Inspired by stories of regional towns in NSW and Victoria implementing programs to support and welcome people from refugee backgrounds, the Amnesty Southern Tasmania Group has been quietly but determinedly demonstrating the power of activist led community organising to create change across Australia.
In early 2018 in the Country Women’s Association hall in the town of Cygnet, group conveners Sylvia Merope and Zainab Clark sat down with the Tasmanian community organiser and other Amnesty members to create a plan to get their local council to help save the lives of refugees through community sponsorship.
Over the following months, the group collected petition signatures at local markets and met with Lions Clubs, Probus, Country Women’s Associations, Churches, sporting clubs, local arts councils, gardening groups and Councillors to talk about the benefits of community sponsorship for the region. They collected many letters in support of community sponsorship in Southern Tasmania.
Their impressive commitment to the My New Neighbour campaign led them to hosting two major events in support of My New Neighbour in December a week apart. The first being a screening of The Merger at the Franklin Theatre, and the second featuring Julian Burnside as an honored guest screening of the Border Politics on International Human Rights Day in December. Both events were sold out beyond capacity, with hundreds of people coming to learn about Amnesty and show their support for refugees.
The Southern group members ongoing relationship with local community groups and council has allowed them to secure a meeting with the Mayor of Huonville Rebecca Enders this month to discuss making community
On Tuesday the 12th of March the group met with the honourable Mayor of Huonville Rebecca Enders and welcomed her commitment to supporting a motion to expand and improve community sponsorship of refugees. The council will take it to a formal vote in April following a workshop with councillors and community groups.
We often picture activism as something that happens in the big cities at sit-ins and marches. The regional activists like the southern group shows that community organising has the power to carry Amnesty’s campaigns further and deeper into traditionally conservative communities, and can yield long term changes in public attitudes towards people seeking refuge in Australia.