Welcome to this website on social justice. I’m Joan Beckwith, and one of those people who have Ideas in the middle of the night, many of which seem less amazing in the light of day, but some of which take hold. This website was one of those ideas, and came about when I realised that most of the work I have done as a psychologist and most of the issues I care most about involve social justice.

I decided to call this website 2020socialjustice because the cherished ideals are a bit like 20-20 hindsight, or 20-20 vision, representing a state of perfection that is unlikely to be achieved and yet is still worth working towards in whatever ways are possible. At this stage writing is possible for me though being on the front line is not.

2020 is also a time in the future, far enough away for substantial change, and near enough for realistic commitment. With this in mind, I decided to write this blog until at least 2020, produce at least 20x20 relevant posts by the end of that time, and complete at least 20 of those in any half-calendar year.

So, welcome to 2020socialjustice where you can:

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Christmas letters to Themis

January 5th, 2013  |  Published in Uncategorized

Day 1…25 Dec 2012…Letters to Themis

Dear Themis,

I’m planning to write twelve letters, one for each day of Christmas (and I’m practising for Twitter so each one will be short – less than 140 words, if not less than 140 characters). In this first one, I’m not asking for much, just that it’s a good day for as many people as possible, and that you will accept my letters for the next eleven days. I know Christmas is not your business, as a goddess of justice, but the seasonal chaps are busy and may get impatient with twelve letters from the same person. Also, I know you’re a myth, and a wish-list to a myth may seem silly, but I also know the idea of you can help when hope wears thin.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 129(words), 681(characters)…Keep working on it.

Day 2…World peace

Dear Themis,

Fantasy territory, I know, but please see what can be done.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 15(words), 101(characters)…Good omen?

Day 3…Meeting basic needs

Dear Themis,

I know you would agree it’s not okay for a few popstars, executives, and ball-players to have annual incomes that could feed and house most of the population of a country like Sri Lanka, for example, or certainly the homeless of Australia. My own family’s lifestyle, although not in the same class, is privileged compared with a tea-picker’s. Your guiding hand is needed to spread resources so that everyone can at least meet basic needs.

(The malnourished dogs in Sri Lanka are also a lingering and disturbing memory, so I guess I’m really talking about basic needs for all living creatures – and an end to factory farming).

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 112(words), 668(characters)…Backsliding.

Day 4…Right to belong

Dear Themis,

People can be alive in a basic kind of way but still have nowhere they belong, or nowhere they belong that is safe for them to be. They may be seeking asylum, or displaced or stateless because of wars, tsunamis or other cataclysmic events. They are ‘People Like Us’, as Waleed Aly invites us to recognise in his 2007 book, and have the same entitlement to a sense of belonging. We need creative vision to develop inclusive policies. Please see what you can do. At the moment, we seem to have lost the plot, especially here in Australia.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 102(words), 576(characters)…Some improvement.


Day 5…Survival of the planet

Dear Themis,

As custodians of our planet, we are not doing enough to slow, stop, or reverse the escalating destruction. The gap between what we know, and what we are prepared to do about it is a chasm that needs bridging. Please direct attention to our custodial responsibilities, and mobilise energy to heed the call. If we fail to respond, we should not be surprised when fire, wind, and water unleash their formidable powers.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 76(words), 459(characters)…Getting better.

Day 6…Eliminating Othering

Dear Themis,

When I was planning these letters, I thought there would be several about race, gender, sexuality, class, and other divisions of power. But, seriously, our similarities are far more substantial than our differences so if we stopped accentuating difference, we could also eliminate Othering, and if we eliminated Othering we would also eliminate the basis of discrimination. Those who benefit from existing arrangements would no doubt take some convincing, and that’s where you come in: As a goddess of justice, you must know ways of convincing people that balancing the scales ultimately benefits everyone. Please speak out.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 101(words), 670(characters)…Not so bad given multiple issues

Day 7…Workplace worker-safe

Dear Themis,

After pleas for world peace and saving the planet, it may seem prosaic to make an issue of workplace relations and worker abuse. However, the workplace is a microcosm of broader power relations, as well as a socially acceptable context for pursuing power. Once people have power, substantial numbers are bound to abuse it. I think we could learn a lot from reflecting on existing power relations in workplaces, and even more from attempting to change them. I could use help in promoting awareness.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 88(words), 539(characters)…Okay if Twitter counted words.

Day 8…Everyplace child-safe

Dear Themis,

Happy New Year, and please may it be a year in which children are cared for wherever they are. No child should be abused, exploited, bartered, or trafficked, but they are, and all too often. I know you abhor all forms of child abuse, and your ideas for keeping children safe would be extremely welcome.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 59(words), 344(characters)…This is too hard!

Day 9…Mental health in context

Dear Themis,

We (mostly, anyway) no longer see people with mental health problems as possessed by evil spirits, and that’s progress. I think it’s time, though, to review the creeping pathologisation of human behaviour. Hoarding disorder, for example, is currently set to become a diagnosis – alongside internet addiction, and gambling addiction; how much more socially constructed can ‘illnesses’ become and still be seen as individual pathologies? Immigration detention syndrome is a label applied to asylum seekers, and yet more accurately describes a sociopolitical malaise. Your help in shifting attention from disordered individuals to toxic contexts would be appreciated.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 101(words), 706(characters)…Not good.

Day 10…We need to talk

Dear Themis,

Painful as it may be, we need to talk about suicide. Ignoring the reality will not make it go away, or ease the pain of those left with unanswered (and unanswerable) questions. Please help guide conversations that will increase understanding.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: Not appropriate; we need to talk more about suicide, not less.

Day 11…Specific projects

Dear Themis,

Here are some current local projects to keep an eye on:

Recognition of Aboriginal Australians in the constitution;

National anti-discrimination laws;

Marriage equality;

National disability insurance scheme;

Royal commission on child sex abuse;

Human rights for asylum seekers (huge job in itself);

Many more, within and beyond the local, so stay tuned.

Best wishes…2020social justice.

Twitter assessment: 58(words), 388(characters)…I need extended Twitter.

Day 12…5 Jan 2013…Review and rest

Dear Themis,

Thank you for your patience. Today is for reviewing the previous eleven, allowing ideas to settle, doing some planning, and getting some rest before the real work of the year begins. I have no doubt there will be more to say about each of the preceding matters over the course of the year, In summary, they have included: world peace; meeting universal needs for food, shelter, and belonging; survival of the planet; erasing all forms of discrimination, worker abuse, and child abuse; contextualising mental health; and opening up discussion of suicide.

I’m sure there will be some good news over the course of the year.

Best wishes…2020socialjustice.

Twitter assessment: 109(words), 663(characters)…Maybe just forget Twitter.


Aboriginal Australians and the constitution

December 4th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  6 Comments »

At the recent ARIA awards ceremony, Mandawuy Yunupingu, frontman for Yothu Yindi, accepted the group’s induction into the recording industry’s hall of fame, and used the occasion to advocate for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution. “As musicians, recognition from our peers is important to us,” he said. “As Aboriginal Australians, recognition from our constitution is even more important.”

I don’t normally follow the ARIA awards, but am grateful they prompted an article about Yunupingu and his message (which you can go to here).

Yunupingu, and many other indigenous Australians (as well as non-indigenous ones) want the cultural identities and languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples specifically recognised in the constitution, rather than being lumped under generic Australian-ness.  I’m with them, and have joined 115,000 other supporters (the number grows by the hour) to say so on http://www.youmeunity.org.au/.

I’ve never given much thought to my place in the constitution. I guess I’ve never needed to, being pretty much part of the dominant group. I doubt it would occupy the forefront of my mind if I was a well known musician being acknowledged for my art, although now I think about it, I imagine I would become quite vocal if I discovered the constitution did not recognise women in any specific way, but just lumped us under men.

I guess it’s obvious I’ve never studied the constitution. Having admitted as much, my next thought was “and I’m not going to either”. That sounded pretty slack, so I went and had a quick look. My eyes glazed over; it goes on and on in chapters and sections and subsections and further subsections of torpid bureaucratise.

In a way it reminded me of a mega-manual of organisational policies and procedures: Does anyone, apart from the people who write them, absorb the detail of such documents? Or, are most people a bit blasé until they discover a need to know, only then to find the documents inadequate for their purposes? I’m certainly aware of that in relation to organisational policy manuals, for example, and have implied as much at some length in my novel, Swimming with Sharks.

I take my metaphorical hat off to anyone who ploughs systematically through the constitution, let alone tries to reform it. How many other non-Indigenous Australians, I wonder, have, like me, failed to realise that Aboriginal Australians lack the luxury of such complacence? I’m dismayed they have to lobby for such fundamentals in their own country, and even more dismayed by my own ignorance. I don’t know what is involved legally, but in terms of social justice the requirement for recognition is unequivocal.

I did know of the struggle for recognition as Australian citizens, culminating in the 1967 referendum, but was unaware of current aims. I’m thus reminded, in a clearly necessary way, that the privilege of privilege is not recognising what makes one privileged.

(The last part of the last sentence is a quote, perhaps a misquote; if anyone can source it, please do. Also, If you would like to comment on this post, or other posts on this blog, click on the title of the post and then scroll down to find the response box.)

Bullying, asylum seekers, child abuse, anti-discrimination laws…and more

November 25th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

As long as I can remember I’ve been one of those people who write lists, and some weeks in from launching this website the list of blogposts I have written is, perhaps unsurprisingly, much shorter than the list I intend to write. I keep finding myself diverted by immediate events such as suicide attempts by asylum seekers, the royal commission on child sex abuse, Obama’s reelection, new anti-discrimination legislation, and more, which stir me into writing brief posts on the 2020socialjustice facebook page instead of the longer, more considered ones I intend for this blog here.

What follows below is a collation of some of the brief posts. If you already follow the facebook page you may have seen a lot of this material before (sorry, I’ll write something new soon), but if you don’t and haven’t but would like to, here they are. Also, if you would like to get subsequent brief posts in a more timely fashion, you could visit the facebook page (click on the link above). If you then ‘like’ the page (you need to be ‘on’ facebook to do this), I can ‘share’ brief posts with you more immediately.

Workplace bullying and hierarchical power

The war at work

The blogpost I plan to write on workplace bullying and hierarchical power is one of those still on the drawing board. In the meantime, there was a relevant article in a recent Sunday supplement. It provides a broad sweep in a short space and avoids trivialising and victim-blaming. It’s easy to read and you can go to the full article by clicking on the picture. If you find it interesting, you might also like my novel, Swimming with Sharks, which is a fictional account of everyday happenings in countless workplaces.

Asylum seekers and national sovereignty

The right to national sovereignty seems largely unquestioned and also unquestionable; an article of faith – like the existence of God, but with fewer critical voices. It drives the frenzy about border protection, and competes with the right to seek asylum, over which it takes precedence. (“We will decide who comes to this country…”) Associated language of ‘illegals’ and ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ (for goodness sake!) creates an Other who can then be mistreated with impunity. I worry that this prejudiced position is increasingly colonising the collective psyche and forcing the voices of protest further into the wilderness.

Asylum protesters

For example, a recent rally in Melbourne against offshore processing of asylum seekers warranted a few column inches and no photo in my print version of the newspaper, although there was a photo online. The “crowd”, according to the report, amounted to 300 people, which seems a pretty sad commentary on something: Indifference? Complacence? Support for current policy? Or, some corrosive mix of these, and more, bred by years of demonising propaganda, dehumanising language, and inaccurate euphemisms – all grounded in taken-for-granted assumptions.

Speaking of euphemisms, describing attempted suicide on Nauru as a “behavioural incident” is a recent stark illustration. The man involved is said to have tied a sheet around his neck, and to the ceiling but, according to the spokesperson for the immigration department, “it was not an incident of self-harm“. Whatever the language, there seems little doubt it was an act of desperation.

Of course, dissenting voices have not been entirely silenced, and friends I recently had dinner with all agreed that Waleed Aly’s article, Shattering the façade of kindness, was an excellent example of counter-propaganda. It cuts right through the spin and hypocrisy, is written with characteristic flair, and provides a valuable reminder that stating the obvious can sometimes pack a powerful punch. If you missed it, you can click on the title (above) or the picture (below).

Aly’s invitation to challenge the spin and hypocrisy is crucial, and I find myself returning to questions of sovereignty. If, for example, we start from the premise that we live in an increasingly global world, the concept of nationhood becomes arguably passé, and the idea of ownership of countries is also up for discussion. It becomes reasonable to recognise asylum seekers as global citizens for whom the global world has a shared responsibility. I’m not sure where this line of thought might lead if taken seriously, but at least it gets beyond the no-advantage nonsense that passes as policy in the scramble to barricade the borders.

Royal commission and terms of reference

Archbishop Pell

It may seem unreasonable, even churlish, to be less than enthusiastic about the royal commission on child sex abuse. Before letting go of my scepticism, however, I want to see the terms of reference, and I want to see results. Hal Wootten, QC, who was a commissioner on aboriginal deaths in custody, has said that the real question – of overrepresentation of indigenous people in prison – was outside their terms of reference. I worry that the real questions may likewise be left outside of this commission. Individual cases and serial perpetrators, cover-ups and sabotage of investigations by high-ranking clergy are all important, but the institutional cultures that allow these behaviours to flourish are the real core of the problem. In the Catholic Church this amounts to some toxic combination of power and its abuse in sexual form (among others), secrecy and the putative seal of the confessional, entitlement and the belief that the Church is immune to ordinary law. Cardinal Pell’s complaints of scapegoating and smear campaigns are either arrogant bluff or disturbing evidence of denial. Of course the Catholic Church does not have a monopoly on abuse, but Pell’s brand of hubris is part of the problem, and would not survive the revolution I have in mind for this commission. Nor would he or his ilk survive to rule another day.

Activist organisations and internal power relations

Sad, but also sadly unsurprising to see OCCUPY Melbourne apparently “marred by sexism, harassment, internal discord…”  Movements and organisations that stand against injustice at the broader social level too often seem unreflective about their internal practices of power. This could surely change – given the will. But it is work, and involves commitment and passion of comparable proportions to the broader social change agenda. It may thus be seen as a waste of time, and may also lack appeal to “fantasies of heroic leadership”.

Let’s hear it for Joffa…

Aging hippies and other boomers across downunder-land recently celebrated, with considerable astonishment at the passage of time, the fortieth anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s stirring speech to the “Men and women of Australia”. Many of my demographic, particularly the women, got the opportunity for tertiary education, often as mature-aged students, after Gough abolished university fees; we were, and still are, grateful for this, and for many of his other policies on health care, legal aid, women’s affairs, aboriginal affairs, conscription and getting Australia out of Vietnam. I, for one, feel nostalgic for some aspects of those heady days. More than that, though, this anniversary provides an opportunity to revisit Gough’s vision for social justice and chart a path towards a compassionate future. To quote the big man, it is indeed time. You can hear the opening words of his original “It’s time” speech, and read the full text by clicking this link.

…And for Obama

Wow! and Phew! and heartfelt thanks to the coalition of “women, young voters, Hispanics, gays and even auto workers” (The Age, 8/11, p.1) who used their collective power to return Obama to the White House (and keep that other person out). I will remember them next time I feel despondent about the political process, social justice, and the rate of social change. Every individual contribution counts – very energising.

Finishing on a hopeful note

‘Another step forward for social justice’

‘Congratulations Nicola Roxon and Penny Wong’

‘Themis celebrates’

These are some of the front page headlines that might have announced draft federal laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout Australia. Instead, a brief article was tucked away on an inside page of the paper (although you can see more by clicking on this link to the online article). Nicola Roxon, as Attorney General, Penny Wong, as Finance Minister, and presumably many other support workers bring hope to the trenches with this sort of landmark, which would not have got to first base in days past. I’m sure Themis is celebrating. (If you don’t know who Themis is, you can look her up– and see her in the logo of this website).

Until next time,

Best wishes, and good 2020socialjustice vibes,

Joan Beckwith.


Merit-based success and the bumpy terrain

November 5th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

My read-the-paper-while-eating-breakfast routine has faltered recently while I’ve been busy getting this blog off the ground, but I’ve now been backtracking through articles I had earmarked for closer attention. One such was Nicolle Flint’s “Handbag Hit Squad…”  in which she argues against women’s literary awards, for example, because she believes they undermine the concept of “merit-based success”. Indeed, the arguments for such awards are hypocritical, she says, in the same way that allegations of sexism against Tony Abbott are hypocritical (click here to see the full article).

I was particularly struck by the comment that: “If women are not applying or pitching for work, are failing to promote themselves, and are assuming more responsibility for their domestic life than their partner with the resultant predictable career ramifications, claims of industry sexism and prejudice are tenuous indeed.”

That stumped me because it suggests that women who ‘fail’ do so because of personal deficits and could surely do better if they so chose. However, it is certainly true that if women of my cohort had pitched for work, promoted themselves (heaven forbid), and resisted domestic responsibility they would have been treated with grave suspicion, or even as seriously deranged.

Clearly, the image of ideal womanhood changes over time and place and is always more or less imperfectly embraced, or subverted, by particular women, but it is also always part of the context when we are trying to understand women’s achievements, or apparent lack thereof. After all, what is deemed an achievement is itself potentially gendered (winning a literary award, for example, versus writing a story with your four-year-old).

So, whether or not we need to invoke explicit industry sexism to understand the statistics on establishment prizes, we do need to understand the social construction of gender (as well as race, class, sexuality and other dimensions of privilege). The concept of merit-based success only makes sense on a level playing field, and the terrain still looks pretty bumpy to me.

There needs to be lots of levelling with whatever tools are available before circling back to Flint’s concerns about merit. In the meantime, affirmative action programs can be part of the way forward. After all, Obama may have attended college on an affirmative action scholarship, and his subsequent achievements are certainly noteworthy. Please, the universe, may his success continue through the current election.

And, in closing, I definitely think Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech deserves an award: it has lots of merit, and much success at affirming many of its millions of viewers (click here to link to the YouTube clip).

Telling, yelling, whatever it takes

November 1st, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments »

This second post is a first attempt at locating discussion of social justice within a context of the operation of power within organisations and institutions (such as Churches).

As a child of the hellfire and brimstone tradition, I would not expect to find the Catholic Church, as an Institution, on too many shortlists for social justice awards. I did, however, find myself agreeing with aspects of Will Day’s article, Don’t Tell the Cathedral, in which he talks of the large numbers of rank-and-file faithful who do much good work in areas including refugee advocacy, homelessness, and education despite the oppressive and authoritarian hierarchy of the organisation.

There is, according to Day, a long-standing Catholic tradition of “grumbling patience” towards injustices within the church; often, it seems, and ironically so, by the same activists who are working against injustices in the wider community. His own grumbling patience, he says, turned to something else when faced with the dire consequences of teaching young people that homosexuality is disordered, unnatural and sinful; a young acquaintance, subjected to such teaching, committed suicide.

“Imagine”, he invites, “if every priest and bishop in Australia who believed that official church teaching on homosexuality was wrong stood at the pulpit one Sunday and said as much.” This, he thinks would bring about powerful change for young people as well as “older queer folk within the congregation and within the priesthood.”

I wonder. Firstly, I wonder if it could ever happen. The sort of organisation that breeds “grumbling patience” and “exhausting discretion” and “sotto voce” protest also seems to create a culture that makes it head-bangingly difficult to develop the community of trust necessary for collective bottom-up resistance. There is too much lurking fear and too much likelihood that some conscientious underlings will feel duty-bound to report the threat of treason to their superiors. If this happens, stand back all those silly enough to think they could make a difference.

Don’t tell

Even if Will Day’s fantasy could be realised, and affirmative messages about sexuality did issue forth from next Sunday’s pulpits, I wonder what the effects would be. There might be benefits for members of participating congregations, and that’s certainly important in itself, but I seriously doubt any impact on official church dogma. More likely, I expect, would be a flurry of activity aimed at silencing such ungodly voices and doing whatever necessary to bring dissidents back into line. One of the privileges of power is the prerogative to write the rules and, in the process, to protect the vested interests of the powerful. There are no establishment prizes for unsettling the status quo that I am aware of.

Despite my cynicism, however, a large part of me believes we should “tell the Cathedral”, or whatever the equivalents are in our lives, when we witness injustices perpetrated by them. Indeed, we should grab the Cathedral by its phallic dome, and bellow into its orifices. Not that I believe that would change anything within the top echelons either. I’ve done a bit of yelling over the journey and vocal outrage still feels better than complicit silence, but I’m not necessarily recommending it. “Telling the Cathedral” can indeed come at a cost – to those who do the telling or yelling as well as to those who provide support.

I don’t know how to make power accountable to those it has power over, instead of simply on some bean-counting ledger. I wish I did know how to “tell the Cathedral” in such a way as to be heard and create change. Social justice does, after all, go beyond self-determination within the existing status quo. It is about changing the operation of structural and organisational power so that those with more of it are accountable to those with less of it. That is a landmark en route to equity.

I would love to hear your comments, ideas, or success stories, and to continue conversations by responding in turn. To comment on this particular post, you can click on the title and scroll down to the ‘Leave a Response’ box. If you have general messages about social justice, or my blog, you can make contact by clicking here. I am also keen for feedback on my novel, Swimming with Sharks, which likewise features themes of organisational and institutional power.

Social justice as work-in-progress

November 1st, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

Here I go, my first posting, of my first blog (but not my first thoughts) about social justice.

Every morning when I get home from walking the dog, I sit at the kitchen table to read the paper and eat breakfast, wondering how I will manage when there is no longer a paper to read. Sometimes the reading is more like skimming, but very often it raises issues of social justice, usually in terms of some lack thereof.

Social justice is work in progress towards social equity. A bit like hope, beauty and friendship, it may be most recognisable in its absence. When I was growing up in Melbourne, for example, the White Australia Policy was still in place; Indigenous Australians were not yet counted as citizens, and the Stolen Generations were in the process of being stolen; women’s place was in the home, with a Bex, a cuppa, and dinner on the table at 6.00; people with serious mental illness, physical or intellectual disabilities were warehoused in institutions; homosexuality was a diagnosable mental illness; children were to be seen and not heard, and violence was meted out as discipline.

We have come a long way.

And, yet, asylum seekers are still corralled on impoverished islands, locked up in detention centres and retraumatised in adversarial processes; Indigenous Australians still have relatively low life expectancy and are over-represented in prisons; women are still sometimes described as ‘asking for’ rape and violence, continue to be under-represented in Board rooms, earn less than men, and do most of the unpaid domestic labour; people with mental illness or disabilities are less likely to be institutionalised but may be living in tram shelters or under bridges; gay men and women are still fighting for marriage equality and experiencing other forms of discrimination, overt and covert; and children still have unequal access to education and too many are still abused.

And that’s the shortlist, at a local level.

We have a long way to go.

Looking beyond our own privileged borders, the effects of war, persecution, and poverty take issues of social justice to overwhelming proportions.

What can I do, I ask myself, from the comfort of my home-office? Storming the Bastille is off the agenda, and not my style anyway, but I do have my computer and I can write about the things I care about and maybe even start conversations. I hope so. In days past, I would have written letters to the Editor, but now I can blog instead. I would like to use this opportunity to express my views, but also to have them challenged and changed. Likewise, the ideas in my novel, Swimming with Sharks, are up for discussion.

I would greatly value comments and plan to respond to all feedback. If you have something you would like to say about this particular post, you can do so by clicking on the title and scrolling down to the ‘Leave a Response’ box. If you have more general comments about social justice, my blog, or my book, you can make contact by clicking here.