How You Can Help Bridge The Gap Between Rich and Poor This Valentines Day

I hate to name-drop, but I found myself in the same breathing space as two former prime ministers a couple of days ago. The first was Malcolm Turnbull, one of the many speakers at the Side By Side conference run by the Wayside Chapel, who had been invited to discuss the crucial role of students in political conversation. And the second was an icon of mine, Julia Gillard, whose “misogyny” speech was voted the most unforgettable moment on Australian TV this week, and who was the special guest on The Guilty Feminist, a stage show of the popular podcast that was on at the Enmore Theatre.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Two Australian politicians from two different political parties, who share a similar vision when it comes to how to measure success and how to improve the way we care for the marginalised people in our community.

You may know that during his time as prime minister, Malcolm was criticised for his privilege – for being a wealthy, self-made man – and for not being a natural communicator when it came to the people. And in spite of his valiant attempts to prioritise climate policy in his party – a view that ultimately led to his downfall – he remained a somewhat elusive personality who the voters were frustrated to never really get to know.

From the other side of the tracks was Julia, our first female prime minister, who became a target of the predominantly middle-aged, white men in her party and the opposition party as a result of her gender. Throughout her stint as prime minister, she was forced to fight the sort of infantile sexism and snobbery you expect to find in an all-boys private school. Nevertheless, she stood her ground against it – hence, that speech – and if the level of applause at her arrival on Friday night was anything to go by, her reputation among Australian feminists is legendary.

How wonderful to see, in this terrifyingly narcissistic period of political history, two such prominent figures (who in spite of both being retired from politics), came together to help the marginalised community in our society.

Malcolm was appearing at the Side By Side conference run by The Wayside Chapel, to which I was invited (I assume) because of my paltry donation of a Christmas lunch to ease my guilt for one of their residents last year. The organisation, which is based in Kings Cross in Sydney, works predominantly with and for the homeless – for those who have hit rock bottom due to physical illness, job loss, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse and trauma. They are citizens and victims who could be any one of us, who have fallen on bad times – typically through no fault of their own – who are being ignored by society.

The Side By Side conference was about reducing the stigma about poverty and exchanging ideas about how we can narrow the gap between us and them.

But change takes time. As Julia Gillard reminded us during her chat on The Guilty Feminist, it will probably take another century before we see any real equality in terms of female leadership in Australia – whether that’s in the workplace or in politics – and without women in those positions, we remain under-represented. The same is true for the poor. Unless society shows more compassion and changes its priorities, the gap will continue to widen.

What is certain is that to effect the necessary changes we need leaders who have vision and who are prepared to listen to our young people and our experts in the field.

It is not only middle-aged lefties like me who are disillusioned with the direction the western world is heading. When a government prioritises a Religious Freedom Bill over crucial preparations for the annual bushfire season, we have to ask why. And our kids are asking those questions too – which is perhaps one of the reasons so many are struggling with their mental health.

The Wayside Chapel’s conference was a call to action. Progressive, well-known CEOs spoke about how businesses can help donate part of their profits to help bridge the gap between rich and poor and to help protect the environment, and the message that stood out was that if we all become a little less focused on success and more on caring, there is a chance that we can do exactly that.

“Together we can make no ‘us and them,” was the clear message of the event. And they’re right. Imagine how frigging awesome it would be if everyone of us did something tiny that could make a real difference to the confidence of one person on the poverty line. Because, trust me, their situation could happen to any of us, and an increasing percentage of the current number of the homeless population are middle-aged women.

I’m aware that “activism” is harder than just sitting at home on the sofa, watching those heart-wrenching stories play out on the The Project. It requires a concerted “movement of feet.” And even though we’ve had to put our hands a little deeper into our pockets of late, I am certain that there is something that most of us can do. For example, this Valentines Day, instead of buying your partner a tacky card and a sad bunch of dead petrol station flowers, you could donate $20 to waysidechapel.org.au/valentines, or any organisation that helps people in need. That small donation will give someone a shower, a new pair of undies and socks and some toiletries. It’s a much more sustainable way to show someone you love them and it will make all the difference to someone who isn’t feeling the love right now.

Priorities And Not Giving A Shit About Space

(*Steps on soapbox*)

Embed from Getty Images

One of the most eye-opening changes to happen to me since I reached middle age is that I’ve developed a defiant political conscience and can become quite hostile about my need to change the world, even though some days I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

I’ve become THAT irritable middle-aged tv viewer who knows absolutely nothing yet has an opinion on EVERYTHING and tuts loudly when the news is on, especially when I hear about another politician abusing their position and spending public funding on personal extravagance in the name of government expense.

Do you question the financial priorities of a government in charge of developing the country our future grandchildren will inhabit? Would you like to know just how exactly the government justifies its expenditure and prioritizes what to spend our taxes on, without bias? I question how politicians sleep at night when so many of their decisions seem to bear no relevance to saving, preserving or prolonging human life, and instead are frittered away on useless research projects.

And the prolongment of life is getting kind of important to me now.

I’ve never understand why we spend money on grants for pointless research that has little relevance to our day-to-day existence, especially when we have homeless people on our streets, victims of violence without access to justice, mentally ill people without access to the right treatments and children still in care.

English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit...
English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit Crises. On any given night in USA, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless, according to estimates of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Priorities.

And then there are space programs.

Although our government has pulled the plug on much of the scientific research and development previously assigned to space, only a few years back we were spending up to $1.6 billion on space research.

WTF!

Does anyone really give a fuck about what’s going on in space? Does anyone really care if a planet we’ve never heard of suddenly implodes, shimmies over to another orbit, or if in the year dot we can transport humans to some planet that cannot sustain human life. Admittedly, I may be guilty of over-simplifying this and NB would jump in here with some intelligent and soul-destroying argument about research in space no longer being just about rockets and astronauts, (but satellites communication and spying), but the fact is, there are so many more worthwhile, life-saving projects we could be developing with all that money.

It’s not that I’m not progressive or forward thinking but I suspect that much of the scientific research carried out in our universities has far more to do with our standing in world politics and one-upmanship, than genuine need.

How many more unexplained explosions at NASA will make the news – at the loss of millions of dollars and precious human lives – to be met with a shrug of the shoulders, and a ‘back to the drawing board’ attitude, even though much of the public don’t care?

Imagine how many homeless people those shitty rockets could have housed in the US, how many drug abusers could be rehabilitated, how many cancer patients could receive treatment and how many refugees might have been re-homed.

Priorities.

(*steps off soapbox*)