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Behind the scenes, with JustJustice

Ahead of the launch of the #JustJustice book (in Sydney on 27 November), the team tell their collective and individual stories relating to the project.

The #JustJustice team writes:

Australia’s failure to provide a culturally safe and fair justice system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is bound up with many other colonial legacies that contribute to health inequities.

The health sector, enmeshed in these legacies, has a moral and ethical responsibility to engage with addressing these injustices. The sector also has the power to help reframe public and policy debate towards fairer policies and better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

The #JustJustice project has sought to contribute to this re-framing of debate and to prod the health sector to engage more proactively.

This is in keeping with the journalistic mission of Croakey, an independent, low-budget social journalism project for health that seeks to work with community in putting the spotlight on under-served issues.

Over-incarceration certainly fits that remit. Despite many, many reports and inquiries over more than a century, governments have yet to take the necessary across-the-board action responding to the wealth of recommendations that have been put forward, by Royal Commissions, inquiries, reports, research and communities.

The #JustJustice project can be seen through many lenses, including as an example of using connective networks to power public interest journalism. It represents innovation in both the funding and the doing of journalism; #JustJustice has been funded by community, and undertaken by working with community.

It also represents the development of journalism as a collaborative, transdisciplinary process – the #JustJustice team has brought together people with diverse knowledges and skills, including cultural knowledge, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, journalism, communications, public health, community development, and graphic design.

#JustJustice was funded on Sunday, 7 June, 2015 – after a nail-biting race to the crowdfunding finish line.

Just three days out from crowdfunding deadline, we had 108 supporters and needed to raise $10,000 to reach our target (otherwise the campaign would not realise any of the pledges).

On that final day, a Sunday on a long-weekend, the hashtag #JustJustice trended number one in Canberra and Brisbane during the day as supporters around the country joined in.

Thanks to the generosity of 339 donors we finally made it over the line. A special shout-out to the two premium donors, Frank Meany of One Vision and the Jesuit Social Services, who each contributed $5,000. Without those generous donations, we would not have reached our fund-raising target.

(While 338 donors helped get us over the crowdfunding line, with one landing after the crowdfunding campaign had finished, not all pledges were realised. However, we acknowledge the 339 tally, recognising that even the pledges which were not realised were useful in getting us over the line, and we acknowledge all donors here.)

But it wasn’t only the money that was donated. It was the support as people shared our crowdfunding callouts, and sent out the #JustJustice stories via social media. It was also the support that people gave by sharing their often very personal stories during the #JustJustice series.

#JustJustice thus also represents journalism as a process as well as outcomes. Just as important as this book and the articles published at Croakey.org has been the development of relationships and connections for change.

Individuals and organisations across sectors, spheres, and all walks of life connected with the #JustJustice hashtag. #JustJustice also found supporters amongst politicians of all stripes, including some who donated to the crowdfunding campaign at Pozible. We also enjoyed a few celebrity moments; Sir Michael Marmot, one of the global leaders for action on the social determinants of health, retweeted #JustJustice.

Decolonising journalism

The reason that #JustJustice took a different approach to much other mainstream media coverage of over-incarceration is that it was informed by a decolonising methodology for journalism practice.

This meant that it has sought to:

  • Provide a useful service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.
  • Recognise the role of colonisation in contributing to incarceration rates and acknowledge how this history plays out in the present.
  • Take a strengths-based approach.
  • Ensure priority representation of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and their expertise, knowledges, cultures and experiences.
  • Examine white privilege, particularly within this context.
  • Follow proper process. This project recognises the importance of respect and relationships, and puts emphasis on how the project is done, as one of the outcomes.

How to measure the impact of #JustJustice?

It is too early to know the full impact of the project; hopefully some of the stories that have been planted will continue to grow. We hope a research project may explore these matters further someday.

In the meantime, some interim measures are:

  • #JustJustice was a collaborative, productive project that produced more than 90 articles from more than 70 contributors.
  • We maintained a high-profile, active social media engagement for more than 18 months. On Twitter, there were almost 5,000 participants at the #JustJustice hashtag from April 2015 to November 2016, and there were almost 124 million Twitter impressions. The #JustJustice hashtag was supported at different times by the curated rotated accounts, @IndigenousX and @WePublicHealth. The #JustJustice memes designed by Mitchell Ward were widely shared.
  • #JustJustice reached out beyond the articles, Periscope broadcasts and social media discussions. We took #JustJustice to conference presentations and media interviews. We gave away #JustJustice Twitter tips (get yours here).

Nonetheless, we remain acutely conscious that #JustJustice is a drop in the ocean, compared to what is needed to shift policy, practice and debate.

We have sought to contribute to a conversation, working alongside organisational-based campaigns like Change the Record. But so much more needs to be said and done.

We hope that those who have supported, contributed to and read #JustJustice will continue to take the issues forward.

Governments need to know that over-incarceration is an injustice that people care deeply about.

Our stories

For the team members, our #JustJustice stories begin in different places. Below, we share something of our individual and collective #JustJustice journeys.

Melissa Sweet, a non-Indigenous public health journalist, Croakey publisher and editor

My #JustJustice journey began when travelling in Western Australia in 2013 and 2014 as part of research for my PhD, “Acknowledgement”: A social journalism research project relating to the history of lock hospitals and other forms of medical incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

As I interviewed people about the history of the lock hospitals of Bernier and Dorre Islands via Carnarvon, and other forms of medical incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, I would ask, Why does this history matter? How does it relate to the present?

Inevitably our conversations would end up canvassing the contemporary issues of over-incarceration and the contribution of hostile, unsupportive and inadequate policies and services.

When I returned from WA in late 2014, I was planning to commission a series of articles for Croakey on the health aspects of over-incarceration.

Instead, an idea for a more ambitious project arose out of a chance discussion with Professor Tom Calma AO and Summer May Finlay at the Public Health Association of Australia end-of-year celebrations in 2014. We then discussed this idea further with Mr Mick Gooda, who was then the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and other Aboriginal health and social justice leaders.

Mr Gooda launched the crowdfunding campaign on 9 April 2015. For the 18 months since then, it has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with the #JustJustice team and also the many others who have contributed to the series. A milestone for the team and the project was when Dr Megan Williams joined us in August 2015, bringing her deep research and community experience to the project.

Significantly, just a few days after the launch of the #JustJustice crowdfunding campaign in 2015, a massive $52.5 million police and justice complex was officially opened in Carnarvon.

The Gwoonwardu Mia Cultural Centre, which stood just over the road from this complex, closed down due to a funding shortfall during the course of the #JustJustice project. (The Centre is the backdrop to the feature image at the top of this post).

The opening of one centre, and the closing of another during the term of this project is profoundly and painfully symbolic.

Summer May Finlay, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Public Health practitioner and occasional writer

Social justice was something I have always been passionate about. One of the first poems I ever performed at a drama eisteddfod while in primary school was Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s No More Boomerang. Her poetry called to me. The injustice of what our mob has gone through since invasion resonated. I think that’s when I became an advocate for our mob.

In my early 20’s I went back to university because I wanted to make a difference for our people. While I was at university I worked as a youth and children’s worker for the city of Sydney and was based in Redfern and Woolloomooloo.

Here I saw how the justice system treated some of the most under privileged young people and it made me so mad. I believe all kids deserve the opportunity to be the best they can be regardless of their situation. I had gone back to university to make a difference and my experiences reinforced that drive.

It was because of my passion for our mob and my experiences that when Melissa mentioned she had been chatting to Tom Calma about running a series on the solutions to the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, I knew I wanted to be involved.

At that time, I could never have imagined that we would have been able to do as much as we have done.

This project has taught me so many things. That Australians can be such generous people with both their time, support and money. I learnt that crowdfunding is hard work, and posting my happy dance on YouTube meant I would never be able to live it down! I have learnt that to grab people’s attention, media doesn’t need to be sensationalist. That strengths-based approaches which privilege Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices is something people want to read.

And I have learnt that a small collective, such as the #JustJustice crew, can create something which has the capacity to make a difference for our mob.

Dr Megan Williams, Aboriginal justice health researcher

Some of my earliest memories visiting family in hospital and prison left an indelible mark, as did my early 1990s work in needle and syringe exchanges.

People would get out of prison and come to the needle exchange, not to get injecting equipment but to be somewhere ‘safe’. We had a garden and arts projects and made thousands of condom packs for 2-metre Condoman to distribute in nightclubs. My boss saw what a poor job I did of accompanying Condoman, and instead sent me to a much more suitable course on research and evaluation.

Not long after, my gorgeous cousin took his own life in a low security correctional centre, one in which I had provided blood-borne virus education. Having been in that landscape played on my mind, as did unanswered questions – how could a person in State ‘care’ kill themselves when a Royal Commission made recommendations for prevention? Why was a person with a range of health issues criminalised to the point of death?

I decided to refine my ‘trade’ as a researcher through a PhD at the intersection of justice and Aboriginal health.

Being a sensitive human I made a rule – my methodology – of ‘solution-focussed stories only’. Out of deep respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I sought to highlight their many efforts that seemed so poorly recognised.

Now 90 stories have been made accessible by #JustJustice. They show in detail how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people provide solutions at multiple levels, and in multiple ways – among individuals, in services, in communities and in making system improvements.

I believe Elders when they say we all have a need and the capacity to grow, and to never give up on anyone. While underlying inequalities drive incarceration rates, it is obvious many other cultures are also suffering – from high suicide rates, obesity and poverty, as well as the effects of climate change.

The beauty of the solutions identified by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through #JustJustice is their universal value – that they are beneficial for everyone.

Marie McInerney, non-Indigenous freelance journalist and editor, Croakey editor

As a freelance journalist with a focus on social justice issues, I was thrilled to be invited to join Melissa, Summer and Mitchell, and later Meg, on the #JustJustice team.

In an earlier job, I had edited an edition of the VCOSS magazine Insight on Crime and Justice issues, with a growing sense of outrage at the structural inequities and injustices at work in our system, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Thanks to the generosity of the Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service (GRAMS), I was able to attend its Prison Health: From the Inside Out conference in Geraldton that coincided with the launch of #JustJustice.

It was packed with insights, but a number stood out. Mick Gooda saying we likely would not have needed to be there had the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody been implemented. Academic Harry Blagg saying the most significant policing impact of the NT Intervention was a 250 per cent increase in the rate of arrests for driving offences, which often led to stints in prison. How one health worker in Roebourne working with Aboriginal people exiting prison had a caseload of 300. And the distress of a delegate from a remote community fearing it was about to be shut down by the WA Government.

As important was what I have learnt (am learning) as a journalist in the methodology of #JustJustice – of the power of privileging community voices, how a strengths-based approach shifts the ground (and mindset) in reporting, and the freedom that comes from having my non-Indigenous assumptions and approaches challenged by working closer with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly with Summer and Meg.

I recently worked on another project involving injustice for Indigenous people, which required generating media interest. “What does it tell us that we don’t already know?” was a common question.

In many ways and with many voices, #JustJustice tells us what needs to be done. As the Northern Territory Royal Commission has heard, it’s time it got done.

Mitchell Ward, non-Indigenous designer and artist; Croakey web developer

My roles included making logos, Internet memes, and YouTube clips, and designing the #JustJustice book, amongst other things. It was an honour to work with Paul Dutton, who created the art work for the cover that informed the whole book’s design. I also worked with Melissa in doing interviews and Periscope broadcasts in WA.

Being involved in this project has made me more aware of my own privilege as a white man, and the huge disparity that exists in Australia, with too much money going into policing and prisons, rather than communities.

To me, nothing says this more powerfully than the opening of a huge police and justice centre in Carnarvon, as Melissa mentions above, at the same time as the closure of the wonderful resource that was the Gwoonwardu Mia Cultural Centre.

It’s been fantastic working on this book hearing from so many people, and the depth of the talent and commitment among communities is inspiring.

• Read 86 pages of #JustJustice transcript on Twitter.


jj_launch_invite_1


Crowdfunding thanks

You can read more than 90 #JustJustice articles published to date here.

Croakey acknowledges and thanks all those who donated to support #JustJustice (see their names here). We also thank and acknowledge our premium sponsors, the Jesuit Social Services, and Frank Meany of One Vision.

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