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.
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.