Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupying myself

It is hard to believe that a year ago i was preoccupied with the X Factor. Now, i am preoccupied with occupying things. In any day, i occupy a small cupboard at the hospital, some steets, and a couch. i can even occupy myself, in the Zen tradition.

In my other life, i Occupy Hagley Park when i can. i went down to Occupy Christchurch one freezing Stormageddon day with blankets and hot water bottles and things, and found four men standing ankle deep in it. They stayed. Others came and went. People fed them. When the storm stopped, they could dry out and do their own cooking and keeping warm. It's been like that - sort of a cross between a camp ground and a student flat. There are General Assemblies each evening. i go to some of them. There are maybe thirty people each evening. They use a very particpatory form of democracy designed for large groups, with hand signals and no hierarchy, just jobs to do. It is a bit mysterious for some of the older ones, especially those with Union backgrounds.

And i have been on the second march, for Labour Day. i did that for Tyler. Tyler has a microbiology degree and has been unemployed for nearly a year. He has cut his hair and shaved his beard and applied for a factory job. And Adam - Adam works in the dangerous Red Zone, for minimum wage, when they call him up, with very poor safety conditions, and studies maths and chemistry at school in his spare time. Most of the young people in my life are under- or unemployed.

The Occupiers are mostly young, tertiary educated and male. There have been several rousing speeches given at the marches from guys my age, about how we need to get out of it and support the young people to learn and do it the new way. Well, i wonder. i went 'Hmmm...' to myself, in my best Marg Simpson tones, and got to thinking about what middle aged women can offer.

Firstly, we are the 99% if anyone is. We are the food court cleaners and the office workers and the carers in dementia homes. We migrate, and support whole families back home. Life is just grind for many middle aged women. i am luckier than most.

Secondly, we are these guys' moms in spirit if not literally and we know stuff. We know how to organise things and we know lots of momsie stuff like how to make a meal with veges in it and how to mend a broken heart and how to manage money. We are women, we are wise...we get it, we have been there.

Thirdly, we are history, or at least a bit of it. The history of protest in New Zealand goes back to Parihaka of course, where Te Whiti used well thought out non violence techniques agianst the colonialists. And in 1911 a young Robert Semple stood where Aotea Square in Auckland is currently being Occupied, and spoke against the inequalities of wealth and the need for working people to stand up. My own history is from the peace movement in the 1980's. i am blessed with education. i have read from Noam to Naomi. i have been able to follow the thinking over time, and i am pleased to be learning more now.

So, my dears, thank you for welcoming me as we stand in the muddy park, in the gathering darkening chill, and discuss the future of our world by the sound of flapping tarps and the small rain falling, and the light of a dying netbook. i have some things to tell you, and some things to hear from you before the evening is out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

i turned up

On Saturday i occupied Christchurch, which is weird considering i actually live here.

i have followed the Occupy movement via Adbusters and Anonymous for some time and when the global day of occupying places came i was keen as. Unfortunately others around me did not feel the same way so it was just myself and my daughter who turned up. i felt strongly about turning up. You can blog and tweet and post and 'like' for ever, but in the end if you weren't there you weren't there, as Gertrude Stein almost said.

i had expected a post modernist gig but in the end it was fairly standard stuff. Took me back in years ...A smattering of older woman from the peace movement, Maori and Pasifika women, lots of dreadlocks, the usual intense young man with floppy hair and a megaphone. There were a few V for Vendetta masks. There was an open mic. People said more or less inspiring or useful things. A vote was held about party politics being kept out of it, but that didn't deter certain people with gold rosettes extolling the apparent genius of Milton Friedman.

At three we marched, and marched and marched - up to Westfield Mall which is the nearest Christchurch still has to a bastion of consumerism. We ran the gauntlet of sneering teenagers and got tooted at a lot, both friendly-like and not. By then there were over two hundred of us. There were some good placards. i liked 'The beginning is nigh' and 'I like kittens'. There was chanting of course. The intense young man with the floppy hair and the megaphone got the hang of spelling 'Occupy'* and the tautology club chanted 'The people united will never be divided'. By the trip back to the park we were Occupying, people were tired. i lost track of the chanting a bit. Was it 'Whoring Greeks'? or 'Boring Greens'? Oh, right, it was 'Foreign Greed'. Got it.

The atmosphere was festive and there were dear little dogs. There was no police presence to speak of, but just in case we were issued with small leaflets telling us what to do if arrested. Now, Android has an app for that called 'I'm getting arrested' (there really is an app for everything).#

Some days on, the occupation has continued and there is a live feed on facebook. Food not Bombs have brought hot chocolate. People seem cheerful and determined. All the Occupy groups in New Zealand are keeping in touch. Maybe something will come of it.

i went because several times in my life i have seen world events that indicated strongly to me that major social dn political change was imminent and imperative. And every time i have been wrong. The last time was in 2008 when i was in Malaysia and the economy of the west just collapsed. i watched this from the perspective of mainstream South East Asian media and marvelled. At last the impetus had arrived and with Obama on the horizon there was a chance we could finally take a thoughtful look at our values and our principles. i have always known our political and financial institutions are not capable of helping us with the exigencies of this age. Now, presumably it was becoming apparent to others that we needed to do things differently. i have said, humans made this. There is nothing natural or inevitable or given about these systems. They were made by people in power who had ideas and made decisions. There are many different ways to organise ourselves and our resources. We can make something new.

Of course i was wrong again. It was business as usual - more so really. i should have known that any real direction comes from the grass roots, from the 99%. And, here we are. It's not cohesive or measured but it really is getting bigger and it does seem to be diverse and thoughtful and educated, and it is attracting some serious commentary. So i can get out of the way or i can lend a hand, 'cos perhaps at last the times really are a'changin'.

* Only one 'o', sweetie

# Imagine this:
Officer: You are under arrest.
Me: But i don't have the app for that! Wait! Can i download it?
The App: You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to download any relevant or appropriate app....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Diagonally - a simple poem

The leaves fall diagonally downwards.
The birds leap diagonally upwards.
The air is striped with the trajectories
Of birds and leaves
Falling and leaping
And leaping and falling

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Default to Cute

Colleague: Do you have any mental illness in your family?
13 year old girl: We've got dwarfs!
Me (sotto voce): Hi ho, hi ho...

We didn't have the heart to tell the dear wee thing that dwarfism is not a mental illness.

i do not have dwarfism but i am significantly short statured at about 4' 8". In the USA i am oficially a Little Person and eligible to join the LPA, the Little Persons' Association of America.

The height limit there is 4' 10". I would be considered willowy. i would be in the back row in group photos. i would be in their basktball team. i would be the Irene Van Dyk of Little People. (OK, netball then.)

Being a short statured woman has some drawbacks. When you are young, the default setting for social interactions is Cute. People (mostly men) would put their hands on their knees and say "And how are YOU today?" with beaming smiles. Honestly, i once answered that i was just wondering why the deconstructionalists want to undermine the onto-theological presence. Honestly i said that. And he said 'Oh' and walked away. Maybe now that nerds have taken over the world things are different, but at the time nobody could get their heads around Cute and Brainy at the same time. Nor could they walk and chew gum, clearly, as JFK said about Gerald Ford.*

i am the daugher of a short statured man. My father was 5' and my mother 5' 1". For my father height was a serious issue. He would tell my brother, never show your anger. A big man who is angry looks intimidating; a small man just looks funny. He had had a childhood punctuated by ridicule for his size and his intellect. He learned to drink his Harden the Fuck Up juice. i suspect it made him bitter, but he was also a careful and occasionally compassionate observer of human nature.

People talk about Small Man Syndrome and at times i comment on that ugly phrase. Would we have Black Man Syndrome or Tall Man Syndrome? i am unsure what it means, but it seems to indicate that small men have a kind of syndrome that makes them easily piqued and agressive. i wonder if anger in small men amuses or surprises or even threatens us. Maybe it is that same inability to manage two thoughts at once - we can't grasp Cute and Brainy together, nor can we grasp Small and Angry. Perhaps anger in small men is more readily seen as aggression. In a taller person the same behaviour may be seen as assertiveness, or holding the line, or making a stand. My father felt his anger would not be socially sanctioned. He had no right to those emotions. He tried to teach this to my brother for his protection in a world he saw as hostile. It was an adaptive lesson.

i guess us short people are not Smurfs, is all.

*acutally he didn't say walk.