Year of activism #32


The theme of silence and speaking up continues its orbit this week. It turned up again and again – and I am paying attention to where it is calling to me from and what it is calling me to. It has showed up across the week – in my paid work, in my community setting, in a learning space, a book group, in words I have read, in the landscape and in conversations.

And Audre Lorde seems to keep showing up with the theme. The place of silence as a form of protest, a way to build inner strength and for me what has been importantly a mechanism to make space to hear a deeper wisdom, has been and will continue to be an important practice for me. I have been drawn to Paul Goodman‘s explainer on this kind of silence:

There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy… the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul… the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.

It is from this place of silence that the action emerges to be taken and once action, returning to this silence to reflect before another step might be taken. The silence though is part of the practice and not separate from the action. While I have acted on my own, I find my contribution so tiny, that is only acting with others that I feel my actions can aggregate and amplify to enable shifts towards justice to be possible. So building coalitions, collaborations, partnerships and adding myself to movements for change is my preferred way of being in the world. Sometimes this is formal like joining a political party, or organisation with a specific agenda, but mostly it is informal, connecting to pre-existing efforts or connecting the dots between initiatives, people and actions. It is Audre Lorde’s voice I go to when I am lost, suffering from the amnesia of privilege or need some instruction to take another step. And there she was again this week, more than once, teaching me and calling out courage.

My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

The other women in the chorus calling me this week have pivoted around Lilla Watson‘s voice who said and does not like this being attributed to her, but prefers the attribution to the entire group of Aboriginal women she was with said:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.

I have written about her words before here and here and on both occasions it has been about liberation, which is the product of justice. In my twenties when I first started learning about our colonial history in Australia and the impact of the Bicentennial activities in 1988 on me were transformational. I am so grateful for my time on the Justice and Peace Commission and all I learnt from incredible leaders who inducted me and apprenticed me into deeper listening, understanding and action that continues to help me know my own privilege and more importantly seek out ways towards justice. Pay the rent guided me for many decades and yet it seemed to slipped off my radar for a long time, and I found my way back to that concept last year, and then spurred on by the dreadful bushfires last summer, taking steps to do what I could to buy products, services and paying for educational opportunities to make modest purchases and donations to support sovereignty. I am aching to find out more particularly about ways forward for data sovereignty and was inspired by the extraordinary Dr Lou Bennett about this a couple of years ago at a national social work research conference I was facilitating. Her work on sovereign language reparation really shook me up and has called me and continues to call me to consider what might I do in my life around reparation as one of the central steps towards liberation. We will all have our own ways along this path.

This week I was also introduced to an extraordinary social worker and educator Wakumi Douglas from S.O.U.L Sisters leadership collective. She is generously, skillfully and creatively leading a process for SheEO to bring a Racial Justice Working Group to life and action. And wouldn’t you know …. there was Audre again at the end of session one calling me once again out of silence, breaking open my heart and blowing my mind again.

In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.

For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth. – Audre Lorde -Sister Outsider

I am so grateful for these spaces and the teachers and leaders I have to guide me to actions with impact and hold me safe so I can find my way with integrity and self-compassion. I truly bow down deeply to you all, and I know I am on another edge in the liberation pilgrimage.

Audre Lorde

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