Monthly Archives: April 2020

Year of activism #16

A lot of people are lonely during this pandemic and I am one of them, but I am not alone. There is a difference.

I have been reflecting on the relationship between loneliness and activism. So many activists start off as the lone nut (it is one of my favourite videos about leadership, so if you haven’t seen it click here for a three minute lesson). In our times think Greta on her own outside of the Swedish parliament, or Vincent Lingiari walking off a cattle station and going on strike, or Mary Lee setting out to change the age of consent from 13 to 16 and starting that pretty much on her own.  In these times of isolation, it is easy to feel lonely especially if you are the solitary person in your house. This of course is also a privilege and one not afforded to most of our species.

In these times being isolated is calling forth new ways to mobilise. The keyboard warriors of petitions and letters are being seen for what they really are just old style campaigning in a digital form. Transformative methods of mobilising are emerging. I can see glimpses from artists holding concerts on line and communities of fans fund raising to keep art and music in the public domain. I can see facilitation tools being employed in digital spaces and forcing innovations in exiting products and tools.  I can see value being created without the exchange of money.  I can see gratitude being expressed in song and story by creatives who are reaching out to health care workers.  I have a sense that something else is brewing and the yearning for community that is not founded on digital platforms.  For places on the planet where lockdown has been possible and in places where it has been impossible will be the two ends of the extremes and what is happening in the messy middle could well be birthing some new ways forward. I am looking forward to seeing what will happen from this space and time where people have been lonely.

Loneliness is a craving for connection. Joining an idea for change with being lonely is maybe a super power for activists?  For years working in volunteering, I discovered so many people who took up volunteering to manage their loneliness and I used to talk about how their volunteering was their activism to them.  My line was – you can vote every few years for the kind of government you want; but every time you volunteer you are voting with your hands, heart, feet, mind,  for the kind of world you want to live in.  It always went down well and helped build the foundations for volunteers to see themselves as not being solitary givers of their time and talents, but making a huge contribution to health, literacy, well being, access, equity, safety. Being connected to these big ticket items and re-framing see your antidote to loneliness as addressing the inequity ledger is reflection and action coming together. What might have started as self support can turn into something way beyond yourself.

Loneliness maybe a crucible for an activist to emerge, being able to reflect and discern what is uncomfortable, what doesn’t feel just or right.  I have a hunch that there is a new age of activism dawning. After all, now we can see what it looks like to have clean air, to notice rivers less polluted, to value the place of high quality publicly funded health care, to be prepared and know public funds can be released to provide minimum income, to discover what leadership looks like in times of crisis and who we are drawn to in their leadership and equally what qualities repel us, to appreciate science and interpretations of data at population level … and the litany goes on.  Let loneliness be the activists friend and see what emerges when the experience of being disconnected is embraced.

Being lonely is not being alone. And the lone nut is an invitation to followers and may well be the beginning of starting a movement.


Photo by George Coletrain on Unsplash


Year of activism #15

Was on a zoom (no surprises there) during the week and an entrepreneur talked about how she wasn’t an activist, she was an activator, she wasn’t a protestor, she was a producer. I admire her work, tenacity and innovation. I loved her re-frame to see herself and help build a bridge for others to see her contribution to the world as adding to balance sheets and midwifery for a new world she is co-creating. Her name is Yasmin Grigaliunas and her imagination for people, planet and purpose has made the World’s Biggest Garage Sale.

I think all activists are activators. As activists we inviting others to join us. We are creating opportunities to participate and demonstrate what it is being called for to emerge out of what is not working into the light, to offer a glimpse at what the future might look like.  We are seeking often to unlock hearts and minds, to shift thinking to action, to build build and grow movements that will alter the course of history and are unwilling to accept that things will go on as they always have done, that the small incremental changes or even retrofitting isn’t enough. We are seeking changes that shift underlying assumptions, expectations and the behaviours that keep the status quo in place.

You can always tell if activists are getting traction because the push-back arrives. The ”yes but” , ” it wouldn’t work here”,  “not quite the right time” messages start to escalate into gaslighting. It starts as messages like You’re crazy. Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t be paranoid. I was just joking! … I’m worried; I think you’re not well.  And then turns into wholesale fake news and this is something the activist needs to be wary of as go about changemaking at scale.  Whole populations get marginalised, treated like they don’t belong, they are defective, have a message, experience that must not be taken seriously and needs to be ridiculed, diminished and can’t be accommodated by those holding power. This is also a sign that the power is beginning to shift. It is a dangerous time. We are in these times and the most profound example of this happening at scale is in the USA with their elected officials around the pandemic.

But they are not orphans in their experience.

Marginalisation and coveting the other as outside the norm, the preferred worldview of those in power is familiar territory to First Nations the world over. It is familiar to the early environmental activists, in Australia my mind goes to those who held the Franklin-Gordon river system in Tasmania. The power of making something invisible, visible through the photography of Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis. Through the eyes of these two Latvians, the whole world got to see what was at stake in this World Heritage area.

Activists have all kinds of ways to bring what they can see to help others to see as well – I think this is what happens when we activate. We make visible to others what we can see.

There seems to me to be preservation, reservation, conservation but most of all imagination so we can all see ourselves into the future. When I think about preservation, what we are preserving is often set with something else – alcohol, salt, sugar perhaps – we know it needs some kind of protection to last. Sometimes it is buried and hidden away to come out at the prescribed time. Maybe there is something you need to preserve right now so it can be reclaimed in the future. Reservation is more about setting aside, keeping something in its original state, protected and saved up for a rainy day.  Conservation is about helping things last as long as possible, it often includes rationing and eeking out the supply slowly and maybe also include some rehabilitation back to a natural state.  But it is imagination that transforms and transcends – to see something that is not already there. In these times when there is a convergence of crisis, it isn’t going to be enough to adjust and tweak. It is time to be radical.

Calling yourself an activator and an activist is a radical act. We are all co-creating our future every day by the choices we make, by how we hear and respond to fake news at the personal level and in the global arena. Our activism can start small with noticing the beauty around us, calling out gaslighting and initiatives that take us to the next level of radical. It might begin with a small step, like taking a photograph, or recycling something and beginning your piece of the circular economy, but whatever it is – this is a time for imaginations to produce and protest.

Year of activism #14

This is the most unusual of Passover and Easter, Spring ceremonies – all unable to have the rituals of family gatherings, filled churches, music festivals and public celebrations noting the passing of death to life and resurrection.  No school holiday camping trips.  All the adaptations I am hearing about and seeing on line and even participating in a few myself are a testament to our species being great improvisers.  There is a yearning though more than ever for human contact and my  isolation, with all I need, makes the alone-ness a first world problem. Physical distancing is the privilege of the rich.  Once again I am deeply reminded of Mary Oliver‘s question: What is it you plan to do with your one wild precious life?

We are in twilight, like crepuscular creatures coming out in the spaces between day and night on a threshold waiting for the new to begin and more importantly, the old to end.  How we consider, reflect and make note of this time seems to be the work of isolation. If we go back to the used future we failing ourselves, future generations, other species and our Mother Earth.  We would have missed the point, if it comes at the price of totalitarianism being birthed in fear campaigns leveraging on what it means to belong and who is in and who is out. In my own community this is being fueled by signs being put up in public places, by the local Member of Parliament, asking people to stay away if they don’t live in the same postcode. While it is a measure perhaps needed in coast side townships in what would ordinarily be a holiday destination, it is reaching into a base note in our herd mentality and will actually injure our spirit and capacity over time. It is not true, even in these circumstances, that we don’t need each other – in fact it is the opposite – we need each other more than ever. We will not be able to get this virus under control, in these pre-vaccination days, without mutual aid. At the international level it will be an age before borders can be relaxed and travel restrictions lifted.  I can only imagine a future where those have loved ones inter-state, in other countries and indeed other continents will be able to touch one another again.

Activism in a time of twilight is gathering up what we have to take into the night and in equal measure what we need to take into the light.  Like the Easter story we are in waiting for the dawn to arrive, the stone to be rolled away and the transformation from this cocoon to reveal new ways of making sense of the world and co-creating our shared future.

Just as the caterpillar is not like the butterfly, we have this opportunity to be completely transformed and travel in our world differently, seeing forms from new heights and perspectives, feeding on the same plants perhaps but with a much lighter touch, flying over landscapes with beauty instead of chomping our way through leaving a trail of destruction.

Praxis is what has underscored my activism over the years. Paolo Friere taught it is through education and building urgency, finding the restlessness, the experience of being impatient and holding onto hope while critically examining our oppression, that opens up the creative reflection and practical action. This is unlocked and unleashed in the learning process itself.  We have this time, in our privilege, those of us in that situation, to be students to this isolation and learn what revolution it is calling us to, or from an element of this Christian season – what metanoia – what are we being called to turn around. There is nothing neutral here, we are called to be actors in our own liberation and work collectively to discover how we might go forward and those of us with the luxury of isolation can make this a time of activism where we examine our part in oppression and how we might come out of the pupa more mature and transformed.


Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash

Year of activism #13

Privilege means I get to stay home to work, live and play. Privilege means I am still getting paid, have a roof over my head, get to see the faces and voices of people I care about, have food in my cupboards, access to fresh fruit and vegetables, clean water, have fuel in my car, continued access to primary health care because not all the resources are being deployed to COVID19 … and the list goes on.

I am in South Australia in a seaside location on Kaurna land. The place is known as Sellicks Beach and in Kaurna language is Watiwali. There is hardly a place on earth that could be more safe. In South Australia we have one of the lowest infection rates in the world, our experience of distance is probably helping with that, our tradition of caring for one another is probably another help (we have one of the highest rates of volunteering in the country). We are also generous givers, the recent donations to the bushfires are plenty of evidence of that, and those with less household incomes gift more of a percentage of their income than those with higher incomes. 4 out of 5 Australians donate to the not-for-profit sector in time and/ or money. (There are plenty of reports to back up what I am saying, but for those who want the facts you can check here and here and here to get you started.) Activism can start at home – there are always letters to write, postcards to send, phone calls that can be made. I have an expectation that staying at home will give the activists less likely to march the streets, a chance to make their contribution in a new way. Instead of scrolling through your facebook feed or spending another hour on Netflix have a look at what you can offer to others and use this time to build the future we need on the other side, going back to business as usual is not an option for our shared home on this blue dot. That is one way to address the privilege people like me have.

I was reading Arundhati Roy’s take on COVID19 in India, I encourage you to read her reflections and test against your privilege. She describes this pandemic as a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. Her call to action is to walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Like Doctor Who in the Tardis, what do you see through this portal? A more equal world lying on the other side where there is a guaranteed minimum income, where there is free child-care, where hotels house the homeless, where those stranded on boats get health checks and taken to hospital if they need care. I long for a world where no one dies alone and nursing homes are not concentration camps for the aged and infirmed. Gender diversity is celebrated into the tapestry of a mature society and we all get to appreciate one another without constant references to our sexual identity. Where isolation and quarantine restrictions are self-imposed because we go to our rooms when we need to take a breath and settle down so as to cause no harm to those around us.

I am pretty happy we have decided we can’t have it all. We can’t have a growth at all costs economy and roofs over everyone’s heads, health care and education. We have to make choices and in Australia, despite a neo-liberal government, through the power of democracy of organised lobby groups and advocacy like unions and business councils, the elected officials have been strong armed into turning our taxes, reserves and capacity to raise debt for the greater good. I think this is our best collective selves turning up to meet the virus and I am hoping it gives us all a taste of how quickly public policy can change things – we don’t have to have months and months of referendums and navel gazing to do the right thing. Organised collectives in touch with their members and the everyday lives of what matters working together is possible.

What I see through the portal, is more collective action, more radical generosity, more radical localism, more cosmolocalism. We can push reset very quickly and this pandemic has demonstrated that in some countries or we can ignore it and some countries have done that too. In the post pandemic world those countries who have been able to see a more collective future will be stronger and more agile. I fear for friends and communities in the USA where planes are still flying, and where the idea of the collective is generally weak, and collectives are not as well organised. We know that sometimes David can beat Goliath (deep bow of gratitude to Cesar Chavez and Marshall Ganz) and this is a time where individual actions build the collective safety net for this and future generations.

The humble soul staying at home is making the world a better place and that is the activism essential for this day and collective action needed for our times. We are being apprenticed into the a new way of thinking about what it means to support our most vulnerable and we will need the practice for a bit longer so it sticks and builds the collective muscle memory and we have a point of reference when we get to the other side.