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Dear Biddy,

Using your voice to say what needs to be said is one of those basic human rights as you knew so well.

At WOMADelaide last weekend I was treated to many a performer, who through the use of their voice, brought their message of justice in a nonviolent way, to our ears.

Listening to Emel Mathiouthi was something special. She was the voice of the revolution in the Arab Spring – the songbird of Tunisia – started with a song in Kurdish and somehow craftily made the transition to Halleljuah by Cohen connecting all the audience in heart and soul.  The drums of PNG appeared in many of the bands and united in songs of justice with Airleke, their lead singer talked about music as his weapon of choice in their freedom fight.  Hearing Billy Bragg, the proclaimed bolshie bard of Britain, sing of union solidarity, how fascism is never fashionable and a call to arms for men to end their sexism, was pure bliss!


It has been a feature of my life to be part of what I call the ‘democracy gig’ – finding ways to help people have their voices heard, ways for their private pain to be recognised in public policy or to join with others to make what is invisible visible.  With the conservatives in government it is a full time gig with no end of issues draining activists and the list of rights being whittled away for those who have the least is palpable.  The voices of dissent in the music and the arts are needed more than ever.  I am relying on them to sustain me.  (It is no accident that the word voice and vote come from the same root.)  This week I saw Urthboy’s new Don’t Let it Go about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and went to a couple of the Planet Talks at WOMADelaide. I was deeply encouraged to hear from Simon Sheihk, Tim Hollo and Ane Brun about musicans and the music industry generally as role models in the digital age especially with Gen Z.

When you loose your voice in reality (as one of my offspring has done this past month) or metaphorically – it is a deep loss. Not only for you but for those of us who then don’t hear it.  Hearing all the voices is part of coming to understanding about our diversity and sharing what we have in common and celebrating our differences.  The fear of the other, is the bedrock of justice issues and dualism the oxygen. Pluralism is crying out to be embraced and our Earth is straining to be heard.  She is speaking to us with a spluttering and gasping for air, using all the elements at her disposal to help us hear her voice.

I love listening to the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue who says that the proof that God loves diversity is that almost everything in creation is actually completely unique – there are no two trees exactly the same, no two people exactly the same, no two rocks exactly the same – and what more proof to we need to know that diversity is God’s will.

The experience of exclusion is a useful training ground for any activist, however it is also  depowering and for those with the least is a descent into hopelessness. It is therefore the responsibility of those of us who have a voice to speak up and be in solidarity with those who can’t speak for themselves. This must not be patronising though and we need to listen carefully to be faithful to their needs and not appropriate.  I also like to put myself to the Bonhoeffer test:

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.  Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

I am pretty confident Biddy that you weren’t afraid to speak up for yourself and those that came to you may well have found their voice.  I love the story of you being accused of witchcraft and no one stepping out in the town square prepared to testify against you.  Silence was a powerful noise that day.  It seems to me that you did not discriminate against anyone who came to your door, and by not accepting money for your healing was your way of pointing to a higher power and you were merely the custodian of that gift.  So too it needs to be with us who have a voice, we are the custodians of that gift of being able to speak out and we have people knocking out our doors asking to be heard and welcomed in, it is up to those of us who can speak up to open that door and welcome the other – that is our gift.

Speaking up is part of being on the right side of history as has been shown over and over again – from Wilburforce and the slave trade, Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement and now in my time we have many leaders rising up for human rights and rights for our planet (e.g. Polly Higgins).

Natalia Rak Mural Folk On The Street – Białystok, Poland

May all the artists and singers, songwriters and poets continue to give us the words and sounds so the voices are heard.