Tag Archives: activism

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.


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 #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.


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.


Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Year of activism #16

A lot of people are lonely during this pandemic and I am one of them, but I am not alone. There is a difference.

I have been reflecting on the relationship between loneliness and activism. So many activists start off as the lone nut (it is one of my favourite videos about leadership, so if you haven’t seen it click here for a three minute lesson). In our times think Greta on her own outside of the Swedish parliament, or Vincent Lingiari walking off a cattle station and going on strike, or Mary Lee setting out to change the age of consent from 13 to 16 and starting that pretty much on her own.  In these times of isolation, it is easy to feel lonely especially if you are the solitary person in your house. This of course is also a privilege and one not afforded to most of our species.

In these times being isolated is calling forth new ways to mobilise. The keyboard warriors of petitions and letters are being seen for what they really are just old style campaigning in a digital form. Transformative methods of mobilising are emerging. I can see glimpses from artists holding concerts on line and communities of fans fund raising to keep art and music in the public domain. I can see facilitation tools being employed in digital spaces and forcing innovations in exiting products and tools.  I can see value being created without the exchange of money.  I can see gratitude being expressed in song and story by creatives who are reaching out to health care workers.  I have a sense that something else is brewing and the yearning for community that is not founded on digital platforms.  For places on the planet where lockdown has been possible and in places where it has been impossible will be the two ends of the extremes and what is happening in the messy middle could well be birthing some new ways forward. I am looking forward to seeing what will happen from this space and time where people have been lonely.

Loneliness is a craving for connection. Joining an idea for change with being lonely is maybe a super power for activists?  For years working in volunteering, I discovered so many people who took up volunteering to manage their loneliness and I used to talk about how their volunteering was their activism to them.  My line was – you can vote every few years for the kind of government you want; but every time you volunteer you are voting with your hands, heart, feet, mind,  for the kind of world you want to live in.  It always went down well and helped build the foundations for volunteers to see themselves as not being solitary givers of their time and talents, but making a huge contribution to health, literacy, well being, access, equity, safety. Being connected to these big ticket items and re-framing see your antidote to loneliness as addressing the inequity ledger is reflection and action coming together. What might have started as self support can turn into something way beyond yourself.

Loneliness maybe a crucible for an activist to emerge, being able to reflect and discern what is uncomfortable, what doesn’t feel just or right.  I have a hunch that there is a new age of activism dawning. After all, now we can see what it looks like to have clean air, to notice rivers less polluted, to value the place of high quality publicly funded health care, to be prepared and know public funds can be released to provide minimum income, to discover what leadership looks like in times of crisis and who we are drawn to in their leadership and equally what qualities repel us, to appreciate science and interpretations of data at population level … and the litany goes on.  Let loneliness be the activists friend and see what emerges when the experience of being disconnected is embraced.

Being lonely is not being alone. And the lone nut is an invitation to followers and may well be the beginning of starting a movement.


Photo by George Coletrain on Unsplash


Year of activism #15

Was on a zoom (no surprises there) during the week and an entrepreneur talked about how she wasn’t an activist, she was an activator, she wasn’t a protestor, she was a producer. I admire her work, tenacity and innovation. I loved her re-frame to see herself and help build a bridge for others to see her contribution to the world as adding to balance sheets and midwifery for a new world she is co-creating. Her name is Yasmin Grigaliunas and her imagination for people, planet and purpose has made the World’s Biggest Garage Sale.

I think all activists are activators. As activists we inviting others to join us. We are creating opportunities to participate and demonstrate what it is being called for to emerge out of what is not working into the light, to offer a glimpse at what the future might look like.  We are seeking often to unlock hearts and minds, to shift thinking to action, to build build and grow movements that will alter the course of history and are unwilling to accept that things will go on as they always have done, that the small incremental changes or even retrofitting isn’t enough. We are seeking changes that shift underlying assumptions, expectations and the behaviours that keep the status quo in place.

You can always tell if activists are getting traction because the push-back arrives. The ”yes but” , ” it wouldn’t work here”,  “not quite the right time” messages start to escalate into gaslighting. It starts as messages like You’re crazy. Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t be paranoid. I was just joking! … I’m worried; I think you’re not well.  And then turns into wholesale fake news and this is something the activist needs to be wary of as go about changemaking at scale.  Whole populations get marginalised, treated like they don’t belong, they are defective, have a message, experience that must not be taken seriously and needs to be ridiculed, diminished and can’t be accommodated by those holding power. This is also a sign that the power is beginning to shift. It is a dangerous time. We are in these times and the most profound example of this happening at scale is in the USA with their elected officials around the pandemic.

But they are not orphans in their experience.

Marginalisation and coveting the other as outside the norm, the preferred worldview of those in power is familiar territory to First Nations the world over. It is familiar to the early environmental activists, in Australia my mind goes to those who held the Franklin-Gordon river system in Tasmania. The power of making something invisible, visible through the photography of Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis. Through the eyes of these two Latvians, the whole world got to see what was at stake in this World Heritage area.

Activists have all kinds of ways to bring what they can see to help others to see as well – I think this is what happens when we activate. We make visible to others what we can see.

There seems to me to be preservation, reservation, conservation but most of all imagination so we can all see ourselves into the future. When I think about preservation, what we are preserving is often set with something else – alcohol, salt, sugar perhaps – we know it needs some kind of protection to last. Sometimes it is buried and hidden away to come out at the prescribed time. Maybe there is something you need to preserve right now so it can be reclaimed in the future. Reservation is more about setting aside, keeping something in its original state, protected and saved up for a rainy day.  Conservation is about helping things last as long as possible, it often includes rationing and eeking out the supply slowly and maybe also include some rehabilitation back to a natural state.  But it is imagination that transforms and transcends – to see something that is not already there. In these times when there is a convergence of crisis, it isn’t going to be enough to adjust and tweak. It is time to be radical.

Calling yourself an activator and an activist is a radical act. We are all co-creating our future every day by the choices we make, by how we hear and respond to fake news at the personal level and in the global arena. Our activism can start small with noticing the beauty around us, calling out gaslighting and initiatives that take us to the next level of radical. It might begin with a small step, like taking a photograph, or recycling something and beginning your piece of the circular economy, but whatever it is – this is a time for imaginations to produce and protest.

2020 Year of activism #1

The year has started for me in Mexico City and it is a fine place to get an apprenticeship in revolution. From bullet holes attributed to Pancho to the student protests of 68, to the countless acts of courage against state and organised crime violence, there is no doubting the human spirit is constantly seeking to be liberated from oppression of all kinds.

One of the lessons in revolution, is there is a cost. Sometimes that cost is in lives. And in my own country Australia, and so close to home, those who have lost their lives in the fires and may come to be known by future generations as climate change martyrs. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last. If Mexico is going to provide me with another lesson on this front, I am worried that we don’t learn and in fact just keep repeating our mistakes and there is no real turn around in power, equity and justice.

Another lesson is the importance of sticking together and being family where-ever you can. Family comes in many forms, but the centrality of making decisions from the perspective of a child and what they will inherit is as good a compass as any. One of my lessons from my Aboriginal friends is the essential connection of being family and if it is not in the DNA then it comes by the relationship – through desgnations of aunty, uncle, sister, brother. If we think of everyone as family where will that take us? The centrality of Earth as our Mother can only help us take the steps we need to take to heal and build a future not so anthropocentric.

A third lesson is air quality – and not just the amount of toxins in the air – but how we share air space in conversaions and where the air stops us in our tracks to get down deep inside of us to ensure our body knows just what it means to have the life sucked out of us if we keep behaving like we do – polluting the air with words that don’t serve us and poisons to kill us. Mexico City is a place traditionally known for its poor air quality was not the worst place on the planet this past week, in fact my home town of Adelaide took that honour as the smoke and ash from Kangaroo Island blew into town. The pristine ecologically significant place now wrestling with some species at the point of extinction and with almost half of the land burnt, literally millions of creatures dead including two humans – a father and son – another example of what it means to be family.

The quality of conversations, sharing the air space, making room for the quiet voices, listening with a compassionate heart, finding ways for all the voices to be heard and coming to clarity that is greater than the sum of all the voices into one united voice is one of the great challenges of our time in the crowded spaces. High quality space and holding spaces where diversity can co-exist and anxieties can come to rest with compassion are skills for this time.

While I have been on the other side of the planet, and the irony of this experience is not lost on me, another lesson I have been gifted is the gift of distance. Being outside of your own context often gives you some time and space to see things a little more clearly. It doesn’t need to disconnect you from what is going on (thank you email, social media and internet). In spite of being here to be with some of my family, I have also been supporting the online community I founded to write a climate emergency statement, get organised and continue sharing their goals and aspirations. I have also been able to dip into actions of others and bring my values and experience to decision making for events and governance in organisations that I am involved with. Different time zones have their advantages and I have benefiited from that for decades now, this really helps me connect to the global citizenship experience. For me, it is the act local, think global adage, in practice.

The practice of staying connected, and being apart, feels like the heart of my reflection this week. Keeping space for both is the balancing act. I arrived when the moon was new and am leaving when it is full, having been at the steps of the Pyramid to the Moon in between.

A Blessing for Stability

May you have time to be still, when the world is a whirlwind.

May you have space to stand, when the Cathedral is choking with bodies.

May you have stairs to climb, when the ancients call you.

May you have tears to spare, when young ones seek you.

May you have internet access, when your signature is needed.

May you have funds to donate, when your House is on fire.

May you have a laugh in your belly, when the sobs stop falling.

May you have sun rays and moon light, when darkness descends.

May you have generous guides, when you don’t know what you are in for.

May you have the wisdom to know this is all an apprenticeship.

May you have seeds offered to you, when you have no idea of what they might yield.

And may you be blessed with a compass stable enough, to point you in the direction you need to revolve towards.

Seeds from Erythrina Americana a plant that is native to Mexico, attracts hummingbirds, provides colour and is used by children in play as little weapons because of its spiky flowers. These seeds were at the Teotihuacan Pryamids.

Dancing with Speeches #34 Jesse Williams

At the end of June, Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams received the Humanitarian award from Black Entertainment TV. His speech was widely acclaimed by his peers in the industry for its direct and uncompromising statements around racism, activists on the front line, organised resistance and those making money out of the industry.  WIlliams is being touted as the new Harry Belafonte – 60s black rights activist.

Read the Full Transcript of Jesse Williams’ Powerful Speech on Race at the BET Awards


It’s never too early or too late to thank your parents, your teachers and the ones you choose yourself to share your life and who invite you into theirs.

The equation of one and one is never two, there is always a multiplier effect, even when we act as if we are alone we aren’t – all the DNA has come from somewhere and we join our story to others and our story comes from others. We are part of an amazing system of molecules and moments whirring together through time and space and somehow collide and we are formed – a temporary configuration that will whirl away in good time too.

As the droplets of water erode the hardest of rocks, so will molecules mobilizing for equity give birth to movements where justice stands tall and inequality, discrimination and prejudice dissolve.   Erosion of hate and fear starts with the salt water of tears. There is no other place to start. Without the tears, the anguish and the tide of anger cannot rise. More than a king tide, we have a tsunami of emotion rolling in from the horizon – and when it hits land there will be damage. The deaths of young blacks on the streets of the USA are collateral canaries in the inequity coal mine of that country and the reality TV show that is this year’s Presidential election is just adding more fuel to that fire. Here in Australia we don’t have far to look, colonialism has left a gap that is taking generations to resolve and the idea that equality and equity are around the corner for the oldest of cultures on our planet is not going to happen in my lifetime.

What would freedom from infant mortality look like? Or freedom from premature death? Or freedom from kidney disease? Or freedom from child abuse? Or freedom from violence? And more importantly, what would it take?  We have some taking to do!  How about taking away racism, intolerance, ignorance? How about taking away disease and despair? How about taking away fear?

Get to know the history and understand.  Lets start with a tear and an ache, lets build on each sob and hear a guttural cry goading us to be our best selves and add magic to our molecules and see a flash mob dancing, mobilized, keeping it real and moving to a freedom beat. Get yourself organised, get organising.