Monthly Archives: July 2020

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