Grass Roots and Red Shoes

I was amazed at how many people have shared and commented on my facebook post about XR’s action on Trinity College’s lawn, so I thought I would get another word or two in, just in case I’m on a roll. 
I was sorry to see how angry it had made some XR members and sympathisers, many of whom have supported much more spicy actions in the past. Then I realised that the upset wasn’t about the grass at all but what the grass represents. I’m thinking of words like culture, heritage, birthright, tradition and inheritance. I saw how long we have been in capture and famine within a deteriorating culture that is destroying both us and the natural world. I say “capture” because my first reaction to the digging up of the lawn was dismay. I was captured in the belief that revered establishments like Cambridge University would be holding themselves to the high standards they teach, and “famine” because whilst we may have a high degree of quantity available to us, our lives are starving for quality: consider the high rates of suicide among young men, the self harm, the loneliness, homelessness, violence and drug abuse that pervade our affluent society.
Bertrand Russell, alumni of Trinity College asks, “Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it stirs up friendly feeling?” A long time member of Green Peace recently told me that XR have done more to catapult the Climate Crisis into our consciousness in one year than in her 20 years of campaigning. The media are not interested in reporting the beautiful and poetic actions that XR take. The media want to stir a frenzy and we allow them to do it.
You may know the old fairy tale about the Red Shoes where a little girl, makes herself a pair of red shoes out of some rags. She is delighted by her resourcefulness and handiwork until an old lady in a gold carriage offers her a rich life of plenty. The girl steps into the golden carriage and gets a new pair of beautiful, red leather shoes. However, they dance her day and night until, exhausted and tortured, she begs the axe man to cut off her feet, which he does. Listen to this ancient message because we are the little girl, abandoning our instincts and natural resourcefulness and stepping into the golden cage, being complicit with the establishment, becoming wage slaves and never ceasing in our busy-ness. The old lady represents the repetition of a single value, that of continual increase and wealth. The axe man is at the foot of the tree but we still have time to recover our strength and resourcefulness, to recognise the traps and cages we are caught in, and to become aware of the things we value most before the earth and our one chance at life is felled and turned into ashes. Hold your nerve. The repairable damage to a bit of grass is a small sacrifice to pay in the struggle to make people aware that we are heading towards an earth that is too hot for habitation.

Wanton Acts of Violence and digging up a Lawn

Photo by Tom Dorrington

Yesterday, Extinction Rebellion in Cambridge dug up the lawn of Trinity College in what, to many people was a wanton act of vandalism. I have to admit, it gave me quite a shock to see it, and then I thought about why I felt outraged. Wikipedia says, ” …the English lawn was a symbol of status of the aristocracy and gentry; it showed that the owner could afford to keep land that was not being used for a building, or for food production.” Spokesperson for XR, Nathan Williams points out that, “Trinity College is the third largest landowner [in the UK] and backer of fossil fuels,” and his words made me consider my response more carefully. We all know beyond doubt that the continued use of fossil fuel is rapidly eroding any remaining hope we have of maintaining a planet that will support life. Those who back and invest in fossil fuels are causing destruction on a global scale. I’m seeing images of floating cars in the UK, a billion burnt animals in Australia, drowning Islands in the Pacific,a quarter of a million acres of California burnt….etc. So who, in this context is the vandal? Isn’t the continued logging of the Amazon vandalism? Trinity College will repair the lawn in a few days but will they hold out their arms to the refugees fleeing from their burnt out land?
There is an expression: “The trees kept voting for the axe because it was made of wood and they thought it was one of them.” Somehow I had felt attached to the lawn at Trinity College because it evokes a kind of British heritage and a bit of nostalgia, but I wouldn’t be allowed to walk upon it because I am not one of the elite. Why would I want to defend an institution than supports the destruction of the planet and promotes elitist values. Am I too, going to vote for the axe? Once again Extinction Rebellion have polarised opinion and made some of us consider what kind of deeply held elitist and colonial values we didn’t know we held, and once again they have propelled climate change to the forefront of the media. Unfortunately, outrage is a popular stance these days, and this is what the media will feed on like maggots on a carcass.
There is a Russian Proverb that says, “When money and power speaks, the truth keeps silent.” Power lacks principles and morality when it refuses to face the truth and act on it, and when it only has its own interests in mind, it is the precursor to corruption. The interests of the elite and the powerful do not often align themselves with the greater values of cultural life. It is not enough to hope that people in power will speak truth to power. While we squabble about a green herb in Cambridge, people are bailing water out of their homes, while others wonder how they will rebuild after devastating fires. 

Elders or Oldies

A culture disintegrates when old people don’t become Elders but are shuffled off into homes and forgotten, and the youth are rejected as a waste of space. Both feel isolated, suicidal and often live without purpose or meaning. Many young people say, “There’s nothing we can do, it’s gone too far and we are heading towards a hothouse earth. Everything is going to hell.” They perceive that previous generations who are supposed to care for their children, have instead committed ‘nepocide’, the crime of killing your grandchildren. The action at the Guildhall in Cambridge on Saturday saw Grandparents pour fake blood over the heads of the Grandchildren in a visceral and quite shocking demonstration of what this crime looks like in a mythically imagined way. The youth of today are staring into a future unlike anything we have ever conceived of before, but some of them are resisting despair. Some of them, without even knowing, are manifesting that old song, “we are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” They are digging deep into the roots of the earth and also finding that spark of creation that bursts into their imaginative inner life. They are connecting with each other, supported by the Elders and engaging in actions that create meaningful change to help heal the world. Our challenge is, how do we continue to awaken the Elders so that they can support and confirm the youth who are carrying within them the dream of the future? As well as tragedy, the environmental crisis carries opportunity to re-imagine a world where community welcomes both old and young, black and white, straight and gay, and all the other divisions that have alienated and separated us as one human species among many other species on our planet.