Armchair activism for beginners

Once upon a time, engaging in a political or social movement required effort. It required word of mouth, leafleting, coercion of the media, public meetings and most importantly, it required people to get off their backsides. These elements of political activity are still important, but the beginnings of a change in society are now firmly rooted in sitting-on-backside, provided you have the internet to hand.

The most wonderful thing about the Internet is the unfathomable amount of information we have access to. You can find out about anything. If we want society to change, our first step is to get informed. You may sometimes hear a nagging voice, faint, but persistent, telling you something is not right in society. Stop what you’re doing for a moment and grant that voice your full attention. Pick out keywords, “poverty”, “racism”, “banker’s bonuses”, enter those keywords into Google and scan the search results. Have a look at the articles which interest you. Note organisations that campaign to address social issues, they will have a way you can be involved from the comfort of your own home, even if it’s just to sign up for a newsletter. “Follow” the organisation on Twitter, “Like” them on Facebook. Have you got a nagging curiosity about what all the tents are about at St Paul’s Cathedral? Find Occupy through any of the mediums mentioned above and you have stepped into that world. The only difference is you’re a bit more comfortable and a bit warmer.  You’re up and running.

Now, take a deep breath, we are about to make the leap, to activism. For this I turn to my own Twitter account where I find the message;

“Stop Cutting Funding To Domestic Violence Resources – e-petitions. Please sign and retweet”

Sign and retweet? I’m not exactly facing off against CS gas-wielding riot cops to do a little bit for society, nor am I spending any money or more than a few minutes of my time. You may ask, what’s the point? What difference will it make? My first response to this will always be – what’s the point in doing nothing?These types of activities can make a difference, I recently received some good news to which my few seconds here and there, contributed.

38 degrees is an online community of citizens who campaign to “defend fairness, protect rights, promote peace, preserve the planet and deepen democracy” whose achievements include preventing the proposed sell-off of UK National Forests, David Cameron agreeing to accept the recommendations of the Committee for Climate Change, the UK government signing up to the EU directive on Human Trafficking, the launch of an enquiry into Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover of BSkyB and many more. I don’t propose for a moment that it is 38 degrees alone that is responsible for these, however petitions with many thousands of signatures and the coordinated lobbying of MPs, would have had a significant impact. That’s where my click, sign and send came in.

There are other places where you can have an impact, Avaaz, E-petitions and Out of Trouble are good examples. Get involved, you can change the world we live in. If you do end up sending a message to your MP either via one of these organisations or through his or her web page, you will get a very nice letter in a cream envelope and a “House of Commons” symbol on it that seems to twinkle in the sunlight. The letter will respond to your lobbying in a way that will either be satisfactory, unsatisfactory or somewhere in between. Nonetheless, your voice has been heard.

Click, follow, like, retweet, post, email, sign, you are now part of the online march to a better world. I take my hat off to you. But, while you are now a fully fledged, died in the wool, political activist whilst still making dinner for your little ones, remember how you got here. You got informed. If we want our movement to gather momentum we need others to know the reasons for our actions and join us. By now, your internet-roving eye is finely tuned to focus sharply on information and actions that support your cause. Towards the bottom of each page you view there are some buttons, click them, and distribute the information to a wider audience. If one person joins us and they get another person, who gets another, who gets another and so on, we’re looking at a revolution and it’s all down to those clicks, tweets, sends and shares, that you did, whilst changing the baby’s nappy with your other hand. Believe the world can change and it will.

Well, what are you waiting for?

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The Occupy Cycle of Change

The Occupy movement flared brightly and for a period, captured the attention of the media worldwide. That level of interest has receded but against some expectations, Occupy persists and shows no sign of disappearing.

One of the criticisms of Occupy is the lack of a coherent alternative to the current social order; there are numerous, maybe hundreds of protestations against, but no focussed protestation for, to which people can lend their support. This is an intelligent strategy by Occupy. My own interpretation of the benefit of Occupy is that this is an awareness raising exercise, something to prick the imagination and a successful one at that.

Bear with me a moment while I deviate. In Youth Justice, we work with the “Cycle of Change”, pictured below.

If we take a basic example of a person wishing to stop smoking cigarettes the stages are as follows.

Pre-contemplation: Quite happy smoking, no intention of quitting.
Contemplation: Some thoughts that quitting might be beneficial.
Decision: Yes, quitting is the thing to do and identifying a plan to achieve that.
Action: Put said plan into action.
Maintenance: Smoking stopped completely and gradually the cravings disappear.
(Re)lapse: Either a cheeky couple of fags on a night out or a return to 20 a day.

Occupy is a movement that reaches out to individuals and challenges them to move through the Cycle of Change. Occupy may promote a change in society, but society is made up of individuals, without individuals coming together and moving forward as a collective, nothing will ever change. So here is my interpretation of the Occupy Cycle of Change;

Pre-contemplation: You are either unaware that society is unfair or you think nothing can be done about it.
Contemplation: You understand at a minimum that there is a “1%” of people who have a hell of a lot of money and power and that in comparison, the “99%”, which almost certainly includes you, do not have much. You may think that something should be done about this state of affairs and possibly, even, that you should be one of those who does something.
Decision: You decide that yes, you should do something to promote equality in society. You have a look around at the groups who work towards the same and decide on something you might do to support them.
Action: You put your money where your mouth is, start supporting equality in society online through social networks, lobbying your MP, donating to a worthwhile organisation or even strolling along to a meeting or protest.
Maintenance: Happy that you are doing something beneficial for society, you keep up the pressure, keep doing whatever action you have found you can dedicate yourself to, no matter how small. You have achieved a lasting change as an individual and who knows? Maybe a lasting change in society.
(Re)lapse: Disillusioned with lack of progress or during a personally stressful and busy time, you fall off the radar and your activity dwindles. Nothing left to do then but pick yourself up, dust yourself up and get right back into the Cycle.

What Occupy has done without question, is move people a step or two along the Cycle of Change. The evidence for this is in the now regularly-used terms “The 1%” and “The 99%” in the media and politics. When we hear these references, we know without doubt what they mean, this is progress. If Occupy has made you think about that state of society, you may just have moved from pre-contemplation to contemplation.

The big question of course, is “where does the movement go now?”. This is an interesting dilemma for Occupy which has lost the appeal of novelty. There are some interesting prospects; one is Occupy Records, “music for the global movement”. The album is due to be released later this year and will serve to further embed Occupy in the conscious of the masses. This is particularly appealing as Occupy becomes about more than camping on concrete, it brings an element of fun, of dance, of celebration in revolution which will certainly serve to draw increased numbers to the cause and keep  shunting people along the Cycle of Change. Where I live, Adelaide, dwindling numbers and enthusiasm for Occupy have been problematic, however from Occupy Adelaide has been born Occupy Murdoch, set up to challenge the corporate media system starting from Murdoch’s own home town. This has the potential for worldwide popularity.

Occupy will continue to evolve all over the world, it is creative and  alternative-media savvy in spreading its message which provides lifeblood to the movement. The more that new initiatives help people move, person by person, step by step, towards action and maintencance on the Occupy Cycle of Change, the closer we are to a better world. These are without doubt, exciting times we are living in. So, what are you waiting for? Take that next step.

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Sorry speech, third anniversary

Today is the third anniversary  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s “Sorry Speech”, a landmark occasion in Australian history, which opened like this;

“I move:

That today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.”

This was a turning point in the long road of reconciliation, it had been a bumpy road with the previous Prime Minister, John Howard arguing that an apology was inappropriate even after the release of the Bringing them Home Report which exposed the horror of what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people had been subjected to.

In The Politics of Suffering by Peter Sutton, he describes this type of event as one that “offers conjoint catharsis, an authorised shedding of guilt, possibly a sanctioned regaining of innocence”. However, Sutton expresses scepticism about “collective Reconciliation” and argues that the process should be a “personal and interpersonal journey…..dealt with by Australians as individuals”. I would broaden this to include those who continue to benefit from the wrongs of the past, but otherwise I agree.

Kevin Rudd’s Sorry Speech is extremely important as an acknowledgement of the past and the impact of those events on Australia today. Rudd was the leader of the country therefore it is right that he should play such a prominent role in the Reconciliation process. However, Reconciliation will not start and finish with leaders, it starts and finishes with you and me. We must be honest with ourselves and ask how much do we owe for our current lifestyle, to those who suffered so we can live this way? If we come to the conclusion that we are in debt, we need to work towards repaying that debt, person by person.

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The nice side of the fence

Light shines
through gently swaying green
against a backdrop of deep blue.
Birds call to each other
as I rest peacefully here.

Grey cages
and barbed wire
confined to the peripheral.
Jangling keys and banging doors
detain torturted souls within.

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The 13th Day in Aboriginal South Australia

I received a forwarded email on 17 January 2012, note the date, it is significant. The email had a letter attached, written by Tauto Sansbury, Aboriginal Advocate, a man who has been at the fore of Aboriginal Affairs for the last 25 years. The issues raised are of vital importance to the Indigenous people of Australia and a part of the legacy of British colonisation. Whichever side of the world you are on, please take the time to read and share Mr Sansbury’s powerful letter.

The 13th Day

Yesterday was Day 13 of the New Year, 2012.

And on this day, I attended the funeral of the eighth South Australian Aboriginal person to die – the eighth death in our small community this year. And it was only Day 13.

These eight deaths are not of Aboriginal people who have lived to a ripe old age. The funerals were not celebrations of long and productive lives. No, they were all premature deaths, some of them violent, all premature and preventable.

Aboriginal people are always at funerals. We attend out of respect for our people and community. We give our condolences and cry for our loved ones.

On Friday the thirteenth it was the funeral of a young Aboriginal man, in his prime, who should have had so much to live for. Born 1990, died 2012. Death by suicide. I’ve been to too many funerals of similar circumstances.

I watched a grandfather speak, an uncle sing a song to his dead nephew, and a procession of young cousins and friends, there to say their last goodbyes, too soon, too early for all of this.

The day before this I attended the funeral of an Aboriginal lady aged 52, ravaged by diabetes for many years. How sad that you’re considered an elder in the Aboriginal community if you live to age 50!

And there were the six other Aboriginal funerals. Of the eight premature deaths, three were by suicide and another was violent. How can this be considered right for Aboriginal people, in the 21st century, in a first world country like Australia?

And yet there is no mention of this continuing problem in the media apart from the obituaries, and the Aboriginal community itself reacts to this situation passively as if it’s acceptable and just the normal course of things. It’s not an issue for discussion or action, at any level of government or in any human rights forum. I tell you it’s not the normal course of things.

Three young Aboriginal people have already committed suicide in this state in the first week and a half of 2012, and it’s not raised a ripple that they felt so hopeless that it was easier to end their lives than live in this ‘lucky country’. But lucky for who?

While death is the natural conclusion to life, it’s not natural for Aboriginal people to be dying of preventable causes at this rate, years and years before the rest of the population. And yet this is what’s taking place, as eight funerals in 13 days show.

The government says it’s committed to Closing the Gap. This isn’t occurring. In some areas things are getting worse.

I’m compelled to stand up and say something about what’s happening. Nothing is changing. It’s not just an issue for me to raise; we need to stand up as a community and say that this is unacceptable and something has to be done. And we too need to do something about it ourselves as Aboriginal people. We can’t just keep ignoring it, from generation to generation.

This issue is not going to go away. It needs to be fixed, and this can only be done through proper advice and communication to government.

Our destiny is not entirely in the hands of those in power. It’s also in our hands and it’s time to take control of it.

Tauto Sansbury

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Collective action

goes The Revolution.

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Women, the media and “lifestyle”

Have you ever noticed the stark similarity of the covers on women’s and men’s magazines? Wander through your local newsagent, in two separate sections you will notice the glare of human flesh and lipstick. At first consideration it might seem unusual that both men’s and women’s magazines overwhelmingly display heavily made-up women, not so heavily dressed, on their front covers. With a bit of thought, we can see that this is a reflection of society, or is it society that is the reflection?

Let us start with Men’s “lifestyle” magazines. I’ve turned to FHM (For Him Magazine), far and away the most popular magazine amongst my peers at school. Aside from unrealistic images of what a woman should look like, what other lifestyle tips can we expect to guide our relationships? How to get lucky on holiday enlightens us on how to “get noticed” by bantering with bar staff and the guy who sells boat trips, open communication with our target by offering an ice cream, asking where to buy a Frisbee, reading a book that makes you not look “intense”, an essential “three bed gap” when choosing sunlounger distance from your target and knowing the DJ and “several other groups”. Stick to talking about “fashion, shopping, celebrities and relationships” and you won’t turn her off. (Please, please pause for a moment to imagine a holidaying lad doing this really badly, he struts around the pool and bursts out laughing at an imagined shared joke with the barman before scanning the pool for a reaction, he owns 37 Frisbees and eats 20 ice creams a day, he reads Thomas the Tank Engine, nods seriously to the DJ who alerts the bouncer of his impending attack, idles gradually up to “other groups” who want to know why he is laughing at them and his opener with women is “so, how about the ol’ shopping eh?”). All of this you will be pleased to hear, will make you “non-predatory”, which is fine, except you clearly are a predator if you employ these tactics. When you get to the bits about needing to get her on her own, it starts to read like a rapist’s handbook.

So how about some solidarity in women’s literature? How will our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends deal with such”non-predatory” approaches?

“MEGAN’S SHOCK SLIMDOWN!” Shouts the magazine on the staff lunch room table. “Wow! Down 11kg. But has she gone too far?”. A pressing question indeed, one that I’m sorry to say I didn’t find the definitive answer to. I believe I have narrowed the correct response down to either a) who is Megan?, b) who cares? or c) I can’t believe I’m reading this utter drivel. If I knew the definitive answer to the 11kg conundrum, I would share it. Surely, if we can identify the optimum weight, you lucky, lucky women could be in line for an ice-cream, game of frisbee or at least some stimulating conversation about shopping.

The overwhelming content of the magazines scattered on the staffroom table obsessively monitor the bodies of celebrity women. Whether an appreciation of what is deemed a desirable body, or criticism of someone judged to be too thin, too fat or too extensively  operated upon, the result is a tightrope for anyone seeking a desirable physical image. The most laughable aspect of the pictures in these magazines is that the “acceptable” images of women are almost always posed-for, taken on a red carpet or in a studio. The “unacceptable” images showing skin and bones or cellulite are taken when the celebrity is on holiday with their family, on a beach, squinting into the sun and distinctly un-airbrushed. Is it any wonder one looks better than the other?

There are many influences on men’s attitudes to women, and women’s attitudes to themselves, but large sections of the media create an almost perfect storm of promoting men’s desire for slim, busty, made-up women while simultaneously guiding women to believe this is what they have to be. The attraction of the opposite gender and relationships is all-important, the key to men’s success is to appear confident and powerful, while women must project sex.

To varying degrees, we in society conform to these rules in our dealings with those we are attracted to. At the most sinister extremes, body obsession leads to eating disorders (mainly for women) and the objectification of women results in sexually aggressive behaviour (by men).  For the majority of the population however, our lifestyle expectations lead many women to obsess over their bodies, diet incessantly and engage in perpetual searches for the most flattering clothing. Men hunt the bars and nightclubs in packs, in pursuit of a night’s sexual gratification and a beautiful women to add to their badges of power and desirability. Surely there’s more to life than this?

The need to be attractive to those we desire goes back, I would presume, to the beginning of time. It is natural to want to feel desirable, but it is unhealthy to make this your ultimate goal. A healthy mind is more important than a beautiful body, a person has to be content with themselves first, to get the most out of a relationship.  Where is the promotion of strong, independent women without mention of their weight or relationship status? Where’s the advice on how to show genuine respect to women, rather than regard them as objects for pursuit? Where’s the suggestion to go on holiday to explore a foreign land rather than sun-lounge, drink and chase female attention? None of these have enough prominence in mainstream media and we have to ask ourselves what impact this is having on our young men and women as they develop and become adults.

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