Year of activism #27

Spent some time wandering around my local regional shopping centre yesterday. I haven’t visited more than a couple of times this year, which is not particularly COVID19 induced, it is more that I have not had a need to shop there or meet anyone there. Everytime I go I am struck by the energy of the place, lonely people wandering around to be in a place where they feel connected, families of Dads with their weekend access to their children stocking up on fast food credits to build favour with their kids; elderly people hooning around on their gophers; shop assistants doing all they can to smile and get a sale from customers who are really there to window shop. There is emptiness and fragility clinging in the air. I remember the main reason I don’t come often and that is it is not the kind of market place that draws me into the kind of community that will sustain me. Now I can see it is sustaining some of the people around me, but it is not for me. I notice all the plastics, the labels of Made in China, the disconnect of food from place, the eyes of children who seem to long for sunshine and impromptu surprises of adults who can co-create fun unenhanced by salt, sugar or technology.

It might sound like I am being judgemental and I am, I am judging the planners who thought enclosed malls were a good idea and the investors and shareholders who saw cash cows in retail laneways under one roof. I know that there are mini-communities hidden in these places – I have seen them too over the years. The group of walkers who meet and wander around to get their steps in together and then have a coffee at one of the chain coffee shops; the young shop assistants who befriend one another and have each others back when they take their first adventures into leaving home; the women in the clothing chain who have found a way to get the support they need for their fellow worker so she can leave her violent partner; the cleaners who get to laugh and talk in their first language and tell stories of their homeland. Yet, for me, these places are dying, they are signs of a used future, despite tiny attempts to bring a preferred future to birth with the red, yellow and green recycling receptacle choices in the food hall.

I love the market places that can be found outdoors or under tin roofs, and the shops that not subject to high rents and surrounded by acres of car parks. I love the places where the people where the people who work behind the counter live locally and can tell you the name of the place around the corner that sells what you are looking for. In this globally connected market, where online and fintech creates web-based shopping and community experiences, getting community to show up in the online economy and I noting down the cost of living in these spaces. Those words cost of living have been hanging in the air for me this week.

How about if we thought about the benefit of living? What if, we brought the benefits of living in a hyper local, hyper connected way to the fore and costed those into the experience of building community through our spend and economy? The cost of getting some products to market, literally can cost lives (think of the 1,134 Bangledeshi clothing workers killed in Dhaka in 2013), and the lives of other species (see the land clearing due to our chemical recipes for products as diverse as baby formula and toothpaste and impact on 10% of the planets reptiles, birds, mammals, insects). I am not sure where I am going with my thoughts on all this today, but I don’t think the meaning of life and I do think the cost of living is entombed in those western civilisation shopping malls. Finding measures for the benefits of living in ways that support and strengthen what it means to be alive, connected and knowingly held by our common efforts, however imperfect they might be will drive a new narrative. It might be recovering an old one too is going to be the best guide. Where community, economy and place were one, none of the dualism of retail and wholesale, home and away, us and them.

I have a sneaky suspicion that cost of (benefit) living market places might unite a number of activist threads – everything from banning single use plastic, to baby formulas made by local Mums, up-cycled and handmade garments circulating through and community co-op, online stores where the person you are buying from is someone you know or have met in your online community. I am wondering if the Sustainable Development Goals became as second nature to the planners, investors and marketeers we might all take a step closer to being in each others company and on this planet a little longer. Activating for impact one consumption at a time I guess is something the vegans and vegetarians have been doing for a while, I still have a long way to go, and think I will visit the mall once a month as a reminder for me to make better choices for the legacy I want to leave behind.

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??

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Year of activism #22

Across the world the last words of a dying man I can’t breathe has rallied people to rise us against structural racism. He wasn’t the first to utter them and sadly he won’t be the last. These words were also recorded as the last words of David Dungay Jr, a 26-year-old Dunghutti man from Kempsey, who died in police custody at Long Bay prison hospital in 2015. What does it mean to breathe? To have life in the body and then have it extinguished? The pressure of other bodies on yours, to be held face down, to be unable to move and to cry out with your last gasp of air must surely be terrifying.  We need to bring this story in, Australia.  Yesterday in my city thousands gathered in the Square. This public gathering space is in the shape of a Kaurna shield and its name in Kaurna is Tarntanyangga and the plain on which the city is known as Tandanya – land of red kangaroo dreaming. The square is known as Victoria Square and was named after the British monarch Princess Victoria who went on to become Queen Victoria. Her statue is at one end of the space now and towering above her are the Australian and Aboriginal flags. It is the place that the Aboriginal flag was first flown back on July 12 in 1971 NAIDOC (National Aborigines Day Observance Committee) Week.  I was in year 8 at the school closest to the Square and I can remember it happening as our school celebrated the week and the school I went to run by the Sisters of Mercy were (and continue to be) very involved in justice activities for Aboriginal peoples.  One of the elders Major Moogy Sumner got the crowd to look up to the flag yesterday and tell his story of how he was in the square when it was first flown.

This place was also the place where Pitjantjatjara Elders sat down and met,  before they approached Premier Don Dunstan about their Native Title claim. It took a few more years before the claim was law under Premier Tonkin. In SA we had the first land rights act prior to the 1967 Referendum (Aboriginal Lands Trust Act 1966 (SA) established the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust).

These are stories we should all know in South Australia and the square has both names Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square which gives me a lot of encouragement. Yesterday it became worthy of both those names.  Those of us non-indigenous people led by Aboriginal First Nations people, supported by non-indigenous black and brown people, supported by non-indigenous white people was the cadence of the day. I love to see the surge of people coming from all corners arriving into one place, the gathering of all the tribes of humanity under a watchful sky. The square, now a shield completely full and containing us all like a mother who has gathered up all her offspring.  Respect and solidarity were in the air and on everyone’s lips and in the applause and in the silences.

None of us can breath easy until there is a just settlement. It seems so fundamental to me the relationship between the land and people, and separation from land (and sea) manifests in our whole species and other species as well, being unable to breathe.  We have come to this junction brought to our knees by a virus.   I keep cycling back in my thinking to First Nations having borne the brunt of capitalism manifested in colonialism, founded on patriarchy – a kind of universal Father knows Best worldview.

Yesterday the First Nation voices were predominantly women across a number of generations, offering up their pain as a way into us getting a glimpse of what it means to be courageous and driven to use what breath there is in the body to be used to cry out for justice.  I was moved time and time again with the fountain in front of the speakers as it rose and fell and danced with the words. There were times when it seemed the water was programmed exactly to fall silent when space was needed, and rise higher when the applause grew lounder. It was so aligned – the water baptising, healing and washing away and celebrating calling us to renewal. It was profound and poetic. The words from Amos:But let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream quoted by Martin Luther King in his I have a Dream speech were echoing in my head and then the next speaker was from Memphis telling us his story as a young black man growing up in the shadows of the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated.  I am forever grateful to have visited there as part of the Gospel music tour I did in 2016 with Tony Backhouse. These connections and the universal structural racism I too perpetuate with my everyday white privilege is uncomfortable, but not life threatening. I will never be in a position where I have to fight for my own survival as an individual. 

I took this photo yesterday as I left the rally. The blue sky above and the rising eucalyptus trees grounded in the earth with the flag between them both. Let justice unfurl like a flag.

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Year of activism #21

Blowing off steam, having a rant, debriefing … what ever you want to call it … sometimes you need to make space to let excess energy and anger, disappointment, fear, anxiety take shape and be expressed. I’ve noticed over the years these moments in the life of an individual activist can leave them depleted, and in the life of a movement can take people into dangerous even explosive situations. They are often the moments where self-destruction seems only a breath away. Finding ways to do this safely and constructively requires discipline. For an individual it requires having quality friends and places where this can be done out of harm’s way.  It is necessary, and with its intensity can bring new insights and invitations.

This week I have watched at a distance the horror of the death of black man killed by a police officer on the streets in the Minneapolis. The rising up of outrage all over the world is too little too late for the man killed. The canaries in the coalmine of racism and inequity are now writ large on the consciousness of a nation.  In my own country institutionalised colonialism results in the deaths of Aboriginal people every day and the the life expectancy gap between Indigenous males and Indigenous females is 4 years (compared with 3.2 years for Non-Indigenous males and females) The life expectancy gap between Indigenous males and non-Indigenous males is 8.6 years (compared with 7.8 years for females). And then there is the 1987 Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody with around 300 recommendations, most of which are yet to be implemented. How we mourn, act in solidarity, educate, mobilise and how we don’t, causes our pain to seep out and take expression.

Very rarely in Australia are the non-white community so moved by injustice that they take to the streets.  This year is the 20th anniversary of walking across the bridges as part of National Reconciliation Week and I wonder how we might bring more of these actions into the public psyche by embedding them into our national calendar.  National Reconciliation Week ends with Mabo Day (June 3) and Bonita Mabo first called for making Mabo Day a public holiday after the death of her husband Eddie who took the action to the High Court that extinguished the falsehood of colonisation that Australia was uninhabited and with no laws over land and sea. Making public something that is invisible to many is one of the powerful ways we discover what is going on. The video footage of a man being murdered becomes grounds for a charge of murder, yet the institution and cultural context that breeds and fosters the behaviour of the individual or small group may not be held accountable or changed.  In Australia, no police officer or correctional services person has been charged over a death in custody.  There have been 400 deaths since the end of the Royal Commission in 1991. We are not descending into civil war on the streets, however the war of occupation continues and manifests itself in the diabetes clinics, in the lack of access to health and education, telecommunications, food supply chains, number of arrests and incarcerations.

I have always struggled with the flag. Seeing the Australian flag with the Union Jack in the corner is a constant reminder to me of our colonial story. I am living in a neighbourhood now that seems to have an abundance of flag poles and flags appear from time to time. I have a small Aboriginal flag in my office, which I have had for decades and it sits behind me, and has usually been up high to remind me I live and work under the sovereignty of a nation that has not had a treaty, on land that has never been ceded.  It’s National Reconciliation Week and I have been trying to figure out a way to pay my respects in a more public way. I have signed up for A Sign of Respect and  my sign arrived and I will organise to get it onto the front of my house.  It arrived with some guidance and gratitude. It also had a disclaimer on it about the social enterprise not being responsible for any damage that might happen to property where the sign was put up.  That stopped me in my tracks. It was a window into the meaning of solidarity.  It’s a small sign of respect and I live in a small street in a small seaside community.

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ps I also want to reprise and remember the Deliberative Poll we did in Canberra in 2001 which brought together almost 300 randomly selected Australians to consider reconciliation and black and white relations in Australia. It was an emotionally charged extraordinary process that took the team to remote, regional and urban places. It culminated in a two day event at Old Parliament House. You can see the 3 minute trailer here. It changed lives forever. I had the privilege of being the lead facilitator, supporting recruitment and training the team of volunteer facilitators for the two-day piece of the process. co-designing and supporting Dr Pam Ryan with the initiative. I am forever grateful for the opportunity. 

Year of activism #20

Celebrations are the result of something that has accumulated – maybe it is years like in birthdays, or profits like in an annual report, or effort like in a win in sport or opening night in the arts.  Celebrations are at the threshold of one stage coming to a completion and a new one about to begin. Just as a new baby being welcomed into a family, the addition of new person into a team or neighbour into a street, arrival is also the end of something else. In the life of the activist, celebrations are often few and far between, when we don’t stop to acknowledge the incremental achievements and completion of a set of tasks or moment in the journey to a longed for destination.

I remember Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary) being asked a question by some college students about the changes she had seen in her lifetime and she recalled an earlier time in her career when she was playing gigs to segregated audiences on campuses and at the end of her career that was no longer the case. She was explaining that sometimes you have to look over time to see the big changes. The trio she was a part of never lost sight of their values and dreams and lived to see many of the civil rights they were the soundtrack for play out over their life times.  Making time to notice the small steps along the way is honouring all that has gone before and taking the moment to recognize that you have arrived at a new threshold. I don’t think enough activists pause to celebrate.

I am thinking every birthday party of activism. A pause to blow out the candles to say look how far we have come, what have we done this past year, who have we been, where have we travelled inside and out and then with a puff the candles are out and the new year begins.  I have never been a great one for birthday cakes but when I turned 60 in 2018, it came at the end of what had and will be a hard year to beat, for adversity and insatiable grief.  I had a cake and I blew out the candles and in a gust of acclamation that I had survived. I was not triumphant, I was relieved to have arrived at a new beginning and wondered what lay ahead, knowing because of what had been before I had built resilient muscle through a broken heart that would keep being broken again and again.

I think there are some lessons here for the activist.  We arrive to a new season and if we take the time to stop and blow out the candles we can gather up the lessons of the time that got us to this threshold and in the pause hold on to what has been built and notice what new point has landed. Then with a metaphorical deep breath, exhale into the new landing.   There will be bruises, wounds to tend and wholeheartedness has a chance to regroup – the celebratory moment can help with that. Sometimes there has been friendly fire, own goals and collateral damage very close to home.  This is the time to also ask for forgiveness, recognise that healing brings hope and like the new moon, the empty candles signify its time to cycle through another season. There is work to do and you are ready, once the bubbles have faded and the candles extinguished and you are fuelled and re-energized by the celebration.  The rhythm seems to be: do the work, stop, light the candles, turn off the lights, blow the candles out, turn on the lights, start again.

So here’s to the activist:

May you have candles to light and to blow out.  May you make the time to notice your wins along the way, acclaim who and what has brought you to the moment of celebration and may you joyfully and gently open to the new threshold waiting for you to arrive.

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Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

PS Chooks SA the movement I started to close the gender investment gap turns 3 this week. It coincides with my appointment to the South Australian Entrepreneurship Advisory Board to the Chief Entrepreneur and State minister for Industry and Skills. I am going to remember to have candles and cake as the Hen House Co-op which is one of the initiatives of Chooks begins its next phase to find more women who are ready to start co-ops and their own social enterprises.

 

Year of activism #19

Having a morning stretch while still lying in bed is the forecast, what might be possible to get to the edges without having to move out of a comfort zone?  To get to the edges, do some unfurling and find the part where you end and the expanse of everything else around you brings an invitation to go (as John O’Donohue says) a bit beyond yourself.

What is that bit beyond your self? The self that contains all of us with our fears, our frustrations, our courage, our inspirations, our dreams. The self that creeps into new places that we don’t quite yet inhabit but edge towards or away from as we meet the expanse.  The self that glides through the world, taking for granted all the edges it meets along the way. What is that bit beyond your self?

Listening to the community of lorikeets in the flowering gum across the road each morning as I unfold with a stretch, I am reminded by their chatter, how we are all listening to conversations that happen in the sanctuary of a home. Their home is the tree that shelters, feeds, provides a place for communion, a chance to bring news from the outside in, a place where generations can nest and be nudged to flight.  The home is an extension of ourselves and a place to stretch. It is where activism is born.  The stretch in a comfort zone to give you the practice and opportunity for discipline for the kind of world you want to live in.  It might start with a goal to grow vegetables, or to not bring single use plastic into it, maybe more ambition like solar panels, and recycling grey water for those that own their homes. It might be that as you arrive and leave where you live you appreciate and take up your role as a health activist and make sure you wash your hands before you leave and before you come back.

Activism starts at home in a comfort zone and with a stretch.  It might not be a very big stretch, however if we got to the edges of the stretch where might that take us?  I am inspired by all the people around the world who are doing all they can with what they have to make a difference in climate change, but these individual efforts will never be enough. It has taken a virus, something small, something that can be found in any home to give us a wake up call. Yet not everyone is awake and with one in five people in UK nursing homes dying of the virus and places like the USA and Brazil still not flattening the curve it is becoming more and more clear I hope for the peoples of the world to learn the lesson between private pain and public policy.  This lesson is at the heart of social work, my chosen profession and it still what I stretch into each day. It is the soil in which my activism seeds were sewn and my Catholic social teaching and faith was the fertiliser that saw it grow over the years. I am always curious about where other people’s roots are and how deep they are, if they can stretch out far and wide or are held close to home. It helps me celebrate the contributions they are making and gives me insights and invitations to stretch as well.

I was listening to a concert last night where Paul Kelly talked about Archie Roach as a singer songwriter who could create a song so personal and so political better than anyone else he knew.  I think this is the essence of the activist, to bring as much of your whole self to the story, to the edges and this happens by stretching out into the void, to the extremities of your self to meet the shore of possibilities.

So have a stretch, in your comfort zone, and see where it takes you.

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Year of activism #18

There is a lot to be said for working from an abundance over scarcity worldview. Where there is enough time, enough resources, enough opportunities, enough skills and energy to go around – this maybe the Pollyanna in me – but it does seem to help if I work from abundance. I was introduced to the book A Beautiful Constraint a couple of years ago when I was doing Seth Godin’s altMBA and it released inside of me the power of the constraint as a gift of abundance and since then I have railed against the idea of containment and conservation and embraced more of the radical around boundaries as gift and freedom. This seems to work for activism too as it taps into hope and possibilities and plumbs into improvised creativity, using what you have got rather than languishing for what is missing or in deficit.  In the work of community mobiliser and community developer Cormac Russell‘s work it turns up in his mantra – work with what’s strong not wrong.

Of course there are times when you have to go beyond yourself and into the dark edges of the unknown to get what is needed to make a change. I do however, continue to be inspired by seeing how much can be done with what is already there and in the stripping back getting more.  The pandemic has provided this opportunity more than once in democracies like Australia, where the flick of a pen has enabled the potential for universal basic income to be tasted and lets see how that starts to shape up in the public discourse.

Going to the end of our discomfort and then seeing what is there in that place is going to be a challenge for us all in places of privilege, what will we give up to unlock and unleash potential for others?  Travel? A bigger contribution to the public purse? Time to volunteer for things important for our planet? These are already with us and we don’t need to wait for legislation or a politician to tell us what to do. If you see inequity you can do something small in your own sphere of influence and then invite others to join you, or you can also keep quietly going about it in your own way and start noticing all the others around the world doing the same thing.  We are part of an invisible movement named by Paul Hawken as Blessed Unrest and everyone’s contribution how big or small is making a difference. I have found, feeling part of a movement can help with the feelings of isolation, insignificance and irrelevance.

All around me, I see young people taking up the fight for climate change and while I want to see more of them and more of my generation, they are there and I want to surround myself with that knowledge and ask my peers to join in. I see the retro suburbia movement growing every day, and fun and joy being spread by people dressing up to put out their waste (surely a sign that the next wave will be about waste management?). I see the power of song and dance and creativity on line in times of isolation where people can’t help but continue to share their gifts. I also see the wrath of neglect and power of leaders who refuse to let go of their machismo and I grieve for Brazil and the USA in particular here. This is juxtaposed though by the leadership of amazing women in democracies who are showing what is possible and translating compassion, play and indeed beautiful constraints into public policy. Jacinda Adern posting a message this week from a home made children’s fort to her nation via Facebook was not lost on me as a powerful message of the child at the centre of decision-making, unleashing the wisdom of the inner child and holding strong in the flimsy and impermanence of cardboard creations.

As one of the group who joined me this week in my weekly Happy Hour on line said now that the parks are open – if you see a swing, get on it! Play your way to the future you want to shape. Unleash your inner child to lead your activism.