Tag Archives: transition

A jigsaw with too many pieces

I haven’t written this month. Not because there’s nothing to say; more because there’s too much to say and too much to do.

Should I write about my trip to Cambodia? The torturous internal workings of Occupy in London? The disaster that is UK energy policy? New nuclear? Land issues? Asda boycott? The GM lobby? The wise ramblings of a young guy called Jonathan who lived in the OLSX camp at St Paul’s? Earthian‘s solo peace mission and his indomitable spirit? Cyprus and Greece? The brilliant stuff that’s going on in my sometimes-hometown of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire?

I’m trying to rebalance a life that was consumed by Occupy. Going off to live at St Paul’s and throwing my all into the Occupied Times for a year fragmented the life I had before October 2011. Now I’m looking at those ragged but valuable fragments alongside the new bits and bobs I’ve picked up and I’m trying to work out how to fit it all together. There are more jigsaw pieces than there used to be and I can’t work out what picture I’m trying to make.

I want to write but perhaps that’s a cop out and I should be doing more? What to do? I’m drawn to working locally and getting my hands dirty. I’d like to play with soil and plant seeds – theoretically. Perhaps I would’ve done some gardening in actuality if there hadn’t been two feet of snow on my tiny garden this last fortnight. I also want to be up a tree preventing pointless road schemes with the Combe Haven Defenders, I want to be at Camp Frack 2 in Lancashire and the Extreme Energy Gathering in Manchester. I’d like to see how the Diggers are getting on at Runnymede and visit the Forest of Dean and Reclaim the Fields. I want to get involved in StopG8 and the Carnival against Capitalism but what about what’s happening on my doorstep?

Developers are seeking planning permission for a supermarket and hotel on a piece of wasteland on the edge of town, in an area called Mytholm. No store or hotel has stepped forward and said they want to use the site but the developers, who bought the land some time ago, want to gain these permissions in order to increase its value. There’s a lot of local opposition to the planning application (and some support). Rather than just saying no, some of those in opposition have come up with an alternative. They’ve formed a group called Incredible Edible Mytholm (part of the Incredible Edible Network that started just up the road in Todmorden and now has branches internationally) and they’ve dreamed up Growing Futures, a permaculture project involving food growing and selling, education, ecotourism and sustainability research. It’s already been dubbed a “mini Eden Project” but there will be a lot of hoops to jump through before the idea can translate into a funded, grounded, viable endeavour.

Never mind the town on my doorstep, the building I work in is undergoing major change at the moment. Hebden Bridge Hostel (where I work) used to be a concert hall adjoining the Birchcliffe Baptist Chapel. The Chapel became the secular Birchcliffe Centre in the 70’s and passed into the care of Pennine Heritage Trust. Part of it has been converted into a rabbit warren of tiny offices, studios, a Zen meditation space, a web designers’ lair and so on. There’s also a ‘zombie tunnel’ which runs from the old baptismal font to the basement, near the caretaker’s cupboard. After being dunked in the font, the newly baptised could preserve their modesty by sneaking down the tunnel to the basement changing rooms, rather than having to do a wet T-shirt walk through the congregation. There are no zombies in the tunnel, but it forms part of my in-case-of-zombie-apocalypse escape plan; I’m hoping it doesn’t get bricked up during the major refurbishments now underway in the listed parts of the building, which are being transformed into some kind of educational resource, historical archive and event venue. The most exciting thing about the revamp, from my perspective, is the overhaul of the archaic heating system which, in a leviathan contortion of belching pipes, links the hostel with the Birchcliffe Centre, leaking heat and spewing carbon in a very embarrassing fashion at every turn.

Experts have been consulted and funding bodies approached. I’m not privy to the meetings of the Pennine Heritage trustees but I’ve heard whispers about biomass boilers and solar panels. I’m not yet sure if they’re talking solar thermal or PV. I’m not impressed that if they go for the biomass boiler I’ll have to give up my shed, woodstore, rhubarb patch and lemon balm thicket. Most of all, I’m horrified by the thought that, in trying to go for an eco option, the trustees might be about to sign a contract with a company that ships in biomass from sterile commercial plantations that are displacing food production and/or biodiverse woodland. If anyone has solid information that could help me steer this energy transition in the right direction, please let me know (quickly).

Today I was going to join Treesponsibility on the hills above Todmorden but I didn’t because I was writing this. I probably should’ve gone. Treesponsibility doesn’t just plant trees; it’s an education and resilience project with involvement in The Source which, like Ban the Burn, aims to reduce flooding in the Calder Valley through restoration of the uplands. There’s so much good stuff going on around here. It’s inspiring and a bit overwhelming. Blackbark, for example, is a sustainable woodland management co-operative that produces wood for fuel on a very local scale. Pennine Community Power has a community wind turbine on the moors. People are also looking at micro-hydro. The industrial revolution was born around here and waterwheels were used to power mills and factories; it seems stupid not to use the local geography – steep valleys, where it rains a lot – as our ancestors did. Gibson Mill, which was converted into a visitor centre, cafe and venue in 2005,  is run entirely on renewable energy and is not connected to the mains grid.  Bridge Mill, the oldest building in town, houses about eight small businesses and is already partly converted to renewables (restored water mill, water-source heat pump and solar thermal), with an Archimedes-screw water turbine being added this year.

I like this Red Pepper piece: Power-to-Transform

I’m going to stop now.

I might’ve nearly completed a corner of the jigsaw of my life.

____

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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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Festival Of Resistance

It felt like summer, at last. It was the first weekend of the school holidays and everyone was heading south, down the M6 to Devon and Cornwall, to sandcastles and seaweed and surf. I was on my way to Devon to meet a bunch of occupiers, anarchists, socialists, greenies and unclassifiable objectors-to-the-current-system at the Festival of Resistance.

I was going along to spread the word about the Occupied Times and to help a fellow OT editor convince anyone who needed convincing that creating our own indymedia is vital. I didn’t know what to expect, just knew that the festival was organised by ‘Globalise Resistance’ who have been accused in the past of being a front for the Socialist Workers’ Party.

M arrived before me. His text said: “I always suspected the leftist insurrection would start from a Devonian stately home.”

Italian terraces and smooth lawns with views to the coast. A walled tea garden, trapping the sun. An unlikely location for a hotbed of revolutionary zeal, for the harbouring of undercover SWP members and for having many kilowatts of solar panel in a meadow around the back.

The caretaker of this stately pile was recently in court accused of trashing a GM wheat trial site at Rothamsted Research Institute. An organic farmer and passionate about permaculture, he’s concerned that genetically modified crops could cross-breed with conventional plants and become impossible to control. One of the weekend’s talks was on this subject.

Economic meltdown in Greece, anti-capitalism, food sovereignty, community rights, undercover cops, William Morris, the Olympics, imperialism, debt and austerity, the banking crisis, radical design and the Leveson inquiry were also on the agenda. A great speaker from the New Economics Foundation explained “just how fucked the economy is.”

There were probably a couple of Socialist Workers in attendance and possibly a cop or two. There was a guy in an Anonymous mask, a few anarchists, the odd geek and more photographers and livestreamers than some attendees felt to be prudent.

Those identifying as occupiers were reminded that Occupy didn’t invent the idea of pitching a tent and clamouring for change, nor was it the first movement to see the personal as political or to understand that things have gone wrong on a global scale. Amateur activists learned a little history from veterans of Greenham Common, of anti-globalisation protests and road protest camps, of Stonehenge Free Festival and the poll tax riots, of Reclaim the Streets and Climate Camp.

A recurring theme was the importance of networking between radical groups that are broadly leftwing, of focusing on our similarities and agreements rather than squabbling. The Festival of Resistance proved that this is possible. We’re moving away from the old isms – capitalism is rubbish but what we have isn’t even capitalism any longer, it’s corporatism and cronyism and corruption. Likewise socialism and communism are old hat. For now we’re refusing to be trapped in boxes and are steering clear of labels.

One big question that we returned to repeatedly was ‘What is Our Alternative’? Sure, we know the current system stinks. We know that profit-chasing, planet-raping and power-mongering are bad. We don’t believe austerity and privatisation are the answers to anything. So what are the answers? The words and concepts that keep cropping up are: Community, Co-operation, Transition, The Commons.

The weekend ended with the question “So what do we do now?” Answers were thrown into a pot:

“Support Greece and Spain – they’re the canaries, huge experiments are being conducted over there, we should travel there en masse, by train…”

“We need to be connecting globally, with the majority world, with the global South, not just across Europe and the States.”

“For alternatives look to South America, to Argentina, and to some extent to Greece. They’re learning new ways of organising and co-operating, through necessity.”

“Give people what they want in order to gain their support – we can’t expect them to join us just because we’re right!”

“Focus on debt. Refuse to pay unjust debts.”

“Link up with the unions, we need mass action… help to radicalise the unions, as ‘the Sparks’ have been doing.”

“Everything needs doing and we need to reach out to everyone! Transition towns, freeware geeks, faith groups, co-operatives…”

“We need to engage and evoke a visceral response, not just an intellectual one.”

“We need to move fast, there’s not much time, climate chaos is just around the corner.”

What I’d have liked to do next was for everyone to say which of these answers resonated most for them and to link up with others of like mind. Form affinity groups. Note down action points. Instead the bus to London arrived and most everyone rushed off to pack up their tents, bolt a bite of lunch and squeeze onto a sweaty coach.

I went to the beach.

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What’s Occupy about, again?

DISCLAIMER: what follows is just one person’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other Occupiers!

One of the things that attracted me to Occupy is the fact that it is not a ‘single-issue’ campaign. It not only acknowledges the interconnections between issues but actively uncovers, investigates and highlights them. I come from an environmentalist perspective… it was only a year or so ago that I realised how impossible it is to focus purely on the natural world when the attacks on it are rooted in economic and political machinations. Now I want to delve deeper into untangling the unholy mess we’ve made and while economics is a big part of the picture, it isn’t the only part.

Lobbying of politicians by big business; power-mongering by the 1%; gambling and game-playing by financiers; rapacious consumption and correlating ecological destruction; muzzling and oppression of the majority; warping of democracy; secrecy and lies in the corridors of power; war for profit… all these are pieces of the rather nasty jigsaw-puzzle picture of our world.

I do believe that Occupy should focus on causes rather symptoms – I’d rather try to bring down the government than march against the Welfare Reform Bill or house an alcoholic – but I see the root cause of the current unjust systems as being something deeper than the government or our economic house of cards. The bottom line is a screwed up value system that puts profit before people, before planet. Our priorities are all wrong, all over the world. Almost. There are still tribal cultures that favour collaboration over competition and we should emulate them.

I believe that Occupy should be pointing out real-life, practical alternatives to the exploitative and destructive groove that many of us are stuck in. Transition towns, co-operative networks, eco-villages, permaculture projects, guerilla gardening, indymedia, Move-Your-Money and money-free experiments (freecycle, LETS etc) are all occurring already. Some are new, some not. Occupy doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel but can shine a light on these initiatives and use them to demonstrate that our desire to live in a world of social and economic justice and environmental sustainability is not a ridiculous fantasy.

If there was global political will to make the world a better place, it could be done. Politicians must be made to serve the people or be cast aside (true democracy). The 1% need to be taught how to share and if they won’t be taught they must be forced (end tax havens and tax avoidance). Those at the head of giant companies and financial institutions must be held accountable for their actions (investigate, name-and-shame, boycott, blockade, occupy). Lobbying, control of the media and funding of research/think-tanks must be transparent (do it all again).

There’s so much for Occupy to do. It’s all inextricably connected and while it doesn’t form a neat sound-bite, I’ve found that it isn’t difficult to explain to anyone willing to spend five minutes with me. Usually, after a minute, they’ve begun to join in, to explain it to me. We the 99% are not stupid, just tired from struggling against injustice. The recent ‘austerity measures’ have kicked many into awareness. Occupy has added a dash of hope that things can change, that it is possible to challenge the powerful.

We need to keep that up. Spread hope, educate, listen, practice and highlight alternatives to the current system, shame and inflict pain on the powerful, tread lightly on the earth and tend our global networks. Revolutionise banking, okay. But we’re bigger than that and we can do more.

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Occupy 2012

Looming evictions combine with a desire to stay fresh, engage more people and keep on kicking the system. There’s a vertiginous sense of standing on the brink of something massive, of making history… and a parallel fear that Occupy could stumble and disappear down a crack leaving only a cyber-echo and a few thousand flyers to remember us by. The one percent would surely like us to shut up and go home now but in assembly after assembly strident voices reject that idea. New Year resolve is strong.We’re here to stay.”

For some Occupiers it’s all about the tents. Symbolic tents, tents for practical reasons, strategic tents, even tents as costume for comedic effect. Tents allow a sustained presence and protest that has proved so much more effective than one-day marches and demonstrations. Tents make Occupy special and there’s no way all the tents will be packed up… and yet many envisage Occupy 2012 looking a little different.

Occupy is ingenious, Occupy is branching out in multiple directions. There are so many things wrong with the current system; so many methods of protesting and raising awareness; so many different priorities; a myriad potential solutions. Evolution, revolution, direct action, dialogue. There’s no need to choose one route, one tactic, one answer. Occupy is strong in its diversity. Occupy can and will mount attacks on all fronts. Peacefully.

There will be more occupations, of buildings and land. Outreach to schools and community groups will expand. Watch Occupy work with Transition communities, permaculturists and co-operatives to set up practical, grass-roots alternatives to current unsustainable systems. Finsbury Square may become the first Occupy eco-village. There will be solidarity actions alongside Unions, low-paid workers and students. Tent City Universities will go On Tour. There may be excursions into mainstream politics. Church liaisons are likely. Temple, mosque and synagogue liaisons too and perhaps a strengthening of links with the quietly radical Quakers. Look out for General Assemblies springing up in town squares and on village greens across the land.

Occupy London’s Criminal Investigation Unit will be delving into the dirty secrets of the corrupt and greedy elite. There are plans afoot for an Occupy festival and an Occupiers’ Handbook. A diploma in Occupied Economics was launched by Tent City University in the last days of 2011. Button badges and pop-up debates will tickle the fancies of city-workers and tourists. Flash mobs, street theatre and Occupy Circus will provide generous sprinklings of irreverent frolicsome fun and to balance that there’ll be more tough learning and hardship. Dedication and a commitment to the long-haul will be required for building the kinds of communities we dream of. Everyone – including the top dogs at the Cathedral but perhaps excluding the City of London Corporation – is keen for Occupy to keep a presence at St Paul’s, where we can keep the London Stock Exchange in our sights and maintain a steady pressure on the City.

The Occupy Movement is not going away. On the contrary, it’s a hydra sprouting new heads daily. Preparing for crisis, planning for Utopia.

Come, join us!

Sheffield will be hosting the UK National Occupy Gathering January 21-23.

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Greening the Camps – Peak Oil at Occupy London

This week the Energy Working Group is expecting triplets. We’ll soon be caring for three brand new shiny solar panels. It sounds simple enough but the gestation has been lengthy and at times difficult. Some of the difficulties have been technical – which panels, what voltage, how many charge controllers and do we need inverters? Others have been practical – how do we get them delivered and is there a sunny enough location given the time of year and surrounding tall buildings? The most painful pre-birth contractions have been rather more surprising – at least to the environmentalists amongst us – and have taught us that for all the idealism of the Occupy camps, in some ways we’re a microcosmic version of the wider world and its contradictions are reflected in us.

The green energy crew visited each service-providing tent in turn to assess its electricity needs. Nearly every tent demanded far more than expected. We’re so used to the flick of a switch providing an effortless and endless flow of electricity that the concept of going without – even when camping – is alien. The crew were nonplussed, then realised this presents another opportunity for using the Occupy camps as an educational resource.

The new energy deal is being phased in gently. At St Paul’s there’s an almost emotional attachment to the noisy, smelly generator hidden out back of the tech tent. Confiscating it would probably provoke tantrums so we’re going to make sure the solar panels are wired in, the leisure batteries are fully charged and the low energy LED lighting is in place before we begin the weaning process. Bicycle generators are also planned and are expected to be a winter winner. Get fit, keep warm, make power…

Expectations will have to be lowered. Habits must change. People may have to go without a charge for their phone occasionally. Electric kettles will be banned. On a small scale we’ll be going through the same process that the wider world is baulking at. Powering down. Using resources more sparingly. Embracing thrift. We’re pretty good at recycling now but that is not enough. Imagine the peace when that generator shuts down.

The Finsbury Square camp is a little ahead of St Paul’s. It has one solar panel, freshly wired up, which is expected to charge batteries for lighting. The generator there is being switched over from diesel to recycled chip fat. With the Bank of Ideas just up the street, laptop and phone charging is not such an issue. The BoI crew are considering making use of the large roof space they are current custodians of to generate enough solar energy not only for the Bank itself but also for the Occupy London camps; and maybe even enough to feed back into the grid and provide an income with which to implement a myriad stored Ideas.

This is Transition Occupation.

 

 

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