What matters at Mardi Gras 2020?
‘What Matters?’ was the theme for Mardi Gras 2020.
With UTS joining the parade for the second time, the theme posed an opportunity to express the values we seek to nurture within our community, while also pointing to the public purpose of a university in progressive society.
“We started thinking, well, what matters to us as a community at UTS?” said Jo Tilly, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the UTS Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion.
“So we’ve just come out of a fire season that’s been really horrific. One of the important things for us is thinking about climate change and how we respond to that as a community.”
This vision came to life in a float featuring a (sustainably sourced) three-metre-high beehive.
“It’s about the hive mind, it’s about us working together, and it’s about what we can contribute, each of us, by being part of a bigger whole”, said Jo.
As UTS Queer Officer of 2018, UTS Enviro Convenor of 2019, and currently the National Queer Officer at the National Union of Students, Dashie Prasad has been at the forefront of student activism in LGBTIQA+ rights and environmental issues.
“There’s a whole bunch of young queer people, that I get to represent, who are feeling and facing the direct brunt of the changes in environment,” they said. “Mardi Gras has a strong history of social justice, of inclusion, of fighting for what’s right, and so including climate justice as part of that is something that UTS has made very clear but it has also matched the history of Mardi Gras.”
Last year UTS signed the Climate Emergency Declaration, signalling commitment to action and advocacy for the future of our planet.
The move was met with support from staff and students, including Alan McKee, Associate Dean (Research and Development), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Universities, he says, are “fantastic institutions. We are machines for gathering and analysing and storing and disseminating knowledge.”
However, “in relation to climate change, for example, I don’t think we expected the deniers to be so successful in overturning science. It may be that at this point, we need different forms of argument.
“It’s interesting to think about the lessons that we can learn from the success of Mardi Gras for other forms of political activism.
“The Mardi Gras now is something unique. It’s become a symbol of Australia. It’s become something that Australians love. And for an older man, who remembers what it was like to be hated, the fact that we have become the centre of Australian society is wonderful, and beautiful, and it moves me so much.”
Judy Friedlander is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Sustainable Futures. Her PhD focuses on effectively informing and engaging people with sustainability issues in the age of the infoglut and ecoanxiety.
“One of the big issues is ecoanxiety, where people feel again more overloaded by the emotional component. And just the scale of the problems,” she says.
While that sounds like bad news, Judy feels there’s a positive spin to be found, by engaging people through practical actions that can themselves scale.
Focussing the dialogue on projects that support biodiversity, she says, can inspire action for sustainability without triggering paralysis in the face of the enormity of the catastrophe.
Judy put this research into practice in founding the initiative PlantingSeeds. One of its projects is creating a B & B highway.
“A lot of people know that bees are endangered, and people have heard the term ‘bee collapse’. We have to build resilience and biodiversity amongst the populations we have.
“The goal of the B & B highway is to encourage as many pollinating gardens as possible. To have as many different varieties and different types of pollinators that can build up resilience; that’s going to help protect our bees.”
“One in three bites of food are affected by pollinators in some way… that’s pretty vital to life,” says Kater Fraser, Manager at PlantingSeeds.
PlantingSeeds is currently looking for volunteers. If you’d like to help create Sydney’s super-highway for pollinators, you can donate, volunteer, collaborate, or suggest a potential location by emailing the FoodFaith: Planting Seeds team at email@example.com.
“We’re lucky to be part of Mardi Gras with UTS. When you have a festival like Mardi Gras, that highlights a project like what we’re working on, it allows us access to people in a different space to what they normally wouldn’t see.”
UTS was proud to make a buzz at the parade this year, sending a message about the values we support in our community and the future we endeavour to contribute towards.
Values, ideas and knowledge are the currency of universities. But we participate in society and it is within that context that people collectively forge the values of society. People like the protestors of 1978, and the students who took part in the global climate strike last September.
“The world has changed now,” reflects Alan. “And the world has changed in part because of things like Mardi Gras, because we have not been afraid, because we’ve got out there and we’ve shouted, and we’ve screamed, and we’ve danced, and we’ve partied, and we’ve told the haters to go f**k themselves. And we need to keep on doing that.
“We’ve not won yet. We’ve still got so much fighting to do, and that’s why the Mardi Gras matters so much.”