Memoir

Scaling change

Negotiating the challenges of big and small

I’M OLD ENOUGH to remember when Australia’s Wonderland opened in 1985 in Sydney’s western suburbs. I was eight. Arriving was like leaping into an assortment of highly curated alternative worlds. Wonderland was a better place. The park unabashedly said so in its advertising: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world was Wonderland?’ I embraced it all as I stood in the Medieval Faire and marvelled at the Pirate Ship. My sister and I must have gone on the terrifying Bush Beast – an overbearing rickety wooden rollercoaster – more than a dozen times.

It was a perfect place and a perfect day. Until we lost our parents and they feared we’d been abducted. They found us on the spinning chairs, blithely unaware of their panic. We promptly left. Even so, I’ve retained a love of amusement parks. When I was growing up, my family had one overseas holiday, and our trip to Paris featured Euro Disney on our second day. Day two! Get in line, Mona Lisa.

My career has focused on the pursuit of better places: I am a change-maker. For more than twenty years I’ve worked to try to make things better. I’ve helped build massive social movements alongside building quieter connections between groups marginalised by mainstream politics. Over the years, gratified by some success but more starkly bruised by brutal losses, I’ve reflected on how we might change the way we make change. Co-founding GetUp!, Australia’s digital social-justice organisation, I used digital tools. I’ve also tried to forge connections across differences by introducing community organising to Australia. I’ve researched change-making at the University of Sydney and hosted a podcast that features social change-makers from around the world.

This unconventional career began far more conventionally. Initially I imagined myself as a lawyer – a modern, female Rumpole of the Bailey. I was partly spurred by my dad’s belief that I was good at arguing. But I had a passion for justice that ran deeper than an interest in the law. My grandma would often describe her experiences of poverty in northern England and how she struggled to get her family, including my dad, to Australia. My immediate family were alert observers of the political world but not actively involved in it. Support for the netball club and an occasional P&C meeting was all there was time for alongside their own form of change-making – an all-consuming regime of home renovation, striving for a better world on our quarter-acre block.

I grew up in the 1980s, which framed how I saw the world. I was five when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister. We were on holidays with my extended family and we hunched around the television that night, the adults stiffly upright on dark brown corduroy couches and the kids slouched on the floor. It was tense. My grandfather was a Liberal supporter; my parents voted for Hawke. While I’ll admit that my take on issues such as the Prices and Incomes Accord and the Franklin Dam were still forming, that night I picked a side. When the election was declared I jumped in the air and ran to my dad for a cuddle.

I became a keen observer of politics. On Fridays I caught a 6.20 am train with my dad to attend school band practice, and on the trip he would share his broadsheet newspaper with me. We discussed Mabo, the movement against nuclear testing in the Pacific, feminism, Tiananmen Square – and I longed to be able to do something about the problems in the world.

By the time I arrived at university I had a well-developed passion for making change yet was quite clueless about how things actually worked. At the University of Technology Sydney, I rode the escalators of the brutalist UTS Tower with a friend. As we passed a sign that said ‘UTS Union’, I said in a hushed tone that we should be cautious before signing up. We needed to know its politics, its ideology, first. I had read extensively about some unions not being as ‘good’ as others. I wanted to be on the ‘right’ side of any ideological on-campus fight.

Weeks later, with red cheeks, I discovered the truth about UTS’s ‘union question’. Far from any complex battle between left and right, socialism and pragmatism, this was the primary service provider for students, a single compulsory body focused on mundane dramas like coffee carts.

 

THE PINNACLE OF student political life was the National Union of Students (NUS) Conference. To prepare, all the factions (and there were many) would draft motions to be debated on the conference floor. NUS was nothing but comprehensive: its policy documents had strong opinions about most global conflicts as well as student welfare, discrimination and the cost of education. While each faction would proudly claim radically different politics on all the issues – thereby justifying why people should choose one faction over another – the truth was that all were remarkably similar.

Working with a group of friends ahead of the 1998 conference, I found myself writing motions that were intentionally designed to spark a stoush between my faction – the Labor Left – and the Labor Right. The drafting process became increasingly esoteric: I had to make sure that a detailed motion about student fees ended with a call for free education and made no reference to that ‘sellout’ HECS deferred-fee scheme the Labor Right supported. Weeks later on the conference floor, I gleefully moved my motion, gathering numbers, making a witty speech, winning the vote. Applause erupted from the floor, even while the Liberal Party, then in government, continued to increase HECS fees, seemingly unmoved by my skilful rhetoric.

This was powerful politics, right? The conference was a stage for a battle of utopias. I had done the numbers and my clever little motion – crafted Thomas More-style as an essentially fictional picture of a perfect higher education system – had carried the day.

Yet something fundamental gnawed at me. There was something so hopeless about an intense conflict over a political act that made literally no difference. What was all this energy for?

Perhaps the conflict served the purpose of cementing our tribes. But that too left me wanting. In the intense ideological space known as student politics, solidarity based on ideology is a solidarity based on sameness. Your group, your tribe, your people wear ideological tropes as uniforms as they march in lockstep against a common enemy. You could hear the class war metaphors when students like me yelled at the top of our lungs the students – united! – will never be defeated. The chant was less about winning and more about being students who share the same experiences and beliefs. Baked into this approach is the idea that you must link arms as the same downtrodden Davids fighting the hostile ideology spewing from the Goliath of government. Your common experiences and beliefs hold you together.

Solidarity as sameness doesn’t only fuel the student movement. Ideological clubs make the world turn. In modern life, unity frequently relies on a shared ideological utopia.

But is sameness the basis of solidarity? Is sameness even possible?

Involved in these heated battles – building a sense of solidarity with those with whom I shared so much – I also knew I was not the same as most of the other people in my faction, my university, my world. Two years earlier I had been hospitalised with psychosis; I was now taking lithium to treat bipolar disorder. The psychosis itself had come on at an earlier NUS conference in 1996. So the state of my mental health wasn’t a secret.

That it wasn’t a secret was clear in how I was received by other students after it happened. In January 1998, a year after my breakdown, I sat in a damp office space that housed the NUS NSW branch. Fifty student activists and a large photocopier were wedged cheek-to-cheek for the first Education Collective of the year.

When you have suffered psychosis, most people don’t talk to or with you – they look around you. You can see it coming. They clock you – you see recognition on their face for a slow-motion second – and then they look away. Recovery and return is not like recovery from cancer or divorce. Confronted by their own uncertainty, overcome with awkwardness or horror, people step away. That’s what happened that day. Eventually I had to break this silence. I asked someone: ‘Do you remember me?’ They replied ‘yes’ and walked away.

By the end of that year I was running for president of the NUS in NSW. I wanted to prove I was ‘normal’. But not everyone was on board: a leader from another faction went out of their way to spread the word that I was ‘unstable’.

Despite their best efforts I was elected NUS president. But I learnt a lesson about sameness. I stopped talking about my brain, my difference. To be normal, to be accepted as a leader, I needed to be like everyone else.

 

THE IDEA THAT solidarity could be forged through difference came to me slowly. During several years working in the union movement, I helped co-ordinate involvement in justice issues such as trying to stop the war in Iraq and the abuse of refugees. These confrontations created mass mobilisations and energy: Sydney’s protest against the war in Iraq in early 2003 mobilised more than 250,000 people, the single largest rally in Australia’s history, as part of a global weekend of peace marches that saw in excess of ten million march. It was the largest set of co-ordinated demonstrations ever held in human history – and still the war went ahead. Gathering all those like-minds together wasn’t enough.

In my quest for a different ways to do politics, I undertook a PhD in the US for a couple of years, where the people who held my greatest interest were community organisers. At my first training with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in New Jersey – the US group that spread the concepts and practice of community organising around the world – I was unsettled. I was irritated at their critique of ideology; they called it wishful thinking. They lifted up ways of being that I disagreed with – compromise, negotiation, self-interest, pragmatism. Debriefing the training with my husband, I was unsure if I would even go back.

But I did. And over the following year, my mind started changing. One organiser – Joe Chrastil, who eventually became my mentor – asked me to write a political autobiography reflecting on the stories that had shaped me. I still have my notes from early 2007, and they include a brief entry about my bipolar diagnosis. It was now eight years since I’d been kicked around for my mental illness, for being different; in this new community-organising space, it felt possible to re-examine who I was.

Returning to Australia, I began setting up the Sydney Alliance (SA) – ultimately a broad-based collaboration of many religious and community groups and unions. The SA put into practice a distinctively relational way of being in public life, seeking to build relationships between organisations from across the city. It was intentionally diverse: its forty-nine groups at launch included the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Muslim Women Australia (MWA), the Catholic Church, Cancer Council of NSW, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association. These groups didn’t usually work together – some didn’t even like each other. But they began to get to know each other based on the principle that ‘relationship precedes action’ and they had a shared stake in the city in which we all lived.

Community organising is the opposite of a grand mobilisation. It is local and granular. The power of organising comes from its focus on one-to-one conversation. Politics is built interpersonally. It is there that you can see each other – your differences and your potential solidarity – face to face.

As an organiser I might have had more than 5,000 one-to-one meetings with community leaders, partners and volunteers. Thanks to that IAF training, I’ve learnt a particular way of asking, listening, sharing and exploring who we are. If I think about which meeting was most important, the same one always comes to mind.

I had met Maha Abdo, the former executive director of MWA, when I was seventeen. Back then I had completed a high school project about different religions, travelling from my home on Sydney’s homogenous North Shore to Lakemba, the city’s multicultural epicentre. I had run my finger down a column of the white pages to find the MWA – they had ‘women’ in the title, so I cold-called them for a meeting. I was curious about belief systems – particularly those different to my own. But Maha was not just an interview subject. She spent time with me, taking me on a tour of the mosque, introducing me to people. In 1993 I could see that she was a centre point in this community, so when the SA started to build momentum in 2009, a time when Islamophobia was rife, I knew I needed to reconnect with her.

The meeting began normally enough, and then Maha spoke about what it was like to be a Muslim woman after September 11, when women’s hijabs were ripped from their heads.

I hadn’t talked about my bipolar in a meeting before. Instead, I’d used safe language, code words, to talk about its effect on me. The autobiography I wrote for Joe Chrastil had helped me to describe how I ‘got sick’ when I was nineteen, how it had been unclear if I would recover, how it had been a turning point in my life. Sitting with Maha, I told the deeper story; I told her about the abuse, the bullying and discrimination I’d experienced as I recovered.

I told her that what felt so cruel was that recovering from psychosis was the most extraordinary thing I had ever done – and yet I’d been attacked for it. It was an utterly different experience to the one Maha described, but I could see how our experiences resonated. We’d both been attacked for things we treasured in ourselves.

In that conversation I had been seen; Maha didn’t look past me or strain in discomfort. She didn’t sidestep my anxiety, my rawness. In sharing pain we found joy. Even more than words, it was a moment alight with love.

I still cry when I think of that day. It’s risky sharing how we are different. It is so much easier to pretend that ideological sameness – a shared sense of imagined hopes – can hold us together. But confected imaginaries can be as damaging as any full-blown delusion. A dreamy set of hopes distorts what we see in front of us every day. Each one of us is a rich mosaic of difference. Sitting with some difference takes extraordinary poise. But these fractals of identity and experience shape who we are. The personal shapes how we walk in the world; it is political.

 

THESE MOMENTS OF shared slowness were utterly counter to the world of social change that orbited around me. Not long before I founded SA, I had co-founded GetUp!, the digital campaign monolith that burst into Australian politics in mid-2005.

GetUp! began in the reflective turmoil of the 2004 federal election. John Howard had won an extraordinary victory against ALP leader Mark Latham, capturing both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In December that year I met a university friend, Jeremy Heimans, who had been in the US supporting the failed John Kerry election campaign, where he discovered digital campaigning and the work of MoveOn.org. He wanted to bring that idea to Australia. Could I help?

Within three days we were securing seed funding from Unions NSW, where I was working at the time, for ‘Australia’s MoveOn’. Three days. Lightning speed was built into the DNA of GetUp!.

As SA and GetUp! took shape, my life took on a bipolar tempo: one part hare and one part tortoise. But I loved both. Change-making needs the kind of reach that GetUp! can deliver, because the tender relational connections I was building via SA could struggle to scale up. But emails don’t change the world, people do. Could a world exist where the million people on GetUp!’s email list, not just its staff, lead the campaign for change?

 

THIS DUAL EXPERIENCE as an organiser made me question the place that Thomas More had envisaged. Must utopia be a nowhere – an aspiration for which we yearn but never attain? Through community organising I found a different good place – not ‘over there’ but right here. My hour-long conversation with Maha had a utopian quality to it. Instead of seeing utopia as something above and beyond us, I started to see it as an experience that was possible in the everyday. I started to wonder if I was glimpsing utopia in the very practice of trying to build it.

My love of community organising however had never erased those grander utopian desires. Even as an organiser, my hope for the ‘big’ sometimes awkwardly disrupted the slow, small toil of relationship building. Months before the Lindt Café siege in Sydney in December 2014, where a lone gunman killed two hostages while brandishing an Islamic flag, the SA had been trying to address an increasing number of attacks on Muslims. The then federal government consistently conflated Islam with terrorism and, despite the MWA’s membership of the SA, we hadn’t done enough to explicitly combat this growing Islamophobia. This changed in mid-2014 with the creation of a new symbol: the olive ribbon was designed to spark conversations across the hundreds of thousands of members in our partner organisations. When it was launched, our partners – from parishes to unions – committed to explaining to their members why they were embracing the project as a way of spurring conversations across the city.

When the siege happened, those with whom I had my closest relationships – Maha and MWA – were again at risk of experiencing what they’d gone through after September 11. We urgently needed to influence public debate and help people interpret this violence as a criminal act, not the work of Islam. I flew into action. We arranged for all our organisations to come out publicly in support of the Muslim community, supported MWA to take delegations to parliament and organised olive ribbon flags for display across the city. We led debate in the press and on social media.

We received some death threats for these efforts.

But this was not what organisers were meant to do. Organising was slow and collaborative, and I was pushing harder and faster than many others liked. I had arguments with colleagues and leaders. It didn’t help that this whole experience happened alongside a new change in my brain: I’d been depressed for months, but in this moment I was galvanised to act. And I wasn’t sleeping. My singular focus was ensuring that solidarity carried in the public consciousness.

That message did carry, although I don’t think that had a lot to do with what I did. The premier, Mike Baird, said the right things after listening to Muslim leaders including Maha. And after the tragedy, the people of the city brought flowers to Martin Place, coming together to experience sorrow, not vengefulness.

But I had damaged my standing as an organiser. It would be easy to blame it on a momentary brain dislocation, but my hypomania wasn’t just personal. The mobilisation of people for a city-wide drama was powerful, while it also had the potential to break some of the tender ordinary utopias that had been built between the leaders of the SA. Slow and fast; small and big. These are scales that are hard to hold together.

It’s well known that community organising struggles to engage speed. This was a key tension in the history of the IAF, from whom I’d learnt so much in the US. When Martin Luther King Jr came to Chicago between 1965 and 1966, the IAF Director Saul Alinsky and the legion of community organisers based across the city had to work out what to do. Up until then Alinsky’s organisers had sidestepped the civil rights movement, sceptical of a perceived reliance on charismatic leaders and risky non-violent civil disobedience. Instead they’d maintained a long focus on the material needs of the Black community. King’s civil rights mobilising was based on action rather than evaluation – big mobilisations, less organisation and less focus on developing community leaders. The IAF did eventually move in support of King’s work in Chicago, but many change-makers beyond the IAF tradition criticise them for coming too late. I don’t see it that way. I see two cultures of change that didn’t know how to speak to each other. Each saw scale and time differently with no language to bridge the space between.

I lived this contradiction. I had given birth to children – GetUp! and the SA – that were chalk and cheese, and I couldn’t get them to play nicely together. I knew how to talk with them on their own terms, but when they combined they remained in a perpetual cycle of parallel play. The more they felt the need to define themselves, the less they were able to understand each other. Sometimes seeing difference is difficult. Like a utopian ideology, when a social change strategy is projected as a silver bullet – a zero-sum game – you are either with it or against it.

By late 2014 I could see the need for holding together both fast and slow. It was the necessary and foundational slowness of my relationship with Maha that had galvanised my push for a fast city-wide solidarity. Without time, without the ability to see and love our differences, that fast politics couldn’t have arrived. Especially ‘that’ kind of fast. The olive ribbon campaign was nothing like the protests against the war in Iraq, where we brought together people already on our side. It was fast politics that built connections between relative strangers, between people with rich differences. This wasn’t a matter of choosing between fast and slow, but a realisation that we could hold both together.

 

NOT EVERY INTERPERSONAL connection has utopian qualities. Indeed, most conversation is the exact opposite. ‘How was your day?’ ‘Are you okay?’ ‘How’s the weather?’ ‘Did you catch the game?’ Conversational filler. In other situations, interpersonal connection is sanitised. See a doctor, a lawyer, a social worker, a journalist – lots of enquiring questions, but these professionals will share nothing of themselves. There’s no exchange.

A grounded utopian connection creates points of intersection between our public roles and ourselves as human beings. Take this article: I could have listed things from my CV, documenting my public role. Instead, I’ve talked about experiences from my private world that helped shape decisions I’ve taken in my public life. Being clear on the stories that shape who we are helps others understand us at a much deeper level, and equally it helps us understand ourselves. For an unconventional rollercoaster life like mine, these stories have helped me anchor how I move forward.

While ideological utopias focus on the ‘what’ – elusive ideas of grandeur – grounded utopia focuses on the ‘how’. In a similar sense, the intersection of public and private takes the question of what we do and explores why we do it. Feminists have argued about the importance of this for a long time. The refrain ‘the personal is political’ was born of the idea that inequality and abuse in the ‘private’ household were excused from public accountability. But this idea is not only a tool for diagnosing injustice: it helps us better understand ourselves. When Joe Chrastil asked me to write a political autobiography, this is what he was asking me to do. Community organisers use this connection between the public and the private to help stretch an understanding of how public life works and to spark a recognition that this world can be changed through action.

Solidarity, however, is a practice made and shared together. It is in relationships that we experience the power of our intersecting public and private lives – where we can find grounded utopias. In organising we call this practice ‘relational meetings’, where you have a conversation focused on exploring what makes someone tick, trying to understand why they do what they do. That was what I experienced with Maha. These conversations are premised on curiosity and fuelled by questions, but they are equally matched by a preparedness to share. The meetings are agitational. I discovered more about myself by being in that conversation – it stirred things up for me quite literally. In turn Maha shifted too. I’m not sure what she thought going into that meeting, but walking out she became one of the SA’s most senior leaders – committing immediately to attend community organising training and going on to shape the coalition.

The relational meeting is an art form, not a science. Whenever I run a training seminar in relational meetings, people want to know what questions they should ask. The challenge is that it isn’t so simple. A script gets in the way of listening and sharing. Sincere relationships – curious, agitational, challenging relationships – take work and commitment. Striving for a grounded utopia one-to-one is as difficult as fighting for a good place that you can’t quite ever reach.

Critically, the grounded utopia is about exploring the ways in which we are different. Ed Chambers, who ran the IAF after Saul Alinsky, called the relational meeting ‘the most radical thing that we do’ because it builds political life out of each of us individually. Rather than an ideology that presumes our sameness, relational meetings see individuals and the distinctive strengths that make up those collectives.

To do this, relational meetings explore someone’s interests. People hate the term ‘self-interest’, but if you examine the term’s Latin origins its meaning is simply ‘to be among’. All of the things that move us most deeply are forged with others. Our interests and our identity are generative, not miraculous. I learnt about justice from my grandmother; I explored politics over a newspaper with my father – these interests were forged in relationship with others. Our interests are how we are shaped by and shape our relationships – our family and friends, our organisations, our hobbies and passions, our work, our legacy and our deep foundational stories that inform the turning points of our lives.

Understanding interests turns a relational meeting into a space for action. It seeks to disrupt the world as it is with the values of the world as it should be. This pairs the practice of relationships with an understanding of power. Power is another one of those words that many good people don’t like. Organisers distinguish between the brutality of ‘power over’ with the enabling possibility of ‘power with’. But for organisers, in contrast to ideologues, the source of the power is the connection across our differences through an articulation of interests – not an abstracted unity.

In 2012, the SA began a conversation with the Glebe Youth Service about local jobs. Mirvac, a large construction company, was starting to build 1,200 medium-density dwellings in the area. The SA had been working on social inclusion and young people, and our research had identified that real inclusion came from good jobs. Construction jobs are great jobs, and the CFMEU was keen to create opportunities for local young people from the public housing estate. Eight young men and women agreed to be part of a delegation of twenty or so civil-society leaders to meet Mirvac at the Glebe Youth Service. We began with everyone sharing why a jobs program like this was in their interests. The local church leaders spoke, then a representative from the Jewish Board of Deputies, several unionists, then the young people. Finally, two representatives from Mirvac also spoke.

There was tension in the room. What would they say? Would they care? Would they know how to express themselves if they did? Into the quiet the first representative talked about growing up in the area and caring for it still. The second Mirvac representative talked about getting his start as an apprentice – his senior role had come from this unlikely start, the kind of start we were imagining that day.

While the stories in themselves didn’t change the power relations in the room, they demonstrated two things. First, we had set the agenda by displaying our powerful network of relationships. While we may create a friendly atmosphere with our introductory rounds, we also made it clear that every major institution in the area was standing with us. Second, our approach made visible that our ‘opponents’ cared about this issue too. We had different but connected interests in creating these apprenticeships, and these different shared interests helped us find a pathway to make change. When five young local men and women joined me to meet Mirvac’s CEO at their office overlooking the Rocks, we knew that we would get a deal.

This distinctive approach exists not only in the suburbs of Sydney, but in eighty-four cities around the world. Slow may be painstaking, but it’s also resilient. When I learnt about organising back in 2006, I was translating decades of experience in successfully improving housing, living wages, educational opportunities and transport across the US, the UK and parts of Europe. Now, since leaving the SA, I have been researching and writing about these kinds of modest movements that attract little media attention. Their collective leadership structures don’t lend themselves to easy column inches, and the countercultural focus on relationships often confuses journalists looking for an easy hook.

But quick eyes often miss what’s important. It’s like physics, just because you can’t see quantum mechanics doesn’t mean that relationships at the sub-atomic scale don’t matter. Sometimes the very small can be bigger than you think.

 

THERE IS SOMETHING counter-intuitive when it comes to contrasting ideological and grounded utopias as ‘bigness’ and ‘smallness’. We are so used to thinking that change-making should be big – big visions for handling the difficult place we are in. Don’t we need ‘big’ to deal with climate change, inequality, authoritarianism or race and gender injustice?

I am not arguing that we don’t. But I am saying that bigness without smallness – without the relational, the interpersonal, the recognition of difference, without listening – is toxic. Bigness can be its own problem.

At the same time, let’s not romanticise smallness. Years of community organising on its own left me frustrated. Take this off-hand remark from a friend after we had just won a battle to fix a lift at Arncliffe Station. The action was led by a diverse coalition, and it was a great moment when Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the announcement. But not long after a friend said to me, ‘you’ve been organising for eight years and you won a lift!’ Ouch. The thing that stung was that while we were very good at local battles – weaving local interests together – we were not very good at changing metropolitan Sydney. Our grounded utopia was not scaling up.

In the five years that followed, with my colleague Kurt Iveson I’ve  talked with hundreds of organisers and movement-builders across the world – from Hong Kong, Barcelona, Austin, London and Cape Town. My great insight – if you can call it that – is that we need to hold to any simple answer about social change lightly. Across these cities, often facing tougher conditions, good change-makers change their strategy and approach constantly.

Gandhi famously declared: ‘If you want to change the world, start with yourself.’ His proclamation holds in tension the two utopias that have marked my work. For Gandhi, the tool that helps people achieve world-scale and intimate personal change is self-awareness. Deep reflection isn’t easy – particularly when you’re sitting in the fast lane. I was not well tuned to reflection; my ideological utopias were built on external goals rather than my inner world. But my quixotic brain difference was a gift. Crises led me to seek out reflective spaces.

The very fact of living with bipolar was deeply instructive. My body soars then crashes like a rollercoaster, which is exhausting and potentially dangerous. Yet with a brain like mine you can’t just get off the ride. You have to work out how to keep going. You must learn how to walk forward. Life becomes about how to anticipate the rise – and retreat – and prepare yourself and others for it. A bipolar life is about handling both big and small: you can’t pick a side. It’s about negotiation and flow, the certainty of uncertainty.

A life of permanent change.

For so long I’ve serenaded the big utopias, simple answers for how to change the world. Yet my brain difference has helped me see that something is missing when big utopias presume sameness or present quick fixes. My romance with social-change silver bullets eventually saw me step back and see the complementary, different ways in which we can be strong together. Accordingly, in trying to change the world, I found the power to embrace myself.

These days I try not to jerk between these two good places but to hold them both in the same way my body holds my mind. When I organise and connect one-to-one with another, my feet stand on the ground. That’s how I know I won’t fall down. But I’ve also learnt to trust that I can lift my eyes to see the stars and to know that there, even beyond my reach, there might be a vision that can propel us, a constellation made beautiful because of our differences.

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