[symple_testimonial by=” Wendell Berry” fade_in=”false”]What I stand for is what I stand on.[/symple_testimonial]
The owners of my Piccadilly cottage, and the wider land on which it stands, are selling the property and so this is my last time here. My doctor has ordered complete rest so that my fractured ankle can heal and she’s told me to cancel all holiday plans. “You need to stop, to rest and reschedule your holidays for later. You’re exhausted and your foot needs to heal; this is recuperation time and medical appointment time for you.” And so here I am, unexpectedly face to face with grief at leaving my heart home, this sanctuary that has been such a balm for my soul for the last 12 years. It feels like a layering of loss and, at the heart of this loss, a call to courage. “You can’t grow if you can’t let go,” said my yoga teacher when I told him that I was leaving. “One less expense,” said another friend, ever practical. And yet what is the cost of not being here. That is the question never asked.
Late afternoon … a tangerine sun… dappled light, trees aflame, birds flitting from tree to tree, a sweet caroling, chirruping…and then come the magpies – raucous caws…almost a screech…to add to the whole shebang. “You’ll find another place,” says a friend.
And yet, that’s the thing. It is this place, this land, this tree, this scent inhaled from this loft perch under this piece of sky. It is this walk around the property with this view to the moon with a koala in the eucalyptus tree outside my balcony, and a white horse running across the field behind.
I have some inkling of what Aboriginal people must feel in their connection to country when they leave their Dreaming place, and what they will do to stay. I think of the pilot program to support five hundred Aboriginal – Martu – children at five schools in the Pilbara desert to begin learning under the Direct Instruction teaching method championed by Cape York leader, Noel Pearson so that they can also stay on their land. “We have got a great moral purpose here, a moral purpose for the survival of these communities and these people, Noel Pearson said. “The Martu have the same vision as I have for my people, which is for them to live long on their land.”
This is my place, not in an economic sense of ownership; rather it is a spiritual connection that is cellular. It belongs to my heart, it belongs to me. It was the poet Muriel Rukeyser who wrote: ‘The universe is made of stories not of atoms.’ The storylines of this place are etched on my body as much as my soul. From building fires, walking fields, talking to the chooks and playing stick with Penny dog to watching a crow land near my window, brisk walks in the rain, evacuating from the bushfires and seeing the first cherry blossoms. In all of this I can feel the wild energy of dancer Sybil Shearer, and I know I could dance this place as an epic love story.
A few days later I hear the news that the former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, has died. He was a mentor to me when I was doing an ethics fellowship. He was also one of the politicians who had the greatest influence on my life. This does not mean that I believed in all his policies. For instance, if Fraser had stayed in power, the Franklin River in Tasmania would have been dammed. Fraser was a Federalist and didn’t believe in Federal power trumping state authority when it came to environmental issues. He wanted to honor the Federal compact with states and territories and so offered compensation if the dam was not built, which the Tasmanian government rejected. Bob Hawke won the next election, and honored his election promise to stop the dam being built.
Malcolm Fraser’s influence was as someone who demonstrated the courage of his convictions and was not influenced by what it might mean for his chances of re-election. His commitment to Aboriginal land rights, human rights, equality and refugees was absolute.
I remember as a 20 year old watching Fraser’s election defeat speech in 1983 and being struck by his tears and his humanity. Here was a man who deeply loved his job and country and his voice and face betrayed his emotions. This was someone who had not sought out public opinion on whether the country should accept Vietnamese boat people because he knew the weight of opinion was against them coming.
In the end, Fraser’s acceptance of more than 200,000 Asian and Middle Eastern migrants marked a definitive end to the White Australia policy and permanently changed the face of Australian society. Among the migrants were nearly 56,000 Vietnamese who applied as refugees and an additional 2059 boat people who fled the communist regime.
Fraser made this decision because he felt it was the right thing to do. He appealed to Australian public’s own sense of justice in asking them to billet these people and to make them welcome. I remember the fractious nature of this time and of walking past graffiti where words slashed red spelt ‘Asians Out of Here’. A day later I walked past and the graffiti had been changed to ‘We Welcome Asians Out Here’. Fraser biographer, Margaret Simons gave a sense of Fraser the man in her tribute to him:
‘In the popular imagination (Fraser’s) “life wasn’t meant to be easy” line has been reduced to a joke. Yet in its original context the line is powerful and moving – the conclusion to a discussion of liberalism, and the history of nations and what a nation needs from its people.
The full sentence reads “There is within me some part of the metaphysic, and thus I would add that life is not meant to be easy.” Fraser was not religious, and yet he acknowledged a sense of higher purpose – a spiritual sense. An idealism. I suggested to him once that he was an idealist. He paused, patted a dog that was lying at his feet, then said: “Well, that is what it has all been about, really.”’
Fraser became an ever vocal critic of successive governments’ response to asylum seekers and ended up resigning from the Liberal Party in December 2009, saying the party no longer represented the values of the party he joined and the approach to asylum seekers was neither just or humane. This critique was supported by the first academic analysis of the current asylum seeker policy by the University of Queensland which concluded that the policy was a fatally risky, moral and legal failure that is severely damaging Australia’s reputation.
Speaking on this issue, Fraser said “The asylum seeker debate in Australia is demeaning and miserable. The politicians who participate in it have contempt for the Australian people. They believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that if they appeal to the fearful and mean sides of our nature they will win support.”
Invoking fear of asylum seekers suggests a distrust of ‘the other’. How then to break through and recognize another’s humanity rather than the color of her skin, his gender, her identity, his race, her culture, his choice of religion – or lack thereof.
In response to the gunning down of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, Andrew Hussey wrote in the New York Times of the holy clash between deeply religious crusaders and French nationals. A clash between those who are outraged by what they see as the arrogance of those in positions of influence who believe they can mock whatever they like, including others’ religious beliefs, versus ‘a generation that believed foremost in the freedom to say what you like to whomever you like…what Parisians… call “gouaille,” a kind of cheeky wit, based on free thinking and a love of provocation, that always stands in opposition to authority.’
In Nigeria the terrorist group, Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden”, is now joining forces with ISIS and supporting the Islamic State to extend and deepen its influence. More girls and young women have been taken hostage in Nigeria, to be married off to Islamic men; forced into slavery to reproduce for the cause, with no chance of education or any means to fulfil their own dreams and potential. In ISIS controlled cities in Syria, women are not allowed to sit outside and are forced to wear the niqab, the full face veil only sparing the eyes.
And so we have these gathering forces. A call to arms by an Islamic State that is ‘Very Islamic’, as Graham Wood writes in The Atlantic. As Wood wrote, ISIS had ‘hijacked secular sources of power and grievance, and was using them for religious ends – ends that are, at least among some supporters, sincere and carefully thought through.’ The call from the Islamic State is being heard by men and women, young males and young females, in Europe and Africa who want to engage in a higher calling. And now a Christian cavalcade is growing with private Christian armies forming to take up their own call to arms in what may be seen as a holy war, or a New Crusade.
In his attempt to answer the question, ‘what’s really going down here’, David Brooks in the New York Times wrote that we’re deluded if we think that creating better economic conditions will stop people joining ISIS.
“People don’t join ISIS, or the Islamic State, because they want better jobs with more benefits…These people don’t care if their earthly standard of living improves a few percent a year. They’re disgusted by the pleasures we value, the pluralism we prize and the emphasis on happiness in this world which we take as public life’s ultimate end. They’re not doing it because they are sexually repressed. They’re doing it because they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation. A young Egyptian man, Islam Yaken, joined ISIS …for the sake of an electrifying, apocalyptic worldview and what he imagines to be some illimitable heroic destiny. People who live according to a pure code of honor are not governed by the profit motive; they are governed by the thymotic urge, the quest for recognition. They seek the sort of glory that can be won only by showing strength in confrontation with death. This heroic urge is combined, by Islamic extremists, with a vision of End Times, a culmination to history brought about by a climactic battle and the purification of the earth.”
Brooks is clear that the only way to counter this heroic impulse is with a more compelling one. His suggestion is a call to nationalism, of the kind that will contribute to global democracy through Syrian, Egyptian, Lebanese nationalism as ‘a call to serve a cause that connects nationalism to dignity and democracy and transcends a lifetime’.
Meanwhile, in all of this conflict and terrorism, it is women who are most affected. They are kidnapped, raped, forced into marriage, used as interlopers. It’s not surprising then that, in response, it’s women who are leading the social media campaigns, the underground efforts, the organizing power, and the galvanizing forces in citizen demonstrations and policy advocacy in many countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond. Women’s movements for dramatic social change are building momentum.
Gandhi’s ‘we must be the change’ is as relevant for government policies as it is for individuals. In Turkey the lack of gender equality and freedoms is based on a structural patriarchy that informs all policies and programs. The lack of formal reform has translated to a tripling of gender related homicides and domestic violence increasing by 1,400%. In an article in The Guardian Weekly, Elif Shafak writes of a government that doesn’t know how to collaborate with women’s advocacy and civil society groups….and notes the parallel rise of Turkish women’s own politicization and call to action. More than half of those demonstrating at protest rallies are women and most critical social media campaigns are led by women seeking to hold those in power to account for the increasing gender violence.
People will rise up and women will lead the way in many communities. They will do this for social and economic reasons as much as for spiritual and political motives, and not just in the Global South. In his book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America
Bob Herbert writes that by 2013 “nearly fifty million Americans were poor. Another fifty million, the so-called near poor, were living just a notch or two above the official poverty line…Those two groups…constituted nearly a third of the entire U.S. population…One in every five American children was poor, and one in every three black children. Meanwhile the top 1% hauls in nearly a fifth of the nation’s income each year. With 6.5 million people aged 16-24 being both out of school and out of work, this is a catastrophe in the making. The gendered impact of poverty is also alarming. The poverty rates for women remained at historically high levels in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in September 2014. Nearly 18 million women lived in poverty in 2013. More than half of all poor children lived in families headed by women.
Herbert’s hope lies in America’s citizens. ‘If our nation is to be changed for the better, ordinary citizens will have to intervene aggressively in their own fate. The tremendous power in the hands of the moneyed interests will not be relinquished voluntarily.’ Women’s funds across the US and globally are doing this. Women’s Funds are philanthropic organizations that provide financial support to women-led initiatives designed to advance women’s human rights and economic justice. They raise money to distribute grants to women’s groups within their own region in recognition that getting money into the hands of women’s organizations is one of the best ways to address community issues and ensure that women and girls can assume greater voice and leadership in decision-making, and thus benefit directly from the solutions.
With support from women’s funds, women worldwide are exerting more and more economic power as donors and philanthropists. The collective capacity of women’s funds is broad and deep — broad enough to propel worldwide transformation and deep enough to engage and empower women on the ground.
To sustain this momentum exponentially more funds need to be channeled to grass roots women-led organizations so that they can build resources and momentum at a time when safe spaces for women and girls are being eroded and denied. This is especially so for women’s human rights defenders who are at the front lines of conflict, and with religious fundamentalism and violence against women at record highs in many countries. Women need these spaces build compelling and inclusive social movements that involve men and boys, women and girls in a compact for a reconfigured society where every person can contribute to imagining and realizing a new world. Spaces that can embrace relevant technologies, that respond to dynamic and volatile landscapes including pop-up spaces that can be easily assembled and dismantled and virtual spaces that transcend physical boundaries to ignite collective action.
[symple_testimonial by=”Medea Benjamin” fade_in=”false”]Changing the structure and rules of the global economy will require a mass movement based on messages of compassion, justice, and equality, as well as collaborative and democratic processes … If we stay positive, inclusive, and democratic, we have a truly historic opportunity to build a global movement for social justice.[/symple_testimonial]
And now I’m back from Australia and serene in my watery home in Sausalito. Next door my boat friends are having a surprise party. A band plays and how I love that jangly banjo sound. There’s a splash in the water as a pelican skids through while laid out above me is the glory of a starry spangled sky. My boat is like a rock-a-bye sweet baby jane kind of experience and it’s in this mode that I fall into a deep sleep. This too is dreaming country.
[symple_testimonial by=”Ruth Bader Ginsberg” fade_in=”false”]It is not women’s liberation, it is women’s and men’s liberation.[/symple_testimonial]
Piccadilly – Australia
Handheld Video of Piccadilly