5 min read

walking as an act of community

One conversation, a single moment The things that change us if we notice When we look up, sometimes
walking as an act of community
Photo by Zach Rowlandson / Unsplash
Even though we boarded them up
Chandelier's still flickering here
'Cause I can't pretend it's ok when it's not
It's death by a thousand cuts

Nat asked this back a month ago, and it's been mulling around in my head.

Not in the sense of wanting to triumph, but more on how to move forward, how to continue. Because on that Wednesday, when the police moved the protestors on, the issues, opportunities and challenges didn't disappear.

As someone who worked inside the cordon, and was directly impacted by the protest and what it stood for, it was a surreal, sad and yet still a very Kiwi event. I mean, I could sit here and have a cup of tea while it was going on. While I watched the social media streams and the narrative they were capturing, sharing and shaping.

And it's that shaping and narrative building as we move forward that's critical I think.

Because so much of this protest was self-fulfilling - as if instead of  the nobility inherent in millions of voices suddenly crying out in terror and being suddenly silenced - this very much had the sense that it was the manifestation of thousands of social media cuts.

cuts in which every individual is the hero of their own story.
cuts in which every individual hurt is magnified by a shared narrative
(is illogical and inconsistent as that narrative may appear)
cuts in which the great arc of a very specific history and bias is brought to bear

Cuts like this...

There was an irony in taking this image, from a library. ... and sure not being able to go into a cafe is a bit annoying - but informed by some social media hot-takes and a sense of hotly relevant hope and fire, and fueled by reactionary outrage (the great seething dataset upon which all the self-serving social media algorithms have been self taught) - this single cut sits proudly alongside a thousand others.

And it's no longer about that single cut anymore.

A thousand cuts or more of various sizes, shapes and sensibilities, are no longer a conversation or a discourse that can be engaged with in anyway that's safe, sensible or achievable at scale.

Which is one of the many delusional manifestions of social media - that it matters in any useful or active way.

Of course lots of people argued about for the three weeks of the protest.

Of what the PM should or should not do.
Of what the Speaker should or should not do.
Of what the police should or should not do.
Of what the protesters should or should not do.

And many more are still doing - in media mainstream and social.

Our songs, our films, united we stand
Our country, guess it was a lawless land
Quiet my fears with the touch of your hand
Paper cut stings from our paper thin plans

None of it connected. All of it cuts. And cutting.

But as per Nat's call I've been wondering what can be done, and I'd had this vague idea about community - and controlling what we do and can do.

Not what we say or post. Not on social media.
Not in op-ed pieces or anything that requires these mediums that deliver faux feedback.

But in the here and now.
The urban, the rural, the suburban.
The mundane.

I think Keith Ng's Big Clean Up spoke to some of that sense - as he says on the site:

This is not a counter-protest, or directed at the protesters at all. This is something we are doing for our community, for each other.

And I think my own way has been to do that - to be present in what I can control. In an odd way I found that in walking - and in interacting on those walks.

I have a memory of walking down Stout Street on about week 2 of the protest, taking the long way around from Lambton Quay, looping around to the Railway station and then back up Mulgrave.

head down, mask on,

as I came past Gales Cafe, edge of Featherston,
I looked up and there was an older man sitting inside
in his security guard uniform
an islander, a brother having a bite
ending his shift, or just about to start?

Behind the mask - I threw him a cautious East Coast wave.
He paused, and then a slow grin and the eyebrows went up

"Chur cuz"

No more, no less - but a simple connection, a caring.

And so now in the same way I do that when I'm walking the dog or to the bus
intentionally, carefully, deliberately
acknowledging those I pass - seeing them.

with a wave, an eyebrow, a "good morning", a Kia-ora, a smile

I don't think the form or the specifics matter really - it's the activeness of it that does. It's not a moral or a grandiose thing. The simpler and more honest the better.

Sometimes I go wildcard, like this morning when I recognised one of the Metlink bus drivers. He was driving a bus I wasn't going to get on - but as the door was open, I leaned in and said "How are your Hammers doing mate?"

a memory from when he was doing the school bus runs, and I used to chat with him when I was doing bus duties - back in 2013.

A wide grin resulted, we shared a bit of banter and commiserations on their weekend loss to Sp*rs, before a wave and he was on his way.
As was I.

Victoria Livingstone captures this sense far more eloquently in her essay, The Shape of Walking - exploring New Jersey, making sense in the midst of a pandemic, children, and connecting with community.

Now my daughter continually reminds me that our steps intersect with the movements of those around us in illegible patterns. The rhetoric of walking resists order.

To Nat's query then - maybe it's walking as a political act - not in the sense of economics, climate change or public health - but in community building.

in being a deliberate way of connecting,
as humans, as implicitly worthy of seeing
and explicitly doing so.
because we choose

He gave her a story 'bout a life
With a glint in his eye and a corner of a smile
One conversation, a simple moment
The things that change us if we notice
When we look up, sometimes

Death by a Thousand Cuts - lyrics by Taylor Swift

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