From Paris, With Rage

George F.

“Nonviolence declares that the American Indians could have fought off Columbus, George Washington, and all the other genocidal butchers with sit-ins; that Crazy Horse, by using violent resistance, became part of the cycle of violence, and was ‘as bad as’ Custer. Nonviolence declares that Africans could have stopped the slave trade with hunger strikes and petitions, and that those who mutinied were as bad as their captors; that mutiny, a form of violence, led to more violence, and, thus, resistance led to more enslavement. Nonviolence refuses to recognize that it can only work for privileged people, who have a status protected by violence, as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of a violent hierarchy.”

Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State

 

Cops with eyes like sharks and faces like the underside of a boot are waiting for us as we get off the bus from London—the state of emergency manifest as a column of cyborg gendarmerie toting an arsenal of machineguns, tasers, handcuffs and kevlar armour. They stare. We stare back—predator and prey eyeing each other before the chase commences. We slip past them unmolested, disappearing into the suffocating warmth of the Metro. I am glad to be travelling with a trio of giggly matronly types. They are three womyn from EcoDharma, attendees of the first theatre of the oppressed workshop I gave there two months before: Oak—a bright-eyed leprechaun with fiery red hair and ruddy cheeks, her chuckling demeanour masking deep sensitivity and a scarred heart; Z. a shaven-headed elfin with a smile like a new moon, currently living in an intentional community in the south of Spain; Susannah—long, viridian tresses and a crackling voice, visiting out of Bristol, and at the biggest protest she’s been to in her seventy years.

“Ha. You’re like the virgin, the crone and the mother.”

“I’m no mother.”

“I’m no virgin.”

“And who you calling a crone?”

They laugh, a harmony like a deer bursting through dry twigs to crash into a babbling brook, echoing unnatural against the tiles of the Metro. They haven’t stopped talking the whole trip over from London.

The benches of the Parisian boulevards are lined with huddled forms in sleeping bags, their possessions arranged neatly around them like genteel barricades. It’s warm down here, even peaceful once the trains stop running.

Still, I am relieved we have the promise of a roof, of a bed and shelter.

We march, and arrive at L’Annexe only to discover everyone has already moved on to a cabaret night at another squat. We troupe over there, a long walk through dark city streets.

Two bullet holes in a window with an unhappy smiley face painted below them form macabre eyes to the frown. I am reminded of Budapest, where my guide pointed them out in the walls of the buildings from the revolutionary days.

“God,” says Oak. “Is this where the shooting was?”

“One of the places,” says Z.

We cast our eyes over the layers of floral tribute laid out before La Belle Equipe. Hundreds of bouquets, handwritten messages, candles, roses, lilies, tulips, some faded and shrivelled already, others freshly dropped, laying piled on the ground, stacked before the closed doors of the restaurant.

Z. is chattering. I catch only the second half of it: “–there was also the have-nots, the economic underclass who attended no cabarets, whose labor built the Tower. There was even a gang of illegalist anarchist bankrobbers around at that time in France—the Bonnot Gang—who stole from banks calling it expropriating from the rich. They were the first people to use motorcars to getaway. The police had to chase them on foot or on bicycles. They started after the leader was fired by his boss–”

“You have to ask—would they have started robbing banks if there had been work for them?”

“God, I wonder,” asks Oak. “I wonder how many waiters, plongeurs and busboys died in the shooting?”

“Is it better that the rich die than the poor?” asks Z.

“I’m tired. Let’s go to bed,” says Susannah.

oneslutriot. Strong & Stable, 2017. Pens on paper.

L’Annexe is impressive: a tall, four-floor warehouse complex, scrubbed clean and polished, carpeted and furnished. It reminds me of all the best social centres from London, though it will only be short-lived. A crew who thought they were about to be evicted had remained in their old home and volunteered the space to host the arts-activism programme during the COP21 Climate Conference.

I drift through the kitchen area, where hot soup and salad is being prepared by members of the Anti-Cop Kitchen Collective, through a partition of plastic sheeting, past a serious sounding meeting on food rights and conscious cafés in South America. There is bustle and business everywhere, the place a hive of activity.

“So hello, this is the legal briefing. Thanks for attending. Now as you are going to be part of the de-escalation team, you will be at high risk of violence and arrest as you will be stood directly between the police lines and the main protest. It’s important that you memorise the names of some solicitors who are sympathetic to the cause, as the police will think you intended to be arrested if you write the names or the numbers down on your body. They will not call the number on the flyer.

“At the refugee march people attended and were then later identified and arrested by the police at other events. This is because of the state of emergency; 58 people were arrested, yet only two received warnings for attending a forbidden demo. Maximum sentence for this is 1 year imprisoned.

“At the Climate march there was a mass act of civil disobedience that resulted in a kettle, tear gas and baton charges and 317 random arrests.

“You don’t have to carry your ID. You can give your name and a date of birth, and that counts as identifying yourself, but you may want to decide whether you wish to comply with the police state. If they don’t believe you, you want to prepare that someone has access to your passport. You could be asked to leave France for one year.

“If you are attending the march, you need to plan as if you will get arrested. If you are taking a gas mask, it is classed as a defensive weapon. You should be careful taking anything that could be deemed a projectile. Don’t take any drugs, knives, guns or whatever, and if you are arrested, try to hide your phone inside your pants, as the police here don’t check as thoroughly as other places. There’s already been examples of people uploading video messages from inside the jail. If you’re caught, call the number and tell them which police station you are in.”

“So what have the police said about the march?”

“It changes every day. Under the state of emergency it’s illegal for more than two people with a political message to gather, which is why people are heading to the convergence point in pairs. Any attendance at a political protest is an act of civil disobedience. They have permitted the human chain and tolerated writing ‘climate justice’ with people’s bodies. The protest with the thousands of empty pairs of shoes was beautifully done, but the red lines action is still civil disobedience. The state of emergency means more stop and search and raids on many of the squats and convergence centres across Paris. L’Annexe was raided just last week by a hundred stormtroopers and is under constant armed surveillance. We are half expecting another raid before Saturday. The legal team for the protests have been put under house arrest, but nothing more.

“If you are arrested, you need to use the buddy system. Make sure you are clear who your buddy is, and do not lose them. If they go to the toilet, you go with them. With your buddy you organise into an affinity group, making sure you are always with people who are watching, but not at risk. They should always know who is there, what happened, and where, and afterwards these are the guys who greet you outside the police station with champagne.

“Now, please can you raise your hands, wrists together. If you bend your hands down, when they put the handcuffs on you they will be looser than if you just keep your hands like this. Believe me, if you are cuffed for a long time, this will make a big difference. Remember to hide your phone in your pants and when you can, smuggle it out and text people to let them know what’s happened to you. The process at the station is that they will fingerprint you, photo you, and frisk you, but not very thoroughly. Often at this point it’s easy to ‘accidentally’ smudge the fingerprints, or mess up the photo somehow, or generally play around with them to delay a bit more. They will keep you for 4 hours to check ID, then up to 24 hours to investigate you.

“When you are to be released, you don’t have to sign anything. Repeat—YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SIGN ANYTHING. They may pressure you, but there are people already regretting signing something they did not really understand, and it’s making more problems for them now. Even when you receive your possessions back, you do not have to sign anything. Repeat—YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SIGN ANYTHING. The police may put something else in with your stuff and cause you a lot of problems. Some people we know unwittingly signed a conditional discharge, and if they had held out, they wouldn’t have had to sign anything.

“They normally tell you it’s a piece of paper describing your time in custody, but the translators there are very much on the police’s side. If they do anything illegal during your time in custody, you can appeal afterwards, but if you sign, it makes it much, much harder.

“If you have no access to a lawyer or interpreter, try to keep mental notes on what the police do, or do not do, and make physical notes immediately afterwards. If the police decide they are going to investigate a crime, they will give you access to a solicitor within 4 hours.

“Now, when being interviewed, it’s a bit different from in the UK. In France it is not ‘no comment’, but ‘I have nothing to declare’. Repeat after me.”

“I HAVE NOTHING TO DECLARE.”

“Again.”

“I HAVE NOTHING TO DECLARE.”

“Again!”

“I HAVE NOTHING TO DECLARE!”

“Now let me describe my ideal arrest. I’m in for 24 hours, so I can rest, I am with my friends. I have done the handcuff trick so I am ‘comfortable’ and have my phone hidden in my pants. I’ve told them I have nothing to declare and have managed to smudge my fingerprints and ruin the photo. I sign nothing! After 24 hours I am released with my friends and greeted by champagne and chocolate and beer.

“Now, afterwards, I have to deal with trauma. Arrests can be and are often violent. I need to make sure that I have money for the Metro, a map. The police could release me somewhere far away where I’ve never been before. Have you got a safe, warm place to go back to? A major thing after release is not to pressure people, give them time. At some point they will want to speak.

“Make sure you take the time to read all the legal info, educate yourself as much as possible.

“So overall, gatherings are prohibited. You can get a maximum fine of 75,000 euros or 6 months in prison, but so far all that has been issued is a warning. They have the power to ban people from certain areas, or force certain groups to dissolve.

“Let’s talk about medical preparation. Tear gas. First of all, it’s a projectile weapon. If you get hit by a canister it can seriously hurt. It can kill. Secondly, the gas burns on the skin, the eyes, but it won’t kill you. It’s like intensely concentrated onions, but it won’t kill you, so don’t panic. You can limit its effect with a scarf soaked in vinegar or lemon juice. Make sure you have baby wipes. Now if tear gas is blowing in the wind, walk upwind of it, sideways. Unless of course the police are there. There’s some great footage from the 29th if any of you are into riot porn.

“If it gets on to your skin, it can cause some problems. Don’t wear any make-up, and wear glasses, not contact lenses, as they can melt into the eye. If it’s CS gas you may not even see it, as it’s invisible. Now can I have a volunteer to pretend they’ve been tear-gassed? Ok, thank you.

“Now, if I see someone has been gassed, what do I do? Ok, calm down, calm down, it’s ok. It’s Eve here. Kneel down, turn your head on one side. And now I squirt water in from one side. Now, from the other. Good. If you do it from the top down it can burn the body. Tell them the effects won’t last more than half an hour.

“Pepper spray is a short range weapon. If it gets on the clothes, remove them. When you go home, don’t have a hot shower, wipe it off and use cold water.”

“It helps to have clean skin.”

“One day I might.”

“I once saw someone in tear gas stand with their eyes screwed shut and not move. Just before it hit, they took a huge deep breath, hyperventilated, and waited until it subsided, sipping air with their eyes closed.”

“Swimming goggles can also help. One of the hardest things is the impulse to get away. We ended up fumbling around with our buddies.

“Ok, now if the police charge, one more thing is to cover your head and neck with your hands. If you want to keep your hands up, make sure you do so in fists not fingers are the batons will smash them to pieces . . . .

“Ok, let’s review the solicitor names . . . .”

“The struggle is the tension between holding on and letting go.”

We are in the large space downstairs at l’Annexe. Word of the workshop has spread. I count sixty people lined up against one wall. An expectant, almost religious silence has descended. Even towards the other half of the space, beyond the plastic curtains I can see people tip-toeing past as they continue to prepare the next meal from the Anti-Cop Kitchen.

I swallow and breathe deep down into my stomach in short, controlled bursts.

This is a totally spontaneous, open exercise. I have never done it with so many people.

“The ritual. We are going to perform a ritual together. When I say begin, you are invited to enter into the space and perform your part of the ritual. The ritual will be over when it is over. There will be no set time-limit. When we collectively feel it has come to a close, it will be over. The world needs healing. We need healing. So this shall be a ritual of healing.”

There is a long, open moment, and for that moment my heart leaps into my throat and my stomach clenches and my mind whirls and my tongue goes dry.

“Begin.”

At first in silence, people begin to move, entering into the space, prostrating themselves on the floor, or beginning to walk in slow circles. At first, the efforts are individual, chaotic, fragmented invitations, but then the machine mind takes over, and people begin to connect and feel what is happening around them, to move together cohesively. No one speaks. No one explains or directs or orders. People sense and feel how to work together to create this ritual space spontaneously, without pre-planning, without leaders or followers, people coming together autonomously to create something bigger than their individual selves.

A bald-head monk in saffron robes is moving in slow, serene circles around the outside, chanting low and calm. Others join him, breaking from smaller circles within to follow. A second circle, closer in, is faster and lighter, people skipping and singing in high clear voices, whirling their arms and zigzagging high and low like swallows on the evening breeze. At the centre, dead centre, a woman kneels, head to the crowd, piercing the chanting and song with a high-pitched, keening wail.

Others gather to her, and the lamentations sear through the room, high, screeching releases of treble agony, soaring above the mid-level melodies and the deep, bass chanting.

The room is electrified. I feel every nerve on my body tingle. A hallucinogenic harmony swamps the space. Time dissipates and I have visions of the entire solar system, the Spiral Arm of the galaxy, whirling in cosmic union in this room in Paris. Electron people whirl around atoms of raw emotion in human form. My head swims with the mix of chanting, wailing and shattering whoops.

And then the movement begins to slow, person by person, sections of the mandala settling to rest, contemplative and still. Frequency by frequency, silence is restored. A stillness settles over the group, part by part, until everything is frozen and there is only the deafening emptiness of sixty people breathing together.

My voice rumbles as if in a cavern.

“The ritual is now at an end. You may remain in this space if you wish, or you may leave. If you need people, reach out to those around you. Take care of yourself. Thank you.”

Trancelike and wild-eyed, people drift from the mandala, and it crumbles apart as people silently and slowly return to themselves. Ambient noise of the kitchen, the street, the world returns.

“Fooking hell,” says Oak. “That were a bit intense, want it?”

I’ve been invited to sit in with Rooty, Eve and M. who gave the legal briefing earlier in the day. We gather upstairs in one of the open workspaces. People drift through. Looking round the three womyn, it seems like they have been barely sleeping for weeks. They have all been here more than a month, organising and participating, working ceaselessly to coordinate the many different groups involved in the protest. It seems they have a job for me.

“So we’ve been tasked with this de-escalation. . . . We are now de-escalation angels. But is it even really possible?”

“We’ve been in almost constant contact with the police, and with the Secretary of State. They are terrified that tomorrow will turn into a riot. I mean, is this going to work?”

“Well, as I see it, the de-escalation crew’s role is to help create a joyous atmosphere. We’ll be public game playing, some stewarding I guess, and generally trying to help turn tense situations around and have fun. If the tear gas goes off we’ve obviously already failed.”

“So the Rebel Clown Army will be there. They will be on the front line next to the police, then you guys, and then the main march. Also, the climate angels will be coming, have you seen them? Oh they are just amazing, with these huge, feathered wings. Just beautiful. There’s a great video online of a wing smacking a cop in the face—purely by accident of course. There’s going to be foghorns announcing the beginning of the march, the moment when people lay the flowers down, and then two minutes silence.”

“At the end of the two minutes silence the brass band will kick off, and the party starts.”

“So we’re really going for a funeral ritual. A funeral for the environment, for the failure of the governments to do anything meaningful, and then a big party atmosphere.”

“I can’t wait for Saturday night when it’s all over. I am going to do some serious dancing.”

“Straight out of the cells and on to the dance floor, ha ha.”

“It’s been a long two weeks.”

“We’ve all earned it.”

“Oh, the workshops today just helped so much. So much relief, just to remember that all of this is just made up. Invented.”

“It’s so easy to get sucked into all the bullshit, but that’s really all it is.”

“We can tell you now what the route is going to be–”

“But that might all change–”

“Again. We’re on to like Plan X.”

“It’s been a constant clusterfuck. Any other changes—and there will be I’m sure—and we will inform everyone through text. Make sure people get their numbers down for the tree.”

“But as of tonight the convergence will be at the Arc de Triomphe.”

“And from there march to the Eiffel Tower.”

“So the police, the government, are all terrified of anything happening to the Arc de Triomphe. Any vandalism. As much as a bottle thrown at it. They will charge.”

“They will charge. I mean you couldn’t have a bigger symbol of nationalism, militarism, of France itself.”

“They have elections in Paris this weekend and they’re terrified of a riot. They say if there’s a riot, the Right will win in the elections.”

“It’ll ruin the Left’s reputation.”

“By the way, what do you think? Should we buy plant pots for tomorrow?”

“Plant pots?”

“Yes. For the tear gas. It’s the best way to contain it apparently. You just pop a plant pot over the top.”

“Errr. . . . Better to have them and not need them I suppose.”

Suddenly Z. arrives, tears in her eyes, but laughing at the same time.

“I just found out my boyfriend slept with someone else.”

“That’s not funny. Why are you laughing?”

“Oh no, are you ok?”

“Yeah, I know. Just now. I mean, it’s annoying. It’s a shock. I mean, he was the one who didn’t want a polyamorous relationship. He said he was really drunk, and that he hadn’t been drunk like that in over a year.”

“That’s really no excuse.”

“Oh love, come here.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll look after you. It’s going to work out.”

“Thanks, guys. Sorry. Let’s get back to the meeting.”

“So the coalition has agreed that we will not cross the police lines. If we do, they will charge and shut the whole thing down. If anything is thrown, a single thing, they will charge. We’ve gotten all the different groups to agree to the non-violence policy. It’s been a massive job.”

“One of the clowns knows the black bloc crew and he’s meeting with them tonight to ask them not to attend this march.”

“Black bloc here is a bit different than from in the UK. In the UK, they tend to turn up, join in a march, get a bit rowdy, and that’s it.”

“The guy said here ‘they take it seriously.’”

“Whatever that means. Anyway, so hopefully they won’t be there. They can do their own thing, somewhere else, all power to them, but not here.”

“It’s all going to be super-fluffy.”

“We hope. After the 29th the last thing we need is another load of arrests and tear gas.”

“The police are going to do everything they can to avoid that.”

“Maybe tomorrow we could schedule sometime for you to talk directly to the de-escalation bloc. A few of them were a bit shocked by the legal briefing. I think it all got a bit real for them, talking about tear gas and smashed hands and jail.”

“It’s all really unlikely, but of course, everyone should be as prepared as possible for what could happen.”

“One woman has permanently affixed contact lenses. She’s terrified they are going to melt into her eyes! But tomorrow, yes, we’ll organise the group more directly and get everyone to assess where they are comfortable being on the day.”

“God, I’m just so tired. . . .”

“Don’t worry, we are nearly there now.”

We set about our plan, preparing to hit the streets the next day as a human buffer, part of a layer cake of defense between 20,000 protesters, the Rebel Clown Army, and the delightful French riot police.

We speed-date people in pairs to find their buddy. They circle through a number of potential dates, discussing their willingness to be near The Front, as it is known. They discuss fears, hopes, expectations, before swirling on.

I partner with a smiling young bearded Worcestershire boy named Jake—another volunteer from EcoDharma.

“Every buddy pair, get with the buddy pair next to you, so you are a four. This is your brick. Stay close to your brick as much as possible. You are two pairs of buddies, looking after each other. If one half gets arrested, the other can report it. Get their numbers now.”

I sidle over to Oak as the group begins to disperse. She is smiling excitedly, and has buddied with Z., who also grins expectantly. My buddy Jake gathers too. This is our brick. We do a group hug, linking our arms around one another.

“So,” I say. “Ready for a riot?”

oneslutriot. Anti everything, 2017. Pens on paper.

An iceberg from Greenland has been dragged to Paris by boat, where it now sits outside the Pantheon in more than a dozen gleaming shards of diamond, decaying infinitesimally and inexorably before our eyes. We walk, humbled, mesmerised, touching each one solemnly, the icy water chilling our fingertips, anointing our foreheads with it. I wonder how many thousands of years these droplets of water had been trapped in the ice, how many lives had passed between now and the last time it existed as a liquid, how many moments had been strung in between. The scale of it is overwhelming. At the head of our procession, a Buddhist monk in saffron robes with a gentle American English accent provides some reassurance in his quiet confidence, a timely reminder of the inherent emptiness of all phenomena, allowing some philosophical perspective on the tragedy of ecocide.

I have already linked up with Jake; the other buddies and bricks arrive in discreet pairs, having been told to spread out to avoid arousing suspicion. There is Rooty and her wife Loupe, Susannah and the monk, Eve, Z. and Oak. Everywhere are the bright flashes of red we have been asked to wear as part of the red-lines protest.

Freedom, freedom, freedom. . . . Freedom on my mind.

The song spreads, voices raised in the simple refrain, voices harmonising, male and female and other, high and low.

It feels faintly ridiculous, all this hippie trash, but it helps people relax.

Eventually, in that strange group-mind telepathy, silence descends, broken by the ululating cries of a wedding taking place in the church opposite. We return the cry joyously, releasing more tension, more stress, up into the clear Parisian sky.

A tall man in a dog-collar and white suit, his hair a silvery bouffant crown of steel wool, steps from the circle to address us in a strong, mercurial tone.

“Brothers and sisters can I get an Earth-a-llujah?”

“Earth-a-llujah!”

“Amen, brothers and sisters. My name is the Reverend Billy, of the Church of Stop Shopping. I’m from New York City, and for many years now, myself and members of the congregation of the Choir of Stop Shopping have been travelling around, meeting with like-minded individuals, and preaching the Gospel of Stop Shopping. We are wild, anti-consumerist gospel shouters and Earth-loving urban activists who have worked with communities all over the world defending community, life and imagination.

“It’s an honour to be here in Paris, and to have attended the workshop yesterday and seen such powerful moments of healing, of people coming together, to nurture each other, to heal one another. Can I get an Earth-a-llujah?”

“EARTH-A-LLUJAH!”

“This week we’ve seen some dancing in the streets. In particular, the dance with police is heart-breaking and revealing. It is a gift to all of us out here who will carry on the Earth’s work, the job of tornado-ing in the plazas. The mind-leap that the politicians and police make—that any gathering in public space resembles the Other and must be called Extreme—this doesn’t seem like France, but I am naive.

“My lazy thinking has it that I myself would never be this way, but we all fall back into fear, don’t we? We are the predator species, and we forget that we are made of the Earth. We are mammals made of soil and ocean-water, a column of water up on our hind legs.

“That is what we are on both sides of the conflict. But one side has a club and no face. The other, you, you bring your vulnerable body as close to the action as you dare. You show your flesh to the public air and receive the bruise. You show a smile, you are hopping in place, and then running back to slow down a friend’s arrest. Can I get an Earth-a-llujah?”

“EARTH-A-LLUJAH!”

“When we protest we make a storm in the street that the Earth’s horizon watches with interest. The Earth is our leader and our teacher. We know that the Earth will win. She will heat up but she will survive the extinction that sweeps across her eco-systems. We know that the men in body-armor will join us ultimately as we fall to the ground like leaves in the autumn. At some point the cops too will feel the Earth in their bodies—that is what will persuade them not to work for nationalism descended from old wars.

“The Earth fills us up and sends us into the fight with instructions in its singing molecules. She gives us power beyond policies, ego or courage.

“When we watch you on the streets we feel a strange kind of gratitude—your bodies are like letters arranging in words against the page of the ground. You give us our new instructions!

“Now I don’t have my choir here with me, but two sisters here have volunteered to lead us in a song, Sisters, if you could?”

Two of the sisters step forward.

“This is a song we heard at the conference a lot, a lot of the young activists were singing it during some of the actions, like the Louvre oil action, and I think it’s great that we pick up the voices of others. It goes like this. . . :

 

People gonna rise like the water, gonna turn this crisis round.

Hear the voice of my great-grand-daughter, singing Climate Justice Now.

 

We sing between the icebergs and below the Pantheon, and I remember that this is completely illegal, no more than two people are allowed to gather for a ‘political purpose’ under the State of Emergency. As our merry troupe of fluffy rainbow-hippies sings I can’t help but think what utter nonsense that is. I imagine clouds of tear gas pop-pop-popping as canisters fly. I imagine us all crushed and fleeing beneath a charge of black-clad robocops.

I am sat on a bridge overlooking the lazy snake of the Seine as it swirls below me, the free curry and rice given away by garishly dressed hippies from huge steel pots sitting like foam on the water of a sewage outlet in my stomach. My mouth is dry, parched, and all around me herds of strange animals drift and wander: people carrying signs that read ‘system change not climate change’, a pod of merpeople, their hair sea-green with plastic seaweed, a knot of chic students wearing keffiyahs and aviators, a single clown with white face and a red nose holding a balloon in the shape of a heart.

Below me, the brass band is lounging, a mob of twenty people in pink shirts and scarves, lounging in the baking sun, their brass instruments sparkling next to them like the weapons of ornamental soldiers. They have been parping and blasting for the last few hours, the strains of Bella Ciao still ringing in my ears from the assembly in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

Ahead, the Eiffel Tower rises, a monumental spear of iron matrices shooting into a cerulean sky. The walkways around it are a sea of waving flags and banners, people choking every spot of land with colour and movement, swirling in and around each other. Currently on the bridge, a number of people have chosen to sit down and symbolically block the path, urged on by a manic young man with a megaphone. For now, the police are observing casually, seemingly counting under their breath before intervening. I have no energy left, and drift off towards the Tower to find the others.

Jake falls in beside me, a gentle, calming presence, passing me a bottle of water.

“So. What do you think?”

I cast my mind back as we walk. The police had been waiting for us at the Arc de Triomphe. I had been searched by a cop with a face like dogshit. He had found nothing, though he made me remove my leather gloves with studs on them that I had worn against the chill.

Once out of the Metro, we had seen that we were walking into a kettle designed to collect us. At the far end of the boulevard, still a hundred metres before the Arc, a row of grey battle-buses with lines of armoured cops like legionnaires in front of them, blocking our way. At the opposite end, before the roundabout, a second line had drawn up to prevent us leaving. The side roads were still open, left for us to try to disperse, but it was like walking into a cage.

And thousands of people did walk in. We had assembled, orderly and polite, a sea of red and flags of all nations, colours, banners, people blowing whistles and chanting and cheering: “We are nature defending itself!” The sounds of indigenous pan-pipes interwove with the stamping chants of woad-painted earth-defenders clutching home-made shields emblazoned with sigils of trees, hawks and turtles, a pod of people dressed as deep-sea divers, swimming down the street in slow-motion.

At the police line, the dozen or so rebel clowns were already in position, mocking the stance of the cops with their own military pomp. We had lined up behind them, becoming the second buffer line. Whereas the clowns faced the cops, we faced inwards to the sea of people.

The foghorns blasted, and for two minutes, the thousands of people had fallen silent.

I thought about the lake of dead fish I had seen in India where the water had become too acidic from pesticides. I thought about those thousands of glassy eyed fish washing up on to the shore, and the peoples from the village gathering to stare incredulously and hopelessly at them.

Then the brass band had fired up, and a great, ragged cheer gone up from the crowds. The march had begun.

Except the cops had blocked both ways, and there had been no real way for the march to go. They had left open one exit, leading to the left out of the boulevard, and we stood between the clowns and the crowd as thousands of people marched towards us, and as cheerfully as possible we directed them to the left, to squeeze in twos and threes through this narrow gap and continue on their way towards the Eiffel Tower.

It had not felt great, but we stuck to our plan and stayed happy and felt the tension disperse as more and more people fed through the gap. The banners had to be folded up to pass. The Climate Angels, tall, exquisite creatures painted in silver and gold, with huge, ornate, feathery wings of pearl and lapis lazuli, had to edge carefully between the last cop and the wall of the building to get through.

“That boulevard,” I was saying to Jake as we walked back down the bridge towards the Tower. “It was chosen so that nobody would see anything.”

We gather up Oak and Z., looking elated but exhausted.

“Well, at least no broken bones, no tear gas!” says Oak. We smile.

Soon we are through the crowds, and directly under the Eiffel Tower, looking upwards at its skeletal innards like tiny teenagers looking up some massive madam’s metal skirts. It is dizzying, and we sit down on some benches, feeling deflated.

A woman half-hidden in a scarf, but with cropped blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, drifts lazily past me and hands me a piece of paper. On it is typed:

 

We are all angry now. As destroyers of the death-reality, we must act. The time for peaceful subjugated protest and failed A to B marches is over. They have made criminals of us all. We call on all those who are willing to gather and express their rage in defence of the Earth. Let us take back the streets and defy the State of Emergency.

Meet at Belleville Metro 1900hrs.

 

I smile.

“Now this looks more like it.”

We get out of the Metro one stop early, wary of walking into a trap, and stroll down to Belleville in high spirits. Our brick swaps beers and rolls cigarettes, skipping through the crowds out shopping or leaving work, approaching Belleville with watchful eyes.

We lean on the bars of the Metro, watching and waiting. A sparkling tingle of anticipation hangs in the air, not a gendarme in sight for the first time in a long time. The streets hum with the quiet business of a winter’s evening in the banlieue, Chinese supermarkets bustling next door to Turkish shops, well-heeled Parisians shuffling between them smoking Gauloise, old men with chic moustaches and young ladies their hair covered with headscarves.

We wait and watch.

Then, we hear them.

Coming up from the underground, the boom-boom-clack of bass and snare, followed by the sharp rattle and a blast of whistle, growing louder and stronger, emerging from the Metro entrance out into the streets to be greeted with ragged cheers and an appreciative laugh of release. It is the samba band from Rhythms of Resistance, thirty-plus strong, decked in pinks and floral tributes, emerging into the evening air.

Boom boom clak! Ba-boom-ba-boom clak-clak!

Bodies crowd around them, maybe two hundred strong, faces from the march and strangers too, some already masked and punching the air, the cries of “Anti-capitalista!” stronger and fiercer than ever, ringing through the streets in time to the band. Soon they have taken the road, and traffic must wait, backing up bemused and patient behind them. Our brick nods to each other, and we step into the road, becoming part of the mass, and them becomes us.

Boom-clack ba-boom-ba-boom clak!

We turn, as one, down a side-street, following the samba band and whoever might be at the head of this march. On the pavements we see older persons, shopkeepers, people with bags of cheese and baguettes, clutching a child’s hand whilst raising a supportive fist to salute us. People are smiling, happy to see the wild and the free marching in defiance of fear and oppression. All the while the cries ring from the buildings, my throat hoarse: “Ah-ha! Anti! Anti-capitalista-ha! Anti! Anti-capitalista!”

Boom-clak! Ba-boom-boom-clak!

The moment is long, the energy increases, so do the number of masks, the feeling of imminent explosion. I am reminded of the Fuck Parades in London, of the Long Week in Rigaerstrasse, the anti-ISA protests in Kuala Lumpur, the liminal moments when parties evolve into riots. The lessons of the legal warning occasionally ring in my memory, but more than anything, I savour this sensation of wild liberation.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Clak-clak-clak!

Blue lights strobe the darkening sky with ultramarine. The urgency of the march picks up, confused commands and bursts of running down the streets. Blue lights ahead, and blue lights behind—the kettle is closing in. We find an alleyway to the right, and soon two hundred people are streaming down it, people dragging their drums along and dumping over bins and trollies into the streets behind them. Someone falls, tripping another over them as they crash to the ground, others stopping to pull them up and encourage them onwards. Energy is bordering on panic now.

We emerge breathless on the far side, next to the canal. Dozens of people are still filtering through behind us and it seems that we have evaded capture—for the moment.

We spot the blue lights assembling at the road bridge, two hundred metres up from us. People are calling to hurry—“Allez! Allez!”—and we move instinctively away from the lights.

Ahead, there is a narrow footbridge over the canal, and beyond that yet more police cars. The noose is closing.

People begin to run, seeing the opportunity to escape slipping away. The bridge rattles and clatters as people pound over it. In the rush, I lose the others. I stop on the far side of the canal looking for them. People race past.

The sting of pepper spray on the wind hits me, searing my nostrils and eyes. The police have trapped perhaps fifty people on the opposite side of the canal—just where we were. Even from twenty meters away it is a raw and spicy wind. I am already moving, heart pounding in my chest, attempting innocence and anonymity, suddenly alone and vulnerable, unsure of who or what is awaiting on this side, or what will happen to those trapped behind.

I begin walking, pulling my mask off, heading up the canal where there seems to be space between the police. People sit eating baguettes and drinking wine on benches, watching the spectacle of a mass of black-clad people trapped between two lines of stormtroopers. I am calling my brick, hearing garbled messages from them. They have got across.

Later that evening, we are outside la Generale—the huge warehouse space the local squatters keep on lock-and-key for when they need a performance space. Inside is rammed to the rafters with smiling, laughing, leaping, euphoric crowds of people, leaping and stomping as the famous brass band from the march hammers through a borderline violent version of Bella Ciao. Every song they have played, every refrain, for the last hour, and even in the pauses between, the cry can be heard like a war chant:

Ah-ha! Anti! Anti-capitalist a-ha! Anti! Anti-capitalist!

We are drunk and exhausted, our eyes still stinging from the pepper spray, greeting survivors from the kettle on the canal as they drift back, grinning with giddy relief.

“They kept us there maybe an hour. I had a backpack full of equipment. I had to throw it into the canal. But still, after one hour, they let us all go. No arrests.”

“I guess they know it’s over.”

“For now.”

We are drinking cans of Maximator—11% strength beer that sizzles like gasoline in our stomachs and fires up our exhilarated chatter.

“So we did it. Somehow we did it. 60 people on the streets ready to stand between the cops and 20,000 protesters like some kind of weird human condom.”

“It could have been so different. I’m bloody relieved that nothing happened,” Oak is saying. “That talk they gave us about raising our hands up with our fingers bent so the truncheons didn’t break them. I was, like, God, what have we gotten into?”

“Yeah. I guess it was all fine. But was it enough? I mean, I have friends at home who would be horrified to know I was part of a ‘de-escalation team’. They are the guys who believe that non-violence protects the state, and that if we really wanted change, we have to fight for it on the streets.”

“But if you have a riot, you won’t have all these families and this creative atmosphere.”

“Maybe it would have been different, but also they would have just demonised the whole thing as being about ‘leftwing extremists hijacking the peaceful march’. The same old narrative. My biggest worry is how complicit we have become in working with the cops, the politicians, the whole status quo.”

“It’ll all ripple out, George. It’ll all ripple out somehow.”

We smile, then laugh a little more as the brass band chunters inside and the anti-capitalists a-ha! away. Through the windows, I can see faces beaming with delirious exhaustion, dancing away with stomping feet and fists pumping the air, and I am relieved it isn’t all broken heads and handcuffs and eyes red raw from tear gas. I suck at the Maximator, retch at how flat it is, and suddenly feel my legs wobble.

“Shall we?”

We round up our little crew for la Petite Maison and head off into the Parisian night. Flashing blue lights illuminate the boulevards, casting sapphire shadows against the tall trees and art deco facades of the buildings.

As we pass the orange-and-yellow frontage of a McDonald’s, Oak suddenly squeals and runs ahead, laughing but flustered.

“There was a guy! There was a guy wanking in the McDonald’s!”

I can’t help but look, and there indeed sat at the little shelf-bar in the window are two kettle-faced men, leering at us as we pass. One has his tracksuit pants open, and is pulling with frenzied focus at an unimpressive lump of meat under the tabletop. He is staring straight out, and for a moment I wonder if he is looking at us, or his own reflection.

I smile at him, hawk a huge ball of phlegm out of my throat, and spit it at the window. It splatters satisfyingly right at his eye level and slides down, a green nugget of sap and gristle. He pauses, looking shocked, and I flip him a rigid middle finger, before darting off down the street after the others.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the lackeys of capitalism,” I sneer. “They’re all fucking perverts.”

oneslutriot. Bank of No Money, Depford, London, 2016. Spray paint and acrylic, 100% stolen or recycled materials.

 
 
 

George F. Interview: “In Hambach Forst”

george-f

Read “In Hambach Forst” in Reckoning 1.

Michael: Thank you so much for sharing this rather intense window on the front lines of climate activism. Reading it was a vicarious thrill for me. I do what I can—we’re all doing what we can, as many in the US have been telling ourselves frequently over the past five months in order to maintain our sanity. Reckoning is one of the things I’m doing. But what you’re doing strikes me as more—more powerful, more visceral, more direct—and reading about it is inspiring.

Would you tell me a little about how you got started in this kind of activism?

 

George: A decade ago, I used to live in Malaysia, working on a drug rehabilitation programme in a little kampung in the jungles. It was famous for being one of the last hide-outs of the Communist partisans during the Emergency. The drive from Kuala Lumpur to Batu Arang used to take a side-road through a vast expanse of reserved forest. You could feel the air cool as you turned off the highway, the sudden chill humidity of the under-canopy sheltering the van from the oppressive heat of the equatorial sun.

One time, we went back that way, and behind a gigantic, authoritative sign announcing severe fines for illegal logging, suddenly we saw the vicious brown scar of red soil. We stopped the van. For miles in every direction, the tangled, virgin forest had been cleared. It had been flayed to the bone—only barren red soil stretching over terraces and hills into the distance. The sun beat mercilessly down. We shook our heads in silence.

Afterwards, every time we drove down that road, we saw hordes of hungry monkeys lined up along the motorway, their babies clinging to them, their prehensile hands toying with bits of trash and the scraps that passing cars fed them. Their home had succumbed to the relentless march of development, and what had been a flourishing forest had been reduced to a desert of rubber plantations. Now they sit, in families and packs, watching the cars driving by, waiting for someone to fling a bundle of half-eaten fast food to them on the roadside.

After that, I decided to get more involved.

I reject the label activist as the language creates a false dichotomy. I don’t consider ‘non-activists’ as ‘passivists’. For me, it is about choosing sides, and there are extremely ‘activist’ people on the other-side—venture capitalists, lobbyists, politicians—all extremely active.

Environmental justice for me is rooted in anti-capitalist, anti-oppression and explicitly anarchist struggle. The reduction of our environmental heritage, ecosystem and indeed the life support systems of Gaia to commodities, markets, services and resources is representative of how autodestructive, cannibalistic and, to be melodramatic, pure evil capitalism is. I realise this is not how everyone views it. That is fine. That is their choice.

 

Michael: How did you first realize the need for this kind of story to be told?

George: There needs to be a record of the struggle—a Peoples’ History—for posterity and for us. I started writing about squatting in London—the subject of my first book Total Shambles—because we identified that there was a dearth of current creative nonfiction on the subject and a need to find new ways to engage emotionally as well as intellectually on the subject of housing. These were stories that we told one another verbally all the time, but there was no written record of them. Academic research and political rhetoric on squatting were well-covered, but we wanted to tell a personal, human story that connected with the social implications.

Afterwards, I realised that the most urgent issue that needs humanising is the struggle to save The Big House We All Live In—Mama Terra. Often issues around climate justice seem so huge, so overwhelming, so abstract, that people have difficulty connecting with it. Generally, we seem unwilling or unable to deal with the scale of the changes we need to make. This is why recycling is very popular, and the concept of not having children to save the planet less so. One of the great powers of creative nonfiction is to give people the experience of visiting a place like Hambachforst in their mind’s eye and spending time with the people and ideas that exist there. As you said, to enjoy it vicariously. My hope is that it is an uncathartic and dissatisfying experience, and leaves the reader with discomfort over their own complicity in the ongoing ecocide. Not you personally Michael, but the reader in general, myself included.

 

Michael: (Oh yes, me personally. Me too, absolutely. This is what your essay made me feel, uncomfortable and that I’m not doing enough. It’s how I feel all the time; it’s what I was getting at in the Reckoning 1 editor’s note about being incapable of editorial distance.)

Who was your inspiration?

George: The people who, to quote Ken Kesey, would rather be lightning conductors than seismographs. People living for years on protest sites, in treehouses, underground, people going to prison for defending forests, environmental defenders who are murdered in the course of their protest. (117 this year, as of July.)

All I do really is write stories and clumsily wander around places where people are literally dying to defend the planet. As mentioned in the story, Barry Horne was a big inspiration for the piece, and indeed, all of those people who have been living at Hambachforst and other protest camps across Europe and the world, putting life, limb and liberty at risk. George Monbiot is a fantastic environmental and political writer, and advocates using different modes of language to try and engage with more people on these issues, and for my part, if I can find new ways to communicate, connect and captivate people, then that feels worthwhile.

 

Michael: What would you say to the criticism that this kind of activism is too out-there, that it alienates and interferes with the cause being taken seriously by a moderate majority?

George: As Howard Zinn said, ‘you can’t be neutral on a moving train’. I respect a diversity of tactics, and would agree that direct action will always upset a certain section of moderates, mainly as it highlights their own complacency. I strongly advocate individual responsibility and autonomy to decide their level of involvement. I would probably endeavour to enter into a dialogue with them on the matter and discuss the severity of the situation currently—

THE PLANET IS DYING. IT’S FUCKING DYING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. ITS BURBLING ON BLOODY VOMIT, CRASHED OUT ON THE PAVEMENT, CRYING LIKE A CRIPPLED DEER AFTER YOU HIT IT WITH YOUR CAR.

—I’d probably discuss with them the statistic that 50% of the world’s wildlife has died off in the last four decades. That we are entering the 6th great mass extinction and that it is intimately connected to human activity. That by 2050 there will be more weight by plastic in the oceans than fish—

TURN ON A FUCKING TV. HOUSTON IS LITERALLY UNDERWATER IN A ‘ONCE IN CENTURY STORM’. THERE ARE GIANT RAFTS OF FIRE ANTS FLOATING THROUGH IT. HELLISH GREAT FIRE ANT ISLANDS RIDING THE FLOOD WATERS. 12 YEARS AFTER NEW ORLEANS WAS FLATTENED. HAVE YOU BEEN TO MIAMI? WELL GO NOW BECAUSE IT WILL BE PERMANENTLY 3 FOOT DEEP IN A DECADE—

I would argue that ‘extreme’ actions such as the occupation of forests and violent attacks on machinery used to destroy our forests and oceans helps further involve and inspire the mainstream moderates, rather than alienating them. Once people see how far people are willing to go, they hopefully begin to question whether they are doing enough by recycling, or marching in a protest, or living in a treehouse in a 12,000 year old forest, or lying down in front of a bulldozer.

ALL CARS ARE TARGETS IN A RIOT. THE WORST DECISION YOU CAN MAKE FOR THE PLANET IS TO BREED. YOU ARE WHY THE AIR AND THE WATER AND THE FOOD WE EAT IS POISON. THERE IS NO FUTURE ONLY THE CLIMATE APOCALYPSE—

Or perhaps I would just sigh in exasperation and save my breath. If people cannot see the value and necessity of ‘this kind of activism’ then I am not one to try and change their mind, only to point out the other options.

OPEN YOUR FUCKING EYES THE MODERATE MAJORITY IS MODERATELY MASSACRING THE ENTIRE WORLD WITH MEDIOCRITY. WARGH! WARGH! FUCK YOU

The moderate majority won’t remain so moderate when the food riots start, but meanwhile it’s important to maintain one’s sanity.

 

Michael: What have you been up to since Hambach Forst? What are you doing next?

George: I try to remain upbeat in the face of an ongoing climate catastrophe. I’m writing a new book all about that merry mission called Good Times In Dystopia. It covers our adventures of the last 3 years, including our recent return to Hambachforst in July 2017, where we were subsequently arrested, strip-searched, and robbed of 100 Euros by the local cops for having a picnic in the wrong place.

We also recently visited Bialowiezca forest, which is the last primeval forest in Europe, a world heritage site, and currently being logged. Of course it is.

We spent most of 2016 squatting some disused offices above a fried chicken shop in the very centre of London. During that time there were ongoing terrorist attacks, including one directly on our street, as well as the ones in Paris, Belgium, and beyond, as well as the ongoing state-terror and bombing campaigns overseas. During that time hundreds of thousands more people were displaced by war, famine and climate collapse, and during that time countless millions more plastic bottles, toothbrushes, iPods, condoms, hairbrushes, floss, and trainers were created, a few billion more barrels of oil extracted, fracking became an acceptable way to get more natural resources out of the ground, the UK voted to leave the EU, and Delerium Tremens was elected President in the US.

For 8 months, me and Mierda devoted ourselves to organising an exhibition—OUROBOROS—at a proper gallery in London. We went fully legit. We brought together over 30 artists with experience of social exclusion—homeless, LGBTQ+, persons with mental health issues, differently abled, migrants—to exhibit artworks as a creative response to the destruction of nature, consumerism, oppression and capitalism. We got funding from the Arts Council. It subsumed every waking minute of our lives for that whole time. We opened the first night with over 300 hundred people in attendance, with noise acts designed to be interactive for members of the Deaf community, visual arts with volunteer interpreters for the visually impaired, sculptures made from old car tires and paintings on gender politics and habitat destruction, photographs of abandoned buildings and shadow theatre performances about migration. It ended in a small riot, and the next morning the gallery shut us down. We took it that the moderate majority wasn’t ready for what we were trying to do, and that we were to remain excluded from the mainstream. Perhaps, as you suggested, we had succeeded in alienating them, as they have alienated us.

Faced with such a world, I have begun taking refuge in Absurdism—the act of living defiantly in a universe that has no meaning, within which our every action is essentially futile, except that very act of defiance.

I’ll finish with two quotes from Albert Camus which I use to frame my daily experience and my expectations for the future. Perhaps also just to prove how ultimately pretentious I am.

The first: The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.
And the second: The only serious question in life is whether to kill yourself or not.

 

In Hambach Forst

George F.

Eyelids stuttering like a caught-out politician’s, I take long moments to breathe on the mattress in the guest room, remembering the advice that it takes as long to wake up as it takes you to wake up. The sun is blazing through the high windows, hitting the bitter graffiti we scrawled on the mezzanine in drunken rebelliousness: ‘Whilst you plenum, we crack buildings’. Mierda is already gone, no doubt down in the yard putting the finishing touches to the mural. Grizzly sits in the corner of the room, looking at me patiently, awaiting my next move.

It has been two weeks here in Rigaerstrasse, feeling the creeping comforts and stasis of the place sapping our vigour. Today is the day we leave for Hambach Forst. Battling the lethargy of relaxation, I gather our booty from Italy, the zines and patches from the street-markets of Berlin, the empty bottles for recycling, retie the length of rope around the flapping sole of my boot, and check the scrawled notes on how to escape the fuck out of Berlin.

skull_green_scenebreak

We were sat at the Rasthof Michendorf, halfway through the wine, on the brink of giving up for the night and setting up the tent, when we got picked up.

“Look, that one has Magdeburg plates. That’s halfway there. Ask them.”

Mierda takes a swig of red and skips over to await the two tan-skinned males as they emerge from the service station.

“Hello, excuse me, are you going to Magdeburg?”

“Ja.”

“Can we come with you?”

“There are two of you?”

I sit sheepishly, trying to mask the large rucksacks and Grizzly, who I am telepathically willing not to start barking at them.

“Yes.”

“And you have a dog?”

“Yes.”

Ah, shit. These guys are dark-skinned, black-haired, their accents suggesting an origin in the Muslim sphere. Dogs are haram. Their car is super shiny and sleek, some brand a gearhead would probably drool over. I begin to think about where to set the tent up.

The first guy catches the second as he emerges, and they make an exchange in rapid-fire Babel. I read the body language as best I can, trying to keep my mind open.

“OK. But the dog has to go in the luggage. That ok?”

“Fine! Great!” Me and Mierda chime together, grabbing the bags and hiding the wine before they can change their minds. We sling the bags in the back, and Grizzly obediently, mysteriously silently, jumps up behind them and immediately settles down, tongue lolling happily. It’s almost as if she knew. Or maybe she was as glad as we were to leave Berlin.

We leap in the back, dropping into plush leather upholstery. It smells like a rental car—new, synthetic, false. In front is a galaxy of gnomic buttons and devices, a screen showing GPS coordinates, everything illuminated in space-age neon blue. The passenger in the front has his seat almost horizontal, so me and Mierda squeeze into one half of the back seat next to each other.

The driver guns the engine, and we flee the service station like a gazelle bolting from a predator, tearing out into the autobahn night. The leather-upholstered seats heat up at the click of a button. Euro-techno blasts from the surround sound speakers. As the acceleration increases and the G-force kicks in, we both scramble surreptitiously for our seatbelts as we realise this driver intends to max out the capabilities of his souped-up car on the limitless potential of the autobahn.

As he drives, he smokes sickly smelling skunk in a pipe and talks over his shoulder at us. All the while, the needle creeps upwards.

100 kph.

“So you always travel like this? You have job? You have home? I live Berlin, but my family all live in the West. In Cologne.”

110 kph.

“Really? You are going to Cologne? That’s actually where we are going.”

“Oh really?”

He talks to his passenger in rapid-fire language that we can’t understand. We exchange hopeful glances.

“OK. So we take to you Cologne. No problem. This is my brother. We from Afghanistan. We come after war start there. Very bad. Very bad. Much trouble. Much violence.”

120 kph.

“I make money delivering cars. Make little money. Make little survive. You come Germany, I sure you see very nice life. People nice. Life nice. Everything easy. Very good. For me, very hard. For my brother, very hard. For my family, very hard. Can be very difficult.”

135 kph.

“In Afghanistan, you buy 1 kilo of heroin, 5000 Euros. Bring back to Europe. Sell 100,000 easily. Make good money. Make good life. Never work again.”

150 kph.

“You want to smoke?”

170 kph.

“You believe in Allah? SCHIESSE!”

Actually he shouts something else, but I didn’t catch it. The car swerves violently, sliding dramatically to the right. As quick as a flash, he restabilises it and pulls it back to the left.

“Did you see that? Did you see? Es war ein Hirsch, mit großen Geweihe, die wir fast traf es . . . . What you say in English? With . . . with? With these.”

He actually takes both hands off the wheel and holds them to his head to demonstrate antlers. At this point his brother intervenes, saying something in sleepy but firm syllables.

“OK, he say I stop talking and concentrate on driving now.”

We race on through the night in silence, me and Mierda secretly sipping the wine, then drifting off to sleep as the seats warm our thighs and the lights of the autobahn hypnotically flash by at one hundred miles per hour. We crack the window to smoke and the jetstream screams through the cabin as if we were on an airplane. As my eyelids droop I idly wonder whether Grizzly is asleep in the back on the top of several kilos of heroin from Afghanistan.

skull_green_scenebreak

They drop us off, unceremoniously, outside a tram-stop before dawn, awkwardly watching as we drag our bags and dog out the back. They notice that the boot is covered in dog hair. We look appropriately apologetic, then they are off, racing away to their families or their drug deal or to try and run over more deer. We jump the tram, looking out the window until we spot a bottle shop with a nearby park.

Sipping cold beer, we wander through a park of gelded trees, filled with dozens upon dozens of rabbits that hop, skip and nibble the pruned grass, calm and peaceful and undisturbed by our presence. Grizzly pulls on the lead, straining at them with interest, and the sky begins to turn blue above us. Bottle collectors lurk in the bushes, giving their location away by the clink of glass.

As it gets light, we pass out on the sleeping bags, dozing a few hours. We are surprised when we awake to find the rabbits and bottlers have all transformed into youth. Cologne is a major university town, and on a summer’s day such as this these fresh-faced and clean-looking young folks descend upon the parks to barbecue, throw frisbees and leave behind empty beer bottles for the refugees to pick up.

They grow rowdier as it gets sunny, and not wanting to sleep another day there, we troop back down to the tram stop and jump the rest of the way to the Hauptbanhof. Nearly there, we spot a gang of inspectors at one of the stops and leap off to safety. Meandering through the streets, we are soon beneath the spires of the Dom.

We are waiting on the platform for the train when we are approached by a young woman dressed in black, wearing a patch of a pair of cogs with a spanner dropping between them.

“You go to the occupation?”

We smile and nod. We have found our guide.

We jump the train together, watching each other’s backs, chatting all the way to the woods.

“Several of the villages around here are ghost towns now. Just shells, left up for show, awaiting the bulldozers. Old buildings, beautiful, being torn down by diggers. Same with the solar panels everywhere, the wind-farms, the hundreds of thousands of euros poured into recycling schemes and schools talks. All of it propaganda.”

“Green-washing, we call it.”

“It’s a total cover-up. RWE just want to present a clean face to the world whilst raping it. You have to go see the Hole. It’s unbelievable. I cannot even describe it. It’s like Mordor.”

She appears physically pained as she talks about, losing herself for a moment looking out the window.

“I just went to the police station to see about our comrade who was arrested today. Ah, don’t worry. The people at the camp will tell you all about it.”

We pass her the wine, and we drink, sharing logistics of our various living arrangements.

“And who is this? I don’t like to say pet.”

“Grizzly. Our companion.”

She ruffles Grizzly’s fur affectionately. Grizzly seems pleased, parking herself beneath the seats of the train.

“Do you ever have any trouble jumping the train?”

“Not if there is three or four of us. They normally don’t think it’s worth the trouble.”

skull_green_scenebreak

It is a long walk through the pitch-blackness of the countryside—I doubt we could’ve found it without Grasshalm. When we arrive, a dreadlocked man named Graeme gives us a breathless update.

“Ah so you’re here for the festival? Good, good. Well, we’re all a bit tired today, as we had an eviction. The tower. Remy’s Tower, it’s called, was raided by the police. One guy got arrested; he’s at the station now. He threw a bucket of shit at the cops. One of them twisted his neck apparently so it’s assault. All a bit of a palaver. It was the last living barricade and all. Fourteen hours it took them. They took him because he had ‘no social obligations’ in Germany, and was ‘likely to stay away from trial.’ We have to rebuild the barricades tomorrow, but the tower has gone. Such a shame. So you’re staying a bit are you? Well, you’re welcome to camp in the forest, be aware that it’s illegal, or you can put your stuff down in the meadow if you like.”

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As I sit and shit in the little compost toilet hut, a hazel dormouse peeks out from a pallet dumped next to the sawdust bag. Its cute little eyes peer at me with curious innocence. I look out into the forest, the sounds of birds singing and the branches of tall, elegant trees rustling, and I realise that I know the names of almost nothing. The forest is comprised of pines, yew, oak. I have spotted dockleafs and clover, nettles and brambles, but to the vast majority of its diversity I am ignorant. I guess most people are nowadays, the herblore and arboreal knowledge that would have been natural for our ancestors is now forgotten. The contents of the vast fields around the encampment are more easily recognisable: endless monocultural rows of potato, cauliflower, waving stands of maize, uniform, relentless, armies of doubtless genetically mutated aliens. Whole fields of hybrid triffids, ready to take over the world once everyone has gone blind from staring at some mysterious meteor.

Fifteen and more centuries ago, Germany was covered in mixed forest like this, home to a weald society of hunters, foragers, gatherers and natural farmers. The forest abounded with deer, squirrel, pigeon, fowl, not to mention a host of challengers to the dominance of man—wolves, bears, boar—real life monsters of the time. Perhaps that’s where so much of the modern day hatred of nature comes from—that for so long it was seen as a killer and enemy. The natives would have been expert herbalists, naming and knowing hundreds and more of plants for their medicinal and healing qualities. Now this weird vagabond camp sits on a meadow on the edge of the last patch of 12,000-year-old forest, and the lack of connection is apparent. In four years it will all be gone—the hazel dormouse and the history, the centuries-old yew and oak, the brief moments of liberty on the fringe of oblivion.

 

Dumping a handful of sawdust down the hole, I pull up my shorts and tuck my leggings into the top of my socks. This is tick country, which means Lyme disease. We had already pulled a number of the purple-grey sacs out of Grizzly’s knotted fur and were keen to avoid becoming a meal ourselves.

I stroll back through the forest, manoeuvering around the barricades of branches and logs that have been constructed across the pathways. One has been decorated with a large red ‘A’, and a roadsign woven into its mesh has been spray-painted with slogans, ‘E.L.F’ and ‘Hambach Bleibt!’. The soil of the truck-paths is solid, compacted, grossly different in consistency to the spongey, yielding layers of leaf-litter and humus of the forest proper. It even smells different—wafts of organic, living matter erupting from each step, like the breath of the trees. I walk back through Oaktown, gazing up at the precipitously positioned treehouses, twenty metres above in the boughs of the trees. A man in a harness is setting up the ropes to clamber above and spend the day in peaceful meditation with his tree. He waves cheerfully to me as I pass, hopping over a trio of tractor tyres laden with rubble. I jump again soon as I land, narrowly avoiding crushing a miniature dance-hall of dung beetles rolling their treasures around.

The forest ends abruptly at the meadow occupation, marked by a man in an elf hat sat in a tree playing a mandolin and singing softly: “I want to be/for-ever punk/I want to be/for-ever punk . . .”. I pass through the freegan kitchen, into the low hut of the kitchen proper. A few people talk softly in German, preparing tofu and brotchen from the packed metal containers. They have a full wheelie bin of soya-products, donated by supporters and shipped from Cologne. In the meadow, a small fire burns by the dining tables, and beyond, the narrow strip between two fields of wheat is littered with caravans, roundhouses of timber, and towards the airstrip, a number of straw-bale houses and hobbit-huts, partially sunk into the ground.

It looks like a crew of nomadic space-pirates were marooned here upon the shaw and spent their time trying to organise without their captain. The dozen or so constructions are idiosyncratic, an eco-refugee camp of wattle walls, pallet structures, insulation a hybrid of plastic functionality and ecological innovation. Red and black antifascist flags fly from makeshift poles alongside ragged rainbow strings of Tibetan prayer flags. Hand-painted tarps are everywhere: ‘Ohne Mampf, keinen Kampf’ by the kitchen, ‘Refugees Welcome’ by the tool shed. The walls of the kitchen bear various signs of instruction to wash hands, close lids because of rats, no meat, no smoking, and in-between, the scraps of calendars and rotas and propaganda blur to become an anti-authoritarian collage. Dreamcatchers spin in the breeze next to mobiles of pinecones and wool. Wicker baskets and waterjugs are piled by the toolshed, next to a plastic dog with its face smashed off and boxes and boxes of weirdly wonderful, perhaps one day useful, stuff.

 

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Behind fences of wood lashed together with rope, people are growing miniature gardens of herbs, sage, lemon balm, mint and parsley. I run my hands over the delicate leaves, feeling the differences, smelling deeply of each one as I pass. Beside one hobbit house, its roof layered with clods of turf and straw, tall stacks of sunflower are in regal bloom, their innards already filling with seed. In another, shared between the solar-powered ‘technology caravan’ and someone’s private van, a cacophony of broccoli are beginning to delicately emerge, beans hang bountiful stacks of pods from their runners, pumpkins are swelling, nasturtiums flirt with the bees with their spicy flowers of vermillion, orange and yellow. The gardens are marked out with old jam jars and glass bottles, rows of gleaming white, green and brown surrounding the lush stands of intermingled plants. A row of solar-panels gleams futuristically, surrounded by terracotta pots of cacti and salads. The infoshop is decorated with old vinyl records, a gasmask with a pair of antlers sprouting from it, the simple slogan ‘COAL KILLS’ next to a stuffed pheasant staring arrogantly back at me from the walls. A small boy with cornflower blue eyes and hair so blond it looks white in the sunlight plays with a plastic truck in the sandpit. I watch him for a while as he moves dirt around, wondering if the men driving the big diggers over on the other side of the highway had once been the same. Just kids playing in the sand.

Brightly coloured murals and slogans mark the passage of a multitude of defiant artists. Mierda has been working on the outside of the library/freeshop structure—the outlines emerge of a naked woman swinging down from a tree to smash the face of a man wielding a chainsaw. Strolling further along, I spot her atop the tower at the entrance to the meadow. She is unwinding a huge red and black flag from its pole, the wind catching it and flicking it out against the blue sky. I realise with a smile that it is a German flag with the gold torn from the bottom—a symbolic removal of wealth, to leave behind the black of anarchy and the blood of the people. She turns and waves cheerily to me from her viewpoint as a cropduster soars into the sky from the airstrip behind her.

 

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We gather in the open-sided forum hut. The sun is setting over the fields of monoculture outside. Grizzly slips in and lies down expectantly, the little pup Hanuc bothering her experimentally. The projector screen lights up the faces of a dozen or so smiling, patient people who chat and smoke whilst awaiting the speaker to begin.

“Thank you all for coming. I will try to talk about the occupation here, first giving some background on the situation then detailing some of the various actions and resistance over the last three years.

“The remaining Hambach forest—originally part of a 6000 hectare old-growth forest—is ecologically unique in Europe. For more than 30 years the energy corporation RWE has been cutting it down. Today, less than 500 hectare remain. All of it is to be cut down to make space for the mine in the years to come—at least these are the plans of RWE and the government.

“All this because underneath the forest the one finds the so called ‘brown gold’. Lignite has been exploited in the Rhineland between Aachen and Cologne for more than hundred years. In 1970 a large-scale lignite extraction project was approved. This project included three huge open cast pits, the extension of existing as well as the construction of new coal power plants, and the development of the necessary infrastructure.

“We have been in occupation of the forest since April 2012, when the last action of a klimacamp held in the area was to occupy the forest. The klimacamps in the Rhineland were inspired by the UK’s climate camps, which seem to be much more developed than here in Germany. Or at least they used to be, I don’t know how they are now. Of the 4 major coal mine areas in Deutschland, the one here is the largest, covering 80 square kilometres and being half a kilometre deep at its lowest point. RWE have been pumping out water for years, lowering the water table, and endangering the forest. They have been buying up land and villages for decades, building on a project that was started by Hitler and the Nazis before the war, discontinued for several decades afterwards, and then resumed in the 70s by RWE. They have been buying the houses of all the villages in the area, on the condition that those who sell do not discuss how much they are paid with each other. This allows RWE to negotiate individually rather than collectively, separating the villagers and ensuring a stronger position for them. They are building new villages in the area to rehouse people, but they all look like they are from Super Mario. Many historic beautiful buildings are being destroyed, and the locals being bought off with schools-for-land programmes.

“RWE spends a huge amount of money on security to protect their mining operation, as well as investing hundreds of thousands in surveillance of the occupation and propaganda in the villages to turn the locals against us. You’ve probably seen all the solar panels and wind farms, as well as the new autobahn to route traffic past Buir without allowing anyone to see what they are doing. RWE also subsidise a lot of the farmers around here, creating an image of abundance and ideal countryside life, whilst behind the screen of trees they are destroying this area.

“2012 was their first eviction attempt. We had dug a tunnel, 6 metres deep, which I have a model of here. You can see there are three levels, with a fire door locked on the first level. They had to chop through this with an axe. Then there is a descent to a smaller tunnel, and then another level, to an even smaller tunnel and a store-room where we stayed. There was food and water here, and a few buckets for piss and shit.

“This tunnel held out for three days, during which time jeeps and vans owned by the police and security drove over the top. You could feel the ground shaking. It didn’t feel very safe. All the time above people were blasting the Tetris theme tune through speakers. The tunnel held out for 3 days.

“600 police turned up for the eviction. The photos don’t really do it justice. After we were evicted from there, a local farmer allowed us to move into the meadow occupation, and we have been here since then, despite the security and the police harassing us, arresting him and threatening him, he still allows us to stay here as it is his land. RWE work very hard to convince the villagers that we are evil, that we are drug addicts and thieves and whatever. But many of them are now realising what they have lost by believing RWE. Many support us more and more for the occupation. Now they are trying to evict us and demolish the buildings here as we do not have zoning permission. It is relentless.

“Hambachforst and the Burgewald—the ‘guaranteed forests’—don’t really exist anymore. They certainly aren’t guaranteed. They used to cover this entire area on the map, and consisted of mixed forest of pines, beech, oaks. Trees that don’t normally grow together have found harmony here over 12,000 years. The forest is home to a number of endangered species, including the hazel dormouse, which you may have seen running around in the kitchens, the middle-spotted woodpecker and Bechstein’s bat. Also at night we can walk through the forest and see a number of fluorescent mushrooms. It’s really quite beautiful.

“So this is a picture of the Monkeytown occupation. There were four tree-houses, at a height of 18 to 25 metres from the ground. The treehouses are really quite cosy, quite safe, and people would live in them almost constantly, waiting for something to happen. Here you can see a big net connecting a number of trees, the idea being that if they cut one tree or one rope, then the people in the net will be harmed. There is not a lot to do, mainly waiting, a lot of time with nothing happening, and then suddenly the eviction comes. The tree you live in becomes your friend, you spend time with it every day. It lasted for 7 months, in which time there were 30 barricade removals, kitchen removals. Of course eviction day is rebuilding day. But even using the dead wood from the forest is a problem, as the forest relies on the dead wood to be healthy.

“After 7 months, the security and police arrived to evict Monkeytown. The people in the trees locked on, climbed into the nets, used rope links. The eviction took from 8am till 10pm. The police came with cherry-pickers for those in the trees. All you can hear from up there is screaming, the sound of machinery, chainsaws. You can’t see anything. All of Monkeytown was clear-cut that winter. Here’s a photo of a 400 year old beech being cut down. Here’s another one of a 200 year oak.

“So we still organise direct actions against the Hole, encouraging people to do what they feel comfortable with. Here’s a photo of people sabotaging one of the diggers. Here’s an orchestra that came, playing in front of one of the diggers. Here’s people chaining themselves to the railway. This was one of the first actions, and even though it only lasted a few hours, as they cut through the locks very quickly, it still delayed the shipments of coal and cost RWE thousands of Euros. Here are some of us up on the tower of the digger.

“So even with all this, it is estimated that the total clearance of Hambachforst will be complete within four years.

“Maybe I can show you some videos before the battery runs out, and then you can ask questions if anybody has any. Here you can see one of the raids by security. One guy actually threatens to kill us if we damage his machines. You wouldn’t believe it if we didn’t have footage of it. These people. I don’t understand them. They laugh and make jokes whilst the trees come down. They don’t seem human sometimes.”

He grows visibly emotional as he talks, lapsing into a moment of silence. The pressure must be unbearable. I feel like a tourist.

Someone asks a question, but the only one I have in my mind is, “what hope do you have?”

But it is an impossible question to ask. He has to have hope, all these people here have to have hope of some kind, but it seems utterly hopeless. What they are up against is so huge and relentless and faceless and unstoppable, and somehow so many people support it, buy into it, surrender their humanity in order to see it continue. They sign it off as their job, the only option, and those who are against it as some kind of crazy crusties and miscreants. Yet surely anyone could see how invaluable this place is, and how lignite is just fucking evil. This was the frontline of the war against ecocide, against the madness of capitalist logic, for the salvation of the planet, and it did not look like they were winning.

 

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“How do you know if someone’s a vegan? They’ll fucking tell you.

“Did you ever hear of a guy called Barry Horne?

“He was from Northampton—where I’m from—though I never met him, of course. Went to an ALF meeting at 35 years old and pow—that was it. Became vegetarian, started sabbing hunts around Cambridge. Went to Florida to free a dolphin that was held in captivity in a tiny pond, on its own. Dolphins are extremely social animals. A cell of them spent nights sneaking in, getting to know it, before finally jumping in with a giant dolphin stretcher. Only realised then that there was no way they could lift a 650-pound dolphin out of the park. They got nicked on the way back to the car by local coppers. . . . Couldn’t explain why they had that stretcher.

“Still, they kept campaigning, leafleting, protesting, raising money. Eventually raised 120,000 pounds and bought him off the zoo. Released him after some rehabilitation, and within days he’d joined a pod. Imagine that—taking a dolphin from captivity all the way through to seeing it leaping through the water with all its mates.

“He didn’t stop there. He ended up in prison, possession of explosives. Sentenced to 3 years. He only got more hardcore inside. Listen to this— ‘The animals continue to die and the torture goes on in greater and greater measure. People’s answer to this? More vegeburgers, more Special Brew and more apathy. There is no longer any Animal Liberation Movement. That died long ago. All that is left is a very few activists who care, who understand and who act . . . ’. If you don’t act then you condone. If you don’t fight then you don’t win. And if you don’t win then you are responsible for the death and suffering that will go on and on.”

“Soon as he got out, he went on the warpath. Firebombs, all over the country, a one-man cell targeting the cosmetics industry, Boots, the high-street face of GlaxoSmithKline, in Bristol, the Isle of Wight, all over. He got caught. He knew he would, but for him it was a war. 18 years. 18 fucking years for arson against property, nobody injured. They called him a terrorist. He used to be a bin-man. Whilst inside he did four hunger strikes—35 days, 46 days, 68 days—no food. Whilst on-strike, the Animal Rights Militia—the ones who did not support non-violence—went out to war in his name. They dug tunnels outside Huntingdon Life Sciences to prevent eviction; they raided guinea pig farms, rabbit farms, mink farms; they blockaded Dover and drove a car into Parliament Square, slashing its tyres and d-locking to the steering wheel. 400 people marched on a primate holding facility near Brighton. It was a fucking insurrection.

“Here’s another good one: ‘the fight is not for us, not for our personal wants and needs. It is for every animal that has ever suffered and died in the vivisection labs, and for every animal that will suffer and die in those same labs unless we end this evil business now. The souls of the tortured dead cry out for justice, the cry of the living is for freedom. We can create that justice and we can deliver that freedom. The animals have no one but us. We will not fail them.’

“He died fighting. His last hunger strike he lasted 15 days, before his liver shut-down. The media vilified him. Sipping sweet tea to survive was turned into ‘a feast’. They mocked him because he terrified them, because he was relentless, because he was ethically above them all. He was a fucking hero.

“So eat your meat and laugh at the vegans. And go fuck yourself whilst you’re at it.”

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Through the remnant of forest, past the ramshackle barricades, already being rebuilt by a lone woodsman, likely to be stripped within a day, and over the road. Clambering over the pile of sand dumped to block the access to the abandoned highway. We linger there on the dual carriageway, looking at the weeds peeking through the asphalt, staring at the dead signs, forever blank above the empty roadways. Abandoned by civilisation, it is for a moment as if humanity had disappeared from the face of the planet, and Mierda and I and Grizzly and a few darting starlings all that remain behind. As we head further into the west, the signs of the civilised return. We dodge a roving security car by ducking down behind a copse of reeds and tall grass that has erupted between the metal barriers. We follow a dump-truck as it cruises over a bridge above the highway. Soon, the ground around us becomes stripped of trees, then of bushes, and finally only grasses and tangled brush struggle to survive amidst acres of crushed and flattened dirt. Our boots slip and slide through sand. Not even soil. Just dead, compacted dirt, with clumps of dying grass, stunted seedlings and scrawny thistles meekly squirming between the hillocks. Even here, nature battles on, but on the horizon, behind piles of disrupted and destroyed earth, the ground suddenly drops away, revealing the cavernous scar of the Hole, and no sign of growth remains.

Its scale is hard to put into words. It is Dune—desert planet—you could expect to see giant worms bursting from the ground and hordes of fremen charging across it. A train line runs in perfect parallel to the cliff drop we stand on, slicing across the barren soil unbroken. Not a hundred metres away from us is the monstrous bagger machine. Its size is gargantuan, alien, a mechanical monster hundreds of feet high, the great rotating disk like ten JCBs strapped into a circle, relentlessly scooping the cliffside, pulling away tons of sand and subsoil 24 hours a day, groaning and murmuring like a slaving demon in the depths of hell. Lights gleam on its scaffold tower, and the tiny figure operating it looks like an ant on the side of some vast steel scarecrow. It looks like the gateway to Hades, like the surface of the moon, like a bomb went off and evaporated all forms of life for 80 square kilometres around it.

Across a barren plain of dead soil, between us and the distant hills, is a void, a lacuna of absent earth like a meteor crater blasted into the ground. One day, once the lignite is stripped from the earth, they will fill the crater with water and sail boats on top of it—the final insult of turning a rape victim into a playground for the rich. In the distance, the funnels of power plants choke the dusk sky with plumes of smoke. Above us, the moon burns as a flaming diamond amidst clouds streaked in violet, aquamarine, cerise and vermillion. I wonder how much of the spectacle of colours of the iridiscent sunset is caused by the pollutants they are releasing. On the far side, wind towers jut from the tops of hills, a paltry token of green energy next to the ravages around us.

“One day this will swallow the rest of the forest, right up to where the meadow occupation is.”

“It looks like one day it will swallow the whole world.”

In silence, we turn around and head back to the forest to drink ourselves into oblivion around the campfire. In the darkness, we fuck against a tree, and for a moment it feels like I am having sex with nature herself, one last desperate union before we are forced apart again.

(All photos © oneslutriot.)