Tag Archives: activism

Spoiled by progress?

2 Nov

We live in interesting times. More than that, we are experiencing an unprecedented moment in the history of human civilization. Never before have we been so connected. Never before have we lived so long. Never before have our political and economic systems been so globalised. Never before have we altered the very nature of our earth’s climate.

And yet, in my conversations with people recently, you would think we had been here before. That the climate change predicament we face is just another obstacle in the path of human progress. I’m not talking about climate sceptics, or Daily Mail readers or anyone else that the green movement generally throws buckets of water on. I’m talking about my peers – young people who care, who know that “Houston, we have a problem” and who, in some cases, would describe themselves as campaigners.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that things sort themselves out in the end, that technology will finally come to the rescue, or governments will finally get a clue. Some of the discussion in my MSc seminars so far have had people suggesting that we will somehow be able to make (finite) fossil fuels grow through human ingenuity or that we will be able to “planet-hop” when we finally exhaust our resources here and mine in space.

Putting aside the ethics of both these suggestions, I do not want to deny that technology might make significant, path-altering breakthroughs or that governments or markets or whatever other instruments will come up with ingenious solutions. I sincerely hope that will be the case, but these things don’t happen on their own. We make history. Somehow, we have forgotten that we have instrumental roles to play in ensuring that change happens.

Up until now, the climate change movement has successfully used examples of previous social movements to encourage people to take action. Climate Rush use the example of the suffragettes, there have been lessons from the anti-slavery movement, and over in the US the environmental justice movement seems a natural successor to the civil rights movement.

It is incredibly inspiring to hear the stories of these movements – the actions, the speeches, the successes – and begin to apply them to the challenge of our time. However, I think there is a flipside. It may sound contrary, but I also wonder whether the fact that all these movements did succeed has actually gone a long way to lulling my generation into complacency. I was born after the anti-slavery movement, the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s lib movement. All those historic social shifts happened without me, so surely a conclusion I can come to is that the shift to a low-carbon economy can happen without me too.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a safe conclusion. It we who are here, and it is we who must act.

We have been spoiled by progress, both social and technological. Truth is, we have no idea how this is going to play out and yet we’re acting like we do. Truth is, we can’t afford to take that risk.

So this is essentially an appeal. If we want progress, then we must go out and get it. Whether it’s through art and culture, science and research, engaging in local politics or community groups, campaigning, activism and direct action – through our individual actions we need to form a collective identity. An identity that can carry a movement. The opposite of “spoiled” is “fresh”, “ripe”, “clean”. Let’s come to this movement fresh and clean, shed old successes and failures and look straight into the future.


Resources for Organisers

30 Oct

hi! good saturday to you all! I have already made raspberry risen pancakes with my friend Robin this morning so all is well with the world. Just wanted to point you to an amazing list of resources that my friends Joshua Kahn Russell has put together for organisers (although he’s american, so it’s organiZers), activists and the like. So hop on over to his blog for the most comprehensive list on facilitation, non-violent direct action, fundraising, outreach, media, anti-oppression and strategy that I’ve ever seen!

Out with the old warrior queens, in with the new?

3 Oct

This is cross-posted from The F-Word

I came across this Cordelia Cembrowicz print earlier in the year and I am not lying when I say that I almost burst with excitement. As a former classics student, and current environmentalist and feminist activist, it was like all my worlds collided and then imploded to create this beautiful work.

Cembrowicz is a member of Climate Rush, a women-led protest group inspired by the actions of the suffragettes 100 years ago, that urges the government to take strong action on climate change through peaceful civil disobedience. They organised a number of actions last year that commemorated dates key to the suffragette movement, including a “rush” on Parliament and a picnic at Heathrow.

The print shows the artist herself at Climate Rush’s Pedal Power protest last summer, sitting astride the Victorian statue of Boudicca (formerly known as Boadicea) and her daughters that sits upon Westminster Bridge. Boudicca, that great warrior queen who almost succeeded in toppling the Roman empire, is shown towering above Cordelia, overseeing her protest and protecting her with a generally amazing warrior-queeny vibe. Continue reading

Girl Swoon #7

29 Sep

I first met Cordelia a couple of months ago, after I saw her work featured in an Amelia’s Magazine article and actually screamed because I had done my undergrad dissertation on this very statue of Boadicea, and lo and behold someone was actually using it for a climate action message! It was like all my dreams had come true (I have strange dreams). I then interviewed Cordelia for my own article (to be published soon!) and discovered she was super cool and definitely swoon-worthy.

Name: Cordelia Cembrowicz

Age: 27

Website: www.cembrowicz.co.uk

1) What do you do and why?

I am an artist, activist and now the Vice President of the Royal College of Art Students Union.

I make art because I love creative freedom. I find modern living fascinating, art gives me the chance to explore and interpret ways of thinking and being. This interest in the long term led me to become increasingly curious about climate change, the effects of our bizarre modern living on the climate and likewise the effects of the changing climate on civilisation.  My response is to look at possible solutions to the possible long-term catastrophe we are facing, and to protest against it happening.

I built up my artistic practice making miniature fairies out of human teeth, and drawings and etchings of social and hormonal structures. The recent work I made on my MA is a result of investigating environmental activism, and in particular the group Climate Rush. It’s a kind of celebration of defiance through combining images of the female environmentalist protestors I met protesting, with depictions of environmental threats and places already affected by climate change. And also a print made from a portrait of me protesting on Boadicea’s horse.

Climate Rush is a really interesting direct action group. They take inspiration from the Suffragettes, and the movement one hundred years ago which successfully led to the right to vote being given to women. I’ve been making costumes, banners, stickers and postcards as propaganda for the group, and am speaking about this at the Climate Rendezvous on 13th October at Toynbee Hall.

Working for the RCA Students Union is exciting, as an opportunity to work with all these amazing creative people in so many different ways. I was drawn to the job by the opportunity to feed sustainability into the framework of the college (I really noticed the lack of environmental provision both academically and structurally throughout my time as a student, so formed the student Green RCA group, went and complained at meetings, make stickers for the recycling bins, screened The Age of Stupid etc). I’m organising events, discussions, parties, campaigns, choosing wallpaper for the bar and importantly vocally opposing increases in fees and the like at managerial meetings. Everyone is feeling the financial pinch at the RCA, fees are going up, studio spaces are shrinking so it is really important to provide light relief from all of that in the Student Union.

2) Does being a woman affect your work in any way?

I’d say so, you can never really act outside yourself, your experiences and relationships with the world inform your position in it.

3) Are you a feminist?

Yes, for me it is about equal rights for men and women.

4) What are your future plans?

To structure my life so I can continue making art as independently as possible. Walking on fire for the Nepali Children’s Trust, dance classes and a possible cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

5) Tell us one cool thing we don’t know already:

David Shrigley, Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger have set up a campaign to stop the 25% cuts to the arts, and David Shrigley‘s animation is great:

Girl Swoon #6

22 Sep

Nadia is one ridiculously talented lady. I knew her back at uni on the student theatre scene (dahling) and now she’s representing in the world of stand-up comedy! *cheers* *applauds* *whoops*…

Name: Nadia Kamil

Age: 26

Website: I talk a lot on Twitter – I do jokes sometimes but mostly post photos of meals or outfits. I also have a YouTube channel where I post videos of me titting about with instruments or basic animation.

1) What do you do and why?

I am a comedy writer and performer. I am also an actor and a writer of non-joke based things (like poems, plays, the occasional blog and about 25 novels I have started and subsequently forgotten about) and I am also anything that will pay me money to do a job*.

The question of “why?” is tricky. I have always loved theatre and literature. I made my stage debut at the age of 3, playing Toto the dog in Hafod Primary School’s production of The Wizard of Oz. I recall the direction I received well, “follow Dorothy around and bark when she taps you”. Needless to say, I stole the show and my sordid affair with the stage began. Woof.

I am socially quite an awkward and shy person (no way?! yes way!) so acting is a release for me in which I can be excellent and confident. However, I struggled with the lack of decent parts and writing available to me so began writing my own. My social awkwardness exposes itself in the way that I use humour in nearly all situations (including my grandfather’s funeral, where it was heavily frowned upon) so it was quite natural to me to start writing comedy. I then became a big fan of it- watching lots of stand up, sitcoms, sketch shows and am now quite passionate about it as an art form. I love doing live shows, but am also getting to really enjoy writing for other people. There’s something deeply satisfying about hearing your joke go down well, even when you didn’t say it.

I’m also passionate about women in comedy. I feel they don’t have enough of a voice or a platform and I am actively trying to combat that in my own tiny way.

*within reason.

2) Does being a woman affect your work in any way?

Enormously. The comedy industry is still massively lopsided on the gender equality front. It makes it significantly more difficult in almost every aspect for women. Initially there is the problem that comedy is perceived as such an aggressive, masculine industry (much like politics) that it would appear to not appeal to women. Then once you’ve decided that you do want to give it a try you’ll find that there is a staggering amount of prejudice in the way. From the fact that many main-stream clubs will not book more than one female act per night to the endless stream of nonsensical journalistic non-articles about whether women are funny or not.  If we were asking “are white people funnier than black people?” the prejudice becomes so stark as to give a decent idea as to how retarded the comedy industry is in its relationship to women.

The difficulty of being the sole woman on a comedy bill is that then, that woman becomes representative of all female comics, and is judged as a woman and not as a comic. Whereas you have 4,5 or 6 men on the bill who are judged in their own rights on the individual acts they perform. This sort of thing extends to television as we rarely see even one, and almost never, more than one woman on comedy panel shows. Not until shows like QI, Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week are equally populated with men & women can we begin to believe in achieving gender equality in comedy.

3) Are you a feminist?

A massive yes.  My mother died when I was 6 so I grew up in a super macho environment – me, my dad and my three brothers. This made me hyper aware of being female. I see so much gender inequality still (in 2010!), that it angers me when people dismiss feminism as old and irrelevant. Feminism is about equality and that has still not been achieved. Feminism is even more important in a world that sleazes by with an oleaginous facade of equality. The gender pay gap is around 22%. That stat by itself makes me sick with rage.

I have been reported in the Daily Mail (with a tone of disgust) as a feminist activist for defacing body-confidence-eroding ads on the tube. The portrayal of women in the media (what I consider my area of work) is insane. Body image is an important issue for me, and one that affects women enormously. I believe it’s a massive contemporary feminist issue that underpins women in nearly all aspects of their lives, consciously or otherwise.

4) What are your future plans?

To write more, to perform more. I’m working on a play that has a strong female agenda but I’m concerned that will put people off (which in itself is terrible).

5) Tell us one cool thing we don’t know already:

I’m half Welsh and half Iraqi. My mother was from Swansea and my father from Baghdad. I lived in the Middle East just after the Gulf War but mostly grew up in Wales. I am so ashamed of Britain’s actions against Iraq that I can barely think about it, but I want to tackle it and will work up the courage to do so sometime in the future. Hopefully the Royal Court will pay me to do so (unlikely).