Tag Archives: democracy

Mycelium 2023 #4 : Reading Challenge

Strengthening the undergrowth starts by feeding the soil and helping the spores land in fertile soil. This week I had a glorious experience of being at the finale of the Mayor’s Summer Reading Challenge. This is a summer holidays activity where school age children are set a challenge. It was all set to start just after I was elected and I talked with the team leader delivering the program in my earliest days in the new role to see how the program could be taken to the next level.  As a result the number of books to be read to complete the challenge went up to seven books and an additional quest was added in for those who wanted to be extended a little bit more which was to visit all six libraries, and we added in some features about the books to be read such as something about First Nations and something about climate.  

Around 240 young readers signed up for the challenge and seventy were there for the Finale to receive their certificates from me and a free book. 34 of the readers completed the extra piece of visiting all six libraries. One Mum told me they did their “Great Race” in one day calculating distances between libraries, how much time they could spend at each location, and building a whole day out around the locations.  Enthusiastic staff commented on the high amount of engagement with readers coming in, parents sharing their old favourites from childhood and borrowing more books themselves.

When I arrived at the host library site, there were over a 100 children, adults and staff ready to celebrate their efforts. As 2pm arrived the room stilled to silence, there was no big announcement, no bell to say we were starting the room just fell respectfully into silence. Such a contrast to the experience I had on Tuesday night at the Council meeting where before I had started the meeting a person from the Gallery was yelling at me and then the meeting had to be adjourned because of public disturbance and an inability for the public to be quiet enough to hear proceedings. If you’ve been following along you will know there were around 20 police and security involved to clear the Council building. The stories are all in the media so you will find them there. But back to the quiet of the library. I am moved by this action of families and children getting ready to listen and to acknowledge their achievements.  Books and learning are the spores and libraries are central institution to democracy.

As the silence opened up the space, the librarian who led the project welcomed and thanked everyone for coming and introduced me as their Mayor. I got such a warm round of applause – it was very heartening. Then I sat on the stage, microphone in hand and gave them a big smile and started with Ninna Marni (how are you in Kaurna) and all the children replied back Marni Aii (we’re good). I thought I was going to burst with pride and joy  – a generation ago this would not have happened. In fact on that very site, the day I was there when we broke ground for the Seaford Ecumenical Mission to be built which is across the road from the library, we raised an Australian flag and I felt sick from what seemed like yet another act of colonialism on the unceded Kaurna Yerta. But here I was siting down and hearing these words back at me and I swelled with hope and courage to keep going on this path, these young ones taking leadership and showing so simply that they already know this, they are growing up with this knowledge.

After this simple greeting I told them what my favourite book was when I was a young reader (FYI – the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and how books are places to go when we want to laugh, learn something, have our imaginations fed and to be opened up to new and different ideas and have our minds blown in imaginative worlds. I told them how next year their job is to recruit one more person each to the challenge so my arm will ache from having to sign so many certificates. I told them to give themselves a pat of the back for their good work and a big hug to remind them that they love learning through reading.  This is how we grow mycelium for hope, building on what works, what is fertile and what we already have in our midst.

The libraries of Onkaparinga announced on Friday my next adventure with them which is me going to do reading a story at each of the libraries with the toddler groups throughout the year. When I was campaigning to get elected this was an idea I came up with inspired to some extent by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When he was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement he set about only talking to young people under 30 for some years as he felt the future was with them and so that change was always going to come from their efforts. I have taken that lesson and am starting small with the reading challenge and now story-time. I will be looking for more ways to connect with the young one as they step into their everyday leadership.

Out in the bush and forests of local government and across my Council I will be foraging for fruits that can be harvested to help us with our discernment and decision-making. I will be fostering the growth of mycelium down pathways of curiosity, equity and justice, and reminding myself that out of the decay and humus grows goodness.

My mum was a junior primary teacher and had a mantra: “The more you read, the more you grow, the more you grow the more you read, so read, read read.”  In this day and age with so much fake news, algorithms that grow destructive pathways and people find it hard to navigate what is real and what is fantasy, libraries as a source of truth are going to become even more important. They can be trusted spaces and places to help secure democracy. Get along to a library soon, send your love to a librarian you know they are the information guardians and technicians of our past, present and future. Share stories and be a storyteller, build mycelium for good.

Sparks will fly #2 #NewYork

Here are four sparks from the week. Sparks that have ignited my soul and warmed me in the cool of winter in North America.  Sparks releasing energy to give light and shade. Sparks offering promise and revealing potential. Sparks from the soles of the shoes of this pilgrim that has taken me across the world and home again safely thanks to the generosity of a few and kindness of many along the way.

Spark 1

Simmering thoughts bubbling up in anger sooner or later turn into sparks of inspiration and seem through their friction to open up new possibilities when allowing those sparks to transform and expand their energy. Holding on to the fuse and not letting the energy find its way out can be a source of constriction, pain or at a minimum exasperation.  Wandering around some of the world’s greatest art spaces these past two weeks I was particularly struck by the power of anger as creative energy to get thoughts expressed and forced out through tear ducts, paint brushes and stone.  Solid objects chiselled and honed into beauty through disappointment, fear or aching neglect and words spilling out onto stages where the receptacles of open hearts and minds took the offering to deeper levels as we internalised meaning and applied to our lives. I have been reflecting about what it might look like in my practice and my work to leave nothing left unsaid and bring every single cell of my being into view for public display. The creative soul expressed is vulnerability writ large and empathy unplugged.

Spark 2

Sparks of light creating the in-between spaces and the shadows as well – there are always shadows – to fully accept what is being revealed is to also recognise the shadow created. I have recently been introduced to the contemplative practice of miksang. The Tibetan word means ‘good eye’ and is about the eye being synchronised with the contemplative mind through photography.  It seems to be about seeing as is, empty and free of interpretation. It is based on the Dharma Art teachings of Chogyam Trungpa.  I have not taken a course or read much about it, I have a friend who is a practitioner and I have taken some offerings and suggestions from her as well as witnessed her practice which I have found invitational. I added my immature and beginning steps into miksang with a kind of walking meditation, wandering where my feet took me without a specific destination in mind and tried not to have too many plans to take a right or a left.  It has been refreshing to see as is and to notice what is given and to receive the what is without interpretation, to feel into the seeing. It has led to multiple ways of seeing what is before me, both in real time and in reflection and then again when reviewing photos seeing again with new insights, shadows, patterns, hidden messages in reflected glass, surprising shapes and camouflaged insights revealed more fully a few days later.

Spark 3

Outside of the window I called home for two weeks Lady Liberty was pointing her torch to guide the way as ships came in and out of the river basin into the Atlantic. The Iroquois called it, the Muhhekuntuk, the river that flows both ways, because near the Atlantic it flows north and where it begins in Lake Tear of the Clouds it flows south.  Every day the elements re-arranged themselves around the skyline punctuated by skyscrapers to reveal plenty of light and shade and to offer nuanced ways of seeing the landscape. The sun sometimes casting a beam in between buildings to light up a dark wind tunnel alley way to give some warmth, the clouds closing over to being a mood setting to the scene on a dock worthy of a dramatic New York method acting stage, the twinkling lights acting as a join the dot game for young lovers to play as they set a course for their future.

Spark 4

Being in the USA and soaking up the political climate as well was to recognise the sparks of change igniting a nation that is re-correcting itself post the mid-term elections. The politics of relevance is at play and democracy is in the light and in the shadows. As the extremes define the middle new voices are arriving. The rise of young women in Congress are thrilling for many and terrifying for a few. The reclamation of the gavel by a grandmother is giving comfort and confidence to many in the middle and the juxtaposition with the grandfather in the White House is another expression of the gender wars reverberating around the world. I am so encouraged and enthralled by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who The spark in her is a raging fire, not yet thirty she understands the urgency of this time and is not waiting in line, not waiting for her turn, who is arriving ready, with an agenda to take care of business.  Like the artists she is using her spark to create for us to see what might be hidden, to offer another way of seeing and understanding what might be in front of our eyes. There is discipline in this practice of democracy and she is not leaving anything in the locker room – all of her is being brought into view.




Dancing with Speeches #25 Eleanor Roosevelt

In 1936 Eleanor Roosevelt gave a speech to the US on the meaning of libraries. The love of books and the health of a democracy are inextricably bound. We know that what was ahead was the burning of books in WW2 was a sign of the rise of fascism and the Grim Reaper’s call of death to dangerous ideas. Stimulating the reading of the same book by large groups of people can build the foundations of a movement and create public discourse. The health of libraries is a barometer for the health of democracy.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s speech talks about receiving a letter from a man in his late 70s who together with his neighbour in his 80s, had learnt to read their last winter at their local library and in doing so had new worlds open to them. He was writing to the First Lady because he was disturbed to find out that in the time of depression the adult education classes funding had been cut and this winter there would not be such classes. The winter had provided a safe, warm comfortable place to gather with neighbours to learn and connect. It had built a future where before they felt there wasn’t one.

I saw on facebook last night a friend of mine who is a librarian in Sydney was hosting a session for Mandarin speaking people on what the Australian electoral system was all about and how to vote as preparation for the upcoming Federal election. In the safety and security of the library questions were asked, ideas explored, participation in democracy enabled. I had a conversation with a co-worker during the week, where she shared a story of being a child on an island off the coast of Britain and that a few doors down from her house was the local library. It was the place she could be found at least once a week soaking up new books, discovering new ideas and building a life long love of reading. Yet another person told me on public transport what book their Book Club was reading and how they had waited for a while as their local library had the book they wanted on a wait list as it was in so much demand by other book clubs.

Libraries are in the baseline of our communal expression – a place to learn to read, to love books, to meet others, to join in with decision-making, to come in from the cold of old ideas and real time warmth in winter.

I had the amazing good fortune to work on Tomorrow’s Libraries a study and recommendations for South Australia and the same messages of literacy, social cohesion, tolerance, informed decision-making and a better start in life for children came out over and over again. The place of libraries still front and centre of these pillars of democracy.

The future of public libraries lies in the value they create from the nexus of people, place, knowledge and technology to create a platform for learning, participation, creativity, innovation and well-being.

Although there are other community and commercial places that provide opportunities for meeting and activity, the public library is the only institution that brings these things together for community and society’s benefit. Through the library people can engage, learn and participate and be introduced to new ideas and technologies in a safe and supportive environment. The value of this mix of assets and resources should not be underestimated.

The future of public library services is underpinned by the following values:

  • Equity of access: anyone regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, age or ability is welcom
  • Freedom of expression: a diversity of points of view is represented in a library’s collections
  • Right to know: learning and access to ideas and knowledge is a universal right
  • Trust: in the quality of the information, services and staff

matilda mrs phelpsI recently got to see the Melbourne production of Tim Minchin’s musical of the Roald Dahl book “Matilda” it was an amazing set and framed by words and a library, a receptacle of music, dancing, discovery, and great story telling! Row of books hid villains, held secrets, offered listening ears and audiences to wild and wonderful tales. The librarian’s role of witness was a still point for reflection and hosted the story and its teller. Mrs Phelps the librarian gives the right of passage ticket – a library card – to enable the Reader (Matilda) to take books home! This simple act is the first time an adult gifts the child,  and from then on there is no stopping Matilda taking up her power. This delivers to her rights, responsibilities and capacity to recognised for her genius. Just imagine all  the librarians who have done this for other children throughout the ages!

There is a generous and gorgeous collection of photos from the USA about the power of public libraries from Robert Dawson. In the foreward of this book Bill Moyers says: “When the library is being reinvented in response to the explosion of information and knowledge, promiscuous budget cuts in the name of austerity, new technology and changing needs . . . Dawson shows us . . . what is at stake—when the library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open, too.”

It was in the depression that Eleanor Roosevelt found the power of libraries so vital that she spoke to the nation, and it is a message as relevant today for the USA and rest of the world. Hatred and fear comes from infertile soil. There has never been a more important time for the power of the institution of the public library to rise and shine and mobilise and heal. I fear if I did research on the places where there is mayhem and division I might find a direct correlation with non-existent or seriously under funded libraries.


Eleanor Roosevelt and Nikita Khruschchev at the Franklin D Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park 1959

Dancing with Speeches #1: Socrates and the price of free speech.



Inspired by Socrates speech in defence of being charged with not believing in the gods of Athens and corrupting youth.

When democracy starts to falter who do we look to blame? Men of Athens put Socrates to the test, the one who was deemed to be inciting the young to join and follow the Thirty Tyrants terrorizing the city and destroying their way of life. Socrates answered what may have been considered trumped up charges of three men with credentials in poetry, political and oratory – all men who knew how to turn a phrase and persuade and persuade they did the 500 strong jury to find Socrates guilty of turning the young against the State and not believing in the gods of the city. Once tried, the sentence was death – by his own hand through drinking hemlock prepared by the State. The first martyr to free speech in the earliest of democracies.

Not believing in the gods of the state, does not mean you have no beliefs, on the contrary, it may well mean you have beliefs that are so strong that you beliefs transcend your desire for your own life. This behavior is well worn in our time – could Socrates have just been an early version of the old men who send the young to do their dirty work against democracy and support the growth of outlaw gangs to bring down those rightfully elected? Whipping up the flames of hatred and war among young men by denouncing the ‘gods’ holding political, economic and social systems together? Does this sound familiar?

Socrates crime may not have been that he gave words meaning and the cause of the Thirty Tyrants legitimacy with his philosophizing on the streets, answering the questions put to him by his fellow citizens – it may have been that he didn’t speak up when those words were used to build the movement that threatened the city’s lifestyle. And when he had the chance to defend himself, he chose to bully and cajole his accusers. He challenged the jury to allow diversity of thought in the city and criticized them for not having the courage to think outside the town square. The cost was too high for the city to have this voice continue to be heard. They valued their lifestyle more … and is that such a bad thing? To say no to terror and to protect what you value. What is wrong with drawing a line in the sand and say we will not be subject to thoughts that turn into words that can be used by those who want to incite terror and destroy a democracy (with all its imperfections – because Athens certainly had some – just ask the women and slaves) ?

This argument has two sides.

In our time, we continue to condemn those whose opinions or prophesies we find uncomfortable, and some like Socrates, find their voice leads them to their death. When we don’t reform and include those who voices are excluded from the discourse we diminish the richness of the struggle to listen harder to learn to understand where they are coming from and why they feel left out. We also run the risk of giving legitimacy to their cause when a martyr is found. And not all causes will martyrdom be the way forward, it may well lead to more destruction and violence. It is the challenge for democracy to find a way to hear the voices and integrate, reform, develop, evolve.

How do we, democracy enthusiasts, include those voices who do incite hatred, who are willing to put their gods above all others, who refuse to come to the table without words of hate, who are willing to die for their beliefs?

This is the challenge of our time, we do not have the luxury of the Men of Athens to bring 500 jurors together and determine a course of action that ended in the state assisted suicide of a thought leader. Bullets and bombs replace words. The clash of gods have the crusades raging again and generations are marching across the planet fleeing from their homelands.

Socrates ingested the poison of the State and died – the most philosophical and poetic of actions. The most complete way of demonstrating what he believed was that Athens was faltering and it is said he looked forward to continuing his conversations with Orpheus and Musæus, Hesiod and Homer in the next world. This feels like only a few steps away from those who pull the thread on a suicide bombing jacket who because of their beliefs are willing to make the sacrifice to go to their maker and their heaven.

From Clementine Ford to Alan Jones – democracies need all the voices, even the ones we don’t want to hear. Being able to hear the voices without resorting to hemlock or jackets packed with explosives as extreme ways for the voice to be visible is the work of those who are seeking better democracies. Those voices who spoke up and charged Socrates were an orator, a politician and a poet. They were not the most reliable, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t have the right to name the problem as they saw it, take it to the jury and let the people decide. Free speech comes with a high price for both buyers and sellers in the market place of the global agora. How much are you willing to pay?

Price of Democracy by Bert Guillermo http://breweryartwalk.com/gallery/guillermo-bert

Price of Democracy by
Bert Guillermo http://breweryartwalk.com/gallery/guillermo-bert

One big union

Dear Hildegard,

September 11 passed my way this week, and like many others, my thoughts went to that day in New York. The city that never sleeps, had its two front teeth punched out, and irreplaceable DNA became cosmic dust forming swirling clouds of grief that choked more than the city.

Across the other side of the world I discovered someone I knew was lost and was then counted among the dead. As I often say two degrees of separation in Adelaide is often one too many.  Andrew was his name and he had given me a copy of One Big Union for me to learn more about the Australian Workers Union.  I loved learning more about the foundations of the Australian Labor Party.  Years later I gave the copy Andrew gave me to Anthony Chavez the grandson of Cesar Chavez the great leader of farmworkers in the USA.  Anthony is Br David Steindl-Rast’s assistant and a wonderful young man, just as Andrew was a wonderful young man with a vision of a better future for workers in this land.  Two young men separated by time, place and culture coming together in my little universe and through the labour movement.

This weekend Australia rejected the worker’s party and chose the party of capital – although it was hard at times to recognise much difference between them – but by the time the three years are up I am sure that will have been clarified for many voters.

The relationship between land and capital was alive and well in your time too and your crafty redistribution of property. Those young noblewomen who voted with their feet, leaving their families and promises of marriage gifting their dowries to your convent. When you set up your convent in Rupertsberg, those monks you were leaving behind I expect weren’t that excited about your move in taking your charges and their land with you!

Hildegard you had visions that guided your steps and just as surely did the nonviolent revolutionaries like Cesar Chavez and the violent leaders of al-Qaeda; I ask myself, what kind of vision do I have to bring about the reforms I yearn for? The ballot box seems such an unimaginative vessel for revolution to be birthed, and yet I am a big fan of democracy. I suspect you weren’t that much of a fan of democracy, after all the church certainly wasn’t in your time and isn’t in mine anything like a democracy.

Whether we find our selves running down the stairs to evacuate, sitting on a plane captured like an animal behind bars; abandoning our family or holding the banner and marching in the streets; we find ourselves in a big story. It is one big union we are all called to belong, and that union for me, is the uni-verse; the place where the one voice unites us all and calls us to a deep and sacred place.  My vision is for one song we all sing together in as many harmonies as we can invent; for one big union that we are all in together.

It’s not easy to hold on to this vision when planes fly into buildings, when people and their lands are separated from one another and when a government gets elected by neighbours that don’t share your values and idea of democracy.

One Big Union

The stairwell is filled with smoke.

I won’t be returning to my family home.

I remember who I am;

And where I am going.


The cloister is filled with incense.

I won’t be returning to my family home.

I remember who I am;

And where I am going.


The field is filled with cries.

I won’t be returning to my family home.

I remember who I am;

And where I am going.


I clear my throat;

I close my eyes;

I fold my arms;

I open my heart;

I apply my head;

I find my way;


I remember where I am going.


The workers descend.

The choirs sing.

The workers rise.

Each voice adds to the next;

One big union for one big universe.

Solitary candle waiting for another one to be lit.