Sorry for an unusual request..

but this is for someone to work with us on the film ?

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination seeks two interns to work with us on our exciting latest project Paths Through Utopias.

What is the project?

Paths Through Utopias has taken us on a 6 month journey through Europe in search of ways of living despite capitalism. Out of this journey will arise a bilingual book/film. See – http://www.utopias.eu. The book/film will initially be published in France and Britain, as well as receiving a small Cinema distribution/book tour.

What we are looking for?

We are looking for two “enthusiastics” to be part of our radical art activist collective to assist and collaborate with us on the production of the film, a feature length fictional documentary utopian road movie.

It would be beneficial if you have some or all of the following skills. (Please don’t be put off if you only have some of the following, as your attitude and energy are just as important as your skills.

Transcribing experience.
Spanish and/or French speaking.
Mac computer literate.
Some experience in Final Cut Pro (or similar) editing software.
Research experience including sourcing archive footage, location scouting and casting.
An understanding of our politics and our collective working methods.
An ability to work between 15 to 20 hours per week, flexible. (We’re happy to work around your other employment commitments.)
We are working on a limited budget but we can offer to feed you during working hours and make a contribution towards your travel.

When and where are the internships available?

30th June – 3rd October – 12 weeks. We are based in the east end of London.

How to apply.

Please send us a cover letter stating why you are interested, what skills you have and which skills you would like to learn and which you would wish to share. Enclose a CV with the letter.

Email your application to james@labofii.net by 23rd June 5pm deadline for application.

There will be an informal meeting with appropriate applicants.

Please note that our current working space is not accessible to wheelchair users.

Nous voici donc de retour à Londres… Je ne parviens pas à écrire « chez nous » tant, en dehors de notre appartement, l’environnement anglais me paraît étranger maintenant, malgré l’indéniable familiarité des rues, des gens et des paysages… Après 12 ans ici, rien à faire, je ne m’y sens plus vraiment chez moi… Sentiments confus et déroutants, car bien évidemment c’est pourtant là que sont la majorité de mes amis, c’st là que vit la “communauté” d’activistes magnifiques dont je suis si heureuse de faire partie…

Si j’osais le cliché je dirais que j’ai laissé mon cœur quelque part en Europe, un morceau dans chaque village, chaque projet, chaque communauté visité au cours des 7 derniers mois…

Depuis que nous sommes rentrés il y a 2 semaines, nombre de nos amis nous ont, assez naturellement, demandé « Alors c’était comment ? »

Je ne pensais pas que répondre à cette simple question serait si difficile…

Comment relater, décrire, raconter une expérience qui a tout changé ? Comment, sans y passer des heures ou risquer un discours un peu illuminé, exprimer l’inspiration, l’espoir, l’énergie et la motivation puisés dans tous ces endroits plus magiques les uns que les autres ? Comment résumer les leçons, les questionnements, les révélations, les remises en cause provoqués par tous ces utopistes concrets, ces rêveurs réalistes ? La peur de galvauder des émotions profondes, d’être superficielle, de ne pas être aussi juste que je le voudrais dans la représentation des projets et des gens, la crainte aussi de me lasser à trop souvent raconter les mêmes anecdotes me rendent presque réticente à parler de ces 7 mois extraordinaires…

Pourtant là est bien le défi que nous nous sommes lancés : nous seulement visiter mais aussi représenter et analyser douze initiatives utopistes européennes ; montrer que des centaines de gens aux quatre coins du continent ne se résignent pas, au contraire, et proposent, avec sérieux, avec plaisir, avec créativité et courage, des alternatives au système capitaliste. Nous crevons d’envie de partager notre enthousiasme devant toutes ces initiatives… et de peur que les protagonistes de nos récits ne s’y reconnaissent pas tout à fait.

Il va donc bien falloir dépasser la phobie de la représentation et s’attaquer aussi sincèrement et sérieusement que possible à la tâche. Vaste programme… et tellement excitant aussi !!

Here is the column we just wrote for peace news about ZEGG. Being back in London and in front of a computer away from collective living is making my optimism melt into dry cold pixels …

LIBERATING LOVE

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“If you went beyond this point they would have shot you” Barbara tells us as we walk past lamposts painted with military looking red and white stripes. “Down there you can see our love huts,” she gestures towards a row of small triangular wooden structures just big enough to hold a double bed, cosily set amongst the pine trees. “Inside them, you’re contained but also in nature – it’s a beautiful place to make love” she says, a broad smile stretching across her serene round face. Barbara is the public relations person for ZEGG -the Centre for Experimental Cultural Design- a ‘free love” eco-village housed in the shell of a sprawling Stasi base on the edges of a sandy pine forest eighty kilometres from Berlin.

It’s a wonderful historical irony that these buildings which are now covered in solar panels and surrounded by permaculture gardens (grapes and kiwi fruit) used to be Stasi training quarters, where the “Romeo-technique” was taught. This involved training East German men to seduce western women into romantically dependent relationships, so as to coerce them to become spies in western organisations. After the fall of the wall, the site was bought by ZEGG, and now inside these characterless premises people are living, teaching and practicing a very different kind of loving.

Where deceit and sexual control was once taught, seminars and workshops are now run which promote trust and transparency as the foundations of community. Founded on the motto that “There can be no peace on earth as long as there is war in love,” the 80 members of ZEEG are developing innovative techniques for building new forms of collective life.

In our atomised western societies, living in community has not only been devalued but many of the skills required to enable us to live together have been lost. Thousands upon thousands of radical groups and intentional communities have fallen apart because of internal conflicts, often stemming (whether conscious or not) from issues of love, sex, money and power.

Since its inception 30 years ago, this community has believed that peace and ecological sustainability can only be achieved when such conflicts are dealt with. For ZEGG these conflicts had to be meticulously studied and solutions found. What emerged from the research was the realisation that problem solving and decision making processes are often burdened by emotional baggage. So they decided to split decision making meetings from emotional exploration by setting up a process called “The Forum”.

Forum is a technique for showing yourself and your emotions to others. The community sit in a circle and people take turns to stand in the middle and express what’s going on for them. The key is not to tell but to show, to reveal in the moment of performance what your feeling are, sometimes it comes out as words, sometimes as movement, sounds, a song, a gesture. The others respond in a technique called “mirroring”. “Mirroring is seen as a gift for the person, not a critique” Barbara tells us “ when you realise that by revealing your own weakness it brings people closer to you rather than pushes people away, then you are able to trust.”

Before moving to ZEGG, Barbara trained and worked in psychology. “The people who live here have a more complex understanding of psychology than anyone I had met in my work or my professors at university” she explains with a wisdom and authenticity that many of the people here seem to possess. Isa and I had never experienced a place where love and sexuality felt so healthy, so much part of everyday life, something that was not an individual or couples surreptitious world but something that could be shared between everyone with such dignity and unburdened joy.

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We are back. Friends in London look at us in surprise “Was that really 7 months you were away for? It’s gone so quickly” they say. It has gone very fast, but what’s even more frightening is how quickly one falls back into the patterns of one’s “normal” life. We did say we weren’t going to come back to London, but changed our mind, and decided to return just to write the book and finish the film. What we need to do however, is change the way we live now that we are back. The first step was to create a new writing space, normally we work in our basement, but a few years ago I got vitamin D deficiency due to the lack of sunlight which threw me into months of depression. On the trip we have spent very little time indoors, and the thought of working in the little bits of sombre london light that creeps through the tiny slit of a window, was unbearable; so we decided to build a loft bed in the bedroom and use the liberated space to make a small office. In the spirit of creative DO IT YOURSELF, of recycling and living with little money, things that we had experienced on the journey, we managed to build a fantastic bed high in the sky, for the price of 24 screws! It’s beautiful, made from old timber found in the street, whose worn grey green scars give it the look of an ancient ship that has run aground. A fitting beggining to our return from drifting across Europe’s Utopian communities.

Whilst we were in Christiania – I wrote the text below on “OPTIMISM” for a seminar at the YNKB art space – entitled – Let’s Remake the World. I think it was a way to try and keep hold of the hope that i was frightened of losing when we returned to London.

Optimism Now or Nothing

I often describe myself as a ”pathalogical optimist”, somehow suggesting that my hope is an illness, something I can’t control. But it’s an illness that I’m proud of, it’s what has kept me believing that acts of creative resistance and building utopian archipelagos have an effect against the frightening totality of capitalism’s global suicide machine. My pathology is rooted in the belief that history began with and is made through disobedience and that we all have the capacity to disobey in every moment of oppression, cooption or collaboration by or with the system that puts life after profit. But it’s fevered by the fear that the history of humanity will be terminated by too many acts of obedience.

Every act of disobedience arises from and creates a moment of optimism, and in that moment is hope. Hope, not because we know what will come from the act, but because we know that without acting there is no chance, as surrealist Andre Breton, wrote “rebellion is its own justification, completely independent of the chance it has to modify the state of affairs that give rise to it. It’s a spark in the wind, but a spark in search of a powder keg”(Arcarnum 17, 1944)

I tend to swing between two ways of feeling and thinking around the sparks of hope.
One way is critiquing hope as the anarcho-primitivist author Derek Jensen does in his essay “Beyond Hope”. The other is redefining hope in the way cultural critique Rebecca Solnit does in her fantastic little book – “Hope In The Dark – untold histories, wild possibilities” (Nation Books, 2006)

Jensen writes about giving up on hope because it restrains our agency, it makes us look into the future and wait for something to happen or it gives our agency to someone else or some other being, god for example! It makes us wait for change to happen. He suggests that we should abandon hope because when we do, we die – the socially constructed us dies, and when we are dead those in power can no longer touch us. When we give up on hope we become truly free, he says, we turn away from the fear that is imposed on us and the exploiter victim relationship crumbles because there is no longer anything left to loose. We become wild and free when hope dies.

“They can do nothing since we are already dead” the Zapatistas say “and that is why we are fighting for life” and from their “international of hope” they have shown something that Rebecca Solnit writes about – that the small, the powerless and the marginal are those that make history in unexpected and often undocumented ways. In “Hope in the Dark” , which amounts to poetic prozac on paper, she turns hope upside-down – Hope is not about waiting, but not knowing what comes next. Hope is in the wonderfully unexpected nature of history, it’s in the fact that history is always ready to be made. For her, the best act of hope is to act in the present moment with no expectations of consequences, just a knowledge of possibilities. Hope is in the present, it’s what we do now and next with the knowledge of the unlimited possibilities of the unknown future ahead of us. Perhaps it is what Ernst Bloch called the Utopian Moment, the moment before anything is done where everything is possible. (See her latest essay http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/513)

And so perhaps optimism grows best in the fertile folds of the present. It thrives when we stop looking with nostalgia at the past, the great movement successes whether it’s the 60’s or 70’s, or the anti-capitalist surges at the turn of this century. It thrives when we step back from the reams of statistics that tell us that we have already overstretched our ecological limits and that our life support system will collapse in our life time. It comes alive when we forget the fears of the future and begin to remember its fabulous possibilities.

What we need is militant optimism, and perhaps this occurs when we are able to accept that in the now is “the best of all possible worlds” ( the etymological origin of the word optimism), but in the next anything is possible. When we can accept that this moment of not yet doing is the only possible one (as it is in the past the moment we are conscious of it), but that the moment that follows it can bring into possibility another world.

And this brings us to the act of art making. The militant optimist is pessimistic about the potential of representation to transform the world. Representation merely takes the past and freezes it for the future. Life-affirming art attempts to reject representation in favour of transformation. To the militant optimist, art is (as Alan Kaprow once said) simply paying attention. And when one pays attention to each moment with mindfulness and composure the greatest work of art and the greatest grounds for optimism emerge. As the unique anarcho-taoist Utopian Scifi author Ursula Le Guin wrote “In order to speculate safely on an inhabitable future, perhaps we would do well to find a rock crevice and go backward…With all our self-consciousness, we have very little sense of where we live, where we are right here right now.”

JJ, Christiania, Feb 22nd 2008

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ok – we have been utterly useless at keeping the blog up to date. We are writing everyday, but not on the blog, we are using the old fashioned way, the paper notebook way, which is pretty useless for sharing and a very privatised form of writing – but thats the point. The trouble with blog writing is that it confuses notes and publishing. To write my notes on a blog would take about ten times longer than in my notebook. Not because i have a very old computer, but because words that go into the public realm need so much more crafting, so much more time to pass them over ones pallete and pen until they feel like exactly the right word in the right place. In my note books it’s a fairly illegible mess, words tumble over themselves, it’s meant as a tool to prompt my memory, not make any sense. And we haven’t found the time, between the filming and meetings, the travelling, arrivings and leavings of this journey….

Anyway as many of you might have guessed we are now in Christiania, the incredible Free-Town a stones throw from the Danish Parliament, with its self managment and radical economics, its beautiful dream like architecture and its problematic hash market, its bicycles and horses, wild theatre companies and old painters. We are part of the CRIR project- a residency for researchers and artists who want to study Christiania. Anyway, whilst here I made a short film for a panel discussion in the Scotland where i was only able to be virtually present, part of Performing Rights Glasgow . It’s nothing deep, and only took two days to put together, but there are a few seconds of video from our trip ! here is the 11minute film ..

tak

JJ

 Bon encore une fois nous pourrions nous confondre d’excuses pour ce silence prolonge, invoquer le temps qui manque, la route, les entretiens, etc. Mais nous l’avons fait tellement souvent, cela semblerait un peu repetitif, non?

Donc voila, la traduction d’un court texte ecrit pour un journal anglais, Peace News, a propos de notre passage en Serbie. Cela ne veut EVIDEMMENT pas dire que l’on a rien a raconter sur nos autres etapes, mais pour le moment, c’est tout ce qu’on a reussi a ecrire. On espere se rattraper vite.

isa et john

 

La pluie gèle dès qu’elle touche le pare-brise, créant ainsi une sorte d’effet « verre dépoli » très années 70 mais pas du tout bienvenu quand on roule sur une route transformée en patinoire. Il fait nuit noire et on serait bien aidés si on pouvait voir où on va. Notre camion est recouvert d’une couche de glace s’épaississant avec chaque bourrasque, et en plus le chauffage ne marche pas à l’intérieur. Pas très utopique tout ça. Bienvenue en Serbie.

 

Nous sommes en route pour Zrenjanin, une ville industrielle du Nord. Nous sommes venus car nous avons entendu parler de Jugoremedija, une usine pharmaceutique qui, à la suite d’une lutte ayant duré plus de 4 ans, de l’expulsion de son nouveau propriétaire (recherché par Interpol), d’une grève et d’une occupation des locaux, est devenue l’une des rares usines autogérées par ses ouvriers en Europe. La veille de notre arrivée, nous avons appris que ce n’était plus une mais trois usines qui étaient maintenant occupées… Inspirées par le succès de Jugoremedija, deux entrprises sur le point d’être fermées ont suivi : la plus grande usine ferroviaire de Serbie, Sinvoz, et un abattoir, Bek.

 

Ivan, un jeune intellectuel militant et fumant comme un pompier, surnommé « le philosophe » par les ouvriers, organise la résistance de concert avec Zdravko, le travailleur rebelle et charismatique de Jugoremedija, baptisé « le Che de Zrenjanin ». Ils se sont rencontrés dans le bureau d’Ivan, à Belgrade, où celui-ci travaille pour une agence gouvernementale, le Conseil Anti-Corruption. Quand il a débuté, Ivan était avant tout un militant anti-nationaliste et anti-guerre. Il n’était pas vraiment critique à l’égard de la vague de privatisation, qu’il voyait comme un moyen de casser le contrôle des ouvriers ayant une forte tendance à soutenir les politiques nationalistes. Mais, à force de lire les dossiers s’entassant sur son bureau et les centaines de témoignages d’ouvriers sur la façon dont les privatisations ruinaient leurs entreprises, il commença à comprendre que le processus de privatisation était aussi corrompu et violent que n’importe quelle guerre. Mita, un ouvrier de Sinvoz, décrit ceci parfaitement en nous montrant les hangars vides et glaciaux de son usine : « Nous avons un autre nom pour ce qu’ils appellent la transition vers la démocratie. Ça s’appelle du vol ».

 

Aucun des ouvriers n’est nostalgique de l’ère socialiste. Mais ils ne peuvent simplement pas regarder les tycoons capitalistes acheter des parts de leurs usines, juste pour les mener à la banqueroute par des manœuvres douteuses afin d’en gagner le contrôle et se faire une fortune sur leur misère. Et le fait est qu’en Serbie les usines appartiennent réellement en partie aux ouvriers : grâce au régime d’autogestion (assez rhétorique) établi sous Tito, ils sont actionnaires de leurs propres usines. « Pendant la lutte pour Jugoremedija, c’était l’une des choses les plus frustrantes » nous explique Ivan « les media refusaient de comprendre que les grévistes n’étaient pas seulement ouvriers mais aussi co-propriétaires de l’usine ». Les travailleurs refusèrent de se faire forcer la main pour vendre leurs parts et découvrirent que s’ils s’organisaient ensemble, ils pouvaient créer une force importante contre les nouveaux propriétaires sans pitié.

 

De l’action directe à la remise en route de l’usine, les ouvriers ont montré qu’ils sont tout à fait capables de gérer leur propre futur. Leur plus grande force est de n’avoir jamais laissé leur adversaire les diviser pour mieux les contrôler. Après la dureté extrême de la grève, quand les ouvriers ont récupéré leur usine, ils ont même redonné leur poste aux casseurs de grève. Lors de notre dernière soirée à Zrenjanin, nous avons observé Zdravko, ancien mécanicien devenu PDG, organiser une action de solidarité envers les deux usines en lutte, consistant à bloquer une autoroute avec les camions de livraison aux couleurs de Jugoremedija! Un brin d’utopie dans la froide dystopie de ce pays livré à la guerre nationaliste et néo-liberale.

 

Les ouvriers ont fait appel au soutien international, voir www.freedomfight,net

Well… We could yet again apologize for such a long period of silence, explain yet again that we really wanted to post more regularly but that with all the traveling, meeting, talking, etc we haven’t found the time… But we have said that so many times, it’d feel a little repetitive, wouldn’t it?

So here is a short piece we wrote for Peace News, about the most inspiring workers-fighters that we have met in Serbia. This is REALLY not to say that we have nothing to write about the other projects visited in the meantime and since (we are really looking forward to sharing the experiences had in France and Germany), but right this is all we have the time for right now.

A big hug from wonderful Christiania!

isa and john

*******

The rain freezes as it hits the windscreen,  creating a 1970s dappled frosted glass effect not very useful when you’re driving  in ice rink conditions on thick snow. It’s pitch dark and it would really help to see where we were going. The camper van is encased in a layer of ice that gets thicker with each lashing of freezing rain and added to that the heating doesn’t work inside. Not a very Utopian setting. Welcome to Serbia.

We are on our way to the northern industrial town of Zrenjanin. We came because we heard about Jugoromedija,  a pharmaceutical factory that,  following a 4-year struggle,  the eviction of its corrupt new private  (and Interpol wanted)  owner,  a strike and occupation,  is now one of the few worker managed factories in Europe. The day before we arrived, we were told that there no longer just one occupied factory in town: inspired by the success of Jugoremedija,  two factories about to be closed down have followed suit – Serbia’s largest train factory Sinvoz and a meat processing factory, Bek.

 

Ivan, a ragged young chain smoking intellectual activist, called “the philosopher” by the workers , has been organising the resistance together with Zdravko,  the charismatic rebel worker from Jugoremedija,  known as Zrejanin’s “Che”. They met in Ivan’s Belgrade government funded office, the Anti Corruption Council. When Ivan started working there,  he was an anti-nationalist and anti-war activist. He was not critical of privatisation as he saw it as a way of breaking the strong hold of workers who tended to support nationalist policies. But wading through the boxes of files and hundreds of workers‘ accounts of how privatisation was bankrupting their workplaces , Ivan soon realised that the process of privatisation was as corrupt and violent as any war.  Mita, a worker at  Shinvoz,  described it perfectly whilst showing us around the cavernous ghostly buildings:  “We have another name for the transition to democracy and it’s called Robbery.”

 

None of the workers are nostalgic of the Socialist era. But they just can’t watch capitalist tycoons buy shares in their factories, only to push them into bankruptcy through dodgy deals, simply to get full control and make a quick buck.  And the point is that in Serbia the factories really do partly belong to the workers: under Tito’s rhetorical self-management they became and now remain shareholders of their own factories. “During the struggle for Jugoremedia,  this was one of the most frustrating things”, confesses Ivan, “the media could not get their head round the fact that the strikers were not just workers,  but actual co-owners  of the factory.” The workers who refused to be bullied into selling to the market found that if they organised together they had a powerful  lever against the new ruthless owners.

From taking direct actions to getting complex factories back up and running the workers here have shown that they can manage their future. Their greatest strength is not letting their opponent divide and rule them. Following the hardship of striking, when Jugoremedija workers got their factory back they even gave strike breakers new jobs. On our last evening, we witnessed  ex-locksmith turned president of the Board,  Zdravko,  organising a solidarity action for the newly occupied factories involving blocking the highway with  the pharmaceutical companies big branded trucks.  A chink of Utopia amidst the cold dystopia of country blighted by nationalist and now neoliberal war.

 
The workers are calling for international support, see www.freedomfight,net

 

Voici un petit texte ecrit pour l’hebdo “L’Ire des Chenaies”, publie par Longo Mai et sa radio Zinzine… Une fois de plus, c’est sur le changement climatique, on ne se refait pas😉 Il faut dire que les nouvelles ne sont pas des meilleures…  mais s’il y a bien quelque chose que ce voyage nous a offert, c’est l’espoir. Malgre l’incompetence et le cynisme de nos dirigeants, il y a, essaimes partout en Europe, des milliers de gens dont l’energie, l’ingeniosite, la sagesse et le courage nous font croire qu’il est toujours possible de croire en l’avenir.

Alors sur ce, BONNE ANNEE A TOUS!!

Isa et John

***

Du haut de la colline Zinzine il est probable que la station de radio n’aura rien à craindre des inondations dévastatrices prévues par les climatologues. Mais dans la vallée plus bas, les jardinières de Longo Mai sont déjà aux prises avec les conséquences directes de ce qui serait plus approprié de nommer chaos climatique que réchauffement climatique : il y a de moins en moins d’eau. Les nappes phréatiques ne se remplissent plus, et sur les six dernières années il a manqué l’équivalent d’un an et demi de pluie. Non seulement la pluie ne vient pas, mais le temps et les saisons sont de plus en plus imprévisibles, rendant l’agriculture d’autant plus vulnérable. Le chaos climatique n’est pas quelque chose appartenant à un futur lointain et n’affectant que des populations éloignées. C’est déjà une réalité, ici et maintenant. Et d’après la plupart des scientifiques experts sur le sujet, il ne nous reste que 100 mois pour sauver la civilisation d’un changement climatique incontrôlable.

Le Groupe d’experts Intergouvernemental sur l’Evolution de Climat (GIEC), qui rassemble plus de 2000 scientifiques venant de plus de 100 pays, est très clair sur le fait qu’il nous faut réduire nos émissions globales de gaz à effet de serre (GES) (par rapport aux niveaux de 1990) d’ici à 2015 si nous voulons éviter la dévastation des écosystèmes mondiaux.  Pourtant les émissions globales totales sont trois fois ce qu’elles étaient en 1990 !

Confrontés à un tel scénario d’apocalypse, 12000 experts et délégués se sont réunis ces dernières semaines pour la conférence de l’ONU à Bali (émettant dans la foulée autant de C02 qu’une voiture parcourant 2.5 milliards de kilomètres). Ils devaient y préparer un nouvel accord qui remplacerait le traité de Kyoto, lui-même arrivant à échéance en 2012 (et qui ne fut jamais signé ni par les Etats-Unis, ni par l’Australie, et a échoué de manière tout à fait spectaculaire).

Entre les larmes du responsable onusien et les embrassades post retournement de veste américaine, c’est surtout des émotions des délégués dont il aura été question à la clôture de cette conférence. Comme si, en relatant les immenses difficultés à obtenir un accord commun aux 187 pays, on essayait de faire oublier l’essentiel : le texte est d’une timidité affolante par rapport à l’urgence. Alors bien sûr on peut essayer de se rassurer en se disant qu’obtenir un consensus sur un tel sujet  c’est déjà une prouesse et que la conférence signale une prise de conscience mondiale croissante.

Mais de Bali, il ne sort que quelques vagues indications sur la nécessité de réduire les émissions de gaz à effet de serre, de grandes et bonnes paroles sur le transfert de technologies ‘vertes’ aux pays en développement, un accord de principe sur des récompenses financières (sans doutes liées à la croissance d’un marché de crédits de carbone) aux pays qui cesseront de détruire leurs forêts, nécessaires pour absorber le CO2. 

Aucune cible chiffrée, aucune mesure précise. Pourtant le GIEC produit des données de plus en plus alarmantes et avait même lancé un appel au réveil avant la conférence. Tandis que la banquise de l’Arctique fond environ trois fois plus vite que prévu, que la calotte glaciaire du Groenland a aussi commencé à dégeler (ce qui pourrait engendrer une montée des océans de plus de 7 mètres) ou que les océans jouent de moins en moins leur rôle d’ « absorbateurs de CO2 », les palabres onusiennes ont quelque chose de désespérant. Et nous prouvent une fois encore que nos politicien-nes sont incapables de gérer cette crise, enferrés qu’ils sont dans leur foi aveugle en un système sensé régler tous les problèmes à coups de « révolutions technologiques » et de nouveaux marchés.

Ainsi l’industrie nucléaire n’a de cesse d’être présentée comme une technologie « propre et à zéro émission » (un voile pudique étant posé sur les GES émis lors de la construction des centrales ou la question récurrente des déchets), on nous promet des avions marchant à la vapeur ou des injections de souffre dans l’atmosphère pour contrer les GES. On imagine un grand rationnement de carbone, où les plus économes en énergie pourraient revendre leurs parts inutilisées aux plus pollueurs. Bref on invente des stratagèmes abracadabrants pour gérer la demande d’énergies fossiles, mais on ne s’attaque jamais à la source du problème : leur production. Personne à Bali, ni politicien ni ONG, n’a eu le courage de dire ce qui est pourtant l’évidence même : il faut cesser d’utiliser les carburants fossiles et les laisser dans les sols où ils reposent. Il va sans dire que ceci est beaucoup plus facile à dire qu’à faire, que nous n’avons pas de réponses toutes faites sur la façon d’appréhender ce vaste programme et que des difficultés gigantesques sont à prévoir. Mais ces principes restent un cadre de travail plus sensé que celui offert par les intégristes du néolibéralisme sauvage.

Dans son magnifique livre Garder l’espoir (Actes Sud) l’écrivaine Rebecca Solnit, dit « Il est plus aisé d’imaginer l’Apolypse, que ce qui vient ensuite ». Dans toute crise, il y a une opportunité. L’étymologie du mot le fait remonter au vocabulaire médical grec et décrit le moment où un corps choisit de se guérir ou de mourir. Nous sommes devant un choix historique et si nous avons l’audacité d’imaginer un monde en dehors des cases où le capitalisme et les marchés nous ont emprisonnés, nous pourrions non seulement éviter l’apocalypse mais peut-être construire un monde meilleur.

Nous devons repenser un système basé sur un profond paradoxe qui semble vouloir ignorer qu’une croissance exponentielle et infinie est tout simplement impossible sur une planète aux ressources limitées. Nous devons être capables d’imaginer un monde où l’on peut se nourrir sainement, de produits locaux et non pas livrés par avion depuis l’autre côté de la planète, où les enfants ne sont plus complètement déconnectés de la nature, où l’on travaille moins pour consommer moins et vivre plus. Un  monde où la survie de la planète est plus importante que les cours de la bourse.

We wrote this little piece as part of our monthly column for British based newspaper Peace News.

Happy New Year to all!

Isa and John

Most journeys require a return, unless they are fugues or escapes into exiles. We’ve been on the road for 130 days now, we’ve passed through eight utopian communities and although we still have another 3 months ahead of us, the thought of coming home is already making us feel quite ill. We thought we might feel home sick, but in fact we have caught another kind of bug, a wonderful infection that has made us loose our immunity to the impossible. We can’t go back to our life as a working couple in a mortgaged flat in London. What was once a recurrent daydream, the idea of living a radical collective life despite capitalism, has become a distinct possibility. More than that it’s become a necessity. Now it’s utopia or nothing.

It’s hard to pin point the moment when we crossed the threshold between dream and inevitability. There have been so many extraordinary experiences. Perhaps it was whilst tasting the conviviality of collective meals, cooking and eating with dozens of people every day. Maybe it was whilst encountering the sheer ingenuity of communities who have little income but boundless imagination such as the pedal powered washing machine in the squatted leper colony on the edges of Barcelona. Perhaps it was just the audacity of those such as the French collective in Longo Mai who have rebuilt three hamlets and mix farming with a 24 hour free radio station that has been emitting for 25 years from a wooded hill top.

It is also very much about the extraordinary people met along the way. Aymeric the high level business manager who gave it all up to milk goats on a self managed farm. Alex who ran away from home at 16 to live with 100 other young people on a hillside in Provence. Clement who despite his nightmare visions of a nuclear winter caused by the impending explosion of a super Volcano, has carved dozens of wild sculptures and gruesome gargoyles that decorate the rebuilt ruins of his squatted hamlet. Axel and Britta who self-expropriated themselves, refusing to sell their property to rich speculators when they wanted to expand their farm and move to bigger premises and gave it away to set up a network of collective farms without private property. Or Juan, the Andalusian mayor of a village of 2700 people, who together with agricultural day labourers occupied and eventually expropriated 1500 hectares from the local Count, and told us from his Town Hall office “Utopia is not just a word or a dream, it’s a right.”

But overall it is about a found sense of coherence. The possibility of an existence that makes sense, where daily life doesn’t threaten our ecosystems or our mental health, where we feel reconnected to the earth that feeds us, where the struggle for social justice is consistent with every day activities. Not an idealised life free of all contradictions – how could this be possible? – but a deep sense of balance. We just could not live without it anymore.

“They don’t seem to know we are coming” says Isa as she steps out of the phone box.”But they seemed friendly and gave us directions.” We are in the ex mining town of Ales, about to drive the last few kilometres to La Vieille Vallette, a squatted hamlet hidden deep in the Cevennes hills. We’ve been in email contact with someone called Clement, who answers the messages sent to their web site, but seeing as the site hasn’t been updated since 2000, maybe there’s been a breakdown in communication.

 

 

We drive into the night, a full moon makes the deep valley sides swell into huge menacing silhouettes black against a star speckled sky. Eventually we find the tiny village of Rochessadoule next to a fast flowing torrent, “turn right at the camp site” they told us, we follow the instructions and drive off the main road, a small stone track runs up the hillside in front of us leading into the darkness. We decide to park the van beside the campsite and explore on foot armed with a single headlamp, between three of us. Jack my twelve year old son has joined us for a few weeks whilst he is on half term.

 

 

The track winds up through woodland , eventually we see a hand painted road sign nailed to a tree “La Vieille Vallette: Commune Libre.” We must be getting near. The track turns to earth and opens up to a plateau, out of the darkness looms a huge shape, large arms outstretched above us, it turns out to be a giant metallic robot, 5metres high made of recycled gas cylinders painted in flaming orange and red. The surrounding plateau is filled with old trucks, abandoned buses, colourful caravans, live in vehicles with a few dim lights showing signs of life and a crane from which hangs the skeleton of a large mammal swinging in the wind, it feels like an abandoned set from a Mad Max movie, a bit spooky, but still no hamlet.

 

 

We keep climbing up the valley assuming we will eventually reach La Vieille Vallette. Passing through a gate, we are suddenly confronted by two colossal figures, tall, as black as the night and very much alive, they move menacingly towards us. One of them releases a high pitched breathy nasal grunt. It’s a pair of heavy work horses. They stop in the middle of the track, their breath steaming in the torch light. Between grunts long strings of saliva fall from their chomping mouths, their metal shoes clash against the stones. Like guardians of Hades they stand staring at us blocking the way.

 

 

Jack is terrified and runs up the side of the hill. We freeze. He refuses to come down. Tears and a teenage tantrum follow. After a lot of shouting and coaxing he clambers back down onto the track and we inch past the horses, all as petrified as each other. We keep going, up and up the valley. Still no lights in the distance just another gate and a bend in the track. And then another guardian dashes out of the night howling at us, a black dog this time. It charges forward barking, white teeth flashing in the moonlight. We inch forward, half expecting to have our ankles bitten off, the dog doesn’t stop howling and then another one joins in a chorus of howls just as we reach another bend and finally see lights in the distance.

 

 

At last we reach an old stone building and push open the door into a long cavern like room,dominated by an enormous wooden table and loud punk music. The dirty white walls are covered with spray painted murals, blue monsters spitting fire, strange hellish animals swallowing bodies. Six people huddle around a wood burning stove in the adjacent kitchen, drinking. They look up at us with slight suspicion but more nonchalance as we introduce ourselves sheepishly. Their hands clasping beer bottles show signs of hard work, some stained black with diesel others with earth. Clement had not told any one we were coming and I feel squeaky clean, painfully middle class and uncomfortably urban trying to explain that we are here to make a film and a book about the them.

 

 

No one budges, except Stephanie, a slightly jumpy young woman, who is painting bits of the kitchen orange. She offers us food, a delicious couscous salad, pancakes and chocolate sauce which is laid out on the huge table. We eat alone in the large common room, feeling extremely edgy and wondering how the hell we are going to manage to work here.We return to the van and sleep in the campsite parking. I have anxiety dreams all night about being judged, and not fitting into social situations.

 

 

In the morning Isa and I are both terrified about going back up, but neither of us admits it to each other. We are worried that by talking about our fears we might manage to persuade one another to make a runner and not give la Vieille Vallete a go. So we drive up the track and park on the vehicle laden plateau which in the morning light turns out to be an old slag heap, the ground is covered in a pitch black dust. As we walk up the valley it feels like we’re in a completely different place from last night. The sun is creeping over the crest of the hillsides which are covered in gorgeous green oak and dotted with bursts of autumnal orange chestnut. Ranks of ancient grey stone terraces follow the valley contours and at the top lies the squatted hamlet, a handful of beautiful beige limestone buildings, complete with fortified towers, gargoyles and a carved gateway with dragons and African goddesses holding a carved lintel inscribed with the classic anarchist slogan: “Ni dieu Ni Maitre” (Neither God nor Master).

 

*

People have live in this secluded valley for thousands of years. The hamlet itself with its spring and deep position is somewhat protected from the hot dry summers that blight the South of France. For hundreds of years it had small holdings including silk spinning, the only traces of which are the Myrtle trees, whose leaves fed the worms, that still grow. Around the turn of the century coal mining took over the area but only lasted till the 50’s after which the hamlet fell into gradual disuse, with fewer and fewer inhabitants. When the squatters arrived it had mostly fallen into ruin and the terraces had become overgrown with trees and brambles.

 

In 199X a handful of artists who had squatted a building in Paris were given a surprisingly good deal by the landlord who wanted to get the building back but did not want to go through a long and expensive eviction. He offered them money if they left without trouble. They took the money, decided to leave the city and bought the main building of the hamlet for peanuts. With materials reclaimed from their Parisian squat they built a massive circus tent and pitched it on the plateau that is now the traveller’s site. The arrival of brightly painted trucks, a circus tent, and a dozen or so Parisian punks in this secluded wooded valley certainly turned local heads. And when they squatted the rest of the hamlet and the land around it hunters arrived and fired their guns in the air, but they were not deterred and began clearing and planting the terraces and rebuilding the ruins. Calling themselves “Articulteur”, a merging of artists and farmer (agriculteur), they brought a very different life back into the valley.

 

Normally there are around 25 people living here, but it happens that the week we are visiting 15 of them have gone on a trip with their bus, kitted out with a wood burning Pizza oven and bar. They’re selling pizzas for “prix Libre” (Pay what you can) at a technival rave and a 10th anniversary celebrations of a squat in Rennes, Brittany. As a result we don’t really get the full Vieille Vallette experience, we get a semi deserted hamlet where the only sounds apart from the punk music that is turned on at night whilst people cook for the collective, are the sheep bells and the occasional donkey bray which echoes and bounces off the hillsides. “When every one is here, it’s so different, it can get really trash,” Julian tells us. In his mid twenties with stunning dark eyes, framed by chisel cheekbones and a short Mohawk , Julian arrived a year ago with his work horse ‘Osaka’, he is totally welcoming and we spend much of the week with him.He works the terraces with a horse drawn plough and seems to never stop running around the hamlet doing everything; baking bread, mending and sorting things. “Sometimes visitors come here and treat us like a zoo” he continues “constantly asking questions, once things got really crazy up in the common space, people were completely trashed and someone’s note books got thrown in the fire.”