The Writer In Me

Writing is my hobby. I am not a particularly talented writer. I can’t spell for a start. My grammar can be a little off at times. I am not particularly creative either. I have tried writing poetry a few times but I lack any sense of rhyme or rhythm. My vocabulary is surprisingly limited. My limited vocabulary is related to my deafness. I lack the ability to overhear; most new words that I have learnt are through reading. If I was hearing I would learn words through a variety of outlets. Just sitting on the train and overhearing conversations can build ones vocabulary. Media like talk back radio and even popular music can build ones vocabulary. These things are denied me so like many deaf people I compensate by reading. This is why I know many words but cannot pronounce them for shit. I learnt recently that I pronounced the word access as axis when my Auslan interpreter became my speech therapist. But I digress, I am supposed to be examining why I write.

Of late I have been examining why I write. I write for many reasons. I write because certain things piss me off. Rather than bottle this in I put it to paper. I write because I hate prejudice and discrimination and by writing I create awareness and hopefully help to reduce these twin evils. I have an ego too; I write because I love the response. I could write and just store my writing away from the public but what is the point of that? I don’t care what the response is sometimes. It can be positive or it can be negative. But it gives me a buzz that something that I have written has stirred someone’s thought process to the point that they feel a need to respond.

I write to be controversial. Not just for controversy sake but because controversy is often the trigger for change. Cynthia J Mcgean attempts to explain why writers write at her Blog. She has this to say of writers, “We have a duty to bear witness, to ask difficult questions, to generate conversation, perhaps even controversy.  Sometimes, we come down on one side, sometimes another, but often the writer’s role is to explore the complicated world of the in-between.”[1] This very much sums up my motivation for writing, particularly the controversy part.

Some people fear controversy but it is not always a bad thing. Used correctly controversy can be a trigger for change. There just has to be a little method to the madness. As Melanie Brooks explains on her Blog, “My goal in writing something controversial is to never regret writing it. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me…”  Brookes over all aim is “ … Creating a dialogue with my ideas is the ultimate goal, whether I am praised or shunned. It’s good to have strong opinions.” [2]That pretty much sums up how I approach my writing.

What really inspires me to write is knowing that there are people who have an opinion about things but for whatever reason they cannot express this view. They may not have the confidence or simply they feel that no one will listen. These people often talk among their friends. They complain, they praise, they lament and they seek answers but they fear doing this publicly for fear of ridicule. What I like to do is listen in to what these people are saying and then write about it. I try to put these ideas into the public platform so that they cannot be ignored. More importantly I do this so that the people that cannot find a way to be heard are heard.

Sometimes doing this inspires otherwise silent people to respond. Sometimes they write to me privately and sometimes they leave comments on The Rebuttal Blog. Sometimes they comment on Facebook but the real reward is that a dialogue is created where ideas are discussed. Sometimes they agree with me sometimes they are vehemently opposed to what I have written.  But nevertheless they are motivated to respond and for many this is an empowering thing.

That not everyone agrees with what I say is a good thing too. On more than one occasion people have let me know that I am talking crap and I probably was. On more than one occasion an organisation has written in to put their side of the story and refute what I am saying. On more than one occasion I have been told to stop whinging and suggest a constructive way forward. All these responses are good too because every side of the story should be heard. Most importantly, just as I hold organisations to account, I should be held to account too.

Central to my writing is controversy. I aim to create controversy so that debate happens and energy to respond to issues is created. I could write dry unemotional pieces but these probably would have no impact at all. So my aim is to, without regret, challenge and highlight issues in a way that makes people think. People often fear controversy but in the scheme of things controversy is actually very important. Anurag Bhateja on their Blog[3] defines controversy as, a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of opinion”.  That sums up why many of us write, to express our own opinion and in the process encourage people to express theirs.

Hopefully this expression of opinion will create enough energy for people to want to take action. Human beings are generally a passive lot and sometimes a catalyst is needed to spur them into action. This might be challenging a well respected public figure like Graeme Innes or it might be challenging the direction of our representative organizations. Whatever the target or whatever the issue the aim is to stir the emotions of people so that they react and challenge.

Mark Twain once cynically said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”  And perhaps this is true for many of us that write. But by the same token if the people that are making decisions on our behalf, often against our wishes, and we all remain silent for fear of ridicule these people will carry on regardless and nothing in this world will change.

So I write and I write with no regrets, even when I get it wrong, because the intent is simply to try and make things a little bit better. Besides Oscar Wilde once said, “..Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” Perhaps that is a dictum that we should all live by.

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The Lady On The Bus

Shall I tell you what the real evil is? To cringe to the things that are called evils, to surrender to them our freedom, in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering.  Lucius Annaeus Seneca 5BC – 65AD

One of the most poignant moments in recent history is the image of American athletes, Tommy Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power salute during a medal ceremony. With their black gloved salute, fist defiantly held high, they took the world by storm. But what is absolutely poignant is that this unforgettable moment in history was inspired by a radical Black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus.

It is interesting to look at the Black Power movement. Of course this was the 1960’s a time when protest and civil unrest was rife. In the 60’s the power of television was just starting to hit home. Protests were beamed live to peoples homes in all their glory. The Kennedy assassination was seen by millions. Martin Luther King was stirring the masses and he too was assassinated. Riots seemed an everyday occurrence. The 60’s were a time when people were not going to accept second best. The evils of segregation, racism, sexism and war were challenged head on. And television beamed it, often live, direct into people’s living rooms. The influences of these protests were immense. The Black Power salute was an extension of these protests.

But let’s get back to the lady on the bus. Often it is just a single act of defiance that can spark the cause. Rosa Parks is a case in point. Parks is the famous Black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus. This was in 1955 when segregation in America was law. So ridiculous were these laws that Blacks were expected to enter buses through the back door. As the story goes Parks was tired after a long day at work. She was asked to leave her seat by the bus driver and refused. She was arrested and sent to jail.[1]

This single act of defiance is often seen as the real start of the civil rights movement. So much that Parks is often called, “The Mother of the civil rights movements”.  Of course there were other events such as the Women’s Suffrage movement that had enormous impact on civil rights but this simple act of defiance by Rosa Parks ignited the civil rights movement like never before.

To cut a long story short she was bailed out of jail and as a result of her defiance Blacks boycotted the Montgomery Bus Service. This was no small thing because at the time Black men apparently made up 75% of the patrons. Lack of patronage meant that the bus service either changed its policy or potentially went out of business.  Interestingly Parks inspired the establishment of Montgomery Improvements Association that was headed by none other than a young Martin Luther King. This simple act of defiance created ripples that were to be felt in every corner of the globe.[2]

Closer to home Australia has its own famous acts of defiance. One of the most well known is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The Tent Embassy was established in 1972 on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. It started with a simple beach umbrella set up by Aboriginal Activist, Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey. It was in response to the Liberal Government of the day who refused to grant land rights to the Aboriginal communities of Australia. Instead they offered a lease system that was conditional to Aboriginal communities showing they could make economic use of the land. This economic use did not extend to the rights to the natural resources of the land such as minerals or forestry.[3] Michael Anderson spoke to the press and pointed out, ‘The land was taken from us by force … We shouldn’t have to lease it … Our spiritual beliefs are connected with the land’.[4]

From this humble beach umbrella the Tent Embassy grew to a point where at one stage more than two thousand people resided there. The Government Minister for Aboriginal Affairs of the day, Peter Howson, described the protesters as “unrepresentative militants”. So incensed were the Liberal Government about the Tent Embassy that they actually changed the law on public access to Parliament House lawns. The change in the law allowed police to forcibly remove the Tent Embassy.  Attempts to forcibly remove the Tent Embassy led to violent clashes between police and protesters. Eventually the courts ruled in favour of the protesters and the Embassy was re-established. (It was to be re-established several times over the next 4o years.)

This single act of defiance by four Aboriginal men brought attention to Aboriginal Rights like never before. Importantly it led to unprecedented public and political support to their cause. The tents themselves were symbolic. They represented, a discomforting visual presence which reminds governments and people, from Australia and elsewhere, of a continuing Indigenous underclass with more health problems, less education and a much shorter life span than other Australians.[5]  The Tent Embassy was not just about land rights it was about the whole sorry situation and abuse of Aboriginals by White Australians since White settlement. Sadly, despite gains in land rights, this abuse continues today.

Social change comes about because people refuse to accept mediocrity. It comes because people get tired of trying to negotiate with Governments that constantly fob them off with rhetoric.  Sometimes the spark for social change is something simple like Parks not being able to sit on a bus or the deaf not being able to see a movie. But either way a simple act of defiance that shows that people like Rosa Parks are not going to accept second best can be a catalyst to real social change.

Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the danger of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot” than the stigma of conformity.”  Thomas J Watson, early CEO of IBM who is largely credited with leading IBM to be the company it is today


[1] It is interesting to note that this was not Parks first act of defiance. In 1943 she refused to enter a bus at the back as was the law. When she refused to give up her seat she recognised the driver as neing the same one as on that day in 1943.

The Power's With Us

What a week it has been in politics. Tony Abbott has been labelled sexist and misogynist by Prime Minister Gillard. This has sent shockwaves around the world. For those less articulate readers among us misogyny is, to put it shortly, disregard and disrespect for women. Particularly, at this point in time, the misogyny is directed firmly at our Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She has handled herself with admirable restraint, until yesterday that is.

Perhaps this all built to a boiling point when Shock Jock, Alan Jones, had a brain fade. In a speech to the Young Liberals, Jones inexplicitly uttered those immortal words, “… The PMs father died of shame.” Jones alluded that Gillard was a liar and that her father knowing she was a liar would have been ashamed of her, so much that it killed him. Of course this is the height of insensitivity, particularly because the PMs father passed away only last month. What is worse is that the Young Liberals apparently cheered him on and thus in doing so provided us with real fears of the pedigree of so called future leaders of this country.

Our faith in humanity was restored somewhat by the reaction to Jones speech from the general public and the sponsors of Jones radio program. His sponsors deserted him in droves. Mercedes pulled its advertising and demanded that he give back his $250 000 Mercedes. Social Media went into overdrive, so much that the ultimate bully, Jones, claimed he was the victim of Cyber Bullying. This is Jones calling the Kettle Black he has become the victim of his own brand of hate. At last count there were 17 300 members of the Sack Alan Jones page. This is Social Media at its best.

Then there was the astonishing attack from Julia Gillard on Tony Abbott in parliamentary question time. Abbott can only be described, and I say this kindly, as thick. Knowing full well the reaction to Jones comments he actually rephrased them. Said Abbott, “And every day the prime minister stands in this parliament to defend this Speaker will be another day of shame for this parliament, another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame.”

The Liberals were quick to jump to Abbots defense. Said Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella, “There is no way whatsoever Tony was referencing Alan Jones; he’s used that phrase for many months,” Oh! Come on, pull the other one. Even if Abbott wasn’t referencing Jones his lack of judgment, something he is constantly accusing the Prime Minister of, is appalling.

The comments were the last straw. Prime Minister Gillard exploded, The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.”

This is nothing compared to what followed, …this is the Leader of the Opposition who has said, and this was when he was a minister under the last government – not when he was a student, not when he was in high school – when he was a minister under the last government. He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros. The Leader of the Opposition says “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”

 In her speech Gillard was immediately on the offensive. She began her speech with this, “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.” For a full transcript of the speech click on the link, I urge you to read it is riveting.  http://www.watoday.com.au/opinion/political-news/transcript-of-julia-gillards-speech-20121010-27c36.html

Once again Social Media went into overdrive. In fact the video of the speech went viral. It has been seen all over the world and newspapers and bloggers have been having a field day. Of course the newspapers like the UK publication The Telegraph were more refined calling Gillards speech a,  “Brilliant political pivot” Bloggers were a little more crude one saying that she had basically, “ripped him a new asshole.”

Facebook went  into overdrive with memes appearing everywhere with choice quotes from her speech. Again it was Social Media at its best showing that most of us are decent people that don’t want to put up with this sexist crap and vitriol that is being spewed from the male side of politics.

But it is not just Gillard that had to put up with this rubbish. Kate Ellis, an articulate and committed politician, was treated appallingly on Q&A on the ABC on Monday night, by both Labor and Conservatives alike. On the show with Ellis were Liberal Minister Chris Pyne, journalist Piers Akerman and ex Labor politician Lindsay Tanner. They took every opportunity to speak over and interrupt Ms Ellis when she was trying to get her point across. Comedian and author, Ben Pobjie, was moved to comment on his blog, It was a horrible display by three men who, according to all reports, claim to be grown adults of fully-functioning intellectual faculties. But in the presence of a federal minister whose views on a range of issues are actually quite important to the country, but who happened to be a woman, they could not find it within themselves to grow the hell up and act like decent human beings.

In the past people like Jones, Abbott, Pyne, Akerman and Tanner could get away with murder but now with Social Media the real world is fighting back. Everyone who makes utterances in public places is held to account and the refreshing thing is that the majority are showing that sexism, misogynists and racists are firmly in the minority and will not be tolerated. It has been wonderful to see.

Closer to home in the deafness area Social Media is also being used to good effect to show the feelings of deaf people towards CaptiView, the closed captioning device used by cinemas. The powers that be have attempted to paint a picture of objectors to CaptiView as being a militant minority and a disruptive influence. Postings on Social Media have shown this to be anything but the case.

The wonderful Phillip Debs attended Event Cinemas in Burwood. While he was there his experience of using CaptiView was filmed by his friend on her Samsung Galaxy 3 phone. In his video he was obviously Deaf, he signs and even wrote his needs to the customer service people. A comedy of errors ensued. He was offered headphones (presumably Audio Description). He was then offered one device instead of the two he required. Then after waiting for over twenty minutes and missing the start of his movie the device then would not work. He eventually was led to a different movie theatre whereupon the device would not work until a quarter of the way through the movie. It was chaotic. Phillip indicated that of fifteen times he had attended the cinema and requested CaptiView only twice had it gone without a hitch. Phillip posted this video on Facebook and the comments came thick and fast. At last count there were 212 comments and only two of the contributors had anything positive to say about CaptiView.

This was one of only several things that happened on Facebook last week that targeted CaptiView. A posting was placed on the Deafness forum site that aroused much passion. So much that their CEO took the time to respond and defend Deafness Forum. But to the CEOs credit he was responsive and respectful to these views and has promised to raise them with his Board. Another example of the power of Social Media.

The power is shifting. No longer can we be ignored. No longer can people dismiss our views. Said Manal Richa at her website Strategic Planning and Training, “Another powerful aspect of Social Media is the fact that it is measurable.  Do you remember how difficult it was few years ago to track a print campaign and its results?  No more guessing with social media. You launch your campaign; monitor what kind of interaction and responses it generated! If proven successful, move forward and leverage your success.” Whether it is measuring public feeling towards sexism in society or whether it is highlighting the angst of deaf people to CaptiView, used cleverly Social Media can tell the real story.

While Social Media has its dangers it is more often than not a powerful tool to highlight public feeling. It gives the power to US. We need to use it wisely and be the power that creates the change.

A Question of Relevance

“Steve, in your words, you think these are ‘sensible’ steps? In whose view is cinema closed captioning devices such as CaptiView sensible? Instead, by playing the odds, you have dealt away my and others chances of one of the great joys of my life, seeing open captions at the cinemas ever again. Crap strategy. Sometimes you do need to go against the grain, take a stand for things that are right. Deafness Forum, if this is any measure of your collective skills at advocacy, then do me and all deaf Australians a favour, shut up shop and go away. Thank you very much for Craptiview!.”

The above was posted by John on Deafness Forums Facebook page. It was a response to postings about dissatisfaction with the introduction of CaptiView. The Deafness Forum CEO, Steve Williamson, had been kind enough to respond to the postings explaining Deafness Forums positions. He certainly did not deserve such a forceful comment but what the comment does show is the boiling frustration from people who are deaf towards the introduction of CaptiView. Or CraptiView as it is dubbed in the post.

The frustration of the deaf consumer is further highlighted in a posting from Peter that follows. “I think the real problem is that the Government, when faced with a group of people who want real change, get their backs up and choose to ignore those people, because they view those people as too militant or too extreme. The reality is that this is a group of people who are getting more and more frustrated and angry with the “game-playing” that goes on and just want to be HEARD. The approach by the government in putting such “extreme” groups in the too hard basket is simply a blackmail tactic to shut people up and give the government the right to ignore such people. It also reeks, AGAIN and AGAIN, of the attitude that people who do not have a disability somehow have a God-given right to decide what services people with disabilities want or need – “Oh look, you don’t have any experience or knowledge or wisdom in this area – we’re the experts and we’ve done this for years, so leave it to us to do the job – so go away and sit down, your ideas aren’t welcome.” I’m sorry but this is the common attitude I see again and again, even inside disability organisations, even with the very staff who have that specific disability. It is not and never will be right, but how do we change it? By not sitting down and shutting up, that’s how!! And if they don’t like it, then tough luck – they created this situation and now they have to put up with the reaction to this farcical situation. If it means marches, protests, lobbying, getting on the front pages of the newspapers to get the right response then so be it!”

 What these two posts highlight is that, increasingly, the consumer is feeling extreme frustration at being ignored. They voice their views in great numbers and then those charged with representing these views basically ignore them. The ‘representatives’ position themselves as ‘know best’ advocates. A gang of five or six, usually claiming a mandate, will make decisions that go completely against the grain of what the consumer is telling them.

It is not just deaf consumers who are experiencing this but also other disability groups as well. For example the Every Australian Counts group, in its wisdom, decided on a public campaign known as ‘DisabiliTeas’. The powers that be, apparently all who don’t have a disability, decided that it would be trendy to host teas known as ‘DisabiliTeas’ around the country to draw attention to the NDIS. The problem is that people with a disability found this idea condescending to the extreme. People with a disability around the country, including many who sit on the NDIS advisory groups, voiced their frustration that these ‘DisabiliTeas’ had been organised without their input. Even after they voiced their frustrations the ‘DisabiliTeas’ went ahead. Suffice to say, out of respect to my colleagues who are disabled and also fabulous advocates, this author will not be attending.

All of this begs the question; have our collective disability advocacy organisations become irrelevant to the real consumer? Time and time again we witness them making decisions and representing a view that goes completely against the grain of what consumers are telling them. They will claim that they have a mandate to make such decisions or they will condescendingly tell us all that we have to be ‘realistic’ and ‘sensible’ in our ambitions. Well what has being ‘realistic’ and ‘sensible’ achieved for us so far? CaptiView? Woohoo, lets all celebrate that one.

Realistically how relevant can our Government funded advocacy organisations be? In reality being funded by the Government means that our disability advocacy organisations have one hand tied behind their back. They are want to rock the applecart lest it will decrease their influence with the decision makers. Indeed they will baulk at upsetting the Government lest it will lead to them being defunded. They will argue that they have to have ‘relations’ with the Government so that they can influence change. This is certainly true but the question that needs to be asked is; has this relationship become so lopsided that these organisations have become mere puppets to represent Government policy?

 How relevant can these organisations be when, in their own words, they are chronically under-funded? They have no money to consult properly. They become organisations that represent the views of seven to ten people on their Boards simply by virtue of the fact that they cannot really afford to get out there and properly listen to their consumers. God knows even when the consumers voice is loud and clear they often choose to ignore it anyway. And why do they ignore it? Well according to them it is because they are ‘realistic’ and ‘sensible’. What does this make the consumers who are voicing their views loudly and clearly? A rabble?

And the Government will claim that they have made decisions based on their consultation with the Peaks. Graeme Innes, Disability Commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission, recently claimed that the groundswell of opposition to CaptiView from people who are deaf was the minority. He claimed he knew this because our Peaks had told him that. What rot. What is happening here is that the Government is hiding behind the peaks and letting them collect all the flack.

If I was a cartoonist, with any skill at drawing, I would draw a cartoon. In the cartoon there would be a gaggle of people all hiding behind a shield. This gaggle of people are sweating and desperate. The shield will have on it the logo of one of our Peaks. This shield is stained red with tomatoes that are being thrown by angry consumers with a disability. Behind the shield is a prominent Government representative. Perhaps the representative is Bill Shorten, perhaps it is Senator Jan McLucas or more probably it is Graeme Innes. The representative is sitting behind the shield in a deck chair, in an Hawaiian shirt, board shorts and drinking a cocktail. The dialogue balloon reads, “Don’t blame me, it was the Peaks that told me.”

And to me this is what it feels like. Our peaks have become mere shields for the Government to hide behind. When challenged the Government will simply claim that they consulted with the relevant Peak in making their decision. But what authority do the Peaks have to advise the Government when they are ignoring the consumers voice? To me, absolutely none!

Perhaps the time has come where we need to heed the advice of Peter that was quoted earlier in this article. Peter pointedly asks and answers his own question, “..how do we change it? By not sitting down and shutting up, that’s how!! And if they don’t like it, then tough luck – they created this situation and now they have to put up with the reaction to this farcical situation. If it means marches, protests, lobbying, getting on the front pages of the newspapers to get the right response then so be it!” Perhaps the time has come where we need to let our Peaks know just how irrelevant to our views that they have become. We need to protest, go against the grain and most of all let the public know that the views that are being represented by our Peaks are not ours.

It is perverse that it is the actual consumer who dares speak out that is being labeled as the maverick. But the mavericks are not us, it is the people charged with representing us. Because it is they who are going against the grain of what WE want. We have to accept that the change that we want will not come through our Peaks. It will come through us. As Barack Obama famously said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”  I’ll see you on the streets!