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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