After the rain on Sunday the weather has got distinctly colder. After breakfast I walked over the Rhine (’tis a mighty big river here) to a workshop on Artivism and Narrative at the Circus Tent space on the banks of the river.
This was actually an outdoor event but great fun thanks to the excellent facilitator, Kevin Buckland. Initially I was not expecting much from a cold damp patch of grass beside the Rhine with dew soaked benches and tables scattered around in the mist.
A red and yellow big top and a camp kitchen manned by a handful of crusty types. Nothing seemed about to happen but a bugle summoned a few people to a corner where the bugler, Kevin, proceeded to warm us up with stories and exercises and set us to creating a template for creative action.
Difficult to give an account of the workshop but key points that I felt came out included:
- The vital importance of storytelling and creativity in effective communication
- Show don’t Tell – if you are having to tell people what you are doing then you maybe are not being effective.
- Show what is missing. A tree standing in a devastated landscape, a rowing boat on a dried up watercourse…
- Use objects that tell a story. A pebble from a dammed riverbed, a twig from a clearcut forest.
- Reframe the story. eg Not Drowning but Fighting slogan used by the Pacific Warriors reframes them not as victims but as a source of power.
- Speak from a place of power.
As we worked on the banks of the Rhine large barges were ploughing upstream against the current heavily laden with coal. Coal quite probably from the very mine that 2000 activists had temporarily halted on Sunday. Yes the action was empowering for those who attended and symbolic for the rest of us but what else did it achieve? Did it just reinforce prejudices across a divide rather than change anything or anyone.
At a recent demonstration using the giant inflatable cubes that I first saw in Paris, one face was covered with mirror material and at a key moment as the police line was preparing to charge and break things up the cubes were turned to make a mirror wall towards the police, who suddenly saw themselves as others did and were visibly shaken.
In Instanbul a park was occupied and as night fell it was known the troops would invade and round people up. Someone dragged a grand piano onto the front line and spent the night playing Beethoven whilst 400 demonstrators sat peacefully around listening. The attack became impossible, you can’t baton charge people sitting listening to classical music. Reframing. Speaking from a place of power. Changing the narrative.
You can get a flavour of the directions we were going at the Beautiful Trouble website . Powerful stuff.
After walking back over the bridge to meet Ewan and Euan from their respective mornings for a bite of lunch, Euan and I noticed in a programme that there was something called the Rights of Nature Tribunal being held nearby so we thought we would check it out.
More incredibly powerful and emotional stuff as they were taking evidence from those who have been attacked in the front line of trying to defend the their place in nature.
The tribunal is run by the UN along quasi judicial lines having judges, legal representatives, advocates and witnesses speaking on behalf of “nature” who is not normally given a voice in our human legal structures.
The afternoon session was hearing from the Water Protectors of Standing Rock, some of which story you may know but the historical context and first hand accounts from the front line were extraordinary.
Also the Shor people of SW Russia whose lands are devastated by open cast coal mining including mountain removal, river and lake extreme pollution, forest clearance, and village destruction. Cultural genocide in pursuit of profit by selling coal for export to the UK – think on that as we congratulate ourselves on switching to renewables. We may use less of it directly for power generation, but we are still buying up all we can get as imports and exporting the devastating ecological damaging back to people like the Shor.
And then there were the Sami people of northern scandinavia (lapland), migratory reindeer herders who have been repressed for 100 years and now also are having lands stolen and destroyed for mining above and below ground to feed the rapacious industrial-state complex.
“This land has chosen you. This land has chosen us. Our spirit ancestors live in the ground below us. When we loose the land we loose ourselves”
These were all people absolutely in the front line as defenders of a nature under vicious assault from our industrial civilization. And yet at the end of the day the quote from the Sami representative above applies to all of us. If we loose our contact with nature we will loose (or have lost) ourselves and become nothing.
But these people are not accepting the role of victims to be pitied and be given our charity. They are reframing the story as fighters, the water protectors, the land defenders, the guardians of the air. We must join them.
A draining experience listening, and having been emptied to be filled with a resolve to join this fight in any way in my power.
As yesterday it was the front line involvement of women in all these struggles and fight backs in defence of nature that was striking. Men may dominate the conference halls but there nothing is achieved but compromise. Meanwhile women man the red lines and barricades.