Recently, I was asked if I would consider standing as a councillor on our local Council.
I laughed out loud.
I’m pretty vocal in my own little community. I belong to an Owner’s Corporation that is only three years old.
The inaugural committee at the time was pretty punitive in its approach, egged on by the management company, and people started to get really annoyed at all the rules that were put in place and how they were being enforced. It really did feel like our little neighbourhood was being run like the gestapo. There were tears and arguments, and people ordering other people around.
Our little neighbourhood had become almost its own country with its own set of rules and a large amount of people started to feel oppressed, wondering how on earth they could be treated in such a manner as a bona fide home owner.
Questions started to emerge about the legality of what was happening. And no one could answer. No one really knew for sure.
I did what I do best. I read the Owners Corporation Act (2006) and the Owners Corporation Regulations (2007) as well as our accompanying Registered Rules, and I started informing my local community, through the power of Facebook, about what should be happening.
Someone suggested I join the committee.
I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, so, not giving it much thought, I organised a community meeting to gauge the extent of the issues people had and to see what kind of interest there would be in others standing on the committee with me. Nearly 100 people came to that meeting. Things had to change.
9 of us decided to take the plunge and join the committee. In 14 months, the changes we have made, using the Owners Corporation Act (2006) as our guide, have been pretty amazing. And feedback has been overwhelmingly, affirmingly positive.
Pat on the back for us.
In February of this year, just 7 months after I joined the committee, I was elected to the role of Chairperson.
A great achievement one might argue. I take the responsibility seriously, and my family will tell you that I have become a workaholic to the work that the Owners Corporation demands.
I love my work. As a stay at home mum for the last 15 years, the skills I am learning now have ignited something in me that I had long since forgotten. I am a volunteer, yes, but it doesn’t feel like that. 50 hours in a week can be dedicated to the OC, and I barely notice. This is purposeful work and it is bringing the community together, ensuring that all members of our multicultural community feel included, and welcome. This isn’t just altruism at work here, the sense of purpose this all gives me drives me to commit the way I do.
Which is why I imagine a gentlemen I met recently suggested I run for Council. I could take this passion and apply it to a larger community, he said, doing good on a grander scale.
But I had no idea the level of vitriol that would be levelled at my feet by those people who disagree with what we are doing, who desperately cling to the old way of how things were done, who would have unenforceable rules and punishments still applied, because, you know “rules are rules”.
People seem to forget that I don’t make the decisions alone. We are a committee of 12 and are mandated to a majority vote for any resolution to pass. But that doesn’t seem to matter.
I am the patsy, the fall person, the one who needs to be targeted. The angry people need someone to blame, and I am it.
I have been denigrated openly on our community Facebook page, which is very difficult for my family to witness. I have been sworn at in front of people, I have been accused of singlehandedly bringing about the demise of staff about whom we received numerous complaints and whom the entire committee unanimously made the decision to make redundant, opting for a different model to run our Club. I have been openly accused of being evil, and of being on a power trip. I have had clothing thrown at me. And many a time I have been accused of manipulating people to my own ends.
I have been confused by this state of affairs.
As a committee we have become more transparent, conducted surveys, started newsletters, organised more activities, consulted experts, all in a bid to bring the community together.
I find myself wondering how the likes of Ghandi or Martin Luther King, both people I admire for the inclusive changes they tried to bring about, managed this level of aggression towards them. And I find it extremely sobering to think they were both assassinated simply for trying, at the heart of it, to bring people together.
In criticising the previous committee, which I did do, I made sure not to attack the person as an individual. I criticised their policies, and how they were enforcing them, yes, but never the individual. I questioned the legality of things that the committee seemed to be making up, but I never attacked an actual person. I am not at liberty to attack them. I don’t know them personally, nor do I know their backstory or what motivates the way they do things.
Yet, it seems, this isn’t the way politics works, even on the small scale in which I find myself embroiled. Apparently, attacking the person with the full force of all the anger and vitriol a person can muster is acceptable and considered fair play. I stand on the committee ergo I am fair game.
Over the past 14 months I’ll admit to having developed a thicker skin. That doesn’t stop the odd arrow getting through every now and again though.
Men telling me to “Fuck off” when I greet them still has me reeling. These people are my neighbours. What universe tells them that to treat anyone, never mind a woman, like that in public, in front of witnesses, is an acceptable way to act?
Disagree with how we are doing things, fair enough, but to attack the person with such venom? I just don’t get it.
The past few months have had me question time and again if it is all worth it. I feel constantly under attack – like a bowling pin being knocked down time and again by a bowling ball.
Of course, it is worth it. Not everyone feels they have a voice and there are those of us, who are able, that have a duty to stand up for them. We need to speak for those who feel oppressed, and who are being oppressed.
I didn’t like the extremely oppressive and punitive way the inaugural committee were running things, so I did what was available to me to effect change. I joined the committee. Much like a person who becomes a politician does to effect their own brand of change for the country, or their town.
It took time to bring about change, and hard work, and constant perseverance, especially when resistance was so vehement.
And believe me when I say that I don’t expect everyone to agree, I am certainly not that naive. But I joined the committee to enable a more inclusive community and the committee we have now share that vision.
So plundered on we did, often in the dark, and slowly we are creating a community that is no longer adversarial, but cohesive, engaging other people and organisations with the same vision along the way.
This past weekend we had a function at our Club. So many members came up to each of us committee members to tell us that the changes we have made have made them feel more welcome and included – our goal from the very beginning. That does make it worth it.
But there are still those who attacked, and felt justified in doing so, even at a family fun day, where we were volunteering, with our own families present.
There are no protections for those who volunteer their time – no code of conduct, no accountability of behaviour – and that needs to change.
Am I likely to stand for Council. Unlikely.
I’m not sure I have the stomach for a large-scale onslaught of entitled individuals who have convinced themselves that because they are entitled to their opinion they are also entitled to air it whenever and wherever they like, levelling it without restraint at various individuals.
Politics the world over has gone completely mad. It is all about denigration of the individual (I’m still incredulous that “Ditch the Bitch” was an acceptable way to do politics here in Australia), not about sensible policy making at all. And in that process, we are experiencing degradation and oppression on a large scale.
I wonder if my own little community is a symptom of this large scale problem. Is what I am experiencing – a clutch of people who would oppress and treat our community members like criminals – in fact a microcosm of what is problematic the world over?
I fight for my community, and I will continue to do so. But we need stronger people than I perhaps to fight for our country and indeed our world. Goodness knows, we need someone to do it, for if we don’t, based on my own experience, we may be doomed.
Until next time,