Am I an activist archivist?

Last Thursday I was at the Safe Schools rally, and I showed a friend this photo that I had just digitised.

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If you can’t tell, that’s me sandwiched in between Bob Brown and Rodney Croome. It was 1997 at a Gay Law Reform Rally in Hobart. I spoke at that Rally about the homogenisation of hatred. For those that don’t know, the law reform we were fighting for didn’t include sex acts between women (something to do with Queen Victoria) and there were sections of the lesbian community who didn’t see gay law reform as our fight so I was facing criticism from many angles. There was also a risk I would lose my job. The anti-discrimination legislation that would protect me came in later was linked to the success of the law reform campaign.

Back to present day and later on that same friend asked me why I stopped being a political activist. The look of horror on my face prompted some quick clarification. Of course she was asking when I became the person up the back of the crowd rather than on the podium. I know she didn’t mean to send me on a spin of reflective self-examination but it did and I’m grateful for it.

Which brings me to the slowly creeping horror that is the US electoral campaign. It has me veering between head in the sand denial and watching an impending disaster, can’t stop it, can’t look away fascination. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Conversations with colleagues last week had a surprising number of them expressing the opinion that they wouldn’t vote for Hilary Clinton based solely on her management of email. When I took to twitter to express my astonishment I got this reply from Ross Spencer (thanks Ross!).

Well, exactly.

This kind of limited political thinking scares me. Placed within the reflexive framework of organisational behaviour it is also high up on the list of things that could do with some dismantling. The fact that this conversation happened at the same time I was trying to unpack if and how I am still a political activist is not lost on me. I backed slowly out of that conversation, as I do so often these days and I am not entirely comfortable with that.

Twitter conversations where we have talked about how to blend personal politics with professional practice still echo. For me, as a new professional this is one of the things that influence decisions I make about where and how I work, the professional relationships I am willing to invest time and energy on. Becoming an agent of change, an advocate of open government and social justice in archival practice when you are tenuously employed within the very institutions that require examination requires courage.

I hope I am prepared to be bold.

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I wish I still had those rainbow suspenders but the placard leaning against the steps is in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery!




About Michaela Hart

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