SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Hong Kong's courageous 'Helpers'

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I have just returned this morning from a week's holiday in Hong Kong, and I feel very jet-lagged. But before I rest I need to try to make sense of an experience I stumbled on en route to the airport yesterday.

I hadn't visited HK before and knew nothing in advance about the elevated covered walkways that transect the inner-city. But during the week I had used them a lot, appreciating their shade and even the occasional breeze which managed to slither in between the skyscrapers. I was very used to their orderly, task-focused foot traffic too. So yesterday I was in for a shock. The foot traffic was still there, but squeezed to the centre of the path. And firmly ensconced along the perimeter fences were hundreds of Filipino women - in cardboard boxes.

My first thought was that they were protesting. And as I had discovered nearby, the previous day, a shrine to HK's 'Comfort Women' (locals used as sex slaves by Japanese troops during WW2, who still await justice) I wondered if the protest was on their behalf.


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But as there were no placards, banners or megaphones, I quickly dismissed that idea.
Anyhow the women seemed oblivious to the outside world, absorbed as they were in the activities in their pods. They were sewing or knitting, eating or drinking or playing cards. There was a lot of talking, laughter and some tears. Some women were asleep and others were doing each other's hair or nails. 


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I had no idea what was happening. Next I wondered if it was a homeless encampment. But that seemed unlikely because of the temporary nature of the space's availability. Also the women had no large personal belongings with them. And I was puzzled by the cardboard boxes.
 

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At first I thought the boxes looked like cages. But after a while they appeared cosy and enclosed - temporary tiny houses. The shoes left outside many of the 'doors' enhanced that image.

I was very keen to know what was going on. It felt important.  But at the same time, clearly I didn't belong, and I didn't want to intrude. So it was only when 'Mara' caught my eye and beckoned me over that I was finally enlightened.


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I don't speak Tagalog, and although Mara (back right) had some English, communication was by no means easy. Nevertheless, Mara was able to explain that all the women on this particular walkway are from the Phillipines. Every Sunday, all over HK, women like her and her friends, who can't afford cafes or movies, meet in public places - walkways or parks or occasionally Church halls.

As to my question about the cardboard, Mara said it provides cheap ($1 - $2 per box) shelter and privacy and protection from dirty floors. It is also more 'homely'. I really appreciated our conversation and the women's generosity in spending part of their single day off in my company. I knew it was time to move on though, when misunderstanding my question: 'Do you all work with families here?' as: 'Do you all have your families here?' the friends went quiet. Mara finally replied softly: 'No. All our families are in the Phillipines.'

During the week prior I had noticed many 'helpers' (the term used in HK for domestic labourers) most often with pre-schoolers.

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No matter how much they grow to love their tiny charges, it must be just about intolerable for the helpers to leave their own children behind in the Fillipines (or Indonesia or elsewhere). Mara was clear that tripling her salary has made the sacrifice worthwhile - as it ensures her children's education.
But I was left in awe of these working women's courage. And their ingenuity in providing each other with needed support, while simultaneously keeping their sense of community alive. 

Now I'm off to bed!






Monday, November 05, 2018

'Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary'

Walking goats in Heidelberg:
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I have just finished reading 'Degrowth in the Suburbs: a Radical Urban Imaginary' by Samuel Alexander and Brendan Gleeson of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne). I loved it. It is realistic yet hopeful. Imaginative and down-to-earth. And it reinforced my, at times wavering, belief that people acting together can be unstoppable. Especially when, as the Paris '68 activists put it, they determine to: 'Be realistic - demand the impossible!'

I was particularly happy to write this review as the themes of 'Degrowth in the Suburbs' are dear to my heart. As the authors put it:

This book addresses a central dilemma of the urban age: how to make suburban landscapes sustainable in the face of planetary ecological crisis. The authors argue that degrowth, a planned contraction of overgrown economies, is the most coherent paradigm for suburban renewal. They depart from the anti-suburban sentiment of much environmentalism to show that existing suburbia can be the centre-ground of transition.


 Backyard beauties in Footscray:

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I found 'Degrowth in the Suburbs' scholarly but accessible. It provides a thorough overview of where we are and where we need to head. Ecological experts argue that for the rest of the world to consume as Australians currently do, humanity would need four or five planets. So energy descent is no longer a radical notion but an obvious necessity: 'We must figure out how to leave oil before oil leaves us.'

Leaving oil via pedal power in Heidelberg:

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Alexander and Gleeson proved masterful in making the idea of living lives of 'voluntary simplicity'/'frugal hedonism' not only a necessity, but even an attractive prospect. As they suggest, and the Hoodies (below) would attest, sharing housing, gardens, animals, tools, child-care leads to a life of rich connections, contentment and great food!

 The 'Hoodies' of Heidelberg:

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The authors assert that rather than being an environmental calamity in terms of their drain on resources, the suburbs can lead the way forward to an improved and sustainable future. In fact they already are.

People are growing food in their own backyards, courtyards or even balconies. And they are sharing it:


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They are converting car spaces into mini gardens (Fitzroy):

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There are even beehives atop CBD buildings:

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As the authors point out a model exists already of a country living with minimal access to oil.  Cuba found itself in exactly that situation after the imposition of the  US embargo. And this necessitated the entire population instantly transitioning to an 'energy descent' lifestyle:

 Petroleum free fertilizer - giant worm farm - community urban farm Havana:

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Contented cows Havana urban farm:
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Contented farmer Vinales Cuba:


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Do yourself a favour: buy 'Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary' by Samuel Alexander and Brendan Gleeson (Palgrave Macmillan).
 Check it out at:


Urban imaginary in the making Heidelberg:

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Friday, June 29, 2018

#RedLine in the sand, #NoNewCoal protest Flinders St Melbourne

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This cold grey morning early - but not as early as the brave souls who started at 6am - I jumped on a tram. Destination: Melbourne's #NoNewCoal Redline protest in Flinders Street. This action is part of a wave of protests occurring this weekend all over Australia  - from Adelaide to Cairns, from Canberra to Mackay. They are aimed at challenging our Government's love affair with that redundant abhorrent energy source, coal.
By the time I arrived the protest was well underway. Volunteer teams were carrying the main banner from one corner to the next at Melbourne's most historic intersection. Although walkers were rostered to carry the banners for a full two hour shift, so far they were showing no signs of flagging:


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What the protestors have in common is the determination to show fellow Australians - and the world in general - that no matter how far we might live geographically from the Reef and the Galilee Basin, those places are nevertheless close to our hearts. And in fact there was one participant who could easily call Galilee Basin home.
Denyosaurfrydosaurusclimato rex visited Melbourne today on a mission. He was there to remind us that that sediment from the Galilee Basin lusted after by Mr Adani, was deposited there 323-238 million years ago. Right back when he was a lad and when some of his mates came to their final resting place in the nearby Enomanga Basin's world-famous dinosaur fossil site.   Denyosaurfrydosaurusclimato rex didn't need to say much. His presence was sufficient, a reminder that we need to leave this ancient fossil fuel, coal, where it belongs. In the ground:

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Other protestors talked more than our dinosaur friend, often to curious passersby.
One protestor came wearing Nemo on her head. I wondered if  this was to remind us that Nemo, who started life 15 years ago on the Great Barrier Reef, would be in for a shock were he to return. He might not even recognize his birthplace as it has become so bleached and diminished over the intervening years.
No doubt that was why 'Nemo' was keen to talk to passers-by about the need to fight for the Reef:

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One protestor arrived with chalk in hand. Chalk drawing is always fun to do. And fun to watch.


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Plus it's a great way to get the message out there - to educate people who might not otherwise appreciate just how bad fossil fuel is for the environment:

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Melbourne's Red Line protestors intend to stay on, moving from one famous corner to the next - from the heritage Flinders Street Station, past Federation Square, over to St Paul's cathedral and then on to another cathedral - the Young and Jackson Hotel. Then around again, for the next 18 hours.
I realised on my tram journey home what a perfect protest route this is. Honouring these historic public buildings is just what we all need to do with natural icons like the Galilee Basin and the Great Barrier Reef.

Protestors will be lapping through the night right up until 12 noon tomorrow (Saturday). I imagine by then they will be very tired and cold. So if you are in Melbourne, and want to express your solidarity, you know what to do!

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Save Public Housing Rally Northcote


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Today I joined the community rally at Walker Housing Estate, on the corner of High and Walker Streets Northcote. This action was organized by the Public Housing Defense Network in association with the Victorian Socialists.

Estate residents were joined by protestors from all over Melbourne concerned about their plight.

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We need more public housing not less, was the point made powerfully by the first speaker William Gwynne, a long term resident of the estate. William admires the workmanship and durability of the estate buildings. In his view they were made to last, as is the community that has developed over time within them.

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 Clare Foley, who has lived for 8 years on the Ascot Vale Estate, another of the 9 Victorian estates slated for renewal, attended the protest out of solidarity with the Northcote residents. Clare read her speech because she said she was inexperienced. But she proved an impressive speaker, and I kept thinking about her ideas all the way home. I will paraphrase some of them for you. Here goes:


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Clare made the point that as far as secure housing goes there is no 'us' and 'them'. Especially given the uncertain times in which we live, 'everyone is only three steps away from homelessness.' Although for some people, public housing can be seen as 'the bottom rung of the ladder' for Clare it has quite simply been a 'lifeline'. 

She admitted that she was a nervous when she first moved into her estate, as she had heard so much previously about how estates were riddled with drugs and violence and residents constantly caused trouble. But she has come to understand these claims as misconceptions: 'Many people help each other a lot. And we have no more or no less trouble that anywhere else.'  

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Common land needs to stay in the hands of citizens, not greedy individuals/corporations. So said Stephen Jolly, Yarra City Councillor and Victorian Socialists member. He also made the point that there is already a precedent for people winning battles in Yarra - 3 years ago people power defeated an unholy alliance of State Government/Big Business and plans to build the dud East-West Link were dropped. That victory required tactics such as 5am picket lines and in Stephen's view it is time for the Save Public Housing campaign to do likewise - to shift from a 'G-rated to an X-rated campaign'.


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The stakes are certainly high enough. Sue Bolton, Moreland City Councillor and Victorian Socialists member argues that the government's renewal plans hit the poorest and people of colour hardest. And even if they are offered new homes back in their old estates after renewal, many residents will be unable to afford them.

 Fiona Ross (seen below with fellow advocate) is from Friends of Public Housing.


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Fiona stressed how important it is for public housing to be under public control. Once this land passes into private hands it will be lost forever. Read more from Fiona via her blog: savepublichousing.blogspot.com.au

The scandal of increasing numbers of Victorians being forced to sleep rough and former low-cost temporary options like boarding houses, hostels and backpackers' accommodation being squeezed beyond capacity are further evidence of the the public housing crisis that currently faces us. There are already 40,000 applicants waiting for public housing and that number is growing steadily.

As William Gwynne concluded, in some ways he is less concerned about current residents. At least they will be found some alternative place to live. His worry is more for those on waiting lists. Particularly as public housing dries up even further, what will happen to them?


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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Stop Adani! - Paint Melbourne Ports



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This afternoon I met with a group of Stop Adani protestors beneath those giant jaws beloved by generations of  Melbournians.

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This choice of meeting place had a pleasing synchronicity. Just as the heritage fun park's aim is to preserve Luna Park for future generations - Just for Fun for years to come, protestors against Adani's land grab are determined to protect the Reef and the Galilee Basin for future Australians. And with a bit of luck (and a mighty fight) hopefully the last laugh will be ours!

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You might well be wondering: What has Melbourne Ports electorate got to do with Adani? Why stage an action there? Apart from the fact that protestors got to spend an afternoon in one of the most beautiful, hippest parts of town, there is another compelling reason.


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 Melbourne Ports, which covers the suburbs of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, Middle Park, South Yarra, St Kilda, Balaclava, Elwood and parts of Elsternwick and Caulfield is a key electorate in the upcoming Federal election. The seat is the most marginal in the country, won by Labor in 2016 with a miniscule 1.3% and on the basis of Greens preferences. And as candidates are already desperately vying for votes in the run up to the next election, they are hopefully at their most receptive to voter influence.  So Melbourne Ports seemed particularly fertile ground over which to strew Stop Adani posters, while talking to as many locals as possible along the way.


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One challenge for anti-Adani strategists is that the actual site of the struggle - western Queensland - can feel like a world away from home for the majority of Australians. And although most people are distressed about the Reef, it can feel like there is little you can do from a distance. That is why to win this battle Australians everywhere need to see the future of the reef as their business. And the battle to save it as winnable.

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Electorally, this means that politicians in Albany or Davenport, in Robe or Broome, just like those in Melbourne Ports, need to be getting a strong message from voters that opposing Adani's hubris is of critical importance. It is on a par or even outstrips local issues, and citizens need to demand that their politicians take a stand that reflects this.

It might warm the heart momentarily to hear that, personally, increasing numbers of politicians feel opposed to the Adani mine. But we need more from them than weasel words, and the time for equivocation is well and truly past. Politicians need to commit to fighting for their convictions - just like we are.

#StopAdani  #BlockadeAdani  #FossilFree

 

Friday, May 04, 2018

Accelerate Climate Action - Bill McKibben at Collingwood Town Hall


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Bill McKibben is a climate hero, in recognition of which in 2014 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, aka the 'alternative Nobel'. In 2006 Bill founded 350.org, the world's first grassroots climate change movement. It has now staged 20,000 demonstrations around the world - everywhere except North Korea (and thanks President Trump! - that might be changing soon?!).
The Australian branch, 350 Australia, organised the tour and are powerful environmental defenders, staging a range of actions including the highly successful divestment event in Melbourne on Valentine's Day 2015 (photo above)
Bill's 2012 article, 'Global Warming's Terrifying New Math' for Rolling Stone magazine, was one of the magazines' most read articles, and had a huge impact globally on changing the way people think about investment in fossil fuels.
Bill tours the world arguing that the future is already upon us and we need to accelerate our response to climate change. And last night was I in luck! He landed just around the corner - at the glorious Collingwood Town Hall, proudly flying its Aboriginal flag in welcome.

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More than a thousand people from all around Australia joined the packed town hall audience last night via live broadcast.  Sadly they missed out on our arrival present - free ice creams from Ben and Jerry - who originate from Vermont just like the guest of honour.
I didn't know what to expect from the event, having never heard Bill McKibben speak live before. Nor was I prepared for the richness imparted by the other speakers. I found myself scribbling frantically in the darkness in an attempt to capture some of their insights for you, so here goes (and any mistakes are failures of my shorthand, nothing to do with them):

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Brynn O'Brien, who is an international social justice lawyer - business and human rights her areas of expertise - described herself as a 'newby' on climate change action. She underwent a rapid conversion and is now a powerful force in ACCR (Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility). She spends lots of time speaking to big fossil fuel investors. In September 2017 this bore fruit when an amazing 10% of the vote at the BHP shareholders meeting went ACCR's way, with the result that BHP said it would quit coal.
Rio Tinto was next to fall, as a result of a shareholder's revolt. They have now also just exited coal. And in the last 6 months ACCR has doubled its support within the financial sector, which is a tremendous result.
Brynn emphasized that superannuation is key; it has a huge impact on the financial sector and could change the financial landscape utterly. So we know what we need to do!

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Joe Dodds is a writer and Councillor in Tathra and a survivor of the hellish bushfires which ravaged her area on March 18. Joe describes herself as someone 'bringing news from the front line of climate change'. Joe, courageously, publicly challenged Malcolm Turnbull for his assertion that it is inappropriate to raise the issue of climate change when there is a crisis.
As she concluded: ' (From now on) I want to bury fossil fuels, not friends.'

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The guest of honour, Bill McKibben, described how last month in Pakistan the temperature reached 50 degrees, which is the highest ever recorded in April on our planet. It is alarming facts like this that fuel his determination that we need to act now, not tomorrow, on climate change.
He said that he hoped for a long time that his writing alone would make an impact, but in 2006 he changed his mind.
Nowadays he believes that we have had 25 years of phoney debate as to whether climate change is real or not - phoney because the big polluters have known all along that it was a reality. He suggests that we are now no longer in an argument with Big Business/Government, but rather in a fight. The fight is all about those age-old preoccupations: money and power. And its objectives are 3-fold. In his view there needs to be: 

1. Fast just transition to renewables, which is attainable as the cost of solar panels is falling rapidly.  It was heartening to learn that by 2020 Canberra will be powered exclusively by renewables.

2. No new fossil fuel projects. Keep carbon in the ground where it belongs.
This is why the fight against the Adani coal mine is so crucial, and it was encouraging to hear that Bill is confident we will prevail. Certainly all around Australia people are doing their best!


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3. Not a penny more for dirty energy.
The way we send that message is to divest from companies that fund dirty energy. It is great to hear that the City of Melbourne has now divested.  And that even with Trump at the helm, on 18 January the Mayor of New York announced the city's divestment to the tune of $200 billion and that New York was suing the five biggest oil companies for destruction caused by global warming. To mark that auspicious day the Empire State building glowed with green lighting!
Bill said that sometimes the fight feels a bit like the Rebel Alliance against The Death Star. But one thing he is sure about is that we will do it together. Another is that we will have to move super fast, just like the Kay-aktivists who blockaded the giant Shell drill en route to the Arctic. (Shell finally conceded because the fight was in danger of destroying its reputation.)
 Bill concluded: 'Some days it feels really dark to me. But whatever the future holds, there will be one helluva fight along the way!'

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Fittingly the last word was left to Joseph Zane Sikulu, from neighbouring Tonga. Joseph is Pacific Project Coordinator for 350.org
Joseph opened by reading a poignant poem he had written entitled 'I fight for my islands because...'
He described the recent resilience of his people as they faced the 3 most powerful cyclones ever in as many years. He believes that Australia is responsible for transporting a great deal of destruction to the Pacific.  He said: 'We are people who stand up when called to action. We are Pacific Island Warriors. It is Australian's turn now to stand up to your government and financial institutions.' As Joseph put it:

We are not drowning. We are fighting. 

#FossilFree #BlockadeAdani