Occupy Sydney: Why The Doubters Are Wrong

Thursday, 27 October 2011
There's nothing worse than finding yourself on the same side of an issue as one of the right wing bile spewers you normally despise - certainly during the Bill Henson controversy was mortified to find myself agreeing with Miranda Devine. I guess safety in numbers would help, at least for many lefty types I know who have come out against the Occupy Sydney/Melbourne/Australia protests. It must be hard being on the same side as John Howard's stunt double Gerald Henderson, who applies his right wing touch to the protests. We'd expect that from the conservative chorus. But why are so many normally open minded progressive types in agreement?

It's a partial agreement, to be fair. "I support the Occupy Wall Street protests" the line from the sneering hipsters runs, "But not Occupy Australian City. What have they got to complain about?" However, they've completely missed the point of the thing. One popular post doing the rounds (on Tumblr, no less) sums up why they just don't get it.

Yes, Australia has come through the GFC largely unscathed. But not completely. Around 100,000 Australians lost their jobs as a direct result of the economic downturn (I was one of them) - not huge numbers, but if you were one of them, it kinda rankles when people act like you don't exist. Unemployment overall is low, so most of those people, apparently, found other jobs (although Australia suffers from gross under reporting in unemployment statistics) but the effects of the GFC will be felt for years to come as we pay off the budget deficit acquired to stave off the worst of the economic woes. The system which allowed the GFC to happen is still very much in place.

And we are vulnerable to it in Australia; we're part of the global economy. The decisions made in corporate boardrooms around the world very much affect us here. The protests are global, too. One of the dumbest criticisms of the protests has been "the Australian economy isn't like the U.S. economy". Well for a start the global Occupy movement started in Madrid - Occupy Wall Street came later - and second it's about showing solidarity, and Australia is very much at the whims of the global system of capitalism. We still have a system where CEOs can receive obscene bonuses whilst laying off staff and cutting costs to the detriment of service and safety; we still have a system that is reliant on personal over corporate taxation for the backbone of federal revenue. Services which were once provided by the government are now outsourced. We are going down the path of two-tier health and education systems. Yes Australia has it better than many other countries, but for how much longer if we keep sitting back and letting it get worse?

Perhaps the most amusing, or offensive, comment from the anti-Occupy brigade is "wouldn't it be great if those participating in the Occupy protests did volunteer work instead." Aside from the irony of smug hipsters sitting in coffee shops tapping on their iPads telling those who actually get off their butts and do something that they should be doing something else instead, it's just plain wrong. Volunteer work is something we should all be doing. But it's grassroots stuff. There's that hackneyed old saying "give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime." It's true here. Volunteering does nothing to address the long term problems of social inequality. It's the ordinary people cleaning up the messes which have arisen through the actions of the powerful - closing mental hospitals, underfunding disability services. We need the short term help of volunteers. We also need to fix the problems which require them. So do both. But don't attack those who choose to protest by declaring what else they should be doing, whilst you do nothing at all.

Rather than declaring what's wrong with the protests, or quibbling every detail of their sometimes blurred agenda, we should be supporting them in recognition that the current system needs to change. Maybe the alternatives aren't perfect, but is capitalism?

The Greens - I'm With The Brand

Thursday, 20 October 2011
You'd think someone of my political persuasion, being a Greens member and all, would be a nature lover. Nope. I can't stand nature. I'm a lady out of the concrete canyons. I hate dirt, trees, fresh air, and being away from wifi. And nature hates me back - look at all the dangerous things that happen to people woh go out in nature. There's an awful lot of weather out there, and you can get lost, and aren't "natural" disasters the worst sort? That said, I'm a pretty peaceful sort of person, so I wish no particular ill upon nature; I just think the best place for humans is in medium-density housing in the city, leaving nature well alone.

So I'm not a tree hugger, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. I understand the need for a pristine natural environment, but it's not one of my main passions. And whilst I'm well aware that environmental protection is the Greens' raison d'etre, I was nonetheless surprised to read that, according to the SMH, the Greens brand is outdated and they need to remarked themselves to appeal to a new demographic on social justice issues. Really? It's not like the Greens are doing too badly. Leaving aside the untrue line that the Greens are actually running the country (that'd be nice!), they're doing pretty well in the polling at the moment, and getting some good work done in parliament, with nine senators and Australia's best-looking parliamentarian, Adam Bandt (although he would have faced some stiff competition from the lovely and vivacious Helen Coonan).

So is the Greens' image really that of sandal-wearing hippies? I began voting for the Greens, and later joined the party, because of their policies on social justice issues. Labor and Liberal were largely indistinguishable on many of the issues - asylum seekers, same sex marriage, welfare, education - and believing that the measure of a society is how we treat the worst-off of us, I could no longer in good conscience keep supporting the Labor party. I'm not alone; it has been lamented that Labor is losing a generation of talent to the Greens, so it seems that even if the Greens are perceived as crusty dreadlocked types chained to trees, there is more than that attracting the 1.4 million Australians who gave the Greens there first preference at the 2010 federal election.

Does it really matter that "Greens" has become a pejorative term on talkback radio, a synonym for socialism, government control, do gooders and bleeding hearts? I'm proud to be "insulted" by talkback radio callers and News Ltd columnists; the bile spewing from the right may actually be doing some good. Would rebranding the Greens do any good anyway? The Country Party became the National Party, but without a significant change of party they've not exactly set alight inner urban electorates.
Besides, Greens parties an international movement, thanks in part to Bob Brown. The Australian Greens would be nuts to distance themselves from it. No, the Greens should stay proud to stay exactly the way they are.

The Day of Unrest - Occupy Sydney

Sunday, 16 October 2011
Apparently I'm part of the 99%. It's not often in my life I'm in the majority - I'm a socialist, after all, which can be a kind of lonely position. Seems though that all over the world, people are waking up to the gross economic injustice which has arisen as a result of free market capitalism, and they want to do something about it. The protest movement which began with The Indignants Movement in Madrid, and spawned Occupy Wall Street, is spreading across the globe, and yesterday it was Sydney's turn, as part of the global day of action. There have been plenty of knockers, and it's true that crowds were modest, but you have to start somewhere. I wonder how many of those sneering at the protest now would turn up if it continues and grows? In any case, I wanted to add my support, and have BabyG see something important even if he doesn't know it yet, so we went along for the afternoon.

Was a little slow to kick off.

It was a lovely day for it, anyway.

Looking west on Martin Place; the Channel 7 studios are in the right background.

The banners mounted over Martin Place at the moment seem very appropriate.

There were so few people holding sings that those who had them were in great demand for photos.

The ostensible organisers. I was rather alarmed at the age of some of them - these kids haven't even started to be screwed over by capitalism yet.

The protest in Australia were a fraction of the size of other nations. The GFC hasn't really touched us here - the unemployment rate in Australia is a quarter that of Spain, for instance, and we've had no austerity measures, so we just haven't developed the intense anger of other nations who've watched their economies turn to crud. Also, let's face it, Australia has a pretty poor tradition of political protest. We're to damn laid back sometimes. What exactly do the protesters hope to achieve? In some ways that isn't important. What is important is they have something to say, and they get to say it, and they have hope someone will listen. It's that hope I want to pass on to my son, to stand up and be counted.

The Man for the Job

Saturday, 8 October 2011
Bidding farewell to DH, who was off for a job interview, he asked if I had any tips. "Mention you have a wife and baby", I told him, "It makes you look good".

It sure does - if you're a man. Sexism is still alive and well in Australia, at least in the field of recruitment. A married man with young children is seen as responsible, caring, unlikely to quit in a hurry or goof off as he keeps a roof over his family's head. A married woman with small kids? Forget it, obviously the job won't be her main focus. She'll need to leave early, won't do overtime, take lots of time off cause her kids are sick, and will probably resign soon to have another baby anyway.

Late last year, in a fit of despair over the state of the world, or at least thinking I was too damn sensitive for this youth work business, I made a brief and unsuccessful attempt to get back into advertising. Now, it could be that I'd been out of the industry for over a year, or that I don't interview particularly well. But I can't shake the feeling that at least part of the reason for my failure was due to being a married woman in my thirties. "Great skill set", I was told more than once in the sorry-but conversations post interview, "but we just don't think you'd fit into the team". Probably true; I put in a good effort at the office, but come quitting time I like to head home, not keep up with the work-hard play-hard twenty something AEs hitting the bars with the boss and clients. But dammit, I was good at advertising if not socialising, and it would have been nice to be given the chance to try. The stereotype is way off the mark in our family, anyway - our hope is that I will work full time whilst DH assumes most of the care of Baby G.

There's ageism as well as sexism going on, and it's pretty much impossible to legislate against. One anecdotal tale proves nothing of course, although recruiters I've spoken to agree these stereotypes of family roles are definitely a factor in hiring women over a certain age, that certain age being about 28 (there's no statistics on it though - really, who'd admit to it in a quantifiable fashion?). I've abandoned a corporate career and moved into the not-for-profit sector, where this is much less of a problem. I recently read in the SMH female readers' tales from the 1970s of being unable to withdraw the money they had earned from their own bank accounts, or access a tubal ligation, without their husbands' permission, and thought thank god we don't live in those days. But we really haven't come as far as one would hope.

Reflections on the First Month of Parenthood

Sunday, 2 October 2011
So BabyG is now one month old. It's been the longest and the quickest month of my life, quite startlingly unlike anything I could have imagined.

I thought I knew crazy hanging around engineering students, but I'd never had someone throw up on my breasts before. I thought I knew frustrating dealing with advertising clients who insisted on using seven different fonts in one ad, but I hadn't yet had to change nappies three times in ten minutes - or seven times in two hours. I coped well as a youth worker with several teenagers, but discovered it's different with a newborn - your shift doesn't end. And there are the days when you realise it's 1pm, I'm still in my pajamas, and I've just eaten a cornetto, because it is full of sugar and can be eaten with one hand. How did it come to this?

For all that though, it's really not as bad as I was expecting. At the end of the book Up The Duff, the character whose imaginary pregnancy diary we've been following reflects on early parenthood. She makes it seem a horror show of epic proportions - not knowing if it's day or night, no sleep whatsoever, being unable to shower or eat or do anything much at all except sob and wait for your kid to start school. It hasn't been like that for me. The first few weeks were bloody tough it's true, but that was more about my physical state after the c-section and broken rib, rather than the baby. When other mothers speak of how little sleep they're getting, I only smile and remain silent, knowing that if I confessed how much sleep BabyG gets, they'd beat me to death with bottles of frozen EBM. The house hasn't gotten particularly messy. There are no piles of laundry. I fear we're doing it wrong.

I've learned not to turn to books for guidance. Parenting books are, well, rather bossy. There's two opposing schools of thought - the first that you must have your baby adhering to a strict routine or the manipulative little mite will have you getting up at night to them in high school; the other that you must not let your baby cry unattended at any time or they will grow up to suffer major depression, always get picked last for sports teams and never find true love. The verbal sparring between the adherents of each philosophy will, I fear, form the storyline for a series of Underbelly in years to come.

We've decided to go with a see-what-happens-and-go-with-the-flow approach. The days have formed their own sort of routine. We do get out a bit, but it's easier just to stay home a lot of the time when you have a baby who still breastfeeds for hours on end (that said, my first public breastfeed was in the pub - go hard or go home I say). I've had my run ins with Foxtel, but they've been a lifesaver in recent weeks. I've read a lot of forums but haven't touched most of the parenting books. Maybe I should write one of my own, but I don't know how I ended up with a newborn who sleeps through at night. Pure bloody luck. I couldn't write a book any time soon. Sleep aside, I still have pretty shocking baby brain and it's taken ages to write this post. Parenting always changes though, I've learned that already, so maybe in a year or two, I'll be ready to scribe all this. Just one problem - DH is already saying he wants another one.
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