I and Annabelle (my partner in plotting and in life) have just returned from Aarhus in Denmark and the remarkable Rethink Activism weekend. Although part of Aarhus’s year as Cultural Capital of Europe, Sager de Samler seemed to have remarkably little support in organising 250 activist events over three days, reoccupying a range of largely redundant buildings. In part this was undoubtedly because they chose to stick to their strong ethos and insist on placing decision making with activists and those at the forefront of some quite edgy projects.
Annabelle and my input was to share some of Frome’s experiences to fit into the festivals aim of ‘rethinking democratic participation by giving focus to a rising capacity for action…… to highlight the activism of our time, which defies passivity and replaces confrontation with creativity and empowerment’. We performed, ran a workshop and took part in a conversation on taking back the power, with Danish and Spanish activists.
Early on – after taking nearly 3 days to get there by train – we’d reflected on whether these brief contributions could possibly be worth it? Who knows what ripples our pebbles thrown into the mix will cause or not, but personally I gain so much from just being with people doing what needs to be done. I have two images to savour. The first of is of pixels – all the tiny dots of activity, sanity and extraordinary creativity brought together in one ex-industrial estate for 36 hours, together forming a picture that makes real sense. Then of this multiplied up and extended to include all those elsewhere on the planet.
This links to icebergs – stimulated by an essay I read in Denmark: ‘Economic Meltdown or What an Iceberg can tell us about the economy’, by Katherine Gibson (one of four booklets providing a feminist perspective on the economy). The essay is on how we fail to see the hidden economies of everyday exchanges from gift giving to care work to lending and even theft that exist within, behind and next to the dominant economy, because we place them below the surface. Instead almost all focus is on the tiny tip of the iceberg that flashes at us and leads humankind in our decision making – when the vast bulk of what really matters lies underexposed.
I feel the simile applies equally to the everyday politics so many of us are engaged in – the vital community level activity that occupies many of our lives is below the water line, while the froth of Party Politics occupies the Twitter storms and front pages. Events like Rethink Activism play a vital role in helping us all to recognise the real priority most of us know in our hearts. I’m not remotely interested in the Party Conferences currently occupying the British media because I think activists – like these (working with Sager de Samler) are much more likely to make a future worth living, when we recognise their part in forming a massive picture of a viable alternative.