Friday, 7 October 2011

Rock n Roll Cardigan wearing

I do most things slowly these days, apart from falling into bed.

Anyhow despite MY dealing with intense burn out the rest of the world rolls on.

A few of the Epic highlights in my small world include Beograd Pride being banned by the Serbian government (again) , widespeard rioting in London, joining the LURVE squad and taking part in trying to reorganise our Queer Beograd event on class and borders.

So yeah, completely NOT in chronological order.

Beograd Pride was due to take place on October 2nd in Beograd - prior to the event people I knew there were already wondering about wether it would go ahead or not. A lot of disillusionment was being voiced as to how mainstreamed and noninclusive of any radical poltical message the pride had become. In advance of pride meetings had taken place between Police and one of the more 'respectable' rightwing groups with an agreement being reached that some police would call for a boycott on policing pride. Serbias bids to join the EU are not going at all well. Pride organisers refused the offer of striking raspberry pickers to join in solidarity with the pride march. More radical autonomist groups are told that their messages would not be welcome at Pride. (let's keep the rainbow flag squeaky clean)

At the end of the day same old story - the Serbian government banned the pride on the grounds that too much violence could be expected and it would beyond their capacity to prevent this. A COP OUT - in more ways than one.

A few months earlier in London; it's old news now but yes there was rioting. Initially sparked by the police killing Mark Duggan in Tottenham and their brutal response towards protests over his death. Rioting rapidly spread across London.
One thing I found interesting with the riots was the huge range of opinions about what the rioting meant and wether or not it was a valid response. From cheering on the social unrest to condemming the rioters as 'criminal scum' it was unpredictable to say the least as to who would voice which opinion.

Being present at the beginning of rioting in Hackney was also interesting. Ive been in plenty of 'riot' situations but usually in a semi organised activist context. This was something else. Outside Hackney town hall I watched the tension grow, cops advance with standard space claiming strategies and a fluid crowd response from people who I'm guessing hadn't spent a great deal of time studying protest techniques practiced in the global south (those so often cited in activist circles).

Its weird being in a riot where you have no knowledge of a pre-established goal, crowd coherence or an affnity group that you can relate to. The group of young guys sitting next to me were discussing what the police would do next. My house mate and I both experienced in crowd dynamics and police tactics during demonstrations attempt to chip in. The boys look straight through us, we are not part of the group, we are not visible. Its one of those rude moments when I realise that everyday I live looking away from these boys...my own racism/class divides/social separation/alienation... believing the media, living with the reality of violence in my neighborhood. Not being able to find answers to these very complex questions that are part of the day to day in this city, this economy, this capitalist fucking mess.

When Im sure things are about to kick off with the cops I leave, Im not up for a street fight, I don't have it in me. I spend some time dodging half bricks and bottles being thrown at a police van that pulls up next to me in the street, I run with other people around me, reaching out and making contact to make sure others are ok.

Later I stand at the end of my street with other people who live on my estate watching as the local service station and pawn shop are looted. Some one runs thru our estate clutching their new free wide screen TV. I walk down a brick and bottle strewn high street with my neighbour to pick up her teenage girls from the other side of a police line. Once we find her girls they ignore us and rapidly walk off as we are not 'cool enough' to be seen with.

the next days and nights in my neighborhood are tense, quiet in a way that is scary - its never that quiet here - always full of sirens. All this fear of violence its like the usual events of any given month or year have been compressed into a few hours of rioting - a flare of the frustration, crime and poverty that is part of everyday.

Again in Beograd - where again I dont go because I'm too tierd, because I want to conserve my energy and get well. Because i just dont fucking have it to stand the fear involved in not knowing what will happen, what fascists are or arent going to do - the shear stress of being there. Instead I read the crew emails and comment on discussions (before the fucking Pride is banned) on how meetings and organising for this event on class and borders are going, how some believe it's essential that we should attempt to define what 'working class' means.

Me - i can see sweet fuck all point in defining 'working class' because i dont want to fall back into simplistic old methods. Clearly there IS a class system operating but im not prepared to accept it's so simple as some would want us to believe.
i just want to know why there are always people out drinking coffee and eating lunch in the gentrified part of my neighbourhood when on the other side of the estate its all street drinkers, crack, stabbings and garbage. why in the midst of those polite cafes i can see the police in riot gear harrassing the local youths.

I forgot to mention love, its there amongst all this violence, poverty, confusion, exhaustion... i still have a love heart embroidered on the sleeve of my rock n roll cardigan.

Monday, 1 August 2011

in sickness and in health


It's been bloody ages since I wrote anything here. Post Athens/Sanfran helter skelter...June and July were BAD health months. *presses whinge button* My health is a bit dodgy, I'm prone to a boom and bust cycle of living. When I'm 'up' I run hard, when I'm not I tend to fall over for a while and say things like 'would someone PLEASE make me a cup of tea, cos I can't move.' resting....sure can get boring when it's not a choice.

Anyhow I've been doing mammoth amounts of lying down, a bit of weeping from time to time and a lot of feeling sorry for myself. Not sure about doing any Edith Piaf cover songs in the future. 'No Regrets'?? well sometimes I really DO wish I hadn't taken shit loads of drugs and partied so hard way back in the 80's. I come over all 'Nancy Reagan' (on the drugs policy not the right wing politics) and find myself muttering 'kids, just say no' :P

Sometimes it occurs to me I also might have 'poor health' cos it's been almost 20 years of the run/fall down/run/fall down cycle. fuck it. it's a long time of 'getting by'. I know I'm not the only person who has developoed a habit of doing too much on too little, living on adrenaline... it's a common mode of opperation in activist and creative circles. And the irony of it is that when that level of activity can't be sustained there may be very little support or visibilty for those who work very hard for their communities.

Over the years I've been to a fair few activist burn out workshops, tho it's not a matter just of health, but also of what happends when peoples lives change. I've heard similar stories of instant invisibilty from those who have become parents, or have ceased in other ways to be able to sustain the usual punishing schedule.

I feel like a bad friend, I can't keep up with my basic correspondance let alone all the various projects I have on hold. Plus I have the invisible sort of crap health where people say 'hey you look great'...I'm not complaining. But I do have a few issues around denial with this stuff.

In some ways what I wish for is that as soon as I 'out' myself as having such chronic poor health that it will cease to be true. Bring on bucket loads of energy, the abilty to leap tall barricades in a single bound! or right now I would even go for the abilty to walk in a semi reasonable demonstration without being utterly knackered the next day.

It makes me laugh but seriously what I need at the moment is a P.A. (personal assistant)...I currently lack sufficient energy to move forward with one or two pressing projects and I need to do so. I have a stupid situation where it's often too painful for me to type long stretches of time.

So....dear future totally unpaid but loving interns....come to me!!!! (I.AM.NOT.KIDDING) I promise that as I dictate from a propped up position I can teach you much about the art of creative chaos and rable rousing....and we have such great projects to work on!

1. Is the Queer Beograd event to be held in Serbia in a couple of months time.
(performance/politcal panels) on class and borders.

2. is the publication of the 'border fuckers' scripts. We have funding to produce a small book of the scripts written by myself (in collaboration with others) over the past 6 years or so. It's a total of around 20 scripts and accompanying photographic documentation of queer political threatre produced as a part of queer beograds festivals.

ok have to stop typing for now, ...and go and do something that involves resting/or making a living. Let's call this an update.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Athens Report back

Ok a million years later.....

It's been ages since I went to Athens as part of the Queer Beograd crew, but it's taken me a while to come to ground after bouncing back into London....and all the usual struggles that go with precarious health, precarious employment and trying to pay the rent.
(Please feel free to PRESS THE DONATE BUTTON on this blog!!)



'QUEER BEOGRAD BORDER FUCKERS IN ATHENS'

Our Hosts picked us up at the airport and as we travel into the centre of Athens there is that process that occurs with every new city, of forming first impressions. In Athens what is at first apparent is the heavy police presence on the streets, not one motorcycle cop on patrol but squads of four at a time, groups of police every where. And on the streets as we have heard, many migrants, many people living in streets.

As we travel our hosts are catching us up on the political situation and the developments since the previous weeks general strike, the deaths that have occured, the racial and economic tensions, the beating of migrants in the streets by police and fascists, and the raids on local social centres.

As we travel each landmark is explained and set in a political context. We point out sights to each other, Exarchias' main square, a tiny old church, and then I spot a delapidated set of houses and ask 'what is that?'
One of our hosts replies, 'ah that, this is some of the social housing that was built back in the 1950's when the first wave of migrants came from Turkey. It was going to be knocked down but now there is a movement to restore it and keep it as a historic building.' It seems ironic in the midst of the current tension.

We arrive at where we will be staying in Gazi, our hosts tell us 'well I'm afraid it's going to be a bit loud' apparently what used to be a very cheap area of town and a central district for gay clubs has recently become gentrified, transformed into an all night club land. There's not loads of sleeping going to be happening while we are in Athens.

The next day there is some free time before we meet with the rest of the crew, after a bit of staring at our lines we decide to go out and explore.

Wandering about we find ourselves in the middle of the tourist places, ruins and ruins and more ruins, surrounded by many rich looking cafes and people sipping their drinks in the sun. On the way home we see ruins of another kind; shanties built in any free ground amidst the city, a make shift houses formed out of old sofas and pieces of carpet, a whole bed set into the door way of a building. At the tiny church we spotted the night before we stop and sit for a moment. Alongside the building next to the church are people with cardboard matresses camped out. Everywhere there are people living on the streets.

Finally we make it to the autonomnous Steki - a squatted social centre - for some very familiar organised chaos as the sound system is set up. We hang the Queer Beograd exhibition and then some how I pull myself together for 5 hours of rehearsals. The funniest part of which is trying to work as a director (from a script in English) with the two Athens crew members (who are performing in Greek), some how it DOES actually work. We take a short break and then carry on to the occupied polytechinic for another quick hour of rehearsal and then home for a night of no sleep.

The schedule for the next day is a high speed technical rehearsal, a film screening, a panel discussion - starring a very unprepared Queer Beograd - and then the show.

The panel discussion is kind of weird, our hosts have prepared a very theoretical introduction which i struggle to read through (ive never quite understood the point of obscuring what you want to say with academic language).
The basic premise seems to be a desire to draw parallels between the experience of queers in Beograd - othered and persecuted by the state and fascists - and the current situation of racisim against migrants in Athens. That and the situation of embattled queer and feminist groups fighting to make themselves heard within the movement.

The hope seems to be that we might offer some tactical or inspirational fuel for how to build connections outside of our particular movements and how to break down predjudice inside our movements. For us to show how our refusal of single issue politics has worked at a practical level, but its a hard discussion.

Many times we stumble over how to fight against a system that manifests itself not only OUTSIDE but also INSIDE our movements. As homophobia, racism, sexism and class issues are not abstract ideas but lived experiences, I find open ended 'discussions' of this can be less than fruitful. What I find to be a more helpful is to purposefully and deliberately bring to the fore stories and voices which are less often heard, that is something that has the potential to truly shift the balance of power.

Enough of talking, we head off to our improvised dressing room and prepare for the show. Back stage is one of my favorite places, apart from always being nervous its also somewhere in life that I understand what the fuck I'm supposed to be doing.
I scrawl out a set list, as of course its the thing that hasnt managed to make it backstage, and then we are off... into the close camaraderie of cheering each other on as the show gets underway.

After the flatness of the discussion there is now a feeling of excitement, as each peice builds there is also a tangible energy building in the room.

When the two Local crew go on stage with "La Rage" as their sound track there is a huge cheer and it's great to see both of the performers respond and start to have a good time. They have both been nervous in the preparation, but if nothing else their piece is an example of taking ground and standing up for what you want to say.

They tell of the conflict with being both anarchists and queers in a movement which can be homophobic and sexist. Describing the situation of going to demonstrations where the popular slogans are 'cops, cunts, you kill children' and 'police lesbian whore'. The derision they often face when objecting to these slogans.

they pause and deliver the lines:

'I am dyke
I am a cunt
my friends are whores

fuck anarchismo!'


AND THE CROWD CHEERS!!!

the closing lines of their piece:

'You say you believe in a world with everybody equal
You say you believe in a world with out hierarchy
You say you believe in every voice being heard
Then why do you shout me down?

If prvileges are to be shared, then share them
If power is to be shared, then share it
all voices must be heard
from the margins to the centre

Let us stand together
let us fight together
let every voice be heard

Love and rage
Love and rage
Love and rage'



Last in the show is 'The Easy Jet Set' - the full text of this is published as an entry in this blog titled 'Im not afraid to say forever'.

we do this as a live 'hard core' style set with one of the local women on drums - Its a set that requires a lot of emotional energy... but it also gives back a lot if it works. on the tiny stage in Athens one of those beautiful moments occurs where you see and feel peoples hope and energy rising and begin to feel part of something happening in the space and shared amoung those present.

prior to the show some of the women read the piece and said they liked it very much but could not see how it would function as a live perforance....after the show they told us they were left with 'a revolutionary feeling' :D
THANK YOU beautiful Athens crew xxxx


Monday, 16 May 2011

Counting down to Athens

Counting down to the Queer Beograd trip to Athens (we travel in 3 days time) presenting the 'Border Fuckers Cabaret' and also our booktour and exhibition.
For years members of the Athens crew have been coming to our 'Queer Beograd' festivals, supporting us and adding their voices to our program, now finally we go to visit them. I have to say the situation in Athens looks a little 'tense' to say the least. A few days ago one of the people we go to stay with and with who we collaborate with to organise the whole visit wrote to me:


'dear jet

good morning.

Athens is tough with unrest the last days, with horrible things happening, the one after the other.

monday morning a man was killed, when 3 people tried to steal his video camera. (his wife was in labor and he was fetching for the car to take her to the hospital, he was greek, tragedy).

monday afternoon, fascists were beating up immigrants, all over the center (because supposedly the people who killed the man where immigrants), and also attack two anarchist squats.

tuesday morning general strike and a big demonstration takes place. 30 people end up in the hospital beaten up by the police, two very seriously, one in critical condition, since he had a hematoma in the brain, and now is in icu. the other one had his spleen removed.

early today in the morning fascists kill a 20 year old immigrant from Bangladesh.

last week in exarxeia square (the movement's part of town) violent encounter leads two people in the hospital (both alive by chance).

which makes me think: how much is a life worth?

the atmosphere in athens is really dark and gloomy and like no hope.

just wanted to let you know what is happening in my head..

many kisses and sorry for the horror newsletter

A'


For much of the time leading up to the Athens trip myself and the rest of the beograd crew have been going 'yay! we get to have a summer holiday together'. One of the great things about going to OTHER places with Queer Beograd stuff is that they can pretty much be guaranteed to be LESS scary and violent than Beograd.

Our friend in Athens was also worried that she doesn't have the time or focus to carry on with performing in the event we prepare. Ive been collaborating with her to write a script about the Greek political situation and that can include some of their concerns as women and queers - issues of violence/sexism/homophobia - which often get ignored as part of the 'REAL' political agenda and seen as side issues. For me it also makes sense to try and collaborate in a way where we have at least one piece that can be performed in Greek.

me....being me... well I try to talk her around to carrying on with the show - because its been hard work to get the whole gig organised like fuck am i going to let it drop so easily - and because this is how i survive everything, I write about it, i make shows about it. For sure we might be performing in the midst of a totally crazy situation - but my solution is to do a speed rewrite that includes much of what she wrote about. I dont wan't to be too much of a bastard about it but i WILL have a go at pushing this through.

Again i ask myself about how i can focus on such 'frivilous' things (writing/performance/books/queer and feminist stories)when the situation is so serious. But i believe we need beauty, creativity, i can't cope if all there is... is to fight....and i tell myself, at least if we write the stories, they will remain and our struggles can be there for others to know.

And as i rewrote the script - I tried to talk (yet again) about how hard it is and how despairing one can feel when all the fighting for a better world includes so much actual FIGHTING. That being surrounded by violence can bring so much sadness, and always the search of how to keep unpicking this from underneath.... to keep on and on and on trying to change the actual power relations of a society rather than to find ways to be bigger or stronger in the fight.

Love and rage, love and rage, love and rage.

Im a little scared of the whole 'tear gas and rubber bullets' sound of Athens, but also excited to see my crew very soon.




Here's a link to the Athens Crews page for our visit:
http://queerbeogradinathens.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why are we (perverts) here?

There are many kinds of activism, I'm aware of making choices about where I place my energy - having abandoned the idea that I can be in all places at once or manage be all things to all people.

At some point I decided to go with the things that brought me joy, that I had special talent for and that I felt most passionate about. Activism can easily become a self sacrificing activity - I clearly remember the words of some one in an activist burn out workshop - 'you have to remember you are not jesus christ'. while Im pretty clear on not being the messiah I have had to put some work into letting go of the egotistical fixation with trying to single handedly 'save the world'.

Having said that from time to time I find myself questioning the validity of some of the activism I do - especially the kinds that involve having FUN. Im a big pervert (you may have noticed) being a sex educator and OUT pervert are part of what I consider my activist life. But being in Sanfrancisco and larking my way through a four day perve conference and then doing the workshop for the Exiles I felt the occasional twinge of guilt. At times I found myself asking questions about privilege....who gets to attend leather/BDSM events? why do so many of the participants seem to have a higher level of income? and how does this community engage with broader political issues?

At this point I'm going to say that YES I think on the whole the international perve community IS a very priviledged space, conferences are for the most part populated by above average income earners. But at the same time I don't want to dismiss those spaces as they provide valuable education, safe expression and focused political action in terms of freedom of sexual expression and a challenge to moral conservatism. I would also say that such gatherings and communities can act as radical developmental spaces in terms of how we form our most intimate relationships ....which I believe is inextricably bound to how society functions as a whole.

Coming home to the gritty streets of London stung me a little and it wasn't just the jetlag, it was noticing how violently transphobic and homophobic the streets of London can be. Most often when I travel I am spending time in places that are noticably more dangerous for queers than London. Stepping out into the streets with miss dotty after the ease of pervertsville SanFransisco it was shocking to experience the aggression coming our way particularly from men who seemed to be defending a very fragile grasp on their 'masculinity'.

Take it from some one who has done some indepth market research, I can reliably tell you that the veneer of heterosexuality is very thin. As a kink professional the number one fantasy scenario that I hear from guys is 'enforced' feminisation and 'enforced' Bi. No kidding....most 'straight' guys want to dress up in 'female' clothing and get fucked up the arse....(shhh, don't tell anyone - ok!). So I can tend towards a jaded laughter when I see this kind of aggressive macho posturing from guys (apart from when I think i might get my head kicked in).

Miss dotty and I mused as to why heterosexuality and the rugged gender binary need to be defended so fiercely if they are such natural ingrained parts of our society. A society in which we queers have some how managed to pop up as aberrant statistics, an odd anomaly amidst the rigidly straight and narrow.
The power of being a pervert, is to give weight to the lie that heteronormativity and the gender binary do anything BUT smother us all with a sickly smeer of faux normality. A normality under which seethe the suppressed desires for freedom, not just in the bedroom but to spill out onto the streets and live as we truly are.

Yeah, I'm gonna spend some more time fucking for freedom.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

SanFrancisco


drooling on the keyboard slightly and writing from within the fog of jetlag.....

SanFransisco, what to say?

Via a network of weird perveness we somehow got invited to go to SanFran a while back, one of those occasions where someone makes a generous offer and you think 'well yeah! that would be lovely....but it's probably not REALLY gonna happen'. Except we DID get to fly across the Atlantic with the promise of doing a show and two workshops for IMsL (International Ms Leather) and a workshop for The Exiles.

I travel a lot, there's plenty of times in the year where i find myself staggering about thinking 'where the fuck am I'. This time the disorientation was at an entirely different level. Miss dotty and I found ourselves wandering jetlagged around the streets of SF having big difficulties gauging our social environment. People In Sanfran are NICE....like really POLITE, to the point where we found ourselves staring suspiciously at people in the street and wondering what they wanted. Cars stop for pedestrians, a man halted us as we exited Dolores park to compliment miss dotty: 'You are a very beautiful woman and we in the Castro support that' ...and then a homeless guy offered us a bite of his sandwich.

IMsL was another culture again, 400-500 perverts taking over the Holiday Inn hotel, the lower groundfloor of the hotel converted into three dungeon spaces and the 7th floor housing a 24 hour hospitality suite full of perverts networking, promoting, meeting and greeting. We did a lot of 'sport eating' in the hospitality suite as despite someone else springing for our hotel rooms (thank you - we think you are FABULOUS) we had sweet bugger all money and as per usual were running on a wing and a prayer.

The conference is a feature of Americas plentiful and established leather community, as an outsider being amongst an entire society of people who live in networks designed to foster knowledge and support of that lifestyle was an incredible experience. The set up of a 'beauty pageant' style event was a little strange, but the weekend also held a wealth of workshops, many different play styles and featured a state senator giving an address welcoming all leather folk to SF. The level of mainstream acceptance of perveness and queerness is an unusual thing to get used to. As we collected our room key the guy at the desk gave us what seemed to be a standard speech 'The Holiday Inn welcomes you and wishes you a pleasant stay for this 25th anniversary IMsL weekend'. (i mean WTF??).

We had a similar experience coming through U.S. customs after hours on the plane worrying about body scans, what to say when asked about 'what I do for a living' and wondering if the queer beograd books i was carrying would be counted as 'promotional materials'....not to mention the suitcases full of whips/chains/knives/cocks/wigs/costumes. The guy at the passport control asked us a couple of quick questions about where we were staying and waved us through. We automatically walked over to the next desk where luggage searches were being conducted, an officer stepped out from behind the desk and asked if they could help us, informing us that we were free to go 'unless you really want me to search you'. We walked off feeling puzzled, by some mechanism unclear to ourselves it appeared that we had passed as the SanFran version of 'respectable'. We are both so used to not fitting in properly, very rarely managing to do or be the 'right' thing that our own internal programming hadn't prepared us to join the network of privilege....what an ODD feeling that is.

The shows and workshops seemed to go down a storm :), the great thing about prancing about on stage at the beginning of a gathering like this is that it gives an instant way to meet people and talk to them - and loads of people DID talk to us after the show. The three hour workshop on D/s was grueling but led to us making friends with a leather family from SanDiego who invited us to visit anytime and that they would take us to Disneyworld! :P The pissplay workshow was a lot of fun, special appreciation going out to the sweet piss-puppy we met who made my day by being such a willing and happy participant in the workshops finalle and the filthy perves who cheered at the idea of a 'tidal wave of piss'. The strongest sense I had at IMsL was of a range of genders and cultures being present, the possibility of a space in which many different types of people met with respect towards each other. A glimpse of a world where a great many of the people present are living beyond the binary gender divide.

Plunging straight into a four day perve conference after a long flight and then performing, workshopping, kicking, punching, flogging, caning and whipping your way through the thing is not the BEST way to conserve energy, but we did make a lot of friends. Miss Dotty and I spent a one particulary memorable evening dressed up as delinquent school girls. Cruising into the lobby we saw our shy school boy date sitting with his friends and heard them comment 'wow, you are in BIG trouble'. Ah school days, they certainly weren't the happiest times of MY life, but the roleplays based on that stuff sure do help make a whole lot of things all right.

Grovelling around on the other side of the conference we renewed our search for cheap food, familiar points of reference and preparing for the Exiles workshop on Roleplay. It's possible the audience were slightly bewildered by our slow motion re-enactment of a discovery channel program as 'polar bear/seal' roleplay.
Some of their own suggestions for things they like to play have been filed away for future reference! Using the excuse of costume stages to stand around in our underwear and talk about the kind of sex we like to have was a lot of fun...and most important were the connections. People, meeting PEOPLE, hearing other peoples stories and experiences - to me that's what it's all about. We met some very good people in Sanfran who took GOOD care of us, showed us around and gave very generously of their hospitality.

There's so much more to say about the difference between cultures, the crash landing back to Londons gritty streets, the usual worries about how to make the rent (yet again) but I need to get some sleep right now. Next stop Athens.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

more about money

money, yes it's one of my favourite subjects. As a staunch anti-capitalist i seem to spend a lot of hours thinking about money: where it's coming from, where it's going to, who's money it is, how i can get them to give it to me, what im willing to do for that money.....and how much safer i feel when i am holding onto some of the nice folding stuff.

I'm certainly one of those people who tends to say 'fuck money' and roll my eyes, or possibly 'i hate money' - because i don't have any - yet there was certainly a moment last week when i had one hell of a good run and was holding more cash in my hands than i had seen in a long time when i felt a surge of relaxation (yay! i know how to pay the rent!) and i though 'lovely money!!'.

of course that was very morally uncouth of me because we all know that good activists live on fresh air and good deeds.

now here's the funny thing, because there is this common idea that activism should always be done for free ....but what that usually ends up to mean in practice is that individuals PAY money to do their activism. It's something i can tend to get a bit pissy about, as all around me i see so many people struggling to survive and at the same time doing so much 'free' activism that their own ability to earn the basic money to live on is affected.

its something that in queer beograd we started to talk about a lot, especially over the past couple of years when we were forced to look at how to make our work sustainable. you can only spend so much of your time running away from fascists, working, organising, taking risks, before the wear and tear starts to show. we began to look at this from a very basic level: how do we eat, pay the rent and bills and also manage to maintain our health? Because for many of us we work so long and at such an edge that this really begins to have a heavy impact.

in the collective we began to ask some very big questions about how 'activism' functions, how burn out occurs and how this culture of having to work extremely hard for no money - and for most of us for many years - is a very strange phenomena. One which in many ways ignores the basic facts of our lives.

of course no one is going to pay you to organise the revolution, for myself i would say i have been working as an artist/activist for around 20 years now (at least) spending thousands and thousands of pounds/dollars/euros which i have earned in shitty jobs - and also giving up on having any better job - because i love and am solidly committed to creative rabble rousing.

when i began with queer beograd the first few times i went to serbia i would give up my job and the place i had to live, as there was no way for me to travel there, do activism and pay the rent at the same time. each time i returned to london i would be homeless and unemployed and begin from square one again. its certainly a way to get into a lot of debt i can tell you that. >insert sad theme music<

but from a certain point with our collective we decided that we would try to treat each other better than this, to work with fundraising and funding applications (which also involve a lot of 'free' work) to make sure that we were not all the time putting ourselves into this base line poverty of financial precarity. and for myself i also started to ask that when i toured with shows, when i did workshops, when i worked....(unless i was helping some one to raise funds) to be PAID or just to have my costs covered. travel,food and shelter please!

to me its a important political issue. and i realise there may be cries of indignation but i do find it very strange to create a template for 'radicalism' based in the idea that because we don't like capitalism then people who do activism should bloody well shut up about how difficult it is to balance that precarity.
if we want to build a different society then why deny there is a cost involved?

if we value the work of those who build new structures, then why can we not also build new structures which support of that work?

(i do realise this is a bit of a mystical rant but ive had several situations lately where the glamour of activism and art has been so blindingly glorious, i just had to get it off my chest.)

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Not afraid to say forever

It's been a long time since i posted, and the discussion about class has paused - at least in this form - as i have been so busy simply trying to make the rent. It occurs to me that most of all i am cramped for the luxury of free time.

In the midst of all this i have again come to know the incredible joy of sharing in self organised groups, those moments of real contact that make life more meaningful and that get me thru the day.

I wanted to share a text i wrote long ago, as it sums up so much for me in terms of the stories i wanted to tell at that point in my life and my battle against the isolation of capitalisism, those things that can break us, and of my desire to move towards the possibilities for building our hearts strong enough to live real in this world.


'Not afraid to say forever'
Serco, gsl -global solutions limited, wakenhut, sodexho, group four faulk
These are the people they are the ones,
Running the detention centres, running the private prisons, providing the security guards, making the escorts on deportation flights.
Hand in hand with the state, doing their dirty work
Taking away your freedom, that’s there business.
Fight back fight back
Do the damage, let them know…
We know who they are.

I’m not afraid to say forever, I’m not afraid to say forever, I’m not afraid to say forever,
Here in my longing, I watch people come and go, those you fight with side by side, up against it all, each step marking out the beat of our hearts.
Why does everything slip and slide, people come and go, crews form and then dissolve?
I want something to count on, I want to look back and be able to say, ‘we made this! Look at what we did. We made a difference!’ I want to build something that lasts, that can hold us when we don’t feel strong.
I’m not afraid to say forever.
As we tear everything down in this world with so much wrong. I want you to be there in this new kind of love that we keep on talking about. Where we can count on each other to make a space that lets us grow into something more than cattle for the next consumer fad, the next shopping trip, the next cool thing.
I want a world where rebellion doesn’t end at age 25, a flash of youth. I want to keep going, to know I’m not the only one, the stupid one, chasing an ideal. The only one who fails to give up believing, unable to stop up wanting.
While everyone else gets a real life and a real job, their radicalism shored up with a little insurance. Well hey you’re lucky if you’ve got the choice, but take a good look at the choices you are making.
I’m not afraid to say forever, I’m not afraid to say forever …. And this is how it is done, with the ultimate stupidity of a longing in the heart, …a raw energy to live this life as it deserves to be lived, all body and soul thrown into it. I’m not afraid to say forever.

Can I see your papers? is this your photograph? document checks, cameras everywhere, gets so its hard to move hedged in by the nanny state on one side and the 9-5 world on the other….get a ticket to the straight world…its not that fucken easy…even if you try.

Join the jots, wrap it up…no borders, no nations, what does that mean? Follow it through…no neat divides, no boxes, no fixed thinking…no comfortable way to fall back on… the model keeps breaking……how we gonna work it out. Better figure it out cos its happening. This is not a new story it’s just speeding up.

It’s a queer kinda politics- No borders, the collision of all the worlds forces, people driven from that place by weapons sold from here, labour moving to this market cos of poverty there, economies squeezed tighter, racism ramped higher…all the time all the time were told to believe in the separations, see the divisions, how we gonna get along how we gonna start seeing each other as people, better figure it out, better build the links now, cos its happening.

Welcome to the prison industrial complex, crossing all borders with ease,
-‘Security, the growth industry of the new millennium’.
Our containment systems are trans-national, we build everywhere.
Give us your poor, your needy, your dispossessed, those seeking refuge,
We will contain them. Welcome to the prison industrial complex.

Welcome to the prison industrial complex here is your shopping trolley, as you travel our supermarket aisle feel free to choose from our branded merchandise, we have several special offers this week, bargains, shipped from across the globe, manufactured in free trade zones. Bigger better faster cheaper, we bring it all to you for your shopping pleasure, your shopping leisure…

I wanted to dream, I was afraid to dream. I wanted to dream, I was afraid to dream
…But I would not, could not believe that this was all there was.
Street after street of suburban housing, a factory job, day after day of repetition. The goal: to find ‘the one’ to fall in love, to marry, to have children…to begin the cycle all over again.
I failed, by not wanting the life I was offered.
I refused, with no evidence to the contrary, to accept that this was my lot. No idea what any other life would look like.
Then by insistence, seeking blindly, I found others like myself. Who had fallen through the cracks and burst back up like weeds growing through asphalt, those who succeeded in hearing the desire in their blood.
And as I awoke I began to dream of a life that could be lived, all of us creatures of our own imagining.
Listen, trust your desire, Imagine the way; build a path where there is no path. Place the stones build the path. Build the path and walk upon it. Let strength of your dreams pull you forward.

Sitting in a refugee camp in the Ukraine, the Supervisor has changed his story several times as he slowly realizes were activists, not officials. He says ‘I know what it is to live behind the iron curtain. Many years of my life I have been made a criminal purely by my desire to learn, using false papers to cross the border to have access to libraries that contained forbidden books. Now Europe is trying to create a new iron curtain, this time its not to keep us in but to keep us out...I know what it is to live behind the iron curtain.'
‘In June 2002 the Council of the EU adopted guidelines on the possible development of a Visa Information System.
Taken together, the Schengen Information System and the Visa Information System will introduce the surveillance of the movements of everyone in the EU - citizens, legally resident third-country nationals, visa entrants and irregular migrants. These systems will be used for speculative surveillance and general intelligence gathering, but more importantly, individual records will increasingly result in coercive sanctions, such as the refusal to travel, the refusal of visa or asylum applications, the refusal of admission at external borders, detention pending extradition, and deportation.’
(Ben Hayes, ‘Statewatch analysis – From the Schengen Information System to SIS II and the Visa Information System (VIS): the proposals explained’ 2004)

I call H again; I’ve been calling every couple of days to see how the Ugandan women are...they’ve been on hunger strike in the Yarlswood detention centre for over 30 days now. When she answers the phone her voice is faint, I ask her how she is, she answers 'I’m not so good today, I feel very weak, I stopped breathing several times during the night. The doctors say there is something wrong with my heart. I have problems from when I was tortured before I came here. You know why they are doing this to me, its because I know what is right and I stand up for my rights’
I want to cry, I feel cold...is this all I can do, to sit on the phone and listen as my country does this to another person. How can this be happening?

These borders for our ‘own protection’, how do we separate one from another? Internal and external wars, keeping ‘them’ out…who ever they are, while our economy runs on the exploitation of cheap labour, cheap resources.
The freedom of capitalism, the freedom say what you want, to be who you want to be as long as you keep working, we don’t care who you are, we can assimilate you. Keep spending, keep consuming, get a mortgage, get a credit card chain to the bank a direct line direct debit your wages to our account. Buy our goods and services with the money you earn from us, you never earn enough to buy back your freedom.

Everyday I fall in love, Everyday I fall in love, with the strugglers, the fighters, people who have the courage to demand meaning in a world where its so easy for any sense to slip away.
To work to make this world, that is what I want, …., to be with others who fight for something different. This is all I want, to be living this life, making it happen now. I can’t wait, I wont wait for some one else to make it for me, Everyday I fall in love. And its not all hope and glory, but the slow process, the grinding work of building the ways to really make this happen, building the networks, organising the structure, sorting our shit out, and making the connections to everybody, everybody!

Sometimes when we’re together I glimpse freedom.
Leaving the campsite the police in the car that tails us must be confused; we're the only action block meandering along singing Madonna and stopping to smell the roses.

As we approach a big round about we realise we’ve reached the first police check point, where the police are conducting a section 60 stop and search on anyone trying to pass through, it’s a standard tactic- harassment and delay.
The police try to divide us into boys and girls to make the search and there’s a lot of confusion, with a crew of camp boys, butches, gender queers, trans people…we don’t neatly divide in anyway they understand, the police are starting to regret this encounter.
The Gender police frisk us and quickly send us on our way.

We walk and we walk and we walk through the night, it’s raining. Our map is starting to disintegrate, we get lost and we keep running into more groups of cops asking us where we are heading.

Every road we turn down they’re there blocking our path, we head cross-country running through fields…. and make it onto a motorway bridge…
Standing on the bridge we look at each other. …What now?
…We haul out our banner, tie it onto the bridge and drop it over the edge it unfurls to hang just a few meters above the road, a beautiful rainbow of colours …we climb down the embankment and onto the road…. its quiet…early morning light… We get out another banner … ‘No deportations’ that has accompanied us on demonstrations outside detention centres, reporting centres and even on a sodhexo run river cruise. We stretch it out across two lanes and start to walk up the motorway. Its crazy….the sense of freedom
Up ahead we can see lines of riot cops and vans, It’s a stand off. Then from out of the fields black clad anarchists start to emerge, running down the road towards us shouting ‘you’re beautiful’, more and more people start to turn up as news of the blockade spreads, what started out as twenty of us queers is now 60 or 70 people, building barricades out of fallen trees and pavers from the motorway bridge. This is magic

Fuck the borders between sexualities, between genders, between our abilities to live as we want and the blockades imposed by the state, this society always marking someone as 'other' by race/sexuality/gender/class/legal or not legal…. refuse to accept this condition of nations and borders, the containment of people by walls that serve only to profit those in power. Be a border fucker this is not a new story, its an old story speeding up. Time to open our eyes wide enough to see each other.

So where is the divide on the inside? What happens when our hearts break, promises lost, when things grow cold between us? What happens then? No borders …that’s the damn shitty fact and the power, its up to us to sort it out…not some bureaucracy, some government decision, some business deal…these are our lives, our hearts. Its up to us to make our hearts as strong as we can stand and to let them keep on breaking.
Yes there are edges in this world; sharp edges…but cuts can heal…

And what if it was sure that we couldn’t change anything, would I give up? Fall into despair…sit back and enjoy the ride into oblivion? Sink like so many have into the dull apathy of greed, cheap thrills and television. I’d rather die
I want to fight to know that I’m alive,

Is the world too tight for your fit, can you grasp it in your hand does it love you back, mirror mirror on the wall who’s the most oppressed of all? It’s not a fucking competition my freedom over yours. Link it up, break the box, get out of the ghetto Dorothy. …..Take a good look at who’s standing next to you. It’s not just about your liberation, join the fucken dots it’s a pretty simple if ya choose to see it.

Not doing what we’re told has consequences, but people change the world by being what they truly are. Build your heart strong enough to stand the breaking, build your heart strong enough and keep on letting it be broken.

I’m not afraid to say forever, I’m not afraid to say forever, I’m not afraid to say forever.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Show me your cred(entials)

Im attached to defining myself as coming from a working class background. That’s not imagined but from that point on things do grow more murky, in becoming ‘ten pound Poms’ and emigrating to somewhere that gave better employment/housing and educational opportunities things changed for me. From an early age my life began to shape in significantly different ways from those in my extended family who remained in the UK.

Education in particular is one of the things that marks me as separate from my birth family and creates the feeling of belonging to something of a class diaspora.
When I return to the place where I was born I can find myself checking my own class credentials, trying by visual and cultural means to affirm that I really DO have a working class background and by doing so to justify for myself the discomforts I often find in trying to navigate in certain social circumstances.

Im am one of those people who can get annoyed with those who are visibly/audibly more middle or upper class than myself. I tend to play out via hostility the inferiority I have felt in the past when entering social spaces I didn’t know how to be in – anywhere from a restaurant/what I deem to be a ‘posh’ store or an educational establishment – I would also throw in dealing with institutions of most kinds/authority figures and getting very grumpy and envious towards people who have a sense of automatic entitlement.

Much as its an easy way out to say ‘oh that one has a real chip on their shoulder’ I also bloody well love the times when I mention feeling uncomfortable about stuff like this to other people and instead of bemused/blank or (oh fucking god help me) guilty and defensive looks I get the response of ‘YES! I know how you feel’. Those moments when I can safely acknowledge YES there is a system of privilege in operation and it adversely affects me.

But when looking for means of opening a wider discussion I approached one of the people I would like to invite to Beograd later in the year to speak on this. (Usually we aim for a balance of people from within the Balkans and those from outside the region who we think can bring in valuable experiences and ideas) it was he who raised the idea of ‘class complex’ - being able to consider class not as a rigid single issue but of something existing as a compound of factors (so in conjunction with issues of race/gender/freedom to cross borders and so on) and that is not static but complex and in movement.

His analysis of the current situation in the UK, particularly the attacks on education by the tories gave me much pause for thought – and I will give a rough paraphrase. It may not be news to you but it helped me to gain another perspective: ‘in the past there has been some idea of a situation of class equality, or class mobility coming about via education – that everyone will in effect become ‘middle class’ via an equal access to education and better jobs and so on because of that. In this current climate what the tories want and envisage is to reshape Britain as a manufacturing and exporting power, therefore there is a less of a need for educated white collar workers and more of a need for actual blue collar workers. The scraping of the supported education programme is part of a move to drive people into apprenticeships rather than higher education, to create a greater pool of working class.’

im very happy for people to chip in with better explanations of class complex and this snapshot analysis of tory 'vision'. what im trying to do is sketch out some ideas as a basis for our eventual project/discussion in Beograd.

For my next installment I want to write a little about how people survive, financially, from day to day. What kind of work we do both paid and unpaid and how we organise and sustain and ourselves to do this work.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

No war but the class waaaaaaa

Class is a topic that seems to have dropped off the agenda, well at least in certain places where I would have expected it to be visible it has.

Two scenes that I move through but feel equally ambivalent about are the queer DIY scene (I rarely go there) and the ‘anarchist/activist scene – again I have been intimately aquainted but somehow let my membership lapse.

In both cases when I last visited I noticed a very odd approach to issues of class:

1. I go to a queer DIY gathering, well it’s a bit complicated...the reason I go (because really I would rather poke my eyes out with pins than spend too much time at this sort of event) is because it is in the closest mutual country I can get to that a non-E.U friend has a visa to get into. while we are there we do spend a bit of time at the event, my friend keeps saying to me ‘jeez, how many times can people use the word ‘privilege’ and why do they keep on going on about it?’ … I explain this is a mostly western fixation. But then in an already fucking annoying workshop where some asshole keeps on going on about ‘well I’m studying this in my PHD’ I raise the issue of class and get told ‘well, im half working class myself and I don’t think we need to talk about this’ …in other words shut.up.

2. in some weird hysteria I go to a meeting on ‘the future of the anarchist movement’ these strange moods grip me at times where despite spending much of my day to day working on political projects/living a political fucking project I feel the need to reconnect with ‘the movement’ and to show my face in ‘political’ circles. After we split into smaller working groups so discussion can be more equally shared and people will have a better chance to be heard – one of the women in our group is explaining how she has 3 kids and had to get childcare to come to the meeting, and that she thinks this is a class issue. Several people in the group start to look panicked, a halting discussion of class breaks out in which the strongest and most vociferously argued strand is that ‘we are all working class these days/so the working class doesn’t exist anymore/and or we are all middle class these days/so the working class doesn’t exist anymore’ in other words…shut.up.

Funny old world huh.

As part of Queer Beograd I have for a while been wanting to to present 'class' as one of the topics in our forums for discussion – the transcripts of which form the basis for our publications. And I begin to ask myself and others ‘but how?’ how will we do this? With what framework will we approach? How will we begin to open this discussion? and what is our own position at this point?

Because I see some very interesting contradictions taking place; still the romanticised/mythical vision of ‘the worker’ is promoted as the only authentic subject, who must also be ‘saved'. Then so many of us facing some sort of burn out, illness, childcare issues, mobility issues which can often drop us to a point of becoming invisible within activist circles. And also this strange situation that even as we fight capitalism, so often the current question of how we get from day to day with food/housing/sanity does not seem to be relevant. At the same time as we fight that system the reality of being crushed by it is ignored.

i want to raise the complexity of this subject, to bring into this the concepts of 'class complex' as others have described it to me... but damn it im exhausted at this point...after the strangest day of trying to figure out how to earn a living im having trouble sustaining the energy to write.... so im gonna have to come back to it.