What community should really be about

I came across this project a few months ago when a group of kids from Gladesmore Community School approached me enthusiastically to tell me about their great idea:  ‘We are making a song for Tottenham, because of the riots and all! Go on facebook, like us and buy our single so we can get to the top of the charts!’ And off  they went, approaching the next people in a park in Tottenham, London.

I became intrigued and went on their facebook page which didn’t really tell you much except that a lot of celebrities are supporting their project. Over time they gave away more and more information, until a video from a flashmob they organised was released

This is what community looks like – people gathering to cooperate with a goal to change something that concerns all of them. The fact that this is done by kids, makes it even more awesome.

Feelings of pride, belonging and shame

I have never felt any kind of attachment to a place, any kind of pride regarding the location I coincidentally find myself in, nor any other kind of patriotism (which for the lack of a better word I use despite my aversion to its etymology). Seeing the message these kids send however, moved me so deeply. It took me a while to figure out that it had triggered some sense of belonging and pride in me, having lived in Tottenham myself.

A moment later I realised that I had nothing to do with this, I don’t know any of the people involved in the project, I have not participated in developing the ideas and executing them, and I have no connection to them whatsoever, except that we arbitrarily share the same geographical location. This is when I felt deeply ashamed for even thinking that I belong to this community, where I have not even spent half of my free time, let alone done anything to get involved.

This is where I realised how much respect I have for those kids, who I hope will from now on, wherever they go, create great communities, where they stand up for themselves and for others and especially, where they don’t have to identify with a flag (or a PM or a Queen who doesn’t know anything about who they really are and what their needs are) just to have this feeling of belonging.

Postmodernism in Action

I wrote the following article for the UCL European Society Magazine EUREKA, where it has been originally published.

International Occupy Movements Prove: Unity doesn’t need Grand Narratives

What have you heard about the Occupy Movement? Most likely you know that it started on September 17th in New York, with people occupying the city in protest against Wall Street. You might also know that this phenomenon quickly swept through Europe, where many citizens all across the continent, quickly set up occupation camps in solidarity with the protesters in New York.

You will have heard many reasons for the occupations, ranging from statements like ‘weare fighting against corporate greed’, over ‘bankers got a bailout, we got sold out’, to the popular slogan ‘we are the 99 per cent’. These rather incoherent claims go hand in hand with the innumerable demands the protesters direct towards their governments: ‘Tax the rich’, ‘we want our pensions back’, ‘free education for everybody’, ‘stop the war’, ‘real democracy, now’.

This almost arbitrary mix of assertions, and the lack of an all encompassing grand narrative naturally let the conventional BBC reporter assume, and pass on to his or her viewers, that if there is no coherence within a single camp then there can be no unity of Occupy protesters on a European scale. If only our mainstream media had arrived in postmodernism already, they would be able to gaze beyond the mix of different bodies, with different demands. They would be able to recognise the unity that is created through the very uniqueness of every single Occupy protester.

It is a fact that there are as many different opinions concerning the purpose and the aim of the international Occupy movement, as there are citizens involved. Having said this, it is also a fact that being different from one another is what the demonstrators have in common. Instead of letting their individualism and idiosyncrasies become an obstacle, they use them as sources of inspiration for debate. Here, debate is always advancing, never stagnating. Based on the principle of inclusion and in the form of general assemblies or specific working groups, Occupy discussions bring together various identities, which jointly create a blend of knowledge that lends progress to the movement. Here of course, the claims go beyond catch phrases such as ‘make the banks pay’, so that a dynamic space of reason is created. The purposes for occupying are constantly being debated, the aims are continuously restructured, and the methods and strategies to achieve these goals are persistently being transformed by the unceasing reorganisation of the group dynamic. As these discussions are open to all, they offer an opportunity for anyone to propose an argument, express support of someone else’s idea or simply object to any kind of suggestions made by others. Admittedly, this way of changing plans of action can be seen as discouraging and daunting, as it is easy to lose perspective over the whole movement. The established procedures make it especially difficult to visualise specific intentions of Occupy, and even more so the mere direction the movement is heading in.

However, this unpredictability of debate, the venture into the unfamiliar, experimental and of course new, is what composes the postmodern beauty of this insurgence. As Flamina Gianbalvo writes in The Occupied Times of London (the official Occupy London newspaper): ‘The debate might be never ending, but only by engaging with it, do we stand a chance of achieving what no other movement has done: inventing the unknown’.

Critics’ arguments concerning time insufficiency of large debating groups can be quickly made redundant. The Occupy London community of just over 300 campers, and thousands of visitors has managed to establish a self sustaining city within the city. Institutions in the camp include a general information tent, a kitchen and a coffee/tea house, The The Occupied Times of London headquarters, the Tent City University (a space for lectures and seminars) as well as a growing library. Working groups dealing with concerns such as waste management, safety on the camp grounds, internet presence or outreach are completely based on voluntary participation, and yet they function smoothly. All this was established in London within the progress of only two weeks, and is being developed and extended with every passing day.

This concept of a city made by the people (that is a group of diverse identities living together in a community), for the people, is aspired and carried out in Occupy camps all over Europe and the world. This is the very essence that unites the individuals involved with different Occupy sites, despite – no, rather due to – the very lack of a clear strategy and an aim. Lead by the general disillusionment with the way that Europe is governed under the current status quo, the protestors all share one common feature: The desire for autonomy and self-determination. They are united under the shared discontent of being patronised, of having decisions made for them, and because they all have different opinions on what the future should look like debate is so lively and progressive. They are coming together in solidarity to reclaim the freedom of shaping their own lives. The collective tool they use for this purpose is deliberative democracy.

What is wrong with SOPA

I don’t even know how often I have wanted to blog about occupy, after three months I’ve finally managed to get around to it. Here is the result:

The London Corporation won (but only in the court room)

The public awaiting the verdict at the Royal Courts of Justice. (Photo used ith the kind permission of Philip Collins)

So it eventually happened, the verdict was reached that the Occupy London Camp has to leave the grounds of St Paul’s. To get the full story click here. Below, you can read my impressions of the day.Before Mr Justice Lindblom entered and proceedings began, I was surprised to find the atmosphere of the court to be surprisingly relaxed and I saw many friendly faces and even heard some laughter. The mood seemed calm. This was probably for two reasons: 1) Everybody expected that the corporation would win the court case in the long run, and 2) the protesters are now at a point where they are too confident to be struck by a negative verdict. Bearing in mind the success they have achieved so far, both parties know how powerful the Occupy movement is.

Today, the beauty of Occupy revealed itself in a single moment.

It was obvious that the protesters held the moral high ground, and every single second in the court room showed how inhumane the legal system is, and what kind of moral standards it is based on. The judge phrased his verdict very well, perfectly depicting exactly that.

He started off by praising the movement, with a compliment to the passion and commitment that the protesters have invested in the project. His description became even as particular as to mention every single institution established by Occupy LSX at St Paul’s: The University, the Library, the welfare tent, the kitchen, the meditation tent etc.

Nevertheless, the judge ruled against occupy, as they are allegedly infringing on the right of the worshippers, who visit St. Paul’s cathedral (admittance to the church is £14.50) and are disturbed by the….peaceful and engaged citizens, who are creating a forum for debate in order to become part of their own city?

So there we go, on the one hand we have that which actually benefits society, the human, the environment and the future. We have that which fights inequality, that which is based on love, empathy and compassion. We have that which gives without taking anything, at least not taking anything more than the moral high ground. While on the other hand we have those who oppose these values due to a lack of understanding and tolerance. We have the corporation, which now (almost as if out of principle) wants the protesters gone from their property.

This makes dialogue impossible. Two completely different value systems meet one another. One party is master of the art of communication in both discourses, that of the progressive and that of the status quo. The other only understands the corporate language of the current economy, a system which does not seem to bear any sign of humane consideration.

The whole occasion felt surreal, like a circus or a carnival. To be present in that court room, knowing that there was nothing the corporation could do, was bearing witness to the reality that you cannot evict an idea.


The title says it all

Shame, advertised as an interpersonal drama, turned out to be nothing more than a blunt and utterly cheap pornographic depiction of the life of a nondescript sexual compulsive New Yorker. The film introduces the viewer to his lifestyle of masturbating and of course working in a high profile company, so as to be able to pay for sex workers.

The film does not evoke any kind of emotions, at least nothing other than the boredom and repulsion we are used to from the usual commercial crap out there. You don’t pity the main character, you’re not even disturbed by his actions. The plot is empty, the dialogue poor and the acting is ridiculous. Except for perhaps a few instances of clumsy minority group placement in the script then, this film isn’t really worth mentioning.

However, just as I was ready to leave the cinema, my attention was caught by one particular scene that did not last more than a few seconds:

I think the director intended to show that the protagonist had arrived at a new low in his sexual deviances. After some rejections and sexual failures within the ‘upper class’ circles of society, he now descends into a seedy nightclub in search of gratification. Apparently, at this stage he is too repugnant even for the crudest girl in that club. Being beaten up by her boyfriend for touching her, he then ends up following a guy into a building on the opposite side of the street. Inside the building he finds himself in a maze of dark corridors, lit only by shades of red. Surrounded by male homosexual couples involved in various sexual practices, he immediately gets to it with another man. This scene is supposed to represent his very last ray of hope for corroboration and affection. I really wanted to interpret this scene differently, but no matter what explanations I came up with, it just depicted gay sex as the lowest kind of human interaction.

At this point I was disgusted by not only what I was witnessing on-screen, but also in the audience. I made the allegation that all of the viewers were convincing themselves of how liberal and tolerant they are, of how open minded society is to show this blunt depiction of sex. That is what we need, they thought, a brave director who shows us the real, authentic truth. Someone who hits us in the face with the ugly and the depraved that we try to avoid but that we all have in us. Yes, I am convinced that’s what they thought and that this is what made them feel good about themselves: The feeling of being permissive, modern, unprejudiced, understanding and compassionate (or something along those lines), all because they made themselves stare at a screen where, essentially, nothing was happening. Nothing, except for the cleverly placed propaganda which I am adamant not one member of the audience even noticed.

This makes me wonder, what kind of responsibility the bbfc has. Of course we all know that film makers have long lost their responsibility to produce progressive art (if there has ever been any such duty). Do we not have a moral obligation these days, after fighting so long for equality of all kinds, to at least make a stand against this kind of propaganda?

Personally, if I were the person in charge of critiquing SHAME at Empire, the Daily Mail, the Guardian etc., if I were on the board of film classification, if I were an actor, a musician or the costume designer involved with SHAME, I would have made a stand, as I am doing now.

The Fable Of My Dog

Freedom, then what?

Today I took my dog, Figaro, to the park. He has been here only once before and when we arrived he seemed quite familiar with the place. Walking on the lead, he gave me directions as to which paths to cross and which hills to climb up. After a while of walking through the park, far enough away from the road, I let him off the lead. There we were, standing on a hill top overlooking a fair bit of the park. We could see down on the fields of grass and up into the cloudy grey sky. Without obstruction we could observe the children at the skating spot in the distance, we could see the traffic on the street that we had left behind us and we could watch the ducks swimming in the pond as well as the crows sitting in the shrubs.

Everything seemed so small and made me feel somewhat exalted. This was what I thought Figaro would feel like once he got off the leash. At first his reaction was as expected. He stood there eagerly awaiting for the ball to be thrown. Usually, when I show him that I don’t have a ball and tell him to run for himself, he does so. Not this time. Instead of enjoying this freedom (of which he really does not get a lot), he just stood there looking at me sitting on the bench, waiting for my commands. I gave him the order to run, but that did not seem to be enough. I encouraged him by jumping towards him and waving my hands about, desperately trying to evoke a spark of enthusiasm in this little creature. All I achieved was a fortification of the confusion, inhibition and unease on his face.

The clouds above us were getting darker and denser as people kept leaving the park. Figaro was still in one spot, moving his paws minimally, as if to express his indecisiveness. I tried ignoring him, to see if he would use the situation to enjoy his life for a little moment. I presumed that his freedom consisted of roaming the grounds and leaving his scent. Nothing happened and I still sensed his timidity. I called him over, a moment he is normally dreading as he knows what it means: I want him to sacrifice his freedom and trade it for the leash. Today however, he came immediately, happily with no sign of resistance. I hesitantly attached the lead to his harness, still giving him the chance to walk away and have a moment of unrestrained freedom. I felt quite certain however, that the lead was what he wanted now, that it would make him comfortable, secure and happy. At this moment it began to rain, so we returned to the place Figaro knows best, his home.

More Than Money

The Good Life

Would you rather be a fisherman or a business man (and under which conditions)?


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