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War and Pieces

September 1, 2020
Phil Smith - Deas Inspirations Incites

I mean no offence to the soldiers and civilians who suffered and died (suffer and die) in face-to-face combat. Those wars waged against other countries killed real people and families. Thousands lie dead for the freedoms I have today. 

Those battles were typically political, not personal. Governments fighting governments. People and places bombed to pieces. I choose to honour their sacrifices with actions beyond sorrowful homilies and badge-wearing: with others, sprinkled through communities everywhere, I fight wars that are also political and economic, wars waged by our governments against their own citizens and country.

Yes, let’s call it for what it is. War. And each day, people who pay attention to what’s happening fight battles against our governments.

In the late 19th century, HG Wells gave us the original War of the Worlds. The second half of the 20th century gave us Wells’ fiction in movie form. Outside the theatres, government after government engaged in political, profit-driven, corporate Wars on the World. 

War Of The Worlds from original illustrations for H.G. Well’s book,
by Henrique Alvin Correa, 1906

Those wars continue. All of them – wars on peace. All of them – wars, tearing people and planet to pieces. Decades of war. Not just years. Those of us engaged are fighting not for ownership of a piece of land or a stretch of water. Not for the expansion or contraction of some border or policy or force. Not to prove whose religion or politics are mightier, or whose ego is bigger. 

Nope…. This is a War for the World and we are fighting on many fronts to protect our environments and civil liberties; we are fighting to put the world back together again. This is a global phenomenon. In Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken identified hundreds of thousands of community groups as “humanity’s immune response to resist and heal political disease, economic infection, and ecological corruption caused by ideologies.” 

Perhaps it is not just coincidence that Craig Reucassel’s new show on our climate challenge is entitled Fight for Planet A. 

There’s a book on the wars we wage today. All I can do here is offer chapter headings for the Australian version of the tome.

Fighting for the Planet
Image from: globalshapers.org

Who is the enemy?

Let’s get clear about the enemy. We are up against overtly aggressive attacks on social justice, truth, workplace conditions, and the environment. As well, we struggle with the silent complicity of so many.

For me, the number one enemy is the government. We push back against decisions often made secretly, discretely, sometimes illegally and corruptly by ministers whose jobs require them to protect democracy, civil liberties, social justice, sovereignty, democratic processes, and our environments.

Because a unified society is the enemy of government, our leaders fracture society, pitting one section of community against another. Race, culture, economic standing, religious beliefs, welfare, age… all become weapons for governments. 

They also weaponise language: refugees are criminals, the poor are leaners, corporate thieves become saviours. Governments find or create spectres where there are none. Just to frighten. Those of us who care and march, are demonised by governments and a compliant media, labelled as extreme and unreasonable protestors. But we are protectors who march and write and speak and rally to build a world worth living in. 

.........to built a world worth living in
Artwork by SmugOne
Photo from: peoplemakeglasgow.com

What are the wars?

Ah, now to the easy bit! Summed up by saying that, when we live in a failed and flawed and corrupted system driven by self-serving political and economic ideologies, the wars are almost everything, almost every day. 

A sprint through the chapter headings. 

We are at war with the neo-liberal agenda of both major parties: the Party in Government and the Accomplice Party. The battles include privatisation of our public services, shifting money through Public Private Partnerships (out of the public purse into the private pocket), unemployment, underemployment, insecure employment, low wages and weakening workplace conditions (Morrison’s ”flexibility” in the workplace), corrupted media, diminishing health services and lack of nurses, dismissal of inconvenient science or the forced servitude of science, massive poverty, ever-increasing inequality, attacks on universities and extortionist prices for tertiary education, erosion of unions, unaffordable house prices...

Daily, we battle for truth against the doublespeak of politics and policies. The prevarications and deceptions and obfuscations and lies. Canavan’s lies about subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. Pavey’s lies about the legality of floodplain water harvesting and her refusal to table her ‘legal advice’. 

Ruby Princess cover-ups and deliberately narrow investigation parameters. De-funding the NSW ICAC and a fierce fight by the major parties against the establishment of a meaningful equivalent at the federal level. The government wants and gets increased powers of scrutiny of the public but will not tolerate scrutiny of its own processes and decisions or even agree to a code of conduct! 

Whistle-blowers are criminalised and prosecuted while governments run protection rackets for ministers and mates. Politicians above the law. Secrecy and corruption protected. Witness K and Bernard Collaery are on trial in relation to the Timor-Leste bugging, and the real criminals (Howard? Downer?) go un-investigated, untouched. 

Lying and deceiving have become the bread and butter of Australian politics. We fight bullshit and marketing every day. It seems Morrison’s first response to everything is to lie. Giuliani’s “truth isn’t truth” and Conway’s “alternative facts” have crossed the Pacific. Language and policies calculated to manipulate. Truth is gone. Trust gone. Whatever integrity existed, gone. Ethical compass, gone. Accountability, gone. It’s politics on the run with the eye always on the next election not on the state of play or players or paddock. 

Dancing Puppets...... who really pulls the strings??
Street Art in Glasgow
Artwork by: Rogue One
Photo from: peoplemakeglasgow.com

Covid-19 will be remembered as the Great Excuse. Better even than the Dog that Ate the Homework. Instead of taking the opportunity to address the structural crises that result in massive inequity, Morrison & Co. are rewarding already rich constituents and punishing those demographics and sectors that are already hardest hit. https://jacobinmag.com/2020/08/australia-morrison-covid-recession  

The National Covid-19 Coordination Commission is another vehicle to increase the profits of big business and to extend taxpayer investment in a dying fossil fuel industry. Through Frydenberg, we are fighting the ghosts and ghastly policies of the neo-liberal warriors Reagan and Thatcher. Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead said signs in the rallies after Thatcher’s death in 2013. Nope. She lives through our Treasurer.

We have wars against rorts – the federal sports and community grants, and the Berejiklian-up-to-her-eyeballs involvement in the state grants for local governments. We have a PM banging on about protecting our sovereignty with a $270 billion spend on killing machines, while quietly flogging off our sovereignty through secretive Free Trade agreements with Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions that give corporations the right to sue Australian governments if, for example, environmental protection laws interfere with profits. 

And for almost a decade, Gillian Triggs has warned that legislation, (e.g. anti-terrorism laws) enacted for our ‘safety’ erodes civil liberties. In Speaking Up, she documents government attacks on human rights and the growing lack of transparency and accountability. The very people charged with protecting our democracy are the people undermining it. 

Decline of Australia's Civil Liberties - more security laws or a healthy democracy??
Image from: openforum.com.au

Then there's the government's very conspicuous war against the Arts, and Richard Flannagan asks, "Who needs the arts, when they assist people to think outside the box? Who needs thinking citizens at all? When PM Scott Morrison says his constituency is “quiet Australians” what he means is that everyone should shut up and be content for him to pray rather than govern in our interests. When Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s government instructs public servants not to raise the link between climate change and bushfires, they want all meaningful discussion shut down". www.cultureheist.com.au/2019/12/07/sos-for-the-arts-against-government-attacks/ 

We fight a war against the ignorance – deliberate or otherwise – of our ‘leaders’. No slavery in Australia? And there remain ongoing battles to prevent the reduction of funding for Indigenous communities. 

There are wars against government attacks on the ABC and independent media. Watergate Taylor gets away with his story about the travel funding documents he used (mysteriously obtained?) to attack Sydney Lord Mayor. We have Dutton and his au-pair release affair and the Paladin contract; and Joyce, the Clayton’s Drought Envoy you have when you don’t have a Drought Envoy; we have conflict of interest rorts, (Coal Canavan and Childcare Dutton, I’m looking at both of you again), and snout-in-the-trough expense accounts – throw a dart. 

Battles continue against building Sydney’s second airport in the worst of possible spots. Struggles against incinerators, fights to prevent expanded coal mining under one of Sydney’s drinking water catchments, and removal of protections from some of the most significant marine conservation areas in NSW. 

On the matter of scrutiny, we get a sudden shutdown of a media conference when the questions to the PM about climate change got too hard. Poor boy. Having to defend his government’s fetish with coal and its feigned ignorance of the fossil fuel impact on global warming. Australia is ranked as one of the worst in the world in dealing with climate change. Sigh.

And just recently, the Auditor-General found that the country’s premier environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, is being administered very inefficiently and ineffectively. A combination of negligence and deliberate breaches.

An independent review called for an independent regulator to oversee compliance with environmental laws. But the federal government has rejected that call. Instead, it is planning to devolve environmental approval powers to states where the environmental protections are weaker. 

Here, witness the NSW Government’s record of deforestation and changes in legislation to facilitate the fast-tracking of development to aid Covid-19 recovery. Good chance those changes won’t be reversed post-pandemic. Note also the very recent Tasmanian government’s facilitation of a commercial development on Lake Malbena within the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, a World Heritage Area. Federal government silence on this matter augurs badly for all National Parks and World Heritage Areas in Australia. In Queensland, with Federal Government support, Ramsar Wetlands in Moreton Bay were unlocked for development. 

Morrison wants a ‘single touch’ environmental approval process to facilitate development. It’s a single touch extinction mechanism. It’s another war on ‘green tape’ – the very ‘tape’ that has secured the healthy environments we value now.  

We fight the failures of governments to fulfill their responsibilities and uphold laws. And we fight the consequences of those negligent and/or illegal behaviours. Here, see the failure to manage aged-care facilities safely during Covid-19.

The battle inside

Beneath these wars, personal battles rage. To keep the anger and frustration and utter disbelief at bay. To not frighten yourself with thoughts of the lengths you would go to in order to protect a creek, a forest, an animal, a community. To keep fighting or retreat. To wonder if the fight remains important even knowing at the outset that it will end in defeat. To hold down the guilt of wanting to walk away. To shake the head clear and question one’s own view on what truth is in this post-modern world where truth is whatever you say it is. Isn’t evidence evidence? Yes, bombs explode regularly within. 

The light and the darkness, the good and the bad - the battle inside
Image from: uxdesign.cc

Marshalling forces

Sometimes, you just have to sit back and draw breath, to take stock, and contemplate what might be ahead. And consider what weapons and allies we have at our disposal. There are of course, hopeful signs in local government as councillors fight the good fight against the dark forces. Sadly, those elements that would trash local creeks and communities get regular air support from their state and federal colleagues. 

But for what seems a never-ending uphill battle, we can draw on history and research that say these things work: sustained protest; having key people within systems disrupting those systems; organising and building relationships and doing educational work in the community. https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2020/07/08/history-protests-social-change

Other studies find that raising awareness about the issues and encouraging citizen engagement in policy-making processes are some of the most powerful outcomes of advocacy campaigns. “The main thing that organisations can do is to convince everyday people that getting involved actually makes a difference.” The researcher said. “I don’t think people don’t care. I think a lot of people do care, [but] I think a lot of people don’t think that them taking action is going to make a difference. That’s the most powerful, intangible outcome of every campaign victory, and even some losses: Bringing people together to create change.” https://news.mongabay.com/2018/03/do-environmental-advocacy-campaigns-drive-successful-forest-conservation/

Understanding and numbers and words and relationship and connection to our communities and environments are our weapons. Communication of the issues and the threats, and education about what can be done are our tools. The ‘unity’ in community is what we ought strive for. Working together to oppose our governments’ attacks on us and on our homes. Defiance matters. 

Collective impact - together we are strong.
Photo by: iStock/wildpixel

Like Camus’ Sisyphus who smiles as he pushes that rock back up the hill, yes, we must pause and breathe deeply, but we can’t sit back and wait and hope that things change. We have allies to win and wars to fight.

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    4 comments on “War and Pieces”

    1. 'War and Pieces' so clear, so true. What a summary!
      I am one of those many in silent complicity. But on the brink to march, write and speak... to build a world worth living in for all.
      All that it needed was ignition. This you provide.
      Appreciation to you Phil Smith.

      1. hi Mary. Have just seen that I can reply 🙂
        Thanks for your comment. I look forward to reading what you write for the NBT.
        If each of us fight to protect our patch and to improve the systems that govern us, we will have a chance.
        Good wishes
        Phil

    2. This is the article I would have written if I had the wherewithal... thank you. I think you have really expressed all the salient points and recognised the 'jaw on the flaw/floor' feeling of shock and impotence that most of us feel. And your solution is also salient.... more community awareness and involvement. Its our only hope.

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