I was accused of virtue signalling this week – it is a relatively new term to me. Probably my whole life is a virtue signal for the people who used this term as a ‘put down’ to me this week. The opposite of virtue signalling as far as I understand it is bigotry, and the accusation is a dog whistle to rally their allies.
Overall, in this election campaign it has been incredibly friendly, warm and generous. People have offered me glasses of water on hot days when I have been door knocking, opened their doors to me with friendly smiles, invited me in to see their gardens, shared stories, waved and tooted to me. There however is always a dark-side and this has shown up in this campaign as the ugly face of racism and a deep vein of climate denialism. You can detect the fascist playbook being referred to and I have been surprised a few times about how it shows up – this invisible thread making itself visible.
There are a team of candidates who are a mixed bag. One of them is a ralien and another has connections to the neo-Nazi political group. Of course, these qualities are not included in the prepared material for public consumption, and I do believe in a democracy like ours it is perfectly reasonable for all kinds of people with all kinds of persuasions to put themselves forward. What I am wondering about is how we counteract these views as when they turn into policy once people with these views get into governing positions, we all know what the consequences are for minorities. Oh dear, there I go again, virtue signalling.
We are at a crunch point for climate justice, our Pacific neighboursFiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama condemned the climate war as being fought with “apathy, denial, and a lack of courage to do what we all know what must be done.”
He appealed for the world to step up.
“Fiji is ready to make the coming years count for our people and for the planet – our question to you is this: Are you with us? Don’t tell us yes unless you plan to show it.
But we do not need to look to the Pacific to know this story, the City of Onkaparinga has 31kms of coastline and by all indications it needs our help to stay strong as sea levels rise. It is not fiction. So once again if this is virtue signally, I am more than happy to put my hand up and say ‘guilty’. What fascinates me though is the person who accused me of this online, is a professional. He works as a physiotherapist in one of the big clinics in a busy practice. It is fuel for me to keep doing more and motivate those who do want their values of justice, equity, access, affordability and inclusion to be turned into policies and practices.
But like the Fiji Prime Minister railed at the UN, I am asking the same question of voters in Onkaparinga – are you with us? And who are the us?
The us are the people who support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the people who believe the scientists and understand we have a climate emergency, the ones who voted for Marriage Equality, the people who notice those who go without because of a systems failure and do not play the blame the victim game. I am happy to be in this company and if you are a voter in Onkaparinga, do not outsource your democracy by not voting, grab your ballot pack, fill in the papers and post back – vote for the virtues you want to see reflected in your community.
There isn’t much invisibility when you are seeking to be elected. People are watching your every move. You are trying to get their attention with as much effort as the immortal Kim Craig (nee Day) look at moi can muster (see KathandKim if you have no idea what I am talking about).
Here are a few of my making myself visible activities this week and some of the lessons from the campaign.
The State government have banned the use of coreflute posters on public property, which traditionally has been the bat signal to the electorate that an election is on and in the style of the Roman Forum people could see a photo of candidates and make some kind of assessment of the type of person they are from a picture. The information about the candidate on the ballot paper includes a photograph so there is a mini version of this in black and white the comes directly to you via the Electoral Commission. So getting seen and known is a top priority. I decided to use the same photo for everything to increase recognition. I included the photo in the header of a letter to householders, I popped it on all the tiles of my socials and of course it is on my how-to-vote promotional material. It is on my website and business card. I know it is working because people have come up to me in the street and said Hello Moira directly to me indicating they recognise me from my materials.
Another act of getting people to look at me has been the waving around of signs alongside main roads as commuters are going to work, or students and parents going to school. I’ve done this a couple of times and will do more in the coming week. I don’t like doing this alone for a few reasons, it looks a bit lonely and sad I think if you are on your own, I like the story that an election is on and it is about the voters not about those seeking election, and it is safer should you get yelled out or abused or someone try and run you over. So I invited some other candidates to join me and wobble their signs around too and they accepted the invitation and we had a fun morning. The tip I take from this is wave. When someone waves at you it is hard not to wave back. This simple gesture is engagement with the campaign and I am confident builds a neuronal pathway to support voter recognition. When a driver toots and waves back your happy hormones rise too so I think there is a benefit to the candidate too. It certainly buoyed me and when the B-Doubles release their air horns it sends a wave of pleasure through you – thank you truckies who are doing this – you are keeping spirits high!
My campaign made hundreds of badges, invested in some t-shirts and a few baseball caps. These are helping with visibility too. A bit of merch goes a long way. It is like wearing the colours of your favourite sporting team, people begin to identify and connect. I chose a regal purple for my campaign colour as a nod to the suffragists and also to Lydia of Thyarita. The suffragists colours were purple, green, gold and white. Lydia was a very successful business woman who is documented in the Bible as a seller of purple cloth. I have been a fan of hers for a long time. The fact she is named means she must have been important as so few women are actually named in that ancient text. There is evidence of her funding outreach and she also seems to had no man to give her status as his wife or mother. This level of independence is rare and the fact it is recorded means she must have been very important to the wellbeing of the community. She is described as having an open heart in the Acts of the Apostles. The Orthodox tradition give her a title equal to the first disciples – she is known in that tradition as apostle to the apostles. And you can see in the word apostle and little hint of the election process … can you see it ? The word apostle and post have the same roots, meaning to separate and take forward, from one place to another. I feel the purple threads are woven into my campaign.
So you will be seeing more purple, more sign waving and hopefully more voter recognition as ballots have now just about finishing arriving and will be finding their way back through the post to the Electoral Commission, as I ask more and more people to look at moi.
Notifications are pinging and buzzing and tinkling all day and night as ballot papers are now starting to arrive. Each alert letting me know a message has arrived that needs some kind of response. I feel like a mother with a dozen toddlers all vying for my attention. This season will be short and intense. My inbox has received enquiries about my views on issues that have little or nothing to do with local council responsibilities. Some emails come from places of deep fear and designed for ‘gotcha’ moments and are almost anonymous giving no more than a gossamer of legitimacy to them. I respond to them by referring them to my website which has plenty of information and try not to get distracted or disturbed which is their primary intent. I expect these people are really my opponents in sheep’s clothing. Others are from places of confusion and are seeking reassurance and clarity – my response to these is to point them to original and official sources of information. The third kind are those seeking support for their cause or concern. These correspondents are using their enquiry to weigh up where they are going to spend their vote. These notes encourage me to work for their vote and I lean into them. So here is a story about one of those emails.
I received an email from a young person via her father’s email account. She lived in a pocket of housing near a valley that is also a water course that feeds into the river the council is named after. This suburb is one on the lower end of the socio-economic index for the region. It is full of working families and is densely populated and growing at a high rate in the past four years. The writer was an eleven-year-old girl who wants her playground upgraded, specifically to have more equipment for older children to play on, a nature play space and some more facilities for families to gather. I said I would like to meet her and perhaps she could invite some of her neighbours to join her and we could talk. She took my invitation and made fliers and with her sibling’s door knocked the streets around her home. We made a date and a time. I decided to invite the youngest person running for council in these elections to join me as the area he is running for is where her family live. I thought it would be great for them to meet. I kept thinking of Greta Thunberg who was the same age when she went as sat outside of her parliament and thereby began Fridays for the Future. And we all know the power of what one person can do and the inspiration of one young girl!
When I arrived for our meeting, she was there with her family and within a few minutes more and more people started to arrive over the hill. Mums and Dads, babies in pushers, toddlers, young teens with skateboards under their arms, a grandparent with her grandchildren – all came. This eleven-year-old had managed to mobilise her neighbourhood, with the support of her dad’s printer and her tenacity.
We met in the playground and asked everyone what they wanted to see in the space and why. The overwhelming themes were features for older children, places for families to gather and build more community, more trees, a safe pathway to the river, features to fit into the natural landscape, recognition of Aboriginal knowledge and information about the place and its relationship to the river, and access for all. Amongst the group of grown-ups were marketing specialists, a start-up founder, tertiary students, a Memphis blues enthusiast, stay at home parents, a visiting grandmother, and an edible garden expert. The age range of the children was a babe in arms to late teenage. Many of the people who were there had not met each other before – I was witnessing the beginning of a neighbourhood coming together in a new way. This eleven-year-old was playing the role of a community building midwife.
As our conversation came to an end families stayed around to chat to each other, play on the old and neglected equipment and compare notes about living in Noarlunga Downs. I was asked what next step they could take together, and I explained with or without an election they could put in to do a deputation to Council and I truly hope I will be in the chamber to hear it. But if I do not get elected, I will certainly be there to support and cheer them on.
This is how we build literacy in our democracy, and this is at the heart of why I am running. I am using this opportunity to support people to have their voices heard, how to raise them and to invite them into the systems that exist and create the spaces for new ones. The campaign has involved over one hundred volunteers, some who have never campaigned for anything before. Several people who have offered help because they felt inspired by my household letter and wanted to help, a couple of people who have letterboxed for me and told me explicitly that it has helped their mental health and they feel better than they have felt for months.
Building community is the antidote for toxic individuality. The young resident of Noarlunga Downs made that truth visible in her efforts and I hope my response to her and what we might be able to do together in the future is now more visible to her and her neighbourhood.
COVID interruptus to the mayoral campaign this past week provided some new opportunities for my network of family, friends, and community connections to go into over-drive. There were people of all ages folding letters, bundling up, delivering notices, checking their socials, and talking me up in places I could not get to, and then taking the time to report back what was happening in electioneering land. There were children on school holidays who found themselves in the middle of a campaign. It was so heartening. I am truly humbled.
I am going to share ten highlights from the week, where I experienced an abundance of care and radical generosity. I am only choosing ten, I could have chosen three times as many. I feel like a vein of opal was tapped this week – every contribution, a colourful reflection of relationships across time and space.
First up, my choir calling me and putting me on speaker so I could hear them sing the last song of the night. This song, we sing to close each time we are together, is a beautiful blessing about all being right in the world. It is sung in a language none of us know and it takes on angelic and cosmic qualities when you hear it and sing it. It has magical, healing properties. I was so touched and the spontaneity and kindness this simple act brought me. The choir is one of the things that I think keeps me whole and well. This gesture will remain with me and truly held me this week.
Next one, was my trusty magnetic car sign going on tour on other people’s cars. One such carrier was stopped in a supermarket car park and was advised that the owner of the sign (me) had a very clear voice making it easy for him, a self-described “old bugger” easy to hear and understand.
The third highlight I will mention is a phone call. This phone call was from a woman who was absolutely convinced she knew me from twenty years ago. She was sure it was me, but the surname did not look right, she checked a number of sources including some old photographs she had of us being involved in another campaign. She took a punt and called me. I explained I had returned to my family name on the death of my husband. We had a lovely chat, and I was the same person, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with her.
Fourth highlight was a group of friends I used to work with all arriving to go letterboxing, and waving and chatting to me at a distance, through my bedroom window. One had come from the other side of the earth, another from the other side of the hills to be together and united in their desire to see me get elected. It was such a deep joy to feel this love and support. The chief organiser has been steadfast in her efforts to organise her area for folding and distribution, strategy, and sanity. She has roped in neighbours, who have roped in others, including a morning after slumber party of teen girls.
Number five highlight, and I now realise I am not putting these in any chronological order or rank, was the frozen roasted vegetable soup that arrived at the door wrapped in foil and love. An instant hit of vitamins and compassion with the desired effect to keep me moving towards good physical and mental health. Cooked and delivered by friends who know what is means to be alive and kicking.
The sixth highlight was my daughter organising someone to come and mow my lawns as my usual person was away. I was thrilled with her organising and when the said help arrived, I thought how much he looked like my son-in-law and then as I woke up from my daze, realised it was my son-in-law! I laughed at myself for a good ten minutes and am still giggling as I think about it. The laughter an extra dose of good medicine!
Highlight number seven was a call from an octogenarian who lives in one of the oldest seaside townships. When he first arrived here there were paddocks and summer shacks along the shoreline. He has watched houses come and more houses come, shops, buses, roads, schools and more shops, buses, roads, and schools arrive. He feels like not all the changes and development are good and he wants more community and more communication. He feels alienated from the public discourse as he does not have the internet, social media and there is no local paper, and the local radio is all about city politics. He called me because he got my household letter. He felt like I was approachable and could ring me. We had a very sophisticated conversation, and I am looking forward to morning tea and cake with him and his wife in a week’s time so we can keep the conversation going and I can tap into his wisdom. He was a founding member of the resident’s association that will be 40 years old soon. I know I will learn a lot from the conversation to come.
Number eight highlight came in the form of an addressed but unsigned letter in my post office box. It was to complain about my stance on climate change. I am so happy this is my first hate mail of the campaign. I will continue to speak up for climate justice, this is the decade to turn things around, it is not a dress rehearsal and I want to be in a place where change at scale might be possible.
The ninth highlight was a short email asking if I supported the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Needless to say, my reply was longer than the email. I explained my long-time support and shared some of my policy ideas if I get the chance to be Mayor to support and apply Kaurna lessons to our economic and ecological challenges. Rooted in our deep connection to place and the council taking its name from the women’s river Onkaparinga, I truly hope I can be able to deepen my experience and our community.
The tenth and final highlight was a post on LinkedIn by a business I supported when they were dealing with some very challenging regulatory issue threatening their entire business. I took the time to understand their issue. I wrote a letter to the appropriate authority. While my letter may not have been what helped them get over the line, it was a contribution. I did not realise one of the co-founders of this business lived in the area I am running for Mayor, so to see her post with my letter, and her endorsement was a beautiful surprise.
These are only ten highlights from the week of being confined to quarters … there are more …. And all I can say if I do not get elected it will not be because I do not have support from the people who share the values I have, who care and want for a world that has leadership, integrity and transparency, who want Onkaparinga to be a place of possibilities.
I wanted to make visible these, otherwise invsible, moments in the campaign this week, to remind myself how it takes a village to do anything, and a mayoral campaign is no exception. I feel honoured to receive all this support.
I was very fortunate to be amongst the nearly 2000 delegates at the Social Enterprise World Forum this week in Meanijn (Brisbane, Queensland). It was quite something to be at an international event, the largest that city has hosted since the lockdowns of COVID. The community that gathered in person and online share a common vision for a more purpose driven economy that will deliver social and environmental outcomes, jobs, and impact. There was a deep under current of the wisdom and ingenuity of First Nations people from around the world. There was an emerging clarity of what scale means and a consistent theme of collaboration. There was urgency in the air and a sense this is no longer a sector, it is a movement.
Mobilising for change must include economic models, metrics, tools, and techniques. I was asked this week on the campaign trail if I would declare a climate emergency. My state has already done this and I am looking forward to a council chamber that will do the same if elected to Mayor. But a declaration is not going to take us far enough, quickly enough. There will be a need for an overhaul of all kinds of practices, procurement, behaviours, education, and opportunities. Jurisdictions the world over account for more than 1 billion people who have declared a climate emergency.
I am very fortunate to have a number of people in my life to give me advice around these matters, not the least Prof Peter Newman who is one of my co-trustees for a foundation and we have served together for more than 2 decades. Among other distinguishing credentials, Peter is the Coordinating lead author for the United Nations IPCC on transport. There are also plenty of people in my local community who have been tireless champions for the environment, and I have public servants as dear friends who in their paid and voluntary roles who have generated initiatives, mobilised farmers, community groups, planted trees, cleared land, created regenerative farming zones … and the list goes on. This is not an academic exercise for me. I am pleased I can tap into their wisdom and experience.
The increased attention and activity delivering the circular economy holds many new opportunities, including jobs. I am inspired by Prof Veena Sahajwalla, whose mantra is there is no such thing as waste is offering new models and micro-factories and I can’t wait to see how we might bring some of these to life in my part of the world. I was fortunate to connect with her work in the recent Circular Economy Incubator my co-founders at Collab4Good ran sponsored by Green Industries SA to help build more social enterprises working in the circular economy.
The truth telling that we are about to embark on as a nation as we head towards a referendum on a voice to parliament, will add to this conversation. I expect there is more enlightenment to come. So grateful I got to listen and learn from some of the voices of First Nations at SEWF whose universal message seems to be: we know what to do. (Check out the Climate Council‘s resources on this if you are new to the idea of climate justice.)
So, this takes me back to the beginning of this piece, the Social Enterprise World Forum. Circonomy is now out in the world, born from the World’s Biggest Garage Sale’s Yasmin Grigaliunas. Yas believes many people, not just things, have been put on the scrap heap, and her model “circularity is the new normal, while creating opportunities for people of all abilities.” Yas was one of the first ventures supported by Australian activators of what is now known as Coralus (formerly SheEO). It has been so instructive watching her grow her enterprise, receive numerous awards, generate investment, and most importantly witness the growth and development of an empowered and engaged workforce.
SEWF reminded me we can turn things around. It is not up to one of us, it is up to all of us. We have the tech, the skills, the capacity and now the will has arrived. We can’t wait another minute, it is time to be visible.