Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 #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 #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 #26

I started a practice earlier in the year of not bundling up rubbish into plastic to put it into bins, trying to take and sort my household waste daily and not keeping a bin inside so I could keep a watch on my behaviour and also notice just how much non-useable, non-renewable packaging was coming into the home.  I have been doing well on this front for a number of years, but now living alone I am getting daily data on my own behaviour.  Things that are helping me are the compost bin, a worm farm, recycling service from the council and my own consumption habits of trying to avoid bringing single use plastics into the home in the first place. I have a lot more steps to take and am delighted and encouraged when I get books delivered in cardboard with not a plastic sleeve to be seen. I have more steps to take but I do feel like I am getting on top of it. This little everyday acts being built into lifestyle are the only way I consistent and wholehearted change can take place. It is like we all need an environmental equivalent of noom, to get our psychology and behaviour to be aligned to bring about the planet health we want for ourselves and future generations, other species and our planet.

There are loads of apps out there to track data on carbon use, online shops to buy goods to keep your waste at bay, but I can’t seem to find an app that links behaviour and psychology – would love to know about it if it exists – let me know.  Changing behaviour is not easy, it requires constant feedback, discipline and compassion when you fall off the wagon and need to start again. It required a beginners brain, knowing you are going to have to treat each occasion as if it was the first. Support and cheer squads help as does personal reflection and data to show you are working towards your goals. In my experience trendlines equal encouragement and compassionate self-correction.  The power of aggregation and seeing your contribution, however small, add up with others doing the same thing helps you to understand movement and heralds change at scale.

“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” – Martin Luther King

It seems to me, we are not always heartless but forgetful. We forget we are all connected, all belong to one another and all share the same home. We forget our liberation and wellbeing is connected to each other’s and without those connections we cannot thrive collectively. Finding ways to help us remember our connectedness seems to be have been inbuilt into the ways various countries have managed the pandemic and those places where individualism is given a higher value than community are paying the price in the number of deaths.  And we can see how the fascist playbook is being applied to fuel and foster death. The appearance of a national leader from North America this week in front of stone faces in a mountain is the text book example of bringing all the elements of race, power and privilege together, setting the conditions for civil unrest and the inevitable rise of propaganda which we are seeing ooze out onto digital platforms. The call to remember who we are will be part of the antidote, the call for a moral revival is how it is being expressed by a coalition of activists and organisations forming as the Poor Peoples March on Washington, drawing deep into the roots of MLK’s words.  For those of us far from these lands, yet still effected by it, because we are all connected, our acts of solidarity and examination of our forgetfulness are calling us too. There is plenty of restoration, reparation and reconciliation ahead for us to do here in Australia. And resistance – there is that too – making is a 4R strategy to get over our amnesia.

Finding ways to do deal with the excess packaging, what can be wasted and what can be reused or recycled is part of all we are called to do in our daily activism. A moral revival is going to be needed because while legislation is an aid to quell inappropriate behaviour, it is not enough. We have to do the work, and we have to do it daily, we can’t act alone and an individual penalty isn’t enough and may even stoke the fires of inequity. Some of our rubbish is going to take years to breakdown in landfill, like some of our racism and colonisation can’t be broken down in a generation. But I fear we don’t have that much time.  …. Any app developers out there working on something??

ravi-sharma-RnW1taVZqm8-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

Year of activism #25

It’s the end of the financial year when causes are asking you to make a donation. For decades now I have tended to use June 30 to be my year end as well and to do a bit of a personal audit, when I first started doing this is was a quiet rebellion against the end of the calendar year being so full and having no space for myself what with school holidays, religious and cultural saturation, transitions of all kinds. Now there are none of those things demanding my attention in the same ways, I am keeping my habit though of using this time of the year to take stock. On my list this year it included a visit to consider my balance sheet in dollars, and a couple in health, a courageous conversation about something that had been gnawing at me, a visit to a beauty salon and several long walks in the natural environment near my new home. It has included putting down and picking up some ideas and opportunities, letting go more of initiatives that can leave me and grow and be tendered by others. This is all activism too.

Self care as Audre Lorde said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Her idea about caring for yourself translates as a way of preserving yourself in a world mostly hostile to your identity, community and way of life. Finding ways of bringing care to yourself to enable your identity, community and way of life to thrive, not just survive will always require friends and others you can recruit to help you in this. There may be other species and natural phenomena who can help along the way too.

Across the street from my house, is a four metre hard barked eucalyptus tree, it is probably about 50 or 60 years old and has the scars to prove it. It is habitat for hundreds of creatures including a flock of multi-coloured parrots who hold court each day and as the day goes on the chatter changes from idle conversation to parliamentary debate, and by days end sounds fade as the community settles. This expansive ecosystem is fully alive, it seems to know when to rest when Jakkamurra (the sun) slips across the edge of the world only an occasional recalcitrant teenager or elder chirps up with a final closing word. I am taking instruction from the tree with the birds, how to hold steady by having deep roots, letting scars be visible, being a canopy and a home, not moving, except with the breeze – lessons from the pandemic. The self-care lessons from this tree are many and I thank it for its enduring teachings in this time of stock taking. Putting down roots to take hold in a new place is just beginning for me, but I am remembering and realising I still have deep roots that ground me to myself and my principles and values and by I can gather those up in close and having others hold conversations in my branches without me having to go anywhere much, just like the old gum.

Self- care is necessary for all and in activism, without self care you can’t go far, you burn out, get so bruised you aren’t effective or all the compromising you might have to do may mean you to be lost to the cause itself (hard to believe but I have seen that happen). So as this year comes to a close the donations I will be making I am going to include myself in the place where a few investments can be made. There will be more walks around the washpool and I will learn from her too – Wangkondananko which probably means possum place. As I get to watch the lagoon ebb and flow over the seasons and the birds, insects and bugs come and go, I will take instruction from them too, to know that everything has a season.

This end of financial year is a season for me, and in my stock taking will gather up what needs to be gathered, and work out what gets taken forward into the new year and what might lie fallow, be left behind or remain hidden for a little longer. I find myself beginning to be accepted by this, new to me, ecosystem I have arrived into, existing for millennia before I got here and it may need me sometime into the future, so I want to spend time getting this relationship going with the sea, the washpool and the tree across the road. They are elders calling me into an initiation to this space and my job is to listen and learn as a political act of self-preservation.

20200628_075452.jpg

One of my favourite cartoons ever – it is in Katrina Shields book In the Tiger’s Mouth

Year of activism #24

We are faced with literally thousands of decisions a day – what to wear or eat, means of travel, what to listen to, what to pick up, what to put down. It is estimated, as adults we make about 35,000 decisions a day. We have learnt to make these decisions over our lifetime. The plurality of choices we make individually have an aggregated impact. The cartographers of the late 19th and early 20th century drew maps and coloured them to indicate who were the conquered and who were the conquerers. I remember Australia being pink to indicate a colony of the British Empire, surely an early indicator in my life of the knowledge of invasion. The way maps are drawn have found their way into the micro-decisions of our everyday of who and what is in and out. To collectively behave unconsciously of our history reinforces the past; to disrupt the narrative with truth telling, new data and mindfulness breaks open the potential for new neuronal pathways to be built. This leads to more disruption and it is more than the colour of a map that will help us with new decisions to made.

Once you start to live more mindfully, it is overwhelming and you can’t unsee or un-hear what was hidden or unspoken. You notice more of the decisions you are making that hold injustice in place. Planting indigenous ground covers in places where land was cleared by early settlers might be a simple gesture of restitution and healing; learning language to greet people an act of respect and aid to preservation; learning about white fragility and sharing your knowledge with your peers an act of conscientisation. As we build our mindfulness muscle we start to notice all the decisions we make and the potential we all have to help disrupt the status quo which perhaps really a collective amnesia.

Waking up isn’t easy. Changing decisions and habits of a lifetime requires retraining, support and stamina. Anyone who has had to break any kind of addiction, go on a diet, give up a favourite food will have this challenge to draw on. You will fall back into old ways, you will embarrass yourself, you will have to start over and over again. It is a discipline and a practice and if there are external signs and boundaries they might help or they might also get in the way. A friend who brings flowers instead of wine if you are dieting is the kind of friend you need if making changes around food. And one who brings chocolates knowing full well you are trying to make a change is not acting in solidarity.

Think about applying these same principles to bring changes around climate or structural racism and what do you notice? You might be start discovering insights and opportunities. I am trying to develop a practice around what I bring when invited to share a meal – more locally sourced produce and home made. It is a feeble attempt at focussing on low food miles and recognition of the place food comes from as a gift from one location to another. I see more and more people doing this, it is reviving the practice of our grandparents and all the generations before and seems so simple I feel a bit pathetic even mentioning it. Imagine though the collective consequence of this a gifting of abundance between friends and neighbourhoods that would literally change local economies.

An abundance of decisions can drown us and we look for short cuts to help us. Only having one colour of underwear may reduce 100s of decisions in a year! Building new decisions pathways may be an aid too and if we develop classification methods to help us (think red, orange green) we can move through our decision tree with more confidence and ease. Choices are deeply and inextricably entwined to our privilege. I get to make so many decisions because of my entitlements and coming to this knowing is what happens when you start to wake up. We are being shaken by activists who are screaming at us, showing us the way forward, trying to get our attention – if you feel a bit shaken, stirred, uncomfortable – chances are you are being woken up and new decisions are emerging.

 

 

Year of activism #23

Been thinking about the late Elliott Johnston who was a Supreme Court judge in SA and who on leaving the bench at 70 was appointed to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He died when he was 93. I never met him. He was public about his membership of the Communist Party.  It didn’t get in the way of his abilities to pass judgements and make recommendations, just as other judges like Dame Roma Mitchell was very public about her Catholicism or others their capitalism.  I have been thinking about Justice Elliott in relation to these times, he always behaved as far as I can tell from his actions that black lives mattered.  He is an example of how leaders can hold roles in the public domain and not compromise their values.

The relationship between public and private is an acknowledgement that the personal is political and in the frame of this year’s blog theme, activism is an everyday practice to be applied in all parts of your life.  As the statues of racists tumble in town squares the blind spots and unconscious bias of past town planners comes down too. Past curators of museums around the world will be turning in their graves as their blind spots and pillaging of first nations and colonial conquests are overturned causing property and memories to be repatriated. These are just the beginning of the decolonisation movement which is spreading throughout the globe.

While we all know the name of George Floyd the litany of the names of Aboriginal deaths in custody are not on everyone’s lips in Australia.  I read through the list of 99 deaths chronicled by the Royal Commission. The Inquiry made 339 recommendations. The report recommended that imprisonment only be a last resort. The report also included recommendations for the calling of medical assistance if the condition of detainee deteriorates; greater collaboration with Indigenous communities; improved access Indigenous incarceration is one gap that needs closing. It is possibly the gap that is actively and systemically addressed will be the one to enable other gaps to close as well.

Going back to the Royal Commission, the recommendations and the way evidence was gathered provide plenty of clues about what actions to take.  There is plenty to do, that remains incomplete eg around child removal, medical support, community and family connection, institutional changes around education, health, employment, primacy of self-determination, poverty, land rights, provision of informed, independent advice, inclusion of Aboriginal people in government roles, public discourse and engagement of public policy and its rollout.

Anyone wanting to exercise some activism in Australia could look at the Royal Commission and choose any one of the recommendations and see how they could contribute to implementing it in their own life.  If you are a teacher, you could consider how you bring images, stories, language into your classroom; if you are a health professional consider the social determinants and how they are showing up in your work or perhaps make a contribution to a scholarship or learning opportunity for an Aboriginal health worker; if you are a parent bring in books and language and images into the home for your children to see (for example, my kids grew up with posters of bush tucker in the kitchen, Condom Man in the boys bedroom, wooden goannas from the APY lands as toys and Tiddas, Kev Carmody and Archie Roach on rotation), if you are a facilitator you can start your sessions acknowledging country and maybe saying a few words in language of the place where you are; if you love fashion how about buying clothes designed by Indigenous artists,  or cosmetics and medicine from Aboriginal healers, or if you are an engineer look to Supply Nation to get your workforce … there is no end of things each and every one of can do to help close the gaps.  At the least you can put a sign on your door to show respect to the traditional owners of where you live, or perhaps work on Australia Day and take a holiday on Mabo Day.  Taking the streets isn’t for everyone, nor is writing to your local MP so these ideas are offered as actions we can all do from our familiar roles and responsibilities in our everyday lives.

As we come into NAIDOC Week my activism ask is to make a choice about one thing you can do in your every day life to help implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody which has at its heart, reconciliation and recognition that Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land – which is fitting as that is this year’s NAIDOC theme.