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Scotland G8 Dispatches from Starhawk


June 8, 2005

The Problem is the Problem

"The problem is the solution," is a permaculture principle, but today the problem just seems like a problem. I was hoping to start out these updates for the Scotland G8 organizing with something upbeat and optimistic, but it hasn't been that kind of a day. Yesterday I was climbing a beautiful mountain above a clear, calm loch where misty blue mountains rolled away toward the horizen. Today I was sweeping pigeon shit off the floor of a warehouse in inner-city Glasgow. That was actually a good part of the day - it is just these little contrasts, after all, that keep life interesting. The frustrating part was coming back into cell phone range last night to all the messages telling us that the site for the rural convergence space had once again fallen through at the last minute. The farmer who had been very keen on the deal had backed out, unexpectedly, at the very last minute for mysterious reasons.

Erik Ohlsen, my permaculture teaching buddy, and I were climbing that mountain to recover from the effort of teaching forty-odd students a ten-day crash course in permaculture and ecological design, aimed at creating a resource pool of knowledgeable people who could turn that rural convergence site into a model ecovillage, For ten days we wallowed in compost toilets and graywater systems - okay, I'm being metaphorical here - we wallowed in discussion of these things, conceiving of ways in which problems might become solutions, waste be transformed to resources, physical structures support directly democratic social structures and people might be encouraged to wash their hands. How many shits does it take to fill a 55 gallon drum, and what is that in liters? What could you do with it afterwards? How many liters of graywater would 5000 people produce in a week, and where could it go if the clay soil doesn't drain? And just how did I become the Queen of Compost Toilets at this point in my life, anyway?

The work was hard, the rain was cold, the meandering old stone farmhouse had a beautiful simplicity in its design but three hundred years of cold and damp seemed to ooze out of the stones, and the hours were long. Usually students in our courses complain that they aren't getting enough free time. These seemed to fill every spare moment with extras - meetings to discuss policies for the convergence spaces, special sessions to further discuss techniques of bioremediating toxic soil with mushrooms, late-night screenings after post-session rituals, all night watches for nuclear convoys passing by, and not a few parties!

The students ranged from young, full time activists who live full time in treehouses in an ongoing road protest camp (while completing their Ph.Ds, in some cases) to several steady, solid women and men my age, life long peace activists. Mother tongues included English, Scots, Irish, German, Polish, Spanish, French, Swedish, and Hebrew. Just try to decipher a Swedish/Scottish accent! There was also a large contingent of dogs, intent on recruiting us to help them perfect their stick-chasing form, and several exuberant and assertive children who often wandered in, sat down, and offered their own comments on the proceedings. In the end, we were exhausted but really, really pleased at how deeply the participants seemed to grasp the material we taught and make it their own. And it was very gratifying to see talents emerge - Brice giving a thorough and extensive presentation on alternative energy systems, quiet Beth drawing a stunning design for the convergence space,

Which is not to be - at least, not the one we were analyzing and designing for all week. As I write tonight, we're still in a cliffhanger mode - will a new site be found by the Stirling Council? The Council, executive body of the nearest town, has become very supportive of our efforts. They can see the public health and safety advantages of having one campsite, with sanitary facilities certified and provided, instead of roving bands of protestors depositing their potential resource material willy nilly throughout the hills. I spoke to one of the Council members who sounded quite genuinely interested in all the features of greywater and especially the compost toilets. So our best hope now that the Council will find us a site on land they own and control. They're looking. Cross your fingers, hold your breath, light a candle, and prayŠ

Overall, I'm phenomenally impressed by the level of care and thought and preparation going into every aspect of the mobilization. Dissent, the broad network of direct-action oriented groups, has been organizing up and down the land for over a year, and has managed to bring together a wide spectrum of groups. There are convergence spaces in Edinburgh and Glasgow that have been rented and will provide facilities for meetings, trainings, housing and feeding people. There are medics in training and kitchen collectives coming to cook and a two-week long training for trauma workers who will provide counseling and support for anyone suffering post traumatic stress. A network of nonviolent direct action trainers has been offering trainings for over a year in several regions of England and Scotland. A group of Pagans, the Tribe of Brigid, is coming with a geodesic dome to offer spiritual healing during the actions. Watching this all come together, I feel confident that if we do someday run the world - or rather, facilitate the world's autonomous running of itself - we'll all be fed, housed, educated, and all our physical and emotional needs will be well looked after.

And meanwhile, there's the Cre8 Summit about to happen, an effort of a coalition of local groups here in Glasgow who are resisting the building of a motorway through a low-income community. The plan is to plant a garden, designed by the community, in a vacant lot in the motorway's path, and hold a week of activities, workshops, cultural presentations and celebrations that bring alive something of the world we keep saying is possible. Everyone involved is deeply committed to strengthening the local, long term organizing around this issue and I'm very excited and honored to be involved - it's just the kind of organizing and strategy that I think can be effective, tying the local issues to the global, planting a garden in the path of the bulldozers, opposing power-over and destruction with creativity and life.

Okay, I'm going to bed now. I don't plan to send out daily updates just yet, but will write when something interesting is happening.

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June 20, 2005

Arise, the Faerie Army!

Friday, June 17 - which happened to be my birthday - was also the last formal day of work at the Cre8 Summit, the garden project built on land slated for a motorway in the low-income Glasgow community called the Gorbals. All week long, activists and a steady stream of locals had beed building the garden, collecting rubble and building new beds, filling tires with topsoil and planting hazels, berries, fruit trees. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy, the police unobtrusive. We even got some good press.

When anarchist organizing works, it's a beautiful process to behold. Work and play blur, and everyone chips in and does what needs to be done without anyone giving orders or directions. The garden consistently had that feel. People were doing hard, sometimes unpleasant physical work: hauling rubble, digging out banks, picking up garbage - but all of it joyfully, with something of the feeling of kids building a clubhouse or digging a snow fort out of a bank. Addi, the slender, smiling woman from Ao Tearoa (New Zealand), who had been at our training, decided to build a labyrinth, and soon had devoted young men carting bricks. Jo, the magenta-haired videographer I was staying with, along with Flee and others built a Sensory Garden, with raised beds accessible by wheelchair devoted to Smell, Taste, Touch and Sight, with tripods hung with chimes for Hearing. I had offered to lead a cob session, but one day it rained, and the next day the clay was too wet. Finally, on my birthday we had two tons of topsoil delivered, which proved to be a perfect consistency for cob - which is a kind of adobe made of clay, sand and straw. We mixed up a batch by dancing on the clay until it deflocculates - loses its molecular structure and becomes a kind of glue holding the sand particles together in a natural form of concrete. We added straw and rolled up big balls, or 'cobs' then punched and pummeled them into a bench on a base made of chunks of concrete. Rob and Uri and Harry, some of the Earth Activist Training organizers and former students, joined in and we rolled up balls and discussed anarchist theory.

When we broke for dinner, a young Quebecois woman named Miriam asked me for advice. She'd painted a faery on the mural at the front of the garden, and wanted it to say something. "I want a faery army," she said, "for the actions. Like the clown army." There is indeed a Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army in the works, which has been holding clown trainings for months and hopes to field hundreds of clowns at the actions.

"Do you realize that, on this land, if you call for a faery army you will get a real faerie army?" I asked her.

"Yes, that's what I want!"

"A faery army - let's be a faerie army!" Others started taking up the cry, and suddenly I realized that a faery army is, of course, exactly what I want to see marching up the road on July 6, bringing alive all the powers of the land and the raging earth to confront the power of the G8. On Miriam's mural, someone had painted, "Beneath the concreteŠthe garden!" (A revision of an old Situationist slogan from the sixties: "Benearth the concreteŠthe beach!") Miriam added: "The faerie army rises, Hidden power of earth."

After dinner, I suddenly found myself confronted with a small blockade, keeping me occupied until the Chaos kitchen produced five or six different kinds of cakes, and some very sweet cards, a bottle of champagne and one of cider. A group called Tapooka that teaches circus arts came by and completed the celebration by teaching us to spin plates. I passed on the stilt-walking lesson, but felt quite happy and touched. As a kid, I never had one of the those birthday parties with clowns - only rich people did such things in those days. Now I'd had one! Then we made cob again, and worked on the bench until dark. All in all, I haven't done so many creative projects since art school, if not nursery school!

The next day, Saturday, was the closing festival and party for the first phase of Cre8, which I had to miss as I'd promised to go up to Findhorn for a talk and training. For that matter, I missed the train as well, in spite of Rob's valiant efforts to get me there, due to Glasgow's maddening layout of one-way streets and labyrinthine detours. But I arrived in time to speak to a good crowd of people, many of whom are planning to come down to the actions. Sunday I did a day-long training for the group - direct action as a spiritual practice.

Findhorn is often perceived by activists as one of those apolitical, New Age places where people are more likely to meditate than act - and I'm sure there are people here who fit that description. But the people in the workshop have an impressive record of political and social activism. They include an old Rainforest Action Network campaigner, a Greenham Common woman who was on a walk I took part in in 1985 across the military firing ranges of Salisbury Plain to Stonehenge, an organizer from Australia who has helped to save a mountain sacred to the aboriginals, another who is restoring the native Scottish forests in the highlands, and many others. They are really excited about coming down to Gleneagles setting up a neighborhood at the eco-camp, and forming affinity groups to take part in the actions.

And we do seem to have a rural convergence site underway. The council has signed a contract, the first tests to see if there is residual methane from an old dump a few fields away have come back okay. We're pricing plumbing parts and tracking down barrels. Thanks to all who have sent us energy, and special thanks to those local organizers who have been sweating through various bureaucracies and negotiations literally for months, staying up too late, making one more phone call, sending that last email and handling that last detail. May they have enough strength left to enjoy it when it happens. As for me, I won't quite relax and be sure it is happening until we're on site, setting up those compost toilets we've been obsessing about for weeks.

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June 23, 2005

Solstice at Roslin Glen

I spent most of today in Stirling talking to Council members about greywater and compost toilets. We're coming down the home stretch-tomorrow is the final licensing meeting, and overall it's looking good. I have to say the Council has been very supportive and are quite genuinely interested in some of the alternatives. But I didn't get much sleep the night before. For some reason, dealing with all the physical realities and the details of these projects throws me into a kind of flashback to high school-staying up late trying to finish a term project.-that awful feeling when you don't have enough time to finish and you have to finish anyway, and you can't find the fact or the reference you need and the library is closed. (Okay, I guess that dates me all right!) And while I can stand quite calmly in front of a line of riot cops I have to fight not to panic about exactly how many tank adaptors we need for greywater tanks-challenging to figure out when we don't know how many kitchens there will be or how many people are coming altogether.

The Council has a composting and recycling officer who had actually read my books and seemed a little surprised at my role in this. "I can understand how you'd be drawn to the politics and the activism," he said.

"But how did I become the Queen of Compost Toilets? I wonder that myself," I admitted.

At Findhorn, I found myself thinking how easy it would be to spend my whole life at beautiful places like that, giving workshops, actually getting paid for giving workshops! And being treated in the way people do when they see you as an important person coming to teach them something. Instead of grappling with the problems of what to do with the shit. of ten thousand people. And the answer that came to me is either:

I am deeply and nobly dedicated to the cause.

Or I'm not very smart.

But seriously, compost toilets are as holy and beautiful as anything else. What could be more magical than the transformation of something hated, feared, and considered a disgusting waste into a valuable resource, a source of fertility? When does it get better than that?

So my Summer Solstice began, appropriately enough, with a tour of the sewage treatment plant at Findhorn, which is actually a beautiful, lush greenhouse filled with tanks holding plants and organisms that treat the blackwater biologically. I was given the full tour by Michael Shaw, the engineer who designed the system and who worked for many years with John and Nancy Todd, the originators of the method they call a Living Machine. Michael also gave me invaluable advice and help on our greywater and compost toilet plans, and was extremely kind and supportive.

Then I got a lift down to Roslin Glen, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. About thirty of us met outside Roslin Chapel-a small, fifteenth century chapel with many esoteric associations, made famous in the Da Vinci Code novel. It's set on a hill above a steep valley, and we hiked down through the trees to the river below. There some of us plunged into the water, to cleanse and release. It was cold and rejuvenating and wonderful to lie in the clear stream and let go of some of the tension I've been carrying.

Then we hiked uphill to a grove of ancient yew trees. Some of the people from the encampment at Bilston Glen had come to join us. Bilston is one of the long-term camps that activists have set up to block construction of a roadway that would destroy the integrity of the forest that still rings Edinburgh's urban spread. There's a long tradition of these camps in England and Scotland, and the land laws still retain some ancient features that allow camping on the commons and prevent them from being quickly removed, as they would be back in the US. In fact, they can last for years. The Faslane peace camp has been holding opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland for many, many years. Back in the eighties, women opposed to US nuclear weapons in Britain camped at Greenham Common outside the missile base, and remained for over two decades. There's also a centuries-old tradition of the outlaws in the forest, those who can't or won't concede to the demands and oppression of society simply moving out and living in the woods. Robin Hood's Merry Men were the forerunners of the Bilston posse.

Some of us wanted to do some focused, somewhat formal magic for the solstice-at least, I did. Others wanted to hang around the fire, kick back, and celebrate in a much looser way. There was a certain disparity of energies that was resolved when one of the women present suggested we circle around a nearby tree, a giant chestnut that was full of eyes and faces. We did, and wove a web of connection to link with some of our Pagan Cluster friends in Philadelphia who were protesting against the biotech industry's annual conference.

At the end of the ritual, we did a Tarot reading for the action, and I wish I could tell you what it said but I didn't write it down and don't remember it all. Then we visited more of the ancient trees, huge chestnuts and oaks with trunks as thick as a house. The whole glen does truly have an ancient and magical feel to it.

The next morning I came back and visited the chapel. If Pagans, instead of Christians, had built cathedrals they would have built them like Roslin. Every surface is carved with images of nature, leaves, flowers, roots, branches, animals and birds. It's full of the Green Man-the mysterious face with foliage and leaves coming out of it that is, oddly enough, found in churches all over Europe. Roslin has over a hundred of them. I sat in the South doorway, where there are two faces, one upside down and one right side up, and meditated on the turning of the wheel and the shifting of powers.

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July 3, 2005

Make Poverty History!

Yesterday was the big march in Edinburgh. We grabbed a ride on the transport van from the convergence. It's an aspect of this mobilization that someone has thought about every possible support feature-even down to hiring minivans to transport demonstrators. Mark, who has led climbs in the Himalayas, was our driver. "How long will you be picking people up," we asked. "Until everyone gets home," he replied. I was thinking about how bus driving is one of those unglamorous jobs that aren't high status in ordinary life, and how missing the action in order to drive other people to it is the kind of thing that a hierarchical society reserves for some lesser class-but here it's a job that has plenty of volunteers, because it needs to be done. And how we appreciate it!

Edinburgh was packed with people, and full of the energy of a city when a big demonstration is happening. The organizers of the Make Poverty History march asked everyone to dress in white, and most people did. Not the clowns, the fairy army or the anarchists of course, but the overall impression was a sea of white and those of us who had neglected to pack any white clothes stood out like little dark blots. Lisa, Juniper, Geneva and I cruised through the rally area, then ran directly into a small group of the local Pagans with whom we had a date to have a ritual later. Niall, Louise and Victoria were carrying a banner for the combined Dragon Network-a Pagan activist network in the British Isles, and Scotland Reclaiming. "Now is the day, Now is the hour, Ours is the Magic, Ours is the Power!" it read.

We marched together for a short while, but the march was so crowded the pace was more of a crawl. I'm always glad for that, politically, as it means that there are lots and lots of people there-over 200,000, we're told. But I'm not so glad for that personally, and our group of four cut out after a bit to do what we like to do: walk fast along the edges of the march, duck in and out, meet friends and hang out with them, stop off and check out the side streets. We stopped into the Dissent meeting and training space at the Edinburgh University Student Union, We had some moments of excitement when we heard a call to go support a group of anarchists being chased by the cops. We watched a lot of very nervous cops in light blue vests being ordered around the streets, running after a contingent in black. The captain was bawling out orders, and we realized that in the U.S., they all have radios so we never hear the orders. Here they don't. They also don't have guns! Later they brought out black helmeted riot cops, who also did not appear to have guns, and surrounded the group in black and penned them in. People came out onto the street above to cheer and chant and support them, and our friends in the great action band, The Infernal Noise Brigade, serenaded them. The cops eventually let them all go.

The nice moment for me was that we actually had half an hour to sit in a café and eat something while sitting still, not driving, walking, or in a meeting. Well, it turned into a sort of informal meeting about the actions, with a friend we met. I went outside to go over to where we'd planned to meet for the ritual, and ran into Rooh and Maren, friends from the EAT course who also wanted to come. Rooh writes amazing and wonderful chants and we cruised back through the crowd, singing.

About forty people gathered for the ritual. Niall and Louise and Victoria had planned the first part, to introduce the rest of us to the Scottish land spirits. Some of the Tribe of Brigid arrived from England, women I knew from Reclaiming events, and a group of the Findhorn people I'd met the week before, and we began. There was some trouble and misunderstanding at first, trying to mesh our various traditions. It's been my experience that when people meet who are channeling strong powers, but at somewhat different frequencies, the energies create what feels like either intense anxiety or irritation until they mesh. When we finally meshed, Niall and Louise led invocations to Bride and the Cailleach, the Old Woman, invited us all to invoke whatever deities we felt moved to call, and then led a beautiful visualization of a web of healing that we are all creating for the earth. I led a spiral dance, and we raised a very intense and wonderful cone of power. Niall was holding my elbow and I could feel our energies gradually align, and feel the Wild Old Woman howling through me, whipping up the winds, raising a storm, and then Bride the healer singing love and compassion. The rain was indeed threatening as we grounded and opened our circle, and word came that gale force winds were expected back at the convergence. Alarmed, we headed back, again gratefully catching the vans.

Today was the day of the various Alternative Summits, but though I was originally scheduled to speak at one of them, no one had contacted me recently, I couldn't find my name on any of the programs or schedules although others kept telling me they'd seen it somewhere on the internet, and I eventually gave up looking for it and settled in to work on the greywater systems. Almost all of them needed some major reworking, as they were based on the premise that water drains away through soil, and the soil we're camping on is such pure clay that they simply weren't draining at all. Applying the permaculture principle that the problem is the solution, we're turning them into ponds, but that required the use of a mini-bulldozer digging machine, and a lot of time and redesigning. So I spent a lot of the day appreciating some deep irony in the universe, as I worked on the pond being dug by Fuzz, whom I met in Rafah right after Rachel Corrie was killed, crushed by a bigger version of an Israeli army bulldozer as she tried to prevent it from demolishing a Palestinian home.

Tonight the camp is filling up. Lots of trainings and meetings and new people eager to help are arriving. Tomorrow is the Faslane blockade. I am hoping to go, but also pulled to stay and finish the greywater systems. I haven't had time yet to do any of the usual things I like to do: trainings for actions, facilitating meetings, obsessing about actions. But for once, there are plenty of other people around to do them, and lots of support.

Now for a shower!

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July 5, 2005

The Night Before the Action

Tonight the camp was all abuzz, people coming in,, lots of people going out to avoid the possibility of all being blocked in tomorrow morning. It was full of the excited energy of masses of people preparing for action-once again another tactical nightmare, a few thousand of us up against fifteen thousand police. No one naively expects this to be easy-it may not even be possible, but we have to try. So the day is spent in meetings and trainings. The meetings are finally running more smoothly. We have a small collective of direct action trainers and facilitators who have taken on the task of making the meetings happen and finding good facilitators for them. They are also offering trainings and helping affinity groups get together. All over camp, circles of people are meeting, small affinity groups deciding their plans, bigger clumps of people working on action plans. The odds are against us but the energy is sweet.

Yesterday Juniper, Lisa and I went out to Faslane to support the blockade there. There's a longstanding campaign against the nuclear weapons that the British Government keeps in Scotland, the trident missiles on submarines at the Faslane base. The peace camp at Faslane has been there for something like twenty-five years, and the annual blockade is something of a ritual, very nonviolent, well organized and quite peaceful. We went to the south gate, alongside a beautiful sea loch, where a happy crowd was dancing in front of the locked gates. A small group of people were locked down on the road, lying down with their arms in big tubes. Inside, their hands are tied to carabiners clipped to a metal pin, so that the police can't pull them apart. They would have to be carefully cut out of the tubes, taking much time and prolonging the blockade. But no police are trying to evict them: they've closed the base for the day, and people are dancing and celebrating. A group of women dressed in white kimonos, perhaps commemorating Hiroshima and Nagasaki, walk up and stand before the police. Clowns in army fatigues, part of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, dust the shoes of the cops. We move on to the north gate, where a similar crowd is dancing and drumming.

But we can't stay, because we have responsibilities back at the camp. We're still putting in greywater systems and fixing ones that have gone wrong. The clay soil we're on is clay but no soil and does not drain at all. Every soakaway pit becomes a pond. Juniper, fortunately, is an engineer and hydrologist. Patrick, another engineer, offers to help. We manage to relocate some of the kitchen soakaways to places where they can be piped or drained away, but others need to be redug.or enlarged. We've got a digger machine, basically a mini-bulldozer, for a second day, and one of the high points for me was taking a turn on it and learning to work the thing. I can see why every boy in the camp was following Fuzz around, begging for a turn. It's a real sense of power. We've got a couple of systems working well; others will become storage ponds and I call a friend to bring down duckweed to float in them! Even the problems do have their educational side, however. I call a small meeting, asking for a representative from each barrio, each neighborhood, to take on responsibility for maintaining the compost toilets and greywater in their area. Because the ditches fill up, people have to watch how much water they use. Because we've built compost toilets, we have to actually think about what happens to our shit, and who is going to deal with us. "We're spoiled, normally," a young woman tells me. "We don't usually have to think about any of this." "It's anarchism in practice," I tell them. "Being self-responsible at a very, very basic level." In that moment, watching the realization dawn on them that water has to go somewhere, and shit has to be dealt with somehow, I feel that all the work and stress of this project has been worth it.

Meanwhile we're getting horrible reports from the Carnival for Full Enjoyment in Edinburgh. Police have attacked demonstrators with horses, people have been injured, there's a riot going on. Finally our friends return and we get the full story. Some of these later prove to be rumors, but there have been altercations and injuries, and a few arrests. But the clowns, I'm told by a friend, shifted the energy and helped calm the crowd.

At the end of the day, Catherine and I do a training for an Irish group who are protesting a Shell oil refinery to be built in County Mayo. Five local farmers have refused to sell their land, and been jailed by the Irish government. Some of the contingent has stayed home to support them. The others, who are here, organize and demonstration and possible occupation of the company headquarters. They are a mix of ages-lots of youth but a good sprinkling of the middle-aged. One of the pleasures of this particular mobilization is that it does span the generations-the average age is probably late twenties and there are many people in their thirties, forties, and even a few of us older than that!

But there's all along been a chaotic, slippery quality to the energy of this project, something that resists plans and timetables and logical organization. Maybe it's the fairies, hanging around the hawthorne tree. By the end of the day, we have plans, multiple plans, plans so complex and overlaid with fallbacks that even if we're infiltrated, I doubt the cops can understand them. We barely do. There are small affinity groups off on secret missions. There are others who want to plan an open blockade, something that everyone can join on to: but they can't quite bring themselves to announce when and where it will be, as the police will undoubtedly shut it down. The mass action sort of devolves into an action of small groups, and someone else plans a truly mass action but still can't bring themselves to announce exactly when and where it is. There are times when I love the camp and everyone in it: it has a sweet energy and is truly a glimpse of a world we could create. There are other moments when I swear I'll never do this or anything like it again. Like late at night when we're all having our pre-action melt downs. Suddenly all the plans seem completely chaotic-but then, chaos is what we're trying to create, and when chaos is your goal, you've got all the forces of the universe with you. I'm just going to put my trust in some other kind of order, some forces that are working us, and hope.

We do rituals-weave a web of connection, go out and tie strings of yarn to the fairy tree. But we can't quite ever find the right time, or communicate the right message or form the right plan to draw in everyone who moight want to be there.

So now it's late, and I'm going to send this off, catch some sleep, and then it will be time for the action. Please envision our web holding strong, and send us some energy through it, and some luck!

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July 10, 2005

Actions and Aftermaths

It's been days since I've written or checked email-or had a shower, for that matter-but now we're back in the house at Stirling, showered, clean, and with a few moments to try and catch up. I'm finding lots of emails asking how we are after the London bombings. The news reached us in the middle of Thursday morning's meeting, while we were thinking about the impact of Wednesday's actions and trying to plan a response to the police line which arrived at 2:30 AM the night before and blocked us in. Many of us had had little sleep for two nights, and that added to the surreal horror of the news. Many people in camp came from London and almost all have friends or family there, so naturally people were afraid and worried. I saw some tears, much agitation. We took a break to meet in our barrios, our neighborhoods, to decide what to do. When we came back, we agreed that it was not a day for heavy confrontation or to try to push out through police lines-should one be inclined to that sort of thing. We cancelled our action plans, except for those involving support for the hundred or so people arrested the day before. Some people decided to try to walk out en masse in the late afternoon and go to the jail in Stirling, but they were blocked by police at the entrance to our road. Others decided to clean up the eco-village, and I had a restful day checking on all the compost toilets, improving a couple of the greywater systems and inoculating them all with beneficial bacteria that our students from the Earth Activist course had cultured.

A small group went off to try and write a statement from the camp, or at least from such barrios as might agree to sign on to it. They apparently failed, and the reasons why bear thinking about but that will have to wait until I have time to write a more reflective piece, The short answer is that while everyone in camp was anguished and horrified by the deaths in London, many also felt that they should not be set above the ongoing, everyday deaths and violence that we were there to protest against-the deaths from poverty, from lack of access to clean water and food, from the far greater state terrorism of war. And that's a tricky piece of writing to be done by a stressed group of people. Those of us on the facilitation team who might have smoothed the process were busy elsewhere, and it bogged down.

Personally, I was saddened and sick at heart. I'm here protesting the G8 because I'm against the killing of innocent victims for political goals. Hell, I'm even against the killing of guilty victims. I just want to see us evolve beyond the stage where we think that killing people is a good solution to problems of any kind. I also don't much like hypocrisy-which the G8 leaders and process exemplify. I believe the London bombers have committed wrong and immoral acts, and should be prevented from doing more of the same and brought to justice. But I don't see some great moral divide between them and the G8 leaders such as Bush and Blair, who are also willing to murder the innocent in order to achieve their political and personal goals. I would like to see them also brought to justice for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in Iraq alone. I would like to see them prevented from killing again. I especially dislike the hypocrisy that accords them all the power, respect and resources of the state to back their violence. That's why I come to these things, to protest, to make visible the inherent violence in the system, to demonstrate a different possibility. And yet when people are in shock and grief, when the violence of a violent system hits close to home, they don't need political analysis or larger perspectives-just expressions of shared sorrow and compassion. And I wish we had been able to somehow do this.

But let me back up and describe our day of action. Because I haven't written much fiction in a while, I'm going to write this as a story, about Graywater, fiftiesh, gray-haired veteran blockader, and her friends.

Wednesday: The Day of Action

Tuesday night most groups headed out from camp, either early to stay elsewhere or in the middle of the night to camp for a while by the highways and be in position to blockade. Graywater's affinity group, however, organized a car caravan to meet at the civilized hour of 6 AM and support the blockades. They were due to meet at an Esso station near Stirling but the scout car who left early called back and said it was full of cops. They got up, dressed, and jumped in the car and went out there anyway. Sure enough, it was full of cops but it takes more than that to daunt their driver Kira, who had been through so many actions that it would take a tank at least to set her back. She drove in, drove out, got gas, and somehow collected most of the caravan. After a slight delay, a caravan of about seven cars headed out to the stretch of road agreed upon for the mass blockades.

When they approached the area, they got a call from that there were groups blockading and needing support. The two head cars in the caravan drew up next to each other, taking up both lanes, and slowed down. They drove very, very slowly down the road, slowing all the traffic behind them, and sure enough far ahead they could see a small knot of blockaders on the road. They heard sirens behind them, and held a short conference on the wisdom of blocking the cops, which was interrupted by the cops pulling up beside them on the shoulder of the road, ordering them off, opening doors and reaching through windows and roughly pushing the cars off the road. They did not arrest anyone, however, just pushed the blockade off the road and ordered the cars to move on.

The caravan went on, only to be met by a new blockade up ahead. And so went the day. Every time the police cleared off a small blockade, another appeared somewhere else. The road was blocked, opened up, got blocked again. Larger groups of blockaders were corralled by police and detained, but mostly not arrested. Smaller groups were let go, to walk up and down the roadside and try to regroup. The advantage of the car caravan was mobility-although Graywater's friends had organized.many blockades, they themselves actually hate to sit still, and Kira especially likes to move around and see what's happening. They were now getting word-that in Edinburgh, a hotel had been blockaded and also the M9 motorway, that the early morning walk-out from camp had gotten out and had a battle with the cops, that other roads were blockaded along with the train tracks. What only became apparent after the blockades were over and all the stories were collected was the extent of the action: every route into or around Gleneagles was disrupted with small or large blockades. A critical mass of bicyclists rode very, very slowly from Edinburgh to Gleneagles, delaying all the journalists set to cover the meetings. Independent affinity groups did lockdowns on the smaller roads. None of the blockades lasted terribly long-maybe half an hour at most and some just for a few minutes. "If you'd blinked, you would have missed our blockade," one activist said. But as soon as one was cleared, another popped up, and the cumulative effect was to delay and disrupt the beginning of the summit.

After an hour or two, Graywater found herself wanting a change. Hawthorne was riding shotgun and navigating, her daughter Foxglove was crammed into the back seat between Graywater and Lily of the West, the medic from Montana, both big women. Foxglove was getting carsick and Graywater wanted to dance. The police were blocking the road and Kira attempted a U-turn to go back. They stopped her, said the road back was blocked. She argued with them, said we were going to the legal march planned to start at Auchterarder, near Gleneagles, but they kept us halted. Across the road, a busload of marchers was also stopped, and so was the entire line of traffic coming to Gleneagles from the west. A small side road ahead of us led into a village. They all jumped out of the car and Kira left in in the turnaround in the middle of the road. Other demonstrators were hovering nearby when they all noticed a Mercedes full of delegates at the head of the line of cars about to turn into the village. A French affinity group jumped out and sat in the road, blocking them. They gathered around, drumming and dancing and singing. The delegates got out of their car, looking disgusted. The police stood around and radioed for backup. For a good half an hour, they carried on and the vanload of delegates eventually gave up and turned around. They tried hard to get the busload of marchers to come out and join us, but they wouldn't. Finally, more police arrived, and the French linked arms, held tight, and made the police drag them away. They used some scary looking pain holds on some of them, but did not arrest them.

One of the qualities of this action is that, while the overall whole was tremendously effective, no one part felt very effective or dramatic in the moment. Some people spent the whole day being followed or corralled by cops. Only later did they realize that, by distracting the cops, they might have opened the road for others to blockade. The action was like an African drum ensemble, where each instrument is playing a simple beat, but the overlays and interactions create a complex and exciting whole. An emergent system, like a beehive or anthill or a flock of birds.

They carried carrried on. There were groups of clowns, part of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, roaming the side of the road, adding a surreal touch to events. They de-escalate violence by the use of mirth and humor, and they look great, in clown makeup and army fatigues. We never quite found the time or ability to organize a Faery Army as a complement, but we did see a few Faeries appear in the actions, with wings and streamers and bright colors. At one point, the car caravan got blocked by the kids' blockade, which the police had let through the lines only to have them block the bridge to the Gleneagles road. There were kids and clowns and a samba band all drumming and dancing on the bridge while a big bubble machine spewed rainbow bubbles, and even the cops seemed mostly amused.

Around midday, most of the groups were heading to Gleneagles for the legal march organized by G8Alternatives, which had been called off, on and off again several times that morning. The car caravan joined them, but by the time they were rerouted around Auchterarder, parked and headed toward the march, it was twenty minutes ahead of them. They were cold, wet and tired, so they had lunch. Later they regretted it, as the tail end of the march found a weak spot in the fence around Gleneagles and tore it down, and they would like to have seen that.

Okay, enough of fiction. We got back to camp to find people in a mixed mood-restrained jubilation alternating with attacks of rampant panic. People were very afraid that the camp would be raided by cops in retaliation-for the success of the day, or for the acts of property damage committed during the early morning mass walkout, when a group ran through an industrial estate in Stirling and through the High Street in Bannockburn and smashed up a Pizza Hut and some other businesses. I was personally really saddened to get that news. Whatever the justifications might be for those tactics, doing it right next door to the safe space we had labored so long and hard to create, and antagonizing the community we had worked so hard to establish good relations with, makes as much sense as shitting in your own bed.

In any case, people were afraid of the cops coming in, although many of us thought that highly unlikely. The Scottish police force is simply not like the Italian Police in Genoa, who did raid the sleeping quarters of some of the protestors and the Indymedia Center after the '02 G8 protests and brutally beat demonstrators. But it was clear to me and many others that this situation was politically and tactically very different. Nevertheless, rumors were rampant. They were going to raid. They were going to come in in the middle of the night. They were going to parachute in from helicopters. We eventually agreed on a plan and an approach-that our first response would be to try and de-escalate police violence. We formed a team of de-escalators who took shifts at the gate, and I went to sleep in a friend's van near the front gate to be on call.

The call came at 2:30 AM, when the police arrived and did exactly what some of the cooler heads expected them to do-they took up a position at the point where our road met the roundabout, and blocked us in. I and about twenty other people spent most of the night de-escalating the drunks and sprinkling of outright psychotics from our own camp who seemed magnetically drawn to the police lines, trying to prevent any incidents that could flare up and spark a larger confrontation. I caught a couple of hours of sleep at the end of the night, and woke up in time for the meeting where we got the news of the London bombings.

There's a lot to ponder and reflect about in all of this, but that will have to wait for a later time. Now we're in the process of taking down the site and cleaning up, and this post is long enough. Thanks to all of you who have been holding energy and keeping us in your thoughts, and for all who have died over these last days, in acts of violence or from the lacks of poverty, by the bombs of clandestine groups or the bombs of the armies of the state, by hunger or by torture or by preventable disease, by lack of water or by lack of justice, and for all who love them, we sing:

Weaver, weaver, weave each thread
Whole and strong into your web.
Healer, healer, heal their pain,
In love may we return again.

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July 11, 2005

Tatting Down

"Tat" is a word I'd never heard until a few weeks ago, that has dominated my life throughout this action. "Tat" means "stuff", material resources, generally of a low but useful quality, and often acquired from 'skips', which at home we call 'dumpsters', by a process known as 'skipping' (tr. 'dumpster diving') or sometimes by 'blagging', which means talking people into or out of something. Hopefully not by 'nicking', that is, stealing, although 'getting nicked' also means 'getting arrested.' We spent weeks tatting, or acquiring tat, in order to create the ecovillage-from old bathtubs to plumbing parts to wood, and now we are 'tatting down', or taking the ecovillage apart. It's sad to see it go, sad to see all the social fabric deconstruct itself, the coaches turn back into pumpkins. Before it goes away entirely, I want to write something about the last few days.

Thursday was a muted day. The bombings in London and the fact that we were blocked in by lines of riot cops made it impossible to mount any major actions. We focused on cleaning up the camp and on prisoner support. By Friday, the last day of the G8 meetings, the police presence was lessened and many people went off to Glasgow to take over a bridge and protest the extension of the M74 motorway through a low-income neighborhood, where earlier in the month we had built the Cre8 Summit Community Garden. Others went to petrol stations and did climate change actions, the clowns bringing swimming pools and setting up tropical beaches.

In camp, we had an emergency meeting to deal with the toilet crisis. Our diversity of toilets included nine composting toilets built around wheely bins (wheeled garbage cans) which would be sealed and stored for two years, and the resulting compost then used on trees and ornamentals. It also included many trench toilets dug along the edges of the field, which would simply be filled in and left to compost in place. And it was supposed to include forty porta-loos (porta-potties, honey huts, chemical toilets), required by the Council for the license and which we were counting on for capacity. Due to many circumstances beyond anyone's control, we never had more than fifteen, and for days the company had been unable to come in and clean them. First this was due to the police lines, but by Friday, a truck had managed to come through, only to be mounted by an exuberant and possibly drunk crowd who danced on top of it and reputedly threatened the driver. When his boss phoned for help, someone on the phone allegedly swore at him, and now the company was refusing to come back.

The incident illustrated some of the wild contradictions in the camp. While the vast majority of people were there to mount and support actions against the G8, there was a small but significant group of the festival/party crowd, who drank heavily, imbibed, I'm sure, other consciousness altering substances, and caused an immense amount of trouble to the rest of us. Overall Scottish and British culture is much more alcohol-focused than us U.S. puritans are used to, at least in action situations, and even the most serious activists like their beer and some loud disco music to unwind with at night. There were multiple sound systems in camp, and the thundering base vied with the thrum of helicopters to disturb any possibility of sleeping.

By setting up an encampment, where we all had to live together for a week, we were constantly faced with the real life, practical implications of our politics. Does anarchism simply mean that no one can ever tell me what to do, whatever state of consciousness I'm in or however I'm affecting the good of the whole? How do we respect the individual freedom of those who are in no state to make rational decisions or listen to the needs of others, and who gets to decide? And at what point does the good of the whole override the absolute freedom of the individual? It's one thing to consider these issues in the abstract, another to spend half an hour at 2:30 AM trying to get a drunk to move back from the police lines.

And there were also many moments of wondrous beauty. At night, before the disco music started, groups would gather in the eddies of the meandering path through camp and play African drums or Scottish pipes. The Irish barrio, each night, would be gathered around the campfire, playing fiddle, singing songs, or listening to each others' poetry as their ancestors have done for centuries. One night the Infernal Noise Brigade, a radical marching band from Seattle, led us all in a procession around camp, joined by a samba band and challenged by the disco block. Another night, a midnight candlelit vigil walked from the gate to the police lines, carrying with it a palpable blanket of silence, and placed its candles at the feet of the riot cops. We had rituals around the faery hawthorne tree at the edge of camp, and deep conversations around the kitchens and campfires. We had meetings where people listened to each other and let their opinions change, where we brought our best collective thinking to a problem and went away heartened by the experience,

Saturday night, we were taking apart our improvised road, made of softboard laid over sticks that were milling waste from a local timber company. There was no practical way to re-use or recycle the sticks, so we pulled the boards off, piled up the sticks into pyramids, and burned them. One by one, bonfires came alight: five, eight, thirteen, seventeen, dancing beacons of flame under a new moon. A woman told me that this was one of the fields where William Wallace, Scotland's great hero, had called people to fight against the English invaders by lighting beacons in the field. We were all feeling sad at the ending of the camp, but the fires cheered our hearts and seemed to burn away any stuck or negative energies. John, the Irish fiddler, Brice, who is an expert at both renewable power and psychic energies, and I stood in the center, playing music, singing, and drumming, with an abundance of fire all around us, beacons calling us all to the ongoing fights for freedom. The faeries were very pleased. And now the camp is gone, the field is bare again, the experiment is done. But because it existed for a short time, in some realm of being it exists for all time, complete with all its problems and promise, a seed of what is possible.

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Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of The Earth Path, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprisin, The Fifth SacredThing and other books on feminism, politics and earth-based spirituality. She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT trainer's collective that offers training and support for mobilizations around global justice and peace issues.

To get her periodic posts of her writings, email Starhawk-subscribe@lists.riseup.net and put 'subscribe' in the subject heading.


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