Category Archives: 2020

Year of activism #47

Spring ends in a couple of days and we have already passed records for hottest day in November. The Climate Emergency bells are ringing and even with our planet being a beneficiary of some of the COVID restrictions, the data is in, and the ones listening to the scientists and to ancient wisdom and the ones most alarmed, feeling the urgency …. another COVID response correlation.

Wearing a mask is a sign of public health activism, in same way choosing food that is grown locally, unpackaged and has a fair price to farmers attached. Cue the soundtrack We are the World and somehow that anthem takes on renewed meaning – we are the ones saving our own lives. To all the singers and songwriters who help us grow movements for change one from my tradition and culture always stands out – Pete Seeger. He died in 2014 and in 2009 there was quite a campaign to get him nominated for the Nobel Prize, which I thought was quite a good idea at the time. He was the oldest person to ever sing at a US Presidential inauguration. Listening him sing (all the verses of Guthrie’s) This Land is Your Land remains an abiding memory of how we can live together, work together and put the land and the planet at the centre of our decision-making for ourselves and the future.

Privileging and understanding the centrality of land for climate response seems crucial to me. SDG #15 Life on Land seems to have it all, and there are so many opportunities to make a contribution: tree planting, soil rehabilitation, land rights, understanding land as mother, food security, benefits of nature, reforestation, regeneration. This is not a stewardship relationship with the land, it is an invitational relationship. We get called each and everyone of us, each and everyday to respond to this invitation. The invitation to bring our best selves, knowledge, skills, curiosity, wonder and awe to what the planet, in fact land and sea, has to offer us. We are being invited to halt, to heal, to discover, to mask, to declare, to celebrate, to mourn. These are times in which at every turn we can make and take a step towards turning the sirens of the climate emergency down a notch.

I am examining, with others as part of SheEO’s Racial Justice Working Group, the place of this SDG in relation to racial justice. The language of colonisation, white supremacy, patriarchy continues to get in the way and one of the first invitations I am trying to accept is around language. Moving from extractive to generative language is quite a discipline. I am looking for new words for stewardship, leaving descriptors like First and Third world, developing, under developed behind. Bringing in the mystical and mythological to frame and bring a big enough canvas to hold the depth of values and meaning that is not possible in the transactional nature of most conversations about land.

As our temperatures start to soar in my part of this pale blue dot and summer rolls across the skies and the sands beneath our feet glare and heat up making it hard to even have the grains between our toes, I know there are fire crews training, meteorologists modelling, animal rescue volunteers stocking up on bandages, farmers checking dams, policy makers reviewing plans. So to all those who have been ringing bells and calling emergency for decades and for all those prepping to be first responders in the summer ahead, and for all those who year in and year out have been reminding us it is is time to act, I give deep thanks to you for being relentless in your acceptance of the invitation and for being the vehicle to transmit the message to those of us who have been so slow to hear it being extended to us. This land was made for you and me.

Photo by Malachi Brooks on Unsplash

Year of activism #43

The place of formal advocacy in public policy systems has been a focus this week. I am very fortunate to be a member of South Australia’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Board and I do have an agenda to help close the gender investment gap and to bring a gender lens to listening, observing, conversations and advice making. It is quite a discipline to stay on message and on track. Being at the table is a power and privilege.

This week, a peer asked me how I prepare and go into these spaces, and on reflection realised I do have a practice. I bring to mind all those who have gone before me to enable me to have the privilege of being at the table. These people then become my cloud of witnesses. Their energy and compassion being afforded to me gives me courage and holds me so I know I am not alone. I was fortunate enough to get a teaching while in a workshop on Warriorship hosted by aviator (and now incarnated as a Marvel Comic heroine) Teara Fraser this week, where one of the participants Sacred Matriarch artist Ecko Aleck shared that she does something similar. She takes her place in the litany of those who have been before her and as a First Nations woman, born into the Nlaka’pamux Nation and raised with the shishalh Nation, Ecko said she has the baton now and the responsibility to go from surviving to thriving, as she will in her turn, take her place in the geneology. She explained she has full responsibility for this moment and who comes after her will take what she has done to do her part. It reminds me of something I wrote years ago about a teaching I got from a local footy champion who said when you have the ball you are responsible for the game in that moment and you do all you can to exercise that responsibility for the team to help them kick the next goal. I try and build a team of people I can throw to, who will accept the ball from me and who will notice when it is coming their way and will hear my voice when I kick it their way. This is all about building relationships and trust and training together and that is something I have felt a bit disconnected from recently and this week was a good reminder to me I need to strengthen my practice in this area. This is essential for movement building and in my experience, reiterated again this week, means you need to take time to hang out and get to know people. One of my personal KPIs is when people can tease you as a sign of respect and that works both ways.

I also invoke the UniVerse, the one voice, and ask what is this one voice calling in this moment? On reflection I use this practice to bring alignment to past, present and future. The next step is to stay focused and to stay grounded. I notice I do better at this when I am standing flat footed and strong on the ground and while standing akimbo comes naturally I work against myself to not take that stance so as not to be seen as threatening, and put my hands behind my back, although every now and again I do fold my hands in front of me, but again try to pick myself up when I do that so I continue to stay as open as I can in the moment. Another thing I notice I keep eye contact as best I can, I find this hard sometimes! I also work on channeling sending love and compassion – even when my eyes want to send daggers. I recently experimented with sending daggers that could transform into Cupid like arrows of love and that seemed to work but I am going to need a lot more practice to get this to work on demand!

Formal advocacy is not stand up comedy, but humour helps and I noticed I do use humour to get key points across to new audiences. More than a decade of improv training and performing playback theatre, is easily on demand and I appreciate those skills and forms (like yes and) to have at my finger tips. I also am fortunate to have decades of facilitation tools behind me so can bring in simple activities like asking people useful questions to unlock and unleash information – never under estimate the power of asking everyone to take it in turns to share their answers to a question. One tool I have used consistently over the years (from family counselling to corporate board meetings) to ask everyone to bring another voice into the conversation and what would they say if they were in the room. This always frees everyone up and brings out the ghosts and what I find is this also usually helps bring in taboos, lost words and feelings to the table and in doing so deeper discernment.

I wonder what practices you have that you might even know you do to hold you strong in your power and love as you do your changemaking?

Flavia Tati Nardini rocket scientist and co-founder of Fleet and fellow Entrepreneurship Advisory Board member.

Year of activism #42

Here’s to the film-makers and photographers and all that take and make pictures to tell us stories about ourselves, our world and what we can be, what we have lost, who we are. This week it is the Adelaide Film Festival and no one has stayed away. I have only managed one film (Brazen Hussies) and this season is a reminder of the power of screen to provide an opportunity for a shared experience as potent as any rally on the streets. to gather our collective thoughts and hear what others need to tell us. As always the Film Festival is a cornucopia of ideas and images, sounds and stories and I am propelled into remembering the visuals that have activated hearts, heads and hands. Who can forget the 9 year old girl running from the Vietnam jungle bathed in napalm? The image of Gough Whitlam pouring sand through Vincent Lingiari’s hands in 1975 is one of my all time favourites and I have a copy of it in my office. In one frame, the past, present and future are frozen and speak. At the other end of the visual spectrum is the film that takes its time to unfold and unravel. Going to a movie theatre deepens the experience of the tale being told, all other stimulation is blocked out and you can focus completely, be immersed, be held by the screen and accept the invitation of the film maker to be intimate your eyes meeting theirs.

Being able to just receive, is a kind of deep listening and uninterrupted attention that brings us into the meditative state where we can embrace and be embraced by the narrative. This is the quest of every activist, to be able to invite into something bigger than yourself, a story that can fill all our senses and transcend the frames we hold in our heads to bring new visions, a new slant and perhaps a new response. The film I saw this week was a documentary tracing the steps of the Women’s Liberation Movement and Women’s Electoral Lobby and its influence on public policy including the first appointment of a women’s advisor to the Federal Government in the 1970s in Australia. It was mostly white, mostly east coast, mostly university educated voices that were heard. There were plenty of firsts like equal pay, childcare, domestic violence shelters, access to contraception, state support for single mothers and I am deeply grateful for these women who paved the way. I shed a few tears, then I shed a few more for all that is still to do – still no equal pay in some industries, we have one of the most gendered workforces on the planet and women’s work is mostly in underpaid and undervalued industries (eg caring industries); domestic violence hasn’t gone away and women are still fleeing their homes and for their lives, making women and children homeless rather than men being removed from homes and due to separation and economic injustice women over 50 are the highest rising group of homeless right now; then there is the economic inequity of female founders missing out ( 4% of venture capital goes to women). Indigenous women and women of colour are still largely absent from the decision making and shaping of policies and practices to end these injustices and intersectionality is not routinely applied. While women will often cry ” where are the men?”, we are less likely to hear: “Where are our Aboriginal sisters, and migrant and refugee voices, and women of colour who have been here for generations?” My high school principal was a fifth generation Australian Chinese woman and would often comment on her universal Asian features being invisible when she travelled and when at home in her own country being the cause for racism. This experience was eloquently examined by Stan Grant in his 2015 speech Racism and the Australian Dream. And for me it was the photos of the Tasmanian wilderness taken by Olegas Truchanas that united a nation and was part of the arsenal of the environment movement to elect a government that would preserve ancient and irreplaceable landscape.

The filmmaker is our friend. They take the liberty to build a friendship with us and work on the assumption that once you have stepped into view their work you are now in entering into an intimacy to look through their eyes and while they can’t gaze back into yours, they are working on an assumption you want to see what they can see, you want to know what they want to tell you, they understand you have some kind of longing they might be able to fulfil. They can find spaces and make spaces in your psyche for memories and your imagination to be evoked, for your longing to be stroked and your fragility or sacred joy expressed in the dark. The shared experience builds a bridge to conversation.

Thank you to all the activists behind lens’ that bring us images that hold us and move us and bring us into intimacy for it is from the heart we can bring our heads and hands to action.

This photo of Gough Whitlam pouring earth through Vincent Lingiari’s hand has become an iconic image. It was taken by Mervyn Bishop on 16 August 1975. Museum of Australian Democracy Collection.

Year of activism #41

The Federal budget failed to pay attention to the 51% of the population who are women. There was significant neglect of the way our community runs on the unfettered labour and love of those who stay home, undertake caring roles, hold families and communities together with their extra shifts of volunteering, home help, home nursing and child care. There was neglect or at best scant attention to an economy which can’t be fully functional without the all the efforts that as Marilyn Waring first coined more than a generation ago that “counts for nothing”. I am enraged by a Federal Government who gives lip service to female founders and then after almost a year no money has been distributed, partly because of the shock they got, when four times as many women applied for grants than they anticipated.  I give sincere thanks to all those who toil silently and consistently for program reform and legislative review … but … and it sticks in my throat to add this but … it is not the best use of our time and talents.  We need to turn our attention away from trying to get a system to work for women, and we need to turn even further away from trying to get women to fit into a system that no longer works for them.  I sat in on a webinar on the gender pay gap in the UK this week that provided undeniable evidence that women undertaking leadership courses to get ahead, get a promotion or be more visible in their work place as leaders, had not yielded any increase in salary to women.  In the words of the host, former Australian PM, Julia Gillard, on hearing this evidence, she calmly and clearly stated: “it is not women who need to be fixed, it is the system.”

The politics of grief is never far away, knowing I will and am continuing to have to give up or at a minimum, shift, power in places where my participation is privileged. As we embrace, the apprenticeship of our disappearance, as David Whyte would call it, I am moved to consider how my eldership is unfolding.

While walking today the Pioneer Women’s Trail (a 26km walk through the Adelaide Hills that commemorates early settlers who were women and girls taking their produce to market) I soaked in the history of the walk and the lack of story along the way of the First Nations women who were there before occupation. I was buoyed by the hosts of the event acknowledging country and elders past, present and emerging and touched at the simplicity and humility in which is was delivered by the volunteer safety officer.  I noted there was very little diversity amongst the hundreds of walkers  and wonder how that might be addressed in the future, and the potential for more signage along the way to tell stories to frame decolonization of the landscape, introduced species of flora and fauna and not the least the introduction of the settlers. A large, elderly koala made an appearance at the top of one of the inclines and seemed to take in the sights of us, as we took in the sight of him, for a moment the continuous occupation of the eucalyptus over generations of koalas gave me heart for a time past and a time to come.  There were patches where the January bushfires were clearly still tattooed on the slopes and fire tracks delineating where successful crews had held back flames and saved habitat. There were plenty of new shoots and lots of native orchids, butterflies and creatures coming out to play in the spring time. The bellow of the river frogs and a promise from signs that we might see a few splashes from the river rats – Rakali – the only freshwater amphibious mammal other than the platypus in Australia.  (I heard the frogs but didn’t spot any of the endangered rakali.) I wanted to grieve for what has been lost in our story and our connection to these places along the way and I wonder how we can make and take time to honour what has been lost and what is under threat of being lost. While I eaves dropped on conversations along the trail, not once did I hear anyone talking about the environment. Chatter seemed full of family, caring responsibilities, work commitments, juggling life across generations and expectations. Without the planet though, all these things will be moot and until can mourn for what we have lost, celebrate what we have, we may not be able to resist and preserve, rehabilitate and restore. There are rituals waiting to be made and old and new stories to be written and sung into being. Those who have and make space and time to reflect are on their eldership pathway. I think a new generation of activists embracing their eldership is emerging.  They are the ones who have known generational pain, grief and can hold the space for sorrows to be shared, and healed. I am imagining rituals where we mourn what was not done in a Federal budget, loss of habitat and the lack of equity in our world. I am imagining lamentations that go deep and call us to action.  Going for a walk is as good a place to start as any.

... the path to heaven doesn’t lie

down in flat miles. It’s in the

imagination with which you perceive this world and the

gestures in which you honor it. – from The Swan by Mary Oliver

Pioneers Women’s Trail 18 October 2020


                                                                                              

Year of activism #39

It is October 4th – feast day of St Francis and day to celebrate creation and all the creatures. It is the only day on the calendar I am 100% sure which saint it belongs too. There are more words and images of Francis in the western world than the founder of his strand of spirituality. His radical transformative lifestyle changed his little town and generations who followed, and continued to our time when the latest incarnation of the role of Bishop of Rome sent a definitive message to the faithful and non-believers alike in choosing the name Francis for his papacy. At the time one of my favourite liberation theologians, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff (also a Franciscan monk who had been kicked out by the previous administration) was welcomed back and remarked on the choice of the Argentinian of Francis – was not choosing a name but an agenda. The agenda was around simplicity, creation and care of the earth and a call to disrupting the institutional power. I had high hopes and there were early signs, and I remain encouraged, although long for more. This ancient global institution pivoting to these times, feels more like a shipwreck laden with barnacles where only time and/ or a tsunami might bring new life. Francis is releasing a new encyclical today on friendship. I am going to be interested in reading it. His last one (Laudato Si) was a powerful instruction on how to care for the earth and all that required personally and politically, and poignantly to go back to the basics and ‘rebuild the church’. Such a shame for the patriarchy and language and colonisation that much of the good gets washed away by the clumsy and lack of restitution the church, to say nothing of all the apologies to first nations, women and LGBTIQ+ . Francis of Assisi turned the tables and publicly admonished power, privilege and embraced simplicity, had a beautiful relationship with Clare of Assisi and together they offered an alternative lifestyle of poverty, service, stewardship and speaking truth that inspired generations. In their part of Italy, Clare attracted more women to her community, than men were able to attract to be their wives – it was very disruptive – and turned the tables on the economics of the region.

Francis was my father’s middle name as he was born Oct 3 and would have been 84 this year. I sang Donovan‘s version of Francis’ Canticle of Creation at his funeral and while he wasn’t a believer, he did love all of creation and respected his roots and traditions. The opening lines of this poem are: Brother Sun and Sister Moon, indicative of the close relationship Francis had with all of creation. From the most ancient of astrological surveys it is the Sun who rules as masculine energy the Moon as feminine. It is this deep friendship with the earth and the sky that has guided our species and all the instruction we need remains available to us should we look to the skies and look to what lies below our feet.

The cry of the earth for rehabilitation and decolonisation, is a lamentation, an ache. As her sisters and brothers we are being called to care for our Sister, our Mother, the earth. There is a strong trajectory in all world religions for care for the earth, simplicity and ecological justice. In my own tradition, it is often to Francis and Clare that I look, but they are not alone and throughout history and all around the world in communities in mountains, deserts, cities and slums individuals have risen up as lone nuts and founded movements, some of which have become institutionalised, and others that flowered for a single season, but it is the deep thread we can all pull on as activists and remind ourselves of our lineage and humbly make the use of this time we have to make our contribution. I think that is the message for me on this Feast of St Francis to take instruction from the sun and the moon, to recalibrate and set a course by the stars to take me back to my roots and to deeply listen to the land, its original custodians.

John O’Donohue says “friendship is an act of recognition” and maybe that is part of the pilgrim way, to recognise ourselves and familial relationships in the landscape and have the landscape invite us to see that in ourselves. Imagine if we could recognise the beauty around us in the heavens and on the horizon and know, really know, we are both custodians and reflections of this beauty. Nature is the pause and refresh button as well as the plug in and play for so many activists and this day is as good as any to celebrate all of creation and enter into more friendship and intimacy.

Arriving in Assisi to a rainbow, June 2013

Year of activism #38

The vernal equinox has just passed and the days have started to get longer. A new year of  begins. In my part of the world green arrives, with winds and rain. Inland and north they are noticing more emu chicks than ever, a sign of a wet spring and in the farms near me, plenty of twins and triplet lambs in the fields, a sign from the northern hemisphere transplanted here that spring is in fine form. COVID19 is starting to wane in the neighbouring state of Victoria and has claimed another victim, their health Minister. I watch their leaders on the news and see their Premier getting thinner by the day, and wonder if the Cabinet has mental health practitioners on hand supporting them.  It has been a year since their first bushfires started and relentless public health and safety ever since – must be like being in a war cabinet rather than governing for peacetimes.  Everyone in the state of Victoria working to eradicate an invisible enemy.

Friends on zoom calls, beaming in from the US talk about prepping themselves for their elections and whatever the aftermath will bear. They talk of being worried about civil war … and there is that word again War.  It keeps turning up in conversations and I turn my attention to the warrior, the one who is ready, willing and able to put their body on the line to get into the kind of strife that may lead to taking up arms.

Warriors come in all forms and have a range of weapons.  The warrior against waste, might be the seven year old who chastises an older relative for having single use plastic in their home. The warrior for racial justice might be the rap singer mobilising with their street theatre comrades performing to stop traffic. The warrior for gender equity might be in the HR department building a skillful runway for equal pay with built in court appearances, board table presentations and union allies. The warrior activist, is often characterised as having violent tendencies, courage, embattled and aggressive, the one who can take one for the team.  They are the ones who have the role of stepping into the fray, no longer willing to stay on the outskirts, they point out through their actions what is not right and set a course to bring that injustice to the fore, often making what was invisible, visible and therefore inviting others into seeing what they can see.  The mythical Amazon female warriors seem to have a basis in reality according to new evidence reported in the Washington Post a few years ago. I am looking forward to the lessons that will come from this that may shake up assumptions about warriorship and women.  When activists disturb assumptions there is a fair chance disruption will follow and warriors will emerge, and when those warriors are not the usual suspects even more assumptions can turn tables.

I am inspired by warriors, those willing to put their body on the line to go into battle to not just make things right, but to make the injustice right for whole populations, species, habitat, communities. That they are willing to hold the space so others can do what they must do behind the scenes and inoculate  make it safe for others to get on with what needs to be done to ensure the battles can be won behind the scenes.

In my home state of South Australia, the example that comes to mind in these pandemic times, is the battle to save our state owned and funded pathology services. I am grateful to those who fought that fight and kept the service in public ownership. I believe when the books are written about what worked in the pandemic, public ownership of these services will be featured. Privatisation is a weapon of neo-liberalism, and on this occasion it was neutralized by keeping our pathology services in public hands.  The unsung warriors of the public sector, I hope will get their medals when the time comes.  And I am remembering that Amazon and amazing come from the same root – to cause surprise and wonder – and that is what a warrior does – surprises and when unveiling assumptions, makes us all wonder and question what we were holding onto and why as we then get into a tug-o-war about what we will hang onto and let go of.  Here’s to the surprising and wonder-full warriors – from US Court judges to babes in swaddling clothes.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

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 #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 #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.