Year of activism #41

The Federal budget failed to pay attention to the 51% of the population who are women. There was significant neglect of the way our community runs on the unfettered labour and love of those who stay home, undertake caring roles, hold families and communities together with their extra shifts of volunteering, home help, home nursing and child care. There was neglect or at best scant attention to an economy which can’t be fully functional without the all the efforts that as Marilyn Waring first coined more than a generation ago that “counts for nothing”. I am enraged by a Federal Government who gives lip service to female founders and then after almost a year no money has been distributed, partly because of the shock they got, when four times as many women applied for grants than they anticipated.  I give sincere thanks to all those who toil silently and consistently for program reform and legislative review … but … and it sticks in my throat to add this but … it is not the best use of our time and talents.  We need to turn our attention away from trying to get a system to work for women, and we need to turn even further away from trying to get women to fit into a system that no longer works for them.  I sat in on a webinar on the gender pay gap in the UK this week that provided undeniable evidence that women undertaking leadership courses to get ahead, get a promotion or be more visible in their work place as leaders, had not yielded any increase in salary to women.  In the words of the host, former Australian PM, Julia Gillard, on hearing this evidence, she calmly and clearly stated: “it is not women who need to be fixed, it is the system.”

The politics of grief is never far away, knowing I will and am continuing to have to give up or at a minimum, shift, power in places where my participation is privileged. As we embrace, the apprenticeship of our disappearance, as David Whyte would call it, I am moved to consider how my eldership is unfolding.

While walking today the Pioneer Women’s Trail (a 26km walk through the Adelaide Hills that commemorates early settlers who were women and girls taking their produce to market) I soaked in the history of the walk and the lack of story along the way of the First Nations women who were there before occupation. I was buoyed by the hosts of the event acknowledging country and elders past, present and emerging and touched at the simplicity and humility in which is was delivered by the volunteer safety officer.  I noted there was very little diversity amongst the hundreds of walkers  and wonder how that might be addressed in the future, and the potential for more signage along the way to tell stories to frame decolonization of the landscape, introduced species of flora and fauna and not the least the introduction of the settlers. A large, elderly koala made an appearance at the top of one of the inclines and seemed to take in the sights of us, as we took in the sight of him, for a moment the continuous occupation of the eucalyptus over generations of koalas gave me heart for a time past and a time to come.  There were patches where the January bushfires were clearly still tattooed on the slopes and fire tracks delineating where successful crews had held back flames and saved habitat. There were plenty of new shoots and lots of native orchids, butterflies and creatures coming out to play in the spring time. The bellow of the river frogs and a promise from signs that we might see a few splashes from the river rats – Rakali – the only freshwater amphibious mammal other than the platypus in Australia.  (I heard the frogs but didn’t spot any of the endangered rakali.) I wanted to grieve for what has been lost in our story and our connection to these places along the way and I wonder how we can make and take time to honour what has been lost and what is under threat of being lost. While I eaves dropped on conversations along the trail, not once did I hear anyone talking about the environment. Chatter seemed full of family, caring responsibilities, work commitments, juggling life across generations and expectations. Without the planet though, all these things will be moot and until can mourn for what we have lost, celebrate what we have, we may not be able to resist and preserve, rehabilitate and restore. There are rituals waiting to be made and old and new stories to be written and sung into being. Those who have and make space and time to reflect are on their eldership pathway. I think a new generation of activists embracing their eldership is emerging.  They are the ones who have known generational pain, grief and can hold the space for sorrows to be shared, and healed. I am imagining rituals where we mourn what was not done in a Federal budget, loss of habitat and the lack of equity in our world. I am imagining lamentations that go deep and call us to action.  Going for a walk is as good a place to start as any.

... the path to heaven doesn’t lie

down in flat miles. It’s in the

imagination with which you perceive this world and the

gestures in which you honor it. – from The Swan by Mary Oliver

Pioneers Women’s Trail 18 October 2020


                                                                                              

Year of activism #40

Just heard that the Taliban have offered their endorsement to Donald Trump, that idea brings together activism and disruption to new places and is a great reminder that when systems change is being called for, there is always the potential to end up with some strange bedfellows! Having a common agenda is a central ingredient to building movements and pathways for change, and building a shared platform and understanding of translating that vision into action, might start with leaders, and left to its own devices can morph and meander down some dark and difficult holes as well as rise up into sunshine we can all bask in.

This week I am writing from Kabi Kabi country in Queensland and feel I am thrusting all my privileges onto the page even by saying that. Yes I can travel, I get to see family and get hugs, I transferred through an airport with the flash of a travel documents on my mobile device, a device that is now being used as digital passport to go to cafes, restaurants and to stay in a hotel, I have permission to get into cars, planes, cabs, trains and have travelled in all of these in last 24 hours. All this along with my white, educated, English speaking, healthy, housed, literate, digitally engaged and employed status continues to set me apart as one of the elite in a post COVID world that has already arrived for me while loved ones in other parts of the country and the world are excluded from much of what I am now able, mostly, once again, to take for granted. For this activist I am reflecting on how to not let amnesia set it and to pay attention to how my privilege is showing up in these new times. Everything can change very quickly and when I walk along a coast line brimming with species that have served generations and being appreciated for their abundant beauty, I am clumsily bringing a mindfulness and deep, sincere appreciation of the gifts I have been given, mostly not earnt, privileges of race, class, colour, location of birth.

I even have my favourite walking shoes that have taken me to the Camino, to forests and dunes, up and down hills and along rocky inlets and riverlets. They served me well as I puff my way up to a lookout called Hell’s Gates and if this is what the gates of hell look like I am not too worried! The power of the ocean in the migratory path of humpback whales, home to turtles, dolphins and cormorants – a cornucopia of food for communities past. I take a moment to give thanks, arriving at the top to catch my breath, and to recall the custodians and their totems that have been held by this place for generations.

One of the practices of this activist is to land into place. I am feeling this more and more and I entwine my actions and my self around a preferred future where the centrality of the planet is non-negotiable. (This concept of place if beautifully explained by the poet Pádraig Ó Tuama in his Poetry Unbound reflections for On Being’s Paused.) Justice for our First Nations here in Australia and around the world, learning decolonising practices and understanding place based approaches to give meaning and connection to translate into our cultural and economic relationships, feels like a combination of untangling and making new threads we can weave together. Some days I want to cut all the threads and start again, other days I have energy for weaving and then there are days when all I can do is soak up the beauty and invite the beauty to guide me (and have at the back of my mind survivorship bias which is also encoded into my list of privileges)

Year of activism #39

It is October 4th – feast day of St Francis and day to celebrate creation and all the creatures. It is the only day on the calendar I am 100% sure which saint it belongs too. There are more words and images of Francis in the western world than the founder of his strand of spirituality. His radical transformative lifestyle changed his little town and generations who followed, and continued to our time when the latest incarnation of the role of Bishop of Rome sent a definitive message to the faithful and non-believers alike in choosing the name Francis for his papacy. At the time one of my favourite liberation theologians, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff (also a Franciscan monk who had been kicked out by the previous administration) was welcomed back and remarked on the choice of the Argentinian of Francis – was not choosing a name but an agenda. The agenda was around simplicity, creation and care of the earth and a call to disrupting the institutional power. I had high hopes and there were early signs, and I remain encouraged, although long for more. This ancient global institution pivoting to these times, feels more like a shipwreck laden with barnacles where only time and/ or a tsunami might bring new life. Francis is releasing a new encyclical today on friendship. I am going to be interested in reading it. His last one (Laudato Si) was a powerful instruction on how to care for the earth and all that required personally and politically, and poignantly to go back to the basics and ‘rebuild the church’. Such a shame for the patriarchy and language and colonisation that much of the good gets washed away by the clumsy and lack of restitution the church, to say nothing of all the apologies to first nations, women and LGBTIQ+ . Francis of Assisi turned the tables and publicly admonished power, privilege and embraced simplicity, had a beautiful relationship with Clare of Assisi and together they offered an alternative lifestyle of poverty, service, stewardship and speaking truth that inspired generations. In their part of Italy, Clare attracted more women to her community, than men were able to attract to be their wives – it was very disruptive – and turned the tables on the economics of the region.

Francis was my father’s middle name as he was born Oct 3 and would have been 84 this year. I sang Donovan‘s version of Francis’ Canticle of Creation at his funeral and while he wasn’t a believer, he did love all of creation and respected his roots and traditions. The opening lines of this poem are: Brother Sun and Sister Moon, indicative of the close relationship Francis had with all of creation. From the most ancient of astrological surveys it is the Sun who rules as masculine energy the Moon as feminine. It is this deep friendship with the earth and the sky that has guided our species and all the instruction we need remains available to us should we look to the skies and look to what lies below our feet.

The cry of the earth for rehabilitation and decolonisation, is a lamentation, an ache. As her sisters and brothers we are being called to care for our Sister, our Mother, the earth. There is a strong trajectory in all world religions for care for the earth, simplicity and ecological justice. In my own tradition, it is often to Francis and Clare that I look, but they are not alone and throughout history and all around the world in communities in mountains, deserts, cities and slums individuals have risen up as lone nuts and founded movements, some of which have become institutionalised, and others that flowered for a single season, but it is the deep thread we can all pull on as activists and remind ourselves of our lineage and humbly make the use of this time we have to make our contribution. I think that is the message for me on this Feast of St Francis to take instruction from the sun and the moon, to recalibrate and set a course by the stars to take me back to my roots and to deeply listen to the land, its original custodians.

John O’Donohue says “friendship is an act of recognition” and maybe that is part of the pilgrim way, to recognise ourselves and familial relationships in the landscape and have the landscape invite us to see that in ourselves. Imagine if we could recognise the beauty around us in the heavens and on the horizon and know, really know, we are both custodians and reflections of this beauty. Nature is the pause and refresh button as well as the plug in and play for so many activists and this day is as good as any to celebrate all of creation and enter into more friendship and intimacy.

Arriving in Assisi to a rainbow, June 2013

Year of activism #38

The vernal equinox has just passed and the days have started to get longer. A new year of  begins. In my part of the world green arrives, with winds and rain. Inland and north they are noticing more emu chicks than ever, a sign of a wet spring and in the farms near me, plenty of twins and triplet lambs in the fields, a sign from the northern hemisphere transplanted here that spring is in fine form. COVID19 is starting to wane in the neighbouring state of Victoria and has claimed another victim, their health Minister. I watch their leaders on the news and see their Premier getting thinner by the day, and wonder if the Cabinet has mental health practitioners on hand supporting them.  It has been a year since their first bushfires started and relentless public health and safety ever since – must be like being in a war cabinet rather than governing for peacetimes.  Everyone in the state of Victoria working to eradicate an invisible enemy.

Friends on zoom calls, beaming in from the US talk about prepping themselves for their elections and whatever the aftermath will bear. They talk of being worried about civil war … and there is that word again War.  It keeps turning up in conversations and I turn my attention to the warrior, the one who is ready, willing and able to put their body on the line to get into the kind of strife that may lead to taking up arms.

Warriors come in all forms and have a range of weapons.  The warrior against waste, might be the seven year old who chastises an older relative for having single use plastic in their home. The warrior for racial justice might be the rap singer mobilising with their street theatre comrades performing to stop traffic. The warrior for gender equity might be in the HR department building a skillful runway for equal pay with built in court appearances, board table presentations and union allies. The warrior activist, is often characterised as having violent tendencies, courage, embattled and aggressive, the one who can take one for the team.  They are the ones who have the role of stepping into the fray, no longer willing to stay on the outskirts, they point out through their actions what is not right and set a course to bring that injustice to the fore, often making what was invisible, visible and therefore inviting others into seeing what they can see.  The mythical Amazon female warriors seem to have a basis in reality according to new evidence reported in the Washington Post a few years ago. I am looking forward to the lessons that will come from this that may shake up assumptions about warriorship and women.  When activists disturb assumptions there is a fair chance disruption will follow and warriors will emerge, and when those warriors are not the usual suspects even more assumptions can turn tables.

I am inspired by warriors, those willing to put their body on the line to go into battle to not just make things right, but to make the injustice right for whole populations, species, habitat, communities. That they are willing to hold the space so others can do what they must do behind the scenes and inoculate  make it safe for others to get on with what needs to be done to ensure the battles can be won behind the scenes.

In my home state of South Australia, the example that comes to mind in these pandemic times, is the battle to save our state owned and funded pathology services. I am grateful to those who fought that fight and kept the service in public ownership. I believe when the books are written about what worked in the pandemic, public ownership of these services will be featured. Privatisation is a weapon of neo-liberalism, and on this occasion it was neutralized by keeping our pathology services in public hands.  The unsung warriors of the public sector, I hope will get their medals when the time comes.  And I am remembering that Amazon and amazing come from the same root – to cause surprise and wonder – and that is what a warrior does – surprises and when unveiling assumptions, makes us all wonder and question what we were holding onto and why as we then get into a tug-o-war about what we will hang onto and let go of.  Here’s to the surprising and wonder-full warriors – from US Court judges to babes in swaddling clothes.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Year of activism #37

Rage has a place in activism, as does rest. Sometimes you need to rest after rage and other times rest before rage. Both these responses are often tainted for me by deep sadness. Rage, exasperation can lead to inertia as can resting, pausing to stillness to do nothing. They both provide fuel as well. Energy stored can be released and in service and partnership with others who perhaps are yet to move through their own season rage or rest.

I noticed this week, how domesticated my rage has become, more of a pussy cat than a a tiger. Rage has been the source of much creativity for me in the past and a release into the wild of ideas and actions; it has and still is in the bedrock of my activism. A rage against injustice, exclusion and more often or not turning up as a rage against numbness that leads to lack of imagination. I am curious about how to have rage without being exhausted and know that over the decades I have found ways to measure myself and energy, to do what I can, mainly by sharing the vision with others, joining with others and taking solace in my limits as gift to make spaces for others. What has been niggling at me this week, and it has led me to some resting, is a reflection on why rage alone cannot sustain, and how to keep the flame alive when the rage gets tamed. I am wrestling with the idea that my rage has got house-trained over the many years and conversations constantly shifting to adapt to fit into systems and spaces that have been the incubator for the rage in the first place. My inclination in more recent times has been to move away from those spaces and create alternatives, rather than fix or fit the existing ones. I know this approach to be energising, hopeful, creative, constructive – but (and I am using but very deliberately) – my rage the original source has quelled.

I shared my numbness with Vicki Saunders (SheEO) and her balm was a teaching from Ecko Aleck of Sacred Matriarch Productions which appears below. The sanctity of drawing up energy and letting it rise is not unknown to me, it is fuel, potential, an unleashing from depths, it is blessings from the “wisdom born of pain”, it is the deep time memories in the DNA of my own ancestral heritage. A healing hug, or at the least blowing a kiss, to my own narrative of rage feels welcome and invitational. Rhythms of rest to be embedded and as The Nap Ministry folks are teaching, rest is a form of resistance, drawing on Audre Lorde’s advice of a generation past. We have a rich vein of downing tools, going on strike, not turning up, resting on the Sabbath, as examples of protest in our history. Rest and rage are perhaps twin lessons we need both and not forget to do both.

Grief seems to fit in the middle of rest and rage for me. When grief turns up, I turn inward, it is not fuel for action, it takes hold and has to be coaxed away with tiny acts of hope. Planting something in the garden always helps, spending time with a small person is curative, finding a poem, singing with others, builds some muscle back. Taking a moment of thanks to those who have brought me things for the garden, lent me their children, sent me poems, sung with me and held me in these moments knowingly and unknowingly I give my sincere thanks. There is rage and there is rest. There is grief and there is healing. These coexist for the activist who is pilgrim.

PS: It is a year since I started walking the camino and walking continues to offer a way of being in the world and sending love to the peregrinas – sacred women on sacred paths.

Year of activism #36


Fires are raging on the west coast of the USA. The fascist playbook is being revised for the digital age. Elders are dying from a virus. Streets are empty in cities once full of creatives. The headlines read like the four horsemen have arrived. This is one narrative. Another is a young girl skipping school and bringing millions with her, another better known on billboards in her 80s holding up more than half the sky, women trained in economics offering up models of doughnuts and radical generosity to change, break and create new systems. Colonisation, patriarchy and racism are on their last legs and the signs are all there – when the cusp of change arrives the wagons get into a circle for one last time.

It is spring in my part of the world, the wattle is in bloom, the wild orchids are pushing their ways through the sands in the scrub, the black cockatoos are flying over each afternoon with such regularity you can set your clock as they make their way from one grove of their favourite pines to the next. The monarch butterflies dance up and down the milkweed corridors with all the majesty their wings can offer. Joeys are finding their way out of pouches, and all of creation is singing on the winds changing course and breathing new life.

We have already had our first hot day and first day of north winds and it is September. It was foreboding. I looked to the sky and felt scared for the summer coming even though it is months away. I hummed instinctively ‘where have all the flowers gone’ before I realised I was mouthing the words ‘long time passing’.

There are times I feel numb and completely paralysed to act and it is usually because I am alone. Living alone is a mixed blessing sometimes an aphrodisiac and sometimes a paralysis. But when I am with others virtually or face to face in real time, working together to midwife the future I am OK, I can manage the fear and harness the energy, incite others into action and share in the responsibilities of my privilege to take steps together. I have always considered gender to be the low hanging fruit and it is definitely a place where I am most at home and most familiar with what might be possible. I am deeply grateful for all the women who have gone before me in making it possible for me to take steps forward, and eek out pathways with other women. This past week I have been able to join with others to celebrate women taking steps in their ideas for a business, being led in a process of examining racial justice, co-creating an action plan to grow more radical generosity, being held in spaces with friends to listen to pain and discovery of opportunities and self worth, being heard by other women, singing a rallying cry from the last century …. literally every day I am gifted with opportunities to take steps towards a more just world.

Questions like: what will it take? Who is missing? What’s next? Imagine if? are wrapped up in optimism and when I can have love and compassion attached to the hope, I notice it is more energising and more impactful. These are my antidotes to fear and paralysis. I have plenty of blind spots and vigilance is needed as well as good friends and mirrors to guide me around rocky roads and down potential dead ends. This road, for this activist, is a pilgrim’s way. Where the journey is as important as the destination, and everyone you meet on the road is there to teach you. And for me, this way, enables me meet my future, keep my promise, and find perhaps, a half-note, half-heard, half a shade braver moment to help me show up as fully as I possibly can.

PILGRIM

I bow to the lark
and its tiny
lifted silhouette
fluttering
before infinity.
I promise myself
to the mountain
and to the foundation
from which
my future comes.
I make my vow
to the stream
flowing beneath,
and to the water
falling
towards all thirst,
and
I pledge myself
to the sea
to which it goes
and to the mercy
of my disappearance,
and though I may be
left alone
or abandoned by
the unyielding present
or orphaned in some far
unspoken place,
I will speak
with a voice
of loyalty
and faith
to the far shore
where everything
turns to arrival,
if only in the sound
of falling waves
and I will listen
with sincere
and attentive eyes and ears
for a final invitation,
so that I can
be that note half-heard
in the flying lark song,
or that tint
on a far mountain
brushed with the subtle
grey of dawn,
even a river gone by
still looking
as if it hasn’t,
or an ocean heard only
as the sound of waves
falling and falling,
and falling,
my eyes closing
with them
into some
undeserved nothing
even as they
give up their
strength
on the sand.

David Whyte

Heading back to Sellicks from Pearl, Aldinga Beach

Year of activism #35

What holds us back from acting has been on my mind. What gets in the way? Fear, anxiety, lack of imagination are in my top three. There is something too about the boundaries we put around our self and I am not sure what to call that – perhaps that is self preservation; a kind of conservation of energy to save us from being overwhelmed. Not taking action, can also show up as a kind of paralysis dressed up in polite and well crafted argument.

I am noticing how walls, perhaps even prisons are constructed around our hearts and minds as a way to not embrace freedoms we might have – including the freedom to act. This seems linked to privilege to me. We don’t know we have privileges because we have them, we only know them by what other people have to think about that we don’t. I held a series of conversations with a woman of colour, not born in the same country as me, from a different generation and the mother of a small child. Our conversations had the title – what I don’t have to think about. Essentially I would make a list of things I didn’t have to think about and she would tell me how she has to factor those very things into her daily life. We covered topics like: going to the supermarket. For me I didn’t think anything of going to the supermarket, I took my bags, jumped in my car, opened my purse and shopped and went home all with not a thought. For her, she would consider if she needed to have her husband and// or child accompany her, make sure she parked with ease of access for a quick getaway, hold her purse open at the checkout so it was visible there was money in it, keep an eye her child so she wouldn’t be accused of theft should a child take something from a shelf, ready herself for the invisible and from time to time, not invisible racism. Another everyday event for her was riding the lift in her office block. She had the experience of her hair being commented on by women, her body being stared at by men and from time to time physically touched inappropriately in the short distance between floors. I can truly say I have never thought of taking a ride in a lift as exercising my privilege until I heard her stories.

These conversations were a different way of me learning about privilege and really opened my eyes to what I just took for granted. It as informed me about what I notice, and nags away at me on the systems shifts needed for a more just world. Justice requires new ways of seeing and experiencing and systems to enable that to take place to prepare the ground for next steps. I went to the Apartheid Museum about ten years ago and was transfixed and transformed by their way of teaching. What remains with me as a pure genius technique was the ticketing system and the way you enter the museum via random selection of race classification. Ever since then I have mused on ways in which these kind of simulated exercises could be factored in to experiences to give those of us ignorant of privilege an insight to help us to address the systems holding privilege in place. I think of this beyond our species as well and to the trees, habitat, creatures and even our global commons. I am grateful for those who give us embodied experiences to help us learn and understand. The current exhibition Seven Siblings from the Future at MOD is one such example and if you are in South Australia I urge you to find a way to get yourself there and take a few friends with you.

Learning more about privilege and the privileges you might have, is an evitable pathway to action. You can no longer un-see, un-hear. The word privilege derives from two latin words – private and law – but privilege is not private nor law – although those of us able to exercise our privileges are able to do so because systems enable us to exercise our private selves in a public domain without fear of prosecution (in its deepest and widest meaning). Privilege brings separation and holds it in place if uncontested. Privilege holds the inheritance of power in systems. Privilege brings responsibility.

The ancient prophet Micah’s invitation (Micah 6:8) to live justly, love tenderly and to walk humbly is directed to the privileged. This instruction is set in a time of great political unrest and economic injustice. It is set in a wider directive to give up privilege and power and make right on the oppressive systems that were holding people in poverty and enslaved by the rich and powerful. It was a call not to equity but to justice, where reconciliation and restitution would follow if you embraced the mandate. It would only be possible where the whole population would be free and so it is 6th century BCE language, is a call for systems change at scale and new relationships would be in place to walk together.

The ancient message is a contemporary call out and is ringing in my ears as I seek shelter in the spaces where my privilege is not questioned or remains invisible to me. I am reliant on the good faith and kindness of the Micah’s in my time to invite me into seeing my privilege, inviting me to walk with them in their shoes and calling me to live justly, not the occasional acts of justice or clumsy strays into supporting the journey to equity. It’s a big call and a constant pilgrimage where I stumble over stones, rocks, into valleys and muddy holes. I am relying on the waves of others to help me wash away the multiple layers of what is inherent and invisible in me.

Sellicks shore September 2020

Year of activism #34

On the cusp of spring, the winds and rains are starting to shift and the native trees and plants begin their dances to mark the new season’s arrival. The deciduous trees are beginning to wake up. It is a time of co-existence in the landscape, a mixture of howling banshees and musical notes from the nesting magpies as a constant reminder of our inheritance of the land and settler arrivals. Holding all space for all this diversity there are edges forming in the garden and in my heart. I am calling this the politics of grief.

Others have written and talked about the politics of grief in the phenomena of talking about war, September 11 and other acts of terrorism, the way trauma is used to weaponize public policy to justify budget spends on national security measures or more creatively and kindly with gun buy-backs (think Port Arthur). In the case of our common destiny in this land, there is so much unfinished business, I really don’t think we can move forward without some reckoning at the grief doorstop. To hold ourselves in sadness and notice, accept and recognise the losses. Nations who have lost their language, rituals, food sources, habitat; other species who are now extinct, or under the threat of extinction. There is mourning to be done.

I have deep personal experience of grief and there are so many layers. The layers of loss that come with the understanding and new learning of what you have actually lost takes you deeper and deeper into meaning of what makes you, what holds you and what carries you forward. There is an accounting to be done, a balance sheet to be examined, some kind of delving deeply into the price and values of the loss. There is a settling up.

In Australia this settling up is our unfinished business. We need to examine what is actually on that balance sheet and given those who have gone before us in the settlement business how might we be held to account? This week I had a handyman come and do some odd jobs for me. He is involved in a local biodiversity project and he couldn’t help but notice the art in my place and sign of respect for Kaurna on the entrance to my house. He told me that everytime their volunteer team start work in restoration on a new part of the bush, local Aboriginal leader offers a smoking ceremony for them. He told me he doesn’t understand why they are so angry, it was so long ago. I was taken back by his inability to see all of the connections and to join the dots of justice being seared into the experience of the volunteers. I offered up a few gentle thoughts and a couple of questions. These are the conversations of the politics of grief. To bring honour to the pain of the past and the continual stripping away of lacquered over pain in the now. It is a truth that I live on stolen land, there has never been a treaty, a settlement and there is reckoning to be had. There is payment to be made, my slight discomfort in having a tricky conversation is not even a downpayment. I get rewarded by my peers for doing these little acts …. really? This is my privilege. It is my responsibility.

Taking instruction from the landscape and tuning in to the elements is what I am feeling apprenticed to at the moment. The land and the people of this land have suffered, are suffering and ways forward perhaps will open once we, as settlers, feel the grief, wallow in it and discover all that there is in the layers being peeled back. There is a kind of root cause analysis that comes with the politics of grief that takes us to colonialism and racism, sexism and a lack of centrality for creation. In the reckoning just settlement might be possible but I can’t see us getting there without entering a time for the politics of grief to be leverage to create new ways ahead. Standing with the grief stricken, sitting in the pain, shifting and rewiring the tears to witness the birth of a new way forward feels like a precondition to justice to me.

Year of activism #33

Governance and ways of making decisions has been in lots of conversations lately and any activist comes across the relationship between decision-making and power on a regular basis. How decisions are made, the process of deliberation, the mechanisms and tools to enable clarification to lead to action are usually imperfect and iterative. So often we look for the definitive – the one way – of coming to a decision – when in fact there are many ways. An activist helps to show other ways, and the minority view is a gift to the whole to foster possibilities, although often not valued by the system and considered, sometimes even named as being other, and in clumsy democratic processes, where one person equals one vote, it is possible that being voted down is a form of silencing and control. Power and privilege come with processes that support those who know how to mobilise and persuade … that doesn’t necessarily mean arriving at a wise decision.

I have found a number of discernment practices used by religious communities powerful and useful, where the goal is to arrive at consensus and a shared vision of going forward. I understand there are practices in First Nation cultures that are similar, although I have not experienced these as a peer and participant, I have been alongside and welcomed into processes as observer and friend. I think we have a lot to learn, those of us, who are more familiar with the processes that are used to keep the power and privilege with the elite, even when, like me, we know how to use it for just and equitable results. There is however no peace without justice, and righting wrongs, hearing the pain into speech, art and craft are all part of our common journey to liberation from being oppressor or oppressed.

I can’t get past in my homeland of Australia, the work we have to do around a just settlement, decolonisation and a full-some recognition of the truth this land was stolen. It hits me every now and again, I have the privilege of not being reminded of it every day, I can turn on my selective amnesia or fall asleep at the wheel of freedom, because typically my hands are on that wheel. I have so much power and so much privilege. I am surrounded by systems that recognise and even take me for granted as having status in so many ways – educated, English speaking, housed, economically secure, healthy, digitally savvy …. the list goes on … I do not have to tick boxes that often that put me in “other” categories to be turned into invisible blancmange. I get to pick and flick boxes that have a postcode, an address, a job description, an age group, a language group. I am a first world contributor to an algorithm that like me, delivers a finite sequence of instructions to solve problems or set the conditions for specifications that will deliver results to suit me, my world view, and other people just like me.

The data developed and automated because of my contributions and the boxes I tick, also exclude. And just as on earth, as it is in computer cloud heaven, the dominant paradigm colonises and closes down those that don’t fit – they get to the “other” boxes. I am a long way from understanding, knowing and therefore have no wisdom around how digital exclusion works and the way forward for data sovereignty. I instinctively know this form of colonisation is just as treacherous as boats in full sail arriving into harbours without being invited.

I like to keep Facebook algorithms on their toes and post odd things from time to time that push me into a niche for marketing that seems a long way from what I might really be like. I am currently enjoying being the target of dating, dieting and high heel shoe purchases. For the record I am not interested in dating, and haven’t worn high heel shoes for many a long day. I am trying to eat more healthy foods and taking long walks, but I wouldn’t call it dieting! Being a keyboard warrior in these times, is often termed “slacktivism”, it is a form of activism and I encourage you to think about how you might help those algorithms along by supporting vigorously the things that matter to you from a wide range of sources and throw in the odd surprise too, so the machine learning and systems underpinning your online presence learn in ways that will help the echo chamber be a little less echoey.

As I said a number of years ago I am a tweeter for good and if we aren’t in these places, we are abandoning the online streets to the online hoodlums and thugs. Understanding the value and place of online communications, purchases and consumer behaviour on the web means we can claim and reclaim these spaces too in the same way we can reclaim the streets from rapists and gangs.

I am sure there is an activism algorithm out there, let’s disrupt that too and make the pathways for justice together.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Year of activism #32


The theme of silence and speaking up continues its orbit this week. It turned up again and again – and I am paying attention to where it is calling to me from and what it is calling me to. It has showed up across the week – in my paid work, in my community setting, in a learning space, a book group, in words I have read, in the landscape and in conversations.

And Audre Lorde seems to keep showing up with the theme. The place of silence as a form of protest, a way to build inner strength and for me what has been importantly a mechanism to make space to hear a deeper wisdom, has been and will continue to be an important practice for me. I have been drawn to Paul Goodman‘s explainer on this kind of silence:

There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy… the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul… the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.

It is from this place of silence that the action emerges to be taken and once action, returning to this silence to reflect before another step might be taken. The silence though is part of the practice and not separate from the action. While I have acted on my own, I find my contribution so tiny, that is only acting with others that I feel my actions can aggregate and amplify to enable shifts towards justice to be possible. So building coalitions, collaborations, partnerships and adding myself to movements for change is my preferred way of being in the world. Sometimes this is formal like joining a political party, or organisation with a specific agenda, but mostly it is informal, connecting to pre-existing efforts or connecting the dots between initiatives, people and actions. It is Audre Lorde’s voice I go to when I am lost, suffering from the amnesia of privilege or need some instruction to take another step. And there she was again this week, more than once, teaching me and calling out courage.

My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

The other women in the chorus calling me this week have pivoted around Lilla Watson‘s voice who said and does not like this being attributed to her, but prefers the attribution to the entire group of Aboriginal women she was with said:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.

I have written about her words before here and here and on both occasions it has been about liberation, which is the product of justice. In my twenties when I first started learning about our colonial history in Australia and the impact of the Bicentennial activities in 1988 on me were transformational. I am so grateful for my time on the Justice and Peace Commission and all I learnt from incredible leaders who inducted me and apprenticed me into deeper listening, understanding and action that continues to help me know my own privilege and more importantly seek out ways towards justice. Pay the rent guided me for many decades and yet it seemed to slipped off my radar for a long time, and I found my way back to that concept last year, and then spurred on by the dreadful bushfires last summer, taking steps to do what I could to buy products, services and paying for educational opportunities to make modest purchases and donations to support sovereignty. I am aching to find out more particularly about ways forward for data sovereignty and was inspired by the extraordinary Dr Lou Bennett about this a couple of years ago at a national social work research conference I was facilitating. Her work on sovereign language reparation really shook me up and has called me and continues to call me to consider what might I do in my life around reparation as one of the central steps towards liberation. We will all have our own ways along this path.

This week I was also introduced to an extraordinary social worker and educator Wakumi Douglas from S.O.U.L Sisters leadership collective. She is generously, skillfully and creatively leading a process for SheEO to bring a Racial Justice Working Group to life and action. And wouldn’t you know …. there was Audre again at the end of session one calling me once again out of silence, breaking open my heart and blowing my mind again.

In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.

For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth. – Audre Lorde -Sister Outsider

I am so grateful for these spaces and the teachers and leaders I have to guide me to actions with impact and hold me safe so I can find my way with integrity and self-compassion. I truly bow down deeply to you all, and I know I am on another edge in the liberation pilgrimage.

Audre Lorde