Happy New Leaf!

When we have the time to reflect on our lives, we can make a choice. We’ve explored a lot of tactics and ideas in the Buzz Tour, and for New Year I’d like to bring them together to look at an overview. turn-over-a-new-leaf

It could be that you’re seeking inspiration on what work to give your purpose to, or it could be that your work has begun to take, rather than give, you energy. A change is as good as a rest, so I hope this summary is a useful tool for your reflections.

I use three categories when thinking about change work: System Change, Inner Change and Protection & Restoration. They overlap and we need all three types of work. Different people and at different times in their life will act through different methods. System Change involves changing the system and the choices we live within, Inner Change is about changing the way that we and others think and feel, Protection and Restoration is drawing a line to protect earth’s remaining resources and bringing them back. These categories are similar to Joanna Macey’s three dimensions of the Great Turning.
change-types

A great deal of the environmental work that we are familiar with would come under Protect and Restore – traditional environmental ‘conservation’ as well as protest/protection for specific places. With the devastating collapse in biodiversity and life around the planet it is essential that life be protected if we are to have anything left by the time we succeed in changing our culture’s direction. However, Protection and Restoration work only slows the erosion of the planet – there are too few of us to defend everything, all the time.dandelionspiral_

Inner Change would include facing and processing our thoughts and emotions so that we can work more effectively and make better choices in our lives. We could change a system to one less harmful, but if we do not change ourselves, we will eventually change it back and repeat our mistakes. Joanna Macy’s Active Hope or the courses at Embercombe are work of this kind – to assist people to change themselves. If a group of people experience an inner change leading to shared behavioural change, we effectively see a cultural change in that group. However, Inner change is usually slow. We can not expect the majority of people on the planet to have a change of heart in time to save us.

System Change work is harder to pin down. Most of what we do in our lives is predetermined by the system of choices we are presented with. The emotionally connected planning officer who agrees with the protectors and doesn’t want to see a ‘development’ will still approve it, if that is what the remit of her job and rules dictate. So what does it take to change a system?

The power to change a system is dispersed amongst different roles and people who make up the system. Usually each member of the system believes the power to change it sits with someone else. Believing you have power, and using it, is the first step.

Let’s say that our planning officer speaks up to other officers around the country and they agree the planning system is wrong. They coordinate and within their councils, internally call for the system to change…but nothing happens. Then they publicly call for it to be changed…and are disciplined, bringing members of the public onto their side and involving trade unions. Then they publicly resign in protest, leaving councils in turmoil, making news and leading to sympathy strikes. The escalating public pressure leads to a change in development legislation.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will…If there is no struggle there is no progress… I am aware that the insurrectionary movements of the slaves were held by many to be prejudicial to their cause. This is said now of such movements at the South. The answer is that abolition followed close on the heels of insurrection in the West Indies, and Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton.

Frederick Douglass from his “West India Emancipation” speech, 1857.

 

We all believe we are powerless on certain issues we care about. But it is a lie. However much others may use the threat of power to contain us we always have some measure of choice and power. How can you use your power with others to change our future?

MPs may believe they are powerless to change the law without large public pressure against the pressure from developers. In the story of our planning officer, she doesn’t make law yet she takes the power to change it.  If we want to change a system, we must believe that we can. If we want change, we must reclaim and use our power to get it. Standing together, we must step out of silent acceptance and into the future that we create.

I wish us all a happy new leaf.

The house that hemp built

I’ve recently been spending a lot of time on an organic hemp farm, and although I knew that hemp was an amazing plant, I knew it in an abstract sort of way. But let me show you just one of the twenty thousand odd uses for this wonder plant – hempcrete to build and insulate our houses.

Wet the hemp stalks, break out the white fiber inside and break it into small peices. Then mix with lime and pack into a frame in the wall. When it dries it will insulate and moderate the temperature and moisture of the building! The hempcrete is not load bearing, so if you aren’t putting it onto an existing wall, your timber or other building frame is the load bearing part. Because the hemp is a plant, you will be locking up carbon out of the atmosphere, so you can sequester carbon whilst improving your home.

hempen

If you’d like to learn more about hempcrete check out UKHempcrete.

Housing for our communities

Do you have that feeling that the housing market isn’t quite working? That developers are making money but communities don’t benefit much? Community land trusts are one way that communities are taking back the power over their housing. I spoke with Charlie from Oxfordshire Community Land Trust about their work and their latest campaign to create affordable housing in Oxford.

A community land trust protects land and property assets and makes them affordable for the community, whether it be for work, housing or leisure.

Their legal structures could be Industrial and Provident Societies for the Benefit of the Community, Community Interest Companies, Charitable Trusts or Companies Limited by Guarantee, but the principles are the same – ensure that assets benefits the community and not outside companies.

In Oxford at the moment Homes for Oxford, another community group is working with the trust to fundraise for their own housing development. You can learn more and donate to the work here.

What are some of the ties that hold us down and prevent us from living a life that we believe in, a life that benefits those around us and makes us feel fulfilled? For many people the answer is simply needing to pay the bills, being caught in a cycle of work to pay the rent. If we can remove the wealth extractors from our housing market we have a chance to create housing that benefits our communities, and helps give people more freedom to do what they think is right.

 

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.

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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.”