11 moments of hope in 2018

Some days it doesn’t feel possible to write, speak, cook, eat, watch, listen, dream, much less have hope that these will be possible in the future. 2018 had plenty of those moments. Despair, I guess, is what it comes down to.

Bad things are easier to notice. I recently met someone who works in a casino. He said that when high-rolling gamblers lose, they instantly explode. Slap hands to sweating foreheads, yell swear words, blame the dealer. When they win, they hardly make a sound. A little grunt of recognition, nothing more. Winning was how things are supposed to go, they reasoned, and losing, though statistically more likely, was catastrophe. Unlike a win, the potency of loss didn’t diminish with time. Pretty soon it all swirled into despair. Gambling minimised the good until the bad floated swollen overhead like a gigantic blimp.

It’s important to remember moments of hope. Because without them, what’s the point? These are some hopeful moments from 2018 that came to my mind – mainly Australian and US stories, which has made me want to make sure I read more news from elsewhere in 2019.

26 January – Largest ever Invasion Day protests

Up to 60,000 people rallied in Melbourne on a sweaty day last January. Having walked from Parliament House, across tram lines and stalled intersections, they stopped to sit on melting tar outside Flinders Street Station, listening to speakers protest the racism of governments past and present. The moment marked a turning point, even dwarfing the Australia Day crowds, as more sought to acknowledge the violence of Australia’s colonisation. Activist Gary Foley predicted that 100,000 people would come to this year’s rally. Soon, we’ll see if he’s right.

24 March – The March for Our Lives

Emma Gonzales emerged as a major voice for gun control in the US after seventeen people were killed by a lone gunman at her high school in February. Her speech at the March for Our Lives, including 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence (the duration of the shooting), was one of its most powerful moments. 11-year-old Naomi Wadler also spoke for African American victims, “simply statistics instead of vibrant girls and women,” and whose stories were never front page news. Their voices were grief-stricken, angry, and loud. “We call BS” became a new anthem for hope.

21 June – Victorian Parliament votes to begin Treaty framework

The beginning of the Treaty process in Victoria, recognising the sovereignty of Indigenous people, will be an important story to follow in 2019. Though a Treaty process was introduced in South Australia (“paused” by the incoming Liberal government) and the Northern Territory, neither have progressed to legislation. It remains to be seen how the concept of sovereignty will work, and whether it will increase momentum for the federal government to enact the Uluru Statement from the Heart, but it’s an exciting time to be in Victoria.

10 July – Tham Luang cave rescue

This was the good news story to end all good news stories. The plan to save the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach after they’d prowled into the bowels of an underwater cave mesmerised the world. The rescue was nail-biting, unbelievable, a miracle. It was also such a simple story – catastrophe averted, life preserved. I loved this story, and all the “did you know that in the Thai cave rescue [insert wild and crazy fact here]” stories that bloomed like mushrooms for weeks afterwards. Everyone had their stake in the rescue, including a Japanese luminous tile company. It was, in the end, all about helping.

29 July – Ahed Tamimi released from prison

If 2018 was full of fierce young women who didn’t give a fuck, then 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi was their queen. She was imprisoned with her mother early in 2018 for hitting an Israeli officer and quickly became an international symbol of the Palestinian fight against occupation. She said she used her time in prison to learn international law, hoping to continue fighting. “Yes, it’s true it’s a big responsibility,” she told The Guardian, “but I am certain I am up for it.”

The Caravan – Since 2017

For over a year, people have trekked in large groups, for safety, from Central America to the US-Mexico border seeking refuge. The president has painted this as an invasion, threatening to call a national emergency, but while the debate is poisonous, it is worth remembering that the story of migration remains one of hope. Despite the physical and verbal attacks, and the humanitarian crisis that it represents, the caravan asserts rights to safety and freedom that transcend borders, fanned by the hope carried in human hearts.

24 August – Peter Dutton does not become PM

Usually I find the phrase “it could be worse” to be pretty unhelpful, but in this case, it’s appropriate. It was deeply satisfying to see Dutton dismissed from the race for PM after his own buccaneering attempt to roll Malcolm Turnbull. The Liberal far-right got a small taste of what’s surely coming for them at the next election – total poo-stained defeat.

October - Kids off Nauru campaign

Asylum-seekers in Australian immigration detention have led one of the longest and most sustained protest campaigns in our history. People my age grew up with horrific images of hunger strikes and sewn lips at Woomera, and now witness the fight for medical evacuations on Manus and Nauru. This year, the election of Kerryn Phelps, an independent in a blue-ribbon Liberal seat who ran on a Kids Off Nauru platform, evidenced a turning point in a debate which has slumbered apathetically for so long. People began to listen.

7 November - US mid-term elections

The US mid-terms saw a number of historic appointments to congress. Among them, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who became the first Muslim women elected, and Deb Haaland and Sharice Davis who are the first Native American congresswomen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at 29, is the youngest ever elected senator, and is already shaping the debate with her ambitious Green New Deal and ideas on lifting the marginal tax rate for multi-millionaires. If you switched off from US politics for self-preservation, now is an excellent time to switch back on.

Business wakes up to climate change

Throughout the year, it’s become obvious that the business community regards climate change as a serious threat. From energy to oil, companies have called on government to set policy to curb emissions. While motivations can be questioned, the important thing is that these calls revealed the ideological basis for ignoring climate change. We have reached the point where the CEO of Woodside Petroleum is calling for the Paris Agreement to be honoured. Whether you see that as lip-service, or proof that fossil fuels are no longer a lucrative industry, when money talks, governments (generally) listen.

30 November - Schools Strike 4 Climate Action

These grassroots climate protests were held in massive numbers across the country, led by school students. The impact they made in the climate debate cannot be underestimated - some commentators are even comparing their organising in strikes and walkouts to activism during the Vietnam War. Seed, a climate justice network run by young Indigenous students even staged a sit-in in Parliament. There are more school strikes on the horizon, with the next one scheduled for March. I once heard a climate activist say that one of the best things you can do is learn to be led (by the right people, in the right direction). I think we found our leaders. Bring on 2019.

School students strike in Inverell. Source:  Inverell Times .

School students strike in Inverell. Source: Inverell Times.

Whose emergency?

You often hear the word ‘inaction’ when people talk about climate policy. Last week, thousands of school students threw excellent shade at pollies while protesting that inaction, demanding far-reaching responses to the climate collapse we are all living through, and that they’ll live through the longest.

Days before the kids went on strike, the UN released a report saying that Australia was on track to miss its Paris targets. The day of the strike, quarterly figures showed emissions had risen compared with the previous year. According to the UN, the current policy is only a little better than doing nothing at all.

You could be forgiven for thinking “business as usual,” Scott Morrison’s comically understated methodology for dealing with climate change, is to blame. But policy stasis is the least of it. The government is in a state of emergency. Parliament House is pinballing off walls like a teenager drunk on Red Bears (or whatever is current these days). And it’s the self-declared political emergencies that are enabling the actual emergency of climate change to escape unnoticed.

Last night, Scott Morrison called an emergency after-hours meeting to pass new rules ensuring that Liberals could no longer chuck sitting leaders so easily. That’s right, an emergency night-time meeting to vote that the very circumstances that led to him being able to call that meeting could never happen again. (Except that they could. The new rules will require two-thirds of the party to agree to a leadership change. Party rules themselves can be changed with a fifty-percent majority, as Amy Remeikis pointed out in The Guardian).

What made this meeting so important that it couldn’t have been put off till, you know, daylight? Some are reporting a rumoured challenge from Julie Bishop. Some are saying it shows the Liberals are getting serious about signalling stability.

It doesn’t matter. The point is, at the very moment people are demanding politicians spring into action and enact drastic responses to the climate crisis, we find them fully occupied with crises of their own making.

The cynic in me expects nothing less. Historians will draw a direct line between leadership challenges over the past ten years and rising emissions already pushing the earth toward irrevocable damage. Human beings were tiny, squabbling, unable to see the bigger picture while everything around them burned. Self-interest got in the way of self-preservation.

 But really, I don’t have a lot of time for that narrative.

 That narrative says that for some reason, climate change runs on a parallel track to everything else. We’re told so often that social issues like gender, race and sexuality discrimination are “getting better” (whether you buy that or not), but for some reason climate is different – primordially linked not to justice or equality, but to the very worst human qualities. As if we are so psychically hobbled we just can’t help it.

I don’t think that version of events is fair to those kids who demonstrated, and it’s not fair to most people. Most people are perfectly capable of acting responsibly in circumstances that are difficult. That’s how life works. Unless you are Craig Kelly, you don’t get to have a tantrum if something doesn’t go your way.

What we need is less moral signalling about climate change, and more concrete solutions to what is primarily an economic, not a spiritual, crisis.

Even Malcolm Turnbull, who keeps bobbing up to offer his “belief” in climate science, against the conservative right faction of his own party, isn’t being helpful. All he’s doing is inflaming an interminable Liberal war and I’m sure he knows that. I want to say to him: you don’t work here anymore.

When Turnbull was deposed, it was, like Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott before him, over energy policy. Climate has become a proxy war in this country. Who cares if it’s a war between climate sceptics and sympathisers? If they hate each other, it’s on a cosmetic level. Like our refugee policy, the terms of the debate are being increasingly dictated by conservative infighting.

Climate policy does not have to look this meagre. In the US, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is proposing a Green New Deal, modelled after the post-Great Depression economic stimulus packages, and aimed at radically de-carbonising the economy. It sounds big because it is. These are emergency measures, appropriate to the scale of the science, and while support is by no means guaranteed, at least this type of holistic, far-reaching action is being talked about.

In Australian politics, no one has put forward that kind of leadership. Not even Labor, who have said it would be difficult to “tear up contracts” on a self-funded version of the Adani mine, so as not to dint foreign investor confidence. Even if that is the case, I don’t see why it would be more difficult than, for example, interfering in the energy market to engineer cheaper energy from coal, which has also been floated. It’s the same logic.

As we’ve seen, “emergencies” require all kinds of changes to normal procedure. What’s the point in stabilising investment prospects if the coal industry is a ticking time-bomb?

And besides, wouldn’t you rather be the incumbent who took a stand on coal-fired power than the opposition who said, “we’ll let anyone can suck anything out of the ground, if the price is right”?

If there’s one thing you learn from following Australian politics, it’s that pretty much any reality can be willed into existence if you believe it hard enough. In this world, Craig Kelly’s preselection for a safe seat at the next election ranks as a higher governmental priority than the G20, where the world’s largest economic powers meet.

(If you don’t regularly watch Sky News, you might be thinking, who is Craig Kelly anyway? Trust me, it really doesn’t matter.)

The kindest reading of all of this is that it signals the death throes of a certain kind of conservative magical thinking. But my hunch is that the internal crises are yet more attempts to deflect from being fundamentally unable to offer credible policy on climate.

The real emergency is not Liberal chaos, it’s climate change. I’d say it’s time to start acting like it, except that in their own way, they already are.

Boxes on boxes on boxes

You can get cardboard boxes from Coles, Woolworths and Kmart, but not Bunnings. But it always depends who you talk to. On Wednesday night, two women, who looked in their mid-twenties, on shift at Coles, gave us about nine boxes fresh from transporting thick, reusable plastic bags at the cash register.

"Just wait like 10 minutes, and you can have all of these", she said, gesturing to the bounty before us.

"Help them out," said Shaw, handing me a box full of bags, "No, no, no... you don't work here," they said.

But I kind of feel like I do. I've been to this supermarket at least once a day for the past year and a half. When people ask where we live, I joke, 'aisle 13 of Coles'. It's not a joke, really. I think the same company that owns the supermarket complex is the one that owns our little low-rise townhouse development. The shape of it is certainly supermarket-esque. The houses line a cul-de-sac on either side, square windows facing inwards like perfectly aligned shelves of breakfast cereal.

We are moving out of our house this weekend, well, Monday is the last day. We nod at our neighbours on the left side, their little white dog escapes sometimes. But otherwise, we don't know anyone. When the left side moved in, I was working in our garage, which about five housemates ago used to be a makeshift studio. My desk was wedged in as far away from the wheelie bins as possible, next to the rainwater tank. But it was the accumulation of bikes that edged me out in the end. And the cold. And our old housemate's yoga zone.

When our neighbour dropped round, I thought it was to complain about the noise of the podcast I was listening to. I turned it down immediately. But it wasn't that.

"I just wanted to say hello," she said, "I'm a teacher and it's the first day of the school holidays. Good time to get out and meet everyone."

"Everyone," as though there was a little group of us. Maybe there is and I'm just not a part of it. But I don't think so. Our interaction with the street is entirely sight-based, looking in through those portal windows. At night, you can see everything, lives unfolding in tiny, well-lit boxes. It would be a great setting for a 90s pop video. Or a horror movie.

Opposite us is a sharehouse of younger girls, maybe early twenties. They had a farewell party the other night, and they'd strung up the most elaborate farewell banner all across one wall. They came in with their Coles bags and cooked a really impressive spread of party food, but then the blinds went down so we missed the surprise. 

Next to them is First-Person-Shooter house, two massive HD televisions linked up and permanently navigating a minefield of grey-blue smudged warzone, the head of a gun needling around the screen, looking for cyphers to kill.

On the other side, there's a home gym in the garage owned by a guy with incredible muscles. We also have a rooftop, but I've never seen anyone up there when I've been up there, in the whole complex. I wonder when they hang their washing out. Perhaps the walls, like Offred's hood, just conceal everyone from view.

I always wanted to meet the neighbours, like our left-hand side people did. I had visions of opening a community cafe in our garage on Sunday mornings and getting to know everyone in the street. It never happened. Because of time. And the bins. And the bikes, and yoga.

Even the bedrooms are stacked like bricks. Our bedroom is on the top level, and we can see the sky through our window. Everyone else's bedroom looks into the house. The bottom floor bedroom looks directly into the garage. I mean, the studio. This is one of the better-designed complexes in our area. It's really not so bad, but you do end up feeling a bit like cargo. Over the past year or so, I've felt myself solidifying just a little bit, like a single-serve packet of easy-mac.

There are more things to habitats than just the space. When Le Corbusier designed the Unite d'Habitation in Marseille, he was working with a 'unit of man' that corresponded to all the places in the house, furniture in-built to these specifications - designed around the 'ideal' - not the typical - human body. It was supposed to be 'a machine for living in', a modernist marvel.

But I remember once reading an interview with some of the original inhabitants, who took a different view. Despite the accolades, they didn't really care for the in-built architecture. One used the bed as a desk, and hung up her fussy, gilt-framed mirrors everywhere; she draped Victorian laces over all the surfaces. Le Corbusier's 'ideal' habitat was not ideal to her; she needed it to correspond not to her measurements but to those things that she loved. Even if they were ugly, useless and old fashioned.

We made what we could out of our boxy little house - food, mostly. We did end up having our restaurant on the rooftop, we made a little pulley-system for ordering which went down to the kitchen. What else did I make there? Two quilt works that didn't fit anywhere, that were too big and completely impractical and a huge pain in the arse, that sprawled.

I think my brain was in some subconscious way rebelling against the low-level, unspoken pressure of it all.

Of rooms that fit single humans, but were no good for groups. Windows that fit bodies but not sound. Rooftops with sunlight but that shut out most of the wind. So many neighbours, but no sense of community. Nowhere for the rain to go but into pipes and tanks. Where is this place? What is this place? Sometimes, it felt like nowhere.