Animating Freedom: Accompanying Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination, delivered by by Jason MacLeod

Jason MacLeod

This Lecture represents the results of a decade of reflection, practice, reading, conversations and walking. Since Jason’s first visit to West Papua in 1991, his life has been changed. Jason has felt called by the Spirit to build relationships and accompany West Papuans in their struggle, in order to strengthen the power of nonviolence. Australian Friends have supported Jason, initially through a Donald Groom Fellowship and later by personal contributions. The Lecture charts his path in creating a map on his journey of self-discovery. It draws on five elements – earth, air, fire, water and spirit – and uses personal stories from his experience to prompt reflection by the reader.

Papuan ways of knowing have survived colonisation, and resistance to the impact of outside intervention remains strong – mostly nonviolent but occasionally by guerilla fighting. Regrettably many NGOs, aid agencies and religious organisations collaborate with the Indonesian government and large corporations to direct support away from real development and resistance. Self-determination is sacrificed to charity. There is another way towards a new society, and Jason sees his role as waiting for invitations to accompany, listening, absorbing anger, learning where to place his energies, not taking sides, and being accountable to those involved in the struggle. He has worked mainly with Pasifika.

Part of Jason’s journey has been to trace his own roots in Scotland, and to lament the loss of his own Celtic people’s language and culture. At the same time, it has given him motivation and insight to draw from the past in his current work. He reminds us that we all have intergenerational stories that affect our ways of living, especially in relation to our response to Australian Aboriginal dispossession. His religious faith has been nurtured by West Papuans, to share with others the task of transforming the world for all of us.

To animate freedom, you need a dream. In West Papua the word merdeka (freedom) expresses this. The dominant force in world history has been “empire”; what is needed is a cosmology that involves participation, equality, and nonviolence. Pasifika is a model of this way – using stories, myths, images, voices to articulate their vision. Jason operates as an unpaid activist, a professional with clear boundaries, and a friend. Decentralised networks seem to suit best for a movement that exists in an atmosphere of repression. A positive development at the political level has been the acceptance of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) as a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries.

Turning his attention to Quakers, Jason questions whether maintaining the “lofty principles and testimonies” in the absence of hard-headed strategies will ever help those (such as West Papuans) who need solidarity in the face of violent exploitation. There are four dimensions of nonviolent action – strategy, ethics, dialogue and pre-figurative politics. The West Papua campaign benefits from all four, and young people have played a major role in unifying the movement, engaging in civil disobedience, building mass support, and lobbying political leaders. Jason identifies the importance of different approaches at different times – sometimes highlighting the “goodies” and “baddies”, sometimes suffering, and sometimes healing and reconciling. The goal is to achieve particular objectives, build movement power, and change the political weather.

The Lecture ends with an affirmation that there is a universal spirit of love that animates Jason’s walk towards freedom and unity. We are then faced with a series of questions in the form of Advices & Queries – to help us listen to the “still small voice”, to avoid being co-opted by the “shadow” side of wider society, and to use our Quaker traditions and tools to contribute to a just and sustainable peace. This is a book to digest and use to re-inspire us when we are in danger of losing energy for peacemaking.

David Purnell, Canberra Regional Meeting

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