No More Bad Future
On Winter Solstice day 2019, I walked out to see some Neolithic dolmen. I stroked the grey-green mosses covering the giant balanced boulders. These chamber entrances feature so heavily in the Welsh landscape that they are rarely properly signposted. Hundreds of bodies, tools, and offerings would once have lain within the above-ground chambers they were built in front of, but the rocks from the chamber walls have been long since returned to the ground around them, leaving only a suspiciously bumpy rich green turf beyond these enormous, lumbering doorways to nowhere. The contact points between each boulder set on top of the other have become fused and eroded in such uncanny spots in the six thousands of years since their makers finished the magical feat of ancient engineering that was required to assemble them. Each gravity-defying constituent part seemed to offer an ask and answer at once. How do I stay up? I always have. I imagined the ancestral bones and who took them from here, long before the archaeologists first scrambled. I thought about collective burial.
Two months ago there was a General Election. Many people, myself included, hit the streets of constituencies around the country, to canvas and get people on board to vote for more living and less dying. The manifesto was of course, relatively tepid social democracy, but containing promises that would stop more people dying from cold, hunger, violence and suicide, it felt like a reset button, a chance to reroute. This meant an alliance with the kind of big P politics my whole adult life has been about transcending or at least side-eyeing. Reassuringly, many of the most industrious among the dedicated campaigners were communists and other assorted over-thinkers approaching this stoically, either through invigoration at the left leadership or just because it was time. Here was a way to steer the big bus a few inches back from the cliff edge, motivated by the nightmare of a burning planet, already a reality in plenty of places, motivated by the piles of wet mattresses and bedding on every high street and the people underneath them. In light of this equation, for many it was all or nothing for a full six weeks. Stranger things have happened, stranger things may still. That is how several thousand leftists found themselves canvassing for the same party that facilitated the murder of one million plus Iraqis, inspired by a man who stayed inside it even while it betrayed his deepest convictions. There is a lesson in their somewhere. The low thrum of possibility, shared hope between absolute stranger, was a motivating force amongst people who in any other context had far more separating them than they had in common. Is there anything more intoxicating than the opportunity to affix yourself to a larger notion? Even for just a moment. From my position as a relative outsider to the agitation of the last few year’s since Momentum’s ascent, it was surprisingly self-organised, hundreds of strangers working away at it, forging bonds over a given task, no leadership from above, just a lit spark and a website that told you where people were needed. We were ejected from a Shopping Mall. I got too excited and started trying to register sixteen year olds to vote.
Later that evening, hungry for achievement, we registered a Singaporean international student in a marginal/swing district. She hadn’t known she could vote. I marvelled at the long list of countries of origin for ‘commonwealth’ citizens eligible through quirk of colonialism. It is there in everything, of course, history is present. On a Saturday where the foundations of my world (unrelated) had come unstuck, I took solace on a train to Crawley full of strangers all wearing red. We travelled in accidental convoy to a suburban new town built after the War to house the bombed out and create dignity for the working classes still in slums. Our assigned role was to hand deliver Christmas cards to ‘undecided’ voters from the local candidate. An elderly woman chased Charlotte out from her garden to theatrically throw the card in the bin, announcing with some glee that we were wasting our time because she and her neighbours wouldn’t vote for Corbyn, “..not for all the tea in China.” The hope felt so good that this barely punctured. The possibility of failure seemed too enormous to sit with. In the end, the day came, twelve hours of grey rain. I watched in sad horror at the collective WhatsApp grief of so many people who had put in every waking moment, undone by reality. On Day one, the recriminations came in hard and fast. Humbled by a leave/remain binary, humbled by the controlling interests of the media, humbled by the weakness of that which we know to be true: that another way is possible. We have all lost our minds, to be sure, but if this proves anything it’s that we’ve left them in different places and must, it seems, take different routes to relocate them. The nightmare continues.
In the days following the defeat, people took to the internet, as people in shock often do, to talk about the ‘what next?’ Unsurprisingly, many brought up the need to organise and create space in communities to build the world we want to see, the world we had hoped this reshuffle of the economy and society might precipitate. Most people I know who campaigned for Labour, of course, already do plenty of this. Pre-figurative politics can be very seductive. Why not just do it all now? Etc. If you find the notion of organising any way romantic, it’s likely you talk more than you do. Which is fair enough, we all need a little romance, just check its not yourself you’re admiring. All this talk of community was especially galling in my moment of deep cynicism. I had finally extricated myself completely from the burning embers of a space I’d initiated seven years prior, after realising on balance that it was literally going to kill me if I didn’t. A building cannot break your heart. The huge stones we once raised may be still standing, just, but up close they’re eroded to almost nothing. Immoveable boulders revealed as dust clouds. An entrance without a chamber. Why? Ancient curses, you already know ’em: machismo, lies, theft, politics held only puddle-deep, and in a more modern mode: that toxic strain of liberalism especially beloved by those adept at using woke language to disguise a stunningly deep commitment only to personal gain. Unexamined chauvinism is more than a puss-filled pimple upon the rump of any shared future, it’s the most rapacious cancer, turning any sniff of nascent solidarity into its own obituary.
My maxim had long been: make yourself, above all else, an instrument of a project, you will feel alive for as long if you can escape the isolation by connecting with others seeking the same goal as you. Is there anything more intoxicating than the opportunity to affix yourself to a larger notion? I do still believe this, but there are life-saving caveats. I recently holed up in a barn away from the sharp light and endless fallout of much bigger these failings, endings, protracted doubts, I reread the entirety of Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters to try and rebuild a few of my defences. She says in this #1 “I have just realised that the stakes are myself […] this flesh is all I have to offer / to make the play with / this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move / as we slither over this go board, stepping always (we hope) between the lines.”
In the end, I couldn’t make it past the wall of angry men and one day I won’t blame myself. I can hope there’s some future for the space, new green shoots for someone else to plant and harvest, because there’s definitely a beautiful past. I’ll remember grasping at the freedom feeling real early in the morning, pasting propaganda in the toilets, snogging down the fire exit, negotiating the cops away while higher than God. Hours of deviant karaoke. Learning without realising I was. I hold even the most punishing five am piss puddle clean memory up with not a small amount of tenderness. I think back on what The Work really was, acting as hope propellant in the face of naysayers, once it was happening, too beyond building drywall or infinite circular meetings. I realise it was the simple, repeated act of knocking love into every nervy stranger freak who showed up to volunteer. The unmeasured, unspoken, unaudited work of being just really fucking kind is the work that is going hold the world together. If we make it.
I recently played a last gig with Efialtis. I managed to play in a Greek group for five years without managing to string a sentence together, shameful malaka. Mentira from Barcelona played a wild set of skronky almost industrial noise, bass and drum machine fury swayed into motion as Laura’s enormous heart seemed to burst out of itself, commanding: Punch the Air and Accept Yourself. In the post-set silence where mere mortals might go through the motions to scramble out from under the awkward attention, Laura gazed widely at the room and delivered some words on punk’s purpose, the humble rally to resist alienation in the face of all the bullshit, of the dull, safe normalcy of the “hey how’s it going yeah good you yeah busy cool we should hang you sometime yeah cool seeya” carousel of 30+ year old punk social relations. She performed next to a blown-up paper print out of a dead friend tacked to the wall. His eyes looked out over the crowd. What else is there? We played ourselves goodbye and I felt my whole self snap back into the muscle memory I didn’t know was fading. The full force movement is the drummer’s gift. To play is to dance.