I, Daniel Blake

 

I’m recommending the movie ‘I, Daniel Blake’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahWgxw9E_h4) to everyone I see, who I know is interested in social justice. It’s a terrifying picture of an inflexible system getting it so wrong. This is my first blog which features a movie, so I hope there are no spoilers. If there are, please forgive me as it will only be because of my enthusiasm about the importance of this movie.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is set in Newcastle and follows the journey of an ageing Daniel Blake through the frustratingly close minded social welfare system in the UK. Having never needed welfare before, the system is very confusing for Daniel. He gets bounced from one component to another, eventually being told he needs to do part of the process online which, for Daniel is like learning to speak another language.

One scene has stayed with me, it is horrifying in its lack of empathy and its show of rigidity. While Daniel is waiting to be seen by a claims officer, in one of his many attempts to navigate the system. A lady with 2 children begins to get upset about the decision made by one of the workers who refuses to give more of her time to sort it out. The worker has called security on the woman. Daniel attempts to intervene, by asking the person whose next to be seen if he minds waiting a little longer, he doesn’t. Daniel attempts to explain this to the security officer only to have himself and the lady ejected from the building.

In our own hyper vigilant social welfare system frustration, pain, embarrassment, mental illness all can often be met with the same unhelpful responses. A neighbour asked me to go with her to meet a housing officer to talk about an ongoing issue with noise coming from the apartment above. We hadn’t been in the meeting 10 minutes before the officer had accused my neighbour of being rude and hinted at her being aggressive. This was despite the fact that on numerous occasions officers had cancelled meetings without informing her, had promised particular actions with seemingly no follow through. The officers tone continued to be condescending throughout the meeting and we left with similar promises to previous officers, with no clear pathway to resolution.

You will have no doubt heard about, or maybe even received a Centrelink debt notice. It’s been levelled at Centrelink that at least a third of these notices have been sent erroneously. However, the onus is on the customer to prove that it is a mistake. Ok fair enough, however, according to a leaked internal memo and a whistle blowers account, when customers approach staff to work through the issue they have been instructed not to fix it even if they can see where the error has occurred. Instead they are instructed to send people to an online portal, back into the very system that caused the error in the first place.

A further example of systemic injustice; I’ve been working with a couple of colleagues on a research project looking at pathways out of marginalization. The research is going to include a look at how the system traumatizes those in it and exacerbates homelessness and other issues around marginalization. You may have seen recent reports coming out of the ‘world’s most livable city,’ Melbourne about rough sleepers on Flinders St and plans to ban homelessness in the city. I don’t normally like to payout on the media however they have added plenty of fuel to the fire of discontent around these people, leading to a reactive plan by the Lord Mayor to introduce a local law banning rough sleeping in the city. Many come to the city because of its services, meals and the support of a homeless community, making an already traumatizing experience that little more livable. The ban would effectively scatter a community and leave people with the potential of incurring fines and greater debt, adding to trauma and the length of their journey out of marginalization.

As people of goodwill and compassion, how are we to respond to unjust, impersonal, stigmatizing and traumatic systems that leave people feeling dehumanized and abandoned? I haven’t got a quick fix answer, I don’t think there is one. However, we can cultivate empathy in ourselves and others. We can learn to be less dismissive and more open to the other. We can advocate, lending our voice and ideas to change unjust systems. If we are in positions of influence we can plan and strategise new approaches that value ‘consumers’ as people of worth, value and so much untapped potential. Let us commit to working towards a system with these things at its core.

President Elect Donald Trump; Deliverer or Huckster

I wonder if Trump becoming president of the United States will be one of those moments where people will remember exactly where they were when they heard? Me, I was out at the dog park joining others in stunned amazement at a celebrity billionaire’s journey to the most powerful position in the Western world. Whatever you think of Trump, he certainly defied the odds, the pollsters, the media and much of the academic world. His brash, divisive, unconventional, vitriolic style struck a chord with a dis-enfranchised majority of white working class men. Those that have been hurt by globalization, free trade and whom for a wide variety of reasons are wary of difference. However, as a global population can we afford to let division win the day?

Disturbingly the most extreme of those dis-enfranchised, anti-establishmentarians are already seeing Trump’s win as permission to act on latent racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. I was saddened to read social media posts collected from around America, describing hate crimes taking place as little as 24hrs after trump’s win was announced. School children were telling African Americans and Latinos that they should be sitting up the back of the bus. Caucasian males threatening women of different nationalities at petrol stations. A group of men on a subway trying to grope women. And the one that almost brought me to tears, a Muslim woman being told to hang herself with her hijab.

If this is the experience of so many so soon after the election I don’t blame people for being fearful of what 4 years of a Trump presidency could unleash. Not only from his policies which seem sketchy and ill-informed, populist yet potentially dangerous but from his supporters who feel he is a fresh face with fresh vision inserted into an old and staid political institution. Kumunda Simpson lecturer in international relations at LaTrobe university sees Trump’s win as evidence that many Americans have lost faith in the political class. With both Republicans and Democrats ignoring just how much their policies of the past 2 decades have hurt a significant number of people.

Liam Kennedy, professor in American Studies at University College Dublin doesn’t see Trump to be the hope of middle America, but rather a well-practiced familiar archetype, the trickster or huckster. Kennedy sees Trump’s campaign as one that has divided America, with Trump himself not being a pathogen but a symptom of and a channel for those with large grievances and insecurities about the current direction of America. With slogans such as ‘make America great again’ and answers to complex questions around policy such as, ‘trust me’ Trump has won the confidence of many. Kennedy believes that Trump will abuse their trust and confidence, capitalizing on his supporters’ gullibility. Despite their belief that his ‘tells it like it is’ personae is in opposition to what they see as a manipulative Washington.

According to Professor of Law at Drake University, Anthony J. Gaughan, in retrospect there were 5 key elements that pointed to a Trump Victory;

  1. A silent trump vote: In addition to issues with polling methodology, it is clear that many Trump voters choose not to divulge their opinion. The Polls also underestimated the damage caused to the Clinton campaign by the re-opening of the email scandal by the FBI.
  2. Celebrity beat organization: It is usual for both sides of politics to run ‘Get out and vote’ campaigns, Trump didn’t do this, relying on his 100% recognition after 30 years in the public eye.
  3. Populist vote against immigration and trade: Trump’s campaign was based on hostility towards liberal immigration and free trade. Doing well in traditionally blue states (Democrats), he knew the hostility ran deep and he was able to exploit it.
  4. Outsiders against insiders: He is the first to become President-elect with no political experience since Dwight Eisenhower, however he is the 4th in a row to be considered an outsider to the establishment. With Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barak Obama all being seen this way.
  5. America the divided: The election has shown that America is deeply divided along racial, cultural, gender and class lines, a question that hangs in the balance; will Trump work to genuinely unite the country or continue to exploit the division?

 

Only time will give us the answer to that question. In the mean-time as people of goodwill what are we to do with this now obvious divide in not only America but all over the Western world? Both Brexit and the political swing to the right in places like Australia are showing a desire among many for a more insular nationalistic approach to government and life generally. Has the globalization experiment failed? Are we destined to look only to our nation’s interests?

From where I sit in the midst of a very multicultural community, this feels like a dark and dangerously separatist position, however to others it speaks of freedom, autonomy and in some sense a psychological release from the issues that plague the majority world. Wherever you sit on this continuum as a person of goodwill it is time to rise above the political divide, the traditional categories of left and right are too limiting if we are to overcome our division and work together towards a world where everyone can flourish and reach their potential.

Just as I have concern about the vitriol of the right, currently personified by President-elect Donald Trump I am equally troubled by the anger I perceive in many of my left leaning friends. Fearful, perhaps in their own way of what the world could look like in 4 short years from now. The tone we take in the debate towards a better world, must be equal to the outcome we desire. Wherever we sit politically we musn’t lose sight of what it means for all humanity to progressively move towards flourishing as individuals and as societies. I don’t believe for a moment that this is primarily an economic question, first and foremost it is a question of the heart and the will. In the midst of what is an obvious political divide are we able to stay open to the other and invest in them, realizing our own wellbeing or ability to flourish is tied to theirs.