Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Don't Diet, Riot."

I have a t-shirt in my closet from the last decade. Its a little paint stained now. It’s from the RMIT Tafe Womens Collective and bears the slogan “Don’t Diet, Riot”. Even at the time I got the t-shirt I could see the irony to it. After all, I knew a few people inclined to riot that might have benefitted from changing their diet of a litre of coffee for breakfast first.
The point of the slogan is to challenge how much energy women in particular are encouraged to devote on self-change rather than social change. Back in those Uni days I was involved in a lot of efforts to produce social change. I organised as well as attended rallies, I helped create free-food networks. I published zines, postered and otherwise proselytised. I took a bucket of chalk into the city regularly and encouraged people to take up temporary graffiti. I was a member of collectives who occupied buildings and built tent-cities. I even joined the Greens and stood as a candidate for a seat they would never win; It allowed me to talk to all the high schools in my local area about workers rights and feminism.
I often saw and seized opportunities to demonstrate collective action and build solidarity in everyday situations; the dole que or the supermarket. I identified as an activist before anything else. I was radical but committed to engaging with society not separation. My final student placement was at Centrelink and I was employing action research principles to engage young service users. I wasn’t just an angry lefty. I was an optimistic anarchist.
Then I got beat up at a protest. By police and pretty badly. (September the 11th a year before the trade towers fell) Further to cover up their crime they charged me with assault. Afterwards poorly aware of how badly this had affected me I pretty much trashed my health and a long term relationship I was in. This certainly replaced my optimism about activism with fear. I never knew the readiness of the state to turn to violence to serve the powerful so well before. It wasn’t that which really ended my activism however. It was a feeling of the uselessness of the “movement” in helping me hold it together and eventually get back to some healthy place.
The post-protest support networks seemed to be organised by and for various political factions. I was never a member of those. I felt unknown. One activist “ally” even refused to hand over photos of my injuries for the court case because they were her property. The only people who I felt stood by me were my real friends, many but not all of whom were fellow activists, and family. Subsequently I felt and still feel that I was naive in my belief in ideological solidarity. If family is blood to friendships’ water then ideology is as thin as air.
After the court case died down I was still angry and suffering for it. Even more than trusting family and friends I had to conduct some serious self-change. I went to counselling. I cut down caffeine, did some relaxation techniques, worked on my sleeping and (with the assistance of my elder brother in particular) paid attention to my diet. Perhaps to the mortification of Tafe Women’s Collectives I even made sure I looked after my appearance. These things made a life saving difference. It was good dieting not rioting that I needed then.
When I felt well enough I did re-engage with society but it wasn’t as an activist. Although I now had a social work degree my self-confidence was still too low for paid work so I took some volunteer work at a drug and alcohol detox. A year or so later this turned into a job. I remember talking to some young firebrand of a uni student about this time. She saw me as burnt out and didn’t want to hear when I said “I just feel it’s healthier for me to be working on the individual level at the moment.” She couldn’t see that the individual level and the social level are connected, that the one forms the other. She would be even more unimpressed with me now.
Now I’m a dad. I’ve worked in a few places, more detox work, in prison briefly, with street-involved youth in Toronto, at a supported accommodation for people with mental health issues, but I was very happy to give it up to be a dad. My partner has worked full time for almost two years now and aside from a day a week of family day  care started six months ago I’ve been the stay-at-home dad (horrible term really) since our kid was one and half. Further we have no t.v. and I hardly ever read the paper. We live in Bendigo. At the last election I handed out how to votes for the Greens with a stunning lack of knowledge of the issues. This is really the apex of my withdrawal from social activism and my involvement with society writ small.
So why am I telling you all this? Well I asked for some blog post ideas because the piece I was working on started to look a little crappy. I got two suggestions. One about what Democracy means and another that asked “How important is physical occupation as opposed to conceptual heft/virtual profile etc. to the Occupy movements success?” Where I’m coming from at the moment I don’t have a lot to say that easily addresses these topics. Both are interesting but I look at them sideways in a way that some people might feel misses the point. I thought I should explain why I want to speak from this place instead of any other. I’m not against big movement, public activism but it doesn’t capture my heart either. I still remember its uselessness in my hour of need.
That said I often feel dissatisfaction with my almost complete disengagement with social activism. As the kid gets older I want to reconnect with making the world a better place alongside other people rather than at home one load of washing at a time (which reminds me). This blog is actually a part of that.  I’m also contemplating chicken co-ordinator at the kids kinder.
You can look forward therefore to a few more political posts mixed in with the philosophy and theology. I even have some thoughts about the specific topics suggested to me; about 1,400 words worth at last count but I’ll let my sexy editor review it first.
Until then, eat well.

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