GR Festival: politics, entertainment and beautiful surroundings

Jul 20, 2011

GR’s first ever festival of resistance was a beautiful and fascinating event, taking political learning, discussion and planning to an entirely different environment. And what a venue for us to use! The stunning house and gardens of Tapeley Park take your breath away.

We started on Friday evening with a talk from Ken Montague on the Politics of William Morris. Morris was a visitor to Tapeley and a few examples of his work and influence can be seen in the house itself. Ken’s been a bit of an expert on the life and works of William Morris having once written a 16,000-word post-structuralist Freudian analysis of one of his wallpapers. He managed to cut down the vast achievements of the bearded wonder to 40 minutes or so – an excellent context for the weekend to proceed. Our host, Hector Christie, then gave us a guided tour of the museum part of the house taking in the arts and crafts and Morris inspired furniture.

Splendid weather matched the venue and we held workshops on the lawn, and ones that needed projectors in the barn. Around 100 people attended meaning that there was an informal air and intimate atmosphere about the whole event. Arguments were never far from the surface in the Anti-capitalism workshop. The coalition building that GR has been so central to building over the years was highlighted and the idea of working with George Monbiot now he’s a fan of nuclear energy got examined (don’t worry, George, although you’re wrong we’ll still talk to you!). Predictably, the need for anti-capitalist ideas, in the current situation of austerity programmes and cuts was agreed.

Signs of Revolt led a talk in the Barn showing the exciting and inspiring creative forms of protests that have emerged in the movements of the last 10 years, and looked at how Neo-Liberalism is degrading and ‘polluting’ our visual culture and the spaces in which we live. Around the audience some of the posters that have been produced around the world in the movements that were being discussed were displayed, they formed part of an exhibition shown originally in London on the 10th anniversary of the protests in Seattle in 1999 that shut down the World Trade Organisation and inspired a new generation of protest.

Luke Amin and John Hilary, the executive director of War on Want, joined forces to talk about two of the biggest scams going on in the global financial system at present: PFI and tax dodging. What became apparent is politician’s lack of honesty surrounding PFI. Right-wingers tell us we must close the whole in the finances as future generations will be paying for it, they forget to tell us that many of our public service buildings have been paid under the PFI system, which will cost future generations hundreds of billions of pounds. Many people were shocked and angered that profit driven companies are making billions of pounds of profit in sending people to prison, people being ill and educating our children.

Tax put simply: ConDems are making political choices, we can fill the deficit by collecting tax fully and closing tax lope holes and evasion. Instead, the ConDems would rather destroy the lives of working class people. We discussed how accountants (or tax limiters) work and how/whether they should work towards stopping companies evading tax. We went on to discuss the actions of UKUncut and how the group has highlighted the many issues around tax. It was argued that companies have a moral duty to make sure they pay tax here. In a capitalist system, the only care is cost cutting and profit- this should not be the case.

Mark Thomas performed the majority of his phenomenal Walking the Wall show on the lawn in blazing sunshine, then music and Josie Long in the barn. All performers seemed to enjoy the place and the crowd – appreciative, responsive and receptive, their songs and sets seemed better than ever.

Early Sunday afternoon saw two brilliant workshops, on Palestine and on The Spanish ‘Revolution’. The Palestine workshop had two facilitators. Shimri Zameret, an Israeli activist who spent two year in prison for refusing to be conscripted to the Israeli army, and James Haywood, president of Goldsmith Students Union and activist who’s been out to Gaza very recently. The key point of convergence in the discussion was support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. International facilitators and an eager collection of participants make for some excellent discussions!

Gemma Galdon a researcher from Spain who is active in the movement of the Indignants in Barcelona spoke and debated with Tim Gee, author of the forthcoming book ‘Counterpower’, on the idea of types of power and  forms of organisation needed to win against Capitalism. Gemma relayed how many in the movement in Spain are now shifting the focus from town squares into neighbourhoods and workplaces in the hope come Autumn the movement can be more successful by having deeper roots. and There were some differences between Tim and Gemma’s approaches and opinions, which helped to kick start a number of interesting debates among the participants on things like the role of violence and what had happened in the arab uprisings as examples. Gemma closed by playing the end scene of the film V for Vendetta which she says is the main piece of culture that inspires the people on the protests in Spain and is why they are planning more actions on November the 5th!

Photo: R J Yeo Photography

We were pretty sad to see the event come to a close. We’ll be back bigger and better next year – watch this space.

A big thank you goes out to Hector Christie for use of his gaff, the early team Simon, Jane and Claire for never stopping, Daniella for everything she did, Geni for wonderful food, everyone from Tapeley for pitching in, all the speakers for quality ideas and everyone who came for making it a joy, and pitching in when it was needed. We’ve learnt a lot, next year will be even better!

What people said:

JC: “I had a brilliant time this weekend, I learnt a lot :)

CB: “thankyou for having us! really, really, really good time xxxxxx”

JB: “Loved it, miffed to be home but can’t be unhappy cos it was soooo nice”

JL: “THANKS for such a FAB weekend. We all had such an amazing time.”




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