Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What can Friends of the Earth offer its allies?

At the moment, I'm being asked to do a bit of outreach to people outside the Friends of the Earth grassroots. Different networks with which we might collaborate, or which we might support.

So what is it that we have to offer to allies, then?

It’s an interesting question, and one which has provided an opportunity to clarify my own thinking on this point. And I think this works whether you're thinking about us at a national or a local level.

It all starts with listening of course - establishing a rapport and common interests, understanding your potential ally and how you can help them. But for me that help then falls into three broad categories - advice, opportunities and connections.

Advice and information (reactive) which could include:

  • Providing resources.
  • Providing expertise directly – information on campaigns, planning, organising and the law.
  • Signposting people on to other providers of information and support.

Opportunities to learn/act/reflect (proactive) which could include:

  • Offering participation opportunities – whether that's practical planting projects or being part of climate mobilisation events in the run in to the UN climate talks in Paris this year.
  • Training – e.g. introduction to environmental action sessions.
  • Coaching or mentoring.

Connections – recognising the importance of the medium as well as the message, e.g.

  • Introducing an ally to our local group or activists – if initial connection staff driven (or vice versa if not).
  • Regular communication updates .
  • Invite to local and national events.
  • Amplifying their voice through our networks.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Meet-up press release for local groups

Here's a bit of open source activism for you on a Sunday morning. 

I found this press release template in our files the other day to send to someone launching a new local Friends of the Earth group. What I like about it firstly is that it works as well for an existing network as well as someone trying to bring people together in an area for the first time.

What I also appreciate about the wording - and props to whoever among my illustrious predecessors wrote it - is that it doesn't scare the horses. It's not asking people to do too much too soon, it just offers people the chance to get together with like minds and explore the issues. 

The release also holds out the (eminently reassuring) possibility of linking up with people who've already been campaigning and are in a position to mentor new arrivals.

So feel free to use and remix as you see fit.

Press Release - Friends of the Earth

Embargo: For immediate release, day, date, month, year (delete as appropriate)

Contact: [YOUR NAME], Friends of the Earth [location or group] – [phone number]


Environmental group WLTM enthusiastic [location] residents for a fun, active relationship. You will be either M or F, aged between 16-99, with a GSOH and desire to save the planet. Must have positive outlook on life and enjoy action rather than words.

People who want to tackle environmental issues are being invited to an open meeting on [time] at [location], where you can:

  • Find out more about Friends of the Earth local groups and campaigning
  • Have your say about local environmental issues which need addressing
  • Find out more about the solutions to climate change
  • Meet like-minded people your age
[this next paragraph to be tweaked depending on local situation]

A number of local Friends of the Earth supporters are looking forward to meeting potential volunteers and would like as many people as possible to be involved. The group has a strong background of campaigning on local issues around [location] and further afield as well as national and global issues such as climate change.

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but would still like to be involved, we would still love to hear from you on [number] or[e-mail]..

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Take a sideways look at your Twitter persona with Poetweet

Yes, John Craddock (@Johnbaldy) pointed me towards Poetweet, a lovely little site which takes your tweets and attempt to turn them into proper sonnets etc.

Here's two poems worth of what it does to mine. I like them - they would only need a few tweaks to be confusingly pleasing.

Douglas Adams once wrote about a spreadsheet program which converted financial figures into musical notation and played your accounts as tunes. And Poetweet is something of the same - it provides an alternative representation of what we actually tweet about - our preoccupations, our stylistic quirks, our calls to action.

And, since we can't think in straight lines all the time, isn't that interesting?


With a gothic counterpoint.
To stop fracking in Lancashire
Camp indie rpg at some point...
Could you be a in Hertfordshire?

Obvs - there would be spillages.
Death metal band names I’ve heard.
Mace ('bout that mace) - no edges.
Michel Foucault Pokemon card

The toxoplasma of online rage.
Rather enjoying LA Woman...
A lot easier to update your page

With - DM me for dial in details.
And Ludicra's The Tenant. :)

'All power to the parish councils!'


Presents her Sonic Youth set list
Catharsis in tight leather trousers
- and I now have a shortlist. :)
Now that’s power in numbers

We're all acting, I guess. :)
Safe and speedyish travels!
Welcome on work in progress.
Local school for free solar panels!

We muster!
After fighting the good fight.
Taken with Larry The Lung later.
Jailhouse in Hereford last night.

Awesome poster!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Grow the movement: what do you think of these e-mails?

I've been sending out a couple of test messages this week to a relatively small number of people on our database. Under the tagline Grow the movement, I'm seeing if we can not only connect them with Friends of the Earth local groups (or start new ones), but make it feel inspiring, simple and just plain right to get involved.

Sending messages like this isn't a new thing - we've been doing it for the past couple of years to invite people to public meetings and film screenings in local areas. But I'm seeing if we get more proactive and systematic about it, bringing people together to be the next wave of environmental activists, one town at a time.

I'll be tracking the response and read rates, but I'd also really welcome any reflections on the language used here - are their refinements we can make? And if you'd like to be in on the next round of testing, contact 'work me' and we'll sort something out. 

And thanks to Carol, Helen and our Supporter Information Team (Martin, Steve and Stuart) for their contributions to the text that follows - it was a joint effort.

Message the first (web version here)

Dear XXX

Have you heard the noise? From fighting fracking to growing community energy – 2015 is the year the climate movement gets epic. 


Have you heard the news? From fighting fracking to growing community energy – 2015 is the year the climate movement takes centre stage.] 

This is the year we can all come together to build a bigger and better movement than ever before.

Here in Exeter Friends of the Earth we are looking to meet new volunteer activists. People who can help - in their spare time - to grow our campaign for action on climate change.

People who'd like to:

Come along to friendly meetings to discuss and decide local action 
Encourage other people to get involved 
Participate in fun events 
Contribute their ideas and skills 

With your help, we can make Exeter a centre for climate action.

Upcoming dates 

Our next meeting - Monday 16 February, 7:30pm, St Sidwell's Centre, Sidwell Street 
Time To Act climate march in London, Saturday 7 March - contact us to arrange to travel down together 
Our March meeting -  Monday 16 March, 7:30pm - get in touch or check our website for venue confirmation. 

Could this be you?

To find out more, email us with your name and contact details and we'll be in touch.

And if you use social media, please do join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so we can link up there too.

Best wishes

Helen, Exeter Friends of the Earth

Message the second (web version here)

Dear XXX

Thanks to The Bee Cause campaign - and the support of thousands of people like you - a better future is in sight for our bees.

Together, you convinced the Government to to draw up a Bee Action Plan. Now we want to help make each town and city greener and more bee-friendly.

So, here in Newcastle Gateshead Friends of the Earth we are looking for new volunteers to help to grow The Bee Cause on Tyneside. 

People who in their spare time would like to:

Come along to friendly meetings to discuss and decide action together 
Encourage local people to have more bee-friendly gardens 
Be involved in fun events like a Tyneside Bee Summit 
Contribute their ideas and skills 

Could this be you?

To find out more, email us with your name and contact details and we'll be in touch.

You're also invited to our next meeting on Monday February 23, 7pm at The Star & Shadow Community Cinema, Stepney Bank, Newcastle NE1 2NP.

And if you use social media, please do join us on Facebook so we can link up there too.

Best wishes

Carol, Newcastle Gateshead Friends of the Earth

Friday, February 6, 2015

Halfway between Hyperborea and the Haight - Michael Moorcock's Corum

Michael Moorcock's early swords and sorcery novels - like the Swords Of Corum trilogy - were written quickly and with a market in mind. But they were also the output of a polymath - a writer, editor, musician and critic - with a restless and prolific muse.

It's no surprise then that the Corum stories are a strange and uneven mix of fantasy formula and genre transgression. Or that the reader's own engagement and interest will vary from chapter to chapter, as Moorcock spins the tale this way and that. 

Swords.. compiles the first three slim-line Corum novels - The Knight, Queen and King Of The Swords - into a 500 page epic better suited to contemporary tastes. It chronicles the quest of the maimed, orphaned and inhuman Prince Corum for revenge against the human barbarians who cast him out of his kingdom and the gods of Chaos who drove them to war.

Corum's tragic backstory is par for the course for a Moorcock protagonist, as is his tour of multiple planes of existence and the strange and troubling powers at his command. In this case, it's an artificial eye and hand belonging to lost gods, which can summon vanquished adversaries to fight his opponents (this has to stop to this by book three, as it all too readily becomes the solution to every problem). 

He's not a particularly cheerful character, but he lacks the excessive grimness of Elric, Moorcock's best remembered protagonist, and his motivations (revenge and love) offer simple points of identification.

Corum, ah um...

For me, it's the cosmic plane-hopping and underlying struggle between Law and Chaos that provide the Corum books with both their strengths and shortcomings. 

On the one hand (six fingered, jeweled, taken from a forgotten deity) it allows Moorcock to give his Conan meets Dali riffing full reign. Deserts of blood, lakes of souls, fields of fire, damned princes and egotistical arch-demons abound. And against this psychedelic backdrop, his characters are always happy to take five from peril to briefly ponder the nature of reality, creativity and free will.  

Let's remind ourselves that this mash-up of old school weird fiction with 60's counter-culture helped to extend the possibilities of fantasy fiction and maintain a space beyond the shadow of Tolkien. It's hugely significant that alternative voices didn't just survive beyond the reach of Middle Earth, but thrived in parallel with it.

And Corum, Elric et al have had an equally interesting second legacy in their influence on role-playing and war-gaming - see the alignment system and multi-dimensional cosmology of Dungeons & Dragons, for instance. Or the Moorcock-lite ontology that underpins pretty much anything Games Workshop have ever done.

Corum vs The Blue Meanies

On the other hand, this protean backdrop promotes inconsistency of tone and enables a lack of quality control. While one-note realist fantasy frequently bores, a surrealist approach relies on every new rabbit taken from the hat having the desired effect. Compared to most genre work, Moorcock is trying to do something fundamentally more difficult, at speed, while still working within the same pulp constraints. 

More often than not he manages it - and kudos to him - but occasionally the scenes are a bit melting-clock, a trifle animated Yellow Submarine. Especially from the vantage point of almost fifty years of cock-snooking at the hippy aesthetic. And in a universe where anything goes, it's hard to make the resolution of any plot point wholly convincing.

The Corum novels are not Moorcock's best, then. But they do make for an interesting, occasionally dazzling read halfway between Hyperborea and the Haight. And you can feel the rules of the genre being re-written under your feet as you turn the pages. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

10 years since The Big Ask started - call out for guest posts

Yes - it's been ten years, more or less, since Friends of the Earth's climate change campaign The Big Ask was launched in May 2005. The campaign that ultimately gave us the world's first Climate Change Act three years later.

A little uncannily, I was writing a blog post about my grassroots experience of the campaign last weekend, with some reflections on its significance. It's still in draft form at the moment and not ready to add here until later in the month.

So, while I finish this post off, I'd like to open this topic out to some guest posts as well. Would anyone else like an informal space to write about what The Big Ask meant for them in their local area? Offer any thoughts on its lessons or legacy? 

I'd like us to stay positive with these posts too - one of the ironies of being part of such a forward-looking movement is that one thing this campaign hasn't been is over-celebrated.

The deadline is the last week of February, so do get in touch if a look back at your own activist history appeals.

NB - if it's not immediately apparent from the fact it's on my blog, this is a wholly informal and unofficial exercise. I'm sure my honoured employers will do something rather more official to mark either this anniversary or that of the campaign victory in 2008, but this isn't it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Well, that explains the banjos - Panopticon's Kentucky

One of the intriguing things about black metal to an outsider is the proliferation of solo studio projects like Panopticon.

Maybe there's something about the individualism of black metal ideology which makes going your own way as appealing as the more traditional path of forming a band. Or that it's a simple matter of efficiency in an economically marginal music.

Superstructure? Base? Or perhaps both.

Behind Panopticon's one-man-band is Austin Lunn, who drums like his life depended on it, but is also a pretty fine guitarist, shrieker and banjo-player.

Ah yes, the banjos. I should probably explain.

2012's Kentucky is one of those albums which defiantly spill out of the genre to which they have been assigned. Over 50 minutes, Lunn mixes black metal with bluegrass, traditional mining protest songs, ambient noise and spoken-word samples to tell a musical history of the rural backwaters of his then home-state.

Crucially - it all works side by side. There's neither a hint of tongue-in-cheek condescension in Lunn's country, nor any dilution in the ferocity of the metal through its juxtaposition with other musics. Granted, letting a tin whistle carry the lead riff in Bodies Under The Falls (about the slaughter of Kentucky's Native Americans by the original colonists) might take a little getting used to, but once you're there you wouldn't change it for the world.

The choice of additional texts to supplement the original material is also superb. Lunn's anarchist sensibilities are to the fore in his covers of traditional union songs such as Which Side Are You On? and Come All Ye Coal Miners, the latter containing the memorable couplet 'I am a coal miner's son and I'm sure I wish you well / Let's sink this capitalist system in the darkest pits of hell.' 

He supplements this with sound clips from the archives to illustrate the hardship of rural Kentucky mining settlements  - as chants of 'Strike! Strike! Strike!' echo through your speakers, an old miner tells his interviewer that everyone - from the company down through the politicians, the priests and the union officials - is against ordinary workers seeking a fair deal. Their only recourse - to organise and stand together.

Kentucky is not only a great rock album, thanks to Lunn's assembly of his own and others' material it's also deeply moving. It's profoundly evocative of a particular place and time, of people's collective endeavour in the land that bore them yet all too often buried them before their time.

In the recent past, I've written about black metal's tendency towards the transcendental. Yet Kentucky is one of the least transcendental blackened records I've come across - it seems to me angry, compassionate, but above all committed to life as it is and is meant to be. Before we lose ourselves, let us first have justice - if you like.

Proof that a genre founded on exception itself contains the necessity for exception.