join the crowd. I was writing my PhD on the need for a performance archive in Australia at this time.. I never finished it.. I started working at Amnesty & then my world took a completely alternative path. Seeing the commitment that people had in giving up their spare time to volunteer.. To me it was an example of the inspiration & motivation you get when something feels like it is desperate or hopeless. To have a group of people that are coming up against important issues.. That is inspiring.. Even if that change isn’t realised. It was living the experience of deciding that doing nothing is not going to have any impact.. I hadn’t been brought up in a family of activists & change makers. I very much credit that share house on Abercrombie Street. That was the education I got in terms of what & how social change can happen & how people can be activists. You can’t go & do a course on how to learn these things you know? I am very aware now representing this area of how we can find ways to skill people up & to share the knowledge of these things. You need to find how to feel comfortable to chant & yell something out while you’re marching down the road. Those are the feelings & experiences that give you a guide to what motivates people to want to be involved in change. That is very different to just telling people.. Look this is what you do.. You can tell the feeling or the health of that suburb or the health of that community & how it is going when you just chat to people in that suburb. When people know how to engage & mobilise other people to get active & push a campaign.. That is a really specialised skill set. So it is understanding what motivates people to give up every spare second of their time to do one thing & not something else.
Jenny Leong is a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly. She has been representing the Greens in the seat of Newtown since 2015.