Stop calling the easing of restrictions, ‘Freedom Day’
On the 11th of October, New South Wales reopened its economy. Pubs, cafes, retail stores and more all reopened. There was an immense amount of relieved pressure for many individuals, including the obvious personal pressures of lockdown induced mental illness, as well as financial pressure on our favourite independent stores, venues and entertainment industries. It’s important to celebrate this win, of course. Lockdowns objectively suck. It’s critical that if you’re vaccinated and are comfortable to do so, to support the businesses, creatives, casual workers that have been doing it so tough over the past year and a half. While celebrating though, do not call it ‘Freedom Day’.
Google defines freedom as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. While yes, the easing of restrictions does technically allow for more freedoms, like going to the pub, the majority of white, Australian people living in NSW experienced freedom throughout lockdown. We were still existing, critically thinking and able to do what we need to. For many white-Australian people, the government was not systematically oppressing you, there was always light at the end of the tunnel. Using the word freedom as a way to celebrate the easing of restrictions has significant connotations and highlights a lot of privilege surrounding the idea of what true freedom is.
The concept of Freedom Day was initially coined by far right extremists. The idea that lockdown was a suppression of ‘fundamental’ freedoms was brought to the forefront of mass media by so called ‘Freedom Riots’ across our major cities. The freedom rallies were provoked and run by and anti-vaccination, conspiracy groups, while co-signing content such as QAnon and Islamophobia. Calling the easing of restrictions ‘freedom day’ only panders to this broken ideology, that the lockdowns were not in the betterment of the greater population. Furthermore, using the term freedom further affirms, and complied with what the idea of these protestors were fighting for. It’s off the back of the term ‘Freedom Day’, that they are now beginning conversations such as the #DoNotComply movement on Twitter, as well as yarns around, ‘Freedom for some, not the unvaccinated’. The phrase Freedom Day was also initially coined when Apartheid ended in South Africa, a true freedom moment. Now, right wing extremists have repurposed the term for our lockdowns, with some even calling the 11th of October, ‘Apartheid Day’.
Furthermore, and the most important point is that, despite what peoples idea of ‘Freedom’ is, many Australians, notably First Nations people and People of Colour and many other marginalised communities do not actually experience freedom in this country, so throwing the term around highlights the ignorance towards what freedom actually entails. First Nations people, most notably, faced an attempted genocide not that long ago. These communities still feel the systematic racism surrounding our governments legislation from that period. Australia still needs to pay the debt to these Indigenous communities. Rapper Barkaa put it best, Tweeting, “Our people are still facing systemic racism, dying in custody, getting locked up for minor crimes and kids still being removed at a higher rate. Still facing racism and discrimination… wow so much freedom, what it’s like to be free.” While we parade in the streets with freedom as our banner, many people who we live amongst do not understand or feel the freedom that we assume. 4.4% of all First Nations men are currently imprisoned. there were 12,456 Aboriginal and Torrest Strait Islander people in prisons between 2019 and 2020, up from 11,989 the previous year. Of the 22 deaths in police custody in Australia between mid 2019 and 2020, 15 were non-Indigenous people. All after effects of the Stolen Generation, and centuries of systematic oppression. That’s just one group of marginalised people in Australia.
Many white-Australians have conflated the idea of lack of freedom with lockdowns that are for the protection of the public and the maintenance of our health system. This includes myself, but it’s important to remember, that given our privilege, we are arguably the most free people in the world, and to remember the importance of that term to many marginalised people when throwing it around so freely.
Words by Parry Tritsiniotis