Buzz Tour audio book

We’ve begun work on an audio book version of Pollinating Change!

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It’s been several years since we published Pollinating Change – The Buzz Tour, and an audio book has been in mind for all that time but it’s finally begun. We’ll initially be releasing the chapters one at a time for you to listen to for free online and then you’ll be able to buy the whole book. We’ve recorded about a quarter of the 34 chapters so far and aim to start releasing them this winter.

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.

Let the games begin!

The climate games have begun!

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

 

I asked one of the fabulous game makers about what we can expect.

“The climate games are a new breed of disobedience framework. Instead of a mass action with centralised planning, it’s up to teams creativity and initiative to create their actions. Actions are taking place both in Paris and across the world exposing manifestations of THE MESH.”

What is the MESH? “The mesh is the system which drives climate change, it’s capitalism, it’s authoritarianism, it’s a global system which puts profit before people.”

How did the games start? “In Amsterdam against coal plants multiple actions of different tactics were used at the same time and place as a game with teams. It demonstrated the diversity yet unity of the climate movement.”

What were your fondest memories of those games? “Absolutely the award ceremony, because that’s the moment when everyone comes together. We admire each other victories as well as failures. That’s the real movement building moment.”

Is it a security risk all coming together afterwards? “You don’t have to show yourself when presenting or receiving the awards, you can send a witness. It’s also not just for the players, there’s everyone watching and taking part in the awards process.”

Keep an eye on their facebook page for fantastic actions and if you feel inspired, you can still register a team of your own right up until December 12th when the games climax.

The sixteen award categories include the pissed myself cup and the insurrectionary innovation badge.

Insurrectionary Innovation

Pissed Myself

The creative juices are flowing around the world and players are gradually converging on Paris. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

The journey from protest to riot

It feels like the script for yesterday’s violence in Paris was in many ways written over a week ago. Buzz Tour’s Eve, Sama and Miranda witnessed a lot of the events in Place de la Republique yesterday and we have since spoken with others in different parts of the square to hear their stories.

12310424_10154358208153222_7187090291990779079_nThe Place de la Republique was the planned march start location and contains a shrine of flowers, candles and messages of sorrow for the victims of the attacks. In place of the official march, Avaaz arranged for people to be able to place their shoes in the square to represent them, however the shoes then had to all be cleared away by twelve and when I arrived they were bagging up seemingly hundreds of shoes. A ‘human chain’ was formed along the march route which the police permitted as long as they remained spread out and on the pavement.

We defied the protest ban and walked the march route (more on that story later) and saw a range of attitudes from those in the human chain. Some stretches were sombre and back against the wall, others happy and at the edge of the road. All sorts of banners and decorations were showing support for climate action. After the human chain dispersed, the square gradually refilled with people.

Many of those who later filled the square might not have attended a legal march, but attended now to reclaim the right to protest. Following the Paris murders, anger seems to keep growing, feeding itself in a spiral. Speaking with French protesters there is a great deal of history of French police abusing protesters and many have become battle hardened. When a large number of angry and frustrated people gather and are confronted by a large number of police, violence is going to happen. It seems the more police, the more likely that violence will occur. Anger at capitalism as the root cause of inequality and environmental degradation has to be expressed. When unfairness builds, people are going to want to challenge and confront it and will look for opportunities to do so. To reclaim their power and respect in the face of unfairness, people seek action.

People have been taken from their homes without warrant, forbidden from travel, the COP21 protest legal team are under house arrest, even we are followed and Miranda’s accommodation was raided by armed police, just to get everyone’s ID.

Yesterday a few people began to throw the shoes representing the march at the police. The police tear gassed the crowd, and blocked the exits to the square. Miranda was one of the last people able to leave before the metro too was closed. Some people continued to throw things, anything that was to hand, including candles from the shrine. Police began to kettle protesters into a smaller area, sometimes slowly, sometimes with charges. In the process of kettling the crowd, the police trampled and broke many of the candles of the shrine. The police violently charged the few hundred strong crowd, including areas where nothing had been thrown from. One woman in her fifties told me, “We weren’t being violent, they kept charging us. They beat people with batons and then they would take someone and arrest them, it seemed random.” Over three hundred people were arrested, most of which are still in prison now.

Repressing protest and violent policing will not reduce violence. Throwing shrine candles at police will not help address capitalism. This script is currently scheduled for a number of replays. If we don’t want repeat performances, we have to do things differently…

Bike convoy

There are bike convoys to the Paris climate summit both from within France but also from other countries, yet as a group of people with a political message they are in breach of the law against protest. I met up with the Belgium Climate Express group as they continued on after they were forbidden from entering Paris. Their banner reads “We continue”.

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The 300 strong group from Belgium IMG_0631found themselves without accommodation or food after the police pressurized their accommodation into not letting them stay. The group ranged in age from 18 to 56 and many people had not been involved in a long distance ride or public political expression before. 130 people decided to return to Belgium whilst 170 continued on, doing an epic two days worth of cycling in one day, splitting into small groups to make it into Paris. Sama and I joined their contact in France as he took food out to the group and we met them en route along the canal.

Bike convoys are a great way for people to express their passion on an issue, travel low carbon, challenge themselves and get together with other allies. The bike convoy from the UK Time to Cycle will be leaving next week and we can expect similar challenges for them to enter the country and make it to Paris.

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Brandalism

As the climate talks began yesterday over 600 posters had been put up around Paris to challenge the corporate advertising messages and allow environmental messages around the COP21 to be heard. Everything from beautiful images of nature and cartoons to fake company adverts admitting deceit.

The posters received national press coverage in France, Germany and the UK and raised issues of corporate sponsorship of the climate talks, social justice and the global economy. 130 artists from all over the world submitted hundreds of designs in English and French to the organisation Brandalism for illegal distribution by about 50 volunteers. I’ve been really impressed with the effect of this project to create discussion and change, and the power of seeing these messages in a normally commercial space. If this tactic interests you there is a wealth of information on the Brandalism website. Here are just a few of my personal poster favourites to put a smile on your face.

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Climate ethics and justice for Exxon

This week were further revelations of the shocking extent to which Exxon executives knew about the severity of climate change as early as the 1970’s but orchestrated a campaign of climate denial to deliberately delay action on climate change in favour of their own profits.

n this great video for Philosophy lecturer Mark Jago’s blog, Two Wolves, I explain what I believe are some of the key points for understanding the ethics of climate change.

Such gross unethical behaviour as that of Exxon pulls immediately at our sense of justice, yet no law exists currently to bring those responsible fully to justice. Exxon may well be prosecuted for racketeering but our justice system has yet to catch up with this despicable climate crime. The campaign to make ecocide a criminal offence is one way we can move forward. It will be by our efforts that the law is made to catch up with the ethics of climate change.

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Kindling social change

In Hulme Community Garden Centre in Manchester I wander in the sun amongst vegetables, families and education projects to meet Helen. Helen was one of the founders of MERCi (see A hive of possibilities) and founders of Kindling. I asked her what had lead her to become so active and to create these groups.

Kindling in Manchester runs practical projects to increase food sustainability and campaign for social change. Their projects include FarmStart which is an incubator farm to help new growers get started and scale up, Forgotten Fields a project about the history of Manchester’s food growing, as well as organising many events and resources to support local growers.

The finish but not the end

berwick thumbnailThank you, for everything! 

After four months of walking, it was a massive relief and joy to complete the walk! 🙂 You can see a video here and article that the local paper made.

THANK YOU so much to all the people who walked on the Buzz Tour, to all those who shared their stories with us, to all those who donated and all those who fed and sheltered us. Without all those pieces of kindness and support it would have literally been impossible. There is no way we could have done a journey like this without the daily grace, charity and kindness of others. You have all created something which exceeded my expectations in every way. I am so grateful and lucky to have met you all.

This weekend’s climate march in London drew people from lots of different parts of the Buzz Tour, it was so wonderful to be reunited. We’d love to see everyone again! So we’re going to throw a Pollination Party in Oxford on the 25th of October! We’ll be emailing everyone invites over the next couple of days so if you don’t hear from us please drop us an email – we haven’t forgotten you, it’s just hard to gather all the emails together.

We’ve started work on a book about all the amazing things from the Buzz Tour. If you walked along and would like to write about your experience please drop us an email – we didn’t get everyone’s email at the time. As we finish a draft chapter it’ll be posted online so that everyone can comment and help us make it fantastic. We hope to have the book finished by spring!

During the walk we took ten hours of great interviews and footage that we’d love to make in to a documentary. If you’d like to be involved get in touch!

 

 

 

A ghost in the machine

I’ve saved this interview until last in order to annonimise it, and for the same reason there is no video or context to how I met this woman. Last but certainly not least I’d like to tell you the story of, we’ll call her, Anna, and her work as a ghost in the machine.

Some years ago Anna found herself working for an unethical corporation, due to her skill set and the lack of available work. She became increasingly appalled at the activities of this corporation but rather than quit, or accept her own complicity in their crimes against the environment, she resolved to find ways to undermine them. Over the course of a couple of years she was able to cost the corporation a significant amount of money and slow down one of their major projects.

She found the work at times more stressful than other forms of environmental work because of it’s covert solitary nature and she has since moved on to other work, yet remains pleased with the large impact she was able to have and sees it as a very effective tactic. The work required her to be her own moral compass and motivator without receiving encouragement from other environmentalists. I remain very grateful to her for sharing this story.

Morpeth and Deeds not words

When you go through Morpeth you must visit Emily Wilding Davisons grave.

I was amazed when I was told that I would be walking right past where a suffragette was buried. The only suffragette in fact to die because of the struggle for the vote. Emily was a militant activist who disrupted meetings, burned buildings and threw stones at politicians who were against women having the vote. During her nine jail terms she was force fed. She died trying to pin a suffrage banner to the kings horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. Emily was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) that employed a range of militant tactics to get women the vote.

Morpeth itself is a beautiful town with a park containing a castle, mound, river and the most bizarrely homey public toilet you’ll ever see.

Winding from Morpeth to Ashington is a quiet tree-lined stream valley.

 

Protecting community spaces in York

The heritage campaign for West Bank Park has included funding bids, business mentors, public meetings, research and even celebrity endorsements. The Friends of West Bank Park and have worked to restore and preserve many parts of the park, and now the West Bank Heritage Project hopes to revive the heritage of the park and its legacy as a central part of the community.

With government cuts, the council presented residents in York with the lose-lose scenario that either parks, libraries or swimming pools would take cuts first. West Bank Park in Acum lost much of it’s funding and began to be left unlocked at night. Nearby residents conserned about the future of the park began to launch a campaign to build support for it.

One model that inspired the West Bank group is the successful Rowntree Park in York. The park has a library and cafe at its centre that attracts a lot of visitors to use the park as somewhere to meet and socialise.

When I came across Clements Hall they were running a Food and Fun event where older or isolated residents can enjoy a meal and a chat. The hall was renovated several years ago by the council following a campaign by residents and now offers many different community events and a lot of local people volunteer to keep it going. The hall was originally owned by the nearby St Clements Church where Edible York have created a public vegetable garden.

 

The Sumac center and Peoples Kitchen

When asking ‘what should we visit in Nottingham?’ many people mentioned the Sumac center.

The center is a member of the Radical Routes cooperative network and has become an increasingly important part of the community. The events, activities and facilities provide the space for people to make positive changes. The popular Peoples Kitchen night was happening when we arrived. Volunteers cook up a feast and people can come and eat a delicious two course meal for just £3.50! The money raised is then donated to a good cause. This feast was in aid of the free English lessons that are offered to women at the Sumac Center.

We got chatting to a fantastic couple over dinner and the hours flew by, I can’t think of a better way to enhance your community and have a wonderful night. Thank you so much to all the volunteers who gave their time to the benefit of all.

 

Radical Routes

Freeing ourselves to find a better future can have many different strands but access to housing and ethical work is a key component. Radical Routes is a network of primarily housing co-operatives all over the country that allow people to collectively own a home and live co-operatively. I visited a housing co-op in Nottingham to see how they lived.

Radical Routes is about people taking control of their own housing, work, education and leisure activities. People set up co-ops to manage these activities themselves, removing the need for managers, owners, bosses or landlords.

10 people live in Ned’s housing co-op so I was expecting some horror scenes of student style living. I as very pleasantly surprised to discover a clean home with bulk ordered food, shared meals and creative spaces. Communal living is always a function of the people living together but it was lovely to see a house where like-minded people are able to live cooperatively. Seven principles of a co-operative were hanging from a tea towel in the kitchen, bikes were in the workshop and ethical books were covering the shelves.

Radical Roots also runs an ethical investment scheme called Rootstock which lends to co-operatives on the basis of mutual support. It’s exciting to see the growing number of co-operatives where people are coming together to take power over their living, and the way that Radical Routes is helping to support that movement. There are so many ways that we can work together to live more in harmony with our ethics. Let’s celebrate taking the radical route of co-operation.

 

 

Veggies and vegans

Veggies is a vegan catering and campaign social enterprise based in Nottingham that provides delicious food at events like Glastonbury whilst promoting a better future for the environment and people. I spoke with Chris about their work and what it means to him to be vegan.

 

 

Frack Free Nottinghamshire

Gregg told me about the mobilisation of Nottinghamshire people to protect land from Fracking. Fracking is a process where high pressure water, sand and toxic chemicals are injected into the ground to split it and release gas. Frack Free Nottinghamshire is just one of many groups all over the country. To find out if there is a group near you and where companies in your area want to frack check out Frack Off. As well as local groups all over the country people, there are a number of national campaigns and protests.

This summer will see the second Reclaim the Power camp, a six day gathering where people can make friends, learn about positive solutions and take action against extreme energy. The current government is aggressively pro-fracking and offers subsidies for local areas to permit it, but there are a large number of environmental concerns about the process. With climate change no longer in doubt moving to further exploit fossil fuels would be a harmful idea anyway, but extreme energy extraction by fracking also carries long term environmental consequences that will remain long after the companies have moved on. From methane leakage, water contamination, toxic effluent, micro tremors and damaged land the number of harmful effects mount up. The recent move by the government to change trespassing laws would allow companies to frack underneath peoples land even without their permission, so anti-fracking community groups have a key role to play in speaking up for the environment.

A green hub and a green house

The greenhouse in Norwich is a café, a bookstore, a gallery, a house, a shop and an information hub. The dappled shade in the courtyard garden is provided by clever solar panels. Above the shop lives one of the original 12 students, who 20 year on, is still running the space to provide an example of positive solutions. The flat is one of Englands Superhomes, which are very energy efficient and serve as an example to help others. The Greenhouse is a particularly useful example because it is a listed building which they had to retrofit. The vast majority of the UK housing stock would need to be retrofitted to make them more sustainable, we won’t be able to build new houses, as it would release far far more carbon. There are currently more houses in the UK than we need, the difficulty is a large number of them have been bought as investments and are vacant. The centre of London is a sad example of this. So we can’t keep building on the little nature habitat land we have left to feed the ever more hungry monster of the housing market. Retrofitting is therefore a vital part of the culture change we need to be able to lower our carbon emissions. As to how we change our culture to avoid our homes being at the whim of the investment market, we’ll leave that for later… 😉

Action in Gamlingay

Something is wrong, and you want to make it right. You start talking to your partner or spouse, then one day your neighbours join in the conversation too. Together you arrange a film screening in the village and print out 1000 leaflets to tell your community about the public meeting. What can happen next is life changing.

Gamlingay Environmental Action Group started in this way, and once people are working together amazing things can happen. The village is located a few mile East of Bedford. It has it’s own community owned wind turbine, who’s profits go back to the village. There are 80 new allotments, and a habitat area because the group was able to successfully negotiate with a developer. Residents can get advice on green living and lowering their energy use. There is an annual bike ride and Green Day.

The village previously only had 8 allotments and there was a waiting list of around 40 people, but the new 80 allotments are now almost all taken! And if you find you need to spend a penny down on the allotment, how about this for a stylish toilet?

The other surprising thing about Gamlingay given the size of the village, is the Eco Hub. The amazing community centre is used for sports, dance, theatre, events, as a library and for computer access. The volunteers give their time to keep the centre thriving. The previous centre was badly degraded, leaking energy out and water in. In the few years since the new sustainable building was built, incorporating much of the old structure, it has become a real centre for the community, rather than just a single use venue for hire.

Located near Gamlingay is Sandy, where the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has it’s headquarters, and part of the success of the village has been the number of people who live in the area who care about the environment. Taking that first step though, to talk to our neighbours, to reach out, is how it all begins.