Sunday, August 18, 2013

Wilderness Festival: signposts to the future and neartopian spaces

We're talking a lot about our experience at Wilderness Festival - officially, unofficially and internally.
I think we've conveyed what an amazing amount of fun it was, as well as the breadth of activity we were involved in: music, bee-awareness-raising, talks, debates and workshops.

What I don't think has come out yet is how potentially Wilderness points to a new way forward for us.

Allow me to elaborate. :-)

We - our direct marketing team, to be specific - do festivals all the time. And do a highly successful job of raising awareness and collecting interested people's contact details. We absolutely need that contact - it leads to vital online action and fundraising opportunities.

But Wilderness was the first time we've really gone to a festival and shown the audience the true depth of Friends of the Earth

Through workshops on public speaking, campaign tactics and forum theatre which I helped to run with Tim and Ash, through talks with Tony Juniper (ex-head honcho and nature writer) and Craig Bennett (our current Director of Policy & Campaigns) we've given people much broader pathways into offline action with us.

Through these events (and not forgetting the bands, the bees and the sheer fun of what we did) we asked people if they wanted to offer us their time, to help us play the environmental game in every street.

Bees Keeley (R) and Rachel (L) meet artist Emma Ratcliffe and her bumblebee prints

And, to a degree that was both inspiring and humbling at the same time, they did. They said yes to an extent that even if the majority don't follow up on their festival commitment, we can still look forward to a lot of extra help than we expected a fortnight ago.
Festivals are Neartopian spaces

For a few years, I've been marveling at the ability of certain towns and communities - your Hebden Bridges, Bishop's Castles, Brixtons and King's Heaths - to create conditions of receptivity to new ideas as well as intellectual and artistic freedom. To transmit a sense that possible futures are not only possible but are in the process of being made right now.

No-one pretends that these places are paradise on earth - but it's enough to go there and feel that there is still forward momentum. That the prospect of a better future is not wholly stuck in the mud of history.

That's why I describe these places as Neartopian - lookout points from which you can still see a hopeful horizon. It's the same thrill, in a different context, that I get from reading the techno-utopian dreams of Wired magazine.  

And festivals can be the same.

"If I can't dance, it's not my revolution" - Emma Goldman

Granted, when we think of the modern festival industry, we're a long way away from the free festivals of the 1960's and 70's, or even the Second Summer of Love a decade later. Revellers often have to pay to play.

But there's something inherent in them still which reduces people's cynicism and unwillingness to listen. Something in the temporary suspension of usual ways of being and doing, in the dislocation from routine, and in the music; all of it sparks the imagination and increases receptivity to the new.

Wilderness, with its mix of music, arts, debate and carnival, does a much better job of this than most major festivals outside of Glastonbury. But it inheres in every such event, from corporate enormo-fests to the humblest village fete.

Any kind of public party is a place where we should be talking to, sharing skills and ideas with, listening to, even dancing with people about the future.

The camp outside the Balcombe fracking site is many things, but part of it is also very much the kind of shindig with heart we're talking about here.

A festival is a means of forgetting the past and disseminating hope. And a more even distribution of hope is the business I'm in.

So, I hope we'll be back at Wilderness with this in mind. But I also hope we - and I mean the whole of the movement here, local groups too - will be looking at creating or participating in smaller moments like this. 

Use them to get postcards or petitions signed, sure. But think of them first and foremost as places where you can take that fair, that party to the next neartopian level.

"Free your mind and your ass will follow" - Funkadelic

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