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Year of activism #46

The thunder rolled in and with one mighty crackle sparks, the heavily pregnant clouds released and drowned my little part of the planet for less than the time it takes to bake a cake. You can’t always see the clouds colliding in the dark, but you do hear them walking up to the moment and you experience the pent up energy being set free and falling where ever it falls. The balance of refreshment to the earth and heaviness in the air arrives and a invitation that can’t be postponed, to hydrate. The elemental nature of activism is the same, there are times in movement building that the system like a weather system is going to explode and everyone is touched whether they are involved or not. The meteorological forces bring to bear what must be made visible and felt. I think this is the craft of the mobiliser in activism.

Getting out the vote in the US has been like this, all the individual efforts of people being signed onto the roll, driven to booths, postal workers delivering ballot papers from home to polling stations, volunteers offering hospitality and reporters recording accurately, live streaming technologists enabling real time viewing of counting of ballots – each in their own way making rain. And then there is the deluge and the precious drops fall on everyone, regardless of age, race, where they voted, elected, unelected and then the rain stops, the atmospherics have changed, the forecasters explain what has happened and are replaced by the next shift ready to advise on what is coming up.

The mobilisers pause for some satisfying breaths to drink in the cleansing waters and then get back to work. I have been watching the behaviour of the US President-elect who as he heads into his eighth decade is pacing himself, equipped with the wisdom of many deluges, he is patient and persistent. There seems to be a gentle confidence in the elements knowing they come and they go. This is the practice of the ancients. They know the dark clouds are full of what they have drawn upwards into themselves and when ripe can burst and deliver their load on those below. They know they don’t need to do it all, and there is a transformation when the sky and the land meet. This communion will call forth new shoots and in no time at all, new life will become visible, tiny insects will be scurrying around, beetles, bugs, bees, butterflies; trees will be waking up and the scent of herbs will fill the air. Ancients hang onto the this knowledge, they know how to coax the clouds with a dance or send smoke into the air to hasten the process. Ancients know the clouds will burst and the wait will be worth it.

Taking lessons from the ancients and storms in your activism is as good a place to look as anywhere if you are a mobiliser. Paying attention to what works, what happens next and when to look to the skies for inspiration is a guide for me often and when I lie in bed and hear the rolling thunder, the rain soaking into the ground followed by birds singing and starting to gather threads to weave their nests I know, in the words of the English 14th century mystic anchorite Julian of Norwichall shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

The trick for me is to remember that when I am in darkness, or perhaps I can’t see any clouds and to know that the invisible actions of the mobilisers are working on their part and if I am in their number I need to be working on my contribution however molecular it seems because it does indeed all add up for a mighty storm that is a-comin’ and in its wake is new life.

Photo by Valentin Müller on Unsplash

Year of activism #45

As votes get counted in the USA, the most destructive hurricane in the history of Central America ripped through Honduras, a trilogy of daily typhoons hit Manila drowns the metropolis. We are all connected through these events in our common occupation of this little blue dot. While these things were going on, I was laughing, dancing, enjoying the good company of family and friends, listening to music, poetry and holding space for others to have conversations. I took time to recognise and celebrate the oldest continuous living culture on the planet in NAIDOC Week. This year’s theme Always Was Always Will Be, brought the centrality of the land to all that has past, all that is, all that is to come. More than once across the week I dipped into my own story to recognise my ancestors would have been part of the dispossession and now it is my generation to who the reckoning and restitution falls. The need for treaties continues to loom large in my mind about what is needed. The place of treaties as agreements and truth telling intertwines with our relationships to past, present and future. Time is indefinite, continuous on the move working away and threading and holding events, memories, actions, dreams in the past, present, and future.

How we mark time whether it be by the moon, the clock, the height of tree growing is embedded in activism. So often we are trying to halt the progress, or speed something up or even turn it back as a way to get to the justice required by the moment. The practice of mindfulness brings depth and width to time and the expanse of this world crystalized into tiny never to be repeated moments, cherished all the more for their fleeting nature. Just imagine if in every moment we were able to hold the time for justice. That is a practice that will take me more than one lifetime! I do try to bring the practice of welcoming the new day, each dawn, as a way of bringing all the time zones together and when I remember across the 24 hours on our axis on the ecliptic plane, that a new day is dawning somewhere right now. The constancy of this natural phenomena is surely an invitation to a new start while honouring what has gone before. This is perhaps the most profound version of a circular economy I can think of and it is linked directly for me to the relationship to the land, seas and stars and in my part of the planet, named and held by First Nations whose land and seas have never been ceded. Without an understanding of time, connectedness and circularity I am not sure justice can arrive.

The practices to restore, recover, regenerate, reuse, repair are all for renewal. While we might design out waste and polluting variables we have to design in, circularity. I am thinking of waste and pollution as how the turn up way beyond single use plastic to single use votes, single use volunteering, single use actions. single use conversations. All our lives depend on it and you have this power in each and every moment. Keeping the conversations going and bringing in the past and the future are essential, we need to know what has gone before and understand what is to come. The places of the futurist and historians are intertwined, the role of the forecasters and the archeologists, the lessons from epigenetics and immunologists are all connected. As activists we are always at a threshold, the point where change is about to happen, the emergent space, the place of new beginnings. To be fully present in that moment is a practice and when we come to the end of our days knowing we too are in this cosmic circular economy – the one household in which we all live. It has been a regular theme in my life since the 1990s, this relationship between household and economics and our home, and ironically I circle back to it often, reinforcing the notion that it was a generative and not extractive lesson from my twenties.

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its name is, is
nameless now.

Every year
everything
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this:
the fires and the black river of loss
whose other side is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:

To love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver New and Selected Poems

For more about: Mary Oliver

Year of activism #44

Mobilising to get out the vote is what so many activists have been doing in the US, while those of us outside of the US, watched and cheered along as best we could. The new team to come into the White House has been chosen primarily by black women and now the race and gender divide is even more stark than it has been for those of us who sit outside, but for those on the inside, who make their homes in cities and country towns it has been their reality since the beginning of colonisation of what we now know as the United States of America. The depth of pain and the enormous task ahead for racial justice, climate justice and gender justice is of Mt Everest proportions. Then there is a task of getting COVID under control …. So if I was advising the White House, I would be saying go in hard and fast as soon and don’t have any Inauguration Balls – get straight to work there is no time to loose.

I am giving thanks for all the public servants who delivered the mail and counted votes. The role of the public sector in democracy and supporting the institutions that help the electorate have their voice heard and translated into systems is precious and fragile. Over the coming weeks the public servants working in the courts will have their roles and responsibilities tested. US citizens valuing the vote and coming out in unprecedented numbers and all those that did postals due to COVID, might actually be a positive outcome of the deadly virus – where one part of the democracy failed its people another part has been able to help and hopefully heal as well. California sent every single citizen eligible to vote a postal ballot, so whoever made that decision I am claiming as an activist for democracy!

Meanwhile in my part of the world it is NAIDOC Week this week and I want to take a moment to give thanks for all the women and men, Aboriginal who have been activists for racial justice, land rights, economic justice and decolonisation. There is so much work to be done in Australia on this front. A didgeridoo was played on my porch last night, a surprising gift and I felt blessed by the sound and the warmth and generosity of it being played on the land I make my home. I have no right to expect this gift, on stolen land, on land that is marked out with fences and gates, on land that is marked on a map as a suburb that does not bear a name of the place it was known for thousands of years, on land that was and always will be Aboriginal land. I felt blessed by the sound under the great southern skies, where the dreaming of the creation ancestor Tjirbruki walked the land in grief over the death of his nephew who broke the law by killing a female emu. There is a lot of grief in this land and Tjirbruki’s tears still flow in the streams, waterholes and waterfalls across the dreaming tracks, including where I now live Watiwali – Sellicks Beach. It is a tale that is full of sadness and a search for accountability through forgiveness and reckoning – timeless lessons.

While there [at Sellick’s Beach], Tjirbruki began to think of further grudges and as he was passing through the pangkara of the Witjarlung families it disturbed him that they had failed to pass on the message of forgiveness to Kulultuwi and his other nephews. Instead of continuing along the beach he turned inland and climbed over Sellick’s Hill. Snippet from Tindale’s notes

The politics of grief will not leave me as a motif for this era and the need for transformational rituals and stories to help us navigate and transcend to new places, heal the past and be in community with one another because of our differences, is waiting for the priestesses and pastors of our times to work their magic and guide us into our next dreaming. The skilled ministers to hold and host these spaces are being called up and I am deeply grateful to the ones I know about and the ones I will get to know. We live in wild places. I am working at my edges to say no to the domestication and colonisation of my heart and head for that seems to me to be a pathway for justice. Tears are inevitable. Courage compulsory. Friends for the journey non-negotiable.

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 #40

Just heard that the Taliban have offered their endorsement to Donald Trump, that idea brings together activism and disruption to new places and is a great reminder that when systems change is being called for, there is always the potential to end up with some strange bedfellows! Having a common agenda is a central ingredient to building movements and pathways for change, and building a shared platform and understanding of translating that vision into action, might start with leaders, and left to its own devices can morph and meander down some dark and difficult holes as well as rise up into sunshine we can all bask in.

This week I am writing from Kabi Kabi country in Queensland and feel I am thrusting all my privileges onto the page even by saying that. Yes I can travel, I get to see family and get hugs, I transferred through an airport with the flash of a travel documents on my mobile device, a device that is now being used as digital passport to go to cafes, restaurants and to stay in a hotel, I have permission to get into cars, planes, cabs, trains and have travelled in all of these in last 24 hours. All this along with my white, educated, English speaking, healthy, housed, literate, digitally engaged and employed status continues to set me apart as one of the elite in a post COVID world that has already arrived for me while loved ones in other parts of the country and the world are excluded from much of what I am now able, mostly, once again, to take for granted. For this activist I am reflecting on how to not let amnesia set it and to pay attention to how my privilege is showing up in these new times. Everything can change very quickly and when I walk along a coast line brimming with species that have served generations and being appreciated for their abundant beauty, I am clumsily bringing a mindfulness and deep, sincere appreciation of the gifts I have been given, mostly not earnt, privileges of race, class, colour, location of birth.

I even have my favourite walking shoes that have taken me to the Camino, to forests and dunes, up and down hills and along rocky inlets and riverlets. They served me well as I puff my way up to a lookout called Hell’s Gates and if this is what the gates of hell look like I am not too worried! The power of the ocean in the migratory path of humpback whales, home to turtles, dolphins and cormorants – a cornucopia of food for communities past. I take a moment to give thanks, arriving at the top to catch my breath, and to recall the custodians and their totems that have been held by this place for generations.

One of the practices of this activist is to land into place. I am feeling this more and more and I entwine my actions and my self around a preferred future where the centrality of the planet is non-negotiable. (This concept of place if beautifully explained by the poet Pádraig Ó Tuama in his Poetry Unbound reflections for On Being’s Paused.) Justice for our First Nations here in Australia and around the world, learning decolonising practices and understanding place based approaches to give meaning and connection to translate into our cultural and economic relationships, feels like a combination of untangling and making new threads we can weave together. Some days I want to cut all the threads and start again, other days I have energy for weaving and then there are days when all I can do is soak up the beauty and invite the beauty to guide me (and have at the back of my mind survivorship bias which is also encoded into my list of privileges)

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 #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