Hello all of you great people
Thanks so much for sending through the info about Jack Tan’s work, it sounds brilliant. I would be interested in taking part in Jack’s decolonising governance workshop.
I also wanted to get in touch about something I have been thinking about, around the idea of redistribution. A couple of years ago I learnt about a project based out of Brussels called Common Wallet. It’s a group of 10 people who share one bank account – all of their money goes in there, and they all live out of it. They are a mix of salaried and unsalaried folk, earning and spending very different amounts. And it works. They don’t have loads of information online but I can send a pdf of an interview with someone who is part of it if anyone is interested.
I have been thinking for a while that I would like to set up something similar in the UK……………… I haven’t done anything about it yet (this is the first thing, emailing you) but am tentatively thinking about trying to organise it, to begin in 2022. I think the first step would be to contact the group in Brussels and see if they were up for talking about it with a group of people who might be interested in at least thinking about this. I wondered if this might be any of you?
with love and care
fuck the tories,
[8-3-2021, via email]
Writing very fast because overexcited – I just saw this show A Certain Value – it’s on as part of the Take Me Somewhere festival – it brings together four deliberate and accidental collectives from across Europe to talk about their experiences of sharing, generosity, power, participation – one of the people who made it, Anna Rispoli, is part of Common Wallet, and they’re one of the four collectives included. The show is like a fake discussion constructed from real conversations with members of the different groups – the other ones are a squat in Marseilles called Collectif 59 Saint Just occupied by over 250 people, a mixture of migrant families, but also unaccompanied kids, and volunteers; a women’s detention centre in Rennes; and some school kids in Budapest calling for climate strikes – they’re all really interesting but the three voices from Common Wallet were the ones I connected with most strongly, maybe because they’re most like me in background and situation? (And privilege? That assumption is sifted in the discussion too.) Some of what they said was so philosophically/ethically beautiful it made me cry, for instance:
– we function using the principle of radical trust
– we’re taught to shut ourselves into our own financial bubble – usually the nuclear family – or barricade ourselves into our own individualism. we underestimate mutual assistance as a joyful strategy in a hostile environment. we’re trying to build a resilient community based on solidarity and trust
– the project’s aim is mainly to observe how our relationship with money influences our relationship with the world – we’re trying to open up the monogamous relationship we have with money, to create a polyamorous relationship in which money is just one element among other ways of exchanging value: mutual attention and care, the time we take for others, “kinship” in the broader sense
– the broader sense of family made of people you choose as an adult. Intimacy can also come from a close financial relationship between lots of different people. You lower the limits of your privacy – you let others into your life, and you let them change it.
There’s a bit of my brain stamping this utopian but — while it’s a word I use a lot — I also think it’s too easy, the wrong word in fact. How they talk is romantic: or rather, they’re talking in the language of love. Love in action. And love is work! Like one of the Common Wallet group says, it “requires conscious effort”. Something brilliant about this show is how, in the writing, Anna and dramaturg Céline Estenne create a space of conscious listening: seeking not commonalities exactly but points of connection and understanding across all the differences.
It’s interesting, too, how they push at the possibility that Common Wallet might be a socially limited project: it requires that the participants all “share the same values”; one person wonders “if the project would still function if people facing true hardship joined the group”. They meet once a week to discuss their experiences within the experiment yet still aren’t fully aware of, for instance, each other’s immigration status. There’s a hilarious moment towards the end where one of the school kids loses their temper at how the adults in the room are failing to change the world, but again, the reply from a Common Wallet member is beautiful: “experimenting with alternative and solidarity-based models strengthens the very idea of the future”.
To be honest I could spend the rest of the night quoting bits of it back to you but I should get on and write to the gazillion other people I want to make sure watch it. Big love and yes, absolutely, fuck the fucking tories x
[26-5-21, via email]
[12/04, 12:20] sam: “the project of this book [Joyful Militancy, by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery] is to move beyond ‘wrong or right’ into a space of ethical questioning that is always already conflicting yet, while shifting, can also be strong ground on which to build”
[12/04, 12:20] sam: yeah i mean this is gunna be my favourite thing ever isn’t it
[12/04, 12:22] maddy: Ha ha ha YUP
[19/04, 09:36] sam: “Affinity is a helpful concept for us because it speaks to emergent relationships and forms of organizing that are decentralized and flexible, but not flimsy. Organizing by affinity basically means seeking out and nurturing relationships based in shared values, commitments, and passions, without trying to impose those on everyone else.” 🔥🔥🔥
[10/05, 10:47] sam: almost finished Joyful Militancy now
[10/05, 10:47] sam: Would love to read again and have a little weekly reading group about each chapter
[10/05, 10:52] maddy: i’m currently in the Abolitionist Futures reading group on Dean Spade’s Mutual Aid and when that finishes – 25 May – i am 100% holding you to this
[10/05, 10:53] maddy: the stuff on trust – “an alternative to the idea that trust always needs to be earned / the potential of trusting people up front / when people offer trust up front, most people rise to the occasion” – that alone could keep us going an hour
[10/05, 10:53] maddy: i think about that trust bit almost daily
[10/05, 10:53] sam: yep yep yep. Mate it’s fucking formative
[26/05, 22:27] Sammmmmmmmm please I just saw this show A Certain Value and it’s so much attuned to the ideas in Joyful Militancy – there are lines about radical trust that honestly I wanted to hug the computer screen. But it also made me think about the Prisoner Solidarity Network that you’re part of, and especially the first of its principles:
“That crime and harm are two different things. Some people are convicted of crimes but have not harmed anyone. Others do great harm to many people but are never convicted of a crime. For example, people can be convicted of crimes for shoplifting or begging while others are celebrated for polluting the environment and exploiting workers.”
So it’s four collectives – actually, one of them said “we’re more inspired by the anarchist model than the collectivist model, that means we don’t really want to ban things or monitor each other” which I also <3<3<3 – one of which is a women’s detention centre: so, from their perspective, a place of “forced sharing” between people brought together by circumstance rather than choice. (Which is really interesting set against that line from Joyful Militancy about affinity – Sanaa and I are doing the Jane MacAlevey workshop Organising for Power at the moment and she’s a bit scathing about this way of working – there’s some great stuff in this interview with her which tl;dr mobilising with people who share common interests can get quick results but organising people who disagree with you, while longer/slower, is the way to shift the power structures that are destroying lives and planet.)
ANYWAY: initially the picture of the detention centre is of a place where trust is impossible, and privacy eradicated, where all the inequalities of outside are replicated, where the detainees are infantilised – and yet, there are also these shafts of light, of solidarity: women sharing sanitary pads; a woman “learning things that I would have never done outside”, like French, or baking; a woman who speaks of the tenderness that grows between the detainees, and what it is to open yourself up to others. By the end, someone from another collective is asking the women how time might flow from prison to the rest of society: that is, how a new understanding of an “ecology of resources” might be created in solidarity with, not exclusion from, people in prison. It’s played as a kind of joke — Q: “How could people on the outside be taught to slow down time?” A: “Let them come take my place in prison!” — but I love the respect and the hope in the asking.
So yeah, go see it! And also: the Mutual Aid reading group finished so let me know when you’ve capacity to start organising the Joyful Militancy reading group, let’s DO IT xx
[27.05, 09.06] hey Sanaa – here’s that piece I mentioned to you about the problems of organisation within the youth climate strikes — I remembered to share it thanks to a brilliant show I saw last night that’s on at Take Me Somewhere — please see it!! — it’s like an imagined conversation between people from four collectives, all based on things real people have said — one of the collectives is a group of school kids from Budapest involved in climate activism who are hilarious, really spiky and passionate and utterly convinced that they know better than any of the idiot adults in the room (and out of the room — there’s a line about their teacher, “she doesn’t care about global warming and buys cookies in individual packaging, she’s mean and stupid” that really made me laugh). They’re so young, aged nine and ten, and inevitably come across as idealistic and naive, but they also have this exhilarating fearlessness, a necessary desire to disrupt and refuse. In one section of the show the kids talk about a “plastic strike” they want to stage: the adults help them design a “gesture” that they can record people doing and post on social media, and part of me was cringing at that word gesture — the last thing we need is more gestural politics — but another part of me was differently cringing at the adult who asked: “But do you really believe in demonstrations? It’s not that we want to discourage you — it’s just that a lot of our demonstrations have gone nowhere.” A couple years ago I had a conversation with another friend where I was very much sitting in that place of discouragement — wait, I’ll share the messages:
so I was saying — this was Sept 2019:
narratives of how successful community organising can be have been squashed, belief in things like strike have been undermined/contradicted, not enough information has been handed forward from groups who came before – at the same time as narratives of eg capitalism as natural have been promoted, processes of disenfranchisement — I dunno, I feel like I just sound like a conspiracy theorist
and the other friend said:
I don’t know if I agree with the above!
In my lifetime loads of organising has happened and is happening all around me, all the time!
I see amazon workers striking and the writers and gawker coming together to unionise and motor workers in Detroit coming together for a big strike! It’s happening.
Information exchange is occurring – but you have to seek it out, it is not easily found. But I don’t think it ever has been
Sisters uncut and black lives matter and antifa and momentum
And those are big nationally and internationally visible things!
Milo going bankrupt cus of non platforming
The campaigning around the last election, being in that crowd of folks that came out for Corbyn
Me too is community organising, when we see workplaces as communities
When are things worthy of our celebration? When are they worthy of uplifting us and giving us hope?
Responses to police violence in the uk are almost always very small scale community undertakings
Those folks that lay down to stop planes taking off
HONG KONG!!! Where A THIRD of the population has been involved in direct action
That question “when are things worthy of our celebration?” is so important! There’s another group in the show, Collectif 59 Saint Just, so basically that’s the address of a massive building in Marseilles with 52 bedrooms and four kitchens, which was occupied by something like 250 migrant people – including kids on their own – and 30 volunteers; it ends quite badly because the church and state wanted to evict them and didn’t care what violence was required to achieve that, and one of the volunteers is asked if she regrets all the work she put into it. And she says no: in fact, it was one of the best times of her life, and she still has faith in projects like that. It made me think about that dream you have, of wanting to live in a commune – this is a commune that also supports people seeking asylum, what a brilliant way to do it.
Ugh I can feel myself wanting to tell you about all the ins and outs of it – especially the bits where they talked about leadership and hierarchy, how there were all these horizontal structures within the collective but even so the space was dominated by the volunteers ie by whiteness – but I also don’t want to tell you anything: I just want you to see it! So we can talk about it! xx
Take Me Somewhere have their digital festival next month, and this particular show jumped out at me – I thought, ‘this sounds right up Maddy’s street’.
Anna Rispoli / Martina Angelotti (Belgium):
A Certain Value
Launched as a research project on sharing and mutualized practices, A Certain Value immerses itself in the radical, artistic and human experiences of four European collectives: a group of inmates in a women’s prison; families of migrants and unaccompanied minors living in an occupied building; an art collective who share a single bank account; eco-activist children from public schools or home-schooling projects, worried about the fate of the planet. You can register to be one of the script readers in this piece (no experience necessary), becoming one of the protagonists of A Certain Value, or just be part of the audience who watch and listen in, as the collectives share and discuss their radical alternative views and policies.
Would you like to cover it for us?
[21.04.21, via email]
So I saw this last night and you weren’t wrong: it’s so far up my street I basically live there. Do I? Maybe I just walk up and down the pavements, peering into houses to try and see what books are on the shelves, never summoning the courage to go ring a doorbell…
I hope you don’t mind but I think I’m going to write my review as a series of communications with people I want to see the show – there are a lot of them! – and it feels a bit of a cop-out to write it that way because there’s another review I wrote for Exeunt a few years ago using roughly this format (running out of ideas aaaaaaargh) – but it makes sense because the dialogue that’s in the show overlaps and intersects so invigoratingly with dialogues I’ve been having for the past few years with friends, in which we’re also trying to imagine and build alternative structures to the ones forced on communities and individuals by capitalism. It’s funny: while I was watching it a bit of me was thinking that there are going to be people who think this isn’t theatre but, like, a panel discussion or a Lois Weaver Long Table or whatever but tbh I. DO. NOT. CARE. for what those people think.
While I’m in critical musings space, I did have a wobble at the participatory staging: the inclusivity of that is absolutely right and in keeping with the material of the show, the problem is in the way participation is subject to the vagaries of who does, and indeed doesn’t, step forward to perform the script. Did Matt Burman, artistic director and chief exec of Cambridge Junction, really want to perform in it, or was he roped in at the last minute to fill a gap? Maybe I’m just being unkind, but it reminded me of the what is both the worst and best thing about going to festivals: the smallness of the performance scene. More troubling: while there was some difference in background and accent among the participants, it was a very white-figured group, and while I did enjoy the refusal to be constricted by the gender of the real-life person whose words were used in the show, the absence of people of African and Caribbean heritage felt sticky, the more so because that’s the background of some of the interviewees.
Quibble quibble. I’ll see – maybe none of that will get into the review – it’s hardly the stuff that matters to me. I should get down to writing it, shouldn’t I? Or maybe I shouldn’t be writing it but finding better ways to live it? Hmmmmmmm the eternal dilemma.
Big love xx
With thanks to all the friends with whom I have versions of these conversations and particularly Rachael Clerke and Sam Swann for permission to quote their words.
A Certain Value plays again on Saturday 29 May 2021 as Take Me Somewhere. More info here.