Year of activism #47

Spring ends in a couple of days and we have already passed records for hottest day in November. The Climate Emergency bells are ringing and even with our planet being a beneficiary of some of the COVID restrictions, the data is in, and the ones listening to the scientists and to ancient wisdom and the ones most alarmed, feeling the urgency …. another COVID response correlation.

Wearing a mask is a sign of public health activism, in same way choosing food that is grown locally, unpackaged and has a fair price to farmers attached. Cue the soundtrack We are the World and somehow that anthem takes on renewed meaning – we are the ones saving our own lives. To all the singers and songwriters who help us grow movements for change one from my tradition and culture always stands out – Pete Seeger. He died in 2014 and in 2009 there was quite a campaign to get him nominated for the Nobel Prize, which I thought was quite a good idea at the time. He was the oldest person to ever sing at a US Presidential inauguration. Listening him sing (all the verses of Guthrie’s) This Land is Your Land remains an abiding memory of how we can live together, work together and put the land and the planet at the centre of our decision-making for ourselves and the future.

Privileging and understanding the centrality of land for climate response seems crucial to me. SDG #15 Life on Land seems to have it all, and there are so many opportunities to make a contribution: tree planting, soil rehabilitation, land rights, understanding land as mother, food security, benefits of nature, reforestation, regeneration. This is not a stewardship relationship with the land, it is an invitational relationship. We get called each and everyone of us, each and everyday to respond to this invitation. The invitation to bring our best selves, knowledge, skills, curiosity, wonder and awe to what the planet, in fact land and sea, has to offer us. We are being invited to halt, to heal, to discover, to mask, to declare, to celebrate, to mourn. These are times in which at every turn we can make and take a step towards turning the sirens of the climate emergency down a notch.

I am examining, with others as part of SheEO’s Racial Justice Working Group, the place of this SDG in relation to racial justice. The language of colonisation, white supremacy, patriarchy continues to get in the way and one of the first invitations I am trying to accept is around language. Moving from extractive to generative language is quite a discipline. I am looking for new words for stewardship, leaving descriptors like First and Third world, developing, under developed behind. Bringing in the mystical and mythological to frame and bring a big enough canvas to hold the depth of values and meaning that is not possible in the transactional nature of most conversations about land.

As our temperatures start to soar in my part of this pale blue dot and summer rolls across the skies and the sands beneath our feet glare and heat up making it hard to even have the grains between our toes, I know there are fire crews training, meteorologists modelling, animal rescue volunteers stocking up on bandages, farmers checking dams, policy makers reviewing plans. So to all those who have been ringing bells and calling emergency for decades and for all those prepping to be first responders in the summer ahead, and for all those who year in and year out have been reminding us it is is time to act, I give deep thanks to you for being relentless in your acceptance of the invitation and for being the vehicle to transmit the message to those of us who have been so slow to hear it being extended to us. This land was made for you and me.

Photo by Malachi Brooks on Unsplash

Year of activism #46

The thunder rolled in and with one mighty crackle sparks, the heavily pregnant clouds released and drowned my little part of the planet for less than the time it takes to bake a cake. You can’t always see the clouds colliding in the dark, but you do hear them walking up to the moment and you experience the pent up energy being set free and falling where ever it falls. The balance of refreshment to the earth and heaviness in the air arrives and a invitation that can’t be postponed, to hydrate. The elemental nature of activism is the same, there are times in movement building that the system like a weather system is going to explode and everyone is touched whether they are involved or not. The meteorological forces bring to bear what must be made visible and felt. I think this is the craft of the mobiliser in activism.

Getting out the vote in the US has been like this, all the individual efforts of people being signed onto the roll, driven to booths, postal workers delivering ballot papers from home to polling stations, volunteers offering hospitality and reporters recording accurately, live streaming technologists enabling real time viewing of counting of ballots – each in their own way making rain. And then there is the deluge and the precious drops fall on everyone, regardless of age, race, where they voted, elected, unelected and then the rain stops, the atmospherics have changed, the forecasters explain what has happened and are replaced by the next shift ready to advise on what is coming up.

The mobilisers pause for some satisfying breaths to drink in the cleansing waters and then get back to work. I have been watching the behaviour of the US President-elect who as he heads into his eighth decade is pacing himself, equipped with the wisdom of many deluges, he is patient and persistent. There seems to be a gentle confidence in the elements knowing they come and they go. This is the practice of the ancients. They know the dark clouds are full of what they have drawn upwards into themselves and when ripe can burst and deliver their load on those below. They know they don’t need to do it all, and there is a transformation when the sky and the land meet. This communion will call forth new shoots and in no time at all, new life will become visible, tiny insects will be scurrying around, beetles, bugs, bees, butterflies; trees will be waking up and the scent of herbs will fill the air. Ancients hang onto the this knowledge, they know how to coax the clouds with a dance or send smoke into the air to hasten the process. Ancients know the clouds will burst and the wait will be worth it.

Taking lessons from the ancients and storms in your activism is as good a place to look as anywhere if you are a mobiliser. Paying attention to what works, what happens next and when to look to the skies for inspiration is a guide for me often and when I lie in bed and hear the rolling thunder, the rain soaking into the ground followed by birds singing and starting to gather threads to weave their nests I know, in the words of the English 14th century mystic anchorite Julian of Norwichall shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

The trick for me is to remember that when I am in darkness, or perhaps I can’t see any clouds and to know that the invisible actions of the mobilisers are working on their part and if I am in their number I need to be working on my contribution however molecular it seems because it does indeed all add up for a mighty storm that is a-comin’ and in its wake is new life.

Photo by Valentin Müller on Unsplash

Year of activism #45

As votes get counted in the USA, the most destructive hurricane in the history of Central America ripped through Honduras, a trilogy of daily typhoons hit Manila drowns the metropolis. We are all connected through these events in our common occupation of this little blue dot. While these things were going on, I was laughing, dancing, enjoying the good company of family and friends, listening to music, poetry and holding space for others to have conversations. I took time to recognise and celebrate the oldest continuous living culture on the planet in NAIDOC Week. This year’s theme Always Was Always Will Be, brought the centrality of the land to all that has past, all that is, all that is to come. More than once across the week I dipped into my own story to recognise my ancestors would have been part of the dispossession and now it is my generation to who the reckoning and restitution falls. The need for treaties continues to loom large in my mind about what is needed. The place of treaties as agreements and truth telling intertwines with our relationships to past, present and future. Time is indefinite, continuous on the move working away and threading and holding events, memories, actions, dreams in the past, present, and future.

How we mark time whether it be by the moon, the clock, the height of tree growing is embedded in activism. So often we are trying to halt the progress, or speed something up or even turn it back as a way to get to the justice required by the moment. The practice of mindfulness brings depth and width to time and the expanse of this world crystalized into tiny never to be repeated moments, cherished all the more for their fleeting nature. Just imagine if in every moment we were able to hold the time for justice. That is a practice that will take me more than one lifetime! I do try to bring the practice of welcoming the new day, each dawn, as a way of bringing all the time zones together and when I remember across the 24 hours on our axis on the ecliptic plane, that a new day is dawning somewhere right now. The constancy of this natural phenomena is surely an invitation to a new start while honouring what has gone before. This is perhaps the most profound version of a circular economy I can think of and it is linked directly for me to the relationship to the land, seas and stars and in my part of the planet, named and held by First Nations whose land and seas have never been ceded. Without an understanding of time, connectedness and circularity I am not sure justice can arrive.

The practices to restore, recover, regenerate, reuse, repair are all for renewal. While we might design out waste and polluting variables we have to design in, circularity. I am thinking of waste and pollution as how the turn up way beyond single use plastic to single use votes, single use volunteering, single use actions. single use conversations. All our lives depend on it and you have this power in each and every moment. Keeping the conversations going and bringing in the past and the future are essential, we need to know what has gone before and understand what is to come. The places of the futurist and historians are intertwined, the role of the forecasters and the archeologists, the lessons from epigenetics and immunologists are all connected. As activists we are always at a threshold, the point where change is about to happen, the emergent space, the place of new beginnings. To be fully present in that moment is a practice and when we come to the end of our days knowing we too are in this cosmic circular economy – the one household in which we all live. It has been a regular theme in my life since the 1990s, this relationship between household and economics and our home, and ironically I circle back to it often, reinforcing the notion that it was a generative and not extractive lesson from my twenties.

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its name is, is
nameless now.

Every year
everything
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this:
the fires and the black river of loss
whose other side is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:

To love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver New and Selected Poems

For more about: Mary Oliver

Year of activism #44

Mobilising to get out the vote is what so many activists have been doing in the US, while those of us outside of the US, watched and cheered along as best we could. The new team to come into the White House has been chosen primarily by black women and now the race and gender divide is even more stark than it has been for those of us who sit outside, but for those on the inside, who make their homes in cities and country towns it has been their reality since the beginning of colonisation of what we now know as the United States of America. The depth of pain and the enormous task ahead for racial justice, climate justice and gender justice is of Mt Everest proportions. Then there is a task of getting COVID under control …. So if I was advising the White House, I would be saying go in hard and fast as soon and don’t have any Inauguration Balls – get straight to work there is no time to loose.

I am giving thanks for all the public servants who delivered the mail and counted votes. The role of the public sector in democracy and supporting the institutions that help the electorate have their voice heard and translated into systems is precious and fragile. Over the coming weeks the public servants working in the courts will have their roles and responsibilities tested. US citizens valuing the vote and coming out in unprecedented numbers and all those that did postals due to COVID, might actually be a positive outcome of the deadly virus – where one part of the democracy failed its people another part has been able to help and hopefully heal as well. California sent every single citizen eligible to vote a postal ballot, so whoever made that decision I am claiming as an activist for democracy!

Meanwhile in my part of the world it is NAIDOC Week this week and I want to take a moment to give thanks for all the women and men, Aboriginal who have been activists for racial justice, land rights, economic justice and decolonisation. There is so much work to be done in Australia on this front. A didgeridoo was played on my porch last night, a surprising gift and I felt blessed by the sound and the warmth and generosity of it being played on the land I make my home. I have no right to expect this gift, on stolen land, on land that is marked out with fences and gates, on land that is marked on a map as a suburb that does not bear a name of the place it was known for thousands of years, on land that was and always will be Aboriginal land. I felt blessed by the sound under the great southern skies, where the dreaming of the creation ancestor Tjirbruki walked the land in grief over the death of his nephew who broke the law by killing a female emu. There is a lot of grief in this land and Tjirbruki’s tears still flow in the streams, waterholes and waterfalls across the dreaming tracks, including where I now live Watiwali – Sellicks Beach. It is a tale that is full of sadness and a search for accountability through forgiveness and reckoning – timeless lessons.

While there [at Sellick’s Beach], Tjirbruki began to think of further grudges and as he was passing through the pangkara of the Witjarlung families it disturbed him that they had failed to pass on the message of forgiveness to Kulultuwi and his other nephews. Instead of continuing along the beach he turned inland and climbed over Sellick’s Hill. Snippet from Tindale’s notes

The politics of grief will not leave me as a motif for this era and the need for transformational rituals and stories to help us navigate and transcend to new places, heal the past and be in community with one another because of our differences, is waiting for the priestesses and pastors of our times to work their magic and guide us into our next dreaming. The skilled ministers to hold and host these spaces are being called up and I am deeply grateful to the ones I know about and the ones I will get to know. We live in wild places. I am working at my edges to say no to the domestication and colonisation of my heart and head for that seems to me to be a pathway for justice. Tears are inevitable. Courage compulsory. Friends for the journey non-negotiable.

Year of activism #43

The place of formal advocacy in public policy systems has been a focus this week. I am very fortunate to be a member of South Australia’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Board and I do have an agenda to help close the gender investment gap and to bring a gender lens to listening, observing, conversations and advice making. It is quite a discipline to stay on message and on track. Being at the table is a power and privilege.

This week, a peer asked me how I prepare and go into these spaces, and on reflection realised I do have a practice. I bring to mind all those who have gone before me to enable me to have the privilege of being at the table. These people then become my cloud of witnesses. Their energy and compassion being afforded to me gives me courage and holds me so I know I am not alone. I was fortunate enough to get a teaching while in a workshop on Warriorship hosted by aviator (and now incarnated as a Marvel Comic heroine) Teara Fraser this week, where one of the participants Sacred Matriarch artist Ecko Aleck shared that she does something similar. She takes her place in the litany of those who have been before her and as a First Nations woman, born into the Nlaka’pamux Nation and raised with the shishalh Nation, Ecko said she has the baton now and the responsibility to go from surviving to thriving, as she will in her turn, take her place in the geneology. She explained she has full responsibility for this moment and who comes after her will take what she has done to do her part. It reminds me of something I wrote years ago about a teaching I got from a local footy champion who said when you have the ball you are responsible for the game in that moment and you do all you can to exercise that responsibility for the team to help them kick the next goal. I try and build a team of people I can throw to, who will accept the ball from me and who will notice when it is coming their way and will hear my voice when I kick it their way. This is all about building relationships and trust and training together and that is something I have felt a bit disconnected from recently and this week was a good reminder to me I need to strengthen my practice in this area. This is essential for movement building and in my experience, reiterated again this week, means you need to take time to hang out and get to know people. One of my personal KPIs is when people can tease you as a sign of respect and that works both ways.

I also invoke the UniVerse, the one voice, and ask what is this one voice calling in this moment? On reflection I use this practice to bring alignment to past, present and future. The next step is to stay focused and to stay grounded. I notice I do better at this when I am standing flat footed and strong on the ground and while standing akimbo comes naturally I work against myself to not take that stance so as not to be seen as threatening, and put my hands behind my back, although every now and again I do fold my hands in front of me, but again try to pick myself up when I do that so I continue to stay as open as I can in the moment. Another thing I notice I keep eye contact as best I can, I find this hard sometimes! I also work on channeling sending love and compassion – even when my eyes want to send daggers. I recently experimented with sending daggers that could transform into Cupid like arrows of love and that seemed to work but I am going to need a lot more practice to get this to work on demand!

Formal advocacy is not stand up comedy, but humour helps and I noticed I do use humour to get key points across to new audiences. More than a decade of improv training and performing playback theatre, is easily on demand and I appreciate those skills and forms (like yes and) to have at my finger tips. I also am fortunate to have decades of facilitation tools behind me so can bring in simple activities like asking people useful questions to unlock and unleash information – never under estimate the power of asking everyone to take it in turns to share their answers to a question. One tool I have used consistently over the years (from family counselling to corporate board meetings) to ask everyone to bring another voice into the conversation and what would they say if they were in the room. This always frees everyone up and brings out the ghosts and what I find is this also usually helps bring in taboos, lost words and feelings to the table and in doing so deeper discernment.

I wonder what practices you have that you might even know you do to hold you strong in your power and love as you do your changemaking?

Flavia Tati Nardini rocket scientist and co-founder of Fleet and fellow Entrepreneurship Advisory Board member.

Year of activism #42

Here’s to the film-makers and photographers and all that take and make pictures to tell us stories about ourselves, our world and what we can be, what we have lost, who we are. This week it is the Adelaide Film Festival and no one has stayed away. I have only managed one film (Brazen Hussies) and this season is a reminder of the power of screen to provide an opportunity for a shared experience as potent as any rally on the streets. to gather our collective thoughts and hear what others need to tell us. As always the Film Festival is a cornucopia of ideas and images, sounds and stories and I am propelled into remembering the visuals that have activated hearts, heads and hands. Who can forget the 9 year old girl running from the Vietnam jungle bathed in napalm? The image of Gough Whitlam pouring sand through Vincent Lingiari’s hands in 1975 is one of my all time favourites and I have a copy of it in my office. In one frame, the past, present and future are frozen and speak. At the other end of the visual spectrum is the film that takes its time to unfold and unravel. Going to a movie theatre deepens the experience of the tale being told, all other stimulation is blocked out and you can focus completely, be immersed, be held by the screen and accept the invitation of the film maker to be intimate your eyes meeting theirs.

Being able to just receive, is a kind of deep listening and uninterrupted attention that brings us into the meditative state where we can embrace and be embraced by the narrative. This is the quest of every activist, to be able to invite into something bigger than yourself, a story that can fill all our senses and transcend the frames we hold in our heads to bring new visions, a new slant and perhaps a new response. The film I saw this week was a documentary tracing the steps of the Women’s Liberation Movement and Women’s Electoral Lobby and its influence on public policy including the first appointment of a women’s advisor to the Federal Government in the 1970s in Australia. It was mostly white, mostly east coast, mostly university educated voices that were heard. There were plenty of firsts like equal pay, childcare, domestic violence shelters, access to contraception, state support for single mothers and I am deeply grateful for these women who paved the way. I shed a few tears, then I shed a few more for all that is still to do – still no equal pay in some industries, we have one of the most gendered workforces on the planet and women’s work is mostly in underpaid and undervalued industries (eg caring industries); domestic violence hasn’t gone away and women are still fleeing their homes and for their lives, making women and children homeless rather than men being removed from homes and due to separation and economic injustice women over 50 are the highest rising group of homeless right now; then there is the economic inequity of female founders missing out ( 4% of venture capital goes to women). Indigenous women and women of colour are still largely absent from the decision making and shaping of policies and practices to end these injustices and intersectionality is not routinely applied. While women will often cry ” where are the men?”, we are less likely to hear: “Where are our Aboriginal sisters, and migrant and refugee voices, and women of colour who have been here for generations?” My high school principal was a fifth generation Australian Chinese woman and would often comment on her universal Asian features being invisible when she travelled and when at home in her own country being the cause for racism. This experience was eloquently examined by Stan Grant in his 2015 speech Racism and the Australian Dream. And for me it was the photos of the Tasmanian wilderness taken by Olegas Truchanas that united a nation and was part of the arsenal of the environment movement to elect a government that would preserve ancient and irreplaceable landscape.

The filmmaker is our friend. They take the liberty to build a friendship with us and work on the assumption that once you have stepped into view their work you are now in entering into an intimacy to look through their eyes and while they can’t gaze back into yours, they are working on an assumption you want to see what they can see, you want to know what they want to tell you, they understand you have some kind of longing they might be able to fulfil. They can find spaces and make spaces in your psyche for memories and your imagination to be evoked, for your longing to be stroked and your fragility or sacred joy expressed in the dark. The shared experience builds a bridge to conversation.

Thank you to all the activists behind lens’ that bring us images that hold us and move us and bring us into intimacy for it is from the heart we can bring our heads and hands to action.

This photo of Gough Whitlam pouring earth through Vincent Lingiari’s hand has become an iconic image. It was taken by Mervyn Bishop on 16 August 1975. Museum of Australian Democracy Collection.

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