“This poetry is activism with heart and the heart is the centre of this beautiful book”(Salena Godden)
“From lost loves buried in urban marshlands to the revolutionary force of Spring, Peter Bearder delivers some sharp, witty and honest observations. Plus a comprehensive list of absolutely everything that happened at Glastonbury 2015.” (Mark Gwynn Jones)
“There is such a hard-won elegance to Bearder’s poetry. In the depths of unrequited affection, of the ennui of a nondescript day, he finds a way of bringing experience to new life through linguistic innovation, finding the joy in the everyday, the lyrical beauty in a shared joint, a turning away from status updates and a folded, private life of the mind. He looks outwards, defiantly and assuredly. Line by line, poem by poem, it delivers.” (Luke Kennard)
Numbered Boxes is a journey through the stanzas of school days, family, work addiction, heartbreak and back into school as a teacher. Much of the book was written while Pete was a full time spoken word educator, in a world first pilot project in a secondary school in East London. The book opens the lid on containers built by institutions and those harder to unpack, the ones built by ourselves. The final section of the book breaks free from the shadows of these confines and escapes into the debauchery of mid-summer, drawing on a body of work written while Pete was Glastonbury poet in residence, 2015. Numbered Boxes channels with energy and wit of his stage performance, into a body of lyric, narrative and comically surreal poetry, crafted to deliver on the page.
Dear Mr / Mrs Englishy Peoples,
Im moving from Berlin to Bristol this for the Autumn / Winter. Things have gone seriously wrong in England since I left. There is much to do. I am putting together a national tour of Poetry / Street-Music / Activism with my new book and this – party on a trolley. This is clearly going to sort everything out. The current title is as succinct as Im willing to be. Id like to hear from YOU if you…
a/ Want a hug.
b/ Want to be part of this tour in some way, or have ideas for it.
c/ Can help couch / shower me as I travel around.
d/ Know somewhere to live in Bristol.
e/ Are happy and you know it, and you want to clap your hands.
Digger inside the mine, courtesy of Ende Gelande Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is the beginning of Ende Gelende. Three thousand activists from across Europe have converged on Lausitz coal mine, East Germany, for a four day encampment of climate mass action. They are armed with bags and tents stuffed with tightly wrapped plans and various shapes of misbehavior. The goal to close down a coal mine and a power plant.
I know, they don’t make life easy.
Numbers have doubled since the last Klima Lamp in August 2015 in West Germany. That’s the problem with social movements. They involve lots of young people expressing themselves in an effort to change the world. They all camp out, dance, join Samba bands and occupy places belonging to The Dark Side. Then they go home they tell their friends. Before you know it, everyone wants more excitement, meaning and purpose than you could stuff inside a shopping centre.
Leaving Camp, courtesy of Ende Gelande Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/
This has to stop. Left unchecked, this exponential rise in ‘non-violent confrontational disobedience’ could seriously undermine the bedrock of environmentalism: tutting at the television, carrying out the recycling, and sighing with a listless resignation.
If these lines are passed, the machine of industrial capitalism is in grave danger.
On the Friday we set off to block the railway at a filling station. We succeed.
The loading bays are fed by giant conveyor belts of death. They are like supermarket check outs for a species addicted to the intestines of its own planet. But the growl of Mordor has been silenced. Reverberating with songs and chants, the stations are all at once, climbing frames for a movement, museums of a dying world, and galleries of a new kind of political creativity. Each banner, sticker, chalked slogans and fist shaking activists draped across it, is an exhibit of disobedience. This is high art. The product of hundreds of hands, months of planning, and decades of accumulated experience. As we arrive at the top, a rainbow appears, and at its end – a coal mine.
Later I lie on the train tracks below, covered in coal dust, assimilating the masterpiece singing down at me. Below me death – deep permeating death. Above me life – praying, partying and fighting for a future.
On top of filling station, courtesy of Ende Gelande Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/
If this is anything it is a war of images: images that celebrate, images that redefine, images that question, warn, provoke and inspire. Inside the mine, hundreds more activists scale diggers the size of 12 story buildings. A new story has been added. The infamous, planet chewing megaliths stand purposeless and motionless, like giant question marks. Who has the power? What does democracy look like? What do we want? When do we want it?
This was not the work of crusties, hippies and bearded poets (though there were a few). Within the camp were professionals, climate scientists and men and women in their sixties, oh, and an ensemble of classical musicians. Any man who carries a cello four hours by foot, to perform to people chained to a train track, is redefining what democracy sounds like. The sight of a classical quintet playing on the fringes of an apocalyptic tar pit was reminiscent of the film Titanic. The sinking ship – hydrocarbon capitalism. Climate change campaigner Leonardo di Caprio could have conceivably been there. Kate Winslet was nowhere to be seen. Celine Dion can fuck right off.
Concert on a railway line, courtesy of Ende Gelande Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/
It is now Sunday and I am part of a body of activists moving towards the power station with the intention of closing it down. Everyone is dressed in white overalls to protect their anonymity, and masks and goggles to protect themselves from pepper spray. The energy is high voltage. Within minutes of arriving at the fences, they are pulled down. Hundreds of us were now inside the compound of the power station. Perhaps the best thing we could have done would have been to occupy one place, sit down and hold an assembly on climate change. The image would have been gold dust. Any ensuing police violence would have been an own-goal of Gandhian proportions. But nobody had planned to get this far. Within minutes, a small brigade of baton swinging riot police caused havoc and confusion. There was division among the activists. Some were pulling open doors and running into the station, then coming out, deciding they were biting off more than they could chew. Most were dead against this, as it went against the action consensus of the camp [CONSENSUS] The next twenty minutes were a running battle with the police, often attacking demonstrators who were leaving the power station, from behind.
On the final day, stories trickle back the camp of counter demonstrations and even attacks from local right wing groups. This is an area of Germany where fascism is on the rise. One demo consisted of hundreds, shouting threats of violence. These threats were carried out on some demonstrators who were locked on to a bridge and could not defend themselves. State violence and fascism in divided communities, crumbling
Breaking into power plant, courtesy of Ende Gelande Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/
into mines. This is a scenario I became used to when I worked as a human rights observer in Colombia. It is chilling to see it in my own continent.
My last hours in the camp saw hundreds of occupiers arriving back by foot or by bus to cheering crowds. There was a sound system, lots of dancing, a klezma band and a well- deserved party. Many activists had gone days on a few hours sleep a night, battling bitterly cold night-time temperatures while sleeping on soot covered rail tracks and giant metal machines.
Inflatable barricades block the way of the police, courtesy of Ende Gelande Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/
Whatever is reported in the media, this was a big step for the movement. As the images of falling fences and occupied coal plants spread around the world, the landscape of political intercourse has again been repainted. This is a movement propelled not by money, media exposure or even peer reviewed science. It is glued together by visions, friendships, and beautifully executed plans. In the words of John Jordan of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, ‘Our work is organisation, not representation. It’s transforming the world, and that is the role of art.’
Occupier, courtesy of Ende Gelande Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/
Sorry. On meeting an artist who works with a gallery that have exhibited Banksy’s work, I learned that he is in fact a plural noun – different
Banksy? ‘IEKA, Large Grafitti Slogans’
artists submitting under the same name. I was sceptical, but the truth was staring at me from inside the profession.
“How can you be famous and at the same time nobody knows you?” she asked. It makes sense. How can you effectively, authentically and believably interface with the world as an artist if you can’t reveal your own existence?
Something inside of me died. Nobody wants to learn that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. For years Banksy’s incisive guerrilla satire have not only redefined urban space, but the potential for art as political expression. I want to believe, but deep down I know its true, Banksey – if he ever was someone – is now no more than an idea, a meme, a con. Banksey – a collection of nobodies laughing because they are somebody who is nobody. Bastard!, I mean Bastards!
But hang on. If Banksy doesn’t exist then he cannot be discovered, he cannot be arrested, jailed or stopped. He can live in several continents simultaneously. But this is the best bit, Banksy – like some kind of omnipotent deity – will never die! If she (or he) is nobody, the she (or he) is everybody. Banksy is within us all, a recurring pattern sprouting from the mighty and eternal We. He shoots from the undergrowth like a mushroom from an clandestine mycelium network.
Each year Father Christmas heaves the slay breaking weight of grotto bookings, TV appearances and billions of childhood expectations into her (or his) December. This miracle is made possible because she (or he) isn’t. The global phenomenon of Santa Claus is enacted by a seasonal epidemic of mini clauses (or sub clauses), not so much Santa’s little helpers but spell casting dream fulfilling mini mes’, pouring yuletide wonder (and a tidal vomit of plastic) into the gaping mouth of childhood.
That’s right, this December, the giant consumer conspiracy sold to us as Christmas is finding new surfaces to graffiti its brain bleaching cliches of buy. New ways to cultivate thing addictions, eating disorders and feelings of inadequacy. Ho, ho, fucking ho! Thank you Father Christmas, all of us, we merry makers of debt obesity.
We are all Banksy now. So pick up a stencil, a spray can and sack stuffed with indignation. Take back your streets before the Bastard capitalist Santa Claus gets there first, or worse, creeps into your home and into your stockings.
It is a week before the COP 21 climate talks in Paris. I am told by everyone that protest there has been stamped out, incriminated and put under house arrest; that protest had been delegitimized, made impossible and unsafe. After the ISIS shootings, demonstrations are outlawed, but
The mass protest that never happened, Paris, November 29th
Christmas markets and football games continue as usual. Activists everywhere are furious at the French Government’s cynical attempt to sanitise the streets of those not rich enough to be at the table. From Berlin, I email one of the key organisers in Paris and tell him that a coachload of activists from Berlin are thinking to pull out. ‘History is not made by people who ask permission’ was his reply.
I arrive to find I am not alone. Tens of thousands of people have converged on the city. They come out of hope, out of belief, out of fear, out of necessity, and into termite social centres and writing warehouses, filled with banners, puppets, secret meetings and mischievous ideas. Nobody really knows what is going to happen. The week is about to take me into a load of activist convergence centres, out on to the streets, and into a museum, a cell, and several dance floors.
Protest in a Police State
The State of Emergency has forced activism to up its game. How can you protest when human rights have been suspended. The French police are tricky to say the least.. My host in Paris told how after the election of President Sarkozi in 2007, plain clothed officers were seem leaving police vans, going into the centre of a demo and then attacking people with batons. We know that agent provocateurs are part of the landscape of modern protest. How can we defy the suppression of protest, avoid getting battered, and not give the police and the sensationalist newscasters the riot they want?
We have to get creative. The big day of action. December 12 arrives. Tensions are high. Arriving protesters are getting searched by undercover
“Resistance is the dragon that guards the gold. It’s the archangel, armed with a flaming sword, who defends the gates of Paradise.” (Steven Pressfield)
police and armadillo riot cops. Somebody is walking around informing people that there are police dressed as black bloc armed with tear gas and pepper spray.
One group has come armed with platters of fruit and sandwiches. They walk between lines of police and protesters serving smiles and delectations. Another group is dressed as angels with impressive wing spans. There is also a Clown Army brigade and an improvised theatre troupe. Swinging batons at these protesters would be a PR nightmare for the police.
Earlier that week I met a Colombian who told me that student protest in her country had been transformed in the eyes of the public, from “rioting terrorists” to “freedom fighters” by the ‘Besaton’ block (translated as “mass kiss”). The tactic is simple. When it looked like the police were about to start swinging, someone would shout “besaton!” and a line of people would start snogging at the front line of demonstrators. The baton wielding police were left impudent with bafflement. The idea was discussed but there was no French kissing from the European protesters. If you ask me, that needs to change.
“But what about barricades!” I hear you shout, shaking your first in the air. Paris is, after all, the birthplace of barricades. 1588 is celebrated as the Year of the Barricade. Since then, they have been the fine line between success and failure for revolutions against tyranny and oppression the world over. Quite simply, barricades are part of the foundation of modern democracy. This year, the proud tradition was kept alive in the form of
21st Century Barricades
giant inflatable cobblestones. The shape is significant. Cobblestone, dug out of the streets to create missiles against police and military, have protected European citizens from armed police and military for centuries. London had them replaced for this reason. Our cobblestones can be stacked on top of each other to make a great line of defence against police advance. They are also highly mobile, before and after inflation. As an added bonus, police cannot confiscate ‘social sculpture’ or ‘art’. For this reason the undercover police who searched us before the march, and found our kit, had to let us go.
The French president was cynical enough to claim that the protest was a celebration of the treaty signed inside the summit. But we have all long since stopped listening. Has radical change ever come about by political leaders waving a piece of paper in the air? The minute we start celebrating that is the minute we have lost. Our business is that of knitting together a movement. Because the only response to false corporate and technological solutions are social ones. Lidy Nacpil of The Global Campaign for Climate Justice, comes from the Phillipines. She rejects the ‘narrative that is being perpetrated by the rich governments and the corporations who are not interested in transforming the system profoundly’. The movement, she argues, is ‘not yet strong enough to dismantle the power of the corporations, so one of the urgent things that we need to do is to build our power so we can change the system.’
Inside the summit, indigenous representatives struggle to get their rights further than a pre-amble of the agreement. Their work is vital but only
The Indigenous Bloc
partial. Outside the unacknowledged march hand in hand with their comprehnderos, refusing to be footnoted by their unelected legislators. They are the Do-ists and Now-ists, stepping forward in embodied dialogues of action.
When civil society is not invited to the table, it breaks in and jumps on top of it. The COP 21 Climate Solutions is on at a high class exhibition centre. It is recognised by NGOs and civil society groups everywhere as a giant corporate exercise in greenwash and technofix- a panoply of false solutions to the climate crisis – bought to you by the people who created it. Among the stall holders (who have paid hundreds of thousands to be there) are COP21 sponsors who actively lobby against renewables while promoting fossil fuels and water privatisation. Thankfully, the immense apparatus of security and secret police were unable to hold back the invading tide of activists who climbed all over it with guerrilla speeches, chants, stickers, posters and banners.
Lenin once said that ‘revolution is a carnival of the oppressed’. This is the spirit of carnival, revelry and revolt that has pulsed through every progressive movement in history. It is alive and well in Paris. The streets spill on to dance floors and dance floors spill onto the streets. There are flag waving, banner draped pits, moshing to marching brash bands. There are raucous, vaudeville cabarets, hosted by cross dressing eccentrics. Performers and audiences fling themselves in. Goblins shake their fists from the rafters. These is not a side shows, they are central to the social mechanics of change.
The day after the big march, in a squat in St Denis, Paris, the second ever Climate Games Award Ceremony is taking place. Climate Games is a competition to inspire and celebrate creative disobedience. It is an idea, not an organisation, a cleverly un-arrestable platform for the collective
Some serious arse
imagination of anonymous insurrectionary acts. Hundreds of competitors have taken part the world over. One nominee for the ‘Piss Yourself Award’ has smuggled hundreds of toilet rolls into the COP 21 Conference Centre with the International Panel on Climate Change Report written
on them. The winners of the ‘New Forms of Innovative Insurrection Award’ have engulfed Volks Wagen garages with smoke bombs and banners that read ‘You pollute us, we pollute you’. One of my favourites is a 30 foot banner drop at the Arc du Triomphe; done by the Family Action Network – a group of activists aged 1- 13.
I am proud to find that an action I took part in has been nominated. On Weds 9 December, we went to the Louvre to help expose the oil money dripping down Frances most cherished cultural institution. We smuggled fake oil in and emptied it onto the atrium of the museum. With our bare feet, we stamped an artwork of sticky defiance on the floor and threw songs about Total oil company into the air while fist pumping black umbrellas. We were joined by over a hundred other activists, doing a similar action outside. That day, #FossilFreeCulture, a global movement to end oil sponsorship of the arts sprang into the media. Curiously they felt the need to arrest us and hold us for 4 hours. When they learned that the embarrassing patch of molasses and treacle did not constitute criminal damage, we were released without charge.
We are beaten to first place, however, by a worthy opponent. Brandalism, a collection of culture jamming, subvertising urban guerrilla artists hijacked over 600 outdoor advertising sites with radical critiques of corporate and political inaction and greenwash. They did it all in broad daylight, dressed in fake J C Décor uniforms. Class.
Reasons to be Cheerful
This is of course part of a long history of civil disobedience. If people didn’t misbehave, women would still be banned from wearing trousers and we would still be getting arrested for not attending church on Sunday. Its time to stop justifying direct action and start celebrating it. All over the world people are reinventing insurrection to keep the oil in the ground. In the words of Arundhati Roy ‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing’. The new world breathed heavily this week in Paris.
When I arrived there I didnt find protest sitting down, but making plans, friends and history. I found it shaking hands, shaking fists and walking to the streets laughing and singing. The tens of thousands who turned up to Paris to defy the ban on protest are poets of deeds, rewriting history with their hands, their feet and their fists. They walk with their heads held high, red flags flying from their mouths, a crimson tide of tongues.
The battle they fight is of words ideas and feelings. That is all and that is all. When we change the discussion, even for one day, we win a battle. When we redefine what action means, even in one young heart, we win a battle. Through these small victories a movement grows. Outbreaks of talking become outbreaks of doing. Outbreaks blossom into epidemics.
I believe that the greatest threat we face is not a political and business elite, grappling forever vainly to resuscitate a dying system, but apathy and despair; the belief that there is no alternative, the belief that we are powerless. The antidote to this is hope, or what my Occupy friend, Mark
Burning for change
Weaver coined ‘Revolutionary Optimism’. Let us wipe away the dust of post-modernist scepticism and look our brave futures in the eye. Lets be prepared to throw our ideals high.
Let us also be prepared to use our bodies and not just our ballot papers and our Facebook accounts. Mass civil disobedience has to be just that. It cannot be left to a minority. Tomorrow’s world will be decided by our actions. We are living through mass extinction and biospheric collapse. Politics as we know it must end. The era of ‘post politics’ must begin. It is our responsibility to make it happen, all of us, to act with meaning and poetry. If not here, where? If not now, when?
The last word goes to Rowan, a Ploughshares veteran, who I met on the bus back to England. “When I take action it feels like poetry, like ripples spreading outwards, almost like a prayer going out into the world. If we really are going down, let’s go down being the best that we can be.”
The Truth Behind the Paris Climate DealThe western media has reported the Paris climate deal as a great success. So why did thousands take to the streets yesterday to denounce it?For an in-depth exposé of the deal: http://nin.tl/1OZaxEt
Activists arrested in the Louvre secretly sent this message fr…Ten performers were arrested today at the Louvre for challenging its sponsorship by oil companies Total and Eni. But they managed to smuggle a phone into their cell to get this message out.Performance by End oil-sponsorship of the arts, BP or not BP?, G.U.L.F. Liberate Tate, Not An Alternative Occupy Museums, Platform London, Science Unstained, Shell Out Sounds, No Tar Sands, Stopp oljesponsing av norsk kulturliv, The Natural History Museum alongside other artists and activists from around the world. Film supported by 350.org and Real Media.