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I see people protesting against having to stay home, and I want to scream | Carissa Lee for IndigenousX

As one of the millions of people currently locked down in Melbourne, I’m familiar with the waves of depression that have been coming with it. We’re going through the press conferences, the awkward interactions behind masks, together as a community, a city. It’s difficult. It’s gotten especially rough with seeing friends interstate back at pubs, seeing their families, when a lot of us are still stuck inside or social distancing, trying to do the right thing and keep everyone else safe.

I’m constantly thinking of how First Nations people are one of the categories at higher risk of contracting Covid, and no matter how much we try to do the right thing, through the actions of the people we share this country with, they’re the ones who are probably going to get us sick.

When Covid first hit, there was understandable panic about how this would impact First Nations people, particularly mob living in remote communities. They might be socially isolated, but First Nations people 50 years and over (compared to the non-Indigenous 70 years and older) are also considered high risk.

So when I see a bunch of people – mostly white – having parties down St Kilda at the beach, people moaning about having to wear masks, people protesting against having to stay home, and house parties still happening, I get so angry, because it’s becoming fairly evident that these overprivileged people don’t care about the vulnerable people they’re sharing this country with.

The woman who complained that she’d “seen all of Brighton” could probably never imagine being one of the overrepresented First Nations people in prisons who don’t get to see their families – and being First Nations people and in prison, they are more likely to contract the virus. Change the Record publication Critical Condition shows how First Nations prisoners and children in out-of-home care are also facing prolonged separation from their families, among other issues springing from Covid policies and policing.

When I see people protesting against 5G, I’m left reeling in anger because these idiots will make up myths about technology they take for granted, when there are some First Nations families that don’t have internet access. When people refuse to wear masks as some gammin protest against the government, I think of the First Nations communities who were put at risk because they weren’t being supplied enough PPE.

I see people protesting against having to stay home, and I want to scream. Y’all are complaining about having to be home. There are First Nations people in Western Australia who are being moved on from the places they consider their homes. Due to the housing crisis for First Nations people in Australia, illness is a real risk, but still mob are trying to do the right thing.

The Black Lives Matter protests were people who safely protested – hand sanitiser, social distancing etc – to remind people that our lives mattered, and that we should stop being killed by police brutality. It’s a call that still has not been answered, as the Guardian’s Death inside resource, tracking Indigenous Australian deaths in custody, shows. It’s pretty clear that some of these anti-mask and 5G protests are not undertaking the same health and safety precautions that the Melbourne Black Lives Matter protesters did, and yet the BLM protests again and again are blamed for Covid cases, despite the fact that it’s repeatedly proven to be untrue.

We have found ways to persevere, with First Nations health workers, researchers and clinicians using lessons learned from the 2009 influenza pandemic to inform public health planning responses and First Nations people informing the national roadmap to recovery. We’re not out there asking people to be locked up at the mercy of police, we’re not taking people’s children, or asking people to bury their old people and children before their time, and yet we’ve been asked to deal with all that, and get told we’re asking for too much when we say we just want to survive.

So if any of you are thinking of protesting, having parties, going to the beach in groups, not wearing a mask as a protest, think of those of us who’ve had to stay home when our loved ones have died interstate, think of the First Nations people who are at risk, old people, chronically ill and immunocompromised people. People don’t need to die so you can go to the beach.

• Carissa Lee is a Wemba-Wemba and Noongar actor and writer based in Melbourne. Carissa is currently undertaking her PhD in Indigenous theatre through the University of Melbourne. She also writes for Witness Performance and works as a specialist editor for Swinburne University

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