on humanness

On my way to Perth last year, having just crossed the Nullarbor for the first time, I was interviewed by Bec Brewin for an ABC Local blog post in Kalgoorlie. The article “The never ending road trip: what it’s like to live on a bus” is a really nice overview of what this life-shift has been about for me. The lovely photo set shows the inside of homeJames (something people have told me has been largely missing from my buspr0n collection), in the nomadic equivalent to a ‘good housekeeping celebrity home tour’ (a strange sensation for a non-famous hermit!)

In that post – and in other ramblings on my lateral drift blog – I talk about the humanness I think we’ve lost as a society. I’ve found it hard not to think about this as I’ve made the transition into buslife. I’ve experienced firsthand how open, welcoming and phenomenally generous people can be (despite largely battling for their own survival at the time). Yet it’s hard to find sense in a world which is dominated by corporate profiteering and religious hatred (which itself often just boils down to corporate profiteering) over basic human rights. When even science says poor people are stronger/more generous than rich people I can’t help but wonder why ‘we the people’ have let this come to pass.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our basic human rights, especially those we (some far more than others) have lost. Sure I’m a huge advocate of a basic living wage but our rights go so much further than just income. For me the basic human rights are water, food, healthcare, education, employment, a home (or access to common land for us nomads), electricity and a free and open internet. It should go without saying that we should also have the right to retain our own cultural identities, free speech and to choose our life-partners and belief systems without fear of oppression. Where those rights are transgressed we should have methods of protection and appeal; not just a blanket one-size-fits-all legal system, but one that listens, takes each of our circumstances into account and then decides on appropriate, human-centric, resolutions. The laws which govern us now were developed during times so entirely far removed from present-day existence that much of it needs rethinking and significant reform.

No, this isn’t a simple thing to deliver and it certainly can’t happen overnight. But if our governments really cared about what ‘we the people’ need to survive in contemporary society, all these things would be provisioned before we even start to look at global competitive markets or attempting to force one belief system onto everyone. And yet we find ourselves locked into an existence prioritising profit and religious doctrine over everything else. If you don’t tow the line you are branded a criminal, a troublemaker, an activist… or a terrorist. The only conclusion is that governments (with the possible exception of Uruguay) don’t care about ‘we the people’ at all. How can they when they repeatedly refuse us our basic three r’s: recognition, respect and rights?

So let’s just accept the truth. We have no basic human rights – not just asylum seekers, first nations people and minorities, but all of us. That’s some mouthful to swallow, but if we don’t start recognising it now we cannot possibly invoke change.

I so wish I had answers for all this, but of course I don’t (I’m pretty sure one person can’t single-handedly save democracy, let alone a nomadic artist with no political or economic education!). I’d truly love to demand my right to democracy, to electoral reform, to a return of The Commons, but where is a person supposed to go to demand these things? What right of appeal do we have when the people who make all the decisions have already made it clear that they don’t care about our voices?

I always thought that at least if we didn’t want to be part of the system we could leave, go off-grid, become a self-sustaining hippy in our own self-made utopias. But the more I try to do this myself the more I realise we don’t even have rights there either. A nomadic existence still requires access to water and food (the former in terrifyingly short supply in Australia and the latter unaffordable for those wanting fresh fruit and veg on a less than logical minimum wage); infrastructure like roads and fuel (electricity is sorted thanks to solar but even that is becoming harder for those who live in houses); a place to park (it’s getting harder and harder to find safe and legal free parkups, especially with proposed changes to laws in UK which will only act as precedent); and threats to net neutrality only increasing.

So what do we do? Well for me I’m reading a lot more about positive action and the rights we do have. I’m listening to my heart and trying to combine what I feel is wrong with creative ways to communicate this, and encourage others to do the same. I’m working with communities where my digital culture knowledge and experience will hopefully be able to offer meaningful solutions and an online voice to those who struggle with the most basic literacies. And I’m living the ‘otherness’ life with passion; the more confident I get with buslife the more I appreciate that the freedoms it provides far outweigh the struggles.

I’ve got a few new artworks in the blender and will be starting an on/offline gathering called “The Sunday Afternoon Activists Club“, combining a book club with an afternoon tea. It’s a lighthearted opportunity for me to share some of the most novel media arts activism I’ve experienced and learn more about others; to highlight some of the most severe human rights abuses and also the most trifling (aim for the high and low branches together, why not?!); and for us all to start thinking about what we can do about them, together.

Our first book will be “Beautiful Trouble“, a set of case studies and a toolkit for those wanting to be more creatively active (they’ve even given us a discount code for the book for those who sign up!). And our first discussion topic will be the outcomes of Memefest14 in which we were invited to work with the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy and Grandmothers Against Removals. We haven’t yet set a date, but I’ll update here and on the SAAC blog when we do.

Until then, I’m curious to know how my set of basic human rights compares with yours. If you have one, I’d love to know what they are. Perhaps together we can create a People’s Bill of Human Rights, akin to the great work going on in Queensland. We live in troubling but exceedingly astonishing times. We have never before had so much access to information and each other. So let’s make it count.

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