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Sitting in the doors of the powerful

  • 13 August 2014

When the Federal Government put out a cartoon saying ‘No Way’ to asylum seekers from Afghanistan, it struck a gong that reverberated around the nation. Some church leaders gathered together to begin a movement, playing off the government’s slogan. They began calling themselves ‘Love Makes A Way’. Here were people who would seek to use nonviolent actions to call attention to the injustices in our asylum seeker system, notably the close to 1000 children in immigration detention.

Drawing upon the inspiration of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, this was an ecumenical coming together of Christians with the backing of ‘Pace e Bene Australia,’ a group dedicated to a spirituality of nonviolence. With leaders across the nation like Perth’s Jarrod McKenna and Sydney’s Justin Whelan, they began training in the kinds of actions they would seek to perform. Their strategy started to take shape: sit-ins in the electorate offices of federal parliamentarians, asking that justice may ‘roll down like waters’. 

The movement would hold simultaneous sit-ins at the electorate offices of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, calling on both sides of politics to make a way for the vulnerable at our door. In a sense they were joining themselves with the prophetic tradition, crying out that society may welcome the stranger, care for the orphan and make space for the widow. In each case the electorate office staff called the police, with each person involved in the protest making a choice whether to stay put. Protestors who remained were then charged with ‘trespass’, meaning they would have their day in court. They would trust that words be given them.

When an Adelaide sit-in eventuated in the electorate office of Jamie Briggs MP, included among those sitting-in was Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky of Beit Shalom Synagogue. She went on to say ‘I am risking arrest today because the most-repeated teaching in the Hebrew Bible is to treat the stranger with kindness. We Jews trace our roots back to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt 3000 years ago and re-enact the agony of slavery each year at the festival of Passover. The International Refugee law that our government is undermining was written to say ‘never again’ after the Holocaust. I cannot stand idly by and watch my government keep some of the world's most vulnerable children in detention when my faith commands me to act.’

The movement had reached beyond the confines of group boundaries, gaining