When I asked Margarita Windisch, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Wills, to explain why she became an activist, the answer was simple.
She said, “Life is very political, like it or not. So it’s better to get into the fray and fight for what we want and what the planet needs than to leave it up to a small rich minority who will put their bank accounts before humanity. That’s what I decided to do anyway and have never looked back.”
Windisch grew up in a working class family in Austria, and migrated to Australia in the late 1980s. “From when I was very little I can remember my dad saying that “under our system the rich get richer and the workers have to pay for it”. He instilled a strong sense of social justice and solidarity in me, encouraging his children to always look out for each other and especially the ‘weaker ones’.”
It was a passion for women’s rights that led Margarita to socialist politics, and she helped organise her first International Women’s Day march in Melbourne in 1992. The experience exposed her to a range of feminist theories and perspectives.
“I didn’t see all men as my enemy nor did I believe that more women in power would solve our problem — by then we had already experienced Margaret Thatcher and the like.
“An analysis that looked at class society as the key culprit for our second class citizen status and suggested a revolutionary way out of women’s oppression was what struck a chord with me”
In her 20 years as a feminist and socialist activist, Margarita has been involved in and helped organise conferences, rallies and campaigns for women’s right to abortion, against violence and for equal pay. She has also worked as an abortion counsellor, and still works for a sexual assault service. This work has strengthened her resolve to change the system.
“I can support individual women and men to help them deal with the abuse and heal from it but that doesn't address the gender oppression inherent in our system. Doing this work re-emphasises to me that unless we fight for structural change and a socialist future, individual women will continue to bear the brunt of a brutal gender-biased class system with their freedom, happiness and even their own lives.”
Windisch was a founding member of the Socialist Alliance in 2001, and has also been involved in a range of campaigns against war and racism and for international solidarity ever since. Her internationalism has led her to Venezuela and to visit the Western Saharan refugee camps in Algeria, both of which left a lasting impression.
“In Venezuela I had the privilege of witnessing the transformation of society, where people are trying to build a socialist alternative to the crippling and brutal capitalist system that for decades had completely enslaved them in abject poverty through exclusion from the political system and resource wealth.
“I could see with my own eyes how people were not only yearning for a better world but became active participants in shaping their future. It surely brings the best out in people.”
“My experience in the Western Saharan refugee camps was extremely humbling. Even in the face of the worst adversary the Saharawi people have not given up their strong culture, nor the political will to fight for self-determination and [the] right to return to their rightful homeland.”
“Experiences like these have given me great inspiration to continue the fight for social and ecological justice.”
Windisch sees the ecological and social challenges ahead clearly. “The climate crisis demands fundamental change to the way we run society. We live in what climate scientists call the critical decade — the decade that demands radical action to decarbonise the atmosphere in order to avoid runaway climate change with potentially catastrophic consequences.”
“This is our world and it is in danger. The people in power have failed to protect humanity and the planet — its time for us to kick them out. So let's do it!”