Thursday, 24 November 2005

Longo Mai- preparatory meeting for PGA France 2006

re:pga France 2006

Went to the PGA meeting which was held in an annexe of Longo Mai.

Longo Mai is a community that's been going since 1973 and is building Eco houses, from straw bale for instance. There are many families there. They try to be self-sufficient which is why they eat meat. As the location is quite high up, it is more of an animal farm in terms of agriculture. Also water is a problem there.

Meals are communal. They produce meat, veg, honey, jams, bread, herbs and essential oils which they sell in the local market in Limans. But this is becoming a problem as the French state is clamping down on small businesses producing dried herbs and oils. The official excuse is that this is for health reasons but in reality it's because big pharmaceutical companies have 'copyrighted' certain herbs. Next spring they will get their own mill so they can grind their own grain for their bread (they are particularly interested in using heritage grains to produce gluten-free bread). They also have their own radio station, Radio Zinzine.

It seems to be financed by rich Swiss benefactors. There is a branch of Longo Mai in Switzerland and in also in Eastern Europe.

Everybody gets 15 euros a week pocket money for drinks and fags but if they want any other money to, say, buy clothes, they have to ask the community.
I have visited this community before and have found some of the people terribly rude and unfriendly. They seem to be very into themselves and not interested in other activists. However on getting to know some of the Longo Mai residents, they explained that the personal coldness is due to the Swiss German origins of the community. Also they wish to discourage activist tourism, that is when activists bum around the world staying in communities and squats and never give anything back or commit. This branch of Longo Mai, being in Provence, a popular tourist destination is particularly wary of that.

The conveners of this PGA are 'les sans-titres' or STAMP as they are called for this PGA. PGA in French is AMP so it's s.t.(sans titres) and a.m.p. (action mondiale des peuples) together which makes ...stamp!
These consist of activists from Dijon (Les tanneries) Grenoble, Geneva, St.Etienne, Lyon (La Friche), Ales and a squatted village near Ales called La Vallette.

The next PGA won't be held at Longo Mai itself or perhaps just one bit of it. They have decided to split it up into five different locations around France, some in the city, some in the countryside. This is to avoid centralisation and an overemphasis on either urban or rural issues. It is also designed to encourage contact between activists which is thought to be harder at a larger centralised gathering. Decentralisation will also lessen the burden of provision on each site chosen. Each location will have a practical project in which people can contribute to helping, learning and interacting with the locals.

Each location would concentrate on 3 of the 5 themes to be discussed at this PGA conference.

Then at the end it is planned that everyone will meet for four days in one location. The whole thing will last around 17 days. It will need some fund raising as it costs about 15,000 euros to put on the conference.

I will be doing the translations into English so I will post translations to English speaking samba and activist lists when I receive the documents. They have a call-out for people who want to hold practical workshops such as self-building, fuel conversions to bio diesel, building unusual pedal powered vehicles, artistic projects.

In terms of the samba band, which they were all thrilled about us coming, it means that unless we have a huge amount of people going from across Europe, we will have to choose one of the locations.

Geneva and Dijon expressed interest in starting a band. Just think! When those poor people do protest marches, they just walk along silently like we did in the past... how boring. Although thinking about stuffy French cities in August it may be nicer to go to one of the rural locations.

This will all take place next August after the July anti-g8 in St Petersburg. So this will also be a time for a debrief of that meeting.

There were a couple of Russian activists at this meeting. If people are considering going to the anti-G8 in Russia, they need to be aware that Russian police are not fluffy and that Russian fascists have just killed a couple of 'Food not Bombs' protesters. Also be aware that visas for Russia are expensive. However the Russian activists were worried that no one would support their anti-g8 protest.

Olivier from Geneva asked if Dissent or the British would be interested in hosting the PGA in 2008, for it is bi-annual, so if anyone knows anybody from that network could they pass this message on? He was so impressed with the organisation of the g8 in Scotland.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

France is on fire!

It's beautiful here; I'm up at dawn to drop my daughter off for school bus. At that time it's cold but the light is amazing, red hillsides, ochre farmsteads and golden vineyards. You can see why Cezanne et al were inspired to paint here. Then I go to the local tabac/bar and down an expresso whilst breathing in other peoples unfiltered tobacco.
Everybody smokes and eats meat. My daughter is the only vegetarian in her school (1,200 pupils) not just now but ever. All the mums dress to the nines, teetering on kitten heels towards the school bus, are rail-thin (elles font attention, bien sur, à ce qu'elles mangent, French women don't get fat) and smoke like chimneys. Which means, girls, that along with the sun they've got faces like leather handbags. Dark brown lip-liner is a makeup must!
Around 10ish, the sea mist clears and it heats up, enough to swim and wear a thin t-shirt even in November.
Dark drops suddenly at 5.30. the air is filled with wood smoke and you can see the stars and even the planets- no light pollution.
The markets are full of amazing produce and need I mention the inexpensive wine, olive oil, tapenade and cheeses wrapped in leaves or volcanic ash.
But, but, I miss London. I don't know anyone here so I feel pretty isolated. Work is hard to find in winter. I'm doing my motherly duty, school run four days a week then helping my daughter with her homework of which she has tons. French school is tough, strict and very academic. My daughter has got mates now although it was hard for her at first. Her French is good but it's frustrating for her not to be able to communicate as quickly as she can in English and it seems that French secondary school communication between pupils is all about being cool and putting others down just like it is in English school. But it gives her an insight on what it's like to be foreign and trying to fit in.
I've found her a drum teacher, first lesson last night in the little hillside village of La Garde-Freinet (apparently the heroin capital of the Cote D'Azur). The teacher, Francois, has two kits set up in his garage amongst the drying washing. I've managed to set up her kit in my parents' garage. (This is a major achievement on my part, I mean, have you ever tried to put together a hi-hat? maybe I could get a job as a mum/roadie...)

As you have all probably heard, France is on fire! The suburbs are in revolt. It's the inverse to Britain, the poor live outside the town in the suburbs and the posh people live intra-muros. The suburbs are not leafy estates with 1930s semi- detached houses and gardens. No, its cheap post-war housing, huge blocks.
It doesn't surprise me that the children of immigrants are pissed off. You never see an Arab face on TV, there is no integration represented in the media. France has had a policy of low wages and high unemployment for at least 20 years ( I lived here last between 1989 and 1996 and it was impossible to find work even in Paris). It's hard to start your own business because of all the bureaucracy, taxes and regulations.
The social policies of France are great if you are in the system. Fantastic health care, roads, schools. But if you never manage to enter the system you are fucked.
In Britain at least there is a youth culture, you can start your own projects without too much interference from the State, and actually pretty good racial integration. I know Rhythms is an activist band and dedicated to fighting the system but I believe that France is way more oppressive. Especially if you aren't French. Even our press is more lively and there is actual debate going on. French newspapers don't even have a readers letters page.
Now French cities are in a state of emergency with a curfew. Unbelievable response to the situation! Maybe the revolts will push the French government into change despite their draconian initial response.
Vive l'esprit de mai 68! (you know when I was at university here, I was told that the architecture of all universities built after May '68 was expressly designed not to have any gathering points for students, to prevent student solidarity occurring again).

love et bises

Thursday, 7 July 2005

Anti G8 camp in Stirling, Scotland.

Another of my newsletter emails to the samba list.
hi was gonna use this morning to give y'all an update but then bombing news (7/7) from London came out during a mass camp meeting and everybody dispersed to find out if their loved ones were OK.
We are currently under siege by the riot police and were trying to decide our response.
Options included:
  • Peaceful, slow noisy push out.
  • March to Stirling prison negotiated with police.
A few Spanish 'black block' wanted to bust out violently (little support for this option but it meant no consensus was achieved during 4 a.m meeting this morning which was initially called to discuss an early morning wake-up call action to disturb the arrival of the American delegation at a hotel).
The last three nights there has been panic in the camp as people bang drums and scream
"Everybody up! We are being taken over. The police are coming, go down to the gate"
The first night this happened I thought, what will that achieve? Especially for those of us with kids, we want to avoid putting them in a violent situation. It was pretty scary and so I went to the media tent to discuss putting out a more positive message. I felt that a daily press release would be a good idea and so did most others, unfortunately some organisations (the Wombles in particular) in the camp are categorically against any interaction with mainstream media therefore consensus cannot be reached on this subject. This means however that the mainstream media are in total control: we do not rebut their inaccuracies. As a result myself and other parents decided to do a media friendly protest, the baby block, to show the outside world that this camp contains a wide variety of people. We also wanted to protect ourselves from having a Genoa style raid in which the police come in and start bashing up sleeping people.
Yesterday was incredibly successful considering the difficulty of our situation when faced with the resources that the police and establishment possess. Many groups left during the day on Tuesday, during the night and early Wednesday morning. There were hill walkers and samba contingents hiding out in the undergrowth all night in the rain in order to set up the road blocks.
We awoke to torrential rain and the news that the 'stragglers walkout' planned for 3 a.m were for the most part not allowed out although some pushed through police lines. Unfortunately some hot-heads started to smash up the local industrial estate in reaction, smashing Band Q, Burger king, and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The call came through at about 5 a.m. that the M9 had been taken by us. Big cheer. This was the least likely blockade to succeed. By 7 a.m. the A9 was blocked and many B roads. I was standing next to the medics as they received news: Lancaster have taken the b2499, Nottingham have taken this other road and on and on. It was like the War of the Roses!
The camp was formed into barrios representing different regions of Britain. The international samba contingent were in the Manchester camp.
I formed part of the baby block along with 11 other members of the samba band including my daughter of course. We managed to commandeer use of a double decker red bus and head the convoy. We were stopped at the exit of the camp by police but then people from the convoy drove through...
We were then escorted to Gleneagles, encountering a lock-on road block held by two solitary activists, they were locked onto and underneath a car parked across the road. We supported them with music then moved ahead. Finally we ended up about 3/4 mile away from the Gleneagles hotel surrounded by riot police. We then descended from the bus and had a street party on the bridge overlooking the A9.
My daughter led the band which was appropriate as it was a baby block. There was a 'terrorist toddlers picnic' in front of the police lines, a sound system, us, clowns, bubbles, rain, banners, colour and an enormous umbrella under which we played. We played crap cos we were all so tired but not as tired as Andrea and her small contingent of sambistas who had been on the move in the rain since 10 p.m. the previous night. I bet they were glad to find us and finally relax on the bus.
We then went up to Auchternardy (can never spell this), and joined the big street party there. However there were reports of clowns (from the Clown Army) being arrested. It's amazing how the Clown Army have been turned into this sinister organisation by the press when their stated purpose is to diffuse tension with humour.
Another activist band managed to get through the barricades surrounding the Gleneagles hotel which put the police into a huge panic. The army were called in to back them up later as a result.
The baby block had some press embedded. I was in contact with a journalist from the Scottish Daily Post. He seemed sympathetic to our cause and we gave him good access and interviews. I was dismayed the next day when the story that appeared in the paper was wholly negative and painted us as bad parents for taking our children to this protest. I called him to complain and he said that he had written a positive story but that the editor of the paper had changed it. However it was worth challenging him because he then wrote and got published a sympathetic story about the camps reaction to the London bombings, a subject which would have been easy for the press to go to town on and paint us as sympathisers with the terrorists. (I have to say that the general feeling around the camp and I felt this way too, that the 7/7 bombing was incredibly convenient timing wise for the Government in that it took all of the attention away from our camps protest against the G8. Also took the attention away from the agreement to drop the debt to Africa.)
This protest has been very colour coded. Some sambistas were arrested in Edinburgh on Monday and it was people who were wearing black who were picked on. One of the French women is charged with leading a riot and breach of the peace and is held for seven days. She could receive a maximum sentence of 120 days. While those sambistas were in Edinburgh on Monday, the rest of us were in Faslane, at the peace camp, doing the annual protest against the nuclear submarines. The countryside was very beautiful, lochs, hills, heather, granite stone architecture, and midges. This protest passed peacefully.
George did an impromptu samba workshop to motivate the people who were locked to each other in front of a gate. The clowns arrived. The geishas of gaiety arrived and bowed politely to the police. There were radical cheer leaders. Lots of creative 'fluffy' responses to the situation. One protester, Johnny, was staging a sit-in on the fence and we surrounded and encouraged him. He was arrested but we managed to make sure that he was allowed to return to the camp with us and not removed.
Going backwards in time: Saturdays' Make Poverty History march was for me rather crap. It was very hot. The march was badly organised and so were we.
It was the first musical encounter of this event between the European sambistas and the British and the different signs render a decent set practically impossible. Frequently we British sambistas ground to a halt in confusion. It took us hours to meet, poor communications were to blame, and then hours to decide what to do. I was exhausted before we did the bloody march. Then, as younger, fitter and non-surdo playing people wanted to stay in Edinburgh, my daughter and I had to walk 40 mins carrying the surdo and caixa to the mini-bus stop to return to the camp. Never been so knackered in my life.
I got back and found that the tent I had been lent was broken and collapsed. We found another empty tent and squatted it as my daughter was asleep standing up but then I got in trouble for that. Childless protestors (most of them) have little understanding of the issues for parents.
Note to self: cannot rely 100 per cent on others to help carry drum therefore must learn lighter instrument for protests and marches, especially with a kid to keep an eye on too.
Camp very interesting in itself. Lots of autonomous organisation. Pretty impressive. I cooked for our barrio on Sunday and will again tonight.
Anarchist teapot and Rampanplan (a Dutch field kitchen) are working together to supply us with food and are massively in debt as a result. So we have to get more donations from people for meals.
Findhorn community also have a barrio kitchen.
Starhawk and some other American witches have been casting spells over the campsite to protect it from the police. They have also been doing invisibility spells for the walkers that blockaded the roads. These spells seem to be working very well.
Have attended more meetings in a week than ever before in life. Am actually going for some kind of 'Guinness book of records' of how many meetings I can fit in. Am also working out how to find out maximum info from a meeting in shortest space of time then scarper.
The toilets are full and haven't had a wash since I got here. Have also got nappy rash from walking with damp thighs. Have eaten mucho vegan slop. My daughter not eaten in days of course.
Lots of interesting people here, people that are charismatic, energetic, self motivated, dynamic and and responsible. If they wanted to compete in the mainstream world they would probably end up running the country!
I suggest we do a fundraiser to buy our own plane or helicopter. Not having our own transport has been very difficult to make us effective as a London affinity group.

Sunday, 6 March 2005

Torino 2

Ciao tutti!
Yesterday was a productive day in Torino.
Despite an optimistic call-out from one young frisky German punk to be up at the crack of dawn and then go and exercise in a local park, we managed to rouse ourselves from our coloured sleeping bag pods at about eleven.
Some people did do some stretching but inside and at a reasonable hour.
We held a meeting to discuss the G8. However I missed most of this as my kid and I had a singular opportunity to have a shower at a nearby flat, that of the genial Brenno.
"But I don't have a towel!" I exclaimed
"Brenno does have one towel. But don't mind, it is near the beginning of use".
Okay, that sounds good.
We met up on a bridge for the 'pinkarnival parade' only about an hour late which is good by samba standards. We were topped and tailed by kinky carabinieri (Italian police) in tight trousers and knee high leather boots. The parade was to support gay, lesbian and transgender rights.
A large 57 litre glass vat of red wine was wheeled along with the samba band. A wonderful Italian innovation that I feel we should attempt to reproduce on British demos.
It took some time to get going as we had to wait for a funeral to end. A pink-clad samba band would be considered inappropriate as musical accompaniment for a funeral.
We were also accompanied by a sound system playing Euro disco during the breaks.
We made our way through the cobbled streets of Torino, past the arcades.
My daughter mestred 'Welfare State' on the shoulders of Jon (which he later regretted as it exacerbated a 'subvertising' back injury). (My daughter and I participated in some of these subvertising actions in London and it was great fun). She did brilliantly I must say (even though I am her mother).
At one point my kid and I did escape to a cosy carved wood ice-cream parlour where she ordered chocolate ice-cream and I tried turron and yoghurt.
Later we joined the band who were having a circle drum in a snow filled park.The carabinieri had departed.
A call went out "the wine is leaving!".
"What?" yelped Izzy and she rushed to fill up her large plastic sack with red wine, looking much like a drip feed full of blood, which she suckled on for several hours.
George taught 'Banghra' to the continentals.
As it got dark we all piled on a tram, as usual not paying (does anyone pay?) although the owners of number one drums (the largest surdo drums) could not enter as their drums would not fit through the door. I don't know how they got home.

On return to our space, Fin and Greg had exchanged clothes. There was a party planned and drag Kings and Queens would be there. A collective of us girls applied make up on Greg (who ended up looking like a prettier Hazel O'Connor) and before long several other men crept out of the woodwork and asked to be included. Fin went as a boy and my daughter also dressed up as a goth boy and declared that from now on she would only eat black and white food (groan).
Ultimately us light-weights were too tired to go to the party but heard that the prettier male members of the bands were plied with beer and all and sundry boogied down to Eurodisco with a vengeance.
I woke up at eleven to find that all the coloured pods were filled again and that a rhythmic snoring of different timbres had recommenced.
Sunday: more meeting: feedback, plans for G8, then clean up.
Now my kid and I are staying with Elio of the Torino samba band. His flat is beautiful with wooden pillars and a fresco over the doorway. We talked about the difficulties of being an activist in Italy. Elio said there is a lack of solidarity between different groups of activists, that everybody is divided into competing factions. The London samba band can easily make money by busking (to buy instruments, finance trips) but busking doesn't work in Turin, he said. Turin is basically quite a working class city with a history of trade unionism and an activist university.
He also talked about a friend of his, a single mother and how tough it is to get by in Italy. There are few state benefits for single parents and she was subjected to rigorous means testing. The welfare people even came to her flat and asked her why she had a computer if she was claiming state help. Her child was only a baby. The computer was very old.
People are very nice in Torino. Had my cheek pinched in the bakery yesterday. Haven't had that since childhood. Everybody very friendly. Plus we had some more ice cream. This time I tried violet(?) a bit weird and lemon. My daughter had chocolate.
Turin is where chocolate first became popular in Italy. They also have a wonderful chocolate liqueur, a bottle of which I bought during their annual chocolate festival which they held at this time. At this festival were amazing sculptures in chocolate...the 12 stations of the cross was reproduced in milk chocolate as was a scene from Dante's Inferno, but this time in dark chocolate.
Aiming to sample every gelateria in Torino before departing.

Saturday, 5 March 2005

Samba in Torino

Again these posts on Torino are part of a newsletter email that I sent to the Rhythms of Resistance list at the time.

We all arrived safely apart from John and Izzy who had a 3 1/2 day London to Torino marathon journey by bus, train, ferry, all in the name of eco-worthiness. They only arrived late last night. Just goes to prove that being good doesn't pay.

We are staying at a migrant help centre in a large heated room, into which are squeezed about 60 sambistas. The Italians are sleeping on the floor with us in a touching display of solidarity.

There's alot of different snoring rhythms at night (I'm definitely a surdo number 2, one of the largest drums) .

Thursday we did an action against state control of fertility centres. The Italian government, led by Berlusconi, have legislated to prevent single women and gay couples from getting fertility treatment. Plus they want to stop people having the choice to test if the foetus has problems, in other words, they are preventing the abortion of disabled children.

In preparation for the action, the Italian samba band made enormous foam needles with which they pretended to inseminate people. We did the action at a registry office for births.

Then we went to Torino university which, European style, is being occupied at the moment. Djs in the hall, cheap food in the foyer. We did a drumming workshop outside.

There have been alot of translation problems of signs and breaks. As samba is so noisy, we communicate and orchestrate the music via hand signals from the 'mestre' or conductor, but this requires that everybody understands them. As someone said Amsterdam Ror has conquered the mainland and us islanders (the London band) are a bit lost, even though we are the original founders of the Ror network. We sounded a mess to be honest.

Friday, we did an action which sounded much better due to the fortuitous arrival of George from London who mestre-d. We spent 40 minutes on a tram to get to a large shopping centre. We played outside a call centre which employs people on a daily contract with no holiday pay, no sickness pay, no notice of termination of employment (nothing has changed since the days of On the Waterfront). This action was against precarity of employment.

Then we moved over to an IBM office. Played. Then all of us knelt down and started praying to IBM.

Security guards surrounded us but the shoppers and staff seemed to enjoy it.

Then back to the university where we did a dance workshop.

There have been films shown at the migrant centre for the last two nights about transgender issues. I watched the first one, but it was all in Italian. Some locals translated for me. One film showed a group of chubby bearded young men talking. After a while a local told me that they were all in fact women.

Beards are popular here not just with transsexuals.

As for food it's quite difficult as our European partners are unaware of the dietary needs of fussy children, vegans, coeliacs, etc etc most of which the London band here seem to be.

Today is carnival day....

Off to buy pizza for breakfast now...