Disarming the oppressor.

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My Women of the World Festival Melbourne Opening Talk: ‘3 Priorities’

I had a ball tonight delivering this little speech at Women of the World Festival Melbourne Opening (invite only). Was honoured to present alongside MzRizk, Katrina Sedgwick, Aseel Tayah, Inez Martorell, and Heather Horrocks. We were each asked to respond to this in 5 minutes: “As a woman of the world what are your top 3 priorities?” And end with “as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is…”. I love how different our responses were from each other! And that in delivering my own, I actually found a whole new group of comrades who vibed with what I said 🙂

Much thanks to Tammy Anderson for being our charismatic MC for the evening, Karen Jackson for a beautiful Acknowledgement of Country, the West Papuan Black Sistaz for bringing the music, and to Producer Alia Gabres for inviting me to share my thoughts!

 

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SO. When I received the brief for this talk today, it sounded pretty simple … until I remembered how HUGE and complex the world is, how MANY women there are in it, and how diverse our world views and lived experiences are.

Because of this, I feel the need to preface my 3 priorities by stating clearly that I am a Black Pacific Islander, immigrant citizen of a white settler colony. THAT IS THE LENS through which I see the world.

When I think of diversity feminism, because of the hugeness of the world, I tend to focus on what I know and what I can shape – and that is the societies of white settler colonies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States.

These nation-states have similar histories in terms of genocidal settler violence against indigenous peoples, slavery or coerced labour, waves of white migration, waves of persistent opposition to NON-white migration, and internal histories of struggle to extend civil and human rights to various groups within them – struggles that continue today.

Bearing this in mind, here are my 3 priorities as a woman of the world.

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Priority Number One. Think Globally.

I had the good fortune this year of meeting my hero, scholar, activist and feminist Angela Davis. One of many things I admire about Angela, is her ability to see the connections between social justice and environmental struggles in different parts of the globe; and how they ALL connect to the global economic system, and the decadence of the industrialised world. Corporatism. The profit motive.

Fundamentally, I know that this is CRUCIAL to understand. So my NUMBER ONE lifelong priority is to educate myself, and then others, on these global interconnections. That understanding enables cross border solidarity, strategizing, and collective action, for the liberation of humankind including womankind.

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Priority Number Two. Act intersectionally, locally.

This one is actually a little bit easier for me to get than most; mainly because my own lived experience is extremely intersectional. I’m Black. I’m a Black Woman. I’m a Black disabled woman who lives with a mental illness. And I am on a very low income.

On a weekly basis, I come up against the intersections of various types of marginalization I experience because of structural discrimination against me.

There are a range of structural -isms and phobias built into our colonies’ foundations that INTERSECT to make some people’s lives much harder than they should be. Whilst most women will face sexism and misogyny, focusing only on those issues fails to take into account those other systemic barriers that people who are not part of the power structure, also face: racism, colorism, homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, classism, ageism, to name a few.

Then there is the fact that indigenous Australians – like indigenous peoples in other white settler colonies whose sovereignty has never been ceded – contend with pervasive and deep rooted racism, the intergenerational effects of genocidal actions taken by colonisers over centuries, and present day settler violence against indigenous communities and bodies.

Add to that the plight of the truly vulnerable stateless people, asylum seekers and refugees, who are dealt appalling carceral punishments for committing the supposed crime of seeking asylum and a future on our imperfect but safer shores.

For any woman of the world truly concerned with social justice and liberation, prioritizing the ability to think INTERSECTIONALLY and align our social justice organizing with that vision, is essential.

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Priority Number Three. Make ethical consumer and political choices.

We live in a country that is one of the beneficiaries of the global capitalist system, which relies on the exploitation of whole countries and regions, people, natural resources and animals to create products that all of us who have forgotten how to live in harmony with nature, choose to consume. Those choices maintain demand for products. None of us, therefore, are untainted by the injustice built into the system that we are born into. My phone, for example, was created in part with elements exploitatively mined from the Congo and made by workers under indefensible conditions in China.

I am a writer and also a person with a disability; I need technology to work and live, so giving up the phone is not a choice I can make anytime soon. But there are myriad choices we as consumers living in the West make all the time, particularly if you have disposable income.

So my priority going forward is to make sure that my choices, as much as possible, are made consciously. By that I mean, I want to know where my stuff was made, who made it and under what conditions, and what it was made out of. As much as possible, I want to make ethical and educated choices.

And speaking of that, I haven’t yet mentioned the democratic system. Here again, choices must be made, not only at elections, but at all times between them. I want to choose to stay engaged with what is happening in politics on all levels, to remain ACTIVE and support the people and political collectives who champion the values I hold dear, and policies I know to be best for the implementation of those values. If Trump’s ascension to the presidency has taught us anything, it is to stay awake, engaged, and ACTIVE — over 90 million people eligible to vote did not do so, in the recent U.S election.

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To conclude, as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is that we start recognising that DIVERSITY IS REALITY, globally and locally. And that we work hard together to create a world where diverse peoples, diverse women, can live free of structural exploitation, oppression and marginalization.

Thank you.


On Meeting Angela Davis!

So this happened:

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Pictured: My beloved friend/artist/poet/scholar Wani; the incomparable and generous Angela Davis; and me having an out of body experience.

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I was truly blessed to be invited to attend a private dinner with the incomparable Angela Davis on Tuesday evening; an event organised by RISE Refugee in conjunction with Sisters Inside Inc, Eclipse, Morrocan Deli-cacy and Engenda.

The night featured a conversation between Angela Davis and local activists Meriki Onus (WAR), Fadak Alfayadh (RISE), Aamer Rahman, and host Eugenia Flynn.

If you’re not familiar with Angela Davis’ work, you really need to rectify this at once. Angela is an amazingly generous, holistically focused and incomparable American political activist, academic scholar, and author. Here is a list of her published written work – I highly recommend reading all of it. In addition, watch the lectures of hers that have been published on YouTube.

Highlight of this glorious evening of conscious conversation for me was when Angela came up behind my friend Wani Le Frère (who had met her twice before, two meetings and conversations Angela remembered because he is profoundly intelligent, charismatic, and asks great questions) and I, placed her hand on our shoulders and gently interrupted to introduce herself … and called me by name ❤️

What happened next was hilarious; earlier in the day I was on Twitter and saw prison abolitionist/activist Deb Kilroy tweet Angela Davis’ own selfie, taken at her public lecture at the University of Melbourne the previous day. I spotted my sistagirl Taloi Havini (artist/curator/thinker/beautiful human) behind Angela, so messaged her and asked if she was indeed in Melbourne and if that was her. Taloi later messaged Angela to tell her about the tweet thing and said that her “solid sista” Pauline would be at the dinner. Angela told me this. Yep. I talked to my intellectual hero Angela Davis about a selfie and twitter, ha!

Angela then talked with us for a while, and answered our questions about social justice work, intersectional feminism and global collective activism, before popping off to have her dinner.

I am still tingling from it all. So in awe of Angela’s energy: accessible, warm, generous and down-to-earth. No pretences or airs. Just an authentic human, soulfully committed to the collective struggle for the liberation of the planet.

I’m writing up notes about the University of Melbourne public lecture she gave, and will post them here when that’s done!

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“We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”

~ Angela Davis

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My Guide to Meditation.

This is a quick post for everyone who struggles with strong emotions.

I used to be one of those people. I still feel things deeply, and I am slightly bipolar – it is mild, gives me intuitive and creative blessings, is not severe enough to require medication. Nonetheless, I do contend with my natural pendulum swing of emotional highs and lows.

There isn’t one magic solution that will “fix” people like us. A disciplined, holistic approach to ones mind, body, and spiritual health is necessary in order to keep us all in a good place – fit enough to make the most of our lives and be happy, functional people contributing to the world.

However, over the years I have found one practice that has helped me profoundly to balance during times of emotional turmoil: MEDITATION.

Intuition during hard times has led me to try and practice many forms of meditation over the years: Eckhart Tolle’s presence method of detaching from ‘the Thinker’ and ‘the pain body’; mindfulness meditation; numerous guided meditations, and Transcendental Meditation (TM).

All the methods I have tried are aiming for the same thing: to enable the practitioner to get beyond both their thoughts and their emotions – which are intertwined – and become the Overseer of everything that is going on both inside and outside of them. 

Many people have a permanent and regular meditation routine that they follow, but I find that I use meditation regularly only during periods of instability and emotional turmoil. This is mainly because I am able to stay in ‘Overseer’ mode for long periods these days.

Tolle talks about practicing presence all day, everyday, and I actually find I do this – primarily because my family – whom I am in regular contact with – present constant challenges to my emotional state. In his books, Tolle talks about how simply staying ‘conscious’ with ‘unconscious’ relatives is the ultimate way to become a Master of presence. I think this is absolutely true.

Tolle also says having to transmute intense suffering can lead to the ultimate ‘awakening’ in the person who is forced by circumstance to transcend their suffering… and the only way to do so, again, is presence – going beyond thinking and emotional reactions, stepping into a higher consciousness. Transmuting suffering into consciousness is the ultimate alchemy. I have multiple experiences with this scenario, too.

So, I highly recommend giving meditation a go. And if you can, check out Eckhart Tolle’s books – I listen to his audiobooks regularly. If you’re on a tight budget (as I am!), see if you can order them in at your local library. There are numerous free meditation podcasts on iTunes – I love the ‘Meditation Oasis’ podcast. And you may be able to find affordable, accessible meditation classes at community centres in your area.

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On a comedic note, below is a link to a 2 minute soothing guided mediation: for those of us who strive for “nirvana”, but adore the F word 🙂

Next post in 9 days. Have a great week.


No Masks.

Sometimes what seems like a tragedy, or the manifestation of your idea of “the worst case scenario”, is actually a tremendous blessing in disguise. I know that seems like a glib line; but it is actually a lesson I have lived and learned, over and over again, thus far in what I feel will be an unusually and extraordinarily long life.

When I suddenly became a paraplegic in 2006, weeks after undergoing spinal cord surgery to decompress a syrinx that had crippled me over the course of two years, and at the end of a 9 year period in which everything that could go wrong in my life went painfully, irreversibly wrong, I was already an in-patient in the rehabilitation hospital where I would learn how to negotiate life in a wheelchair – and experience my first adult spiritual ‘awakening’ (there have been many, since childhood. Each one leads to a new level of awareness).

I was in a dangerously dark place psychologically before the decompression surgery, having sustained trauma upon trauma from physical degeneration, profound loss, relationships with others and a tortured and hateful relationship with myself, whilst having no outlets whatsoever – nor the emotional tools – to process the grief and trauma that filled the ocean within me like an oil spill. During that period I wrote so much and drew so many charcoal and black biro sketches; they were beautiful in the way that a sad depressing song or a dark art film might be, yet brought me no closer to the catharsis I sorely needed.

It is hard to find your way out of a dark place with no one there to guide you how to do it. People in my family, despite their deep and powerful love for me, were not equipped to guide me out of the abyss I was mired in, and barely knew how to cope with their own life aches and wounds – let alone the trauma of seeing me go through circumstances they were powerless to save me from.  I needed serious, holistic psychological lifesaving – but the only experience I had had with a psychological professional – a very young, earnest, but out of her depth school psychologist I had to see as a result of truancy – had shattered my trust in them.

In lieu of the help I needed, false tough exteriors had masked for many years the inner turmoil that I feared would engulf me if I ever really acknowledged it. This went on for almost a decade; I tried on the mask of party girl, loner, stoner, freak. I suppressed my natural interests and was ashamed of the purest, most earnest, most vulnerable and most real parts of myself; taking cues from my environment, friends, boyfriends, society, I understood that these parts of me were not acceptable – they made me different in ways that I did not want to be. Ways that I feared being.

But a door to healing opened in rehab. It was a door that those vulnerable parts of me had been silently petitioning the Universe for, even as my conscious mind was clueless as to how to lift myself out of the mess I was in. I was a zombie in the days and weeks that followed losing the normal use of most of my body. And I am a stoic motherfucker; so my instinctual reaction was to focus completely on my physical routines like a factory worker might focus on an assembly line. A set of steps. A job to be done. A ‘to do’ list. Day in, day out, doing the things to make the physios and doctors and nurses all say “good job Pauline!” before retiring to my room at night and releasing a flood of tears silently into my pillow. I was a day zombie, but I was a productive zombie. I was doing what needed to be done.

That is when I learned a very important life lesson: mind and body are truly connected. The physical rehabilitation routines eventually developed into a love of the routines; the love for the routines grew into a love for training in the gym. I became a morning gym junkie, weirdly – became physically strong, kind of ripped and ironically fitter than I had ever been when I was able to walk. I experienced an unexpected unblocking of energy and rush of joyful, sensual, creative and intuitive inspiration; I made art with rainbow colours, made music, rediscovered my sense of humour and went on moonlight strolls through the patient gardens listening to alternative music and feeling, for the first time since childhood, connected to all that is.

And simultaneously, without effort or planning, I accepted my new life in a wheelchair. And kissed goodbye to the past. It was FREEDOM; my first taste of what that word truly means. I was disabled, but man, I was free.

In tandem with this physically induced clearing of psychological blocks, I also – for the first time – had free and immediate access to compatible and intuitive psychological professionals. The resident sex therapist was a beautiful intuitive named Alexa – from memory, she rocked white cowboy boots and a retro dress daily like the fucking star she was. I’d roll pass her office on the way to my weekly meditation class (another first for me, delivered into my life courtesy of my new disability) and peer into the room adorned with rainbow cushions, rainbow stationary, aglow with warm lighting – and feel supernaturally compelled to go in.

One day I did. At the end of my first two meetings with Alexa she gave me two postcards which I still have in my bedroom and meditate on today. The first one was a print of a painting – a beautiful big banyan tree with huge roots in the earth and extending into the sky; one side of the sky was day, and the other night. Throughout this scene are symbolic creatures and sacred symbols. Before rummaging through her desk to find this card for me, she rubbed her belly and told me she had an intuition this picture would somehow be important in my life. I accepted the card with a grateful heart, but sceptical mind; yet the card has been, and continues to be, a signpost of revelations.

The second postcard she gave me moved me on a level that I had forgotten I had; shattering the false social masks that had been holding me together yet imprisoning me for a decade. We had been talking very casually about my life up to that point, and some of the realisations I was having on the other side of “the thing that I feared most” (disability) happening; but she had begun to intuit that despite making serious progress in such a short space of time, there were still some toxic blocks I needed to address – once I left this womb-like centre of rehabilitation and affirmation, and went back into the world. On the card, was a simple black and white photograph of a masquerade mask-covered face in Venice.

After leaving her office that afternoon, I turned the card over. It read:

In my darkest hour silence spoke louder than words
I am lost in a floating dreamscape
I see my face behind a mask
with knowing steps I am lured closer
reflection strips my guise
in the heart of darkness
I see a light
I hear my voice and I am found.

In those words I intuited another important lesson: beyond the artifice of social masks, constructed in the darkness of the fear that who we really are is too broken, too weird, too ugly or too vulnerable to see the light of day, is who we really, truly are. A Light within.

I am learning to live openly as the Light.

The Mask Venezia by nikita

The Mask Venezia by Nikita


HARD KNOCKS ACADEMY.

“[I] am a fully rounded human being with a degree from the university of life, a diploma from the school of hard knocks, and three gold stars from the kindergarten of getting the shit kicked out of me.”

Captain Edmund Blackadder

Been busy. Back soon.


PEACE: A Degree South Collective Exhibition

IMAGE: Ashley GILBERTSON 
Occupy Wall Street demonstrator Edgar Cancinos, 17 (from Elmhurst, Queens, NY) meditates in Zuccotti Park on November 16, 2011. Image via MGA

On Saturday (yesterday) I attended the opening of the exhibition ‘PEACE’. The exhibition comprises striking photographs from the eight Australian photographic journalists who make up the DEGREE SOUTH collective: Tim Page, Ashley Gilbertson, Stephen Dupont, Ben Bohane, Michael Coyne, Jack Picone, David Dare Parker and the late Sean Flynn. It was opened by legendary Australian actor Jack Thompson, who was a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in the 1990s, helping to establish a child protection agency called ‘Krousar Thmey’ (’new family’ in Khmer).

Underpinning the exhibition is one question: What does peace look like?

The photographers have spent much of their lives documenting conflicts around the world. The curator invited the photographers to go over their collections, this time in search of PEACE – images of peace that could resonate as powerfully as their images of conflict and war. Notably, the consensus amongst the Degree South collective was that this was a difficult theme. Whilst they found it quite easy to dive into their vast collections and emerge with ‘strong’ images of conflict (often the reason for being drawn to these locations in the first place), looking for reflections of peace captured in that same collection required signifcant reflection on their part.

And what the photographers discovered, upon reflection, was that the images of peace they captured were in fact personal photographs – “Rather than providing an overarching or grand narrative for peace” the blurb stated, the photographers found peaceful glimpses in their surroundings. Thus, they discovered that peace is often most profound in mundane circumstances. “This might help explain something of its elusiveness, both as a state of being and as a ‘story’ ”, it says. Indeed. Because that is what peace is – a state of being. And it comes in moments. Moment to moment choices to set aside the urge to argue, attack, defend, expand, conquor, strike, dominate, pay back… win.

“War is easy to represent” the ‘Peace’ exhibition press release said. “Peace seems much more difficult. The only images we have of peace tend to be clichés or pejoratives: hippies and daisy chains; olive branches and white doves; rainbows and peaceniks.” Yet I would argue we do know what peace looks like, because most of us living here live it, everyday. And it’s important to note that many – if not most – of the photographs in this collection, despite their diverse locations, are of that – of “everyday”, fleeting moments, inbetween the bloody insanity and pain-making of war, human conflict. Someone meditating in the middle of a protest. Romanian children smiling genuinely, and briefly, for the camera. Women in Herat waiting to cast their votes. Twirling dervishes, spinning in ecstatic trance states. Guns being literally cut up like litter in the Solomon Islands, post conflict. A man sewing up a hole in his garment.

Whenever I am at a photographic exhibition, I inevitably ask myself what it is I am actually viewing, no matter what the subject. Which is why Stephen Dupont’s words on his contribution really struck me: “my selection of photographs is intended to make you think about what you are actually staring at.” Dupont makes the point that someone merely glancing at his images of Afghanistan might think that they are “obviously” about war – when, in fact, they are captured moments of peaceful reflection in the midst of a war zone. In contrast, there is one David Dare Parker image that epitomises how sometimes an image that seems to be depicting peace, can simultaneously carry with it the pain legacy of a combative world. It is of a Romanian boy standing in a field, arms outstretched. When asked by Parker whether he was being a scarecrow, the boy said, “No, I am dead.” (There is an old Gypsy saying: “Bury me standing, for all my life I have been on my knees.”)

Similarly, Ashley Gilbertson’s images from the series Bedrooms of the Fallen 2007 – , taken of the now unoccupied bedrooms of recently deceased (and so very young) United States soldiers, depicts both peace and the ugliness of war at the same time. One of the images is of the bedroom of Californian Army Private First Class Karina S Lau, who died at the age of 20 in 2003, when her helicopter was shot down in Falluja, Iraq. Her lovely bedroom is unambiguously ‘girly’ – plush toys from childhood, patterned bed dressings. Strangely, it was this photograph of a female combatant that got me thinking about the dearth of the ‘Feminine’ in this exhibition. By that I do not mean a lack of women – there are female ‘subjects’ in some of the photographs (including Tim Page’s image of mothers in New York protesting against the Viet Nam War in 1967).

When I asked artist friend Taloi Havini (who’s paternal country Bougainville also suffered a bloody war last century – the background to her exhibition ‘Blood Generation’) about her impression of the exhibition, she articulated what I had felt. The collection is impressive. The photographers are male and so the photographs are taken from male perspectives –  Western male perspectives – by people who have an interest in covering conflict in their work for varied professional and personal reasons. Active combatants in wars tend to be overwhelmingly male. ‘Access’ to women by a male photographer would be affected by cultural restrictions and parameters, as well as the comfort level of a subject to be photographed. And at this point I am hungry for anti-war, pro-peace representations that embody what many regard, rightly or wrongly, as ‘Feminine’ values (nurturing, harmony with nature, et cetera), and perspectives.

In fact, whenever the subject of peace comes up, my mind continuously goes back to a documentary on the women-led peace movement in Liberia, which I wrote about in this post: Peace as a verb: being an ‘actionist’ of peace.  It is one of my favourite peace stories. The documentary ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ was produced by Abigail Disney, and follows Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist awarded a Nobel Prize in 2011, and the amazing role Liberia’s humble (and largely overooked, certainly by Western media) market women played in the toppling of President Charles Taylor, the corrupt and ruthless warlord. You can read more about the role women and the ‘Feminine’ play in peacemaking here.

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In opening ‘Peace’, Jack Thompson juxtaposed the way the original inhabitants of this land lived here for thousands upon thousands of years (in what he described as “equilibrium” with nature), with the European settlers – who carried with them the legacy of continuous territorial conflict, resource exhaustion, and aggressive expansionism. It was his segway into introducing his concept of peace: that is, peace is “the planet we inherit”. Thomson’s words ring true, and I would put it this way: that the nature of peace, is in nature. It is our natural state of being, in supposedly mundane moments, too often disturbed when outside forces compel us to react to preserve that peace, or when egoic thinking, vested material interests, obsession with power and ignorance compel us to engage in war. This exhibition reminds us of that.

‘Peace’ is being exhibited at MGA until 28 April 2013.