Living in a collective

A collective is a group of people motivated by the same issue or working together for a purpose. It’s a little different from a commune in that with a commune you don’t necessarily have a common issue. Why might people choose to live together in a collective? Around the land of La ZAD in France there are many different collectives. I spoke to members of the collective at La Rolandiere about what it was like to live there together.

Time to Cycle to La ZAD

After a six day ride from Grow Heathrow in London, the Time to Cycle crew arrived at La ZAD to share and hear stories about the resistance of airport expansion.

I caught up with some of the cyclists to find out why they had decided to undertake the journey and how it had gone.

Part of the aim of the ride was to build solidarity between the community in Grow Heathrow and that in La ZAD and one of their activities was to deliver letters from residents at Grow Heathrow to ZAD residents. Many residents are shy of cameras and video, having had terrible experiences with media and also the risk of being singled out by police so few were keen to be filmed. The bemused expressions on many of their faces as we in broken French explained that we were delivering a letter I hope will turn to smiles once they are translated.

There are a great deal of differences between the UK and French anti-aviation occupation cultures with, for example, the French being much broader based and not as climate change orientated. On one of the evenings some of the cyclists gave a presentation about the UK aviation resistance and throughout the week of their stay the cyclists were learning about the zone. If you want to find out what’s going on on the ground, a great way to do it is to just get on your bike and go find out!

If you’d like to find out more about future Time to Cycle rides you can sign up for updates on their website.

Welcome to La ZAD

The ZAD (Zone A Defendre or Zone to Defend) in France is variously described as an occupation, a no-go area of radical militants, a resistance community, and the proposed second airport for Nantes.  During my first visit to La ZAD I explored some of the reasons that people have made this beautiful place their home.

Cycling or driving into La ZAD you may be unaware that you have entered it but after a time you may come to a signpost which no longer has a place name, but instead has ‘ZAD’ spray painted pointing in each direction. Or you may come across a road with artistic barricades, a burnt out car with plants growing through it, or damaged tarmac. Whilst now, all is peaceful farmland, gardens and communities of hand-built houses, it’s clear that something big happened here a few years ago. If you want to orientate yourself and begin to explore this special place, the best place to start is La Rolandiere.

ZAD map

 

The approximately 1600 Ha of the zone is a place of creativity and independence, of living on the margins and finding a way to make it work. People build knowing that in the future the police and airport will try to tear it down, to build an airport next to another one which is only at 30% capacity. Some of the farms use machinery whilst others use only hand tools. Some choose the way they live for ideological reasons and others out of necessity. Police don’t visit the zone, but there seems little or no crime – people leave their doors unlocked and one woman told me that social disputes are discussed quickly (and at length). You won’t find a supermarket, but you can still buy your food. You can buy local vegetables, bread made with flour from La ZAD, or patisseries made with butter from the zone. If you need clothes you can go to one of the ‘free shops’ or ‘swap shops’ where unwanted clothes and objects have been carefully hung and stacked, waiting to be found by a new owner. On a Friday you can read La ZAD news about what’s been happening and upcoming events, and attend the no-market. The no-market is where people donate things and other people pay what they feel for them. The money is then used as a community fund. One of the functions of the weekly resident’s meeting is to decide on the spending of the community fund.

Each weekly resident’s meeting is attended by around 50 residents and can take anything from one hour to four, including times of silence. “I hated them at first,” Koen from Rolandiere told me, “I was really frustrated, but now I really like them. You have to get used to it, it’s a very different meeting style, it can feel very slow and like nothing has been decided. But it is important. The silences give space for people who would not normally speak to say something. And decisions can be revoked later in extreme cases if people were not present.”

To finish the week off, after building, farming or making, you can find residents swimming in the large beautiful lake (it is warm and wonderful, I checked) and playing on the salvaged pedal-lo. Yep, don’t ask, I have NO idea how they got that one.

I’ll be posting more blogs about La ZAD over the next few months as I revisit, but in the meantime you can find out more from their website.

Counselling for social change

We all need a little emotional help from time to time, and for activists the temptation can be to put their cause before their own well-being. In the UK we have an organisation called Counselling for Social Change which offers low cost counselling and retreats to help support activists in their work. This vital work is able to be offered at low cost because of donations that are made, and you can support them by giving to their crowdfunding appeal which has 15 days left.

8330e618-e957-457f-860c-d3cf4657ab86.jpg

I spoke with Emily one of the trustees of the charity about why she got involved.

“I have been an activist and campaigner most of my life. As a result of my involvement, I have had two breakdowns, the most recent one in 2011 as a direct result of my activism. In my case it was due to being targeted and harassed by the police, arbitrary arrests and assaults, and knowing some of the undercover cops and corporate spies who have infiltrated our movements. I should have sought help sooner, but I fell into the trap that so many of us do, in thinking that the work was too important to stop and look after my own mental health.” You can read more about Emily’s shocking experiences on Open Democracy, including her 75 arrests.
“I was lucky as I had money from police compensation to fund my own counselling, and also, living in Cornwall, was able to benefit from sea and endless skies and the power of nature in my recovery. My partner had just finished a counselling course and we decided to set up Counselling for Social Change both to provide free counselling over phone and Skype, but also to organise retreats where people could come and receive intensive counselling, and benefit from being in nature. We have a shepherd’s hut on an acre of land on a permaculture site and it is an amazing place to get away from everything.”
“It is becoming harder and harder to access long term therapeutic support on the NHS. Even when you are lucky enough to be able to do so, there is no guarantee you will see someone who has a political understanding of what you are doing, or how that affects you. For example, I saw a psychotherapist who said I was “raging against the state” because of issues with my father. Furthermore, with issues such as undercover policing, although it’s far more in the public domain now, many mental health professionals can treat you as if you’re paranoid if you start talking about undercovers or police harassment.”
We want to be part of the world we want to create – and creating that world has to take mental health seriously and offer proper support. This will enable us to be stronger, build stronger movements and help in our aim of achieving effective change.
“Activists are very good at looking after others, and not very good at looking after themselves. This project hopes to change this attitude. Due to generous donations and our last crowdfunding campaign, we were able to set up the retreat space and offer free counselling. This round of fundraising is to enable us to continue this work. We hope that people will continue to donate and support this work as it is vital to protect our mental health – and we need to be healthy for the massive battles we need to win if the planet is to have any future.”

Support the Heathrow 13

Last month I sat expectantly in the courtroom and silently sent love and gestures of support to my friends as they sat in the dock. In a shock turnaround, the judge in the trial of the Heathrow 13 did not send them all to prison but instead gave a suspended prison sentence to all the defendants. However they also gave £10,000 costs and 120-150 hours each of community service. Over the next year the 13 will be doing their community service and whilst we can’t help them with that, we can help with costs. So if you would like to, you can donate to the crowdfunder and make things a little easier for them.

During the trial, the defendants were described variously as caring, talented, highly committed, passionate, selfless, with integrity and honesty, and even as ‘a shining light’. The many skills and achievements recounted left those in court with the lasting impression of an incredible collection of people. Sitting in the dock the defendants had been nervously joking and laughing together with excited smiles, some of them wearing Plane Stupid t-shirts with an air plane motif made to look like prison shirts. As the community service sentence was read out one voice in the public gallery was heard to quip “Well they do that already!”
The relief was clearly deeply felt by the parents, friends and families of the 13 as they left court. Despite warnings from court officials to leave quietly the 13 emerged to raucous cheering from the crowd. In a speech given outside, one of the defendants mothers spoke of her pride at the actions of her son and the inspiration she took from all of them. One of the defendants then urged those gathered to take direct action and help stop airport expansion. The 13 first celebrated their freedom with around 50 family and well wishers at a nearby pub, cheering the news reports as they appeared on the pub television.
In the months after a trial support can die down but we can support Heathrow 13 and show them we are in it for the long haul.

Donate to the crowdfunder

 

Five languages of love

Valentines hearts are everywhere, yet love is understood very differently throughout our culture. It’s not even just the fact that love is used as a verb, a noun AND an adjective. People understand love differently when it’s given. Whatever relationship you want to nurture, these five ideas could help.

lovelanguages

Relationship Counsellor Gary Chapman identified five love languages that people express love with:

  • Quality Time
  • Gifts
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Physical
  • Acts of Service

Depending upon your experience of receiving love you will have certain behaviours that you understand to be loving.

So let’s say for example you communicate primarily with gifts and acts of service but your partner is physical and quality time. Problems are likely to start to appear as soon as you have pressures on the relationship. You buy them flowers and presents and you do the cleaning and cooking for them. You do all this but they don’t seem to care. They complain that you don’t spend enough time together and your physical relationship isn’t what it used to be. To avoid feeling defensive a useful tool is to understand that they are asking for love in the way that they understand. You can buy all the gifts you want, but to them, that’s not love.

Learning to love in different languages can feel awkward at first, maybe giving lots of praise feels unnatural, but practice makes perfect, and the more you do it the more natural it will become. We’ve all come from different places and experienced love differently, but surely learning new ways to love and improving our relationships is one of the most beautiful things we can learn in life.

The Elderflower Project

A wonderful woman called Pat gave me a lift to the Green Gathering last summer and during the festival she came to one of my workshops. Afterwards, she was overflowing with suggestions for involving the older generations. I said “I think they’re all fantastic ideas, but I think you should do them.” Tomorrow, at age 66 Pat Smith will embark on The Elderflower Project, an eight month cycle ride round the British Isles to gather tales of wisdom and insight from older people she meets.

DSC_0019

Pat aims to travel around 8,000 miles, pedalling from the Shetlands to the Isles of Scilly, the Dingle Peninsula of Southern Ireland to Lowestoft in East Anglia, starting tomorrow in Ireland.

It’s the best way to travel. I have thermals and waterproofs so I’m prepared for most things. You go slowly enough to meet people – in my case, very slowly!

Two years ago Pat cycled the scenic route home from southern France, a journey of 1,000 miles. Her first long-distance cycle ride was through Romania in 1990, the year after the dictator Ceausescu was overthrown by the people. “Temperatures often soared to a hundred degrees and at times roads would simply disappear but the countryside was beautiful,” said Pat.

Pat has an extra ambition on this journey.  “Wherever I go I want to ask our elders to share a piece of wisdom and a story about why it matters. Older people can be sidelined in society but they have so much experience of life. I’d particularly like to visit people living in eco-friendly ways who want to make a difference to the way we see the world. They are actually doing what so many people simply talk about.”

You can follow Pat’s adventures on her blog and add your own stories. We will feature stories during her journey as well as supporting with an Elderflower Project facebook page. If you’d like to get in touch you can email Pat on pat2africa@yahoo.co.uk.

The Buzz Tour would not have been possible without all the kindness along the way so if Pat passes your way please do give her your support and love to help make the Elderflower Project a beautiful life changing journey.