Monthly Archives: November 2020

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
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.