Play tennis in the dark

The letter request:

We’d love you to craft a response to a complaint letter that a neighbour dropped around to everyone in our neighbourhood – about some new tennis court lights at the courts behind our houses. It’s really not a big deal. It’s a small tennis club run by volunteers. They’re running lessons at night and we reckon that ‘taking action’ and a petition is a little OTT. What we’d LOVE is a letter we could print and pop in everyone’s letterbox, just like he did. And the message is: Hey we’re all rich people living in one of the richest suburbs in Melbourne and we can probably take a deep breath and enjoy a bit of sports going on behind our houses. They also complain about the orange en-tout-cas dust from the courts.


The letter:

Dear neighbours,

We are hand delivering this to properties near the local tennis club. Like you, we received last week’s letter from our concerned neighbour and are truly excited by their initiative towards collective action. When groups of people come together amazing things can happen.

We recently heard from a friend of a friend in Toronto. Her neighbourhood has come together to sponsor a Syrian family to be resettled in Canada. A group of them chipped in what they could to reach $27K and – voila! – a Syrian family is on its way to having a positive, supported start in a new country.

When the Aboriginal Elders of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia were sick of watching their community be decimated by alcohol-related problems, they gathered at a women’s bush meeting to come up with a plan. Together they rallied against the liquor barons to have the sale of takeaway alcohol banned in their community. The result has been a decrease in family violence and suicides.

When the general public staged a 10-day protest outside a Brisbane hospital in February, the doctors refused to discharge a one-year-old asylum seeker, thus preventing her return to the offshore detention centre where she had previously been detained and mistreated.

Sociological theories suggest that for people to engage in collective action they need to be responding to a perceived state of disadvantage which may or may not flow from objective physical and social reality. Collective action is most successful when the group is motivated by strong emotions, such as anger.

Herein lies our problem. We’ve tried very hard but we’re struggling to feel any strong emotions about the new tennis court lights. We’ve failed to summon outrage over the en-tout-cas dust. We’ve searched our privileged, wealthy hearts for feelings and have come to the conclusion that, if anything, all we feel is joy. We live next door to a community-donated, volunteer-run space where people are exercising, socialising and learning new skills. If only they were fracking the land so we’d have something genuine to complain about.

We applaud our concerned neighbour for suggesting that we rally together to achieve something great. But we propose a review. Let’s find a more noble cause than forcing our neighbours to play tennis in the dark.