The year Christmas was cancelled and a hope for 2017

It has been a horrible year for those of us on the progressive side of politics, or anyone who is generally pro humanity and anti-suffering.

Political opportunism at the expense of the vulnerable has been overarching theme of 2016. Brexit, the ascendancy of Trump and Hanson, the atrocities of ISIL and the brutal suppression of the Syrian people while the world stood by…it has seemed at times there was nothing stopping unscrupulous leaders who were willing to appeal to our deep, unspoken fears.

It’s enough to make you give up on this human experiment, to think that, as the late great Bill Hicks said, “it appears we’ve just about run out of ideas on this planet.” Each fresh atrocity has added weight to the suspicion that humans are, generally speaking, a bit shit.

But I keep thinking back to a story my Aunt Linda told me a year ago, just before Christmas 2015, when David Bowie was alive, Pauline Hanson was an answer in a 90s trivia round, and it seemed inevitable that a woman would ascend to the highest political office in the world.

She told me about a Christmas sometime in 1950s Britain.

My grandfather, Leon Reginald DuBois, a worker and union organiser at the Austen motor plant in Birmingham, had been on strike for months, fighting for fairer pay and conditions.

There was meagre money for necessities, and none for Christmas treats, let alone presents. It was going to be a grim Christmas.

Linda, the youngest of five, still believed in Father Christmas. So my grandfather sat her down and told her this story.

In most years, he said, Father Christmas leaves the North Pole and travels south around the globe, dispensing presents to all the children as he goes. But by the time he gets to Australia, there are no presents left. The Australian children all miss out, just because they’re furthest from the Pole. They both agreed this was terribly unfair.

So this year, her Dad told her, for once Father Christmas will start in the South. All the kids in Australia and elsewhere who usually miss out will get presents.

Unfortunately, though, that means that by the time he gets to England, there won’t be any presents left.

They both agreed that, while disappointing, this was only fair.

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to tell your youngest child there won’t be Christmas this year. Because of the efforts of people like Reginald and countless others, I’ve never had to.  And while he told my Aunt a white lie about Santa (as all parents do), it was in the service of a greater truth. She would miss out on Christmas presents that year, but he could hope that, in time, it would lead to fairer work for all.

Hope and fairness – both have taken a battering this year. Barack Obama was hope personified when he campaigned eight years ago. Fourteen million jobs were created during his tenure,  but income inequality only increased in that time, as it has in Australia. Trump swept those states where manufacturing has died, and with it the dream that a worker’s children could do at least as well in life as s/he did. Despite the fact Trump’s party has waged an unrelenting war on unions in manufacturing states like Wisconsin. Despite the fact that he supports spending cuts that hurt the poor and tax cuts to help the rich.

If it’s true that, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, it’s also true that arc is not a smooth one. Every reformation is followed by counter-reformation. Things get worse before they get better.

Who knows what 2017 has in store. Early signs, it seems, aren’t good. But if an appeal to fairness can make a child accept there will be no visit from Santa, I like to think there’s some small hope for us all.

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