By setting up an encampment, where we all had to live together for a week, we were constantly faced with the real life, practical implications of our politics. Does anarchism simply mean that no one can ever tell me what to do, whatever state of consciousness I’m in or however I’m affecting the good of the whole? How do we respect the individual freedom of those who are in no state to make rational decisions or listen to the needs of others, and who gets to decide? And at what point does the good of the whole override the absolute freedom of the individual? It’s one thing to consider these issues in the abstract, another to spend half an hour at 2:30 AM trying to get a drunk to move back from the police lines.
And there were also many moments of wondrous beauty. At night, before the disco music started, groups would gather in the eddies of the meandering path through camp and play African drums or Scottish pipes. The Irish barrio, each night, would be gathered around the campfire, playing fiddle, singing songs, or listening to each others’ poetry as their ancestors have done for centuries. One night the Infernal Noise Brigade, a radical marching band from Seattle, led us all in a procession around camp, joined by a samba band and challenged by the disco block. Another night, a midnight candlelit vigil walked from the gate to the police lines, carrying with it a palpable blanket of silence, and placed its candles at the feet of the riot cops. We had rituals around the faery hawthorne tree at the edge of camp, and deep conversations around the kitchens and campfires. We had meetings where people listened to each other and let their opinions change, where we brought our best collective thinking to a problem and went away heartened by the experience.
Saturday night, we were taking apart our improvised road, made of softboard laid over sticks that were milling waste from a local timber company. There was no practical way to re-use or recycle the sticks, so we pulled the boards off, piled up the sticks into pyramids, and burned them. One by one, bonfires came alight: five, eight, thirteen, seventeen, dancing beacons of flame under a new moon. A woman told me that this was one of the fields where William Wallace, Scotland’s great hero, had called people to fight against the English invaders by lighting beacons in the field. We were all feeling sad at the ending of the camp, but the fires cheered our hearts and seemed to burn away any stuck or negative energies. John, the Irish fiddler, Brice, who is an expert at both renewable power and psychic energies, and I stood in the center, playing music, singing, and drumming, with an abundance of fire all around us, beacons calling us all to the ongoing fights for freedom. The faeries were very pleased.
And now the camp is gone, the field is bare again, the experiment is done. But because it existed for a short time, in some realm of being it exists for all time, complete with all its problems and promise, a seed of what is possible.
Starhawk's reflections reaffirm my belief that more of us need to begin actually experimenting with our lives. We need to consider seriously taking the risks inherent in creating new ways of living together. If those of us with the commitment and vision to change and to discover and develop the skills necessary for sustainable living don't couple this with actual experimentation, we will never reach the stage of practice. It will all remain theory. At some point we need to be willing to embrace and go beyond our fears. We need to walk into the messy, uncomfortable, humanity of living together, before we can create a viable new alternative--an alternative that is provable and replicable across a wide range of contexts.
I know that many of us are doing this in small and large ways in our own communities and work. But I have this sense of it not being enough...of needing to see radical and holistic engagements with all levels and facets of daily life. (And that could just be me--feeling frustrated with my own transformative struggles...) I think a lot of us are looking for that last little unknowable piece of information that will make it all okay to move forward. But the mystery of the future isn't like that...we have to jump in with both feet (and all our faith and heart and courage and best intention). We need the taste of the new in our mouths, the feel of it between our fingers, the sound of it roaring in our ears, and with our hearts pounding from our struggle to learn to swim in its vast expanse.
I am so grateful and indebted to Starhawk and all the other courageous and fragile human beings who are putting their safety, security, comfort, and futures at risk by daily living their commitment to a mere possibility...to a dream of a better way of being together with each other and all of life.