Comedian Michelle Wolf, recently delivered a controversial speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner which resulted in fierce backlash over her views on Donald Trump and his cabinet. However, many others applauded her bravery for speaking truth to power. Wolf has since doubled down on her comments saying she’s glad she “stuck to her guns” and didn’t betray her brand of comedy.
Wolf’s conviction is admirable, but should we try to emulate it? How important is it to speak truth to power, and is it really worth the fight? Our latest #Auspol Brains Trust responds:
Jane Caro – Novelist (Just a Girl Just a Queen), author (Plain Speaking Jane, Stupid Country, F Word, What Makes a Good School) feminist, atheist, media tart & stirrer.
I guess I speak truth to power as much as I can but, interestingly, it is not when I speak truth to male power about feminism that I get the biggest blow-back. It is when I speak up in support of public education that I cop the most consequences.
In Australia, people simply cannot bear to be reminded of how we hobble our poorest kids by the way we fund schools. I believe I have failed to be considered for some jobs because of my stance and I have been publicly patronised and serially sneered at in mainstream media in response. I have had a famous man shove his hand an inch from my face to stop me speaking truth to power and I have been relentlessly bullied by a well known media figure on social media.
However, I think the moment when I most audaciously spoke truth to power was when I spoke about my abortion on a radio panel show that included Archbishop Peter Jensen. That was interesting, to say the least.
See some of Jane’s articles where she speaks truth to power on Australia’s eduction system here:
- St Posh vs Bog Standard High: how the school system can fight poverty and privilege –
- Ruining Gonski’s Schools Funding Plan –
- Not Sensible or Logical – The Tale of Three Gonski’s
Denise Brailey – Crusader for Justice on behalf of ordinary folk. Criminologist – white collar crime BPolSc BLS BCrim Ad Dip Acct
Watching the “Shawshank Redemption,” A prominent banker unjustly convicted of murder spends many years in a 1950’s prison. He spends his time writing 1000 letters to authorities demanding books for prisoners. I was enthralled by the scene in the newly created library, whereby the prisoners led by “Red” were ecstatically unloading truck-loads of books onto empty shelves. Andy took a seat at his desk and starts writing: “Dear Mr President”, Red looks around and says, “What you doing? The President has said here is them books and he never wanted to hear from you again!” Andy smiles, “we will need more books next term.”
I have spent many years using the power of the pen effectively to benefit those who have been disempowered. There has to be passion in writing to achieve results, and certainly an ability to communicate with those in powerful places of authority. I had many disappointing responses. Eventually I achieved meetings and refused to meet those persons who had no power to make important decisions. To encourage dialogue, I wrote submissions to Parliament and lobbied for and achieved at least 23 Inquiries, two of which were Royal Commissions.
Changing government behaviour, change of institutionalised bad conduct can only be achieved by showering authority with facts and evidence. Truth is powerful as it stands as the ultimate position when evidence may be intentionally hidden by those you are accusing. Speaking truth to power slowly releases the hold an institution may have adopted in covering up a treacherous truth.
By shining lights on details that cry out for exposure, power changes hands from those who have abused power to those who are the newly empowered. This work has led to recovery of over $300 million in 4 States and has seen 43 custodial sentences handed out via the criminal courts. State and federal consumer laws have been changed and improved.
Authoritative people in positions of power will rarely fear one person taking on a strong and believable argument. However, In the ageless UK series of Yes Minister, Minister Hacker retorts, “yes Sir Humphrey, an isolated incident it may be, but I do not want to see 800 isolated instances dropped on my desk tomorrow morning.”
Of even greater importance is the gathering of people together. Collectivism takes mountains of time and determination. By taking on issues that I am not personally affected by has kept me focused on issues that are larger than self and could perhaps affect the nation and its economy.
Truth is therefore a powerful tool to be used wisely to expose those who would do us all harm. The outcomes by speaking out against tyranny become beneficial for the entire community.
See further information about Denise’s work, speaking truth to power, in the financial sector here
Tarla Lambert – Publisher @WomensAgenda #writer, content strategist, politics junkie, wine consumer, #feminist and unashamed loyalist of the #CanberraRaiders https://womensagenda.com.au/
I always find it impressive and admirable when people—especially women—stand up for themselves and brave the trolls in a public capacity. In the short time I’ve been writing about women’s issues and advocating for this audience publicly, I’ve become acutely aware of how hard this can be despite how easy it may look.
Trolls are prolific. In all seriousness, they are everywhere. And big, high profile trolls will gather troll minions to form angry, bitter, menacing tribes. Trolls, when you are in the public eye, (even in a small way) can be terrifying.
Let me preface this by saying that I have never been apprehensive about sharing my opinions. While living at the infamous St John’s college at the University of Sydney, I was regularly in dining-hall stoushes. One incident, I remember in vivid detail was a guy on my floor declaring proudly on election day that he wouldn’t be voting for Julia Gillard, who he referred to as “that dumb, ranga s**t”. This resulted in an incensed, expletive-laden tirade by me, and a swift head-duck from him, as I pegged a stale croissant point blank at his already-balding head.
But, at least this guy had the pluck to voice his thoughts out loud. Faceless trolls are another thing altogether. Individuals (predominantly men) who spout toxic abuse without the fear of being held accountable. Already I’ve come up against some pretty disturbed characters, and I know this is unlikely to ever change while I’m in the line of work that I’m in. But, I do think it’s important to fight back because speaking truth to power is so ridiculously important.
In an era when so much “news” is available, where so many highly questionable people are afforded huge platforms to persuade mass audiences, it is vital that independent, verified information is out there for everyone. It’s also critical that arseholes don’t come up trumps. Otherwise we may as well chuck the towel in now.
Denise Shrivell – Is the founder of Mediascope & Peggy’s List as well as a rising political activist. She commentates on the intersection between media & politics.
Everyday I see people speaking truth to power on #auspol Twitter so have created this Twitter moment highlighting just some of the inspirational people and the issues they are promoting with the aim of keeping them on the political agenda: From asylum seekers to indigenous issues to welfare to veterans affairs. Please take a look at the ‘Moment’ here – & follow #auspol on Twitter here – where every minute of everyday brave, highly informed and engaged Australians are speaking truth to power.