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.

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.

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.

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.