To Be An Activist

What Does it Take to be an Activist?

It takes courage – courage to believe in yourself, courage to face opponents, courage to be able to argue the facts, and stand up to those who try to undermine you.

It takes anger – anger against what you believe to be wrong, harmful or unjust.

It takes confidence – confidence to stand alone, lead or support a minority, confidence to stand with those who are weaker, discriminated against and less powerful, confidence in your own judgement.

It takes knowledge – knowledge of the facts, of what is hidden, of what is manipulated, knowledge of the injustice, knowledge of the consequences.

And it takes time – time to gain a thorough understanding, time to plan, time to gather troops.

Activism is difficult. It can be uncomfortable, alienating, dangerous and time consuming.

To be an activist is to be clear on what is right and wrong.

Simply standing up for those around you who are discriminated against – a senior person, a junior person, a fearful person – is activism. Making troublesome choices that care for the environment, living creatures and society – is activism. Joining a group for the betterment of the community is activism.

Those activists who go beyond their immediate world and challenge those with the power, those who lead a cause that affects others, will often be persecuted. They are presented as troublemakers, irrational, stupid and wrong. Their act is misrepresented and undermined by deflection, by the cause itself being manipulated or the action being scrutinised to overemphasize the faults.

There have been many activists in history who have suffered greatly for their cause. They have been jailed, tortured, demoralised, lied about, joked about and killed.

The point of this Blog Post is – activists should be respected, whether you agree with them or not. Because, they are not fighting a cause to be famous or rich or to have something to do. They fight to achieve what they believe is right. And if you look back in history, what may have started out as something trivial, laughable and irrational, has turned out to be something important.

The Bishnoi people of Rajasthan India, back in 1730, were the original “tree huggers.” They died trying to save their forest. This literal, but derogatory term, is used frequently to belittle defenders of the environment, even in “environmentally conscious” Australia.

At one time, in the southern states of America, Eleanor Roosevelt was told, “You have ruined the niggers. They weren’t race conscious until you started hobnobbing with them.” This outstanding humanitarian of the 1940s and 50s was maligned by sexual allegations and malicious jokes, totally designed to undermine her.

The fight against cruelty to animals, discrimination, the decimation of biodiversity, food wastage, water pollution, mining in sensitive areas, and air pollution, are all examples of just causes. We need to do our best to do no harm, to contribute to the betterment of the world’s health, to think as a member of society and the global community, and not purely as an individual.

But if we wish to make a large impact, we need to have the qualities and skills of an activist. We need to focus on one issue. We need to care so much about that issue that we don’t care what people think.

Young Greta Thunberg hasn’t chosen a small issue or a straightforward one. It is one of the most complicated and controversial issues of our time. The discussion around climate change is both scientific and emotional. I used to say I wasn’t a fan of Greta’s. The sixteen-year old embarked on her mission when she was thirteen. She is a child, easy to use, belittle and dismiss. I have read the arguments against her, the hypotheses and the scathing accusations. I wasn’t going to be manipulated. Then a friend, disappointed in my assessment, gave me the book of her speeches. Her desire is straightforward: Adults and World Leaders – listen to the scientists, read the data, inform yourselves and act urgently to stop the increasing temperature of the earth. If you agree that the earth is warming, there is good reason to act urgently. If you agree with the scientific facts that she refers to, there is good reason to act drastically.

Greta is told to stop being disruptive, stop scare mongering and go back to school to finish her education. She says she will, as soon as the leaders start taking action, because without that, there is no point.

Look at history. Don’t dismiss what Greta says before thinking and learning about it. And don’t hate her for being an activist.

The humanitarian, Urmi Basu, recently advised me, “If you really want to know what’s going on in a place, find out what the activists are doing.” Those few words have changed my entire way of thinking.

It’s not likely I will ever be a leading activist. But I will do my best to contribute to the world’s well-being. I vow to remain open minded, curious, community minded, environmentally careful and more courageous than comfortable. My form of activism will be small and spread wide. I will write about issues that I care about. And in that way, I will call myself an activist.

Will you be one too?

 

Reference:

Greta Thunberg No One is Too Small to make a Difference.

“Everyone and everything needs to change. But the bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty.”

Urmi Basu, founder of New Light India, a refuge for children and young adults at risk in the red-light district of Kolkata. www.newlightindia.org

Brene Brown, Research Professor, public speaker, writer and social worker who says, “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, American first Lady 1933-45, diplomat and humanitarian, activist until she died in 1962, for child welfare, housing reform, equal rights for women and racial minorities.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”

Animals Australia https://www.animalsaustralia.org/ Photo credit.

Follow Your Heart

TOASTMASTERS has been a great life enhancer for me. Not only have I found new, caring, intelligent friends, but I’ve been able to develop my VOICE. This is a WRITER thing but it’s also very human. We all want to be heard, feel valued and understood. Most people join to develop themselves somehow. I joined because I wanted another reason to write. I’ve not only found an outlet for my writing, I’ve found a group of people that encourage me, make me feel strong and interesting. I can speak without fear of judgement and this is a confidence booster.

I’ve included here today, a SPEECH I made a few weeks ago, on my return from the Great India Interlude. I hope you enjoy it and feel inspired to follow your heart, like I have.

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Have you ever had a strong desire to do something that’s not totally rational, or predictable or convenient? Something that pulls on your heartstrings despite your mind saying, maybe that’s not sensible?

Six years ago, age fifty, I did something out of character. I packed the dog, hired a motorhome and left the family for a six-week time out! It was a dream that turned into a life changing journey.

Two years ago, I changed the course of my life. I left my marriage.

It was an action that was neither predictable or convenient. I stepped into the abyss and it took courage. Why did I do it? Because I knew, deep in my heart, that I would never be all I could be if I stayed.

Two months ago, I boarded a plane for India. This may have been rational and predictable. After all, I am writing a novel that includes India and I am known as adventurous. But going to India alone was going to be challenging.

I was nervous about being a single woman travelling alone in a country where native women only travel with their family. If alone, they risk being thought of as reckless or having loose morals. I was nervous about getting sick, finding my way, getting accosted.

But the twinges in my tummy weren’t from nerves. They were flutters of excitement. I wanted to be alone in India, to immerse myself in the place, in the crowd, with the noise and cows and colour. That was what was pulling me there.

I’d been there before and travelled like a maharani. But the India I craved, was amongst the commoners. I wanted to connect empathically.

My book is the story of three women who have the courage to start again (any similarity to me is coincidental!) and one of them lives in India for a year. I wanted the trip to be my version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, maybe Bollywood style.

So, despite my fears and friends’ words of caution, I embarked on my journey. In transit, in Hong Kong, I faced my first challenge. I missed my connection! This was stressful and I wondered if the trip was really a good idea!    I appealed to the gods, asking if I really needed such a lesson. I pulled myself together, found my offloaded suitcase and figured out how to get to Mumbai that night. Arriving at 3am, there was no one to meet me. I had no cash and I needed a taxi. With the help of a kind Indian man, I figured out the foreign ATM machine. Then I set off through the dark, quiet, deserted streets with a taxi driver who spoke no English. Friends’ words of caution were firmly blocked out.

After this initiation by adrenaline infusion, things settled down. My days of research in Mumbai were glossy with success. The help I had was beyond my hopes. Nothing was too much trouble. I found where my character lived, shopped and cremated her husband.

The next part of the journey was a nine-hour train trip to Goa. Another example of facing my fear and doing it anyway (thank you Susan Jeffers) Online horror stories of women-solo-travellers on trains and the cautions from friends had me alert, but concern was unwarranted. At 5am I was escorted by a guide to the right platform and the first-class carriage. The carriage was comfortable and fellow travellers looked agreeable. No scoundrels in sight. The most unpleasant part of the trip was the man on his mobile, shouting ‘hallo, hallo,’ every time the signal cut out.

Goa is a seaside resort town and very relaxed. On my first night, I settled at the garden bar of my resort to listen to the traditional Indian band.

A bellydancer wove through the tables and grabbed my hand. I leapt from my chair, my inner bellydancer coming out to play. Travelling alone is liberating because there’s no-one you know to bear witness to your actions.

As I returned exhausted to the bar, a fine-looking English gentleman sung my praises. I was charmed as we chatted, especially when he told me he bred and showed spaniels. We ate dinner together and laughed at our stories.

I began to think I’d met my soul mate. I was quite besotted. And then he said four words that changed everything. “As a gay man……”

After I recovered, we went on to have dinner together every night.

Determined to never think of romance again, I concentrated on spirituality. One evening in Udaipur I attended a puja, a Hindu ceremony.

I mimicked the worshippers: hands together, sitting cross legged, lining up with the ladies to run holy water through my hair and accepting flower petals. As I made my way through the little alleyways back to my hotel, I almost skipped.

I could tell you twenty other stories: of conversations with women, of feeding dogs and kissing cows, of lascivious looks by young men in villages, embarrassing massages, disturbing road accidents, Bollywood movies with no subtitles, falling a little in love with my guide in Varanasi, clever beggars, and trudging through the snow before dawn to watch the sun                          rise on the Himalayas.

But I’ll just tell you this one. I wanted to get some advice from a traditional Hindu doctor. I had a hand drawn map from my guide in Varanasi and I was told it was an hour-long trip. I was deliberating as to whether it was worth it and was sharing these thoughts with a Swiss woman at my hotel. She looked me straight in the eyes, touched my arm and said, “You have nothing more important to do today!” So, I went.

As I stepped around the cows and into the white building, I was greeted by the doctor. I shared my concerns. His final words were, “You’re fine. You have everything you want in your life. Meditate, fast and you will be well in body and mind. Concentrate on writing your novel.”

Some of life’s greatest moments come when you’re not totally rational, or predictable, or comfortable. They come when you feel that pull on your heartstrings and you go with it.

Follow Your Heart (2)

May Tolerance and Humanity Win

The act of one maniac in New Zealand last week has caused life-long devastation to so many people. Whether it be a terrorism attack, hate-crime or act of insanity, is irrelevant to those directly affected. The only good that is coming out of it is how people all over the world are banding together in love for one another. We are all human and therefore, essentially the same, no matter what our beliefs, culture or traditions. Maybe this tragic incident will have a ripple effect amongst different groups, revealing that people can overcome differences and be tolerant of one another.

It is ironic that I was busy blogging about my own shortcomings of tolerance (nothing to do with racism) when my friends started messaging about the violent act in New Zealand. I was unaware!

I have nothing more to say other than my heart goes out to those directly affected, and the world in general if you believe that this was an act of terrorism. I believe that it was more an act of one (or more sociopaths) that insanely think they’re more important than others.

I would like to share a story of my visit to Kolkata where I was pleased to see how different religions and people from various backgrounds, can get on so well together in a close community. I believe Australia and New Zealand are very much the same.

I did a walk through an area called the grey area, the area between the white area (the British Colonials) and the black area (Indian nationals but more specifically, locals) at the time of British rule. I didn’t name these areas. That is what they were called (and still referred to in an historic discussion).

The area has a great Chinatown and mixed European influence, as well as Indian influence from areas outside West Bengal. The point is, these descendants still live and work here. They love it, and my guide, Manjit, a professional and world-renowned photographer, is there to prove it. He is a Sikh and therefore his family came originally from Punjab. He is passionate about the area and does these walking tours to show it off to tourists. (See www.calcuttaphototours.com and Instagram)

The religions that I saw on display, side by side, were Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Muslim and Sikhism (and of course, Hinduism which is never far away in India).

There is a beautiful Synagogue, called Maghen David, which was built in 1884 on the site of the old synagogue. Unfortunately, the remaining Jews are too few to have a rabbi. So, guess who looks after this beautiful building, on a voluntary basis – cleaning it, maintaining it, and showing people like me through it? The Muslim community!

We are all the children of the Universe or earth or God or just other humans! Whatever we believe, we’re all the same makeup. Don’t let us forget that and allow learned differences to interfere with how we get along! Let’s hope that the tragedy in New Zealand might cause a butterfly effect for good.

Peace and Amen.