Review Blog

Sep 23 2019

How powerful we are by Sally Rugg

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Hachette, Australia, 2019. ISBN: 9780733642227.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Non-fiction, LGBTIQ+, Gay marriage, Activism. No doubt history will see the Liberal Party recorded as delivering equal marriage rights to the LGBTIQ+ community in 2017. Sally Rugg's book is an attempt to counter the re-writing of history on how Australia achieved one of the most significant changes in a generation. It did not just hinge on the Yes vote of a postal survey, it was the result of decades of work by a grassroots campaign that would not give up. It was the Liberal government, under Howard, that specifically amended the Marriage Act in 2004 to state that marriage was a union between one man and one woman, and that any alternative union solemnised overseas would not be recognised in Australia. Various attempts by state governments to allow gay marriage were ruled unconstitutional. That ruling clarified for activists that the only way forward was legislative change to the federal law. Thus the campaign began.
Rugg's book recounts all the steps along the path to achieving recognition of gay marriage, basically the recognition of rights to not be discriminated against. Not only is it a step-by-step historical view of the campaign, the book also provides insight into the strategising process essential to activism. The equal rights campaigners knew at the time of the postal vote that the majority of Australians supported gay marriage, so the task was not to be drawn into argument with people who were not likely to change their minds, the strategy was to ensure that Yes voters actually went to the effort of filling in and lodging a non-compulsory postal vote. That meant not being drawn into futile arguments with nay campaigners maligning the Safe Schools program, not being drawn into the fear mongering, but just staying focussed on encouraging the majority supporters to make their vote count. And ultimately that strategy was successful.
Rugg's book is an incredibly valuable historical record for students of civil rights history, as well as being a wonderful insight into the collaboration and focussed strategy required to achieve change at the community level - giving hope that people can unite together to influence government policy. On top of that, it is Rugg's personal story, a heart-warming story, with funny anecdotes, of sometimes making mistakes along the way but managing to work together with friends to achieve something they and all Australians can be proud of.
Highly recommended for school libraries.
Helen Eddy

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