International Women’s Day, 2017.
I’ve often said that all my books are acts of subversion disguised as historical fiction: pirate tales for kids that are really about slavery and rebellion, or adventures for young adults about freedom of the press, refugees, and religious intolerance. Always political. Always diverse. Always driven but never preachy. Or so I hope. Stories about women and girls.
But now, now, the writing and the purpose feels so much more urgent, the need more extreme.
It so happens that in the middle of months of protests and outrage, my little book about a similar time in local history has come out into the world – a book about a previous generation that found itself taking to the streets in huge numbers, compelled to take action by a world, by an idea, that could not be denied.
Or many ideas. Here in Australia, a hundred years ago, it was the principle that nobody should be compelled to go to war against their will. That nations should seek options other than military action. The 1916 and 1917 plebiscites on conscription were incredibly divisive and the scars of that debate lasted for generations. In 1917 there was also the Great Strike, food shortage protests, arrests and demonstrations and censorship of the press.
In Russia, of course, the situation was even worse. On International Women’s Day 1917, women protested in the streets of Petrograd about food rationing and the endless war. Factory workers went on strike, and eventually the armed forces mutinied, refusing to shoot protesters. The February Revolution* had begun but in the meantime it changed the war, changed the country, and changed the world.**
Maybe 2017 doesn’t feel so tumultuous. But I can’t remember too many times like this. Every day more outrages from leaders in various countries. Every day more outrage.
There are divisions among us, of course and as always. There is anger about unrecognised privilege, dissent about how best to make our arguments, or even which arguments to make – which battles to fight.
But still, there are millions of feet marching, in cities and sites around the world, in defence of fragile freedoms of all kinds.
Some of us have always had to fight. Some have returned to the fray. Some people find themselves out marching in the streets or arguing online or writing in despair for the first time.
This moment – these dying days, I hope, these death rattles of a panicked privileged few – seems to be one of those moments in time where great change could happen.
And that’s exactly what they’re afraid of.
*February in the Julian calendar.
** For better or worse or both.