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Student Activism, Swingin’ Sixties Style

What is it about the 60’s at the moment? Youth program staff members recently held a John and Yoko style bed-stunt in front of a crowd of hundreds, Oxfam turns the big 6-0  (no grey hairs yet!) and students have been combing up their beehives and brushing off their flares in the name of some groovy campus action last Semester.

What for, you ask? A long overdue reminder that our national blueprint – the Australian Constitution – needs a serious revamp. If you haven’t read it, and that makes about 99.9% of us, then you might be surprised about what is, and isn’t inside. Firstly, the Constitution was written in 1901, meaning that only a very small group of Australians (read: old, white, men) had any input, and has been hardly amended since, meaning that some of its provisions reflect more than cringe-worthy attitudes of time gone by.

For example, although the Queen (and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal) get special mentions, there’s not a single reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or to the thousands of years of history that took place before white settlers arrived! Even more shockingly, perhaps, the Constitution even permits some forms of racial discrimination, like the section which says that states can stop people from voting based on race.

Students for Recognition is a movement for change inspired by the incredible leadership of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students across Australia in the 1960’s – which featured both the Freedom Ride and the 1967 Referendum – two events which were instrumental in creating some of the biggest changes in race relations in Australia’s history.

Sydney University Students on the 1965 Freedom Ride
Sydney University Students on the 1965 Freedom Ride

With the inspiring (and fashionable) reminders of past student activism in Indigenous rights, Semester 2, 2013 was about showing the power of young people to create change, and rock some seriously sweet swag.

Students in ten university campuses took Sixties-style events out on campus and signed up, held conversations and basically got the message out there that ‘we need to amend the Constitution. Stat’. Through their events, thousands of young people are now leading the way in pushing for long overdue constitutional change. Groovy.