Our Living World Constitution:
Charter for Human and Environmental Rights

Posted on 16 April 2019 | No responses

CC BYSA “Adventure Camp” Arupamdas

Whereas our well-being relies upon the collective well-being of all humanity, all living beings, and our greater home: the planet Earth, and that securing this well-being is critical to human survival, we deem it necessary to make human and environmental rights core elements of the Australian Constitution.

Article 1.

Australia played a significant role in the foundation of the United Nations. We respect its purposes and principles. Further to the formation of this organisation was the forging of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such a document is foundational to a functioning democracy and the capacity of nations to peacefully interact. Australia had a hand in writing this document and subsequently signed it. It is long past time we honoured this declaration and came in line with its principles, which we have internationally claimed to support. As such we hereby establish the Universal Declaration of Human Rights within the Australian Constitution.

Article 2.

Furthermore, human rights are directly affected by the state of the environment. The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration) states that humanity has “the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions of life” and that we bear “a solemn responsibility to protect the environment for present and future generations.” Therefore, we hereby establish the United Nations World Charter for Nature within the Australian Constitution.

Article 3.

These two documents will from here on be central to our considerations in making and adjudicating law, and guide us in our relations with the rest of the world.

Article 4.

Our agreements with the United Nations are done out of a sense of collective responsibility. It is important to us as a nation to act with integrity and to maintain an international reputation for integrity. As such we will acknowledge and honour our agreements with the United Nations, and work toward furthering its purpose of establishing and maintaining national and international peace.

Article 5.

In these unstable times we would also encourage the creation of a democratically elected United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. Australia would be proud to once again be foundational to creating a body whose purpose is to ensure the betterment of humanity and our living world.

Previous articles from this series:

The Proposal

Introduction

Our Living World Constitution: Introduction

Posted on 12 April 2019 | 2 responses

Photograph by JarrahTree…commons.wikimedia.org

Our Living World Constitution addresses human, environmental, and economic rights, and the mechanics of politically achieving these rights.

We write this with the understanding that regardless of the borders humans have created to divide “us” from “them”. We are all one humanity, we are all part of the web of life that is our planet. Our fates are deeply interconnected and we cannot function as a species without acknowledging our relationships, no matter how distinct one person is from another or one species from another.

We seek to enshrine the values of humility, justice, respect, care, individual and collective responsibility, wisdom, cooperation, the freedoms necessary for living self-realised and politicallty engaged lives, security, and peace by living these values, teaching these values, and being governed by these values. It is good to have concrete means by which to achieve these ends. Which is why we seek to create a national constitution that gives structure to these values in our every day lives and optimises a balance of the utilities of justice, liberty, and security. At its heart our constitution must be:

  • Compassionate
  • Fair and
  • Effective.

If it is not effective, it will be neither compassionate nor fair. If compassion does not temper fairness and effectiveness, then it becomes difficult to maintain a humane equity. Central to this document, and the entirety of the Australian law, is striking a balance which best serves all our citizens, our environment, and the well-being of this world that we all share.

However, ultimately it is the spirit of these values which must take precedence. And each generation has the duty of care to evolve and teach previous and subsequent generations how better to achieve them. In this way they make these values their own. Healthy societies then moderate new ideas with the wisdom of experience, and each step is made secure for everyone of all ages. These are the dynamics which we must embrace, even though they may often be uncomfortable and challenging, until such time as we achieve an enlightened consensus and, finally, a peaceful thriving world.

Previous: Living World Constitution–the proposal

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Living World Constitution: the proposal

Posted on 8 April 2019 | 2 responses

Eleanor Roosevelt and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

We only have a few years within which humanity must order its house. The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report has given us until 2030 to turn things around, in order to mitigate the worst we have created for ourselves in the way of environmental disaster. Make no mistake, these are life or death concerns.

Our cultures have led us to a literal dead end. Humanity has achieved so much good for ourselves because of our ability to be social creatures. Together we build shelter, grow and distribute food, find cures to diseases, and more. Humanity has created so much suffering and destruction for ourselves and this world because we have allowed ourselves to value status above social bonds. We find clever ways to manipulate one another, kill one another, and sterilise the planet for our own ends.

Currently, we are substituting attention for friendship, wealth for peace, and individual status and security for collective well-being. Attention, wealth, status: none of these will create a world where we experience contentment.

We must gift ourselves with at least one moment where we imagine what it would be like if everyone got along, if all our needs were met, if we all had the opportunity to do those things that give our lives meaning, and we lived in harmony with all living beings on this planet. With that moment of insight it becomes easier to shift priorities.

What does it matter if we are ordinary when we have our needs met, people who love us, and a society that actively seeks to support its members in order to create peace. When everyone is struggling to be extraordinary, that means we live in circumstances where people are terrified and casting around for what will give them an edge in survival. You should only ever have to be yourself in order to be nurtured by your community and recognised as of worth.

Our institutions have been corrupted by our culture of status, which leads to a culture of domination. Many of those institutions had creditable foundations, but they needed to be better understood and over time better evolved. Instead they have come to be tainted in ways that will require significant intervention, if we are to save ourselves.

The institution that must take precedence in our actions to create change is the government. Power attracts those seeking higher status. Power often corrupts those who achieve status, then lose connection with their own humanity and the humanity of others. Part of the point of democracy is that by sharing power, we create a certain amount of checks and balances to those who lose their focus on representing their consituency and the well-being of their nation. However, as the price-point for entering politics rises ever higher, we are living in a world by the rich for the rich. The rich then enhance their power by forming parties where all opinions converge in order to force through particular agendas. Individual members are discouraged from representing their electorate so much as representing their party.

Yes, governments have let us down. But governments are how we cooperate. When speed is of the essence, governments are a means by which we can make broad sweeping changes while protecting the people and the environment for whom these changes are being made.

My suggestion is that we hold a Constitutional Convention. Australia has held four such conventions, the last of which was in 1998. This is nothing new or unusual for our country. All delegates to this convention would be voted for by the people. The resulting document would then be put before our citizens in a national referendum.

The main focus of this convention would be the addition of three documents to the Australian constitution:

  • A charter of human rights
  • A charter of environmental rights
  • A charter of economic rights

Within those three documents will be included governmental reforms that will ensure a greater amount of democracy being made available to the people of Australia.

As a former writer of political policy, I have put together proposals as to what can go into our updated national document. These can form grounds for discussion. Over the next few weeks I will share my proposals and why I believe they are critical to our national welfare.

In peace and kindness,

Katherine Phelps
BA (Hons), MFA, PhD

Remake the Future: Speech

Posted on 3 April 2019 | No responses

I am not a politician, an entrepreneur, nor a CEO. If I were, I would suggest running out the door.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai once said, “The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.” Young people today have a lot to face. We must give you every tool possible to help you create a future worth living in. More than that those tools must be of genuine value.

Author Anand Giridharadas adds to this by saying, “For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is – above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners…Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view. It will once again be possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful.”

A Background in Support of Youth

My fields of endeavour have been the arts, computing, and politics—particularly peace, environmental, and social justice activism. My most relevant credential today is that I once was the leading policy writer for the Australian Democrats while they still existed.

But my CV of jobs starts with being head of marketing for an independent comic book company, before moving to Australia where I became editor-in-chief for a computer game review magazine. Later I was awarded a PhD in storytelling for computer game design and lectured on this subject at both RMIT and Victoria University. Eventually I drifted off to write for Nickelodeon Cartoons, then wrote my own theatrical productions.

The connecting link in all of this is that I have a deep love of young adults and young adult culture. Your age is when people are often the most vibrant, engaged, and adaptable. You have the future ahead of you, and you have important qualities that make it possible to grab the future and mould it into something better. Many parents are relying on stability in order to provide a secure world for you. However, when that very stability is what’s destroying the world, any security is an illusion. We have to learn how to be brave and take chances.

Youth Homelessness

A few years back I noticed a significant increase in homelessness on the streets of Melbourne. Even more horrifying were the numbers who were in their teens and twenties sleeping rough. I’m clearly a nerd girl and didn’t date an awful lot when I was young, because I was working so hard to get into university and then to do well once I entered. Out of that inexperience I married a man who soon revealed himself to be abusive. After three years of marriage I threw all I could into a suitcase and ran. I was homeless, and even after finally securing lodging, I had to go to food banks to gather enough to eat. This happened right after I completed my Masters degree. Homelessness can happen to absolutely anyone.

So when I saw the obvious increase in homelessness here, I was furious.

I went straight to the streets and began spending time with the homeless. I turned up at the rallies to stop the move along laws in the Melbourne CBD, and the protests at Victorian Parliament to end the sale of public housing which are still going on. I then wrote a musical called Share about youth unemployment and homelessness to help raise people’s awareness. You are hearing some of my songs today. More homelessness is on the horizon for everyone, if things don’t change.

Why is this happening, you may ask. An earlier musical covered that subject.

The Interrelatedness of It All

I had been asked to write a play for an organisation about the refugee experience. I spent part of a year with the people in a detention centre. As I was putting the play together I discovered the organisation was doing nothing to ensure that people’s lives would be safe and not in danger through public representation. I left the organisation, but I still wanted the public to understand what was happening and why. So, I wrote a play about a year in the life of elephants. Heard of Elephants received several standing ovations.

Here are the circumstances that were represented: Because of climate change we are seeing greater desertification of farmlands in places like Africa and even here. This causes farmers to clear forest areas to make new farmland. Now the Congo and the Amazon are often called the lungs of the world, their forests produce a certain amount of oxygen, but they have also been great carbon sinks helping to clean the air. Even more significant is how all the decaying biomass from these forests is washed out by their rivers to the ocean where it feeds the plankton, and it’s the plankton that produces most of the oxygen we breathe. These forests largely exist because of their large frugivores such as the elephants. Elephant poop is the perfect package for feeding seeds and nurturing the insect life which found and maintain a forest.

So, when the farmers take over the Congo they are destroying elephant habitat and by association our atmosphere. The soil without the forest is only fertile for a few years. Eventually, the farmers have to either take over more forest or head to the cities to survive. The cities then have an increasing populace of unemployed people who then create civil unrest, as in places like Syria and Burundi. When war breaks out, some people join military groups who go out and kill the elephants to feed the troops. Some people end up running from their homes and head to places like Australia hoping for refuge, until such time as they can return to their beloved homeland.

All of this because Western civilisation has been pumping carbon emissions into the air through our cars and our industries. And as we use up resources, we have been silently rationing goods by price point. This can be done by increasing the cost of items such as petrol or bananas, or reducing wages. Either way only the wealthy few will have access to scarce supplies. However, inflation is kept in check by making our lives insecure, such that fearful people are willing to work longer hours for less pay, or more jobs for less pay, because we are all living without safety nets. Lives of the wealthy are kept stable. Everyone else…not so much.

This is one small slice of the big picture.

Why an Event for Remaking the Future

You are here today because I have production skills and I am on a crusade that these good people share. The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report predicted that we have a twelve year window to turn a significant part of the climate disaster awaiting us around. Twelve years is an incredibly short amount of time, but it is something as opposed to nothing.

This task is largely up to you to bear. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, but this is sincerely about life or death. We will have to pull ourselves together and muster the strength to do whatever it takes to build a liveable future for ourselves.

This can’t be done in tepid little half steps that make the wearers of business suits feel proud of themselves while effectively achieving nothing. What’s this, if I plant enough trees I get to keep my Porsche?

According sixteen year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis…if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then… we should change the system itself.”

Changing the System

We have three major areas of concern that must be addressed together, because we ignore any one of them at our peril, since they are so deeply interconnected.

> We must address human rights.
> We must address environmental rights.
> We must address economic rights

The seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals address these three areas in a non-prescriptive manner. It is up to each country how we will achieve these goals.

In this room are people who I believe have some of the most genuine means to build a better future. You are not required to agree with any of us, but we are available to share our knowledge and answer your questions.

Human Rights

I have my own position that I am representing. I believe we must hold a national constitutional convention. At this convention we will write into the Australian constitution the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights—this is a preexisting document that Australia has already signed. Our guest Alice Drury is here because her organisation the Human Rights Law Centre is already pushing for this.

Environmental Rights

We must also write into the constitution the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The United Nations has declared that humanity has “the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions for life” and that we bear “a solemn responsibility to protect the environment for present and future generations.” Dr Petra Tschakert’s work as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is critical for setting the context for what needs to be done. Ben Howes work with the Roots and Shoots program helps young people to take effective practical action to rescue our planet.

Economic Rights

Technically both of these documents cover the sort of economic changes we need, but again are non-prescriptive. This is probably the area of rights that has been most immovable and at the core of the most grievous crimes against nature and humanity. As such we must address economic rights directly with solid and specific solutions which are given the weight of law in order to integrate them into our society.

Since we do not have a pre-existing document to point to for this area of rights, I have used my skills as a policy writer to draft a preliminary document as a discussion paper. Here is a taste of its preamble:

Economic rights are a critical foundation to establishing human and environmental rights.

Economic imbalance unduly places greater power into the hands of those with greater resources.

Humanity has lived through a history of human rights abuses perpetrated in order to ensure some enjoy more power than others.

Humanity has similarly abused our living world for the purposes of gaining and maintaining power through holding hostage necessary resources, then using coercion to enforce the will of power holders.

This is not a sustainable way to interact with our natural world or one another.

It should not be possible within a truly democratic society for some people to suffer in poverty while others do not. For we must all be free and equal in dignity and in rights in order to properly exercise our collective democratic powers.

The answer to these issues is to find better ways to share power, share resources, and interact with our living world as good stewards, ensuring the well-being of our planet in perpetuity.

Today we have with us Josh McGee from Basic Income Victoria who advocates for a Universal Basic Income—so that no one, absolutely no one has to live in abject poverty. We also have Antony McMullen from Co-operative Bonds who trains people in the founding of democratic workers cooperatives and cohousing.

All of our guests today have well considered positions and ideas on how to address our coming challenges. Use them as a spur to your own thoughts and ideas. Then push on to action. Positive action.

Call to Action

We have to find one another, we have to befriend one another—because compassionate bonds will move us further into a liveable future than anything else. We have to learn how to collaborate and cooperate. Junk the leadership narrative that panders to our egos and perpetuates the culture of status that is destroying us. We must value ourselves and one another without having to be special, just caring human beings.

I would like to end my opening speech by thanking all of you for caring enough to be here today. Take a look at one another, feel some gratitude that you are not alone in wanting to remake the future. We would like to encourage you to make your time at school and in university about skilling up to be the founders of a better world where kindness toward all living beings is key.

Thank you!

In peace and kindness,

Katherine

Remake the Future!

Posted on 18 March 2019 | Comments Off on Remake the Future!

Dr Petra Tschakert has worked with the best international scientific research on climate change. The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not just a prediction of disaster, it holds within it recipes on how to bring ourselves back from the brink. We need to understand what can be done to remake the future.

2pm Saturday 30 March 2019
Preshil School, 395 Barkers Road, Kew
Trybooking.com/BBHMC

Being Mean to One Another

Posted on 10 March 2019 | Comments Off on Being Mean to One Another

Everyone is born into circumstances that they cannot control: ethnicity, nationality, class, health, etc. Everyone is raised by a family and within a culture that has particular outlooks. When you are a child at first you just accept the knowledge being given you, because you have no other knowledge with which to compare it and your survival depends upon learning from the people who are caring for you. Do these things make a person automatically bad?

Here in Australia the instant I open my mouth people think they know all they need to know about me because I have a US accent. They assume I am rich and stupid. They assume I am some sort of American corporate out to take things from them or water down their culture. Whenever the US has an unpopular president I wear a peace symbol necklace, because otherwise random strangers have come up to me to raise their voices and tell me how awful the US is. Many people rarely consider the possibility that I am an Australian citizen and have been a citizen and resident for thirty years.

Australia is not unique in this. I don’t know of any country that uniformly treats their immigrants well. Some countries may do better than others, but you are still an outsider.

The Decisions We Make

We have been making some head way in civil and political rights of peoples who had previously been excluded from such things in some countries. However, even within these countries people are dividing themselves up into warring camps, and the divisions can be very fine. Judgement can be so harsh that no one of any political persuasion is above being permanently shot down for being human, even by their own camp.

We can all decide whether we are going to:

  • actively hurt someone,
  • allow someone to be hurt,
  • deem that some people should hurt,
  • work to stop cruel treatment of one another.

How we experience these decisions goes like this:

  • I have been hurt, so I will hurt you.
  • I have been hurt, so why should you get any better?
  • You have been hurt and deserve it, I have not been hurt and deserve that.
  • I have been hurt, no one else should have to hurt.

Kissing Up, Kicking Down

Most societies are obsessed with status. Currently, capitalism is reinforcing this. Therefore, the safest way people function in hurting each other is by “kissing up and kicking down”. We all tend to pander to the rich, famous, and powerful, hoping for their favour, or at least to forestall their mistreatment of us. We also know that we are likely to experience fewer repercussions if we mistreat people of lower status than ourselves.

This is further complicated by people doing all they can to knock those above them off their pedestals. If someone looks like they might ascend to a pedestal, then some people will preemptively knock this person down as well. If someone is lower in status, but has anything that looks like it could belong to someone of higher status, then people will work especially hard to damage them. An example I have seen of this is when a poor family inherits a nice TV and wealthier neighbours insist the family doesn’t deserve any support because of it and so has the poor family’s food stamps taken away.

If we get caught out doing something wrong, we may use these defense mechanisms:

Denial – I didn’t do it.
Minimisation – If I did it, it’s not such a big deal.
Normalisation – Everyone does it.
Projection – Really, you did it and it’s all your fault.
Rationalisation – I couldn’t help myself for very good reasons.
Repression – I don’t remember having done anything wrong.
Mystifcation – How could I have done it, I am the exact opposite of the sort of person who would do that sort of thing.
Regression – You can’t blame me because I am just like a child.
Unrepentant – I in fact did the right thing.

Our Kind

I want to live in a world of peace surrounded by good people. Many of us do. Some of us do this by gathering “our kind” together and creating a closed community of some sort. We then work to keep the “bad people” out and the “good people” in. Small towns and neighbourhoods can do this by simply being hostile to newcomers. In cities some people turn whole suburbs into fortressed domains with security guards. Then we have presidents who set up increasingly militant border patrols.

Groups of people assume they are good for many reasons: they are all wealthy, all part of the same religion, all part of the same ethnicity, all oppressed in the same way, all have the same education, all part of the same country, all part of the same club, etc. Wearing any of these badges tends to be automatic markers of good, without anyone having to actually take any caring and life-affirming actions. It is even a literal get out of jail free card upon occasion when a community goes into denial that one of their own has done anything harmful.

I have seen terrible wrong-doing happen within communities that has gone unchecked. Here is the thinking: 1) we are the good guys, one of our people couldn’t have done anything wrong and 2) if they have done wrong, we do not want any one else knowing about it, because it would damage our community’s reputation and/or our cause. This is when communities become vulnerable to people preying on their own. “Shush,” they tell the little girl who has been assaulted by a community leader, “Don’t tell anyone what happened because this leader is important and we need him.” I have also witnessed manipulators who cry wolf about being harmed by someone from a different community in order to destroy that person, thereby robbing their community of allies and the ability to seek justice the many many times they genuinely are harmed.

Be Braver

All I can say is that we all need to be braver. If we want to live in a liveable world, we must have the courage to be honest, responsible, and more universally compassionate. Any person’s pain should be worthy of our consideration. All people’s well-being should be sought. Vengeance must be recognised as not the same as justice. We must seek to rehabilitate those who have fallen down a bad path.

We have programs to mentor children at risk because they have been born into dysfunctional families, since it has been shown that with the help of an older friend they can live more functional lives. We are not unchangeable machines. Neither is any of us perfect. We make mistakes and the possibility is always there to learn and to grow. We need the strength to offer recompense and seek reconciliation. We then also need the capacity to forgive ourselves and others…not to let people get away with bad behaviour, but to make a way forward possible.

Be kind.

In peace,

Katherine

Everyone’s Rights!

Posted on 7 January 2019 | Comments Off on Everyone’s Rights!

Don’t even read this article until you have watched the video link below.

We are animals. I do not mean that in the pejorative sense. I mean that in the sense that our behaviour, whether for good or ill, is not that different from those beings with whom we share this planet.

What happens to an animal, who has once enjoyed the benefits of human civilisation, but subsequently is neglected, mistreated, and left on the streets? They become frightened and mean in order to protect themselves. Wild animals rarely descend to the kind of viciousness feral animals rely upon.

The world is changing very fast right now. We are all facing the same existential threats. Whether people are willing to acknowledge the reality of climate change or not, they are still feeling deep terror in the midst of their denial.

Some of us grew up in a world where we were taught that we could expect security and status because of who we were: whether that was because we were white, or male, or wealthy. As the world turns, any sense of security from these markers of privilege has been evaporating.

I was shocked when a young male environmentalist angrily told me that he would have a job, if it weren’t for the fact that women were now allowed to have jobs. So was this person left-wing or right-wing?

Desperate animals bite.

Recently, a friend texted that she was in a moral dilemma. An officially fascist gather was happening on a beach where she was having a picnic. She felt the police were behaving in a brutal manner. However, surely the fascists deserved it?

My answer: We protect people’s rights consistently to ensure those rights are always available, whether or not we like the people who are being defended. If we do not like police brutality, we ensure that it is never acceptable. Otherwise, we live in a cycle of tit for tat without any sort of legal protections.

She then replied that she felt that treating these protestors fairly would be a way of supporting their political agenda.

My subsequent answer: You would not be supporting them, you would be supporting human rights. Other human rights considerations and laws are in place to stop hate crimes and hate groups. Police are allowed to use force in order to stop violent behaviour. However, excessive and inhumane force is always unacceptable. Otherwise, we are no better than those from whom we are defending ourselves. The situation becomes “my tribe vs your tribe” rather than good vs bad.

One fellow responded to my comment by saying, “They’re literally fucking Nazis. They deserve the Nuremberg treatment.” Many people talk about the horrible violent things these people deserve.

Were the Nazis subsequently considered evil because of whom they were torturing and gassing? Or were they considered evil because they were torturning and gassing? Would you think their behaviours: such as enforcing harsh labour, raping prisoners, doing profoundly cruel experimentation on the vulnerable, were acceptable if you didn’t happen to like the people who they had imprisoned? If we rounded up all the Alt-Right and threw them into concentration camps, would we really have rid the world of monsters or simply created new monsters?

Don’t you for one moment think I am on the side of these warped souls, when I demand that we do all we can to be better than they are…and that starts by respecting their rights even when we don’t respect them.

So many people are born into these hate cults. Are you going to tell me that it is somehow genetic?

Some people can be turned, but they have to see that life could be better on another side. If they just see more hatred when looking our direction, what’s the point? They are safer sticking with their tribe. This is the polarisation we are facing in much of the world. It has nothing to do with left or right. It has to do with brands of hatred, and those in power who find a marketing niche with one side or the other.

Being “moderate”, a wishy-washy non-controversial point somewhere between “left” and “right”, doesn’t solve this problem. Standing firmly on the side of compassion and human rights does. If we are consistent in ensuring everyone’s security and access to human rights, we will find within a generation the children of those rednecks will want to escape to greener pastures.

Next time you see something about “poor white trash”, think about what it takes to create a vicious stray dog and what it takes to redomesticate them. We can’t accept the biting, but we can deal with it in a way where perhaps we can rescue a few and if nothing else show what it is to be compassionate and how to build a compassionate society. Don’t become a “blueneck”. Ensure everyone…absolutely EVERYONE…is treated fairly and well.

In peace,

Katherine

Problems: Victorian Elections 2018

Posted on 23 November 2018 | Comments Off on Problems: Victorian Elections 2018

by Liam Kay, guest blogger

Where is my Vote?

by Hamed Saber 2009

A few people have asked me why I’m ‘in politics’ but not interested in being a candidate. If it isn’t clear from the past few weeks, politics is a really nasty game. That’s what it is. It’s rarely about genuine leadership or representation for most of the people in politics, it’s about your team winning for 4 years and starting the cycle all over again come next election.

We’re in an unfortunate situation where we want people with totally clean histories, but also people who are real and not groomed from the political class to be politicians. But unfortunately that’s just not reality. Everyone has a past, and I think the people who go to extreme lengths to have no past are people who can’t be trusted to represent us.

Mistakes are integral to learning and understanding. Don’t get me wrong, some mistakes are much much worse than others and I’m certainly not saying mistakes shouldn’t have consequences. But, I think many of us will make (or have made) mistakes that aren’t small, and might hurt other people – even if we didn’t intend it.

Most of us at some point were awful in some way. Whether it was sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, or ableism, part of growing up is understanding the way we think and do things, and how that might affect others. And while most of us will try and do the right thing, this process doesn’t happen without some tension and conflict. It’s just the reality of how we learn and understand.

No matter who you are now as a person, there will be people out there who will want to sift through your entire history to damage your character. This also includes people or groups you have been involved with, be it friends, family, lovers, religious organisations, political groups, etc.

I don’t think I’ve done anything that would damage a career. I’ve had my moments on social media and I’ve been wrong pleeeenty of times on issues I’ve been really passionate about. Many of us have been on social media since MySpace. I think I got my account in 2005 or 2006. I was around 11 or 12.

Can you imagine all the stupid things I put on the internet between now and then? Sure, none of it was criminal or wrong, but embarrassing or cringeworthy? You bloody bet.

So to finally get to the point I wanted to make, I think we’re in trouble right now with our standard of politics and I don’t want to be part of it. Democracy is great when people understand how it’s supposed to function, and it’s great when people genuinely care about the society we live in. Neither of those are the case for us in Australia.

Voting is the bare minimum when it comes to democratic participation, and even then we have people who fail to do that. For a democracy to thrive, we all need to participate. I understand many of us can’t participate fully because of our circumstances, but that’s **exactly what we should be talking about right now**.

I don’t want to put the people I care about in the public spotlight. I’m actually starting to enjoy some privacy since I’ve started to recover from a crippling anxiety disorder and now that I’ve been able to be myself.

I really care about my community, about Victoria, and about Australia. I really want us to do the right thing for everyone and I really want us move in a direction where life is better *for everyone*. But I know the kind of people who may be our future leaders in the two main parties, and it seriously doesn’t look good.

Already we have young people spreading lies, engaging in dishonest politics and moral posturing, and even false allegations of polling day misconduct. It’s really disgusting how far some people are willing to go to achieve a ‘victory’, even if it’s just a fleeting moral victory. Even years later, it’s disappointing that most of these people refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoings.

I’m going to continue doing what I do now. I really appreciate the Greens’ platform and I hope they can continue to expand it. I’m really excited to see how the Victorian Socialists go. I strongly believe the future of left wing politics is through multi-party coalition governments. It’s the best way to ensure we get fair democratic outcomes. Voters also have a role to play in holding people to account for their policies, promises, actions, and statements, but also knowing when someone deserves forgiveness.

Liam Kay is an honours graduate from Deakin University and a member of the Victorian Greens. His passions lie in political activism, grassroots democracy, social justice, LGBTI rights, and global development.

Government Shmovernment

Posted on 3 November 2018 | Comments Off on Government Shmovernment

UN Security Council

Directing a movie is a little bit like being back in student government and putting on the homecoming dance.
You’re like, “You put up the streamers, and you hire the DJ, and you get the punch bowl.”
Some people are just like, “This dance sucks.”
And you’re like, “No no, this dance is awesome”
You have to be really positive.

~Mike Birbiglia

Human Beings Are Social Animals

We cannot as a species survive utterly independently from one another. We rely on our brains as our primary means of interacting with our environment and caring for ourselves. Our brains are large and take time to develop. Therefore, we are vulnerable as children for a long time and require the support of parents and community.

We build weapons because we do not have particularly sharp teeth or claws. We tame horses for riding because we are not particularly fast, nor do we have the stamina for long trips. Because we are weak compared to other predators, we find strength in combining and coordinating our hunting efforts. We agree to collectively hunt because we agree to share our prizes.

Unique to humanity is the possession of a neocortex markedly larger than that in the brain of any other ape or mammal of similar size. The neocortex comprises of those parts of the brain responsible for higher social cognition such as: conscious thought, language, behavioral and emotional regulation, as well as empathy and theory of mind. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/pascal-vrticka/human-social-development_b_3921942.html

Humans also have a high number of mirror neurons. These neurons are important for both learning and empathy. Mirror neurons fire when they observe action performed by another, as if they had done that action themselves. Action includes emotional responses. We have the second most mirror neurons compared to other animals. Only the Long-finned pilot whale outstrips us.
https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/List_of_animals_by_number_of_neurons.html

Because we rely on a network of relations beyond our families, we have to consider how to manage ourselves such that larger and larger groups of people can successfully live with one another. This is the evolutionary origins of civilisation.

As such we need political systems and government. We also need to think about our political systems and government, because as we consciously evolve, so must the social structures upon which we rely.

The Roles of Government

Democratic governments Exist for two purposes:

* To represent the collective will of their citizens

* To ensure the collective welfare of their citizens

These mandates can be at odds with each other. Sometimes circumstances bring anger and fear to a boil among the citizenry. People may then want expedient answers that are not in fact in their own best interest. This scenario can be made less likely when citizens are well educated and have a good sense that we are all in this together. When three different Australian states were unwilling to share the Murray river in order to meet their water needs, they could have gone to war with one another. Instead the federally elected government stepped in to ensure the water was fairly divided.

To represent the collective will of their citizens.

In a functioning democracy your vote counts for something. Your vote shouldn’t just represent a suggestion to someone, who was appointed on your behalf and who you did not vote for, in order to determine who is president. Pretty tangled, eh? That’s how the US Electoral College works. The government is happy to know your opinion, but then makes up its own mind as to who gets the highest seat of power. This is because in fact they do not trust your opinion. Such a system is not even a representative republic.

In a functioning democracy you have ready access to the politicians you put into positions of responsibility. Yes, they may be busy with work, but you are in fact a top priority and they must, at some point, make time for you. Start asking questions if this is not the case. At no point should any politician be more obligated to a corporation or special interest than to you…ever. They should never feel distant, high, or mighty. You should be the sole source of their power, and you can withdraw that power at any time with the simple stroke of a pen or push of a button when you make your vote.

In a functioning democracy you should feel confident that elections are fair and above board. It should be easy for you to execute your civic duty. Voting is a right and a responsibility. Your government must demonstrate their respect for that by making voting booths readily available, giving everyone sufficient time to vote, and ensuring voter registration is straightforward.

The democratic process and the role politicians are taking must be held in such esteem that it is unthinkable anyone would seek to win by any but the most honorable of means. Everyone should have access to standing for a democratically elected office, not just a select few with enough money and the right connections. Shady dealing should scandalize the public. Such dealing should never be accepted and never normalized. People need to fully express their anger: “this is wrong, this person should be removed from office and never allowed to stand again.” That’s what you do when someone abuses a sacred trust. Would you accept bad behavior from a daycare worker? NO! Children are precious. So is our democracy.

In a functioning democracy everyone will have sufficient education and access to objective reporting in order to make considered decisions when voting. Education is meant to prepare you for life. The proper functioning of your country is part of your life. Whether or not you are paid to understand current affairs and vote, this is important work. This is how you ensure your well-being and the well-being of your children.

To ensure the collective welfare of their citizens.

Countries do this by providing-

* stable rules and regulations, and their enforcement

* goods, services, infrastructure, as necessary.

Each country may need a different mix of these. However, at no point should enforcing rules be made more important than the physical and emotional well-being of citzens.

Stable rules and regulations, and their enforcement.

When you are feeling hemmed in and dominated by your parents, your school system, your government, and ultimately your society, it is easy to believe that all rules and regulations are bad.

Traffic laws are rules that people meet with daily and feel strongly about. Some get angry with speed limits and wonder why they have to wait for someone at an intersection–“I have someplace to go!” However, cars are dangerous equipment. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, “In 2016, 2,433 teens in the United States ages 16-19 were killed and 292,742 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. That means that six teens ages 16-19 died every day due to motor vehicle crashes and hundreds more were injured.” In Australia the leading cause of death for children up to fourteen is car accidents and car accidents cause 21% of deaths for 15-24 year-olds.
https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/life-expectancy-death/deaths-in-australia/contents/leading-causes-of-death

When everyone follows traffic laws, their behavior is predictable. This makes it possible for drivers to figure out what everyone is doing and take appropriate action. Speed limits are set to reflect how dangerous certain sections of road are, either for the driver or for pedestrians. Following those limits means drivers are less likely to lose control of their car or be unable to respond quickly enough to a pedestrian’s presence on the road.

Traffic laws make it possible for us to all arrive home alive. We want them enforced, because we don’t want some jerks thinking they can ignore the law and endanger the rest of us. Having a car can be very much like having a gun.

January 2017 in Melbourne Australia (where I live) a man deliberately drove his car into the pedestrians at Bourke Street Mall. Four people were killed, including a young child; twenty people were injured. I had one friend who saw the event unfold from the window of his office building, and was passing on Facebook updates as to what was going on. It was frightening. Until something disastrous happens to yourself or someone you care about, it can be very hard to understand why something is a problem. Please understand this: some laws are about your safety.

This is where things get tricky: some laws are not made in good faith.

If someone is so poor that they are forced to steal a loaf of bread in order to eat, which is more important: ensuring this person doesn’t starve or punishing them for breaking the law? In such a situation the government has failed in its duty of care towards its citizens and should largely be responsible for the theft.

Beware of countries that remove safety nets for people who have fallen upon hard times. It’s hardly surprising then when people resort to any means available to them just to survive. However, by creating crime these governments can convince the rest of the country that it is in their best interest to beef up police and military forces in order to better control their own citizenry. For those living comfortable lives, this may not seem like such a problem…up until you disagree with your government and your political voice is silenced with an actual gun.

Goods, services, and infrastructure.

In certain countries you are solely responsible for ensuring you have enough to eat. You may also be responsible for your medical care, your education, your ability to travel, whether or not you have clean water and sanitation. Research for various diseases such as bowel cancer may be left to those non-profit organizations who can collect enough money from people like you to pay researchers. Similarly research into the health of the environment may be left to rely on charitable donations. Children living in orphanages and foster homes will need caring donors or face living on the streets. You may also be approached by friends and family on GoFundMe to help when they have fallen on hard times.

This is a lot of work. This is a lot of responsibility that we are all asked to carry every day, all the time. Surely a better way can be found.

A better way has been found. These are all things for which your government is supposed to be responsible. This is what your tax dollars are for…goods, services and infrastructure that benefit you and your community.

When early American settlers took up the cry, “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” they did not say “taxation is tyranny”. They understood the value of taxation when that money became a community resource. What they objected to was having money taken from them without consultation, and to have that money distributed solely to people within England. They were not being taxed so much as being expected to offer tribute.

Let’s say a group of people in a community decide to start their own hospital cooperative. Everyone pitches in money to ensure enough doctors, medical equipment, and medicines are available for whenever anyone is sick. Some people will use the hospital more and some will use it less, but ultimately everyone is cared for. If anything catastrophic happens to anyone, they can feel secure that they will receive all the care they need. The results are a healthier community and peace of mind. More than that, everyone in the community knows that this is their hospital and can vote on who runs it and how.

This is pretty much how government taxation works. However, by paying state taxes you can ensure those people in poorer communities in your state also receive good care. When you pay federal taxes for health care some of that money can go toward medical research, thereby potentially finding cures to deadly diseases.

When hospital care is left to corporations they can ask, “How much is your health worth to you? Are you willing to pay $100 to be well? How about $1000 or $10,000?” CEOs can be sued by shareholders of hospitals for not making enough money. Therefore, it is worth it to them to charge as much as the market can bear. The bottom line is more important to them than your health. They also have the right to turn people away who can’t pay. Some diseases can only be contained when everyone is treated. You can’t play favorites based on wealth. Otherwise, everyone becomes ill, despite the numbers in their bank account.

Anything that is a human right should be made available to everyone through their government. Other people may privately offer similar services. But everyone must receive sufficient support from their government that they can live with dignity. This is already done in countries like Sweden and Norway. Taking so much in taxes that a full life is not possible would be counter to a government’s duty. This only happens when taxes are unfair because not everyone is equally sharing in supporting the well-being of their country.

A country is a collective entity. If you are benefitting from a country in any way, then it is your responsiblity to chip in along with everyone else. Some people with a lot of money go to great lengths to avoid taxes. They dazzle people with their lifestyle and convince people to let them behave irresponsibly. They will use their money to access positions of power and thereby dismantle public services. They will convince you this will lessen your tax burden. What will lessen your tax burden and ensure your personal security is if those with money behave honorably and pay an equal percentage of their wealth, as you do, for our collective well-being.

Government…we need good government. Currently, we aren’t experiencing what that is. That is no indication that good government isn’t possible, just that we have to get off our butts and make big change!

This is from a book I am writing on Wattpad.

Reigniting Democracy!

Posted on 3 November 2018 | Comments Off on Reigniting Democracy!

“The key to winning: Don’t try to convince anyone. Find people you like and organize!”
~Nicolas Bell

We hear words like “government”, “political party”, “corporation”…and our problems seem so big and we feel so small.

How can we possibly change the world facing such monstrosities?

In France Michel Lotito, more commonly known as “Monsieur Mangetout” which translates as “Mr Eat-All”, is an entertainer who actually ate an entire airplane. From 1978 to 1980 he disassembled and consumed a Cessna 150 one part at a time. It’s amazing he was able to do this at all!

When we want to change “The Establishment” we have to stop thinking about it in monumental terms. Don’t let the big buildings fool you. Bricks are inanimate. They can’t fight you. What you are dealing with is a collection of people. It is entirely possible to take down an establishment one person at a time.

Right now you have people working hard to motivate you into voting. Because win or lose by fair or foul play, your vote nevertheless tells those in power which way the wind is blowing. If you organise enough of your friends to vote together, those in power now know how serious you are and whether they should be concerned.

Some inspiration: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In June of this year Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a woman still in her twenties, won the Democrat primaries for her district in New York. She is now campaigning for a position in the US House of Representatives. Her success was entirely grassroots and totally unexpected.

When she found that she had been purged from New York voting rolls and could not vote in the 2016 presidential primary, she chose to work as an organiser for Bernie Sanders’s campaign. She learned everything she could about how to run grassroots campaigns. In 2017 she decided to challenge Democratic Caucus Chair, Joe Crowley, to run for the position of New York Congressional District 14 representative. She was the first person to do so since 2004. If she wins the election this November, she will be the youngest woman to ever be elected to the U.S. House Of Representatives.

How did she get this far? She started by speaking with people in their homes and having coffee parties. That’s the very definition of grassroots! With the help of a team of volunteers she made extensive use of social media such Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Her materials were multilingual, reaching out to the many different people who lived in her district. She also made a viral YouTube video.

The majority of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political contributions were by small individual contributors. She spent $194,000 campaigning compared to her opponent’s $3.4 million. And she won!

Ocasio-Cortez does not come from a wealthy white family. Her heritage is Puerto Rican and she was born in the Bronx of New York City. If she can achieve this much political success, then now is the time for young people everywhere to start flexing their political muscles and create change! You can do it!

Vote Vote VOTE!

Voting isn’t just a right. It’s a responsibility.

Only by voting do you ensure that you are living in a democracy. Only by voting do you protect all your rights. Only by voting are you guaranteed of having your voice heard by your nation.

In Australia everyone is required to vote or face fines. Quite a difference from the US! Some people do feel that their freedom is abridged by forcing them to contribute to political decisions. However, it is completely legal to make a “donkey vote”. This is when a person turns up to a voting station and puts no marks on their ballot. This is a political statement in its own right. It may say that they do not like any of the candidates, or they are unhappy with the system. Of course it can also mean they are a complacent jerk, who likes messing with people! These are things Australia has to consider.

We all need to become used to voting from a very early age and have it mean something. We need parents giving children choices, even if it’s “chocolate or vanilla?” then abide by that choice. We need school elections that are more than just popularity contests: where the elected roles require genuine responsibility and concern for the electorate. Civics classes need to become a thing once more. When a young person comes of voting age, that should be cause for a big celebration!

Become a voting maniac and find ways to encourage others to be voting maniacs!

Voting Clubs

Create a voting club! In this club organise to help register people for the vote, then get them to the polling booths in a timely fashion. Have events where a few individuals present details about the candidates and issues that will be on the ballot, so that people can make informed decisions. Have everyone bring cupcakes for afterward! On election day have all your friends dress up and carry balloons, vote, then go somewhere for a party!

Create a Bingo card where people can mark off squares for voting on local, state, and federal ballots! For extra squares encourage members to become part of credit unions and cooperatives, where votes in these organisations also count toward BINGO!

People will often skip opportunities to vote in midterm elections or local ballots, because they feel they aren’t as worthy of their time. ALL votes are important. In the case of local elections this is where you can feel your power! You can sense that you have made a difference! When enough local governments make the same changes, that informs state government. When enough state governments make the same changes, that informs the federal government. That’s how grassroots politics works! Don’t worry about the smallness of these electorates. Trust me, they can pack a punch under the right conditions.

Join a Party and Vote Some More!

People see political parties as some sort of Medusa released each election. Sure we may see any number of snake-like faces, but it seems to be all one monster. Don’t let anyone fool you by talking about “The Democrats” or “The Republicans”. They are groups of people. It’s not that hard to join them. It’s entirely possible to change their nature from within. When I first moved to Australia I joined a party in order to better understand how politics worked in that country. I volunteered to help write for the science and technology policy development group. After many years of just being there, I started writing more policy at higher levels, until eventually I was helping to set federal policy. Some of my ideas even made it into law!

When you join a political party, you get to vote who runs for various positions before anyone else does. If you don’t like the results, have your friends join you and vote some more in the next primary elections. Don’t be afraid to invade!

Who’s a Loser?

Some people may find voting disspiriting when their side loses. But it is in fact important by what margin someone has won a political position. If they squeaked through by one percent, they know they have to be answerable to their electorate or forfeit their position. You will then have power when you contact them and say, “I want this to happen.” If your side lost by a large margin, please understand that voting is an important part of a longterm process toward change. Your side may have only managed twenty percent of the vote, but if you are seeking social justice, then the most important thing you can do is to keep at it. Your vote gives your position visibility and offers the opportunity for dramatic shifts.

Practice Makes Perfect

In the US it’s very easy to feel that the system is rigged against you. That’s because it is!

Even if we did away with Electoral College, all the elections would still not fully represent the will of the people. That’s because the US relies on a “First Past the Post” voting system–the most simple form of election but not the most fair. If you have ever wondered why the US can only manage two political parties, this is why.

Let’s say we have an election where three parties are vying for the presidency: the Yellow, the Purple, and the Orange. Let’s say 30% of the people vote for Yellow and 30% vote for Purple. Let’s say Yellow and Purple people may not completely agree on everything, but they both dislike Orange. However, 40% of the population have voted for Orange. Under First Past the Post Orange wins. Sixty percent of the people are now unhappy with their leader, even though they are in the majority. The only way to keep this from happening is by having a two party system. This means not everyone’s issues are represented well, but at least they have some power to stop Orange from winning.

Can voting be made better than this. YES! Yes, it can!

Australia makes use of different means of voting that are a little more complex, but result in fairer representation. These systems are why they have multiple parties in that country. Australia makes use of both “Preferential Voting” (AKA Instant-Runoff Voting or Alternate Vote) and “Single Transferable Vote”. (In New Zealand they use “Mixed-Member Proportional Representation”)

With Preferential Voting you number your candidates from your most favorite to your least favorite. In a Yellow, Purple, Orange election you might vote “1” for Yellow, “2” for Purple, and “3” for Orange. If Orange is most people’s least favorite party, then what “1” votes they did receive go to people’s next preference. Let’s say twelve people are voting in this election: three vote “1” for Orange, four vote “1” for Yellow, and five vote “1” for Purple. Since Orange is being eliminated the ballots of those who voted Orange are checked to see which parties people voted “2”. If all of them voted Yellow as their next favorite, that would give Yellow seven votes to Purple’s five, and Yellow would win!

A few US cities and universities use these other methods of voting. If you are not used to them, they can be a little confusing. But honestly, the ballots can be straightforward. It’s the counting that requires careful attention. CGP Grey on YouTube does a great job of making these methods easy to understand. They produce results that better represent the people. If you believe in democracy, then this is what you want!

Should this interest you, I would suggest practice using these voting systems with your friends. Get a feel for how they work, then start promoting their use. Maybe even put up an initiative to have one of them used in your local elections or perhaps your state!

Getting Fired Up

When you become of voting age, you are old enough to start making laws! That’s more power than most people understand they have.

Through initiatives and referendums you can change the shape of your world. Like anything this will take work and perseverance. However given the issues we are facing now and in the future, the work is absolutely neccesary to save ourselves.

Citizen initiatives and referendums are a mixed blessing. They can most assuredly be abused by self-seekers, angry mobs, and manipulative companies. They are also a tool for direct democracy, making it possible to go around stubborn politicians. You can use this tool for good!

Find a group of friends and think hard about what laws could be made to protect your future: laws to do with housing, food security, protection of the environment, fair treatment, and more.

Right now Washington State is voting on a carbon tax to be imposed on companies that are polluting the state. This is the first proposed law of its kind in the United States. Here is the wording: “Initiative Measure No. 1631, filed March 13, 2018. AN ACT Relating to reducing pollution by investing in clean air, clean energy, clean water, healthy forests, and healthy communities by imposing a fee on large emitters based on their pollution; and adding a new chapter to Title 70 RCW.”

Do not worry so much about knowing what Title 70 RCW means. The rest of the initiative is straightforward and easy to understand. Start by putting together this sort of statement, then begin the process of getting people excited about it. Hold meetings. Contact university law departments to see if any of their law students would be happy to help you put together a full document to submit to your state government.

You may want to start by urging people to approach their state representatives with your document and convince these representatives to put your proposal before the state legislature. This would be a faster and easier method of making your law.

Eventually, you may find you still need to go around gathering signatures. Do NOT rely on online petitions. They have some influence, but are nowhere near as powerful as directly approaching politicians and legislative departments with documents people care enough to sign by hand.

As always, anything that’s going to be a slog requires a light spirit and passionate engagement. Be sure to celebrate every step. Find ways to make what you are doing fun. Regularly congratulate and honor one another. Remind yourselves regularly why you are doing this and how important that is!

Storming the Castle

If you are feeling inspired…if you are feeling REALLY inspired…I would suggest beginning a movement to hold your own grassroots constitutional convention. This is a pretty radical suggestion.

Currently, conservatives are calling for such a convention in order to push through an amendment to give states the power to veto any federal law, supreme court decision or executive order with a three-fifths vote from the states. Take a look through the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Think about what it would be like to have individual states removing your protections, such as freedom of speech or the ability to vote at eighteen. The list could go on and get much worse as to what might be done. There would be no UNITED States.

I don’t think a Constitutional Convention is such a bad idea. Many people in the US find it unthinkable, because what was done at the original convention is seen as sacred. In Australia they have had four Constitutional Conventions. The last two were in 1973 and 1998. We just need to make sure it’s a Constitutional Convention that proposes rights which better reflect our growth as a nation capable of universal compassion.

Schools in Australia regularly run constitutional conventions locally and nationally to help students learn how their government functions. These events also give them the space to discuss current affairs and genuine concerns related to the issues. Students in the US could initiate similar events.

In order to better propose changes and updates to the US Constitution I would strongly suggest young people explore existing documents that will give the changes they seek some weight. The documents I feel are worthy of your time are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a United Nations document that was inspired by the US Constitution but went further, and The Earth Charter which includes economic and environmental justice.

Quite honestly, you can do so much!

This is from a book I am writing on Wattpad.

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