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The Green Gathering: a festival beyond hedonism | STIR mag

The Green Gathering: 31 July-3 August 2014, Chepstow

I’m helping to organise The Green Gathering this year.

Why put energy into a festival – something temporary, trivial and hedonistic? Well, because… festivals can be so much more. They can be literally transformative; opening eyes, changing lives. I know people who’ve packed in their unsatisfying, exploitative jobs after a festival; at the Northern Green Gathering, a friend was inspired to set up a radical housing co-operative which is going strong over a decade later. Festivals give us space to experiment with alternative forms of community, energy and infrastructure. They’re also good practice for setting up activist camps – festival people tend to know how to set up a kitchen and compost loos in a field, how to pitch a marquee and keep a campfire going. ‘Networking’ sounds too corporate, ‘tribal gathering’ too hippy-dippy… but having a meeting of minds, rediscovering old friends and making new ones, exchanging contact details and sharing information while drinking scrumpy cider, bouncing about to a band or warming up in a wood-fired sauna – this is the joy of festival, and it has repercussions beyond festival.

Here’s a blog, published a few days ago by STIR magazine (well worth a read and subscription), explaining why The Green Gathering is the festival I’ve chosen to put my life and soul into this year.

Beyond Hedonism

More than three decades after the first Green Gathering was held on Glastonbury’s Worthy Farm, this solar and wind powered festival has forged alliances with the Off Grid College – a free education initiative organised by young thinkers and activists involved with the latest wave of eco-festivals. Radical Routes, a network of housing and workers’ co-operatives, will be hosting a Co-operators’ Camp alongside the College.

The Green Gathering is held annually over the first weekend in August, on a wooded former estate near Chepstow, on the South Wales border just 18 miles from Bristol. An award-winning, family friendly camping event, it combines festival entertainment with speakers, skillshares and networking. Themes of community resilience and creative alternatives to both consumerism and austerity pepper the programme.

Following in the footsteps of the Occupy movement’s Tent City University, the Off Grid College takes education out of stuffy establishment buildings into open spaces. As students rail against fee increases and the marketisation of universities, free education becomes ever more radical – and popular. Providing skills and knowledge in a festival environment is a winner. The Green Gathering has always hosted craft and permaculture workshops, debates with key Green speakers and campaign group info-exchange, and will now be hosting Off Grid College courses in low impact development, wild food foraging and renewable techno-wizardry too.

Kaplick b&wDespite the lurid woes of the Co-operative Bank, co-operatives continue to capture the imagination of students, activists and workers across the UK. According to the United Nations, co-ops “improve livelihoods and strengthen the economy”, and provide “a sustainable business model for youth…” . In light of this, The Green Gathering has invited Radical Routes to co-ordinate a Co-ops’ Camp where festival-goers can learn how to enjoy “…housing without landlords, work without bosses, organising without hierarchy and taking financial control away from the banks”.

With spectacular views across the Severn Estuary and Wye Valley, spacious camping fields, eclectic music, solar cinema, organic gardens and ethical markets, The Green Gathering bills itself as a festival “beyond hedonism – where performance meets permaculture”.

The live music line-up includes: Seize The Day, 3 Daft Monkeys, Tarantism, Nik Turner, Billy Rowan, Pagan Love Cult, Rory McLeod and Pikey Beatz. Conscious DJs Libby Lawes and Gary Clail will be on the decks; and there’ll be spoken word performances from John Hegley, Salena Godden, Pete The Temp, Marcus Moore and many more. Activists, campaigners, Green economists and writers – including Molly Scott Cato, Jeremy Leggett, Ewa Jasiewicz, Simon Fairlie and Jamie Kelsey Fry – will be on hand to debate, create and share experiences.

muddy kidThe Green Gathering at Chepstow is the latest incarnation in a long line of Green Gatherings stretching back to early Ecology Party meetings on the Glastonbury Festival site, the Molesworth Peace Camp of 1984, and the Big Green Gatherings of 1994-2007. The BGG grew into a five day event attended by 20,000 people before being unexpectedly cancelled in 2009 after local authorities threatened an injunction – many considered this to be a political act designed to cut funding to activist groups such as Climate Camp, which ran a ‘Last Chance Saloon’ bar at the festival. When police spy Mark Kennedy was outed, Big Green Gathering organisers realised he’d been embedded in the 2009 set-up crew; shocking to discover, and yet perhaps a sign that they were doing something right – that their festival genuinely was raising consciousness, transforming lives and making those in power nervous about what a skilled-up, collaborative bunch of co-creators could do.

In 2011, a Green Gathering phoenix rose, demonstrating the kind of resilience that activists know and need. A Green Gathering Charity was established in 2013, with a remit to promote education for sustainability.

The Green Gathering 2014 runs from Thursday 31st July-Sunday 3rd August.

Festival tickets cost £90 (adults), £50 (youth). Children under 11 years go free. Tickets are available through the GG website (www.greengathering.org.uk) or Bristol Ticket Shop (www.bristolticketshop.co.uk). Booking fees apply.

If you read this far, use this code – EWGG14 – to get a discount of £10 per ticket on up to 6 adult tickets bought through The Green Gathering ticket shop.

For more information about The Green Gathering: www.greengathing.org.uk

Like, Share, Follow: www.facebook.com/GreenGathering.org.uk and @Gathering_Green

email: info@greengathering.org.uk

Photos: I think these were taken by Stone (Kaplick Stage) and Stefan Handy (kid in puddle).

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Changes

For the last year, The Occupied Times – a creative alternative to the mainstream media, born of the OccupyLSX camp – has been my priority. Writing, commissioning, editing, researching, plotting with co-editors and distributing newspapers has occupied me pretty much dusk to dawn and dawn to dusk.  The OT came before my festival and hostel work, pushed friends and family to the sidelines, seemed more important than cooking and sleeping and paltry things like that.

My sojourn in the OT newsroom exercised brain muscles I didn’t know I possessed. I gleefully inserted commas and deleted apostrophes, proof-reading deep into the wee hours as deadlines approached. In the early days, while living in the Occupy camp at St Paul’s, I’d take my netbook to an all-night cafe near Smithfield Market and type through the night, sustained by mugs of stewed tea.

I was drawn to the OT because I love writing and think information dissemination is one of the most vital aspects of a social movement, campaign or protest. I stayed because it was a great learning experience, because creating indymedia seemed a valid and valuable thing to spend my time doing, and because I liked the spiky, funny, rebellious OT crew. In the early days, diversity of perspective and opinion was lapped up and newcomers were encouraged to dive in at the deep end, to question everything and to throw half-formed ideas into the pot at every opportunity.

I quit the OT in the run-up to this Solstice / Apocalypse / Christmas. I’m appreciating the time I now have on my hands … although I can’t call it ‘free’ time, as the things I’ve neglected have greedily swallowed it up.

It has been an inspiring, educational, exhausting journey. In the end, I quit not to get my life back – although that’s a welcome side-effect – but because as time went on I found myself increasingly often on a different ‘page’ to the majority (but not all) of our informal collective. Agreeing-to-disagree could only carry us so far before the necessity of diverging became apparent.

I’m grieving, a little, for the people I worked and laughed and debated intensely with; and for the part of my identity that became tangled up with this OT thing I did. I’m saddened by what I perceive as a narrowing of focus within the OT, although I’ll still be eager to read the first 2013 issue when it comes out.

Everything changes.

This year I think I’ll be focusing on co-operatives, the commons, radical community initiatives, eco-literacy and energy choices and I’ll be trying to convince people of the necessity of moving away from cultures based on capitalism, growth and profit.

I’ll be supporting the Diggers2012, the Combe Haven Defenders road protest camp, Stop Hinkley‘s anti-nuclear blockades and Hebden Bridge’s Ban the Burn actions, and will continue to fight the disaster that is GM crops.

I’ll be helping to spread the word about Radical Routes (a network of co-operatives working towards radical social change) and will probably be involved in The Green Gathering (website under construction).

I’ll be fighting the corporatisation of communities, as people in Barnet, Totnes and Frome are doing (especially my own, in Hebden Bridge, where we’re being threatened with a supermarket); and I’ll be educating myself by listening to people like Kevin Anderson (Rob Hopkins of Transition Network interviewed Anderson and I was inspired).

I’ll continue my involvement with the Occupy movement, which I believe still has power and potential, particularly in its networks of people, affinity groups and communication channels, and in its hands-on experience of organising camps and providing for basic needs in adverse conditions (see Occupy Wall Street activists organising disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy).

I’ll still be writing, and encouraging others to write.

I’ll hopefully have time to grow some fruit and veg this year too, and if Iain Findlay (the OccuPied Piper) is successful with crowdfunding his Whirligro – a simple invention for growing food in urban environments –  I’ll have a bumper salad crop.

Here’s hoping for some breakthroughs in tackling social, economic and environmental injustice and violence this year.

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One Year

In London on Saturday there was an Occupy street party, along with a call to bang pots and pans in a global cacerolazo; we were invited to march and make a big noise and celebrate our birthday.

It’s a year ago that we Occupied the land between the London Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was an incredible experience, it mattered, it demonstrated viscerally and loudly and at times smell-ily that it is possible to get away with doing outrageous, Establishment-rattling things. But how can we ‘celebrate’ the aniversary of a camp that is no longer there? How can we celebrate, when our politicians are intent on tightening the screws that keep us down; when the banks and corporations have given up not one jot of  power; when global climate-saving initiatives have run aground and natural resources are being plundered in ever more devastating ways and the rich keep getting richer while Greece, Portugal and Spain crack apart under the economic strain, and drones continue to kill children in far off phony wars; when there’s injustice, inequality and short-termism steeped in greed… everywhere? Celebrate? Ha!

I can’t get excited about the oh-so-cerebral upcoming New Putney Debates, or the October 20 TUC march, or about symbolic tents and protest-as-spectacle. The ‘St Paul’s Four’ made a stab at articulating their anger at the Establishment but I think we need to eschew media stunts now, get our heads down and concentrate on accruing practical skills, knowledge and wisdom, while extending our networks. My feeling is it’s time for rolling up our sleeves, getting fit and practising alternative ways of organising and living, every single day. We should be creating real life opportunities to live equitably and sustainably, while challenging the current system in every which way we can.

I’m not downhearted, because in the cracks and creaking seams of society, I see people doing exactly that.

In North London, Friern Barnet library – a victim of Tory cuts – has been repossessed by a coalition of squatters, Occupy activists and locals. They’ve recently been given a stay of execution by the courts. Occupiers evicted from the St Paul’s and Finsbury Square camps have  recently opened The Hobo Hilton –  a Central London squat that aims to provide a creative hub for revolutionaries, as well as providing shelter and drawing attention to homelessness. The squatted Cuts Cafe in Blackfriars is a new radical social centre with the byline “building our own future”; it has a full programme of workshops aimed at building resistance and exploring “the real alternatives to austerity”. The Diggers2012 remain dug-in at Runnymede; their eco village, sited in disused woodland, is almost four months old. Despite multiple eviction threats, the Diggers are peacefully building their community and tending the land. Meanwhile, Radical Routes continues to support and train those who choose to challenge the capitalist system whilst demonstrating the effectiveness of consensus decision-making and cooperative living.

At Hinkley Point in Somerset, anti-nuclear campaigners squatted common land, set up a camp, built a barn, connected with Bridgwater residents during a town centre rally, engaged local, national and independent media, dodged G4S security and guard dogs, cut and scaled fences and succeeded in trespassing en masse on the proposed site of a new nuclear power plant. The entire four-day action was planned, organised and enacted by a leaderless network of affinity groups, each bringing different skills and tactics which proved beautifully complementary and – for the police – bafflingly unpredictable.

Many of the young and novice activists who were drawn to Occupy seem unaware that we’ve been doing these things for years. Graeber’s 2002 review of anti-globalisation activism is instructive. In some ways it makes me feel – fuck, yeah, we knew all this ten years ago, so why are we still trying to reinvent the wheel and frequently doing it less successfully than we were then? But, it is simultaneously inspiring and shows that we don’t give up. ‘Occupy’ is part of a much bigger movement – historically, as well as geographically. In 1992 a friend joined environmentalists walking from Manchester to London to campaign at the Rio Earth Summit. She thought the government might be ready to tackle the spectre of climate change, invest in renewable energy and end the arms trade.  The Berlin wall had come down and everything seemed possible. The activists on that march might’ve had their absurd optimism dashed, again and again over the last twenty years, but they haven’t given up, as this blog published by the Occupied Times demonstrates. The author is still fighting eco-crime and capitalist corruption, latterly through the Ban the Burn campaign.

I recently realised that at every significant protest, there’s at least one Greenham Common woman with more experience of direct action than everyone else put together. And that we should probably listen to these women more than we do.

We’ve achieved a few things over the last year. We’ve raised awareness and “changed the terms of the debate” (I seem to have heard that phrase a lot). We’ve been vindicated: the LIBOR scandal, Leveson Enquiry and a host of other dirty dealings – perpetrated by banks, politicians, corporations, media magnates, millionaire CEOs, armies and the police – have been uncovered.

In Canada, students and occupiers fought against tuition hikes – and won. The people of Iceland jailed their thieving bankers. In Spain, Portugal and Greece, anti-austerity movements are verging on uprisings which no European politician or bank can ignore. In the US, debt strikes and resistance to home foreclosures see citizens taking control back from the banks.

Ok… so we can make a difference. But we need to really, really mean it. That means being prepared to give up the capitalist trappings we’re still clinging on to, ditching comfort and ego, accepting diversity of tactics within a broad movement for radical change, and taking a leap of faith into the unformed ‘other world’ that we believe is possible.

Ready steady go.

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August

The Diggers 2012 are going from strength to strength, extending their longhouse, building cob walls, hosting workshops in traditional crafts, installing solar panels and constructing a compost toilet. Visitors welcome, regular open days and workshops.

The Olympics is over, the aftermath yet to be fully realised. Over a hundred Critical Mass cyclists were arrested for cycling near the Olympic stadium. Other outrageous examples of over-zealous policing abound. The Paralympics is bringing into focus the horrors inflicted on disabled people by the government’s benefit cuts and sponsors Atos.

The Nomads melted away from Hackney, as promised, and have not yet re-emerged. Kay says the Occupy spirit remains strong and that a period of rest, reflection and regrouping will be followed by some mysterious ‘Next Steps’.

Occupy London is cheering the release, with no charges, of the Xstrata 16, who were arrested back in November for occupying the offices of multinational mining corporation Xstrata. The 16 succeeded in highlighting the obscene pay of CEO Mick Davis and the environmental and human rights abuses perpetrated by his company.

In early August Occupiers organised assemblies and discussions, music jams and poetry slams, talks, workshops, films and livestreaming at The Green Gathering, a small festival near Chepstow. Somewhat jaded activists discovered “a thread of hope tied to Occupy which can be cherished and built upon.”

The question people keep asking is “what can replace the current system?” The less commercial (and less hedonistic) festivals create spaces for exploration of some real life alternatives. At The Green Gathering there were workshops on co-operatives, squatting, renewable energy, permaculture, transition and traditional crafts. The Occupy camp helped to tie these alternatives together and relate them to a bigger, global picture. An assembly on the theme “what are festivals for?” elicited the following: “They are about sharing skills and experiences. For seeing all the incredible things people are already doing and have been doing for years, and for gaining hope and inspiration from that.” And: “They are about building networks. We need to organise and build the alternatives we are talking about in our local communities. But we also need wider networks to get new ideas and support, and to organise against a government that will attack us sooner or later.”

Increasingly I feel that Radical Routes – a collective of radical co-operatives – and the Occupy movement should be working hand-in-hand. With that in mind I went to a Radical Routes Summer Gathering in the Welsh borders where I learnt a little more about consensus decision-making, facilitation, ethical finance, wood-burning hot tubs, homemade elderflower champagne and  how long it takes to scrub and boil potatoes for a hundred people.

It sometimes feels as though a festival or gathering needs to last for more than a weekend to fulfil its potential but occupiers have learnt the hard way that temporary autonomous zones have a tendency to sap energy and engender disillusion if they attempt to put down roots and become permanent. In a true TAZ, every moment is precious. And maybe, even if what occurs is intangible, the very act of gathering with likeminded people – at The Green Gathering and Radical Routes, at the Festival of Resistance and the Diggers’ squatted eco-village near Runnymede, at Earth First! Gatherings and Occupy camps – maybe all this is covering the country in an invisible network, which will be activated when the time is ripe for the next phase in building towards a revolution.

Looking to the near future, The Occupied Times collective is about to print OT 17, another twenty pages of creative indymedia featuring alternative news, analysis, interviews, international reports, comment and satire.

London-based Occupiers are involved in planning for a Global Noise day of action on 13th October.

Local campaigns continue apace. Stop New Nuclear are planning a camp and mass trespass at Hinkley Point in early October.  RAFF are doing all they can to prevent fracking on the Fylde coast in Lancashire.

Read my blog about Yorkshire-based Ban the Burn! in the New Internationalist or a longer version of the story in the online version of the OT, or in September’s print edition.

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