We can’t defend the arts without discussing the ideology driving the cuts

captalism works for me

Capitalism, It works for me. By Steve Lambert

In May’s federal budget Attorney General & Minister for the Arts George Brandis announced a $104.7M cut to the independent Australia Council for the Arts and the establishment of his own National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).

Artists have been responding loudly and creatively to the announcement, especially the critically important small to medium sector; where over 145 companies will be feeling the impact of the cuts. The #freethearts campaign is coordinating a whole-of-arts sector delegation to Canberra this Thursday, there is an online petition with over 11,000 signatures and the brilliantly cheeky Art of Brandis is going viral.

However, we won’t be successful in defending a single sector from the logic of austerity – artists need to stand up against the ideology driving these cuts, not just the cuts themselves.

Rather than simply arguing to protect funding for the arts, it is critical – to the arts sector and our society more broadly – that artists take a deeper look at the worldview held by this government that is driving these cuts and the cuts to just about every other sector in the public sphere.

This is not a moment for artists to be polite and argue for the merits of the arts alone. It is a moment that should instead inflame a critical dialogue about power, justice and the kind of Australia we want to live in.

We need our artists, poets and storytellers to be reflecting back to us a critique of the worldview of this government who seem hell bent on cutting public funding to essential services, building a super surveillance state, breaking international law in pursuit of their brutal border policing and passing massive tax subsidies on to the resource sector – with no heed for the climate crisis we face.

We need art and stories that help us understand that there are other options, other ways of seeing ourselves and each other so that we can demand a different kind of leadership alongside truly fair and just policies from our politicians.

I would love to see discussions widened to include the impacts of the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) when arts delegates head to Canberra this Thursday. The TPP is a proposed mega free trade deal between Australia, USA and ten other countries. We know – thanks to Wikileaks leaking the draft intellectual property rights chapter – that this trade deal could see digital downloads made criminal offenses and that there are significant threats to press freedom which could severely impact on journalists and whistleblowers.

With these kind of proposed trade laws the free trade, free market ideology marches on. And under this kind of ideology there is no way we can expect to see robust or independent funding for the arts.

We also know that these free trade deals are going to have a profound impact on our ability to protect the environment, take action on climate change and build our local economies.

Let this moment not just be about defending the arts funding patch, but about taking stock of the bigger picture and bringing an understanding of neoliberalism to our defense of the arts.  And please let more artists stand in solidarity with others campaigning against policies created by the same maddening ideology – against the closures of remote indigenous communities, in defense of the Great Barrier Reef and in solidarity with asylum seekers.

We need to talk about the destructive worldview driving these policies, we need our commentators and artists to be naming what is happening, we need to understand this, we need to build solidarity between all the sectors who are feeling the pain of this slash and burn agenda and then we need to fight, together, to build something different.

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reflecting on 2014 – social movements

soli2 soli

“We call it the Great Turning – and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition of the doomed economy of industrial growth to a life sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. The transition is already well underway.”  – Joanna Macy

This year I’ve found incredible inspiration in the work of activists, organisers and social movements around the world. I’ve been lucky enough that my work means paying attention to and connecting with movements so I’ve crossed paths with even more campaigns and organisers than usual. It’s been a year of remarkable victories and – from my vantage point – ever greater connection, sharper analysis and greater influence across movements.

I think we often underestimate the power of social movements – the mainstream as they are not always paying attention, the elite and the establishment because they don’t want to promote the power of organising and don’t tell the stories of social movement victories – and paradoxically – by social movements and activists themselves; perhaps because we don’t quite dare to believe our own power, are used to being marginal, or we swallow the establishment media line and don’t tell our own stories loudly enough?

Whatever the reason, I believe that social movements and the power of organising are often grossly underestimated – and I think acknowledging their influence and power is critical to building more power and contributing to the transition to justice and true sustainability that the world so desperately must make.

As I’ve travelled and paid attention this year I’ve noticed a palpable buzz as movements gain momentum, connect with each other and build power – particularly across critical issues such as racial justice, climate change, state surveillance, indigenous land rights and international trade deals. It’s not just me – other people are excited – they feel this moment growing…..

So in the spirit of paying attention to movements I wanted to mark the end of 2014 with some shout outs to campaigns that have made my heart swell;

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NORTHERN TERRITORY

Close to home the brilliant victory of the Traditional Owners of Muckaty against the proposed nuclear waste dump after a ten-year battle was a stand out win.

I am so inspired by the tenacity of the Beyond Nuclear Initiative and the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance ANFA; in particular a huge shout out to Nat for her strength and commitment to stand so solidly with Diane, Kylie and family. Thankyou. This victory is not just for Muckaty – but it creates a choke point for the expansion of the nuclear industry globally.

Sisters and Brothers NT are rocking it – from being an informal network to participating in tv programs, at national and international conferences, running trainings at the Alice Springs hospital the org now launched itself as a formal entity – mega  congratulations to everyone involved.

Also really amazing this year was the community organising around liquor restrictions and racialised policing in Alice Springs. Huge respect for everyone involved in the documentation of police and raising the issue publicly.

This year the Borroloola community stood up as part of the Global Frack Down day of action – fighting against both the existing mine and standing up against proposed pipeline and fracking on their country. (Also I can’t quite believe that there is still a zinc mining dump site that is on fire in Borroloola – it has been burning for months).

Another powerful campaign gaining traction in the NT is the Protect Arnhem Land movement opposed to the madness of offshore gas extraction in beautiful Arnhem Land. I’m looking forward to the Stingray Sisters doco series about some of the women involved in this campaign.

And lastly – after a few years break I am proud to have rejoined the board of the brilliant Arid Lands Environment Centre. With the huge federal and territory government cut backs to green groups and the ever expanding extractives industry we need ALEC more than ever – sign up to become a desert defender here.

The rise of Blockadia is, in many ways, simply the flip side of the carbon boom.

Blockadia is not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing frequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines.

What unites these increasingly interconnected pockets of resistance is the sheer ambition of the mining and fossil fuel companies: the fact that in their quest for high-priced commodities and higher-risk “unconventional” fuels, they are pushing relentlessly into countless new territories, regardless of the impact on the local ecology (in particular, local water systems), as well as the fact that many of the industrial activities in question have neither been adequately tested nor regulated, yet have already shown themselves to be extraordinarily accident-prone.

What unites Blockadia too is the fact the people at the forefront— packing local council meetings, marching in capital cities, being hauled off in police vans, even putting their bodies between the earth-movers and earth—do not look much like your typical activist, nor do the people in one Blockadia site resemble those in another. Rather, they each look like the places where they live, and they look like everyone: the local shop owners, the university professors, the high school students, the grandmothers. – Naomi Klein This Changes Everything

gas lock

AUSTRALIA

Increasingly across Australia beautiful, powerful and successful expressions of #Blockadia can be found. Whilst the Abbott government is firmly in the grip of the fossil fuels industry the movement for action on climate change is growing stronger every day. The Lock The Gate Alliance is gaining momentum with deep community organising in regional communities across the country.

My social media feeds have been full of people taking direct action against the Maules Creek mine in NSW – having grown up in regional faming community the shots of farmers locking on hits a chord in me like nothing else.

The victory at the Bentley Blockade stopping Santos from setting up in gas drilling in Northern NSW was a critical win for bolstering the movement nationally.

Quit Coal Victoria had a great victory with the Victorian State Government announcing a moratorium on fracking on the eve of a planned horseback protest.

The recent Victorian election was practically a referendum on the proposed East West Link road – and the result is a resounding success for the people that opposed the unnecessary and stupidly expensive expansion.

Pacific Climate Warriors blocked the Newcastle coal port with hand carved canoes. These images of strong, proud, fierce activists blockading the seas, the ANZ corporate offices and visiting the Maules Creek blockade are simply brilliant.

Despite the continuation of appalling border policing policies there has been sustained resistance and solidarity with asylum seekers anti deportation actions, the expansion of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, occupations of government offices and persistent expression of solidarity in the face of the violent and illegal treatment of refugees.

Earthworker Co-operative – No jobs on a dead planet! – this year they ran a crowd funding campaign and opened a new solar factory in Melbourne – they are such legends.

The power of this ferocious love is what the resource companies and their advocates in government inevitably underestimate, precisely because no amount of money can extinguish it. When what is being fought for is an identity, a culture, a beloved place that people are determined to pass on to their grandchildren, and that their ancestors may have paid for with great sacrifice, there is nothing companies can offer as a bargaining chip.

 No safety pledge will assuage; no bribe will be big enough. And though this kind of connection to place is surely strongest in Indigenous communities where the ties to the land go back thousands of years, it is in fact Blockadia’s defining feature. – Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

 That connection to this place and the love that people have for it, that’s what Arch Coal doesn’t get. They underestimate that. They don’t understand it so they disregard it. And that’s what in the end will save that place. Is not the hatred of the coal companies, or anger, but love will save that place. – Alexis Bonogofsky, This Changes Everything

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AROUND THE WORLD

Globally there are far to many stories to give justice to in one blog post, but I’ll make a few quick shout outs here;

Podemos in Spain are tearing it up – emerging from the Indignados movement they’ve only existed as a formal party for mere months and they are already the second biggest political force in Spain.

Liberate Tate and Art Not Oil in the UK have continued to pressure institutions to break ties with the big oil companies through savvy installations and political performances and are making great headway on their campaign. See more at Platform‘s website.

No Dash for Gas in the UK are blocking and protesting the expanding gas industry in the UK at every turn.

There’s some amazing work being done in housing rights in the UK with the recent victory of the New Era Estate campaign and the visibility of the e15 mums.

One of the most inspiring people I had the opportunity to spend time with this year is the human rights lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina from Chad who is taking former dictator of Chad to trial in Senegal.

In North American #Blockadia is also cranking; the campaign against the Tar Sands and XL Pipeline and going strong; in Montana the fight against Arch Coal continues, resistance to Tar Sands is cranking in Utah and the movement for racial justice is gaining momentum see; Ferguson Action and BlacklivesMatter.

The People’s Climate March was a momentous moment and Flood Wall Street made clear the critical links between real climate action and capitalism.

Free West Papua seems to be finally getting more attention as more people around the world raised the West Papuan flag for a global day of action than ever before.

In the digital sphere many great organisers continue to push for justice and freedom as more and more evidence of the growth of the surveillance state comes to light.

This list doesn’t even scrape the surface and as I am completing it I am aware of how many many more things I want to mention and add in! (Like Rojava and Hong Kong and and and and…..!)

For many more inspiring campaigns check out this Environmental Justice Atlas and the ever growing gallery at Beautiful Solutions.

My goal for 2015 is to pay even more attention to the role and influence of social movements and encourage others to do the same.

In solidarity and with love, here’s to a transformative year.

 * pics all sourced from the internet without attribution as unable to verify – apologies to the photographers!

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reflecting on 2014 – what I got up to

What a bloody great adventure of a year! I built a house out of mainly recycled materials with the help of some wonderful friends and I travelled extensively connecting with activists and social movements around the world.

I’m working with wonderfully creative, gutsy, generous, rigorous and smart people and I’m lucky enough to be part of the team of the brilliant This Changes Everything project.

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2014 has been a very affirming year. I think no matter how much I’ve tried to resist the Australian ‘cultural cringe’ and ‘tall poppy syndrome’ these are pretty pervasive cultural norms. After spending the last 11 years in the desert I felt that somehow – even though I consider the Territory to be one of the most dynamic, innovative and challenging places to work – my skills and experience didn’t match up.

However, the more I travel and the more projects I come across the more I realise how unique and important the work of Big hART and many of the projects that I know of and have worked on in Alice Springs – projects like Ngapartji Ngapartji, Akeyulerre, ALECBrothers & Sisters NT, Elbow Workshop, 8 Hele Cres, Starlady’s salons, 8MMM (to mention a tiny few) – truly are. This is both a relief and a reminder that the big western cities are not the most powerful places and that the world is much more complex and interesting than that.

2013 wrapped up with Queen of the Desert having screened at over 45 film festivals and Big hART presenting Namatjira in London.

I joined the team of This Changes Everything in November 2013 and went to part time in my National Producer role with Big hART.

In early 2014 I moved back to Alice properly with a mission to build a shipping container and silver bullet house on Basso Island (my block of land). I traded my old dodge truck with my mate Giles who built me the amazing deck and in August the project was complete and I moved in!

deck home

The work year kicked off with a big focus on supporting Big hART to negotiate a full range of performances and events to premiere in the October Melbourne Festival program including staging Hipbone Sticking Out and Murru and hosting a Big hART film retrospective and a Big hART process master class at ACMI.

I also rejoined the board of the critically important Arid Lands Environment Centre.

After a period of deep reflection I made the big (and emotional) decision to take extended leave from Big hART in May to focus on This Changes Everything and take up the opportunity to work with the visionary Bertha Foundation.

I’ve joined a fabulous small team of folks working to develop an activism portfolio for Bertha – watch this space!

As part of my work getting to know the existing portfolios at Bertha I attended two convenings of the brilliant Bertha Be Just program – a convening of the full network in Cape Town, South Africa in March and a convening of the project partners in Berlin, Germany in October. I also attended IDFA – International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam – to understand more deeply the diverse and ambitious Bertha media portfolio.

My work on film & impact more broadly continued through attending the BRITDOC Impact Distribution Lab in New York in March and maintaining active involvement with a brilliant group of peers; the Impact Producers Group.

The Australian Director’s Guild invited me to give lectures and teach a two day master-class in impact producing in Perth and Melbourne in May and June. I spoke at a number of other conferences and panels through out the year on media, story, activism and change.

I was invited to do some strategy and impact consultation for the forthcoming Frackman documentary. Frackman went on to be selected for the inaugural Good Pitch Australia in November and will premiere in early 2015. I reckon it will be a powerful tool for the movements against gas extraction across Australia – and hopefully the world.

And I started talking with filmmaker Gabrielle Brady about a very exciting documentary project she is developing on asylum seekers – more on this soon.

In September after a few weeks of Basso Island bliss I took off for NYC which is where I am currently based. I landed a couple of weeks before the launch of This Changes Everything and the People’s Climate March; which was a truly brilliant event to be a part of. The moment of silence was incredible – in such a big crowd, in such a big city – and the whole day was a powerful reminder of the role of culture and ritual in the making of change.

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I went on to travel with Naomi to London for the UK launch of This Changes Everything in October and for the Dutch and Belgian launches in November.

In October I was stoked to take part in a retreat in the Adirondacks with the folks from the Beautiful Universe – Beautiful Trouble, Beautiful Solutions & Beautiful Rising. Aside from being bloody happy for some time under a big sky and stars I was thrilled to discuss tactics and strategies on the role of story, culture, art and networks in change making with such great thinkers and trouble makers.

Also making some deeper friendships  – more than just allies – which is a pretty essential thing when you move to the other side of the globe and leave your amazing posse in Alice!

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In November I was part of a four day brainstorm around the possibilities of Russell Brand’s online series The Trews with a bunch of designers, artists and techies. It was a pretty fascinating experience of rapid prototyping with a group of people who didn’t all already know each other and interesting to explore the tensions between different platforms and ideas about social change.

In the last weeks of 2014 I joined the protests in New York calling for justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner and to #shutitdown. I’m deeply inspired by the leadership of activists from Ferguson, Black Lives Matter and across the country and am reflecting a lot on how this movement can inspire action on parallel issues of police violence and racism in Australia.

The work year wrapped up with an amazing weekend retreat for This Changes Everything with our education partners Rethinking Schools and Zinn Education Project. With 15 teachers writing lessons and responding to the book and film to think about the best ways to create materials for secondary school classroom use.

I was lucky enough to round out the year with family in Costa Rica where my sister and her husband run the beautiful rural farm and b&b; Casitas Tenorio. Did you know Costa Rica has no army and is already between 94-98% renewable energy wise? Amazing.

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It’s been a huge year of travel and networks and politics and social movements. I am deeply inspired and feel ready for what I am sure will be an even bigger year as projects take off with Bertha and the This Changes Everything documentary is released.

As 2015 kicks off I’m thinking a lot about love and interdependence.

Our connections to each other will make us stronger and enable us to build the power to create the very necessary and urgent shifts for true and lasting justice.

With love, gratitude and in solidarity, here’s to a transformative year.

Alex

ps all pics by me except for PCM unattributed pics from internet & retreat pics from Beautiful Solutions pals. 

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