Saturday, 7 May 2016

I Blame Antony Gormley..

It all started to change for me with Antony and his ‘One & Other’ project in 2009. Although not really an art-lover and I knew little of him, I loved the idea of taking a Trafalgar Square Plinth (the 4th one) and instead of putting a representative of war... you put a regular human. Real people, one hour each, 24 hours a day, for 100 days. I loved the idea enough to show support by signing up for the updates and thereby entering my name in the draw for places. I got in/on... first Sunday at 11am. I was terrified.

I was not who I am now really – terrified of ‘appearing in public’, never spoken to more than a couple of people at a time and most relevantly – scared stiff of heights!! But “c’est la vie” I thought – there are not enough ‘firsts’ once you grow up – no more first kiss, first-dance, first-date, first-car etc. and this was most definitely offering a rarity: first-plinth (the 4th one) as living work of art.

I had no idea what I would do with my hour – the brief was simply “do anything you would do during an hour”. Helpful. As the weeks progressed, later Plinthians would have something to go on from previous but for us first-weekers, it was all a completely blank page of references on what to do for an hour as a living work of art conceived by an odd artist with a penchant for still-people.

I ended up playing some music, losing my microphone (on a bloody plinth lol!), throwing some sweets (avoiding eyes proved a challenge I failed at) and saying a bit about government, wars. life's challenges etc. I didn’t get laughed at, I didn’t fall, I didn’t fail and that was empowering – and another first, I hadn’t even considered. Acceptance is a warm place that just gets better and bigger.

Twitter was still finding its way as a social media site at the time and the continuous live broadcasting of One & Other brought it to a whole new dimension. ‘Twecklers’ emerged – like those two guys in the Muppets that critique the show... and they tweeted every hour, every day for 100 days. Some of us became friends and remain so.

So how did Antony’s project cause my life to change? I’m facing £60,000 court costs, possible arrest for occupying a field and am living an unrecognisable life from what it was before One & Other. Everything changed but it did so in stages, triggered by other things (a bit like the slow-boiling frog but hopefully with a less ghastly outcome).

Around this time, one of those other things was that the government bailed out the banks and then told us we’d have some austerity but that it wasn’t related really. I saw disabled people, the elderly, the unwell and vulnerable, having to fight for the essentials and a government tightening their belts for them. Wars in places we shouldn't be were raging and we were fuelling them with propaganda and money (that we couldn't spare for a little dignity for our elders)/ Then I got angry. Then everyone else who was angry was telling each other on social media and instead of News at 10 telling us it was essential and all necessary – other views emerged and the increased ability to communicate gave us further sense of acceptance. WE were mostly agreeing with each other – only the media was fighting back with a counter view.

Also happening... the Arab Spring, Tahrir Square, the Indignados and then Occupy Wall Street permeated the media and social networks and it was like watching all that I was reading – made real and fleshy. Good in-tent was being savaged though by authorities and my own rage was rising at the assault on people who just wanted change that they couldn’t get at a ballot box – including a change to that whole “ballot box is democracy” lie. I heard that a meeting in London had called to Occupy the London Stock Exchange and I decided right away that I would go. A personal ‘enough is enough’ moment. I had no idea what could be achieved – I only knew that I didn’t choose the decisions our government was making and I wanted to stop. Just stop.

Maybe there was a point at this stage where I might have backed out but the occupation date was set for 15 October 2011 and I was due in London anyway on 14 October 2011 for a reunion with those lovely One & Other friends (honouring the final day of the project two years previous).  And then this happened: I took the Facebook post and put it on the international Occupy event listing site that asked if you were having an action, to add it. In adding it, I inadvertently became the ORGANISER of Occupy the London Stock Exchange! Whoops. I didn’t know a single person involved in the event and had no part in planning so when the media called, I was so out of my depth.

CNBC’s Squawkbox programme asked if I’d come onto the show on the morning before the occupation – I explained that I knew nothing, was nobody with any power and simply made the post listing; he had no one else so pushed for me to come with a promise of train fare. I said yes but only if he made sure it didn’t say ORGANISER, he assured it wouldn’t. They put me as a PLANNER – tsk. So another first as I entered the media stuff - like a lamb to the slaughter which may have been their intent, as it was three presenters and me. Some nice lady attempted to apply bright red lipstick but said my hair was fine, I wiped off the lipstick and was indeed content that the hair, was at least having a good day. I struggled but I didn’t get laughed at, I didn’t fall, I didn’t fail. It wasn’t great but I survived and that was empowering.

My sister Julie and I went to Occupy the London Stock Exchange - that ended up a few metres away at St. Paul’s Cathedral because of policing and the kindness and solidarity of one Reverend. I sat that first day, stubbornly for 8 hours as close as I could get to the stock exchange as that’s what I’d planned. Then I got a tent and stayed each week for 2-4 days – going home to meet work commitments and spending every penny on train fare. One day during the early days of the Occupation, the planned twice daily public meeting (General Assembly-GA) didn’t seem to be proceeding even though the broadcast bicycle was there and the people – just no facilitator arrived. My sister Julie and I realised that as this was a movement with bumps but no hierarchy and pretty poor planning a lot of the time... we’d just be the facilitators. It was a bit strung together but it worked, we got though... we didn’t get laughed at, we didn’t fall, we didn’t fail.

A highlight of OLSX was when having met Tammy, she asked during a GA if I would say something on her behalf as I was 'always talking and stuff'. I said no; because her words were amazing and no-one could deliver what she’s just said, like she did. I told her I was saying no because it was church related. She was a bit angry and her temper took her to her feet and the microphone... she didn’t get laughed at, she didn’t fall, she didn’t fail. The resonance with everyone there was beautiful – real humans speaking from the heart are the best sound.

Everyone had their own Occupy and for me, it consisted of countless debates and conversations held in circles with strangers who after also sleeping in tents on cold ground and surviving without the usual stuff of life – all looked and smelled a lot alike; despite the vast diversity of our backgrounds. 
You couldn’t PRE-judge anyone because there were no social indicators like clean clothes, a home, a job, a family, possessions etc. And that opened a world of sharing.

I returned from Occupy to find a fracking leaflet and since then... there has been little else. As adults in this world we are obliged I believe, to care for our young and fracking is a provable threat to them. It would be criminal of me to stand back and let it happen when after nearly 5 years of research, I am well aware of the risks.

The government though feels differently.

They even changed laws and rules and guidelines in order to help the fracking industry get going. So which laws matter then? Which laws are relevant to me? The ones they had... the ones they changed to or perhaps something on the horizon? Why should I obey a law that is designed for a purpose other than justice? What do we do when the government IS the threat? I am not a radical anything... just an accidental activist (thanks Antony!) and I think, it’s all about to get a bit legally complicated.

In trying to stop us, there has been heavy policing (BartonMoss the worst I have seen) and authorities are looking to make examples of those acting on their moral conscience (activists) – they believe that heavy fines, threats of prison etc. will stop the already-active and importantly - will prevent others from daring to rise up. Ian Crane is another they are making an example of.

Like Ian - I am resigned to this and INSIST that no money is paid in fines or costs to a criminal organisation (fracking companies taking risks with life for profit ARE the criminals). Nor will I feel honour-bound by fluid laws that slip and slide according to an economic consideration and apply only to certain people. Whatever happens next, I will abide by a moral justice and it will be, what it will be.

I will not stop. This is not a choice, it’s an obligation – to protect my young.

Will we thrive, die or barely survive?

The photo states a fact... plain, simple, unavoidably true. Sadly we're in a world where it's politics that dictates ...