A Right To Our Existence
Posted on 09 March 2017
(This speech was given on the steps of the Victorian State Parliament 08 March 2017 as part of International Women’s Day and the Defend and Extend Public Housing Rally. Melina Wylie and Benjamin Newall kindly played the parts of “Woman” and “Man” in the short play. This work can be performed by others CC BY 4.0.)
“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right.”
UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Ratified by Australian Federal Parliament 10 December 1975
We have rights!
Without question, we have rights!
Australia co-wrote and signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says we have a right to housing. Australia also signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a binding treaty that makes our country responsible by law to uphold rights such as our right to housing. Victoria then enshrined in its own laws a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act in 2006 directly making use of the language found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What sort of people are governing us if they will not abide by their own treaties, they will not abide by their own laws and principles, and do not keep their promises to their people and to the whole world? The United Nations did not impose these ideas upon us. We helped create them and we agreed to them. Where is the integrity? We need to let these people we put into office know that building developers and other corporates didn’t put them into office. Our votes put them into office and we will vote elsewhere if they are unwilling to represent their people’s best interests.
A society is only as secure as its worst treated members because anyone, absolutely anyone, can fall between the cracks.
As we all get poorer, we all become too distracted trying to get by. We lose a grip on dealing with core issues and our lives get worse.
We all need more freedom—two freedoms in particular:
- Freedom from want
- And freedom to choose.
Anything less and we are not citizens of our country but its subjects, forced to live as others choose: dehumanised and without respect.
We must have the freedom that comes from having our basic needs met such as food, clothing, medicine, education, and housing, so that we can more securely stand tall whenever oppression raises its nasty head. This then gives us the freedom to choose where we work, where we live, who we spend our time with, and more.
Only oppressors seek to keep a people desperate and in want. It is your right to live free of poverty. Endangering people’s lives simply because they don’t have an address, can’t always jump through difficult hoops, and most especially because they are already poor is tyranny. Their incessant questioning of whether or not you deserve help is a way to get you and all of Australia to question your rights. It’s manipulative and its abusive.
No question corporates are oppressors.
No question our governments from city to state to federal are failing us and adding to the oppression.
We must stop the oppression.
We must withdraw power from corporations and those politicians who are not doing their duty.
And that is the crux of the matter.
We must understand our role in our dysfunctional society, so that we can well and truly end our suffering. Because once we understand and cooperate, we have the power to change everything.
To help illustrate the primary issues I have brought along a couple acting friends.
The core fear that sits inside all of our bellies is that perhaps there isn’t enough for everyone in the world. In fact it grinds at our guts as a firm belief: “The world is harsh and there isn’t enough.”
Here is a bag of biccies.
Katherine holds up a golden bag with wrapped biscuits inside and places it on a top step of Parliament.
We don’t know how many biccies are in it. There could be just a few, or the bag could be brimming with biccies.
These two are going to assume that there aren’t enough for them.
Much body language here.
If those biccies are a matter of life or death: comfort or starvation, the stakes are going to be high as to who gets access to them.
Woman: I should have the biccies, I have children in need of feeding. (Goes up one step closer to the golden bag.)
Man: I should have the biccies, I have important work to do. (Goes up two steps closer to the golden bag.)
Katherine: Let’s say that even though they are aiming for the big biccies, they have some biccies of their own. Because the man is closer to the prize, he has more than the woman. (Give actors bags.)
Man: If you give me a biccie, I will make you beautiful.
Woman: Why would I want that?
Man: You will look like a rich person.
Man: You will be desirable to rich people.
Woman: I suppose.
Man: You will become a rich person.
Woman: If I give you a biccie?
Man: Oh yes!
Actors go through the exchange as Katherine talks.
Katherine: So she gives him the biccie. But does she become rich?
Woman: I still don’t have enough to feed my children and have shelter.
Man: It’s because you’re ugly.
Woman: I am?
Man: You didn’t give me enough biccies. You have to give me more biccies to make my beautifying work.
Woman: But when will it work? Mouths need to be fed now!
Man: Soon enough. And when it does you will have to keep giving me biccies to keep it working.
Woman: Really? What happens if it stops working?
Man: You will lose everything: your home, the people you love, your self-respect.
Katherine: As you can see, she’s terrified now.
Woman gives Man more biccies.
Man: Oh and you have to pay a tax on this purchase.
Woman: What for?
Man: To help those poor souls who are too ugly to receive any biccies.
Woman: I suppose we don’t want anyone starving.
Man: No, you don’t.
Woman: This is all I have. (empties bag and turns it upside down to demonstrate)
Man: Is it now. Dear me, that isn’t enough.
Woman: Are you sure?
Man: I made the rules, so I know for a fact it isn’t enough.
Woman: Are you paying these taxes?
Man: Me? Oh no, no, no! Of course not!
Woman: But I thought everyone was paying. Isn’t that fair?
Man: (laughs) That’s funny. I don’t pay because I do important work.
Woman: I have children.
Man: And whose choice was that? You can’t afford children.
Woman: But I didn’t know.
Man: In fact what kind of person are you to bring children into the world if you can’t afford them? You don’t deserve your children. You know I’m going to have to fine you and take away your children.
Woman: What? But I don’t have anything! You’ve taken it all!
Man: You are such ugly scum.
Woman: But what about the taxes?
Man: What taxes?
Woman: The ones to help the poor ugly souls? You said there would be help. You said there would be help. Where is my help?
Man: Are you getting aggressive?
Woman: No, I just want help.
Man: I’m going to have to pay for police. We’ll have to take it out of social services.
Woman: That doesn’t help me.
Man: We have to protect the public.
Woman: From who?
Man: (Looks at her.)
Woman: No! How can you do this? I demand my rights!
Man: What rights?
Woman: The right I have to my existence!
Man: But you’re poor.
Woman: I still have a right to my existence.
Man: You’re barely even human.
Man: I can even cite scientific sources to prove it.
Woman: I’m getting my friends.
Man: How many friends?
Woman: I don’t know.
Man: All right.
Man takes out a biccie packet, drops it to the ground, pointedly crushes it beneath his foot, then picks up the package. He grabs her hand and pulls it in front of him. He opens the packet and pours crumbs into her hand.
Man: You…can have…that.
Katherine: What has happened here? Can you see the dynamic?
Man puts hands on Woman’s shoulders.
He is basically saying, “My needs—my wants first.” He then finds ways to enforce this.
However as soon as he tries to enforce his will, he can’t let go. To stay in control he has become a prisoner. And the more strongly he tries to hold her down—the more in danger he is from her and her friends.
And what if there are plenty of biccies in the bag?. Maybe nobody is getting fat, but they will both have all the biccies they need. All they ever needed to do was share. This (point to tableau) has become an act of self-destruction.
Actors start giving away biccies.
Sharing and kindness are much better solutions to our problems. Everyone should have access to a secure and healthy home. We should be giving people homes because it works. It works in Medicine Hat Canada where the government has experienced significant savings in their social services budget. It is working in the US state of Utah, and it is being done in Seattle and San Francisco. Funding slum lords who squeeze the poor dry doesn’t work. Acts of genuine compassion and generosity do. Who are we to lag behind the rest of the world in doing what is right? We have all the resources to ensure everyone’s needs are met.
Defend and extend public housing!
Peace and kindness,