Crowds are turning into riots and we're not ready

First they ignore you, then the ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win” – Mahatma Ghandi

Ross posted earlier today about how there is now a crowd in every photo, and I commented that we were seeing more and more crowds gathering at government and leadership conventions, such as the recent UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. It brought to mind the above Ghandi quote, which essentially provides the tried and true formula for achieve social change in our current paradigm. It was interesting to note that at Copenhagen, people protested, and the police used pepper spray and baton chargers as their response.

Before the event started, I hired the film ‘Battle in Seattle” because I had glanced over it often in the video store, and I wondered whether we would see riots in Copenhagen and wanted to think about that. You can see the trailer below. And I watched it. And I was stunned.

The film follows the days of 6 different people during the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, from all sides of the event (citizens, activists, police, mayor and government) and weaves real life footage in with the drama. It was a powerful film, which I’ve taken much from. I first heard about the ‘Battle in Seattle’ a couple of years ago when chatting to good friend Col Duthie about activism in the modern age. He pointed me to probably the most powerful piece writing I have ever read, this diary entry from Paul Hawken – N30: What skeleton woman told the WTO in Seattle. It’s a chilling account of what Hawken (who is a well regarded author and activist himself) saw that day.

But why is this happening more and more? If you look at any global government gathering over the past few years, people have been crowding and rioting (peacefully, in most cases, I might add).

We are a fragile species, who are more and more – people are now gathering at every event. The G5 has become the G8, the G10, G15, G20 and is now the G77! We are seeing more and more government and world leaders coming together to solve problems. This is also seeing more and more people coming together to inform the leaders of what they want. Look for the photos at any leadership forum in the future and see the crowds. Listen for the news reports of riots. Obama used the groundswell to great affect. People are already hitting the streets in large numbers to let leaders know what they think. As a species we are finding more and more harmony in participation, inclusion, involvement and consensus.


Unfortunately, our government and leadership systems are not so adequately built. Police (and Government) have little room to move when trying to control mob-crowds. They have one option, which is to sit back and watch. Or, they can launch tear gas into the throng and baton charge. In Seattle, Martial Law was imposed on the second day – essentially turning the city (a First World nation, law abiding city) into a war zone. Below, you can see some photos from the Big Picture Blog from the G20 Summit held in London, 2009.


We need to work to a place where we are more interdependent on each other, rather than forcing consensus decisions to be made. It’s important we come together to discuss the outcomes required, and group inclusion and cohesion is a crucial fundamental of this – but lets not pretend that we can all agree on all the outcomes required, all of the time.This will continue to happen. I’m sure I myself will be a part of more protests in the future. But lets be aware that this is happening more and more and that it’s continuously proving not provide all the answers and solutions. Let’s get together, but trust that interdependently we will make it happen.

The end of disability?

Last week was a busy week as far as politics goes in Australia. I’m not going to go into detail about the problems the Liberal Party and Malcolm Turnbull have faced this past week, but I do want to comment on what the resultant media storm has done a good job of hiding. It has hidden what may be the beginning of one of the largest social policy reform decisions to be made in the last decade here in Australia. I’m talking about the announcement that Kevin Rudd made in his speech last week at the National Disability Awards in Canberra. He has announced that the Labour government will engage the Productivity Commission to carry out an inquiry into the potential of a National Long Term Care and Support scheme by 2011.

Essentially, he has asked that a review take place into how people with a disability in Australia are provided access and inclusion to life. Imagine a Medicare-type service focused on providing funding for services for people who are disabled.

 Kevin Rudd

In the current system, there are a number of overlaps and gaps in the funding system, which essentially promises that many people who are suffering from a disability are shut out from funding and support. Even in simple terms, someone who has become disabled through an environmental accident (say, you have fallen from your roof) is currently not covered in the same way that someone who has been born into a disability is, or that perhaps someone who has been in a traffic accident is.

This has created the very real situation in which some people who are suffering the same disability are faced with great variances in the access they are provided to society. The person who has fallen from their roof and now can’t walk, is supported less than someone who has lost that ability through a traffic accident.As many of you will know, I’ve been doing some work with the Ai-Media crew up in Sydney these last few months, around the implementation of live captioning services into classroom education in Australia. (For those who haven’t yet seen the video by Tony and Alex discussing the project, do so here.)

I know for me personally, working in that environment, my eyes have been opened to just how much we shut people out without knowing…in my first team meeting I sat next to Alex (who is deaf) and had to move to the other side of the table because a) he was not able to read my lips when I was next to him and b) because I was talking too fast and without my hands. Wow – and that’s just a ‘simple’ team meeting.Can you imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t see your computer screen? Or if you couldn’t hear your phone ring (or, for that matter, the person on the other end of the line). Or what if you couldn’t walk and needed help getting from a to b? These are just such simple abilities that we take for granted every day. Imagine how secluded and ostracized you would feel were you not able to simply do that.

Now imagine that you have such a disability and can’t get any support to help you gain inclusion to a society that often forgets you. I encourage you to read the report Shut Out: The Experience of People and their Families in Australia for more insight into some of the difficulties currently faced by those with a disability.

It’s why I support Kevin Rudd’s initiative, why I hope that the productivity commission comes back with a strong recommendation to set up a National Disability Insurance Scheme, and why I ‘ll be continuing to update you about such progress on this blog as it happens.

Basic Information on Water and Sanitation Issues

This post originially appeared in – another blogging project I’m involved in with the folks from World Vision Australia. To see the original post in all of it’s glory, please go here. 

One of the biggest issues facing countries struggling with endemic poverty is the states of their water sources. In many countries, such as in Iraq and Zimbabwe, many people lack basic access to water and sanitation infrastructure. This week, Pay Drechsel from the International Water Management Institute (IMWI) guest posted at the blog about the issues facing communities using polluted irrigation water. He posted a video (below) which describes the problem very well which is well worth a watch.

According to the World Health Organisations Guidelines for the Safe Use of Water and Excreta and Grey Water, sufficient achievement of the Millenium Development Goals 1 (Eliminate extreme poverty and hunger) and 7 (ensure environmental sustainability) require the use of water. It then goes on to stress that despite the desperate need, use of water should be done safely so as not to endanger human life.

A farmer moulds his irrigation channels

This is why we like Pays’ video and thoughts posted on – because they take in to account that in developing countries things we take for granted (such as money for capital works, infrastructure such as aqua-ducts and dams and organisational bodies to manage our water) often don’t exist.

Thus, we thought the following list may prove useful for you.

Key Information when thinking about Water and Sanitation

  1. Water is required for agriculture and development of sustainable economies in developing countries.
  2. Often, however, this water will be mixed with excreta, grey water and various other detrimental matter.
  3. Roughly three quaters of the worlds countries only 10% of the population are connected to sewerage systems, making capital investment in creating an integrated system incredibly expensive and unrealistic for many communities.
  4. However, with good community engagement and support, practices can be put into place to lower the amount of water born diseas present in agricultural water at low cost.
  5. The leading cause of disease, despite the poor health of many communities water pipeline, is still born in the preparation of food.

Open House for Social Entrepreneurs in Melbourne, Thursday

Just a quick one from me today, to let you all know about the amazing project which is starting on Thursday. If you’re in Melbourne, feel free to come on down and have a look around the new Donkey Wheel building. The details are as follows.

Time: 4pm-7pm

When: Thursday, 18th of December, 2008.

Where: 673 Bourke St, Melbourne, VIC. 3000


Donkey Wheel is a non-profit Trust, which focuses on giving funding to social initiatives which otherwise would find it very difficult to operate. They fund the ‘unfundables.’ The people doing truly cutting edge work. I’ve met the people behind it, and they are truly energised about creating something of immense value in our city, of which I feel immensely proud and excited. Col Duthie, from the Ergo blog, is also heavily involved. As part of this vision, they have purchased a building in the old ‘West End’ area of Melbourne town. (Above)

Their vision for this building is truly inspiring, which is why I’m blogging about it to let you all know. They plan to turn the building into a melting pot of social ventures and start-up ventures, allowing for a truly unique mix of the like which is close to impossible to find anywhere else in the world. Thursday’s open house is the first day on the journey to realising that vision. I will be there from 4pm till about 5:30pm but the building will be open till 7pm, with tours operating through-out every half-hour. I hope to see you there.