A few weeks ago, I was invited to a friend’s house for lunch as part of the Dinner Party Project. As some of the people attending were parents, rather than dinner, we arranged lunch (so much easier!). The aim of this lunch was to encourage people around Australia to engage in a dialogue about the issues that are important to us and to provide the powers at be, our ideas on how to make this country a better place (for more information on the Dinner Party Project, go to http://www.thedinnerparty.net.au/about).
The people who gathered at this lunch party were what one could say – left of the mainstream political spectrum. They were intelligent, passionate and great cooks.
As we enjoyed our vegetarian lunch, my friend started to ask questions to get the dialogue started. Firstly we were asked what our ideal society would look like. We responded similarly in saying that it would be a just society where the arts, culture, public healthcare and education were recognised. I added that safety was important, because if you don’t generally feel safe, then it’s hard to engage in society. Another guest added that they felt housing and the lack of affordability was important, so a ‘good society’ would have greater equity in housing.
As the conversation continued, it was apparent that we were all good at identifying problems. These problems ranged from a lack of appreciation for arts and culture, greater emphasis on ‘jobs’ at universities over theory, difficulties in getting real information in the age of information, disengagement from politics and politicians, cynicism at the world at large and the inability to ‘switch off’ from social media. Interestingly, the internet was seen a source of a lot of this evil, by demanding a 24 hour news cycle where we receive snippets of information and more and more sensationalist headlines to get our attention.
Something else that we as lefty, activist people identified was our exhaustion – we simply had no time. No time to get up and do something, no time to get the whole story and too tired to bother with much political engagement. As parents, our children take much of our attention and energy and rightly so. By night time we’re so tired, we’d rather watch something ‘light’, than a serious documentary or ‘depressing news’.
I think this is something that we were struggling with, well it is something that I struggle with. Have my ideals waned? have I become softer?
I am the child of parents who were activists. Even when I was a baby I was going to rallies with my parents who were protesting the Shah of Iran (in the US!) and I remember going to Iran at the time of the revolution. I grew up around politics. We Iranians love to talk politics and having lived through the Iran and Iraq war, there was a lot to talk about!
I remember before I was passionate and pissed off – at a lot of injustices in the world. My friends at school will remember me as the girl who wrote anti-war messages on paper and then sticky taped this to my school shirt (I think to my peers, I was a bit of a ‘weirdo’ at school). I went to rallies with my parents and continued this on until I was in my early 30’s. Stop the Jabiluka Uranium Mine, Stop deforestation, Anti-Nuclear War, Palm Sunday Peace Marches, Refugee rights, Anti-Iraq War…..
Now what? nothin! I see posters for rallies – marriage equality, refugees etc, but I’m no longer attending. I too am tired and after negotiating with my 4 year old all day, I prefer a good comedy over a serious ‘depressing’ film too.
So after this lunch, as I drove home, I thought to myself – what practical things can one do? I mean politicians probably realise the problems too, but it’s very hard to ‘fix’ things. I am a practical person, and these are the ideas I had to remain active, albeit in a different way. You never know, I might start attending rallies again too!
- Pick your issue – there are a lot of terrible things going on in this world and it can get very overwhelming. Accept that you can’t fix it all, but pick something that you’re especially passionate about. For me that’s the environment.
- Try and find local action groups that you can get involved with. Or just ones you want to be in contact with to see what events, if any they run. There is a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction in getting something done and seeing the fruits of your labour. I think that is where a lot of people get disconnected. They don’t SEE the impacts of their positive actions. I have found that there are so many people and groups through my local Council and community groups that are doing great things, and rather than going it alone and starting from scratch, I try to tap into these existing groups and resources.
- Live your life in accordance to your ideals. This is a lot harder than it sounds. It means changing the way you live. Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just advise or tell others the way it should be done – do it yourself first. If people see that, then they will follow your good example.
- Break down the ‘big issue’ into bite size chunks, that way it won’t seem so overwhelming and impossible.
- Accept your limitations – whether that is time, finances, whatever it is. You’re less likely to become disengaged if you realise that you only have so many hours or minutes that you can dedicate to your issue.
- Share you ideas, ideals and information with your children, family friends and if able, the wider community.
- Take care of your health. It is something that we take for granted when we’re healthy. Keep it that way.
- Love life and remain positive. It’s very easy to get caught in a negative cycle, but think about the things you have been able to do.
So that’s my checklist. I’d love to hear from anyone with any more ideas and while most of this is not able to be forwarded to the politicians of the world, it is something that I can control in my life and that makes me feel good.