By Kat Vella
Jo Roberts has been a contributor to Mona Magazine. The Mona team have known her since we started the Mona project and we have made the collective decision to tell her story because we whole-heartedly believe in her mission for her local community. We support debate and enthusiastically invite criticism and questions of a respectful nature of her ideas and policies, but we want you all to know from the get-go: we believe in her.
I met Jo Roberts at an outreach session we held in her town, in the research phase of the Mona project. I remember she spoke with purpose and calm, about things I didn’t really hear many other people in small towns talking about. Months later I met her again at an ALGWA (Australian Local Government Women's Association) meeting and discovered she was considering running for Leeton Council. We shared a solemn chuckle over the reality of the representation of women in local government, she wasn’t too sure that day if she was ready to run, but after the tumult of the past 18 months, she has since decided it’s time to get involved.
“What we have realised in this pandemic is that the propensity is for people to feel afraid and divided… but one of the things that really gives me hope for the future is the recognition that ordinary people can make history together, not just endure history,” she says.
But Jo, at least in our assessment, is anything but ordinary.
Jo is the third generation of her family to live in Leeton, a small town in the Western Riverina, NSW. Her experience is in ecology, horticulture, business and social collaboration, being on the board of the Burning Seed festival for three years when the community grew from 300 to a staggering 5000 participants. She says, we are all at the beginning of a time of profound change in our society and she wants to support her community through that process.
“Having collectively been through the trauma of the pandemic, it has become obvious that our mental health and wellbeing is intimately tied to one another. I want to expand the concept of what we understand wellbeing is, and to be more inclusive of who we consider are stakeholders in the decision-making process.
“When things are changing, communities need to develop the capacity to change as well. I am really interested in beginning the conversation to determine what our needs are in the community, whether we have the capacity to meet those needs, and what we need to develop.”
“Nobody else is going to do this for us, it’s up to us. We either find a way to move forward together, or we fail.
There is a compulsion to want to look to the future and either prophesize catastrophe or blind ourselves with nostalgia for the past. Jo is doing neither. She is asking us to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Her goal is simple: she wants to get people in her community talking and listening to one another again, so there can be collective participation in the changes coming ahead.
“My goals are quite modest. I’m here to say that together as a community we have the capacity to develop a clear vision for our future. I want to rebuild trust between people and develop capacity for cooperation between people and groups that have different needs which is the reality.
“Nobody else is going to do this for us, it’s up to us. We either find a way to move forward together, or we fail. I believe that I have skills and values which will facilitate the building of consensus - deep listening, compassion, synthesis and realism. It is imperative that we make decisions together in the presence of, and with the input of those who must bear their consequences."
Jo’s family have a legacy in grass roots organising and activism. She says she has grown up with strong examples in her life of how powerful people can be when they work together.
“My mother was a pretty radical Second Wave Feminist and was one of the founding mothers of the Women’s Health Centre in Wagga in the early seventies and that was the first women’s health facility outside of a metropolitan area,” she explained. “She has always been an example of women being visible in their communities and that women are pioneers and on the front foot of tackling social injustice.”
Like many women, Jo has been confronted with what it feels like to be a woman and have ideas that may rub up against the status quo. We have all witnessed the double standard of how women are treated in politics compared to men and it makes even the staunchest of us pause.
Jo says when she finally confronted that reality, she felt ready to put her hand up to run.
“In the past I might have thought a negative thought about myself like, “you’re going to be mocked, your ideas are too radical”. That might have connected with a feeling of shame and then guilt because the next part of the story is, “oh, you are also a coward”.
“While some of those thoughts still persist, because they are well-warn patterns of behaviour, they are just not connecting with emotions anymore. And when I was able to observe that, I felt ready to take on this responsibility. We are all moving together through times of great uncertainty. What I hope to offer my community is the opportunity and means to move towards greater wellbeing and collective agency."
Jo, quite simply, inspires us. She is approachable, down to earth, and intelligent. We see her story as unique and important because she has a profound trust that we, as a community, can make progress, and it won’t involve us having to step on or over each other to do it. At a time of such upheaval and change, this gives us hope.
Jo is going to be at the following places to meet and chat with members of her community:
Wed 17th Nov from 9.30 am -1.30 pm at Central Park, in Parkview
Wed 24th Nov from 9.30 am -1.30 pm at Gossamer Park, In Wattle Hill
Wed 1st Dec from 9.30 am - 1.30 pm at Mountford Park, central Leeton
In order to meet the requirements for materials released during the electoral period , we must state that this content had been Authorised by Jodi Roberts, of 3 Elberta St, Leeton, NSW, 2705.