Tag Archives: MLK

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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Dancing with Speeches #4 MLK

This week’s speech inspired by Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C, USA.

I am not from the US, I have no right to speak on their behalf, yet the #BlackLivesMatter campaign is ringing in my ears and on my screens it is shaking me up. It is helping me reconnect with my activism. It is sending a message home to my core. #BlackLivesMatter is rebuilding the black liberation movement in the USA and around the world.    is an affirmation and embrace of the resistance and resilience of Black people, founded by

Where we had Charlie Perkins in Australia riding in the freedom run we now have Luke Pearson making strides in the media with IndigenousX, where we had Kath Walker claim her space as poet and her name as Oodgeroo Noonuccal, we have Dr Antia Heiss asking us Am I Black Enough for You? The strains of Yothu Yindi dancing our way into our hearts with Treaty is still part of the soundtrack for action. Dr Gregory Phillips is healing us all as we find the steps towards healing the deepest wounds of the lies of the past and what we need to do to save ourselves and our planet. So I want to stand still and bow to all those leaders and say thank you for teaching me, a white woman, and now taught, my job is to stand in solidarity, to speak up and to invoke the call #blacklivesmatter.

The great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, said he refused to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. As a non black person I have the responsibility to make deposits into this bank, and even more responsibility to not make withdrawals with my own racism. I need to make deposits to bring equity and make this bank balance grow with interest! My acts should be a sign for others to follow.

There is urgency today as real as it was in the 60s. Children are dying in the streets, mothers are losing their babies, communities are losing their men, we are all losing the talents and gifts of those who fall to drugs, alcohol, violence and preventable diseases. In MLK’s words, the place for the struggle is on the “highest plane of dignity and discipline” and “rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force”.

How do you bring your soul force to the liberation movement? Just like the warrior before battle prepares with exercise and study of the plan, gets to know the enemy and readiness themselves for being wounded and even potentially death. The soul force needs to be fostered to grow strong. The preparation, the plan, the readiness to be knocked down and to get up again is true for all of those who take the nonviolent path. For what is the antonym of warrior? Is it peacemaker? Is it civilian? Is it liberator? Or is it that warriors of the liberation movement are nonviolent activists who recognize the battle fields of policy, of programs, on the streets, in the supermarkets, in the carriages of the trains? The war on equity is everywhere and we are all bound up in it. I live on land that was stolen. I make my home in a landscape where I don’t know its language. I take colonization as a given.

Just as MLK called for the sounds of freedom to be heard from every mountain top, I take tentative steps to build my soul force from the trills and squawks of the birds offering sounds of freedom to be ringing out across this country. The tweets come in new forms and are accompanied with a hashtag #blacklivesmatter and the work to get to that mountain top ‘ain’t done yet!

We are the ones who will make the rough paths smooth, the crooked ways straight and the valleys exalted. The soul force pays attention to our own rough paths, our own crooked ways and our own valleys of despair, darkness and inequity and rises up to the mountain top and bring others with us so we can all get to that mountain top together and leave no one behind. When we stand on that mountain top and see the “oasis of freedom and justice” we will have dealt with sweltering heat of injustice and oppression. In this dreaming we will understand we are owned by Mother Earth and the mountain is holding us up and learnt this from the ones who knew this truth first.

It is then, and only then and because #blacklivesmatter, we will all be truly free, free at last and be able to sing as one voice Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! 

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Just Around the Corner

Dear Sor Juana,

There are so many possibilities just around the corner. We move towards the corner and as we approach not everything is quite revealed, some things are in shadow and others camouflaged or incandescent because of the light. What is hidden just around the corner may have surprising qualities or fill us with dread.

Just around the corner moments seem to be everywhere this week.

I dropped a friend off by the river earlier in the week and I went just around corner, as I did a couple of pedestrians were mown down by a careless possibly confused driver. One of the pedestrians is seriously injured and the driver facing charges.

Just around another corner I find myself chatting to a neighbour who has called into home for a short while in between touring the country. Next up will be the east coast having explored the great centre of this red land and broad blue skies.

Still another corner I am in a bar with a young actor as she prepares for her future residency. She shares generously about the next corners she is planning to turn towards.

There are corners everywhere – places where two trajectories meet where there is a resolution and clarity. Although corners can be a bit rough around the edges and looking for a short way around problems we do try to cut them, there is something about corners that does sharpen the senses. Anticipation may build, anxiety or even fear, generally though it is a meandering that leads to go just around the corner to take me onwards, to ground a curiosity or maybe an innocent mistake has taken me there … and before I know it I am around the corner.

We never really fully know what is just around the corner, but no matter how many of us are travelling together when we get to a corner, it is a solitary experience. Coming to a corner, sipping a stillness and shape we then move.

There is an improvisation training exercise Sor Juana I am fond of where we walk around the room backwards, forwards, in as many ways as we can to find the corners of the room, the centre, the edges, taking up lots of space as we go and as little space too – it is an activity I find meditative – fast and slow – in silence. As the energy of the room starts to change, like the wind you can’t see but can feel, this energy moves through all of us in the room, but for each of us it is a unique and individual experience. I experience an untangling of thoughts as they are loosened by the movement, as if a thread has been pulled. What might look like aimless wandering is an experience of coming home to oneself – a pilgrimage. Perhaps that is a little like the prayers you made – from the outside it may have looked like nothing was happening and you were going nowhere – but from that place sprung intellect, poetry and presence. Going to the corners of your inner life you found words and meaning just around the corner.

The meeting of the corners between us and around us remind me of all the threads that weave us together – the weft and the warp – the one cloth that binds us together and each time we go just around the corner we add our steps to that weave.

MLK