The problem with my earlier post about the goodness people show they are capable of in times of crisis, is that evidently we aren’t living in Shangri-La. In fact the things we are facing, particularly in the wake of the Brexit vote, seem to be reinforcing many of our lower instincts, our hostility to the other, sense of lack, retreat to old notions of nationalism.
Yet, while we might despair at what people are capable of, there are others who are prepared to do ordinary, yet remarkable things. The people who welcomed refugees, or those who see the needs of people who are not coping in their communities and do something to help. Often these are the people who don’t have a lot themselves – I often think of the staff at the Konservokouti restaurant in Athens who quietly got on with preparing food for women cleaners every night of their protest camp outside the Greek Finance Ministry.
There is no doubt that people are capable of being “altruistic, communitarian, resourceful and imaginative” as Solnit writes in Paradise Built in Hell, but other forces can be at work during times of disruption too. In Greece, for instance, Golden Dawn is moving into those spaces that the economic crisis is opening up, offering help and support to the Greek community in pursuit of support for its far right agenda.
Solnit identifies the fact that what happens during times of disaster is a threat to the established order, and while those involved in life in the aftermath see it as a positive experience, it is often regarded with distrust and fear by the authorities. In fact, throughout history, the response to crises has frequently been authoritarian, with an expectation of lawlessness precipitating violence, while the counter narratives of altruism are dialled down.
At Hidden Civil War in Newcastle in October, we explored three steps that the academic Valerie Fournier outlined for social change – cultivating outrage, challenging inevitability and building alternative moral ecologies. The final one in particular highlighted the importance of creativity, not only in tactics and resistance, but in creating alternatives, building utopias in spaces where you can, choosing to love, give, share celebrate, play.
Operation Solstice, a film about the Battle of the Beanfield that was shown throughout the month revealed the extent to which the authorities will go to crush life and spirit that doesn’t conform, however: the violence unleashed against New Age Travellers who wanted to get to Stonehenge left many people who watched it palpably shocked.
If the premise of the Hidden Civil War is right, that our lives, communities, culture and planet are under attack from the state, in service of neoliberal interests, then where does this leave protest and resistance? What do we do about the violence that is being rained down on people, be it cuts, sanctions, the disruption of their communities and exploitation of resources? We can build alternatives, but what do we do about the people wielding power, can we make them take note, take a different course?
So much seems to be changing, disappearing, and old suppositions just don’t work any more. But there’s a lot locked into our minds, memories, muscles, that means we might fall into using old patterns and old solutions just because they worked before.
It’s compelling, when things are desperate, to think we have to do something. And maybe we do. In the piece I wrote for 28 Days, I said that we have to keep turning up, keep marching. I think we still do. That determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to be present to what’s happening is important still.
I’m building up to a ‘but’ though and I think it’s to do with the tactics. Could the Iraq war have been prevented if all those millions worldwide had turned up again and again, or if they had decided to camp out in the city’s? I wrote then that they might do, but if government has, as it seems, become immune to the will of the people, do we come up with new methods? And if it’s right that it’s the bonds between us that are the most threatening to authorities, then should we be looking at our potential for love, altruism, goodness, and get imaginative with that?