dancing outside downing street

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I moved to London recently to do a Masters. It’s not in sustainability or anything envionment-related. In fact, it’s in an even more niche entity – the little-known world of contemporary dance, with all it’s lovers, artists, and a few lonely followers. (I’m not going to go into what contemporary dance is here, for those who don’t know, but maybe that’s another post in the making now that I’m expanding this blog beyond solely artistic elements).

So I came to London to dance, and that is exactly what I have been doing. However, one of those dances was my first ever protest-dance, right outside Downing Street as part of The People’s Climate March. I had only been to one protest previously, which was basically a small anti-Tory gig in Harehills, Leeds, staged especially for David Cameron’s visit to the area. People don’t like Tories in those parts, and I am also a working-class Yorkshire girl. It was shortly after the tuition-fees were raised; I was annoyed that I hadn’t made it to the recent protests about it, and I was damned if I was going to miss another opportunity to make my voice heard.

The People’s Climate March was something quite different to that small band of folk. It was, well, massive, for a start, and the issues at stake are more far reaching than most of us can comprehend.

Way back when in yonder years, I was your classic, run of the mill Topshop-ing, exercise-avoiding, junk-food-scoffing, appearance-obsessed girl-from-a-small-town. Living for the weekend and all that. I don’t mean to streotype myself, but I was, for a while. I didn’t have much of a grip on how the cogs turn in the world at large, although at some point, I started to get one. It happened almost impercetibly. I’m not sure where it came from, but it was probably a mixture of things. I only know that my growing consciousness of all the crap, without the necessary tools with which to handle this new information, really got me down for a while. I christened this ‘the consciousness of crap blues’, and I’m currently trying to write a poem about it, because I have my suspicions that it’s a very common phenomenon amongst today’s youth. Not that I’m that young anymore, but I guess that all depends on your perespective 😉

During this phase, or phases actually, since it comes in waves, I have sometimes been known to ineffectually torment myself with the weight of my inability to single-handedly change the world. I often felt that I should be doing more somehow. I wasn’t doing enough, but I didn’t know what to do, so what was I to do? I tried doing some Youth Work, but it turned out I just wanted to dance. What’s a girl to do?! Sometimes I had to turn away from it all. I’ve never been good at watching too much news, and anyway, I’ve learnt not to trust the mainstream media (see here, or do the classic and just read anything by Chomsky!). I’m also no eco warrior. In fact, I’ll tell you a secret, I read my first book about climate change earlier this year, and had to put it down halfway through because I was getting so depressed.

Instead I tend to educate myself in short bursts of articles, in order not to overload my sensitive soul. It’s sort of like the time when the sad eyes of a homeless man on Briggate in Leeds made me cry, but I wouldn’t go near him to give him my spare change, because somehow, his hopelessness looked catching. You’re no use to the world’s woes when you get to that point. You know you’ve gone too far and you should put the book down, go for a walk instead. Breathe, look at the sky. Think about all the things you’re grateful for and re-energise your heavy head. Then, if you can, do something constructive to alleviate the horrors you are shying away from.

The thing is, I just love dancing and writing poems,

and whilst I’ve pondered the idea of becoming an activist and living in a tree –

for the moment, I’ve just got to accept that I’m me

***That’s a line from my rant rambling poem-in-progress for ya… sneak preview!***

Eventually I realised that all is not lost, inside my own mind that is. I can’t speak for the whole world! I am me, yes, and I write poems and dance dances. If I can incorporate my consciousness of all the crap into my making-art-practices in a constructive way, then maybe all is not lost. There are many different ways of approaching the same thing, and you’ve got to do your best to untangle the knots and find your own way through. It will be your unique pathway and sod those who think it’s their way or the highway. I think I’ve learnt by now that no one way is the right way. I met a girl at the Climate March who was asking these very same questions, intriguingly…

What I do know, is that radical compassion (a la Kate Tempest) is the way forwards. Do what you can. Make your own way. Follow your wholeness and integrity. The world will go on with or without us, and whilst I’m all for saving it, and humanity if possible, it will certainly take the most popular of popular movements to do so. In the words of The People’s Climate March – ‘to change everything, we need everyone’. Well, perhaps not everyone, but definitely a majority gets the ball rolling…. This is precisely why it was so exciting to be part of this march.

This is how PCM was presented:

“This September, as world leaders meet in New York City for a historic summit on climate change, join people around the world to show we need action now!

This is an invitation to change everything.

On September 21st, the eve of a historic summit on climate change, people across the world will take to the streets in their hundreds and thousands to inspire the world’s most powerful leaders to take ambitious action on the climate crisis.

With our future on the line and the world watching, we have the opportunity to meet this moment with unprecedented mobilisations in cities across the globe.

From New York to London and Delhi to Australia, we’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for the people and planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.

There is only one ingredient required: to change everything, we need everyone. Join us.

London People’s Climate March
21st September 2014 – 1pm, Temple Place.”

The march was a popular one. There were 2646 solidarity events in 156 countries and I can’t even plough my way through the wildly varying account of the numbers of people, but I know it was HUGE. There is no doubting that it made history as the biggest climate march ever. This is not to sniffed at, but as always, some critics were quick to have a go. It’s not radical enough. It’s “the last gasp of climate change liberals,” and “the real resistance will come afterward “from those willing to breach police barricades.” See here for where those quotes came from, and a good response to such critics.
I have to admit that I did wonder, as I danced outside Downing Street, whether we were really making any difference. I knew it wouldn’t change the outcome of the summit in New York. I know that things have to get really bad, as in, directly affecting people’s immediate daily lives in quite a huge way, before most people will take radical action (or even any action at all). At that point it may well be too late, but I suppose we just have to keep trying and we’ll find out. I also know that there will always be critics of everything, and sometimes you’ve just got to not give their criticisms any furrther energy. Such is the balance and flow of life I suppose.
Anyway, this debate over approaches is valid. I believe that such critics have a point when you consider the timescales involved. However, it also reminded me of one of the most ironic things I saw at the climate march. It involved one bloke having a go at another bloke, because the second bloke was running a stall about chemtrails and geoengineering. First bloke was shouting at second bloke (quite aggressively) and saying that his stall was a load of bullshit and was detracting from the real issue.
The thing is, the shouting and bickering was what was actually distracting. Chemtrails man was merely stood behind his stall handing out the odd leaflet… It didn’t look like he even got a word in edgeways, and whilst I know that his views are widely considered to be nonsense conspiracy theories, I don’t know enough about it to express an opinion, and it wasn’t the reason we were there anyway, so why cause a drama? This could go on, backwards and forwards like a ridiculous ball of ‘my beliefs vs your beliefs’, and I realise that I am also continuing it even by writing about it! Actually, I don’t want to have a go at the righteous indignation of bloke 1, who must have had his own internal logic going on, plus who knows what prompted the shouting in the first place? Not me. 

I just know that debate like the one I’m engaging in is how things change. It’s all about a dialogue between people. Also, the chemtrails thing did seem to serve as a funny reminder of the paradoxical nature of the human condition (we’re forever confined to our own heads, despite our varying efforts towards tolerance), paricularly because it happened just as the march was about to begin. I even started to get paranoid about smoking in the open air, since I became hyper conscious that I was polluting the air around me. I had to move away from the throng of people and to have a furtive fag.

Luckily, the chemtrails altercation wasn’t a sign of things to come. The march was good-natured. It was genuinely fun for all the family, with people from many different walks of life marching together in solidarity! For me, this is all the proof I need that the tide of popular opinion is turning.

The whole debate and my experiences at the march made me remember the following. It’s just a few words that I scribbled down this summer after reading a book called Serbia Calling, which was about a revolutionary radio station and the popular uprising in the country (combined with various other factors) which eventually helped to bring about the fall of Milosevic.

I wrote it in a place where I was happy, but still holding on to some old hurts. I was leaving behind certain of my own inner conflicts by going on an adventure with my soul sister Katie. She is one of those friends who reminds me who I am. Someone who keeps me grounded but also growing. We were at an old fort near the Polish border, where a merry band of writers and musicians gathered. I had all sorts swirling round in my head, as I contemplated the metres of stone which encased so many stories, and also the spike-filled moat which was right in front of my tent.

I wrote…

what i am interested in is the borderline. the crossing. the communication between individuals and the whole. the tipping point. how the individuals make the whole. how change must, and can only happen organically. how each person does what he or she can, under their particular circumstances. radical compassion is radical understanding. how to build a boat. how to build bridges. how to be tolerant but not be a dead fish…

Dead fish was a good analogy, although I didn’t intend it at the time.

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