Monday, 29 July 2019

Don't Follow Leaders

Well, after all these years of blogging, sometimes I feel like just boiling it down to the essentials and nothing could be more essential than thinking for yourself.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Explode The Fear Mentality

Fear.  There's a lot of it about.  Are you a sufferer?  Don't suffer in secret.  Don't suffer at all.  Attack your fear.  Destroy it.  Don't spread fear.  Spread inspiration.  Spread upliftment.  Spread joy.  Don't let fear destroy.  Let life afirm.  Let fear wilt - or simply explode the fear-mentality!

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Extinction Rebellion West Cornwall - A Failure of Democracy

A group with an agenda of organizing mass, peaceful, civil-disobedience to pressure government into radical change necessary to protect our environment from imminent disaster is, ostensibly, an extremely good thing and as such, is bound to attract many conscientious and caring people who are willing to push for change.  During my time with Extinction Rebellion West Cornwall I met many such good people, intelligent people who could see which way the world is going and are not prepared to idly watch the mindless destruction of nature itself. There was generally a good sense of empathy and solidarity between people which I remember fondly.
I’m aware that there are various ‘conspiracy theories’ about Extinction Rebellion circulating around but have not heard anything more than the usual ‘everything is fake – all flags are false’ rhetoric of manipulation and infiltration by ‘shadowy forces.’  These tales usually include extravagant claims of the organization being funded by ‘big business’ for some sinister reason or other.  All I can say is, having seen the meagre funds stumped up by the rank and file members at meetings, and the difficulty in paying for even small amounts of printing etc., the idea of corporate cash washing around XR is a deeply ironic joke.  Anyone is free to look into the story of this organization and draw their own conclusions.  In this article I will restrict myself to a critique of XR West Cornwall, based solely on personal experience.  I would also like to stress that until very recently I had nothing but the most profound respect for XR and its approach.  However, after engaging in direct action, I started encountering what I consider to be serious breaches of democratic process from certain influential members of the group, who held administrative positions.  It is these difficulties that I will describe and review.
As a ‘core-principal’, XR places strong emphasis on the concept of inclusivity and the organization claims to be non-heirarchical in structure – “Everyone Is Crew” is the slogan that expresses this idea.  People who chair the Extinction Rebellion (XR) meetings are known as ‘Facilitators’ and these facilitators talk about ‘mitigating for power’ and circulating organizational roles to ‘share’ power equally. All sounds good. Within the proposed Citizen’s Assembly, a policy of sortition is proposed, also as a means of keeping the power circulating rather than letting it concentrate in a few hands. Ostensibly these are excellent principles that seemed to win the respect of the group.
During a meeting in April, Facilitator Paul Antonelli was highly critical of the direct action undertaken by Verity and I and filmed by Diane. The discussion was unresolved when the meeting closed. The following week, with Paul absent, a further discussion of the direct action ensued. It was agreed that discussion of the action would be put on the following week’s agenda for a half-hour discussion. There was obvious reluctance from Facilitator Manda to do this but another lady was quite insistent about it and so it went on the agenda. This was the result of a show of hands, which is how democracy functions at its most basic and perhaps its most important level.
I had been attending meetings for several months by this point and they had always had the same structure; however, when the meeting came round the following week, everything had mysteriously changed. Instead of the normal format (and the democratically agreed discussion of the action) we were presented with a ‘talking-circle’ at which people pass an object to their neighbour, who is then ‘allowed to talk’. This move was unprecedented and seemed a transparent ruse to avoid discussion of the action, as agreed. The following week the item was still not put on the agenda and also the Facilitators who had discussed it stopped attending meetings in Penzance. Although slightly caught off-guard by this dubious change of the agreed meeting format, it was only afterwards that I started to realize the significance of it. It became obvious that the Facilitators were totally unwilling to debate the action with me.
There was also some trouble on the internet (surprise surprise.) It started when I posted my account of the direct action on the Extinction Rebellion West Cornwall f/b page. The article was titled – ironically – ‘How Not To Hold Up A Gas-Station’ and is on the Save The Holy Headland blogspot. It was written the day after the direct action, and had some catharsis for me as I was still in shock. It’s a spontaneous and unedited account of what happened.
When this article was removed from the XRWC f/b page I saw it as a totally unacceptable violation of basic free speech which I found most disturbing. Apart from the fact that the three of us went through real hell during that action and seeing people desperately trying to supress the story of that event was a gross betrayal of solidarity.
There were several incidences of my posts being removed from the internet and when challenged, the f/b page Administrator of the West Cornwall group refused to identify themself, which I found pathetic and also a thwart to communication and resolution. On another occasion, someone was advertising a ‘communication workshop’ starting at around £80 a day, with a sliding scale of pricing going up to something like £140! This is private, capitalist business; ostensibly in the service of saving the planet. When I put up a quote on the site saying “turning rebellion into money…” I was accused of ‘sniping’ and banned from the site for several days by an anonymous Administrator. After working over ten years as an unpaid activist, deeply connected with free-speech cases at home and abroad, and particularly after working with ‘Caged Crusader’ Harold Hempstead who was so nearly murdered for his fearless speaking-out against evil and injustice, that just seemed like what is known in the business as ‘bullshit.’ Previous to this, I had raised the issues of Administrative-anonymity and also suggested that the perimeters of subject-matter should be clearly defined on the website. A promised ‘protocol’ was not forthcoming. Early on I’d had a problem with the web-Admin when they took down a petition I posted about 5G. I pointed out that it was only reasonable to clearly delineate which issues were supposedly fit for discussion and which were not. Personally I found the attempt to micro-manage dialogue to fit the ‘image’ of the organization was very stultifying to open discussion, but it seems the British are not overly outspoken on the net so there was not much debate to control anyway! My own attitude is to let free speech ring out loudly. I believe it is a self-balancing mechanism and have faith that, short of abuse, grown-up people don’t need policing on an environmental website!
I understand that my own experience with XR was unique and that other people may not have encountered the democracy-problems that I ran into but I set down my own story for the record.
Despite the claims of equality, inclusivity and ‘Holocracy’ (which is a ‘safe’ euphemism for Anarchism – the opposite of Hierarchism,) the reality (at least in Cornwall’s notoriously incestuous Far West) is that the Facilitators of meetings and the Administrators of the web-page constitute an oligarchical inner-circle, who change the agenda at will, over-ride the democratic wishes of the ‘rank and file’ members and capriciously delete their comrade’s words whilst hiding behind the mask of secrecy.
And how does one join this inner-circle? How do you become a Facilitator/Administrator? By election, you might assume, in a so-called democratic organization…  You would be wrong in that assumption.  Acceptance into the inner-circle is not decided by the votes of the members, but rather by the approval of those who are already in the inner-circle.  So seemingly ‘everyone is crew’, but just like on a real ship, certain crew-members actually steer the ship, whilst others do not.  This is particularly evident when the Facilitators ignore and override the democratic will of the group and impose their own, oligarchical and private agenda on them.
Once again, the wise old proverb returns to my mind: A nation of sheep shall beget a government of wolves.
XR has a hand-signal for agreement but not one for dissent. This may prove its Achilles’ Heel.
In a healthily functioning democracy, you don’t expect people to supress open expression, hide behind aliases or a fog of anonymity and run in horror from the idea of open debate. 
I reached out to various members of the group with appeals to communicate over these difficulties, but these were not responded to.  I also approached the national organization, but again, no response was forthcoming.
As I said before, XR is a magnet for conscientious people and they come from many walks of life. However, once people are in a collective situation, whether religious, educational, political or even artistic, there is often a shared unwillingness to criticize the group, or indeed even view it critically and objectively at all.  Once we fall into (or continue familiarly with) group-conformity, we abdicate our own sovereign judgement and autonomous power.  It is a fundamental mistake to give your power to another.  If nothing else, it inflates that person’s ego; at worst it can do infinitely more damage.  The highest authority can only be found within yourself and that which is not in conformity with it must go. If we seek or accept an authority that’s outside of ourselves, we invite tyranny and throw away the essence of our humanity.
An activist with many years of experience behind them can sometimes notice little things that are not always obvious to people from other walks of life.  XR came on talking about Mahatma Gandhi and Dr King and mass-mobilizations of the people. There was talk of a campaign of ongoing civil disobedience.  As the months went by and the meetings added up, this campaign of action to save the planet did not materialize (I’m talking about our local area.)  In roughly half a year, the only direct action conducted locally was the aforementioned, the one that inspired a friend to refrain from buying a new car; the traumatic, dramatic and gruelling action at the garage that caused so much fuss from the ‘rebels’ of XR. I fear there is a very real danger of XRWC becoming a mere talking-club, a bourgeois social-institution that substitutes for a movement of genuine revolutionary action, but is too hobbled by timidity to fulfil its own raison d’etre.  

One thing I know for sure: The cure for the disturbing feelings people commonly experience when they learn the grave reality of the planetary situation is action – not talking in cafes and pubs, but taking regular, focused political action of one form or another.  Only by deep and real engagement with the issues at stake do people find relief, by growing strong through action, this is the remedy for eco-shock. People like Greta Thunberg do not wait for the go-ahead from others, they follow their conscience and take it on themselves. To call yourself a ‘rebel’ without defying authority is to devalue the term to the point of absurdity. So, my other criticism of XR is that it is not doing what it set out to do, in seeding a mass-rebellion, but seems to have spawned a bourgeois social-club that passes for a pressure-group.  Where are the marches? Where are the posters?  The leaflets?  Where is the presence? The buzz on the street? The speeches, songs and chants? Where is the direct action and what has it achieved? If this be rebellion, it looks suspiciously like nothing’s happ’nin’.  

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Derek Thomas's Responsibility For 'Austerity' Deaths

If you are part of an organization, you share the responsibility for the actions of that organization.  The higher up the organization you are, the more responsibility you share.  This is 'collective Karma.'  If you are an MP in a government whose policy is killing people by the thousand, you carry a share of responsibility for those deaths and the misery associated with them.  The so-called 'austerity' programme of the Conservative Party of Britain has been linked to thousands of premature deaths in the UK.  Has Derek Thomas MP ever expressed any concern over this?  Has he ever lifted a finger to oppose this policy of death-by-attrition?  If so, I'd sure like to hear about it...