Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even if you never learn another phrase in the French language, the one in the title is a must. Whenever history begins repeating itself, it’s a phrase that often springs to mind.

There have been many moments in human history when people have drawn a line and said STOP. This is one of them. In my lifetime there have been only a few such moments. Of course the anti-Vietnam War protest is the one that stands out. But the fall of the Berlin Wall had extra meaning for us; our third child had arrived, it was my birthday, and the unthinkable had happened; Germany was reuniting.

Another change I never thought I would see was when the Whitlam Labor Government won power in 1972. For my whole life, Menzies had been the Prime Minister. My father, on the executive of the Queensland Liberals, revered him. ‘Pig-iron Bob’ seemed unflinching and indestructible.

When we students engaged in protest, we were viewed as naughty children. One lecturer said to two of us, as we prepared a banner for the Moratorium march, “I thought you were sensible”.

In those days university departments had noticeboards where students could post things, usually requests for accommodation, items for sale, but sometimes, opinions. I didn’t make a habit of expressing my political views. This changed, and I placed a notice on the board, the day we heard that four students protesting at Kent State University had been shot and killed by the National Guard. Having been viewed as ‘naughty’, and derided by other students for opposing the War, we were transported by the Kent State killings  to a ‘moment’ where time seemed to stand still.

Many of us were motivated to say STOP. Stop treating us like recalcitrant children who should stand in the corner while the adults decide what to do. Stop making life-altering decisions on our behalf, like sending our boyfriends to a War that we will later know to have been wrong, a truth which in 1970 was becoming clearer and clearer.

Students of Florida, your statements in the media show that you can compete on the adult political stage. You know what to do. I believe this is one of those ‘moments’ in history. The whole world is watching.




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