Author Archives: Moira Were AM

About Moira Were AM

Founder @chooks_SA co-founder @collab_4_good Super activator @sheEO_world. In Act 3. Live in Willunga. Daughter, sister, mother, aunt, grandmother, friend, and alto in a gospel acapella choir.

Year of activism #37

Rage has a place in activism, as does rest. Sometimes you need to rest after rage and other times rest before rage. Both these responses are often tainted for me by deep sadness. Rage, exasperation can lead to inertia as can resting, pausing to stillness to do nothing. They both provide fuel as well. Energy stored can be released and in service and partnership with others who perhaps are yet to move through their own season rage or rest.

I noticed this week, how domesticated my rage has become, more of a pussy cat than a a tiger. Rage has been the source of much creativity for me in the past and a release into the wild of ideas and actions; it has and still is in the bedrock of my activism. A rage against injustice, exclusion and more often or not turning up as a rage against numbness that leads to lack of imagination. I am curious about how to have rage without being exhausted and know that over the decades I have found ways to measure myself and energy, to do what I can, mainly by sharing the vision with others, joining with others and taking solace in my limits as gift to make spaces for others. What has been niggling at me this week, and it has led me to some resting, is a reflection on why rage alone cannot sustain, and how to keep the flame alive when the rage gets tamed. I am wrestling with the idea that my rage has got house-trained over the many years and conversations constantly shifting to adapt to fit into systems and spaces that have been the incubator for the rage in the first place. My inclination in more recent times has been to move away from those spaces and create alternatives, rather than fix or fit the existing ones. I know this approach to be energising, hopeful, creative, constructive – but (and I am using but very deliberately) – my rage the original source has quelled.

I shared my numbness with Vicki Saunders (SheEO) and her balm was a teaching from Ecko Aleck of Sacred Matriarch Productions which appears below. The sanctity of drawing up energy and letting it rise is not unknown to me, it is fuel, potential, an unleashing from depths, it is blessings from the “wisdom born of pain”, it is the deep time memories in the DNA of my own ancestral heritage. A healing hug, or at the least blowing a kiss, to my own narrative of rage feels welcome and invitational. Rhythms of rest to be embedded and as The Nap Ministry folks are teaching, rest is a form of resistance, drawing on Audre Lorde’s advice of a generation past. We have a rich vein of downing tools, going on strike, not turning up, resting on the Sabbath, as examples of protest in our history. Rest and rage are perhaps twin lessons we need both and not forget to do both.

Grief seems to fit in the middle of rest and rage for me. When grief turns up, I turn inward, it is not fuel for action, it takes hold and has to be coaxed away with tiny acts of hope. Planting something in the garden always helps, spending time with a small person is curative, finding a poem, singing with others, builds some muscle back. Taking a moment of thanks to those who have brought me things for the garden, lent me their children, sent me poems, sung with me and held me in these moments knowingly and unknowingly I give my sincere thanks. There is rage and there is rest. There is grief and there is healing. These coexist for the activist who is pilgrim.

PS: It is a year since I started walking the camino and walking continues to offer a way of being in the world and sending love to the peregrinas – sacred women on sacred paths.

Year of activism #36


Fires are raging on the west coast of the USA. The fascist playbook is being revised for the digital age. Elders are dying from a virus. Streets are empty in cities once full of creatives. The headlines read like the four horsemen have arrived. This is one narrative. Another is a young girl skipping school and bringing millions with her, another better known on billboards in her 80s holding up more than half the sky, women trained in economics offering up models of doughnuts and radical generosity to change, break and create new systems. Colonisation, patriarchy and racism are on their last legs and the signs are all there – when the cusp of change arrives the wagons get into a circle for one last time.

It is spring in my part of the world, the wattle is in bloom, the wild orchids are pushing their ways through the sands in the scrub, the black cockatoos are flying over each afternoon with such regularity you can set your clock as they make their way from one grove of their favourite pines to the next. The monarch butterflies dance up and down the milkweed corridors with all the majesty their wings can offer. Joeys are finding their way out of pouches, and all of creation is singing on the winds changing course and breathing new life.

We have already had our first hot day and first day of north winds and it is September. It was foreboding. I looked to the sky and felt scared for the summer coming even though it is months away. I hummed instinctively ‘where have all the flowers gone’ before I realised I was mouthing the words ‘long time passing’.

There are times I feel numb and completely paralysed to act and it is usually because I am alone. Living alone is a mixed blessing sometimes an aphrodisiac and sometimes a paralysis. But when I am with others virtually or face to face in real time, working together to midwife the future I am OK, I can manage the fear and harness the energy, incite others into action and share in the responsibilities of my privilege to take steps together. I have always considered gender to be the low hanging fruit and it is definitely a place where I am most at home and most familiar with what might be possible. I am deeply grateful for all the women who have gone before me in making it possible for me to take steps forward, and eek out pathways with other women. This past week I have been able to join with others to celebrate women taking steps in their ideas for a business, being led in a process of examining racial justice, co-creating an action plan to grow more radical generosity, being held in spaces with friends to listen to pain and discovery of opportunities and self worth, being heard by other women, singing a rallying cry from the last century …. literally every day I am gifted with opportunities to take steps towards a more just world.

Questions like: what will it take? Who is missing? What’s next? Imagine if? are wrapped up in optimism and when I can have love and compassion attached to the hope, I notice it is more energising and more impactful. These are my antidotes to fear and paralysis. I have plenty of blind spots and vigilance is needed as well as good friends and mirrors to guide me around rocky roads and down potential dead ends. This road, for this activist, is a pilgrim’s way. Where the journey is as important as the destination, and everyone you meet on the road is there to teach you. And for me, this way, enables me meet my future, keep my promise, and find perhaps, a half-note, half-heard, half a shade braver moment to help me show up as fully as I possibly can.

PILGRIM

I bow to the lark
and its tiny
lifted silhouette
fluttering
before infinity.
I promise myself
to the mountain
and to the foundation
from which
my future comes.
I make my vow
to the stream
flowing beneath,
and to the water
falling
towards all thirst,
and
I pledge myself
to the sea
to which it goes
and to the mercy
of my disappearance,
and though I may be
left alone
or abandoned by
the unyielding present
or orphaned in some far
unspoken place,
I will speak
with a voice
of loyalty
and faith
to the far shore
where everything
turns to arrival,
if only in the sound
of falling waves
and I will listen
with sincere
and attentive eyes and ears
for a final invitation,
so that I can
be that note half-heard
in the flying lark song,
or that tint
on a far mountain
brushed with the subtle
grey of dawn,
even a river gone by
still looking
as if it hasn’t,
or an ocean heard only
as the sound of waves
falling and falling,
and falling,
my eyes closing
with them
into some
undeserved nothing
even as they
give up their
strength
on the sand.

David Whyte

Heading back to Sellicks from Pearl, Aldinga Beach

Year of activism #35

What holds us back from acting has been on my mind. What gets in the way? Fear, anxiety, lack of imagination are in my top three. There is something too about the boundaries we put around our self and I am not sure what to call that – perhaps that is self preservation; a kind of conservation of energy to save us from being overwhelmed. Not taking action, can also show up as a kind of paralysis dressed up in polite and well crafted argument.

I am noticing how walls, perhaps even prisons are constructed around our hearts and minds as a way to not embrace freedoms we might have – including the freedom to act. This seems linked to privilege to me. We don’t know we have privileges because we have them, we only know them by what other people have to think about that we don’t. I held a series of conversations with a woman of colour, not born in the same country as me, from a different generation and the mother of a small child. Our conversations had the title – what I don’t have to think about. Essentially I would make a list of things I didn’t have to think about and she would tell me how she has to factor those very things into her daily life. We covered topics like: going to the supermarket. For me I didn’t think anything of going to the supermarket, I took my bags, jumped in my car, opened my purse and shopped and went home all with not a thought. For her, she would consider if she needed to have her husband and// or child accompany her, make sure she parked with ease of access for a quick getaway, hold her purse open at the checkout so it was visible there was money in it, keep an eye her child so she wouldn’t be accused of theft should a child take something from a shelf, ready herself for the invisible and from time to time, not invisible racism. Another everyday event for her was riding the lift in her office block. She had the experience of her hair being commented on by women, her body being stared at by men and from time to time physically touched inappropriately in the short distance between floors. I can truly say I have never thought of taking a ride in a lift as exercising my privilege until I heard her stories.

These conversations were a different way of me learning about privilege and really opened my eyes to what I just took for granted. It as informed me about what I notice, and nags away at me on the systems shifts needed for a more just world. Justice requires new ways of seeing and experiencing and systems to enable that to take place to prepare the ground for next steps. I went to the Apartheid Museum about ten years ago and was transfixed and transformed by their way of teaching. What remains with me as a pure genius technique was the ticketing system and the way you enter the museum via random selection of race classification. Ever since then I have mused on ways in which these kind of simulated exercises could be factored in to experiences to give those of us ignorant of privilege an insight to help us to address the systems holding privilege in place. I think of this beyond our species as well and to the trees, habitat, creatures and even our global commons. I am grateful for those who give us embodied experiences to help us learn and understand. The current exhibition Seven Siblings from the Future at MOD is one such example and if you are in South Australia I urge you to find a way to get yourself there and take a few friends with you.

Learning more about privilege and the privileges you might have, is an evitable pathway to action. You can no longer un-see, un-hear. The word privilege derives from two latin words – private and law – but privilege is not private nor law – although those of us able to exercise our privileges are able to do so because systems enable us to exercise our private selves in a public domain without fear of prosecution (in its deepest and widest meaning). Privilege brings separation and holds it in place if uncontested. Privilege holds the inheritance of power in systems. Privilege brings responsibility.

The ancient prophet Micah’s invitation (Micah 6:8) to live justly, love tenderly and to walk humbly is directed to the privileged. This instruction is set in a time of great political unrest and economic injustice. It is set in a wider directive to give up privilege and power and make right on the oppressive systems that were holding people in poverty and enslaved by the rich and powerful. It was a call not to equity but to justice, where reconciliation and restitution would follow if you embraced the mandate. It would only be possible where the whole population would be free and so it is 6th century BCE language, is a call for systems change at scale and new relationships would be in place to walk together.

The ancient message is a contemporary call out and is ringing in my ears as I seek shelter in the spaces where my privilege is not questioned or remains invisible to me. I am reliant on the good faith and kindness of the Micah’s in my time to invite me into seeing my privilege, inviting me to walk with them in their shoes and calling me to live justly, not the occasional acts of justice or clumsy strays into supporting the journey to equity. It’s a big call and a constant pilgrimage where I stumble over stones, rocks, into valleys and muddy holes. I am relying on the waves of others to help me wash away the multiple layers of what is inherent and invisible in me.

Sellicks shore September 2020

Year of activism #34

On the cusp of spring, the winds and rains are starting to shift and the native trees and plants begin their dances to mark the new season’s arrival. The deciduous trees are beginning to wake up. It is a time of co-existence in the landscape, a mixture of howling banshees and musical notes from the nesting magpies as a constant reminder of our inheritance of the land and settler arrivals. Holding all space for all this diversity there are edges forming in the garden and in my heart. I am calling this the politics of grief.

Others have written and talked about the politics of grief in the phenomena of talking about war, September 11 and other acts of terrorism, the way trauma is used to weaponize public policy to justify budget spends on national security measures or more creatively and kindly with gun buy-backs (think Port Arthur). In the case of our common destiny in this land, there is so much unfinished business, I really don’t think we can move forward without some reckoning at the grief doorstop. To hold ourselves in sadness and notice, accept and recognise the losses. Nations who have lost their language, rituals, food sources, habitat; other species who are now extinct, or under the threat of extinction. There is mourning to be done.

I have deep personal experience of grief and there are so many layers. The layers of loss that come with the understanding and new learning of what you have actually lost takes you deeper and deeper into meaning of what makes you, what holds you and what carries you forward. There is an accounting to be done, a balance sheet to be examined, some kind of delving deeply into the price and values of the loss. There is a settling up.

In Australia this settling up is our unfinished business. We need to examine what is actually on that balance sheet and given those who have gone before us in the settlement business how might we be held to account? This week I had a handyman come and do some odd jobs for me. He is involved in a local biodiversity project and he couldn’t help but notice the art in my place and sign of respect for Kaurna on the entrance to my house. He told me that everytime their volunteer team start work in restoration on a new part of the bush, local Aboriginal leader offers a smoking ceremony for them. He told me he doesn’t understand why they are so angry, it was so long ago. I was taken back by his inability to see all of the connections and to join the dots of justice being seared into the experience of the volunteers. I offered up a few gentle thoughts and a couple of questions. These are the conversations of the politics of grief. To bring honour to the pain of the past and the continual stripping away of lacquered over pain in the now. It is a truth that I live on stolen land, there has never been a treaty, a settlement and there is reckoning to be had. There is payment to be made, my slight discomfort in having a tricky conversation is not even a downpayment. I get rewarded by my peers for doing these little acts …. really? This is my privilege. It is my responsibility.

Taking instruction from the landscape and tuning in to the elements is what I am feeling apprenticed to at the moment. The land and the people of this land have suffered, are suffering and ways forward perhaps will open once we, as settlers, feel the grief, wallow in it and discover all that there is in the layers being peeled back. There is a kind of root cause analysis that comes with the politics of grief that takes us to colonialism and racism, sexism and a lack of centrality for creation. In the reckoning just settlement might be possible but I can’t see us getting there without entering a time for the politics of grief to be leverage to create new ways ahead. Standing with the grief stricken, sitting in the pain, shifting and rewiring the tears to witness the birth of a new way forward feels like a precondition to justice to me.

Year of activism #33

Governance and ways of making decisions has been in lots of conversations lately and any activist comes across the relationship between decision-making and power on a regular basis. How decisions are made, the process of deliberation, the mechanisms and tools to enable clarification to lead to action are usually imperfect and iterative. So often we look for the definitive – the one way – of coming to a decision – when in fact there are many ways. An activist helps to show other ways, and the minority view is a gift to the whole to foster possibilities, although often not valued by the system and considered, sometimes even named as being other, and in clumsy democratic processes, where one person equals one vote, it is possible that being voted down is a form of silencing and control. Power and privilege come with processes that support those who know how to mobilise and persuade … that doesn’t necessarily mean arriving at a wise decision.

I have found a number of discernment practices used by religious communities powerful and useful, where the goal is to arrive at consensus and a shared vision of going forward. I understand there are practices in First Nation cultures that are similar, although I have not experienced these as a peer and participant, I have been alongside and welcomed into processes as observer and friend. I think we have a lot to learn, those of us, who are more familiar with the processes that are used to keep the power and privilege with the elite, even when, like me, we know how to use it for just and equitable results. There is however no peace without justice, and righting wrongs, hearing the pain into speech, art and craft are all part of our common journey to liberation from being oppressor or oppressed.

I can’t get past in my homeland of Australia, the work we have to do around a just settlement, decolonisation and a full-some recognition of the truth this land was stolen. It hits me every now and again, I have the privilege of not being reminded of it every day, I can turn on my selective amnesia or fall asleep at the wheel of freedom, because typically my hands are on that wheel. I have so much power and so much privilege. I am surrounded by systems that recognise and even take me for granted as having status in so many ways – educated, English speaking, housed, economically secure, healthy, digitally savvy …. the list goes on … I do not have to tick boxes that often that put me in “other” categories to be turned into invisible blancmange. I get to pick and flick boxes that have a postcode, an address, a job description, an age group, a language group. I am a first world contributor to an algorithm that like me, delivers a finite sequence of instructions to solve problems or set the conditions for specifications that will deliver results to suit me, my world view, and other people just like me.

The data developed and automated because of my contributions and the boxes I tick, also exclude. And just as on earth, as it is in computer cloud heaven, the dominant paradigm colonises and closes down those that don’t fit – they get to the “other” boxes. I am a long way from understanding, knowing and therefore have no wisdom around how digital exclusion works and the way forward for data sovereignty. I instinctively know this form of colonisation is just as treacherous as boats in full sail arriving into harbours without being invited.

I like to keep Facebook algorithms on their toes and post odd things from time to time that push me into a niche for marketing that seems a long way from what I might really be like. I am currently enjoying being the target of dating, dieting and high heel shoe purchases. For the record I am not interested in dating, and haven’t worn high heel shoes for many a long day. I am trying to eat more healthy foods and taking long walks, but I wouldn’t call it dieting! Being a keyboard warrior in these times, is often termed “slacktivism”, it is a form of activism and I encourage you to think about how you might help those algorithms along by supporting vigorously the things that matter to you from a wide range of sources and throw in the odd surprise too, so the machine learning and systems underpinning your online presence learn in ways that will help the echo chamber be a little less echoey.

As I said a number of years ago I am a tweeter for good and if we aren’t in these places, we are abandoning the online streets to the online hoodlums and thugs. Understanding the value and place of online communications, purchases and consumer behaviour on the web means we can claim and reclaim these spaces too in the same way we can reclaim the streets from rapists and gangs.

I am sure there is an activism algorithm out there, let’s disrupt that too and make the pathways for justice together.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

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

Year of activism #31

Was gifted several opportunities this week to share with others about what it means to me to be an activist. I turned up to deliver my messages via zoom and in real life – what a treat to be able to get the exchange of energy and feel the connections between people around me – the digital divide means lack of connectivity to me on so many levels now in these pandemic times.  The real life example was at an inner city all girls school where all the staff were spending the day in retreat away from timetables, students and yet not to retreat from one another. The theme of the overall day was We will not be silent and I did get to eavesdrop on a few conversations when I asked them to greet the activist in each other.  They told stories to one another about speaking up about casual racism in their families while preparing dinner together, how sometimes they have to speak up for their students to their parents where the girls are being unfairly treated, and stories about shame and compassion.  There were over 100 conversations going on so I didn’t hear them all –  but it was clear no one had any trouble at all at being able to share a story about a time when they spoke up and could not be silent. This is the thing: we all know how to do this, we all how know to recognise injustice, how to find words to describe what we are noticing, how to tell someone else what it looks like, why it moves us, what it calls out in us. What we often don’t recognise is our own power, how to tap into it and step into our leadership and take an action – however small – to the situation. 

One of the things I talked about was the relationship between rights and responsibility, power and privilege.  In my own case, I am white, very well educated, live in Australia, widely travelled, housed, employed, healthy, heterosexual – I have a significant amount of privilege and I joked with the staff that really only the white men in the room (there were very few) were more privileged than me.  My privilege brings with it responsibilities, and one of those is to use my voice. I extended this to the idea of vocation and its relationship to the Christian sacrament of baptism (it was a Catholic High School).  In the blessing of the waters in this sacrament, the baptised is authorised by the community to take up their power, to use their gifts, to bring love and act with humility in the service of the greater good with one another and in concert with the all the riches of the earth.  This is our inheritance and we are promised, if we are children to follow that way, and if as an adult sign up for ourselves to this mission.  I do not see this as a burden, although there are days when it isn’t easy and days where I am unable to make sense of what I might be called to do. Because that is what vocation is, it is listening into the call, noticing what it might mean and then responding.  The call and the response in equal measure, and the response if we are all listening well, will mean acting together to bring about the change being called for. This is why it is so critical tp have space to reflect – it is not an optional extra – it is where the activism begins and where it flows in and out of.

How are you making the spaces to reflect, to retreat, to listen; and that includes hearing yourself as well.  The song the school community has chosen to bind themselves together this year is the Wailing Jenny’s – This is the sound of one voice. It is a great choice (pardon the pun), to model the adaptive leadership challenge building waves of a movement. The first verse is sung by one voice and then as the call and response grows more and more voices join in – just like a movement starts with the ‘lone nut’, then has first followers and then everyone seems to join in; or even in my start up world – a crazy idea, followed by early adopters and then a majority coming along after.

In our everyday activism we are building movements or as Paul Hawken calls it blessed unrest, we are disrupting the systems holding inequity and exclusion in place, and it calls us to action, reflection, action and so the movements towards justice flow, like a river, as the ancient prophets foretold. Stepping into your own power, your leadership is not always easy, so I often turn to John O’Donohue’s voice to bless so I remind myself of my own leadership as vocation and the privileges I have, that remind me that I hold power, and therefore, a responsibility to use it wisely.

Blessing for the one who holds power

By John O’Dohonue

May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.

When the way is flat and dull in times of grey endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.
May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And know when the seed of change will flourish.

In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.
May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.

May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth join.

May integrity of soul be your first ideal.
The source that will guide and bless your work.

from To Bless the Space between Us.

Year of activism #30

Saturday’s are days to reconnect to the world around me, and I usually go back to the village that was home for about 15 years. I miss the rhythms of the place and am still learning about the rhythms of where I am now making my home and relying on the tides to help me with the pace and seasons. One of the reasons that my old village still has a hold on me are the rituals of a farmers market, a high street of cafes and conversations, voices of fellow choristers on the wind and high chances of bumping into familar faces across the stalls and walking across the streets. There are nods and waves from people and old trees that carry the stories and a sacred gathering spring fed stream that has been a solid listener to family groups and meetings for thousands and thousands of years.

This Saturday all the ordinary activists were in abundance. First there was a woman who had spent some of her week with companions marking paths for pilgrims conserving habitat and health to create the Willunga Basin Walking Trail. In a few more steps there were the many growers whose techniques and commitment to organic produce were in abundance and respecting health and safety social distancing to get the highest quality of delicious fruits and vegetables into the hands and cupboards of happy consumers. It wasn’t long before a barista and his team were exchanging glances and connecting up with the week that was, taking note they hadn’t seen me for a while and treating my unexceptional purchase as a gift to keep the whole cycle of exchange in motion. The place I gathered with some family members for breakfast, makes a point of being a meat free zone and green is on every plate, reflecting its name. A few more nods, waves and hellos included one to an educator and maker who only works with materials like old enamel saucepan lids, an expression of a used future being repurposed for beauty. When I cross the road again, several trees proclaim the amount of carbon dioxide they express that keeps us breathing and amount of share equivalent to beach umbrellas that shields us in the heat.

My next stop in the village, later in the day, is the opening of an art exhibition. I have been kindly invited to do the honours, to declare the space a gallery, for this season of SALA (South Australian Living Artists). It is a modest affair given the restrictions and everyone gathered respects the rules, cementing our common desire for public health and care for one another inside and outside the venue, yet another reminder to me of living civilly, with purpose. This artist welcomes the viewer to paintings in pastels and oils with bold colours and images she wants to preserve for future generations. One of her first paintings was of a large cave at Maslins Beach  – that cave has now collapsed. She has a creation that shows the remains of the iconic Port  Willunga jetty and the signs above it now warn of the probably of collapsing cliffs, which currently bow to the sea and are so fragile it is almost inevitable they will continue to fragment and fall succumbing to erosion and changes in the climate. Not far from this location is an avenue of old pines where many creatures, winged and multiple legged, have as their home and food bowl; they will soon be blocked out by the mega school under construction, and Mother Willunga’s curves will find themselves, to the artists eye, in a corset. Her art was prescient last year with scenes of bushfires leaving beloved locations on Kangaroo Island bleached in black with sooty soil and foliage instead of beacons of flowers from rarely blossoming grasses. All the gathered respected and bowed to the artist’s eye and the reminder of the how we each have a responsibility to how we see, walk and leave our legacy to future generations.

The last stop in the day was not in the village, but in the comfort of my own home, mediated by software and technology, enabling 55 quiz teams to raise funds for childhood cancer. There were four generations in the room, gathered to support a friend of a friend. It was a simple occasion and done with enthusiasm, the usual negotiations to come to shared (or not shared) answer, with nibbles and sips of a range of substances from strawberry milk to gin and tonic. The young woman behind the scenes had been organising this event for months, transferred what was originally to be in a central city location to the lounge rooms of homes across the state and even a few interstate. The quiz master donned a moustache that could have been accompanied by a mullet, and the MC had all the energy and positivity of a morning ride-to-work radio announcer. The invisible hand gluing the event together, appeared briefly on the screen, being an introvert, and demonstrating how it is her super power. Nothing was out of place and all the people who want to be in front of the camera were. The team of volunteers she was leading raised enough money towards their target, which would ensure children and their families impacted by childhood cancer would be getting counselling support for the coming year. This kind of activism often goes unnoticed or under the guise of organising a social event. It takes time, commitment to detail, juggling egos and scheduling, and this year, multitasking across online tools and platforms previously used only for work now being deployed and transitioning their utility away from making money for shareholders and building careers, to the needs of the smallest ones suffering, surviving and struggling.

This was my Saturday, noticing activating all around me and once again, all I have had to do is turn up, making modest contributions to an overall mission for our planet, family, friends, embracing beauty in the simplest connections. Embracing our seeing, sensing into our actions, holding the precious moments that aggregate into what Paul Hawken calls “blessed unrest” brings its own kind of peace and justice. All the initiatives that made my Saturday – the Farmers Market, The Green Room, The Gospel Groove Choir, the SALA exhibition, the Telstra Enterprise Team’s Quiz night were beautifully executed by leadership often completely invisible, they are all contributing to building a future where more belong because of the connective tissue, relationships, that holds it all together. Each piece is adding to a goodness ecosystem and the quality of how each piece is managed is done with care and kindness. As Hawken says: Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. This is how the synapse of movement building gets transmitted, across the relationships managed well in ways that are so inviting that curiosity gets the better of people and they join in.

The Pinnacles by Lynn Chamberlain – her SALA exhibition details are here

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