Monthly Archives: June 2016

Dancing with Speeches #26 Nicola Sturgeon

100318819-nicolasturgeonremain-NEWS-xlarge_trans++ABqq2hkeCmkkLCJ1aFwBS9FC7C2JGVX5bC8Msl5Xws4Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave a powerful speech to respond to the UK result on the EU referendum. In her ten minute address she covered with compassion, respect and honour on what the result meant for Scotland and for the future of the UK. She reassured those who have fled other lands and made their home in Scotland would be safe and continue to be welcomed. The speech alludes to the universal questions: What does it mean to belong, to be included to be left behind?

When people are left behind, we get Brexit, next it will be Trump. Old white men franchised, and disenfranchised, making decisions for the rest of us. Equity and unity with diversity our the safest routes to justice, peace and democracy. Feeling more committed than ever to do my bit to build a world where no one is left behind after all we only have one home.

The young are being left with decisions made by baby boomers, they are the ones really left behind, they are the real ones who remain. The young Brits voted in droves to stay with the EU with ease of travel, study and opportunities being in the EU has been a passport to be European and look outwards into the future. And now their seniors and non-Londoners have created a future and exposed a divide. Racism and far right movements around the world will be celebrating the Brexit result and will see it as a nod to anti-immigration, closed borders and worse closed minds. In turn independence movements get a boost in the arm with the both left and right look remarkably similar in their desire for political self-determination.

Public trust happens over time through listening and hearing your own voice being valued and understood. Spaces and places for the trust to be brokered, enabled and held are subject to all kinds of scrutiny. (I noticed I wasn’t putting a leaflet into a letterbox to enable voters to be informed about the position of political parties on the issue of asylum seekers, if someone was in the garden. The innocuous space of letterbox did not offer enough anonymity for a less than courageous activist on a wintry Saturday afternoon.)

On line abuse has started on a Justice for Refugees site I am supporting as we head into a Federal election, the anonymity offered by social media is matched with the ease of being able to ban and report abusive language. Keeping those ugly voices at bay, may also head them under ground and come out of the dark web when the votes get counted. Positive campaigning doesn’t seem to work, going negative goes to our basest of human qualities, fear. When we fail the youngest ones ,when they miss out on being literate and numerate, don’t meet their developmental milestones, we are sowing the seeds for the dissatisfaction and disengagement further done the track. Education is an inoculation strategy for fear into the future and of the future.

The generation of young adults who voted to remain in Brexit have had the benefit of looking outward that the generation before them haven’t had, they have the invitation of travel and study abroad at their doorstep.   The generational divide means the young have the votes stacked against them. I am in the over 50s age group and when I go to vote I will be thinking of the youngest generation and the ones to come.32CB754C00000578-0-The_polling_data_showed_big_differences_between_how_different_ag-m-11_1459672827371

Dancing with Speeches #25 Eleanor Roosevelt

In 1936 Eleanor Roosevelt gave a speech to the US on the meaning of libraries. The love of books and the health of a democracy are inextricably bound. We know that what was ahead was the burning of books in WW2 was a sign of the rise of fascism and the Grim Reaper’s call of death to dangerous ideas. Stimulating the reading of the same book by large groups of people can build the foundations of a movement and create public discourse. The health of libraries is a barometer for the health of democracy.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s speech talks about receiving a letter from a man in his late 70s who together with his neighbour in his 80s, had learnt to read their last winter at their local library and in doing so had new worlds open to them. He was writing to the First Lady because he was disturbed to find out that in the time of depression the adult education classes funding had been cut and this winter there would not be such classes. The winter had provided a safe, warm comfortable place to gather with neighbours to learn and connect. It had built a future where before they felt there wasn’t one.

I saw on facebook last night a friend of mine who is a librarian in Sydney was hosting a session for Mandarin speaking people on what the Australian electoral system was all about and how to vote as preparation for the upcoming Federal election. In the safety and security of the library questions were asked, ideas explored, participation in democracy enabled. I had a conversation with a co-worker during the week, where she shared a story of being a child on an island off the coast of Britain and that a few doors down from her house was the local library. It was the place she could be found at least once a week soaking up new books, discovering new ideas and building a life long love of reading. Yet another person told me on public transport what book their Book Club was reading and how they had waited for a while as their local library had the book they wanted on a wait list as it was in so much demand by other book clubs.

Libraries are in the baseline of our communal expression – a place to learn to read, to love books, to meet others, to join in with decision-making, to come in from the cold of old ideas and real time warmth in winter.

I had the amazing good fortune to work on Tomorrow’s Libraries a study and recommendations for South Australia and the same messages of literacy, social cohesion, tolerance, informed decision-making and a better start in life for children came out over and over again. The place of libraries still front and centre of these pillars of democracy.

The future of public libraries lies in the value they create from the nexus of people, place, knowledge and technology to create a platform for learning, participation, creativity, innovation and well-being.

Although there are other community and commercial places that provide opportunities for meeting and activity, the public library is the only institution that brings these things together for community and society’s benefit. Through the library people can engage, learn and participate and be introduced to new ideas and technologies in a safe and supportive environment. The value of this mix of assets and resources should not be underestimated.

The future of public library services is underpinned by the following values:

  • Equity of access: anyone regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, age or ability is welcom
  • Freedom of expression: a diversity of points of view is represented in a library’s collections
  • Right to know: learning and access to ideas and knowledge is a universal right
  • Trust: in the quality of the information, services and staff

matilda mrs phelpsI recently got to see the Melbourne production of Tim Minchin’s musical of the Roald Dahl book “Matilda” it was an amazing set and framed by words and a library, a receptacle of music, dancing, discovery, and great story telling! Row of books hid villains, held secrets, offered listening ears and audiences to wild and wonderful tales. The librarian’s role of witness was a still point for reflection and hosted the story and its teller. Mrs Phelps the librarian gives the right of passage ticket – a library card – to enable the Reader (Matilda) to take books home! This simple act is the first time an adult gifts the child,  and from then on there is no stopping Matilda taking up her power. This delivers to her rights, responsibilities and capacity to recognised for her genius. Just imagine all  the librarians who have done this for other children throughout the ages!

There is a generous and gorgeous collection of photos from the USA about the power of public libraries from Robert Dawson. In the foreward of this book Bill Moyers says: “When the library is being reinvented in response to the explosion of information and knowledge, promiscuous budget cuts in the name of austerity, new technology and changing needs . . . Dawson shows us . . . what is at stake—when the library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open, too.”

It was in the depression that Eleanor Roosevelt found the power of libraries so vital that she spoke to the nation, and it is a message as relevant today for the USA and rest of the world. Hatred and fear comes from infertile soil. There has never been a more important time for the power of the institution of the public library to rise and shine and mobilise and heal. I fear if I did research on the places where there is mayhem and division I might find a direct correlation with non-existent or seriously under funded libraries.


Eleanor Roosevelt and Nikita Khruschchev at the Franklin D Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park 1959

Dancing with Speeches #24 Princess Elizabeth

This weekend Australia celebrates the British monarch and her reign as sovereign is always disappointing to me who long for Australia to be a republic. Her first public speech was made when she was 14, over the radio and with her sister to give comfort to other young people and children who were being removed from their homes becoming refugees and offering good luck during their time of separation from their families.

The crackle of the crystals warming up before the voices of young women wishing well and reminding peers the future belongs to them, when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place. She invited all the children to bear their share too of the danger and sadness of war. So many children bear more than their share – their toll is greatest, their future taken away through the aftermath of conflict. The wars go on long after soldiers have left. Their fathers go home with post-traumatic stress and their mental health condition may well lead to more violence to self and their loved ones. The land is no longer fertile, harvesting only toxins in the soil left from the herbicides and residue of weapons and mines in the ground maybe lasting for aeons. DNA maybe damaged passing on genetic disorders to generation after generation. Locked in detention, robbed of their childhood, children bare more than their share of war.

The voice of the child so clear and powerful, the young princess Elizabeth was heard by her peers as well as adults. The power and place of public media the platform to be heard. More recently in our time that very same public media, the BBC found a way for another young woman’s voice to be heard, this time it was firstly anonymous and via a blog. A BBC journalist looked for a young person who could write safely about their life with the Taliban. A school and its teacher were approached and the child who first wrote under the pseudonym Gul Makai (means Cornflower, after a character from Pashtun folklore). Her first blog entry was published on 3 January 2009, it was from hand-write notes passed on to a reporter scanned and e-mailed – no doubt a series of crackles along the way to get them to publication. We all know her now as the Nobel Laureate Malala. The role of the BBC to bring a children’s voice to the masses is a triumph. The little voice is powerful in its vulnerability and unmediated honesty and desire for peace.

When the word isn’t possible, a visual image may well be even more powerful. Over three successive years, children’s art has come to the fore from detention centres where those seeking asylum have been placed by Australian authorities. More than a dozen of these pictures found their way into the Australian Human Rights Commission report released in 2015. They are evocative and compelling, and while in a publicly commissioned document, The Forgotten Children’s report’s drawings didn’t have wide spread coverage in public and commercial media – they were there but a wide audience wasn’t reached. The images too confronting and more powerful than words perhaps the reason for their modest presence in the public domain. By the middle of 2013, children seeking asylum in Australian detention centres nudged the 2,000 mark. This number has steadily declined since with the support of changing public policy, practice and tireless advocacy. The report commissioned and undertaken by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs spearheaded the demand for the children to have their rights to seek asylum from persecution and was has been the Australian way in previous generations. Sadly children once from families given that privilege had not extended it to the next generation.

What would happen if we touched into our inner child, too feel and connect, as child to child, just as Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose did? Would that open our hearts a little wider, let a little more compassion seep out, embed a memory to build a future of peace and justice? Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday this year, she was able to hark back to her childhood in her Christmas message last year and brought the images of Syrian refugees and the reminder of her England as child together, reminding viewers of her Christian refugee story of Jesus and his family fleeing persecution and a certain death of the boy child if they did not escape the oppressors occupying their homeland.

Take a breath, in this dance of past and present. Remember yourself as a child, what would you want for yourself and for other children? A place to be safe, a place to play and a place to grow up in peace, free from persecution and war – would you refuse your inner child that right? Or the next generation’s their rights?



Dancing with Speeches #23 Kevin Rudd

National Apology to Stolen Generations by Kevin Rudd when he was Prime Minister of Australia  called a nation to account for wrongs past and to turn the pages over together as an act of reconciliation.

This speech took the form of a collect, a Christian tradition where there is the open address to the higher form (in this case the Parliament, not God), then an attribution to the Parliament’s (not God) place and agency to act, then a petition, an explanation of why the ask and finally a conclusion. When I heard the apology, the familiarity of the form gave me reassurance, knowing the steps makes it easier to do the dance. I love the place of a petition or litany, the call and then the response becomes predictable and grows with authority each time. We are sorry. We are sorry. We are sorry.  But are we sorry enough?

When we are truly sorry, we seek restoration and try to restore balance. It is not a matter of just saying sorry.

To transcend sorrow

go deep first

plumb the dark places

lift heavy stones

slide into nooks and crannies

find the hurt that doesn’t want to be found

taste the bitterness of sinister deeds

unmask appropriation

give benevolence a new name.

There is a lot more Sorry business to be done before we, as a nation, can be truly sorry for the 50,000 children taken from their families.  The commitment to have four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal communities enrolled in and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper pre-literacy and pre-numeracy programs, made at the time of the Apology speech is still not fulfilled – we are not yet truly sorry.  The commitment to embrace a systemic approach to build future educational opportunities for Indigenous children to provide proper primary and preventive health care for the same children, to begin the task of rolling back the obscenity that we find today in infant mortality rates in remote Indigenous communities—up to four times higher than in other communities – still unfinished business – we are not yet truly sorry. The gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is still there 69.1 years for Aboriginal males—10.6 years lower than for non-Aboriginal males (79.7 years) 73.7 years for Aboriginal females—9.5 years lower than for non-Aboriginal females (83.1 years). We are not yet truly sorry.

Sorrow holds us in place so we might be healed, allowing tears and aches to work their way through the body and then exhausted, there is a kind of expiration that signals the start of something new.  Only when that moment comes are the labour pains over and the birth of a new possibility or relationship can emerge and inspiration can find a home.

Cloak and dagger: Midnight Oil performing in their Sorry suits at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony. Picture: Nathan EdwardsSource:News Corp Australia

Cloak and dagger: Midnight Oil performing in their Sorry suits at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source:News Corp Australia