Monthly Archives: June 2022

Visibility and invisibility 2022 #26

Gilead is a fictional place. Atwood only used content that had already happened in history, for the Handmaid’s Tale. I read it in 1986, not long after it was first published, I was 28 and pregnant with my fourth child (sixth pregnancy) and consolidated many of my early thoughts about women’s rights, women’s bodies, patriarchy as a system. I haven’t been able to watch the television series, the first ten minutes were enough for me. I couldn’t put myself through it. Seems the dystopian Gilead is alive and well in the land of the brave and home of the free. Bravery and freedom being values that exclude at least half the population, to say nothing of those who are not white and not of settler stock. 

I like to keep careful watch for possible danger or difficulties and sometimes this has turned out to be prophetic, mostly I think of my approach as proactive. It is so much harder to get rights back when they are taken away, so much harder to dismiss someone before appointing them in the first place, so much harder to escape from Gilead than enter it.

Vigilance matters.

Democracy is teamwork.

Politics is personal.

Mobilising is possible, because change is already in-waiting, ready, willing and able, to be ignited. A fuse is lit, and from that spark, people will and do rise up. There is a trust we inherently hold between us and when it is broken we yearn for it to be fused – it is where hope comes in. When we have a common enemy – a flood, a fire, a pandemic – we grab hold of what we have close at hand – each other. It is a kind of collective evolution that helps us be community, it is a form of inoculation, against Gilead. There is no real form of control, just a concertina-like calibration of collaboration, that breathes in and out (sometimes hyperventilating) to try to redress a wrong. 

This way of change-making always comes from the bottom, not the top, from deep roots informed, courageous and with plenty of muscle and fibre attached. Because it has been formed under pressure, there is often steam and some hot spots, sometimes people get burnt or at least a little bruised, but in the end there is change and that arrives with new skin, a little raw and shiny. This is visible and often a teeny bit fragile.

JFK used to quote the old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. It is still true when things work out there are plenty to take the credit and when they don’t lots of finger pointing ensues. All the invisible help tends to melt away. We would do well to remember those on the journey into and out of Gilead, so we aren’t accidentally one of them. 

I think of the recent bevy of small L liberals who lost their seats in the last Federal election who would be seen by many as moderates, who gave it their best shot no doubt in trying to convince their leadership to be more inclusive and more progressive. Yet they were the ones who lost their seats … they were the ones who stayed in the party. The best example of this is Josh Frydenberg. The ones that left like former Mayor Da Li is a good example of this phenomenon.  

If it’s your name on leave form, your name on the invoice, your signature on the contract, your quote in the press release, there is every chance you are implicated in the process. Several years ago it was put to me when I made a complaint about a leader and got the  “but he’s a nice guy” argument, I still had to stand my ground. He may be a nice guy, but he did the wrong thing. And nice by whose standards? I am sure Josh is a nice guy, but he was hanging out with a bunch who made him look bad. 

Progressives in the US will be taking to the streets as they should to make sure Gilead doesn’t take up residency on a map. I will continue to remain vigilant, because if you give them an inch they will take a mile. And to the women who voted to support nice guys, or fail to see through the narcissists presenting with slick and shtick, and the recruitment firms who don’t do their homework because someone said he was a good bloke … you are all on the slippery slope to Gilead.

Hope rises from the bottom up and there are plenty of us out there who will be relentless in trying to nip things in the bud. Let’s keep Gilead to the writings of the prophets and the soothsayers. 

With Maya Angelou in our hearts and the instruction:

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

The groundswell of the recent Federal election in Australia and State election in my home state of South Australia, I am hoping will flow over into all the board rooms, classrooms, council chambers and community organisations as our inoculation against Gilead and the forces that enables Gilead to come into being and thrive. This requires a constancy and effort to keep bending towards evolving to our best selves and make ourselves visible.

“What is the difference between a squirrel burying acorns across the forest and humans planting potatoes across the globe? Who is master, and who is the servant? Is it the acorn’s or potato’s idea to be nutritious, or the creature that buries them? Evolution is not about design or will; it is the outcome of constant endeavors made by organisms that want to survive and better themselves. The collective result is intoxicatingly beautiful, rife with oddities, and surprisingly brilliant, yet no agent is in control. Evolution arises from the bottom up–so, too, does hope.”

Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming

Women’s March 2019 in front of Pilgrim Church, Adelaide

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #25

Clay Shirky wrote, in 2008, a book called Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. I fell in love with it straight away and was so inspired about what social media might offer to organising and community development.

The promise of organising without organisations is here and now more than a decade later from his prophetic work, organisations that neglect the power of the people, may find themselves failing the pub test.  His work on digital engagement and collaboration set the scene for sharing on line which is so insidious now we do not even realise it is an act of collaboration and movement building. He identified the principle of synchronisation and continual reiterations until a whole project reached the next level through combined efforts (think Wikipedia). He also pointed to something he thought might happen in the future – collective action. This is of course we now know a familiar experience from a President tweeting to incite rebellion, to a hashtag like #metoo or #blacklivesmatter #fridaysforfuture radically bringing change. You do not need an organisation to organise – a hash tag might just do it.

This brings me to the idea of integrity. Those hash tags work because there is some kind of integrity about them. We can trust the meaning, they hold space, they drive action, give comfort.

The completeness of how everything holds together well and there is no fraying about the edges or internal collapse, is how you know something has integrity. When the wheels fall off, there is visible discomfort or edges losing their distinction as a boundary, they are all useful indicators of a lack of integrity, or perhaps just a piece missing that is needed to hold what ever it is, altogether.

I have been fascinated to watch how a collective decision this week, while following due process, getting highly paid and high-level professional advice and made no doubt with good intentions, completely failed to read the room. I have been wondering how, and more importantly, why, this happened.

Recently our nation has been subject to what I consider collective gas-lighting. Core values around gender justice, climate justice, racial justice have been shaken and we are in a period now of re-adjustment. There is a correction going on. As this correction takes shape, we are more able to hear, see and feel what perhaps we could not so easily hear, see or feel previously.

It makes complete sense to have the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Island Flag in view with the national flag at the podium when an elected official speaks … yet it has only been a couple of weeks … and if they were taken away, we would all be able to easily recognise our flag integrity had been compromised.  And so, it is with this recent challenge in my community.

An elected body have appointed a person to be the CEO of the largest council in my State. A highly paid team of consultants set about the recruitment process with a detailed and thoughtful brief. They no doubt would have done their due diligence checking referees, past performance, observed behaviour, scanned social media, done a personality test.

I do not actually know what they did in the screening and preparation process to get candidates ready to present to the elected members for choice, but this is a reasonable guess as I have been involved in such processes from both a candidate and employer perspective and been subject to all those processes myself. 

I do know part of the goal in these kinds of decisions is to pass what we like to call in Australia, the pub test. So what are failures to pass pub tests? Maybe using a car for inappropriate and non-work-related purposes, or, spending money on gifts for family and friends instead of employees, or, staying in accommodation that is expensive on the public purse … these are the actions typically fail the pub test. Choosing a leader who called an Australian of the Year, who endured years of sexual abuse, a spoilt brat, to lead a community where childhood sexual abuse is being tackled with courage and determination, on many fronts … fails the pub test. Digital footprints reveal attitudes and behaviours and this person’s case you can see some that are out of step with community standards and expectations, so I am perplexed at the decision.

I wonder about the integrity of the process when a decision like this made. I start to look for invisible threads and reasons behind the decision. Perhaps they are out of touch, perhaps the recruitment agency did not do all the due diligence required, perhaps there are invisible reasons that will not ever be known? 

So now community members are asking questions of their elected officials and some are rallying. No doubt there will be staff who will be packing their bags not wanting to hang around, there will be allies and friends who will feel shocked by the decision and choose to no longer collaborate with the City, and there will be those who hold Grace Tame up as a role model, who will be triggered once again and feel alienated and hurt once again – because this is how systems work. Systems like patriarchy and colonisation are designed to work for those who receive the benefits of those systems.

What is invisible about these systems, becomes visible when they lose their integrity.

March 15, 2021

Authorised by M Were PO Box 7 Sellicks Beach 5174

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #24

There was sliver of wood caught near my knuckle on my ring finger, close to the surface, the splinter was clearly visible under the translucent skin. I was able to remove in one single complete, gentle, deliberate tug with my old pink tweezers. No blood was drawn. It was a simple act of acquisition in the garden on a tomato stake and a precision act of removal.  Another example of my body being a vessel for this never ending song of call and response. Something coming in – an inhale, and something going out – an exhale. The splinter took a nano second to go in and about ten times longer to pull out, a familiar ratio of life’s lessons!

I didn’t realise the stake would be the source of a gardening injury, the danger of the decomposing untreated wood completely invisible to me. I didn’t even bother to have gloves on, no prophylactic seemed necessary, another reminder, that not all dangers are visible and taking routine precautions are good preventative strategies.

My default is trust, and I have an expectation that trust will be understood, even rewarded, yet managing broken trust, seems to be a lesson I have learn and re-learn over and over. I do not readily take the hints, the minor splinter experiences offer me. I hope I never do. I hope I continue to take the risks of going into the garden of life, not always fully protected, to stay open to the splinters and the subtle, almost perverse, pleasure in their extraction. There is the cautionary tale of death by a thousand cuts and I’ve found my way to deep griefs more than once for failure to learn from the little injuries along the way, Trust being immovable despite evidence to the contrary. Trust has it’s costs when the splinters are bigger, wider, deeper.

The invisible injuries build our resilience, our courage, our hope, our aspirations, feed our drive, hold us steady when the seas get rough, insist on leaving a scar to remind us of their place in our story. They make themselves visible as butterflies in the stomach, teardrops on a cheek, gasps and sighs, sweating hands and clearing throats. They might even turn up as a cackle. They do arrive though, and make themselves visible to our deepest selves.

I worked through relatively quickly, one such experience this week. I moved from shock to acceptance, and the moved on, with the aid of a Crunchie bar followed by a gin and tonic. I laughed when I realised what I was doing and actively tried to reduce the incident, to splinter size. I felt encouraged that I had noticed what I was doing, even though not quite soon enough, as the bar was well gone and the glass half empty, before I arrived at that realisation. Yet another reminder of how the visible and invisible interplay works in my life, and the ratio of splinter arrival and removal continues to remain constant.

Following the grain in the wood, is one way to reduce splinters, yet maybe it is going against the grain we find the edges and connect with something greater inside and beyond ourselves. Hans Christian Anderson wrote about the splinters of wood that had turned into matches and were exceedingly proud of their single dignified origin from a great pine tree, deep in the dark forest. Perhaps the little splinter moments are a prompt to remember our deep rooted origins so we can draw up all we need from the ancient land and into ourselves? The humble splinter connecting me to the forest and the tree.

Photo by Johannes W on Unsplash

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #23

National Reconciliation Week, framed with the two book ends of National Sorry Day and Mabo Day, is full of invisible stories. The stories of the stolen generation, people who have not yet found their families and for whom colonisation is ongoing and is not a singular date on a calendar. It was a week when the High Court Chief Justice who oversaw the Mabo decision, died at age 94. Sir Gerard Brennan’s social justice values, growing out of his Catholicism are deeply familiar to me. The Mabo decision was June 1992 and put the fiction of Terra Nullius to bed. Following the High Court decision in Mabo No. 2, the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Native Title Act in 1993, enabling Indigenous people throughout Australia to claim traditional rights to unalienated land.  Brennan made something invisible to so many, visible. This is how the law often works, bringing to light and to voice, evidence and facts and ultimately through reason providing a pathway for others to follow and laying foundations for next steps.

Reconciliation, as a word, is all about balance, restoring the relationship where there has been a breakdown or mis-understanding. It is all about getting things back into right relationships. This feels so inadequate and inappropriate when it comes to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. How can a situation founded on a lie on one side of the equation bring anything into balance without that basic foundation being corrected first? Treaties are on the agenda so maybe one day, but for now, it is premature to use reconciliation as a word towards equity. The week done help us non-Aboriginal people take a step towards, and the extraordinary generosity of Aboriginal people bowls me over once again. There isn’t a common measure for what is immeasurable, like the way the land and the sea holds her people, or how the song lines can sing you home. There is a ledger but I am not sure it can ever be reconciled.

My Reconciliation Week has been a series of feeble steps. A visit to a local school where we were honoured with a smoking ceremony, song, dance and that ever present democracy experience, a sausage sizzle. I also went to an excellent screening of a set of short films, Nunga Screens, curated by Country Arts. I went to this event in my local community run theatre with a group of friends from diverse backgrounds and roles in the community – consultants, public servants, advocates and activists. I have worn a number of pieces of clothing created by Anangu artists and promoted art from the APY Arts collective in a Facebook community I manage. I’ve read some poetry by Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal poet Ali Cobby Eckermann. I pulled over onto the side of the road to hear the first women Aboriginal minister get sworn into the ministry. I started to cry and wanted to mark the moment and took the time to listen without distraction. It has been a week of visibility for Aboriginal people – it shouldn’t be one week – it needs to be every day. 

I am off planting trees on  Ngarrindjeri country at Raukkan, to end the week, a place once home to the man on our $50 note – inventor, preacher, activist David Unaipon.

Voice. Treaty. Truth is the order of business for the Uluru Statement from the heart.

Always was. Always will be.

Aldinga Payinthi College – National Reconciliation Week 2022 – colouring in by Sienna aged 4