Year of activism #31

Was gifted several opportunities this week to share with others about what it means to me to be an activist. I turned up to deliver my messages via zoom and in real life – what a treat to be able to get the exchange of energy and feel the connections between people around me – the digital divide means lack of connectivity to me on so many levels now in these pandemic times.  The real life example was at an inner city all girls school where all the staff were spending the day in retreat away from timetables, students and yet not to retreat from one another. The theme of the overall day was We will not be silent and I did get to eavesdrop on a few conversations when I asked them to greet the activist in each other.  They told stories to one another about speaking up about casual racism in their families while preparing dinner together, how sometimes they have to speak up for their students to their parents where the girls are being unfairly treated, and stories about shame and compassion.  There were over 100 conversations going on so I didn’t hear them all –  but it was clear no one had any trouble at all at being able to share a story about a time when they spoke up and could not be silent. This is the thing: we all know how to do this, we all how know to recognise injustice, how to find words to describe what we are noticing, how to tell someone else what it looks like, why it moves us, what it calls out in us. What we often don’t recognise is our own power, how to tap into it and step into our leadership and take an action – however small – to the situation. 

One of the things I talked about was the relationship between rights and responsibility, power and privilege.  In my own case, I am white, very well educated, live in Australia, widely travelled, housed, employed, healthy, heterosexual – I have a significant amount of privilege and I joked with the staff that really only the white men in the room (there were very few) were more privileged than me.  My privilege brings with it responsibilities, and one of those is to use my voice. I extended this to the idea of vocation and its relationship to the Christian sacrament of baptism (it was a Catholic High School).  In the blessing of the waters in this sacrament, the baptised is authorised by the community to take up their power, to use their gifts, to bring love and act with humility in the service of the greater good with one another and in concert with the all the riches of the earth.  This is our inheritance and we are promised, if we are children to follow that way, and if as an adult sign up for ourselves to this mission.  I do not see this as a burden, although there are days when it isn’t easy and days where I am unable to make sense of what I might be called to do. Because that is what vocation is, it is listening into the call, noticing what it might mean and then responding.  The call and the response in equal measure, and the response if we are all listening well, will mean acting together to bring about the change being called for. This is why it is so critical tp have space to reflect – it is not an optional extra – it is where the activism begins and where it flows in and out of.

How are you making the spaces to reflect, to retreat, to listen; and that includes hearing yourself as well.  The song the school community has chosen to bind themselves together this year is the Wailing Jenny’s – This is the sound of one voice. It is a great choice (pardon the pun), to model the adaptive leadership challenge building waves of a movement. The first verse is sung by one voice and then as the call and response grows more and more voices join in – just like a movement starts with the ‘lone nut’, then has first followers and then everyone seems to join in; or even in my start up world – a crazy idea, followed by early adopters and then a majority coming along after.

In our everyday activism we are building movements or as Paul Hawken calls it blessed unrest, we are disrupting the systems holding inequity and exclusion in place, and it calls us to action, reflection, action and so the movements towards justice flow, like a river, as the ancient prophets foretold. Stepping into your own power, your leadership is not always easy, so I often turn to John O’Donohue’s voice to bless so I remind myself of my own leadership as vocation and the privileges I have, that remind me that I hold power, and therefore, a responsibility to use it wisely.

Blessing for the one who holds power

By John O’Dohonue

May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.

When the way is flat and dull in times of grey endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.
May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And know when the seed of change will flourish.

In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.
May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.

May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth join.

May integrity of soul be your first ideal.
The source that will guide and bless your work.

from To Bless the Space between Us.

Year of activism #30

Saturday’s are days to reconnect to the world around me, and I usually go back to the village that was home for about 15 years. I miss the rhythms of the place and am still learning about the rhythms of where I am now making my home and relying on the tides to help me with the pace and seasons. One of the reasons that my old village still has a hold on me are the rituals of a farmers market, a high street of cafes and conversations, voices of fellow choristers on the wind and high chances of bumping into familar faces across the stalls and walking across the streets. There are nods and waves from people and old trees that carry the stories and a sacred gathering spring fed stream that has been a solid listener to family groups and meetings for thousands and thousands of years.

This Saturday all the ordinary activists were in abundance. First there was a woman who had spent some of her week with companions marking paths for pilgrims conserving habitat and health to create the Willunga Basin Walking Trail. In a few more steps there were the many growers whose techniques and commitment to organic produce were in abundance and respecting health and safety social distancing to get the highest quality of delicious fruits and vegetables into the hands and cupboards of happy consumers. It wasn’t long before a barista and his team were exchanging glances and connecting up with the week that was, taking note they hadn’t seen me for a while and treating my unexceptional purchase as a gift to keep the whole cycle of exchange in motion. The place I gathered with some family members for breakfast, makes a point of being a meat free zone and green is on every plate, reflecting its name. A few more nods, waves and hellos included one to an educator and maker who only works with materials like old enamel saucepan lids, an expression of a used future being repurposed for beauty. When I cross the road again, several trees proclaim the amount of carbon dioxide they express that keeps us breathing and amount of share equivalent to beach umbrellas that shields us in the heat.

My next stop in the village, later in the day, is the opening of an art exhibition. I have been kindly invited to do the honours, to declare the space a gallery, for this season of SALA (South Australian Living Artists). It is a modest affair given the restrictions and everyone gathered respects the rules, cementing our common desire for public health and care for one another inside and outside the venue, yet another reminder to me of living civilly, with purpose. This artist welcomes the viewer to paintings in pastels and oils with bold colours and images she wants to preserve for future generations. One of her first paintings was of a large cave at Maslins Beach  – that cave has now collapsed. She has a creation that shows the remains of the iconic Port  Willunga jetty and the signs above it now warn of the probably of collapsing cliffs, which currently bow to the sea and are so fragile it is almost inevitable they will continue to fragment and fall succumbing to erosion and changes in the climate. Not far from this location is an avenue of old pines where many creatures, winged and multiple legged, have as their home and food bowl; they will soon be blocked out by the mega school under construction, and Mother Willunga’s curves will find themselves, to the artists eye, in a corset. Her art was prescient last year with scenes of bushfires leaving beloved locations on Kangaroo Island bleached in black with sooty soil and foliage instead of beacons of flowers from rarely blossoming grasses. All the gathered respected and bowed to the artist’s eye and the reminder of the how we each have a responsibility to how we see, walk and leave our legacy to future generations.

The last stop in the day was not in the village, but in the comfort of my own home, mediated by software and technology, enabling 55 quiz teams to raise funds for childhood cancer. There were four generations in the room, gathered to support a friend of a friend. It was a simple occasion and done with enthusiasm, the usual negotiations to come to shared (or not shared) answer, with nibbles and sips of a range of substances from strawberry milk to gin and tonic. The young woman behind the scenes had been organising this event for months, transferred what was originally to be in a central city location to the lounge rooms of homes across the state and even a few interstate. The quiz master donned a moustache that could have been accompanied by a mullet, and the MC had all the energy and positivity of a morning ride-to-work radio announcer. The invisible hand gluing the event together, appeared briefly on the screen, being an introvert, and demonstrating how it is her super power. Nothing was out of place and all the people who want to be in front of the camera were. The team of volunteers she was leading raised enough money towards their target, which would ensure children and their families impacted by childhood cancer would be getting counselling support for the coming year. This kind of activism often goes unnoticed or under the guise of organising a social event. It takes time, commitment to detail, juggling egos and scheduling, and this year, multitasking across online tools and platforms previously used only for work now being deployed and transitioning their utility away from making money for shareholders and building careers, to the needs of the smallest ones suffering, surviving and struggling.

This was my Saturday, noticing activating all around me and once again, all I have had to do is turn up, making modest contributions to an overall mission for our planet, family, friends, embracing beauty in the simplest connections. Embracing our seeing, sensing into our actions, holding the precious moments that aggregate into what Paul Hawken calls “blessed unrest” brings its own kind of peace and justice. All the initiatives that made my Saturday – the Farmers Market, The Green Room, The Gospel Groove Choir, the SALA exhibition, the Telstra Enterprise Team’s Quiz night were beautifully executed by leadership often completely invisible, they are all contributing to building a future where more belong because of the connective tissue, relationships, that holds it all together. Each piece is adding to a goodness ecosystem and the quality of how each piece is managed is done with care and kindness. As Hawken says: Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. This is how the synapse of movement building gets transmitted, across the relationships managed well in ways that are so inviting that curiosity gets the better of people and they join in.

The Pinnacles by Lynn Chamberlain – her SALA exhibition details are here

Year of activism #29

A funeral is not a place I would think of immediately as a place to exercise activism, yet I got to see first hand how it could be a place to show a pathway to be a mental health activist this week. A working class man, a carpenter, a son, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, a dad, a husband, a friend, a fisherman, a drinking buddy, a lover of Johnny Cash, a person with type 2 diabetes, a person with depression parted ways with this side of the planet by his own hand. There are so many reasons why this happens and it leaves a very long tail of grief behind.

Men’s health, in particular men’s mental health is faced with an enormous challenge in combating suicide. If you work in the construction industries you are more likely to suicide than die on site. Tradies, or men in blue-collar jobs, have some of the highest suicide rates in Australia with construction workers killing themselves at double the rate of any other occupation. I am acutely aware that my son-in-law, who works in this field, has been to more funerals of his peers than I ever have of people from my professional group and he is many decades younger than me. So on the memorial table at this funeral was a hard hat. In the gathered, there was some hi-vis vests under the jackets keeping out the cold. In the words of his children and sister were reminders of his love of making things, saving things and creating something from other people’s throw-aways.

There was no hiding or gilding of the lily, that this death was the result of deep, untreated pain and distress, chemical imbalances and thought processes that closed access from pathways to health, love and care. All the speakers talked openly about their love and their loss, being bereft didn’t stop them being brave and honest and talking their truth to power. The power of silence, patriarchy, machismo that literally suffocates and strangles men as well as women.

As the memorial service went on, the ocean view, calm, kind and breathing itself in and out with each tidal movement, was a simple comforting backdrop to the sobs and smiles punctuating the speeches and images. Somehow the choice of the venue was an advocacy of its own, reminding us all of the healing powers of our coast and the baptism of water to wash away all that holds us back from wholeness.

Instead of flowers, we were invited to make a donation to the Black Dog Institute and not to just do this silently but to exchange our monetary gift and take a badge to wear, to show something on the outside about what was happening on the inside. Like all activisms, this movement too has its pins, t-shirts, hats and stickers.

The signature tune holding the service together was U2’s The Wanderer written for Johnny Cash and they chose the Cash version to share. The evocative love for June Carter as a constant source from the well Johnny Cash drew from, as it was in the life of the man we were mourning, his life long love being a constant in his life. The power of music to tell a story and to also remind us all that we don’t have to wander alone, even when we might feel lonely. There is always room for redemption.

Then there was the gathered, young and old, in these COVID19 times, working out how to negotiate our way around with social distancing, that some of us were not able to observe when the grief got too much. Signing in to help with tracing in case of a problem in the future, a reminder that while we are doing great in SA, we know our neighbours over the border won’t be able to farewell their loved ones in such a public way for a long, long time. Another sobering reminder of the deep relationship between our private and public health. We have to look after each other, if we want to be able to walk us all home when a life has been well loved and lived. Public health – whether a virus or depression – is all of our business. While an individual gets the symptoms, carries the disease and may eventually die, we are all connected and can help stop the spread of any disease. Health and well-being is public not private. Bringing suicide into the public spaces is a step towards taking this pandemic. Around 3,000 people suicide in Australia every year, and there are fears about the convergence with the virus which has killed 145 people at today’s date in Australia this year.

Be a mental health activist and keep an eye out for your family, friends and neighbours and most especially your workmates. And if you or anyone you know needs help give one of these places a call:

The Wanderer

I went out walking
Through streets paved with gold
Lifted some stones
Saw the skin and bones
Of a city without a soul
I went out walking
Under an atomic sky
Where the ground won’t turn
And the rain it burns
Like the tears when I said goodbye

Yeah I went with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering

I went drifting
Through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it

I went out riding
Down that old eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name

I went with nothing
But the thought you’d be there too
Looking for you

I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents

I went out searching
Looking for one good man
A spirit who would not bend or break
Who would sit at his father’s right hand
I went out walking
With a bible and a gun
The word of God lay heavy on my heart
I was sure I was the one
Now Jesus, don’t you wait up
Jesus, I’ll be home soon
Yeah I went out for the papers
Told her I’d be back by noon

Yeah I left with nothing
But the thought you’d be there too
Looking for you

Yeah I left with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering

Source: Musixmatch Songwriters: Clayton Adam / Evans David / Hewson Paul David / Mullen Laurence / The Wanderer lyrics © Polygram Int. Music Publishing B.v., Universal-polygrm Intl Pub Obo U2

Year of activism #28

A walk along the Onkaparinga River reveals lagoons that have sprung to life again with the winter rains and the pelicans are holding court on the dead branches drowned by a combination of drought, salt rising and water. There is a convocation in progress and some kind of initiation ceremony going on it seems, while a few ducks play to hide and seek in the reeds like toddlers at an adult party. It’s the last Saturday in the school holidays and a few families seem to be making the most of the last afternoon sun, as well as cyclists and dog owners, who are working their way around the tracks. There is one family a long way from home, with an adult child who has a significant intellectual difficulty, and they have found a large dead branch of a gum tree that they are carrying with them holding it up to his ears so he can hear the rustling, then brushing across his face to feel the crackling and over his head to notice the different patterns of light and dark. I am struck by the care of his slightly older companions, more sibling age, than parents, who are enjoying the moments as much as he is, for all the same reasons with the added joy of his joy. There is so much in this little nativity, and all the while the convocation continues, the ducks take up the meaning of their name and the reeds dance in the wind.

These are the scenes built on activism.  Before we could walk around this park, an engineer designed the setting to help the natural landscape shine through and be restored, and before that environmentalists and their friends made the case to elected representatives this was a place for nature to be visible and take its rightful place in the landscape, and before that, long, long before that, it was a place where the Aboriginal people gathered food, played and lived on the banks of the river. It was a place where children were conceived and where the dreaming stories of women were held close and shared, where the ancient river found it’s way to the sea and where the ibis flew in the skies and arrived to herald a new season. I am grateful for this inheritance and I have done nothing to receive it, I just turned up and it was all there for me to enjoy and partake in the harvest of others.  This is the gift of the activist, to have the fruits of their combined efforts available for later generations to receive and accept the invitation to continue the legacy.  Activists don’t always see the fruits immediately though, sometimes it takes a number of seasons before the ibis comes back.

The family in the park, invisible to those early conservationists, is gathering up the fruits of their vision and labour, and through their love, is opening up the park in ways that perhaps were never envisaged by those pioneers making this space for pelicans and the public.  I am struck that our efforts and activism, in whatever it is that calls us, holds the seeds for these fruits and while we may not be around for the harvest, only if the seeds are sown there is the possibility for a harvest. 

During the week I listened with friends to David Whyte’s poem Twice Blessed. All our efforts are on the verge between who we are and who we are becoming, and this is true for our activism as well, we can look, lift our gaze, seek to understand, see our reflection and the ripples on the water go far beyond our selves into a future not yet revealed and open the mystery of what might come from our passing this way.

So that I stopped
there
and looked
into the waters
seeing not only
my reflected face
but the great sky
that framed
my lonely figure
and after a moment
I lifted my hands
and then my eyes
and I allowed myself
to be astonished
by the great
everywhere
calling to me
like an old
and unspoken
invitation,
made new
by the sun
and the spring,
and the cloud
and the light,
like something
both
calling to me
and radiating
from where I stood,
as if I could
understand
everything
I had been given
and everything ever
taken from me,
as if I could be
everything I have ever
learned
and everything
I could ever know,
as if I knew
both the way I had come
and, secretly,
the way
underneath
I was still
promised to go,
brought together,
like this, with the
unyielding ground
and the symmetry
of the moving sky,
caught in still waters.

Someone I have been,
and someone
I am just,
about to become,
something I am
and will be forever,
the sheer generosity
of being loved
through loving:
the miracle reflection
of a twice blessed life.

Twice Blessed, David Whyte from his collection The Bell and the Blackbird.

Onkaparinga Conservation Park

Year of activism #27

Spent some time wandering around my local regional shopping centre yesterday. I haven’t visited more than a couple of times this year, which is not particularly COVID19 induced, it is more that I have not had a need to shop there or meet anyone there. Everytime I go I am struck by the energy of the place, lonely people wandering around to be in a place where they feel connected, families of Dads with their weekend access to their children stocking up on fast food credits to build favour with their kids; elderly people hooning around on their gophers; shop assistants doing all they can to smile and get a sale from customers who are really there to window shop. There is emptiness and fragility clinging in the air. I remember the main reason I don’t come often and that is it is not the kind of market place that draws me into the kind of community that will sustain me. Now I can see it is sustaining some of the people around me, but it is not for me. I notice all the plastics, the labels of Made in China, the disconnect of food from place, the eyes of children who seem to long for sunshine and impromptu surprises of adults who can co-create fun unenhanced by salt, sugar or technology.

It might sound like I am being judgemental and I am, I am judging the planners who thought enclosed malls were a good idea and the investors and shareholders who saw cash cows in retail laneways under one roof. I know that there are mini-communities hidden in these places – I have seen them too over the years. The group of walkers who meet and wander around to get their steps in together and then have a coffee at one of the chain coffee shops; the young shop assistants who befriend one another and have each others back when they take their first adventures into leaving home; the women in the clothing chain who have found a way to get the support they need for their fellow worker so she can leave her violent partner; the cleaners who get to laugh and talk in their first language and tell stories of their homeland. Yet, for me, these places are dying, they are signs of a used future, despite tiny attempts to bring a preferred future to birth with the red, yellow and green recycling receptacle choices in the food hall.

I love the market places that can be found outdoors or under tin roofs, and the shops that not subject to high rents and surrounded by acres of car parks. I love the places where the people where the people who work behind the counter live locally and can tell you the name of the place around the corner that sells what you are looking for. In this globally connected market, where online and fintech creates web-based shopping and community experiences, getting community to show up in the online economy and I noting down the cost of living in these spaces. Those words cost of living have been hanging in the air for me this week.

How about if we thought about the benefit of living? What if, we brought the benefits of living in a hyper local, hyper connected way to the fore and costed those into the experience of building community through our spend and economy? The cost of getting some products to market, literally can cost lives (think of the 1,134 Bangledeshi clothing workers killed in Dhaka in 2013), and the lives of other species (see the land clearing due to our chemical recipes for products as diverse as baby formula and toothpaste and impact on 10% of the planets reptiles, birds, mammals, insects). I am not sure where I am going with my thoughts on all this today, but I don’t think the meaning of life and I do think the cost of living is entombed in those western civilisation shopping malls. Finding measures for the benefits of living in ways that support and strengthen what it means to be alive, connected and knowingly held by our common efforts, however imperfect they might be will drive a new narrative. It might be recovering an old one too is going to be the best guide. Where community, economy and place were one, none of the dualism of retail and wholesale, home and away, us and them.

I have a sneaky suspicion that cost of (benefit) living market places might unite a number of activist threads – everything from banning single use plastic, to baby formulas made by local Mums, up-cycled and handmade garments circulating through and community co-op, online stores where the person you are buying from is someone you know or have met in your online community. I am wondering if the Sustainable Development Goals became as second nature to the planners, investors and marketeers we might all take a step closer to being in each others company and on this planet a little longer. Activating for impact one consumption at a time I guess is something the vegans and vegetarians have been doing for a while, I still have a long way to go, and think I will visit the mall once a month as a reminder for me to make better choices for the legacy I want to leave behind.

Year of activism #26

I started a practice earlier in the year of not bundling up rubbish into plastic to put it into bins, trying to take and sort my household waste daily and not keeping a bin inside so I could keep a watch on my behaviour and also notice just how much non-useable, non-renewable packaging was coming into the home.  I have been doing well on this front for a number of years, but now living alone I am getting daily data on my own behaviour.  Things that are helping me are the compost bin, a worm farm, recycling service from the council and my own consumption habits of trying to avoid bringing single use plastics into the home in the first place. I have a lot more steps to take and am delighted and encouraged when I get books delivered in cardboard with not a plastic sleeve to be seen. I have more steps to take but I do feel like I am getting on top of it. This little everyday acts being built into lifestyle are the only way I consistent and wholehearted change can take place. It is like we all need an environmental equivalent of noom, to get our psychology and behaviour to be aligned to bring about the planet health we want for ourselves and future generations, other species and our planet.

There are loads of apps out there to track data on carbon use, online shops to buy goods to keep your waste at bay, but I can’t seem to find an app that links behaviour and psychology – would love to know about it if it exists – let me know.  Changing behaviour is not easy, it requires constant feedback, discipline and compassion when you fall off the wagon and need to start again. It required a beginners brain, knowing you are going to have to treat each occasion as if it was the first. Support and cheer squads help as does personal reflection and data to show you are working towards your goals. In my experience trendlines equal encouragement and compassionate self-correction.  The power of aggregation and seeing your contribution, however small, add up with others doing the same thing helps you to understand movement and heralds change at scale.

“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” – Martin Luther King

It seems to me, we are not always heartless but forgetful. We forget we are all connected, all belong to one another and all share the same home. We forget our liberation and wellbeing is connected to each other’s and without those connections we cannot thrive collectively. Finding ways to help us remember our connectedness seems to be have been inbuilt into the ways various countries have managed the pandemic and those places where individualism is given a higher value than community are paying the price in the number of deaths.  And we can see how the fascist playbook is being applied to fuel and foster death. The appearance of a national leader from North America this week in front of stone faces in a mountain is the text book example of bringing all the elements of race, power and privilege together, setting the conditions for civil unrest and the inevitable rise of propaganda which we are seeing ooze out onto digital platforms. The call to remember who we are will be part of the antidote, the call for a moral revival is how it is being expressed by a coalition of activists and organisations forming as the Poor Peoples March on Washington, drawing deep into the roots of MLK’s words.  For those of us far from these lands, yet still effected by it, because we are all connected, our acts of solidarity and examination of our forgetfulness are calling us too. There is plenty of restoration, reparation and reconciliation ahead for us to do here in Australia. And resistance – there is that too – making is a 4R strategy to get over our amnesia.

Finding ways to do deal with the excess packaging, what can be wasted and what can be reused or recycled is part of all we are called to do in our daily activism. A moral revival is going to be needed because while legislation is an aid to quell inappropriate behaviour, it is not enough. We have to do the work, and we have to do it daily, we can’t act alone and an individual penalty isn’t enough and may even stoke the fires of inequity. Some of our rubbish is going to take years to breakdown in landfill, like some of our racism and colonisation can’t be broken down in a generation. But I fear we don’t have that much time.  …. Any app developers out there working on something??

ravi-sharma-RnW1taVZqm8-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

Year of activism #25

It’s the end of the financial year when causes are asking you to make a donation. For decades now I have tended to use June 30 to be my year end as well and to do a bit of a personal audit, when I first started doing this is was a quiet rebellion against the end of the calendar year being so full and having no space for myself what with school holidays, religious and cultural saturation, transitions of all kinds. Now there are none of those things demanding my attention in the same ways, I am keeping my habit though of using this time of the year to take stock. On my list this year it included a visit to consider my balance sheet in dollars, and a couple in health, a courageous conversation about something that had been gnawing at me, a visit to a beauty salon and several long walks in the natural environment near my new home. It has included putting down and picking up some ideas and opportunities, letting go more of initiatives that can leave me and grow and be tendered by others. This is all activism too.

Self care as Audre Lorde said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Her idea about caring for yourself translates as a way of preserving yourself in a world mostly hostile to your identity, community and way of life. Finding ways of bringing care to yourself to enable your identity, community and way of life to thrive, not just survive will always require friends and others you can recruit to help you in this. There may be other species and natural phenomena who can help along the way too.

Across the street from my house, is a four metre hard barked eucalyptus tree, it is probably about 50 or 60 years old and has the scars to prove it. It is habitat for hundreds of creatures including a flock of multi-coloured parrots who hold court each day and as the day goes on the chatter changes from idle conversation to parliamentary debate, and by days end sounds fade as the community settles. This expansive ecosystem is fully alive, it seems to know when to rest when Jakkamurra (the sun) slips across the edge of the world only an occasional recalcitrant teenager or elder chirps up with a final closing word. I am taking instruction from the tree with the birds, how to hold steady by having deep roots, letting scars be visible, being a canopy and a home, not moving, except with the breeze – lessons from the pandemic. The self-care lessons from this tree are many and I thank it for its enduring teachings in this time of stock taking. Putting down roots to take hold in a new place is just beginning for me, but I am remembering and realising I still have deep roots that ground me to myself and my principles and values and by I can gather those up in close and having others hold conversations in my branches without me having to go anywhere much, just like the old gum.

Self- care is necessary for all and in activism, without self care you can’t go far, you burn out, get so bruised you aren’t effective or all the compromising you might have to do may mean you to be lost to the cause itself (hard to believe but I have seen that happen). So as this year comes to a close the donations I will be making I am going to include myself in the place where a few investments can be made. There will be more walks around the washpool and I will learn from her too – Wangkondananko which probably means possum place. As I get to watch the lagoon ebb and flow over the seasons and the birds, insects and bugs come and go, I will take instruction from them too, to know that everything has a season.

This end of financial year is a season for me, and in my stock taking will gather up what needs to be gathered, and work out what gets taken forward into the new year and what might lie fallow, be left behind or remain hidden for a little longer. I find myself beginning to be accepted by this, new to me, ecosystem I have arrived into, existing for millennia before I got here and it may need me sometime into the future, so I want to spend time getting this relationship going with the sea, the washpool and the tree across the road. They are elders calling me into an initiation to this space and my job is to listen and learn as a political act of self-preservation.

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One of my favourite cartoons ever – it is in Katrina Shields book In the Tiger’s Mouth

Year of activism #24

We are faced with literally thousands of decisions a day – what to wear or eat, means of travel, what to listen to, what to pick up, what to put down. It is estimated, as adults we make about 35,000 decisions a day. We have learnt to make these decisions over our lifetime. The plurality of choices we make individually have an aggregated impact. The cartographers of the late 19th and early 20th century drew maps and coloured them to indicate who were the conquered and who were the conquerers. I remember Australia being pink to indicate a colony of the British Empire, surely an early indicator in my life of the knowledge of invasion. The way maps are drawn have found their way into the micro-decisions of our everyday of who and what is in and out. To collectively behave unconsciously of our history reinforces the past; to disrupt the narrative with truth telling, new data and mindfulness breaks open the potential for new neuronal pathways to be built. This leads to more disruption and it is more than the colour of a map that will help us with new decisions to made.

Once you start to live more mindfully, it is overwhelming and you can’t unsee or un-hear what was hidden or unspoken. You notice more of the decisions you are making that hold injustice in place. Planting indigenous ground covers in places where land was cleared by early settlers might be a simple gesture of restitution and healing; learning language to greet people an act of respect and aid to preservation; learning about white fragility and sharing your knowledge with your peers an act of conscientisation. As we build our mindfulness muscle we start to notice all the decisions we make and the potential we all have to help disrupt the status quo which perhaps really a collective amnesia.

Waking up isn’t easy. Changing decisions and habits of a lifetime requires retraining, support and stamina. Anyone who has had to break any kind of addiction, go on a diet, give up a favourite food will have this challenge to draw on. You will fall back into old ways, you will embarrass yourself, you will have to start over and over again. It is a discipline and a practice and if there are external signs and boundaries they might help or they might also get in the way. A friend who brings flowers instead of wine if you are dieting is the kind of friend you need if making changes around food. And one who brings chocolates knowing full well you are trying to make a change is not acting in solidarity.

Think about applying these same principles to bring changes around climate or structural racism and what do you notice? You might be start discovering insights and opportunities. I am trying to develop a practice around what I bring when invited to share a meal – more locally sourced produce and home made. It is a feeble attempt at focussing on low food miles and recognition of the place food comes from as a gift from one location to another. I see more and more people doing this, it is reviving the practice of our grandparents and all the generations before and seems so simple I feel a bit pathetic even mentioning it. Imagine though the collective consequence of this a gifting of abundance between friends and neighbourhoods that would literally change local economies.

An abundance of decisions can drown us and we look for short cuts to help us. Only having one colour of underwear may reduce 100s of decisions in a year! Building new decisions pathways may be an aid too and if we develop classification methods to help us (think red, orange green) we can move through our decision tree with more confidence and ease. Choices are deeply and inextricably entwined to our privilege. I get to make so many decisions because of my entitlements and coming to this knowing is what happens when you start to wake up. We are being shaken by activists who are screaming at us, showing us the way forward, trying to get our attention – if you feel a bit shaken, stirred, uncomfortable – chances are you are being woken up and new decisions are emerging.

 

 

Year of activism #23

Been thinking about the late Elliott Johnston who was a Supreme Court judge in SA and who on leaving the bench at 70 was appointed to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He died when he was 93. I never met him. He was public about his membership of the Communist Party.  It didn’t get in the way of his abilities to pass judgements and make recommendations, just as other judges like Dame Roma Mitchell was very public about her Catholicism or others their capitalism.  I have been thinking about Justice Elliott in relation to these times, he always behaved as far as I can tell from his actions that black lives mattered.  He is an example of how leaders can hold roles in the public domain and not compromise their values.

The relationship between public and private is an acknowledgement that the personal is political and in the frame of this year’s blog theme, activism is an everyday practice to be applied in all parts of your life.  As the statues of racists tumble in town squares the blind spots and unconscious bias of past town planners comes down too. Past curators of museums around the world will be turning in their graves as their blind spots and pillaging of first nations and colonial conquests are overturned causing property and memories to be repatriated. These are just the beginning of the decolonisation movement which is spreading throughout the globe.

While we all know the name of George Floyd the litany of the names of Aboriginal deaths in custody are not on everyone’s lips in Australia.  I read through the list of 99 deaths chronicled by the Royal Commission. The Inquiry made 339 recommendations. The report recommended that imprisonment only be a last resort. The report also included recommendations for the calling of medical assistance if the condition of detainee deteriorates; greater collaboration with Indigenous communities; improved access Indigenous incarceration is one gap that needs closing. It is possibly the gap that is actively and systemically addressed will be the one to enable other gaps to close as well.

Going back to the Royal Commission, the recommendations and the way evidence was gathered provide plenty of clues about what actions to take.  There is plenty to do, that remains incomplete eg around child removal, medical support, community and family connection, institutional changes around education, health, employment, primacy of self-determination, poverty, land rights, provision of informed, independent advice, inclusion of Aboriginal people in government roles, public discourse and engagement of public policy and its rollout.

Anyone wanting to exercise some activism in Australia could look at the Royal Commission and choose any one of the recommendations and see how they could contribute to implementing it in their own life.  If you are a teacher, you could consider how you bring images, stories, language into your classroom; if you are a health professional consider the social determinants and how they are showing up in your work or perhaps make a contribution to a scholarship or learning opportunity for an Aboriginal health worker; if you are a parent bring in books and language and images into the home for your children to see (for example, my kids grew up with posters of bush tucker in the kitchen, Condom Man in the boys bedroom, wooden goannas from the APY lands as toys and Tiddas, Kev Carmody and Archie Roach on rotation), if you are a facilitator you can start your sessions acknowledging country and maybe saying a few words in language of the place where you are; if you love fashion how about buying clothes designed by Indigenous artists,  or cosmetics and medicine from Aboriginal healers, or if you are an engineer look to Supply Nation to get your workforce … there is no end of things each and every one of can do to help close the gaps.  At the least you can put a sign on your door to show respect to the traditional owners of where you live, or perhaps work on Australia Day and take a holiday on Mabo Day.  Taking the streets isn’t for everyone, nor is writing to your local MP so these ideas are offered as actions we can all do from our familiar roles and responsibilities in our everyday lives.

As we come into NAIDOC Week my activism ask is to make a choice about one thing you can do in your every day life to help implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody which has at its heart, reconciliation and recognition that Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land – which is fitting as that is this year’s NAIDOC theme.

 

 

 

Year of activism #22

Across the world the last words of a dying man I can’t breathe has rallied people to rise us against structural racism. He wasn’t the first to utter them and sadly he won’t be the last. These words were also recorded as the last words of David Dungay Jr, a 26-year-old Dunghutti man from Kempsey, who died in police custody at Long Bay prison hospital in 2015. What does it mean to breathe? To have life in the body and then have it extinguished? The pressure of other bodies on yours, to be held face down, to be unable to move and to cry out with your last gasp of air must surely be terrifying.  We need to bring this story in, Australia.  Yesterday in my city thousands gathered in the Square. This public gathering space is in the shape of a Kaurna shield and its name in Kaurna is Tarntanyangga and the plain on which the city is known as Tandanya – land of red kangaroo dreaming. The square is known as Victoria Square and was named after the British monarch Princess Victoria who went on to become Queen Victoria. Her statue is at one end of the space now and towering above her are the Australian and Aboriginal flags. It is the place that the Aboriginal flag was first flown back on July 12 in 1971 NAIDOC (National Aborigines Day Observance Committee) Week.  I was in year 8 at the school closest to the Square and I can remember it happening as our school celebrated the week and the school I went to run by the Sisters of Mercy were (and continue to be) very involved in justice activities for Aboriginal peoples.  One of the elders Major Moogy Sumner got the crowd to look up to the flag yesterday and tell his story of how he was in the square when it was first flown.

This place was also the place where Pitjantjatjara Elders sat down and met,  before they approached Premier Don Dunstan about their Native Title claim. It took a few more years before the claim was law under Premier Tonkin. In SA we had the first land rights act prior to the 1967 Referendum (Aboriginal Lands Trust Act 1966 (SA) established the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust).

These are stories we should all know in South Australia and the square has both names Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square which gives me a lot of encouragement. Yesterday it became worthy of both those names.  Those of us non-indigenous people led by Aboriginal First Nations people, supported by non-indigenous black and brown people, supported by non-indigenous white people was the cadence of the day. I love to see the surge of people coming from all corners arriving into one place, the gathering of all the tribes of humanity under a watchful sky. The square, now a shield completely full and containing us all like a mother who has gathered up all her offspring.  Respect and solidarity were in the air and on everyone’s lips and in the applause and in the silences.

None of us can breath easy until there is a just settlement. It seems so fundamental to me the relationship between the land and people, and separation from land (and sea) manifests in our whole species and other species as well, being unable to breathe.  We have come to this junction brought to our knees by a virus.   I keep cycling back in my thinking to First Nations having borne the brunt of capitalism manifested in colonialism, founded on patriarchy – a kind of universal Father knows Best worldview.

Yesterday the First Nation voices were predominantly women across a number of generations, offering up their pain as a way into us getting a glimpse of what it means to be courageous and driven to use what breath there is in the body to be used to cry out for justice.  I was moved time and time again with the fountain in front of the speakers as it rose and fell and danced with the words. There were times when it seemed the water was programmed exactly to fall silent when space was needed, and rise higher when the applause grew lounder. It was so aligned – the water baptising, healing and washing away and celebrating calling us to renewal. It was profound and poetic. The words from Amos:But let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream quoted by Martin Luther King in his I have a Dream speech were echoing in my head and then the next speaker was from Memphis telling us his story as a young black man growing up in the shadows of the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated.  I am forever grateful to have visited there as part of the Gospel music tour I did in 2016 with Tony Backhouse. These connections and the universal structural racism I too perpetuate with my everyday white privilege is uncomfortable, but not life threatening. I will never be in a position where I have to fight for my own survival as an individual. 

I took this photo yesterday as I left the rally. The blue sky above and the rising eucalyptus trees grounded in the earth with the flag between them both. Let justice unfurl like a flag.

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