Time to bring things to a close..

A mere 3 years living in Stanmore it’s now time to bring this little blog project to a close. After a period of about seven years in Sydney I made the decision to move back to Newcastle. The move took place six months ago. The relocation wasn’t without some regret and I’ve left close friends and work colleagues in Sydney, but overall I’m really happy with the move. It’s an exciting time to be living in an exciting city, and I’m loving seeing it with fresh eyes. For an artsy run down on Sydney’s little coastal cousin to the north I recommend the most excellent Novocastrian Files.

I began the blog, falteringly, at the end of 2008 as I moved from Glebe to Stanmore. It was a bit of a project and a challenge for myself to pay attention to the immediate surroundings, not only to observe but to try and be a part of the wonderful goings-on in the Inner West. To some degree it worked.. I found the more time I put into blogging and connecting via Twitter the more I got out of the experience. Some months the blog felt like just another thing to be guilty about not doing. But eventually I think I found a natural rhythm to it and gravitated towards writing the sort of posts I was interested in. Typically rants.

Looking back, here’s a few of my favourite memories and places in and around Stanmore:-

  1. Walking home from the CBD to Stanmore through the dirty, beautiful, organic mess that is the Inner West. It was a long walk and took me way too long to work up to doing nightly, but eventually I came to love that part of my daily routine. The cool air, the flow of workers in traffic fleeing the city to suburbs of their own, and the air of relaxed anticipation for those whose evening was just beginning. If you ever get the chance skip the bus, train or cab and just walk it you should do it.. it’s good for the soul. (Though not necessarily the body – a physio had to attend to my hip joint after some months of walking daily..)
  2. The sight and sound of a seriously big airliner flying, no, screaming overhead in rain, water pouring off the wings. Standing on Stanmore Station waiting for the morning train you wouldn’t imagine something so visceral could happen at so mundane a time of the day.
  3. And while we’re near the station, the most excellent Paper Cup cafe deserves a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood. I was slow to come to it but the wholesome, spicy menu and simple, contained aesthetic grew on me. Plenty of cafes get the look right but miss on the soul. Others have the attitude but not the follow through with the menu. Paper Cup gets it all just about perfect.
  4. The Marrickville Markets are consistently one of my fondest memories of Stanmore. Perhaps it was the regular stalls I’d look forward to: the chai stall, the satay tofu burgers, the mushroom lady. Maybe the uncanny knack of always running into someone I really wanted to run into at the markets. Or perhaps because the vibe was always just so darned nice. There’s bigger markets, there’s flashier markets, but I don’t think there’s nicer markets in all of Sydney.
  5. The open air gallery in the lanes and walls around Wildford St, Newtown. It’s world class, so step up Sydney and start taking some care of it. Taking a lazy stroll through the lanes is an invigorating way to kill an hour. New artworks appear all the time and for a change in tone there’s always the latest ‘exhibit’ from local l’enfant terrible Sergio Redegalli.
  6. The IGA on Enmore Road. I’m serious – this place freaking rocks. Cramped and a little oddly laid out, this little supermarket never ceased to amaze me for the shear range and awesomeness of stock. It really shone when it came to the vegetables section though. The range, freshness and reasonable pricing put the nearby major players to shame. I miss the readily available stock of oyster and shiitaki mushrooms here in Newcastle – it’s just not the same (sigh).
  7. The politics. Keep it hard left, Stanmore.

I guess that’s it. This blog has officially run it’s course and can be put out to pasture. Thank you very kindly for reading and an especially huge thank you to those of you who took the time to follow the blog regularly and comment. In writing this blog I’ve been surprised a number of times by the goodwill of strangers, one or two of whom I’ve formed friendships with. To me strangers connecting and confirming a sense of community is the internet at it’s very best. As always you can get in touch by leaving a comment or via the email address in the About page.

Thanks for dropping by and I hope if you’re not a local to Stanmore you’ll have the chance to explore this sleepy, beautiful little suburb yourself someday.

Reverse GarbageEnmore Road shopfrontsLast autumn in StanmoreSidewalkNumber 96Message in the concreteWallStartled catRooflinesChanging leavesWeekley ParkAdam's PizzeriaCity glimpsesStanmore StationTurretNumber 2Storm over Enmore RoadCement works, Blackwattle BayZap!Creeping creeper Camperdown lanewayMicro park, GlebeJogger, Fish MarketsOrganic potatoes, marketsPassing by planeUnwanted techSubstation remenantPortable bikerBeautiful clouds, modern monstrosity, PyrmontEnmore Road sunset

Carillion Avenue, 7:00PM, Jacarandas

A friend recently called the fallen flowers from the Jacaranda tree ‘November’s carpet’. That’s a nice phrase for a nice time of year.

 

Enmore Road, 7:30PM, 36°

More Occupy Sydney ranting

Last week I had a bit of a rant about the Occupy Sydney (OS) movement. I’ve been stewing over why the Saturday march annoyed me the way it did. I’m think I’m frustrated because I really want it to succeed, and yet locally at least it seems to be doing everything it can to alienate itself from the general public. I’m also frustrated because having read up a little more on its development and decision making process I see the movement as suffering a bad case of the cart pulling the horse – and I don’t see that ending well.

I made the prediction in my last OS post that while ever OS preached a grab-bag of the usual far-left complaints it would suffer the same fate as the recent anti-globalisation movement: irrelevance. While anti-globalisation brought up a lot of very valid complaints individually, the net effect of that confusing mass of ‘anti’ messages – anti-war, anti-consumption, anti-corporatism, anti-neoliberalism, anti-global warming, anti-capitalism and so on – was to unsurprisingly baffle the hell out of the average punter. Each anti-globalisation rally basically became a social day out for the same uber-radicalised Left faces. I should know, I was one of those faces.

Ultimately I believe it was counterproductive because in the public’s mind it associated important issues with poorly articulated, jingoistic-sprouting radicals and pointless clashes with police. There was no bridge to the public, and as such the net effect was to not only tarnish the participants but also the message. I see similar beginnings with the Occupy Movement. It places us in a situation where we have a movement with no concrete demands – hence the cart before the horse analogy. (Admittedly the speed with which it has taken off has no doubt caught a lot of activists off guard.)

On the OS site an article asks the public why they support the movement. At the time of writing this it had 54 responses. Most were articulate, some were quite moving. Recurring themes arose of unaffordable housing, long commute times, trouble finding relevant work or jobs with uncertain stability, and a general discontent that a few had amassed so much wealth. So what vision statement has the Occupy Sydney movement settled on?

Copied directly from the Occupy Sydney website:

Occupy Sydney Unifying Statement:

    • We act in solidarity with protests and occupations that have occurred and are occurring in New York and other US cities, Spain, Greece, Egypt and other cities around the world.
    • We are the 99%.
    • The system is broken.
    • A better world is possible.
    • Human need, not corporate greed!

That’s a unifying statement? Unifying to who? Far-left radicals who speak in over-simplified slogans recycled from the anti-globalisation movement? Are they really the people the OS movement needs to convince? I get that the ‘99%’ slogan is rhetoric, but if the movement genuinely does aim to represent virtually everyone then that includes people who don’t vote Green, who believe in small government, who want welfare spending down, who want tougher laws and harsher sentences and oppose protests. Put simply, statements like those above don’t do that. They employ highly partisan language and empty chants that wouldn’t be out of place on a Resistance t-shirt. In short, the movement appears to speaks to a different 1%.

But what about those perfectly valid issues raised in the ‘Why Occupy Sydney’ responses? There’s nothing partisan about affordable housing or better commute times. I think it’s worth comparing for a moment the OS movement to the Sydney Alliance campaign. Sydney Alliance to those that haven’t heard the name before (NOT to be confused with Socialist Alliance), is a non-political movement based on a community movement in London. London Citizens managed to successfully lobby the city and key businesses to raise the minimum wage to a figure set annually, reflecting a fairer living wage.

I bring up Sydney Alliance because it is an example of a grassroots movement done really, really sensibly – the opposite of OS in other words. It operates on a charter of inclusion and dialogue, rather than confrontation and finger-pointing. The Alliance works like this: its organisers firstly approach a diverse range of community, workplace and religious groups and run workshops in relational networking (aka sharing backgrounds and stories). From these workshops common issues emerge. Alliance members break off into groups to focus on specific issues, and brainstorm proposed solutions. At this point, and only at this point, Sydney Alliance begins a public campaign to address the issues. By this stage it has built a broad coalition of partners, identified pressing community issues, and thought through ways to solve these issues.

Interestingly the issues that are emerging from the Sydney Alliance movement are the same ones that people are bringing up on the Occupy Sydney website. So what’s the moral of this little detour to Sydney Alliance 101? I guess to illustrate that there is an effective, inclusive way to see change through, and an equally ineffective way. I’d just love to see the Occupy Sydney movement utilising a few more methods out of column A, and a few less from column B.

UPDATE: I received a very nice comment the other day from an Occupy Sydney spokesperson that fairly asked if I “have some strategies you think will ‘work’?” It’s a valid question – criticism comes all too easily online. Over the weekend I’ve had a think about the challenges Marlaina raises and jotted down some responses. I’m posting my response here in the article body because, well, I should have included it in the first place along with my criticism.

A – CLARIFY THE MESSAGE: Much hay has been made in the media that the Occupy movements in Australia don’t have a clear message, and represent concerns that aren’t directly relevant to Australia. Addressing this should be a matter of priority.

  1. Develop a survey quizzing supporters on their concerns and the issues related to the Occupy movement they feel are most pressing. Make the survey available in person and online  (easy enough with gDocs). Collect as many results as possible and study the feedback. Identify the recurring concerns.
  2. Present these concerns as concrete, achievable targets (ie. 20% renewable energy by 2020 is an achievable target, ‘human need not corporate greed’ is not).
  3. Before writing off our democratic system completely as ‘broken’, try to use the avenues available within it to raise the issues (letter/email campaign, 10,000 signature petition, etc).
  4. Give all Occupy Sydney media spokespeople talking points before actions. Make sure they can articulate the aims of the movement in a few clear, inclusive, positive sentences using bipartisan, slogan-free language. Stay on message and don’t allow other campaigns to piggy-back on the Occupy movement (ie. NT Intervention, free Gaza, etc).

B – BROADEN THE SUPPORT: You’ve got the radicalised 1% on board, now try to capture some support from the other 98%

  1. Compile a list of influential community, religious and business groups (yes, business – they were hit hard in the GFC remember). Invite representatives of each along to a listening day where you just hear their concerns. Get RSVP’s, hire a hall, provide refreshments. Don’t talk during the day, just listen.
  2. Afterwards look back over notes of each groups’ concerns, similar to the survey step above. Consider common ground between their concerns and the Occupy movements (which you’ve by now clarified). Draft a letter individually to each group that attended highlighting this common ground, stating that you wish to campaign publicly on their concerns, and would appreciate their presence at future actions.
  3. Be nice to the police: they’re part of the 99% as well and are only doing their jobs. Hell, maybe some of them support your aims. Antagonising the authorities with speeches decrying ‘police brutality’ or yelling ‘Nazi f***ers’ to their faces (both of which I saw on 5th November) is counterproductive and tempts a heavy-handed response. To which everyone outside the movement will think you deserved. Do the police have concerns of their own? What are current police union campaigns? Can they be integrated into the Occupy movement? Obey all police directions. If you witness inappropriate police behaviour record it and file complaints or legal action through official channels.

C – MANAGE YOUR IMAGE: Be aware of how the movement is portrayed in the mainstream media, and fair or not every action by every Occupy participant reflects on the movement. The anti-carbon tax rally in Canberra was widely ridiculed by the public and press because of several offensive banners. Don’t be so naive as to think the Occupy movement will be judged by a separate set of standards.

  1. Keep all official press releases, online and print media jargon-free and politically neutral (I think you’ve been doing a great job on the latter but not the former). Don’t refer to vague notions like ‘big business’, ‘the state’ or ‘capitalism’.
  2. A few seconds of news footage of a scuffle with police undoes hundreds of human hours of positive, unreported work. The riot police may be spoiling for confrontation but don’t give it to them. The Occupy movement has infinitely more to lose by conflict and arrests than the riot police. Make it clear at the start of actions what type of behaviour is unacceptable. Use marshals to keep actions on-route. If conflict does break out between protesters and police, deescalate tensions as quickly as possible. If this proves too difficult publicly distance the movement from the violent protesters and make it clear this type of behaviour is completely unwelcome at actions.
  3. Remember the people the movement claims to represent and have the self-awareness to realise how the movement looks from the outside. The Masterchef-watching, Liberal or Labor voting majority aren’t going to be impressed if they see symbolic funerals, giant Che flags, street theatre or inarticulate humanities students poorly representing the movements’ case on the nightly news.
  4. Confound expectations. Get more suits involved. Shallow admittedly, but it presents an image jarringly at odds with the crude (and incorrect) public perception of the unwashed, dreadlocked, unemployed protester. Present well when publicly representing the movement.

Best We Forget

This piece has apparently been up for a number of weeks now but hey, I’ve been overseas holidaying so I only stumbled across it last week. It’s really arresting – it just leaps out at you from Mallett Street and knocks you over the head with its message. There’s no misinterpreting this one. Good stuff Fukt.

Aaaand since the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to be the darling of the month for the left it would be remiss of me not to include this complex and thought provoking number in Liberty Street:

I was fortunate enough to visit New York as part of my holiday. I can soundly confirm that no, Wall Street isn’t burning. It doesn’t even smell of smoke. Although there was a faint methane aroma from the horse manure. The street was cordoned off and the authorities were making sure no protesters came within kooee of the famed/infamous financial hub.

The actual Occupy site is two blocks west. Things were pretty chilled at the ‘campsite’.

Occupy Sydney march

I was a little ranty with my blog post yesterday so I’ll try keep this short..

I went along to the Occupy Sydney rally today. We met at Town Hall at noon, heard some speeches, walked to Martin Place under police escort, then heard some more speeches. I went along to add a head to the count. The march was peaceful, the crowd in very good spirits and police presence was visible but discrete. There were a number of unions attending but no sign of any political parties (yeah, I’m referring to the green triangles). I’d put the numbers of attendees at 1,500 – 2,000. I left well before things got heated (language warning for this link. And a  breach of Godwin’s law).

The Occupy movement is very much in its infancy so it remains to be seen if it will last. Call me a pessimist (I prefer the term realist) but I see the Occupy movement becoming the 2010’s equivalent of the late 90’s anti-globalisation movement: a coalition of far left individuals and groups bringing a plethora of issues and grievances, all united under some vague slogan. Globalisation then, Occupy now. Same difference really. Which is a real pity.

I think the Occupy movement raises some serious issues – that’s why I attended. We’re still feeling the impact of the 2007 GFC, there’s the belief that those most responsible have gotten off scott free, I’m not aware of many steps taken to ensure we don’t see a repeat of the crisis, and despite us riding out the crisis our wage disparity between rich and poor continues to widen without any mainstream calls to arrest the divide. The movement I saw today is not staying on message though. I heard talks decrying the NT Intervention and Israeli incursions into Gaza. Seriously, what the hell? It waters down the already wafer-thin Occupy message and, like the anti-globalisation movement, isn’t going to get anyone else besides the already highly-radicalised participants on board. I’ve spoken to friends and work colleagues about the Occupy movement and people are genuinely baffled about what it stands for. I’m still a little baffled and I attended the rally! Let’s see if over time the movement can be galvanised into a serious political force or whether, in the words of one online commentator, it fades into irrelevance.

And on that cheery note here are some photos from the day:

Banning burqas and whatnot

My lengthyish walks home to counterbalance a sedentary job don’t often divert me past Wilford Street in Newtown. But I do try and swing by that way every couple of months for two reasons: to see some of the world-class open air galleries on display in the surrounding back streets and lanes, and to check out the latest reactionary slogan from Sergio Redegalli on the Cydonia Glass Studio corner. I rarely – okay, never – find myself agreeing with the message of the murals, but it’s hard not to appreciate Sergio’s sincere pot-stirring vigor.

I noticed the other week the mural had returned from its brief anti-Greens hiatus back to the ol’ dependable ‘SAY NO TO BURQAS’ that’s been prickling the neighbourhood for over a year now. My instinctual reaction as an Australian leftie is to get a little outraged and dismiss the message as Islamophobic twaddle. And it probably is. (Sergio, if you’re reading this and believe I’ve misrepresented you I’d love to catch up over a drink, hear your thoughts on the subject, and set the record straight here. My contact email can be found in the About tab at the top.) But I had to catch myself. That response is one of my pet bugbears of the left.

No matter where we sit on the political spectrum we inevitably reduce complex issues to simple binary arguments. Us, and those people who are wrong. Aussies and ‘foreigners’. Gillard versus Abbott. Palestine versus Israel. We get blinkered by our own ‘side’, so much so that we’ll excuse any number of evils perpetrated by it if it serves to undermine the opposition. I see it a lot in the dreaded burqa debate: by jumping to the defence of multiculturalism by default some on the left are placed in the corner of excusing cultural norms that are actually genuinely appalling, all to right a relatively benign politically incorrect slight. The left so often gets cornered into defending horrific behaviour. Case points from the last half century would have to include some vocal members of the left contorting themselves into dismissing human rights crimes in Russia, Cuba, China, Vietnam and Cambodia.

In my mind a crime is a crime regardless of who perpetrates it. You could point to the Palestine conflict as an on-going example of this problem. Of course Palestine has a right to self-determination. And yes, the Israeli military continues to rack up an ever-growing record of human rights violations. (You only need to look at the casualty breakdowns of the conflict to see which side bears the human brunt of the conflict.) But none of that excuses calls by members of the Palestinian leadership to drive Israeli into the sea, or blankets ‘almost systemic’ humans rights abuses by the Palestinian Authority. Where is the condemnation from the left though? Oh that’s right, it doesn’t conveniently fit the narrative of the honest Palestinian underdog fighting the evil Goliath Jewish state.

You see, I think there genuinely is a lot wrong with the burqa. One commentator claimed that it ‘equates piety with the disappearance of women.’ It creates an appalling double standard, and excuses men of responsibility for their thoughts and actions. Pathetic. Whether the burqa is a religious or cultural phenomenon is up for debate, but the consensus seems to be that there is no literal instruction in the Koran to wear it. Not that that should have any bearing on our response to it. I grew up amongst a lot of fundamentalist Christians and heard similar arguments to the pro-burqa case: that modesty and silence was a true way to show love and respect to God. That is utter rubbish in Christian circles – doctrinally and otherwise – and I think it is an equally rubbish rationalisation for the burqa. In my blunt opinion the only outward way to honour your god(s) – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Pastafarian, whatever – is to roll up your sleeves and do you damnedest to leave the world and its inhabitants in better shape than you found them.

Cultural norms are all well and good and I’d go as far to say I think Australia does a reasonable job of integrating them into our wider multicultural identity. Cultural diversity enriches everything, from our worldview to our eating habits. And to steal an oft used line, if you think otherwise our national airline carrier could really do with your one-way patronage. However I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect citizens of this country to defer their cultural and religious values to the wider values that Australia supposedly upholds – equality between the sexes in this case. Human rights trumps cultural/religious edicts in other words. I’m not singling out followers of Islam for criticism here – there’s plenty of homegrown religious denominations that should come under fire for their blatant sexism, racism and homophobia. Most of them actually. Australia is a founding signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and frankly I don’t think any religious or cultural group has any right to be legally protected to practise contrary in Australia. (For the record I also think you can find as much ‘subjegation’ of women on any given Friday or Saturday night in bars and clubs all around Australia, though somehow we’ve contorted that as an affirmative gesture of womanhood. As opposed to giving men what they/we want.)

But let’s not let the right off so easily – let’s not pretend that vocal opponents of the burqa are motivated by a deep and committed desire to champion the rights of women. Oh no. In writing this post I’ve trawled a lot of blogs and forum posts arguing to ban the burqa. I’m sure the authors of those posts will disagree with this assessment, but from where I’m sitting the broad campaign has one thrust: to oppose Islam in Australia. Islam is the most visible recent arrival on our fair sunburnt shores (despite its actual arrival dating back to the first fleet). And the simple fact is some Australian’s don’t like it, make no effort to understand it, and therefore oppose it. They see it as being at odds to the ‘slap on some sluggers, grab a beer from the eskie and throw a [pork] sausage on the barbie’ culture. Thankfully, some might say. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d wager money that the people behind the anti-Islam campaigns would have opposed Italian immigration in the 50’s, or Vietnamese in the 70’s, Chinese in the 80’s and 90’s, and perhaps even Sudanese in the 00’s. Each and every new wave of immigration strikes fear into the hearts of the far right and this latest wave is no different.

As for the actual call to ban the burqa, well here we are again: men talking about what women can or can’t do. Ho hum. Personally I don’t see it as an effective way to empower the very people it seeks to ‘protect’. Typical of most right-wing knee-jerk responses it attacks the external symbols of a problem without addressing the root causes. I fear if put into law (highly unlikely but never beyond possibility) it will drive women in fundamentalist households out of sight metaphorically and physically, denying them the very thing that permits them contact with the wider world. And no, by that I don’t mean TV. I would have thought more ground would be gained by providing classes and social outings for Islamic women where they mix with women from other cultural backgrounds. Like most things progress happens with small steps, rather than by blanket enforcement.

And to those defacing the mural: grow the hell up. You’re proving the left is just as prone to acts of thuggery and intimidation as the fascist far right, and is equally incapable of sharing a world where opposing points of view exist. But then that’s probably not a problem for the vandals, provided the prevailing points of view match theirs.