The Kritic

‘Social’ Category

In an article for the Guardian, John Pilger describes the suppression of Australia’s bloodied history while veneration for its colonial wars and the rise of militarism excludes the true story of the ‘the greatest expropriation of land in world history’.

UTOPIA

The brutal past and present are another country in secret Australia

by John Pilger

The corridors of the Australian parliament are so white you squint. The sound is hushed; the smell is floor polish. The wooden floors shine so virtuously they reflect the cartoon portraits of prime ministers and rows of Aboriginal paintings, suspended on white walls, their blood and tears invisible.

The parliament stands in Barton, a suburb of Canberra named after the first prime minister of Australia, Edmund Barton, who drew up the White Australia Policy in 1901. “The doctrine of the equality of man,” said Barton, “was never intended to apply” to those not British and white-skinned.

Barton’s concern was the Chinese, known as the Yellow Peril; he made no mention of the oldest, most enduring human presence on earth: the first Australians. They did not exist. Their sophisticated care of a harsh land was of no interest. Their epic resistance did not happen. Of those who fought the British invaders of Australia, the Sydney Monitor reported in 1838: “It was resolved to exterminate the whole race of blacks in that quarter.” Today, the survivors are a shaming national secret.

The town of Wilcannia, in New South Wales, is twice distinguished. It is a winner of a national Tidy Town award and its indigenous people have one of the lowest recorded life expectancies. They are usually dead by the age of 35. The Cuban government runs a literacy programme for them, as they do among the poorest of Africa. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, Australia is the richest place on earth.

Politicians in Canberra are among the wealthiest citizens. Their self-endowment is legendary. Last year, the then minister for indigenous affairs, Jenny Macklin, refurbished her office at a cost to the taxpayer of $331,144.

Macklin recently claimed that, in government, she had made a “huge difference”. This is true. During her tenure, the number of Aboriginal people living in slums increased by almost a third, and more than half the money spent on indigenous housing was pocketed by white contractors and a bureaucracy for which she was largely responsible. A typical, dilapidated house in an outback indigenous community must accommodate as many as 25 people. Families, the elderly and the disabled wait years for sanitation that works.

In 2009, Professor James Anaya, the respected UN Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, described as racist a “state of emergency” that stripped indigenous communities of their tenuous rights and services on the pretext that pedophile gangs were present in “unthinkable” numbers – a claim dismissed as false by police and the Australian Crime Commission.

The then opposition spokesman on indigenous affairs, Tony Abbott, told Anaya to “get a life” and not “just listen to the old victim brigade.” Abbott is now the prime minister of Australia.

I drove into the red heart of central Australia and asked Dr. Janelle Trees about the “old victim brigade”. A GP whose indigenous patients live within a few miles of $1,000-a-night resorts serving Uluru (Ayers Rock), she said, “There is asbestos in Aboriginal homes, and when somebody gets a fibre of asbestos in their lungs and develops mesothelioma, [the government] doesn’t care. When the kids have chronic infections and end up adding to these incredible statistics of indigenous people dying of renal disease, and vulnerable to world record rates of rheumatic heart disease, nothing is done. I ask myself: why not? Malnutrition is common. I wanted to give a patient an anti-inflammatory for an infection that would have been preventable if living conditions were better, but I couldn’t treat her because she didn’t have enough food to eat and couldn’t ingest the tablets. I feel sometimes as if I’m dealing with similar conditions as the English working class at the beginning of the industrial revolution.”

In Canberra, in ministerial offices displaying yet more first-nation art, I was told repeatedly how “proud” politicians were of what “we have done for indigenous Australians”. When I asked Warren Snowdon – the minister for indigenous health in the Labor government recently replaced by Abbott’s conservative coalition – why after almost a quarter of a century representing the poorest, sickest Australians, he had not come up with a solution, he said, “What a stupid question. What a puerile question.”

At the end of Anzac Parade in Canberra rises the Australian National War Memorial, which historian Henry Reynolds calls “the sacred centre of white nationalism”. I was refused permission to film in this great public place. I had made the mistake of expressing an interest in the frontier wars in which black Australians fought the British invasion without guns but with ingenuity and courage – the epitome of the “Anzac tradition”. Yet, in a country littered with cenotaphs not one officially commemorates those who fell resisting “one of the greatest appropriations of land in world history”, wrote Reynolds in his landmark book Forgotten War. More first Australians were killed than Native Americans on the American frontier and Maoris in New Zealand. The state of Queensland was a slaughterhouse. An entire people became prisoners of war in their own country, with settlers calling for their extinction. The cattle industry prospered using indigenous men virtually as slave labour. The mining industry today makes profits of a billion dollars a week on indigenous land.

Suppressing these truths, while venerating Australia’s servile role in the colonial wars of Britain and the US, has almost cult status in Canberra today. Reynolds and the few who question it have been smeared with abuse. Australia’s unique first people are its Intermenschen. As you enter the National War Memorial, indigenous faces are depicted as stone gargoyles alongside kangaroos, reptiles, birds and other “native wildlife”.

When I began filming this secret Australia 30 years ago, a global campaign was under way to end apartheid in South Africa. Having reported from South Africa, I was struck by the similarity of white supremacy and the compliance and defensiveness of liberals. Yet no international opprobrium, no boycotts, disturbed the surface of “lucky” Australia. Watch security guards expel Aboriginal people from shopping malls in Alice Springs; drive the short distance from the suburban barbies of Cromwell Terrace to Whitegate camp, where the tin shacks have no reliable power and water. This is apartheid, or what Reynolds calls, “the whispering in our hearts”.

John Pilger’s film, Utopia, about Australia, is released in cinemas on 15 November and broadcast on ITV in December. It is released in Australia in January.

RSS from www.johmpilger.com

16
Sep

Activist Abby

Activist AbbyIt is always uplifting when young people step up and do something for the environment in their community. One such person is Abby from Grayslake, Illinois in the United States of America.

I first came across 14 year old Abby, who goes by the title “Activist Abby”, on Facebook about two years ago. Abby had set up the page after seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life. Abby has set about to get a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags in her home town. Abby’s efforts to fight for legislation to ban bags and educate people on the dangers of plastic caught the attention of the organisers of the 5 Gyres expedition and as a result she was offered a position on the yacht Sea Dragon for the scientific trip to the North Atlantic gyre in June to see first-hand the plastic pollution in our oceans and get a better understanding how big the issue is.

The Kritic has invited Abby to write a guest blog about her cause and the story behind how she got involved, as well as her trip to the North Atlantic gyre. I am hoping her story will inspire other young, and older, people to take up the push to have single use plastics removed and replaced with suitable alternatives.

This is Abby’s story:

My name is Abby Goldberg and since August of 2011, I’ve been working on a reusable bag campaign. I have also been helping with plastic bag legislation. This all started as a school project. To graduate 8th grade, I had to complete a two year project, designed by myself, that would benefit my community and the environment. I wanted to convince my village to ban plastic shopping bags. The idea literally flew in my face! I live near a landfill and on windy days, temporary fencing is put up to catch thousands of bags. My research taught me that plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources and that litter from plastic bags harms our environment. I also learned how my government works and what activism is all about.

What really drew me to this project was my love of animals. I found out that turtles were dying because of plastic bags! These wonderful creatures eat bags thinking they are jellyfish. Some people think that the benefits and their right to use plastic bags outweigh the litter and the use of natural resources. But I can’t see the benefit when an animal dies. Plastic bags were once an easy choice with no thought to the consequences, nice for a while, but now I know better. Soon I started to notice OUR plastic bag litter everywhere! One person my use 300-500 bags a year! All it took was a trip to the grocery store for me to confirm these numbers. I counted 173 bags leaving one lane in two hours.

Just as I was gathering research, a bill was introduced and passed in the Illinois State legislature that would BAR any village from banning plastic bags. It was introduced with the intention to increase the recycling of bags. It was a compromise reached by the retailers and the bag makers. Retailers would never have to deal with different local ordinances, bag makers could still make bags and representatives would feel good thinking they were helping the environment. Recycling rates for plastic bags is very low and the goal for this bill was not that much higher. Plastic bags do not get made into new plastic bags. There is no value to a recycled bag; it is cheaper to make a new one. More and more bags would still be introduced into the environment with this bill. If bag makers think that recycling is the solution, where is the public campaign? It has been reported that some recyclers are no longer accepting plastic bags because they cannot find buyers! The cost to sort is not worth it. Besides, recycling is just a Band-Aid and it makes us feel less guilty for using disposables. What was really scary was that this bill was going to set a precedent for other states and bag makers were influencing politicians! I now know what a lobbyist is!

What was I to do? A petition on Change.org was suggested. I petitioned my governor to veto this bill. With the help of social media and other activists around the country willing to help a 12 yr. old, I was able to get over 174,000 signatures. It wasn’t just my voice. Last summer I personally met and presented the petition to Governor Quinn and sent letters to all the state representatives. I am happy to report that he did veto the bill and it was not overruled.

Abby With Governor Quinn

Abby Goldberg with Illinois Governor QuinnPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

Since then I have been very busy with my Facebook page. I have also spoken to a few school groups, environmental groups and written a few blogs. My page is a great way for me to promote bag legislation around the world and it has become a great place to debate recycling, biodegradable bags and how to kick the bag habit. This summer, I was asked to join a week long sailing expedition with 5 Gyres to help collect samples in the North Atlantic Gyre. Yes, there are more gyres in our ocean besides the Great Pacific Gyre/Garbage Patch! Pretty scary that I can go on a trip with the intent to study plastic pollution!

Abby Piloting Sea Dragon

Abby Piloting Sea DragonPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

I was going to see it with my own eyes, learn how to collect samples, see how the plastic is moving and become an ambassador for our oceans. I knew I wouldn’t see tons of bags floating around. Most people don’t know that plastic breaks down into tiny bits because of wave action and from sunlight. The gyres do not contain floating islands of soda bottles and plastic candy wrappers that you can walk across and clean up; it is more like a soup. Although we did see plastic crates, foam and bottles. But mostly we saw plastic bits. “How much plastic is in the ocean? 3.2 billion lbs. from 3.3 trillion particles” (Marcus Eriksen 5 Gyres). These bits are tiny! And, they were in every sample we collected! What was really sad was that we sailed through the Sargasso Sea made up of Sargassum. This is a golden rainforest of the ocean. It was home to tiny creatures and fish. These animals are living in our trash and most likely eating these bits. Did you know that for some reason, plastic in our oceans attracts all sorts of toxic chemicals? These bits don’t just stay contained in gyres either. This is something to think about when you eat your next seafood dinner.

After this trip I was asked by Bring Your Bag Chicago and Alderman Moreno to testify at a Chicago Health and Environment Committee meeting at City Hall. The city is debating a plastic shopping bag ordinance. I was asked because of my success in getting the state bill vetoed and because of my perspective as a young person as a future custodian of our environment. I know that legislation is important because incentives are not working. I was also able to testify with crewmate, Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres, who a few weeks later gathered samples of micro-plastics in the Great Lakes. Plastic pollution is not just a problem in our oceans! Hopefully we were able to convince some alderman of this fact! I am still waiting to hear when and if this ordinance will be passed.

A crewmate, Jennie Romer from PlasticBagLaws.org, made me realize that bags are like a “gateway drug” because they make you suddenly see OUR addictive use of all disposable plastics. There is no away, it is forever! Our addiction to this throw away culture is becoming a huge problem. I am only 14 and I already know plastic pollution’s true cost. To my generation, plastic bags in trees and in our waterways are just part of the landscape. What is most frustrating to me is that there is any easy alternative to plastic bags.

Together we need to rethink our habits and choose to be the change!

Re-Posted from The OverThinker

If you were to ask me how I feel right now, the answer would be: hungry.

And I expect that to last a while.

I am now a little over twelve hours and six cups of tea into a hunger strike for the cause of averting climate catastrophe. I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but am not sure how restful it will be, being that I’m in a shop-front in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley – an area of the city famed for its nightlife – and it is Friday night.

Today’s events included a media stunt outside Aurizon HQ in Brisbane’s CBD under the watchful eye of clearly uneasy and over-staffed security, with activists “stealing” a carbon bomb from the company that is set to bail out plans to mine the Galilee Basin and double Australia’s CO2 emissions. Plenty of media interest was piqued by the message that we will allow the ignition of this “carbon bomb” only over our dead bodies. The Guardian, The Brisbane Times, Central Queensland News, and New Matilda, among others, all ran positive stories on the campaign.

carbon-bomb

A trip to the footy capped off the day nicely with two scheduled banner drops resulting in activists being kicked out of the grounds for having “unauthorised banners” (not sure the process required in getting one’s banner “authorised”…). The terrorist squad were deployed in order to quiz activists as to their intentions in attending the game between Brisbane’s Broncos, and Newcastle’s Knights, who just happen to be sponsored by Aurizon, the target of the protests.

The heavy-handed response raises questions as to how environmentalists are going to be dealt with in future. Bringing out the terrorist squad is an escalation of police tactics in dealing with peaceful protesters, and signals a warning of things to come. I fear we are going to see a more extensive application of the term “terrorism” to environmental activism in general, and not just the extreme actions of a small minority who arguably go too far (at least as far as public opinion is concerned). This demonization of environmentalists is likely to go further than many expect, with a level of persecution that will scare most people away from any related activism, thus ensuring the continuation of the status quo. One way of avoiding this might be to get a good view of the whole chessboard, and plan a few steps further in advance, as the opposition is clearly doing. This will mean, of course, that a substantial PR campaign is needed in order to retain neutrality in public perception.

Perhaps that will be something to ponder through my pangs tomorrow, as I anticipate some less-than satisfactory tea-drinking and looming food-obsession…

For a clearer run-down on why I’m hunger striking check out this article.