Notifications are pinging and buzzing and tinkling all day and night as ballot papers are now starting to arrive. Each alert letting me know a message has arrived that needs some kind of response. I feel like a mother with a dozen toddlers all vying for my attention. This season will be short and intense. My inbox has received enquiries about my views on issues that have little or nothing to do with local council responsibilities. Some emails come from places of deep fear and designed for ‘gotcha’ moments and are almost anonymous giving no more than a gossamer of legitimacy to them. I respond to them by referring them to my website which has plenty of information and try not to get distracted or disturbed which is their primary intent. I expect these people are really my opponents in sheep’s clothing. Others are from places of confusion and are seeking reassurance and clarity – my response to these is to point them to original and official sources of information. The third kind are those seeking support for their cause or concern. These correspondents are using their enquiry to weigh up where they are going to spend their vote. These notes encourage me to work for their vote and I lean into them. So here is a story about one of those emails.
I received an email from a young person via her father’s email account. She lived in a pocket of housing near a valley that is also a water course that feeds into the river the council is named after. This suburb is one on the lower end of the socio-economic index for the region. It is full of working families and is densely populated and growing at a high rate in the past four years. The writer was an eleven-year-old girl who wants her playground upgraded, specifically to have more equipment for older children to play on, a nature play space and some more facilities for families to gather. I said I would like to meet her and perhaps she could invite some of her neighbours to join her and we could talk. She took my invitation and made fliers and with her sibling’s door knocked the streets around her home. We made a date and a time. I decided to invite the youngest person running for council in these elections to join me as the area he is running for is where her family live. I thought it would be great for them to meet. I kept thinking of Greta Thunberg who was the same age when she went as sat outside of her parliament and thereby began Fridays for the Future. And we all know the power of what one person can do and the inspiration of one young girl!
When I arrived for our meeting, she was there with her family and within a few minutes more and more people started to arrive over the hill. Mums and Dads, babies in pushers, toddlers, young teens with skateboards under their arms, a grandparent with her grandchildren – all came. This eleven-year-old had managed to mobilise her neighbourhood, with the support of her dad’s printer and her tenacity.
We met in the playground and asked everyone what they wanted to see in the space and why. The overwhelming themes were features for older children, places for families to gather and build more community, more trees, a safe pathway to the river, features to fit into the natural landscape, recognition of Aboriginal knowledge and information about the place and its relationship to the river, and access for all. Amongst the group of grown-ups were marketing specialists, a start-up founder, tertiary students, a Memphis blues enthusiast, stay at home parents, a visiting grandmother, and an edible garden expert. The age range of the children was a babe in arms to late teenage. Many of the people who were there had not met each other before – I was witnessing the beginning of a neighbourhood coming together in a new way. This eleven-year-old was playing the role of a community building midwife.
As our conversation came to an end families stayed around to chat to each other, play on the old and neglected equipment and compare notes about living in Noarlunga Downs. I was asked what next step they could take together, and I explained with or without an election they could put in to do a deputation to Council and I truly hope I will be in the chamber to hear it. But if I do not get elected, I will certainly be there to support and cheer them on.
This is how we build literacy in our democracy, and this is at the heart of why I am running. I am using this opportunity to support people to have their voices heard, how to raise them and to invite them into the systems that exist and create the spaces for new ones. The campaign has involved over one hundred volunteers, some who have never campaigned for anything before. Several people who have offered help because they felt inspired by my household letter and wanted to help, a couple of people who have letterboxed for me and told me explicitly that it has helped their mental health and they feel better than they have felt for months.
Building community is the antidote for toxic individuality. The young resident of Noarlunga Downs made that truth visible in her efforts and I hope my response to her and what we might be able to do together in the future is now more visible to her and her neighbourhood.