IN CONVERSATION : ED IN BEESTON, LEEDS

 

071 SW Bristol Edible

‘Free food’ on offer here in central Bristol; whilst becoming more compact, urban areas need not be ‘food deserts’.

 

AUDIO Coming soon

Ed Carlisle shows me a little of Beeston, and talks about the ‘love work’ and ‘power work’ he does there.


TRANSCRIPT

JO: So, I’ve just arrived in a part of Leeds … what’s the best way of putting it Ed?

EC: Beeston … It’s Beeston

JO: Beeston

EC: yes

JO: and as the local ladies in the corner shop said … “you don’t need Corrie, if you’ve got Beeston” … one of them said …

EC: right, ok … good to know … that’s fair …

JO: fair?

EC: fair, yes …

JO: but which part of the city is it? It’s a suburb in …

EC: yes … it’s just kind of .. it’s kind of inner south of the city …

JO: ok

EC: so like the first community … the first major community south of the city centre … it’s one of the poorer communities in the city …. it’s pretty diverse … people from all round the world are living here

JO: yes … and I should have started with, of course … I’m with Ed Carlisle

EC: yes

JO: Do you want to give yourself a little descriptor? How would you like to introduce yourself?

EC: yes … so … I think it’s probably fair to say I’m a community activist … I’ve lived in Beeston for 15 years … and for the last two or three years I’ve been a Green Party candidate … local candidate …

JO: yes

EC: for this area … and then in the …

JO: that’s for the ward …

EC: yes … for the ward … and we’ve run good active campaigns with a wide range of people … sometimes Green Party people … some of them not … and you know … we’ve done well … come second and I can talk more about [ ] …

JO: is it Labour that tends to win here?

EC: yes … I mean it’s … yes … so it’s very … both at the parliamentary level and the local level it’s very safe Labour seats ..

JO: yes ok

EC: which I think is a real challenge and a frustration … I think it can .. not inevitably but I think it can lead to serious complacency and laziness

JO: yes

EC: and there’s corruption even … which is obviously not good and not good for the community …

JO: sure …

EC: and yes … just to ..

JO: just to explain … we’re actually walking toward … where are we off to … ?

EC: yes … so … we’re just walking through the streets of Beeston and going to a place called Holy Spirit Church … which is an unused Church of England building …

JO: yes …

EC: just in the heart of the community …

JO: yes …

EC: and it’s just kind of … interesting space to go to …

JO: ok

EC: so we’re just going to sit in there and talk about everything … yes … it’s not been used as a church for the last five years … so I and others have had access to it and have ..yes … kind of used it as a bit of a warehouse … for different things and … yes … it’s been really useful and we might get … we might get permission off the Church of England to have hold of it for a longer period of time and turn it into a bit of an events and community space …

JO: we’ll talk more about that in a bit, yes? We’re walking up towards … a mosque, is it?

EC: that’s … it’s not open yet … it’s a mosque … but it’s … [ ]

JO: it’s brand new … yes?

EC: yes … it’s going to be opening in the next few months so …

JO: There’s me … completely missed the church under my nose …

EC: yes, it’s funny … so I lived in this community for years and years and years … despite the fact that I’d lived here …

JO: thanks very much

EC: I’d never been inside here and hadn’t even really clocked that it was here … and then … and typically people …

JO: it’s vast …

EC: yes … you kind of wonder … you wonder how you ever missed it …

JO: yes … yes … it’s a very large space …. do you know what it is off the top of your head … or?

EC: age wise?

JO: no …

EC: size …

JO: sizewise …

EC: no … no idea ….

JO: you can probably tell by the acoustics …

EC: but it’s been a really useful space … we’ve stashed loads of stuff in it over the years and I can perhaps …

JO: it’s you and a number of others that are .. [ ]

EC: it’s mainly me but then I lend the key to others … [ ]

JO: and just to finish … sort of round off an introduction to you, Ed …

EC: yes

JO: I know already that you’re involved in actually quite a few different activities of various kinds, aren’t you?

EC: yes

JO: like you were a … I think when you spoke on the phone to me yesterday … you were at a youth … youth club?

EC: yes … a youth club … so pull up a pew … [ ]

JO: So … to give people an idea of the variety of things you’ve been involved with lately

EC: so yes … but in answer to that I will kind of tell you my story … ’cause that then links the political stuff …. so …

JO: ok

EC: so I came to Leeds to study in the late nineties … and fell in love with the city …. on Day One … and then really loved the student experience but wanted to get out of the student bubble …

JO: yes

EC: when I finished my studies … so … in 2002 came down to Beeston .. and have been here since … and … yes … wasn’t party political … for most of that time but just got to this point where I was just really … especially Beeston .. yes … actually I won’t I will spare you the details … I just got really fed up with the local councillors here … Labour councillors … live far away in kind of the Northern suburbs … they’ve kind of got …

JO: really … they’re not based …

EC: no … and that’s fairly …

JO: round here …

EC: typical … unfortunately … I know some really good local councillors … some really good Labour local councillors who live in their communities and love their communities and are real public servants … the … yes … the councillors here … I don’t think they are terrible people but they are very detached from the local community … and are … yes … kind of live in the wealthy Northern suburbs really of the city … and aren’t here much and aren’t doing much … so .. yes … I kind of got .. I got fed up with that and thought there needs to be an alternative … there needs to be a credible alternative … I’ve been doing community action stuff … some of it paid … some of it not … over the previous 12 or 13 years … and then … yes … got fed up and stood in the local .. joined the Greens … and stood in the local elections … in 2015 and 2016 … and yes … as I said … we ran good active campaigns … [ ]

JO: so you sort of … you sort of got into … for want of a better phrase … electoral politics … 2010 ish?

EC: no … no [ ] .. like I joined the Greens in January 2015 …

JO: so … it’s much more recent .. yes?

EC: yes …. like I’ve always been Green leaning … and I had voted … I think I’d voted like many people … I’d kind of voted for different parties including the Greens in the lead up to that …

JO: ok … so it’s very much more a recent thing …

EC: yes … so the local elections 2015 and 2016 was enjoying the fact that in 2017 there weren’t due to be any elections … [ ] suddenly local elections .. obviously Theresa May had other plans so I was the Leeds Central candidate … parliamentary candidate …

JO: ok … so you were PPC … as well

EC: yes … which was … which was interesting … I mean … it was dispiriting as well … like in 2015, a really good guy called Michael had been the candidate … parliamentary candidate for Leeds Central … and had run something of a campaign … like a low-key campaign … and true … you know … similar to many places, he’d got like 8% of the vote … and you know … we were pretty sure we weren’t going to reach those heady heights this year but we kind of hoped we were going to … we hoped we’d get our deposit back … anyway … we didn’t … we got battered … we got kind of 2.5% of the vote …

JO: was that what happened [ ] … I mean I think probably something similar happened in Bath … although it’s a very different place … but that was basically quite a large … people who would have voted Green in other circumstances

EC: [ ] yes

JO: used the opportunity … in Bath they voted Liberal Democrat … was it people here voting Labour thinking … thinking Corbyn means something different or ….

EC: yes I think .. I think the reasons people vote for parties is really complex …

JO: yes

EC: but essentially, all … certainly across the North .. it was just a real pattern … we were absolutely in line with the patterns really … possibly a tiny 0.1% of the vote up … but essentially … so … yes … here in the Labour heartlands … people are like “well, we hate the Tories and we’ve got to get the Tories out so we’re going to vote Labour”

JO: yes

EC: and … so there was something of just a tribal kind of thing … but also … more rational … a whole bunch of people I know were saying … you know … “I have voted Green” or “I would potentially vote Green” but I really want to give Jeremy Corbyn a mandate …

JO: yes …

EC: a lot of the people who voted for the Greens were kind of disillusioned Labour people in 2015

JO: yes

EC: and they switched back … so anyway .. we didn’t do well … and I think it will continue to make it difficult for us … I don’t think people discern as much as I wish they did between the local and the national so we are going to push for the local elections next year … give it a big push … see what happens … but .. who … yes .. I think …

JO: I’d add to that .. but we can talk about that later … that people are … I worry that people  don’t understand sufficiently whether the Labour Party structure … the bureaucracy … the people in positions .. in senior positions

EC: yes

JO: are quite of a kind or as of a kind with Corbyn as people might assume ….

EC: absolutely … yes … definitely …

JO: ’cause that party is historically not where Jeremy Corbyn is

EC: yes … for sure

JO: yes

EC: so …

JO: anyway … so you’ve very much become involved in politics .. I mean … you’ve even been a PPC … which is .. sort of … you know … other than being the MP … is on the election side .. on the elected side .. is as senior as it gets, yes?

EC: yes … well it’s good …

JO: anything else we need to know?

EC: I suppose I like … I like the idea that politics should come out of … politics essentially is about power work … there’s a really good book by a writer called Adam Kahane called Love and Power … and I’ll spare you the details …

JO: what’s the … how do you spell the name?

EC: K A H A N E …

JO: ok … I’ll have a look …

EC: yes … and politics is power work … you know [ ] I don’t mean that in a pejorative way but a lot of my … and like community work is conventionally love work … and kind of less controversial and bringing people together … power work is kind of challenging power .. all this kind of stuff and the two are complementary and one without the other is typically dysfunctional … and so I suppose this is power work and I like to think of kind of political power work kind of being closely aligned to or coming out of love work … as opposed to just people wanting power for the sake of wanting power …. and so … yes … kind of the community work continues .. so I do youth work .. I’m involved with a local community newspaper … kind of writing for and helping to manage it … I do … yes … kind of helping to… or trying to get this big unused Victorian viaduct open

JO: right

EC: similar to this …. it’s far more advanced than this … we’re struggling to really get much out of Network Rail … but we’ve got real good traction and lots of people interested so that’s a project that happens down the road … there’s this which is kind of a bit of a low key thing at the moment but it might … this building might become a space for many people to use for many things at some point …

JO: you can imagine it would be quite something, yes?

EC: and community galas and community camping events …. and community hikes … and I’m all about empowerment stuff as well …. like there’s nothing … the repair cafe is another one in Leeds … you know about the repair cafes?

JO: I’ve heard of it … I am not sure what it is though …

EC: It’s kind of an international network and it’s where people gather … volunteers gather .. but the public come and they try to fix things like toys, white goods, clothes …

JO: ok

EC: IT things … and so, yes, we’ve had one in Leeds going for the last eighteen months or so … and I suppose I love catalysing stuff … I love working with others … and collaborating with others … and seeing things kind of … I suppose co-leading as opposed to me just being kind of the one at [ ]

JO: “Now do this! Now hear this!”

EC: that’s what I like to do …

JO: what shall we talk about now?

EC: I could talk about …

JO: tell me what you’d like to cover … and then I’ve got a couple of things to [ ]

EC: I suppose this kind of links with … I was just going to get this piece of paper out ’cause I scribbled some things down …. I suppose … just linking to what we were talking about before … I suppose … and the way that all of us are so easily kind of consumed by the now and the immediate and the crises and the firefighting … I suppose I am really interested in just the notion and the work of trying to foster autonomy for ourselves and others …. like we never … the idea of becoming autonomous … fully autonomous

JO: Do you mean at a … at the micro level?

EC: Just … yes … I think I’ll … and I’ll try to encapsulate what I mean .. I suppose we never become independent like that’s … it’s just impossible .. like we’re never independent ..  we’re never fully autonomous .. we’re never fully free …. we’re always to an extent .. shaped

JO: we’re social animals … yes?

EC: yes … shaped by the things around us … or whatever …. but just trying to create more autonomy … so .. so, for example, like another thing that I have been part of … it’s a bit more on the backburner at the moment but .. CostCo Cash and Carry … they approached … or a link was made a few years back and they were saying … this was way before it was fashionable … they were saying “we are happy to give the food that we would otherwise throw away to charity” …

JO: yes

EC: and so a mate of mine helped to broker that and got a whole bunch of small grassroots organisations to go on a rota and about three organisations go per day and they kindof divvy out the stuff and … yes … it goes where it needs to go .. and some of it goes into service projects … people running luncheon clubs or whatever …. but quite often … like certainly when I was part of it and I used to be much more part of it than I am … I’d go and I’d literally have a car full of food and then you’d just … you’d say to people … put the word out and say “come and get some free food” and I suppose what I was really interested in .. yes just trying to create … just bring the stress levels down … in people’s lives

JO: yes

EC: just try to create a bit more freedom …. a bit more breathing space …. a bit more autonomy …

JO yes

EC: and just so that … yes … people are less stressed … people have got a bit more power …. people have got a bit time and headspace for one another … fostering better relationships and just trying to take people just like half a percent away from kind of crisis point … [ ]

JO: not to be sniffed at ….

EC: no, no … definitely not … but also … I mean … it’s interesting … so outside here … we just walked past it … it’s a little bit shabby now because it’s the autumn … we’ve got a community garden out there and I’m interested in creating more community gardens … years ago, I helped to … I didn’t do any of the work but I kind of made the links for a community garden … edible garden … to be set up in the park near our house and [ ]

JO: the garden you just referred to is part of this site …

EC: it is yes … it is just immediately outside … and so … I mean …. this is the very thin end of the wedge but again .. like the dream would be that in 20 years’ time we’re a bit like incredible edible in Todmorden …. there’s free food everywhere and people are starting to have a different imagination around how food can be created or you know … you don’t have to go to the supermarkets .. whatever … so wanting to create that kind of autonomy … the idea of this space … so if we get hold of this church space off the church of england … and we get it for free .. you know, they give it to us for a pound a year for ten years or something … then just the possibility that … then it’s kind of quite a different … it has some autonomy … we wouldn’t be chasing the funding in the same way … we would though have … you know … we’d have to raise money to just keep it standing …. pay the insurance and whatever …

JO: the running costs ….

EC: nonetheless it would be somewhat autonomous as a space and less colonised and like you know the charity voluntary sector is great but it is still quite colonised by the economy … the dominant economy of money … cash economy …. and so, you know, some really good people are very consumed within the voluntary charitable sector kind of chasing funding so that their colleagues’ mortgages get paid … whatever … and wanting to just create an alternative to that … and a lot of the [ ] .. a lot of the projects that I mentioned before like the community … hiking trips … were done on a real alternative economy basis … like you’d borrow minibuses because people trust one another …. and people pay a few quid but if they can’t then that’s fine … and then some people might voluntarily choose to contribute a bit more money which is what happens and so you can typically run it for … people just pay a few quid per head … and you go to a mountain and it’s there and you don’t have to pay to climb it …

JO: yes

EC: whatever … .

JO: you see I think … just to think about what you are saying … I know … I think I know what you mean about wanting more autonomy …. wanting people to have more autonomy …. and I sometimes wonder whether people overestimate how much one can do if the macro structures are a certain way .. and there’s also the danger of course that there are plenty of people in government at the moment and in the state who will take advantage of …. noticing anyone managing to provide X or Y service … you know …on a voluntary basis … and promptly withdraw all the state level support …. how do you think it fits into the overall picture?

EC: but I suppose .. . well when I think about Beeston, I just think a community like Beeston … it’s true for any community …. but I think it’s particularly true for low income communities … on a whole load of levels …. imaginatively, politically, economically … we are so beholden to powers beyond ourselves …. and trends beyond ourselves … and I think to myself … of course we need to resist .. we need to fight for better … we need to fight for structural justice and not structural violence … that just impoverishes and kind of keeps communities like this under the screw … but I also think we need to work hard to build up resilience … so that we are not beholden in the same way … that people can imagine and start to enact a different way of living …. and yes … I suppose … not be beholden to the structures … and those things that are beyond our control … [ ]

JO: yes … I suppose what I’d argue is what it is all going to do is change the power structure because it’s making people understand better what their power is ..

EC: absolutely

JO: and distribute it better ….

EC: yes ….

JO: which will enable them to as a a political community revise hopefully the macro structures in favour of something better …

EC: yes

JO: rather than necessarily doing away with them …

EC: definitely …

JO: as was the old line of thought … you know going back hundreds of years ….

EC: I suppose what I’d want [ ] what my hope would be that all over the place people are kind of building up this … are empowering themselves … finding empowerment together …. collective empowerment … and just all over the place you start to kind of have these pockets building up and over time that would be the thin end of the wedge that then ultimately kind of like creates a different reality … it’s very idealistic .. but I suppose I think to myself “what can I do? All I can do plough my furrow.”

JO: I don’t think it is. I don’t like that word because it tends to be used by quite conservative small ‘c’ types, I think …. I don’t know that it is idealistic … I think it’s a description of what happens … or what can happen …

EC: well, no .. ok … I suppose what I’d say is … when I look at human history .. the … people might say .. but … you know … there are lots of reasons why my vision won’t … that the vision I have just described won’t actually happen… you know what I mean … when you look at human history, it’s not the norm … but when I say it’s idealistic … it doesn’t make me think I shouldn’t do it … it’s like … you know .. well, what can I do? I can do what I can do in my place and I’ll do that and I’ll enact it … and like, I’ll trust that people elsewhere are in some way doing it as well or not … but in many ways, I can’t manage that … I can’t control that …. all I can do is do what I can do here …. and it seems right and it seems good and I enjoy it

JO: yes

EC: so I’ll keep doing that … and I think … then … coming back to the elections stuff … without going into detail … like I just think .. just … so .. you know … having not won the election … so in theory I don’t have power …. but actually … I think it’s been symbolically and imaginatively significant … like, for this area …. for somebody … with lots of people around them … bothering to say “I love this community. I am going to fight for this community. This community is worth fighting for. I am going to you know offer … you know, a credible alternative … Regular people who live in this community … can engage in politics and it can be meaningful … and we can stand up. Whether or not we’re standing in elections, we can all individually and collectively stand up and fight for a better community and work for a better community.”

JO: yes

EC: And I think that’s stirred things up in a really positive way.

JO: yes … I would agree with that … I think people need to realise … I mean I know it’s a theme of … I think it’s a constant refrain of the Green Party leadership at the moment, isn’t it? Politics shouldn’t be done to you …

EC: certainly …

JO: it’s along those lines … it’s a perfectly normal thing … it needs to become a normal thing .. an ordinary thing …

EC: yes

JO: for a citizen to …

EC: speak for themselves …

JO: for people to be citizens rather than just whatever …

EC: consumers …

JO: yes …

EC: So, off the back of that then … I think that … still on the autonomy theme … I suppose my experiences are .. I think people need to … people have more power and choices than they think …. and I think people can often find kind of gaps and cracks … and I’ll explain that … that enable them to find more power than would have thought possible …. so .. I didn’t set out to do this … it wasn’t deliberate thing .. I just fell into it … so after I graduated .. I moved down to … to south Leeds …

JO: sorry to cut in .. what did you graduate in?

EC: English and French …

JO: English and French . Ok

EC: and moved down to south Leeds … and me and three mates were sharing a house …

JO: yes

EC: and we were paying £19 a week rent which was great … really, really cheap … and, I’d had my car nicked … it was a pretty cheap car anyway but I’d had my car nicked the previous year … which was fine … [ ] I was on the bike … and basically just found myself living very cheaply … and then found myself very able to just do quite a lot of volunteering … not being that beholden to getting paid work .. I did get a bit of paid work but it was part time … that’s fine … and literally I was like … I wasn’t rolling in cash . .. I just like had more than enough … and I was very happy and I had holidays when I wanted to … you know what I mean … but nonetheless I was just kind of … I was just quite free ..

JO: yes

EC: and so more … and I often say that to people … sometimes I go back to university and do graduate talks or like pre-graduate talks and I say to people … if you want to get involved in social activism .. this isn’t the only route … but one route is to really think about your own personal economic situation and how you can really kind of put as much freedom into yourself as possible … into those economies …. but then another one is … there’s …I mean it’s interesting … my day job and I do it part time … alongside two others … is we co-run a community development charity … around the city … doing projects and events … and we were running it on a shoestring for many years because we were all living according to these alternative economies … like we’re getting bits of money … and then we were also doing other bits of work … and we were living cheaply … whatever … but then actually for the last … I don’t know … for the last six or seven years … a particular donor came across us .. give us a chunk of cash … several tens of thousands of pounds a year ….

JO: wow

EC: which pays about … probably nearly half our annual costs … and he just gives it as a gift … and of course he might withdraw it ….

JO: Is that a [ ] Leeds …

EC: No. Not even.

JO: So, it’s just …

EC: Just a benefactor … he’s like a … he was a mate of a mate of a mate basically … he came across us and thought we were doing good stuff and that has created a real autonomy for us as an organisation but also us as individuals and it means that … you know … so we do get grant funding and we do get contract work in … but actually we just … we have a valuable level of autonomy .. and that kind of … and I think people … and I think it puts responsibility on us … like … so we are being treated generously … somebody is being generous with us … and it enables us to be generous with others ….

JO: what kind of things have you done?

EC: what kind of work?

JO: yes

EC: So, one thing we do do a lot of … is .. people get in contact and say “can I meet and talk about stuff?” And talk … you know … “I’ve got this idea” … and so … I’ll come onto actually like what work we do .. but … and we make a real point of always just making time for people … because actually that’s one thing that you know you’re getting with a big chunk of cash … actually it’s being generous with people and mentoring people over years … we’ve been doing the work about thirteen or fourteen years now … and just really kind of … yes … I suppose .. just having that … and signposting people and say “you need to speak to so and so ..” … you know what I mean? Just doing that kind of stuff that nobody would ever really pay you for …. in a contractor way .. but we can use that money to …

JO: you’ve got the ability to do that … yes

EC: and then workwise … so we’ve done some really micro community stuff … we’ve done what you’d probably call mediation work for communities … we’ve done some quite fun events like big den building events … that’s what all that cardboard there is for … so you get waste cardboard and then you get hundreds of people coming to build dens …

JO: dens are …

EC: like as in like houses, castles, boats … whatever people can imagine … out of cardboard …

JO: where do you do this normally …

EC: we have done it at this kind of mini park on the edge of the city …

JO: ’cause you need quite a lot of room …

EC: yes … quite a bit … it’s not massive … it’s like a small park just on the edge of the city centre … we didn’t have one this year because I was too busy with the election …. and … yes … so …. then some bigger stuff … sort of quite cross sector so working with government .. local government … and police and business … and communities .. and kind of getting people working together on creative solutions to poverty which is obviously kind of very complex … one of my colleagues has done a lot of work in one particular neighbourhood and helped set up this community … what you’d call a community centre really out of shipping containers …

JO: useful things

EC: yes …

JO: you see them all over the place now … yes …

EC: definitely … so that’s what work we have done and yes … festivals … and different other things …. so yes … that’s that …

JO: Just as a quick digression … when you say poverty is complex … what do you mean?

EC: It’s complex in that … so the difference between things being complex and things being complicated … so something is complicated like a very … a machine like a computer or a watch will be complicated in that there’s lots of … lots of parts … they’re very … the way they all fit together, they’re very, very complicated … but actually, if you know enough information, there is a black and white answer to the problem …

JO: this is how it fits together, and it does this …

EC: complex … a complex issue … a complex problem transcends that … there is, for instance, there isn’t a black and white answer to it … there aren’t … yes … there aren’t easy solutions .. it’s not to say there are no ways forward …. but it’s []

JO: it’s not the same as assembling a machine correctly …

EC: it demands a very different set of responses … so …

JO: that sounds like part of the conversation I’ve had with a couple of people … but I’m .. I would also make sure … I put a word in here for something Bill Mitchell, an Australian post-Keynesian economist has said … I think he said it at the European Commission … I’ll have to check online … but he was invited there by one of the European bodies … to give a speech on unemployment … and he’s an Aussie, yes … so he’s quite straight talking .. and he said something along the lines of … I can actually get the clip … but he goes … “people say to me that unemployment is a complex problem … and takes years to solve and …. No, it isn’t.” And he explains how you can use … basically you can use big government spending … that’s what he was talking about … the power of the … the financial power of the public purse … to basically put money into … I think he likes Job Guarantee Programmes …

EC: right, ok …

JO: rather than Basic Income …

EC: yes

JO: but the idea being that it is basically a political decision that comes down from on high … you know … and it’s not a complex … but I think what we are saying is that … actually you can .. poverty scars you and makes you in a way that the advent of a Job Guarantee Programme might alleviate but won’t necessarily completely

EC: no …

JO: transform overnight ’cause your life has been sculpted a certain way, hasn’t it, by that stage?

EC: I think probably something like unemployment is … it’s partly complicated and partly complex … yes … whereas poverty is … or I think climate change is on the fairly far reaches of complexity as opposed to complication because there’s just … again it’s not to say that we can’t do anything … but there’s just so many overlapping things … I think that’s partly why people .. all of us … are not doing as much as we could … to tackle it … because it’s hard to grasp kind of what to do or what’s the best thing to do or whatever ….

JO: Do you want to … you know this is all editable etc so don’t worry about things like this .. are there some other things that you’d like to talk about?

EC: To be fair, I have touched on a lot of it already.

JO: yes. Can I have a go at a few things? And then we’ll see if we’ve left any gaps ..

EC: Actually, one thing I will just mention about autonomy … the final thing on that is … and there are a few writers who have talked about temporary autonomous zones … and pirates .. have you heard about this?

JO: I don’t think so.

EC: I’ll throw it in there and then and you can …

JO: so temporary autonomous zones …

EC: so. … there’s a few people who have written …

JO: did you say ‘pirates’?

EC: yes … there’s a few writers who have written about … trying to reclaim the history of piracy …

JO: right

EC: and they would say, you know, going back … like the 1700s .. you’ve got the Navy .. and … you know … because history is written by the winners … they are the heroes and the pirates are all one-eyed … terrible … and basically, you know, you had this kind of ongoing battle between the pirates and the navies and … yes … it’s interesting . Some of these  writers would talk about how many of these … many of the people who were pirates were people who would have been press ganged into merchant navies … and pretty kind of marginalised people anyway …probably like from slum communities … knocked over the head and wake up two days later on a boat and they were like in many ways like definitely not idealised … idealise them because nobody’s perfect .. they were … you know .. the classic thing … one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter … There’s a lot of documentation to suggest that their modus operandi is that they would rock up in this far corner of some empire and the navy and the kind of armed forces of that empire would be at least several hundred miles away …

JO: yes

EC: and they would rock up … there would be a small garrison … they’d easily take over the garrison … and they would just .. they’d kind of create a bit of .. kind of create some freedom … and even … like some of them … there were some pamphlets written by pirates which really drew on … it sounds crazy but Old Testament theologies around Jubilee … do you know about Jubilee stuff ?

JO: yes

EC: You know the Jubilee Debt Campaign?

JO: debt relief …

EC: yes … so a lot of that kind of like .. you set the captives free basically …

JO: yes

EC: the captives would be set free … slaves would be set free … many of these slaves then joined the pirates … why would you not? And they’d have a bit of a party and the navy would hear about it and they would turn their boats around and chug along .. and before they could get there, the pirates would be off …

JO: they’d disappear …

EC: but they would have created a temporary autonomous zone …

JO: ok

EC: the Empire would come and reinstate order and the pirates would be off again … off to  create another temporary zone … and so just that idea of wanting to create temporary autonomous zones … which could be an event … could be a building .. but just kind of living in a kind of nomadic kind of way … not trying to create … like .. and it’s thin end of the wedge stuff … like how can we create more and more pockets of autonomy … temporary autonomous zones … so they become less and less temporary .. and more and more far reaching …

JO: this is reminding me of … I’ve not read it but it’s reminding me of what people have told me about a book by a Marxist writer called John Holloway …

EC: yes … I’ve … I don’t think I’ve read him but lots of people speak well of him …

JO: I can’t say much because I haven’t read it but I think he talks about … it would sound like something similar like finding ways to change the structure by moving around in the cracks … he actually uses …

EC: yes …. no … that’s one I think I used .. cracks and gaps .. and that was borrowed specifically from Holloway …

JO: yes .. ok it is that … I thought it sounded familiar .. So, I’m going to tell you a little bit … you’ve probably seen already on the website a little bit of where I am coming from … but what I am trying to do with this project is … for myself … because .. my life … I am at a particular stage in my life … where I need to make some decisions about what I do now with my energy … I sort of at the moment feel like I’ve got the bit between my teeth …. I’ve kind of had enough with trying to firefight and cope with the existing order … so I want to have a go at doing something quite focused about it … but I don’t want to .. you know … do something stupid … being a teacher, of course, I am terribly responsible …

EC: of course

JO: so I am trying to begin by analysing for myself and reaching a position on what I think are the big questions we’re all confronted by … but that only a small percentage of us maybe has the space, time, and opportunity to think about … which is … in the broadest sense … so, thinking about it globally, nationally, and where we live … where are we? What is the system we’ve got at the moment? What is the state of things? How are people doing? You’ve already mentioned structural violence, yes? So, we’ll pick up there. What changes do we need to make to that system? What sort of a system do we want instead? How quickly does it have to be put in place? And who is going to do it? Given all of us and our positions in this structure we live in … some of us have got access to certain levers as someone said recently … described it as … others have got others … but there are some common levers available to millions of people in Britain … for example … who is in a position to make that change happen in the sort of timescale it needs to … and part of what I wanted to do when I’ve reached an answer on these things is then share those thoughts and offer it as a conversation both to the activist community … very broadly understood … so a great variety of different kinds of people … who I think could possibly coordinate their activities a little more … than they do … but also dangle it in front of people who may not be doing too much at the moment but who are probably sympathetic … they know there’s a problem .. or they know there are problems … but you often hear things like “I don’t know what to do” .. “what shall I do?”

EC: yes

JO: and I think that audience is also likely to find what I am doing interesting … so I want to come up with an illustrated guide … website, ebook … maybe a book if a publisher thinks it’s a good idea … sort of with my teacher’s hat on … pointing out what all these … what these arguments are all based on … what are the …. ok, what are the five things I might want to read about climate if I am going to put some time into that? Or what are the six things I can read about building community … Do you know what I mean? Like a selection of the best stuff … I’ve become very nasal suddenly … it’s a dusty old church

EC: it is

JO: and I’ve got a cold … and part of my illustrating that is photographs of things people actually see … that they can relate to … portaits of people … structures … scenes … but also maps … I love maps … I believe they are very, very powerful … people understand maps quite well, I think …

EC: well some people do .. not everyone

JO: that’s true .. but I think for those … for the audiences I’ve got in mind … it can be a really, really good, powerful tool … and I’m thinking along the lines of … just to illustrate one thing and then I’ll shut up and ask you what you think .. there is an argument by the likes of the Campaign for Real Farming that we need to go back to a model … well no … go back to is probably the wrong word … we need to go forward to a model of small farms … mixed farms … which means repopulating the British landscape …

EC: yes

JO: ’cause although lots of people are under the impression that “we’re an island and we’re crowded” … actually the reality is … if you look at an Ordnance Survey map … it’s white most of the country … if you look out the window when you are in the car or on the motorbike … it’s green …

EC: yes

JO: if you fly over it, it’s green … so, we’re actually talking about … which is quite exciting … thinking about it historically .. putting people back where they were … four or five hundred years ago … not everyone … ’cause we’ll keep some high density urban areas … but I believe it’s probably going to be the case that the argument will be we need either wilderness … if the Rewilding people are correct … or medium density residential/farming zones … where people have gone back into ten acre or five acre smallholdings … and then your high density residential and industrial i.e. cities and towns but probably more compact and rationalised, defended against the climate and possibly even withdrawn … you know .. retreated from the increasing climate risks …

EC: yes

JO: so, someone needs to draw a picture of all these things … and I haven’t seen … it may be in the course of talking to you all that I find actually these things have been done rather well … see this, see this, see this … that’s fine … that would be news to me … but so far I haven’t found sort of a single source that offers …. [ ]

EC: it’s not quite what you are describing but there was or is a booklet out there that some people in Leeds did and I’d be amazed if they weren’t following a model that someone else had done …. and it was like imagining …. I think it was following Transition Towns’ philosophy … it was like you need to start to create the imagination … and it was depicting Leeds in 2050 …

JO: yes … that’s the perfect sort of thing …

EC: and it was just imagining a different kind of city … and food is growing everywhere and everyone is cycling … and you know …

JO: so maybe I can try and find that as part of the regional materials …

EC: yes … and I can … if you can’t find it … dig [ ]

JO: So … just to set out my stall … I accept what the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says .. or said before it made it even more serious … in their latest evaluation, they upped the Doomsday Clock to 2.5 minutes to midnight, I think …. humanity is … this is the time before … humanity is in extreme danger … extreme danger … I accept this is true … I think we probably have somewhere between 0 and 5 years to aggressively steer the ship, turn the ship … around … and I just want you to … albeit this is a ridiculous thing to ask you to talk about in 5 minutes but just to begin to think about whether you have a cooked picture in your head or not … ’cause a lot of the old anarchist tradition for example … the autonomists … the autonomist tradition don’t like to think too much about a sort of blueprint … but I would argue there’s a sort of middle ground where it’s not a very detailed blueprint but it’s like a provisional, pretty good idea of that direction … “we need to go in that direction” … is that …

EC: I think … yes … I think imagination is key … and building vision is key … there’s an old Jewish proverb which is ‘without vision, people die’ … and I think there’s … yes .. there’s kind of lots of … I think vision in many ways has been stolen from us … and I think a lot of the work I do …. I see it as working primarily on an imaginative and symbolic level … wanting to just disrupt people’s imagination … wanting to give people inspiration for different ways of being together …. and you just … you don’t know where that’s going to go but it’s … and for me primarily working in this community … I think my focus is about empowerment with sustainability in there as well … but primarily it’s about empowerment … wanting to give people that sense that we can be empowered … we can start to co-create a community …. and I suppose, yes, my vision would be … [ ] my vision would be .. yes one of those Incredible Edible things .. I think … like … you know … the crises are going to hit … and we don’t know quite how dramatic and violent that will be but … you know .. we will be hit by a bunch of crises … .who knows what they will look like? Well, no .. we can guess … climate crises ..

JO: we’re seeing a little [ ]

EC: banks crashing … whatever … and so partly you want to sow the seeds now … in people’s imagination … and just practically as well … so that people know … people know how to grow stuff … so that when that happens we aren’t completely knocked flat … we’re not driven utterly into the hands of the kind of the corporates who will be looking to kind of seize the moment and kind of make us even more subservient ..and start to act collaboratively and collectively and start to grow our own stuff … start to find new ways of doing and understanding work …

JO: How much … do you think that can be successful without a strategy of also getting the gangsters … for want of a better expression … out of power? Do you know what I mean?

EC: For me, it’s twin track … it’s about resilience and resistance …

JO: yes …

EC: it’s not one or the other …

JO: it’s the two … I would agree … I have often feared that the likes of the Transition Movement are a bit too much into just the

EC: resilience

JO: building the resilience type stuff without acknowledging the fact you’ve got to get people like Trump out of office and you’ve probably got to change the office too …

EC: but it’s interesting … so … so with regard to getting Trump or indeed the Tories out of government … I think … this comes on to my second point … I worry that too much .. I worry that too often the kind of activist circles are really just kind of a bit of an echo chamber … talking to themselves and saying “if only we find the right strategy … we can engage everyone … and then basically” … it’s almost … it’s harking back to kind of very undeconstructed Marxist philosophy …

JO: the sort of Leninist approach

EC: the Leninist thing … we just have to … you know … get everything in place … and then the people will flock to us and the Revolution will come … I think that’s … too much of that kind of activism happens, as I said, in kind of … it’s quite self-referencing and everyone’s just talking to one another … and I think we need .. I mean I might be wrong … but I am doing what I am doing … I think we need more people choosing to sow themselves into non-activist communities … non-white kind of or you know non white-middle-class kind of leftie communities and starting to … just really loving those communities and building up .. building up resilience in those communities … and I think beyond resilience .. you can then start to build up resistance … and start to get people to unpack the violence … the violences … the multiple violences that people have kind of consumed into themselves and it has shaped who they are …. so … you know

JO: yes … I think that’s quite a profound thing that you’ve just said which in itself we could talk about for 15 minutes … We’re just walking past the front of the Church of the Holy Spirit .. Church of England .. Beeston Hill … I was at Church of England schools … do you know one of the least encouraging conversations I had … although not without hope … was at the … in the … Bishop of … in the Cathedral in Belfast …

EC: yes …

JO: which is the flagship of the Church of Ireland in Belfast … it’s the sister church to the … it’s the Anglican Communion [ ] and I heard loads of things from one of the staffers in there that you hear in certain places .. along the lines of … you know … climate denialism … all sorts of things … you know … from a fairly … you would think … senior member of the clergy …

EC: great … yes … I

JO: but … she wasn’t.. I think … she wasn’t I think unbreakdownable in terms of she would be willing to have a conversation

EC: that’s a good start …

JO: but having a conversation needs to happen … that’s the bit

EC: yes

JO: the tricky bit, yes ?

EC: yes

JO: and I guess that’s what you are talking about … how do you make conversations happen between people that don’t necessarily normally happen .. you know …

EC: yes and it’s interesting because I think we all give credibility to the opinions or thoughts of people who we like and respect like you know … our friends .. say … and so .. yes .. this is quite timely … we’re going to do a community newsletter for this ward … this council ward .. in the next month or two … [] I think we’re going to combine it with doorknocking ..

JO: yes

EC: and, for the first time in two or three years … the … kind of the main message is going to be very non-local … it’s not … we’re going to mention on the newsletter .. you know .. about pedestrian crossings and bins and college places … whatever … but the main kind of like thought for the day is going to be very much about like climate change [ ] … it’s often been in there but kind of fleetingly … and I suppose what I am trying to do is use the credibility that I think I have got to say “people … let’s kind of …” you know … not in a kind of preachy way but in a collaborative way …. so “let’s really look at and get to grips with climate change …”

JO: yes

EC: and I suppose what I want is I want to just play my part in … yes … having … so talking about .. having the conversation … yes …

3rdP: [ ] got Mummy some leaves …

JO: Hello!

EC: [ ] Mummy some leaves … well she’s going to be delighted with them …

JO: autumn leaves …

EC: fantastic … very good …

3rdP: Hi

EC: Hi Sheila … yes … so that’s it I suppose …. and so … yes … I think too often … like yes … you have your activists .. lefty activist circles .. kind of trying to communicate to people …

JO: from the pulpit …

EC: yes .. pretty much … and it’s not really …

JO: which is kind of ironic …

EC: yes .. definitely … and [ ] people don’t really respond as the activists would hope they do … so …

JO: cool … thanks very much

EC: no worries …


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