Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.
‘Hi! I'm Bryan. I'm working on a project about the politics of respect.
I chose you, to do my project with. Do you feel like chatting?’
He checked out her cheeky smile in the school photo on his phone, as his sister grabbed his Westcoast Eagles beanie and ran around with it on the patio, shouting: “Your team lost this year! Go Dockers.”
“Is this your new girlfriend?” His mum walked out carrying a mug of coffee and her I pad: “I need to research some new tiles. It's time to fix up that bathroom of yours. And I expect both of you to give me a hand.”
“Not again, Mum!” his sister flopped onto the leather couch next to him, sipping on her milkshake: “We just finished all that work on the house.”
Bryan waved to his friend, who was walking with his surfboard toward the beach: “I'll be there soon mate! I hope we'll get better waves than yesterday.”
Just then, there was a response on his mobile. ‘Sure! Why not? I'm Abbey. I'm happy to chat. Are you really from Australia? It's cool that our schools got together on this project.’
Bryan took a photo of the beach in the distance, with the path through the salty scrub in the foreground. They were surrounded by half-finished houses in the new estate, where they were one of the first residents. There was dust everywhere, and the picture was hazy. But it would have to do. ‘Stinking hot here! I've sent you a pic from down under. What about you? Where do you live and how is the presidential debate going? I'm supposed to ask you some questions for our report.’
There was no response, so he kept texting.
It goes something like this: ‘Humankind thrives on a marketplace of ideas, so diversity has a vital role.
New voices and experiences enrich the debate. Intelligent humans don't fight power with power, and threaten with threats. This risks replacing one abusive ruler with another. Instead, they use facts and evidence, tested in debate, to help the weak take on the strong.’
‘My father would say you sound like a proper, good for nothing Democrat, but it sounds okay to me. My brother's writing a song. I like the sound of the lyrics: …she lived down by the river, a flat the council give her, wallpaper very scenic, her outlook very beatnik, we watched the weather through the door, as he entered in short sleeves with arms of iron, and me with just my tie on… He's going out with his band now. That's pretty much how we live here in the USA.'
‘Wow! Your brother's a musician? Mine's a mining engineer, just like my Dad. Boring, hey? Anyway, I took some notes about your president debating with the new contender and a previous one. It was part of our school essay: ‘The end of the debate’. I'm just checking if you have something to add to it: Debating Hillary Clinton in 2016, Mr Trump interrupted and physically intimidated his opponent, promising to jail her. This year he interrupted, contradicted and traduced Joe Biden and even the moderator. He cavilled and scowled, huffed and ranted. The ferocity of his grievances was formidable. It was also ludicrous. It might even have seemed comical, if he wasn't America’s president.’
‘Wow, Bryan! Factual and accurate!
On my street, you'd probably write one last essay: ‘How Democrats die.’
Like my father, 40% of Americans are still with Trump. I guess because of his refusal to be constrained by rules and his need to dominate? Anyway, how is it in Australia? Is your family blue? Like you?’
‘Blue? Well, my footy team's blue and yellow! But otherwise we're all different. My Mum and my sister are Green supporters. My brother and I are Labour and my father's an old school Conservative. But we all get along alright.’
‘Lucky you! My Mum and my bro aren't voting for Trump anymore. They lost their jobs in the pandemic and got nothing from the government. My Granny died of heart failure after contracting Covid. She couldn't afford the necessary medical assistance, you see. But they still wear red for Trump, so that no one lynches us, for being traitors.’
Bryan didn't know what to say. She added: “We're white but Granny was half black. I used to spend school holidays in her all black neighbourhood of Milwaukee. She was so proud of her modest house, near a defunct car parts factory. Every time that I returned home to our flash house, I felt as if I'd come to another country. But in reality, we were just a nearby suburb, only all white. You know, she used to say to me: “Every newly appointed president should walk around the north side of our city. Only then would he understand why so many of the 7 million Midwesterners feel trapped.”
‘I wanted to ask you about the ‘Black Lives Matter campaign’ actually..’ Bryan typed,
My father said that we're white evangelists.
81% of us voted for Trump in 2016 because he's willing to keep the blacks in their place, as well as anti abortion.’
Bryan was taken aback, but he kept typing: ‘Then you'll probably disagree with the other part of our project. That is, how to bridge the gulf between your people. I believe that you don't need to build a state based on identity. Economic policies that are race neutral can make a big difference. They have a chance to unite Americans, not divide them.
Abbey typed back quickly: ‘You know Bryan, it's hard for you to understand as an outsider, but until a century ago, the Midwest was mainly settled by white immigrants. Mostly farmers and traders who'd come from central and northern Europe, like my father’s family. Then black southerners flocked north to escape Jim Crow. For six decades, millions of black people flooded into the industrial Midwest. Northern Germanic whites like my fathers’ family, had always seen black southerners as gatecrashers, competing for their jobs and housing. African Americans were forced to the outskirts, out of sight. That's still the case today.’
‘Do you think that's right? Do you think it's fair?’ Bryant typed quickly, but was thinking about erasing it, as his teacher wouldn't be impressed with his disrespectful way of debating. Abbey shot back at him, and rightfully so: ‘What about your Indigenous people? A nomadic race, not a warlike people, their harmonious spiritual beliefs usurped by the British, who decimated them! Where are your principles?’
‘I'm of Russian descent, actually.
Our conservative leader came to power on coal's back.
Even after our disastrous black summer and the worst droughts in history, caused by climate change. Would you like to see a Russian painting that hangs in my room?’ He offered, running to his room to send a photo.
‘Nice! Exactly how I feel right now, Bryan. You know, everyone here sees climate change as a political issue. But it's not, is it Bryan? It's actually our right to have clean air and water, and a clean earth for all of us!’
‘My brother works for BP. He came home happy because it's the only mining company aiming to reduce production in oil and gas by 40% before 2013. They plan to increase investment in renewables and have net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That's a good start, isn't it? And from a mining company!’
‘That never happens here. Well, not with Trump in charge anyway. I wish that I could do something.’
‘You can, Abbey. We all can. I just wrote a letter to the supermarket next door. My mum shops there. It was initiated through school. I got good marks for it. Anyway, here it is: "Our climate is approaching breaking point, and we know that we can’t trust our government to act on climate crisis. While the government drags its feet, together we can ask Australia’s biggest brands and companies to switch to 100% renewable electricity. I'm writing to you to ask....when will Coles commit to 100% renewable electricity? Only recently, ALDI committed to 100% renewable electricity by 2021. Telstra committed to 100% electricity by 2025. More and more companies across Australia and the world, are showing real leadership towards clean energy. They're doing this because renewable energy is cleaner and cheaper. It's better for business and it's better for our planet. I look forward to seeing Coles make a public commitment to power their operations entirely with the sun and wind. Yours sincerely…" What do you think?’
Abbey sent a thumbs up to him: ‘I'll write to Walmart straight away. Anyway, how do you want to finish our report? I need some good marks too.’
‘I don’t know. Maybe a quote to wrap it all up. All that we can’t change.’
‘I've something that my Granny left me. A poster that used to hang in her shack.
Do you want to hear it?’
‘"No man can inherit the earth. The only thing worth inheriting is humanity." Written by Albert Murray, one of the finest bards of America’s racial complexity.’
Bryan typed three thumbs up: ‘That's perfect, Abbey. That 's just perfect! We'll catch up tomorrow. I have to run down to the beach to catch the surf now, before the wind changes.’
‘It's already after midnight here. I'm off to see my bro play with his band in our local pub. It was awesome chatting with you, Bryan. See you later.’
‘Yep, see you! My sister's working on her Greens protest banner, for a street demonstration against mining Indigenous sacred sites: ‘We can’t solve the climate crisis without people of colour. But we could probably solve it without racists.’
Abbey sent a whole line of thumbs up. Bryan smiled to himself, closing his phone and grabbing his surfboard. He whispered to the wind.... if only today's politicians could hear him. The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
Beata Stasak (author) from Western Australia on October 27, 2020:
Thank you Shauna, I guess I just observe the world around me as I have always done growing up through turbulent social and political times:)
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 26, 2020:
Beata, this piece comes with a powerful punch. The last two paragraphs speak volumes. Each quote should become the world's mantra. "We can't solve the climate crisis without people of color. But we could probably solve it without racists."
And my favorite: "The quieter you become, the more you can hear."
You have such a unique way of addressing social and political issues, Beata. You are truly gifted.
Beata Stasak (author) from Western Australia on October 26, 2020:
Thank you Peggy our history will be judged by the next generation and it is up to them to follow in our footsteps to make the world a better place to live in...I do not believe they can succeed to make it worse as it is so the only way out is to find a better way ...
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 25, 2020:
Your article was a clever way for school kids to communicate, via the Internet, from distant places about politics, racism, and climate change.