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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Sama: I invited my mum to a protest

by Sama Bakr

As I look back on 2015, human connections and growth are the two elements that come to my mind. I feel that we are riding a new wave of positive change and this wave is getting bigger and stronger, pulling more and more water into it. It is happening across cultures, across struggles and even across generations.

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While I had been fed information about what life should be and how I should fit in it when I was a child, I then went through the turbulence of vomiting it all out as an adolescent, to finally find in my young adult years that I also had the possibility to feed.

Last spring, I revisited Palestine in solidarity with the population resisting the illegal Israeli occupation. This scared the people who loved me because the media bombards us with information that is selected and distorted. It dehumanizes populations and gives us the sense of being powerless to situations. It is always the unknown (or the “misknown”) and the feeling of powerlessness that respectively scares and prevents us from acting. So I asked if my mum would like to come and join me.

Sama suggested I join her in Palestine  – I thought of course I can’t – then 10 days later I was there! It was an extraordinary experience being in a country which I have only thought I would read about and being able to spend time with Sama following what she does. Roles were reversed and my daughter planned and directed the trip inspiring confidence and opening up to me a world of like minded people who are doing the things they believe in – fighting for equality.

A few months later, my mum joined a five-day cycle ride that I had co-organised. Heading to the climate negotiations in Paris, 125 of us were building a movement together to take action against climate injustice. On one of the days, we all took part in a mass consensus meeting to discuss how to react to the French state of emergency. On another, we were kettled on the Champs Elysée by riot cops. On the last day, we swarmed the streets of Paris with our bikes, surrounded by anti-capitalist chants and then danced under the Eiffel Tower.

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I am so encouraged by grass roots activism and proud of Sama for her involvement.

Activism is a form of global breathing. If we are not active we are letting everything around us die. The more we are to breath, to be active, the more we are keeping this planet alive and staying connected on human level. Our identity in activism is defined by what we chose to focus on and the methods we use to go forward. For this reason, it is crucial for me to share it with the people around me, and most importantly, those who brought me into this world.

It has been an honour to have my mum come on board with some projects I was involved with. Not only did I feel understood and notice a balancing out of our relationship, but also felt I had built an ally in my fights.

None of the learning-teaching stages ever actually end. I am still learning from the elders, still battling to define what my own beliefs are and will still have something to offer back. It is this realization, which happened through practice, of the importance of intergenerational cooperation that has been one of my biggest learnings and joys of 2015. It may not be as simple and beautiful as it was for me to invite your mum to your next protest, but you don’t ask, you don’t get. Balancing out our family relationships can only help grow our solidarity in the world.

Deciding how to decide

The format of how a group makes a decision has an effect on the decision that is made with different methods being more suitable for different situations. So what are a few of the different approaches we could use?

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Factors which influence the choice of decision making include: urgency, importance, future lifespan of the group, personalities in the group, group size and expertise. In any group some people will have more personal power than others and this can be beneficial or harmful. It can be managed with a facilitator or by having leaders with the consent of the group.

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Useful for urgent but not instant decisions. A leader has been appointed and the rest of the group give their ideas and proposals and the leader makes the final decision.

Simply picking a leader does not give them authority on the ground. If the group is not disciplined or practised in following that person’s authority, when it comes to the crunch they may simply make their own choice or follow someone else. This was seem on the D12 Paris demonstration when people followed someone they knew or someone highly visible rather than the person that had been designated.

Hand score voting

Useful where urgent consent is wanted from all in a small group (less than ten). A few proposals are stated, then for each proposal on the count of three, everyone votes with their fingers. They vote on a scale from 0-5 – five fingers for agree completely, none for blocking the proposal. People feel pressurised to agree which can help get a quick decision but the bias is that the most dominant person will speak first with their proposal, so this is likely to be adopted. This is why it is important that several proposals are heard first, so that people know what their options are. The group decides in advance how many fingers is the minimum for consent depending upon the risks – three, four or five.

Majority rule

Used in democratic voting so most people are familiar with this. Suitable when less broad consent is needed because decisions do not infringe greatly on the minority. How you prepare and decide which proposals to vote on will determine a lot of the outcome.

Working groups

Creation is most effective as individuals or small groups. Working groups are a useful model where a small number of people are given authority by the group to come up with proposals. These are then questioned and altered by the main group. The choice of people for the working group is obviously very important for their expertise and breadth of opinion. It is not advisable that everyone in a group should be ‘an expert’ as they will have a similar narrow worldview on the topic that could make the decision less robust.

Consensus

For long term decisions as the process is time consuming. Can be used for large groups as long as the group has a shared purpose and a level of trust. Proposals best prepared by smaller working groups. Useful when decisions affect everyone and the power and personal choice of all people needs to be respected. Proposals are discussed and then voted on. Skilled facilitation is required to ensure that different voices are heard. Points are not repeated, if others agree with points raised, then they wave their hands/fingers. If anyone in the group feels the proposal is against the ethics of the group or would cause them to leave the group, they can ‘block’ it. If someone does not wish to be part of the proposal but is willing for it to happen, they can ‘stand aside’. If there are significant stand asides then the proposal should be discussed further.

Taking a step back and looking at how we make our decisions is essential for us to understand their influence on the outcome and to work with others. As the environment movement joins with equality movements we need to make group decisions with people who have different decision making cultures. Great social shifts are preceded by a coming together of previously unrelated social movements and now is one of those times in history. So when you’re in yet another meeting, with a room full of frustrated people struggling to work together, remember to decide how you decide, and to appreciate the wonder that these passionate people from diverse movements are finally coming together.

Climate Games continue!

FIRST WE HAVE THE LAST WORD, THEN WE HAVE THE LAST DANCE

Attending the climate games award ceremony in Paris was not your standard awards do. What it was however, was undeniably cool. The awards were laser-cut stencils and spray paint, many of the award winners had to disguise themselves or send a delegate to collect the award. The hip band Filistine brought their wireless instruments down into the crowd. And throughout the night the crowd would break into chant. “Ah-A! Anti, anticapitalist-ah-A! Anti, anticapitalist-ah-A!” “What do we want? CLIMATE JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!”

Over 120 teams registered their actions in the climate games and the incredible array of team actions made it feel like a historic night to be a part of. Rather than individually acting to the mainstream media we played with each other and to the crowd. Hacking into the FM broadcaster on the Eiffel tower, replacing hundreds of advertising boards, storming a VW showroom dressed as animals, were all great winners. A highlight amongst the runner ups was the group that had the IPCC report printed onto 150 rolls of toilet paper and smuggled into the COP21 so that as delegates formed the inadequate agreement they were literally shitting on the science of the IPCC.

And it’s not all over yet… The Climate Games website will continue in 2016 for groups to enter their actions. Whether you’re planning and action or just want to cheer up your day you can visit the Climate Games website to see what others around the world have been up to.

We are not fighting for nature. We are nature defending itself.

 

 

 

 

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