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Posts Tagged ‘activism’

Much like visiting Fort Canning park itself, attending Films at the Fort is something I have been meaning to do but never got around to. Last year I didn’t go because by the time I got my rear end in gear to buy tickets, the shows were mostly sold out, not cheap and ugh, what if it rained? This year I was a bit less worried about inclement weather, a bit more organized, and I am glad for it.

Wednesday night, a few friends gathered to watch the documentary, The Two Escobars, a story of Columbian soccer in the 80s and drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Truth be told, I couldn’t believe how much we lucked out with the weather. We set up our blankets on the slope in front of the screen and set out our picnic.

filmsatthefort

filmsatthefort2

The event allows outside food, but not outside booze. Food is also purchasable at the event, courtesy of The Providore and your ticket comes with a free serving of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

So what of my initial concern that the event was not cheap? If you gather 5 or more people you get a discount of 20%. I also noticed that bottles of Casillero del Diablo purchased at the grocery store came with a 20% off coupon for the event.  In the end, this discount makes the event about $20 a ticket.

“You know, I thought this event was a little pricey for a movie at first,” I told a friend. “But I think by charging it keeps the event from being too crowded and actually really pleasant.”

“Well, when you count the ice cream into the price, it probably brings the cost down by about half,” joked my friend.

Touche. Ice cream in this town is not cheap. Need proof? Here’s a pint of Haagan Das “on sale” at the grocery store for $14.45 SG a pint (that’s about $10 US).

ice cream in Singapore

Films on the Fort ends for the 2015 year on August 23rd. Tickets are still available for the 21st and the 23rd. Get on it now, or you’ll have to wait for next year.

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I come back from a weekend away to find myself choking on smoke and acrid air in Singapore. I start to ask everyone around me what is going on. I’ve been here a full calendar year now exactly, I thought the surprises were over.

Sadly, this is what it took for me to care about the deforestation of Sumatra. OK, the words “to care” are not exactly right. “Be aware” is more appropriate. With so many things going on in the world, how do we just pick one cause? We usually get cause fatigue and sink back into our slumpy little holes of wine and cheese or working out or television or whatever else we can find to hide away in and feel better. I’m not judging. These are my drugs too.

But when it’s in your face, in the air you breathe, I suppose you can’t ignore things anymore.

If this is the future, it’s scary and awful, y’all and I don’t know what to do about it. Think I’m being melodramatic? Check out this photo taken atop the infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands.

Photo from Reuters

Photo from Reuters

Permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains of Indonesia’s rainforest into palm or acacia plantations. This smoke covering Singapore comes from the clearing of those lands by fire. Visit Sumatra and Borneo now because in 20 years the forests there will be gone. Accompanying the eviction of animals and plants from their land is violence. Communities that had lost their traditional forest fought multinational companies and security forces in more than 600 major land conflicts last year. All according to the Guardian.

This isn’t some far away place anymore. This is Singapore’s backyard. This is MY backyard.

What can be done about it? Well I guess we can stop buying palm oil for a start, but it seems like we just consume and replace one thing with something else- another cash crop perhaps? I’m not putting down the palm oil ban idea. It could be a temporary Bandaid. The rainforest might really appreciate a Bandaid.

The mantra “Live simply so that others may simply live” sounds really groovy until you realize it’s being spouted by one of the world’s wealthiest and most privileged. Before you start asking me for a loan thinking I have some CEO type gig or inheritance, consider that 80 percent of the world live on under $10 a day. If you are reading this, I am pretty sure that you too are among the world’s most wealthy.

So tonight I eat vegan – it requires less land mass to raise grain and vegetable than animals. Besides, we are all headed there anyway eventually. I contemplate growing a garden and whether its responsible to have children, how many, and what resources one should give them. I self congratulate myself for driving a scooter instead of a minivan. Then I think about how many shoes I really need to own and my love for travelling on airplanes.  I think about emerging economies and their rights to own shoes and travel on airplanes. Or even sometimes their right to just try and feed their families.

I think – does it really matter what I do? “I’m one person and even if I manage to figure out something, the rest of the world is not going to come with me,” says a small voice. Regular interactions on Facebook have schooled me on this one. “Are you kidding me??” was the response to my suggestion to reduce carbon footprint if you didn’t have cash to give to a charitable organization.

“We think it’s so cute that you care about people,” was a response from a good friend who doesn’t see eye to eye and married a man who doesn’t believe in global warming.

“OK,” I mumble to keep the peace. “I guess the jury’s still out?”

Now I’m cynical and sad. And I crawl into bed doomed by this whole new problem of unsafe air, deforestation and homeless orangutans when the other day my biggest problem was whether or not the cab driver was ripping me off $5 and having an annoying heat rash. (BTW, heat rashes are super annoying.)

I’m grateful for the perspective but not very happy about the rest of it. I snap out of my wallowing.

Who’s got time to be butt hurt over stupid things when THE RAINFOREST IS BURNING. The one next to my house, not the one on the other side of the world anymore.

As for raising awareness, the smoke seems to be doing it, you see. It’s got my attention and my lungs.

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Susie was back in London from France and she suggested I go check out the protests at St Paul’s Cathedral.

“I was impressed,” she said. “They are really organized.”

Susie should know. She’s done her share of NGO work.

I’d been meaning to go down there. It was on my to-do list, just like washing clothes,  scheduling an appointment with a dentist for a checkup, jogging every morning and finally getting my life in general order. But no, I really should do this. I need to educate myself and understand what is going on. The only way to do that is to actually get out of my routine and make it happen.

I arrived and realized Susie was right. They were organized.

I had expected to see the protestors the moment I got off the central line at St Paul’s Cathedral, but instead they were neatly aligned on the side. Once you arrived in the area, posters and banners containing political messages were prevalent, but most protestors themselves were at the general assembly meeting in front of the cathedral. After wandering around and spotting the kitchen where 3 meals are served daily, the library where books are freely loaned, the first aid tent, a music tent and the info centre, I decided to climb onto the steps of the cathedral and listen in.

Working group announcements were taking place. Since St Paul’s had been so kind as to let the protestors stay, it was strongly encouraged and required that all members cooperate with the cathedral’s requests. Certain hours of operation were to be respected. Safety and fire hazards were to be obeyed.

A leader from the media working group stood to announce that filming was going to take place. The good, bad and the ugly were all going to be recorded. If there was any ugly, it was not going to be edited out, no matter what the circumstance. “We need to be honest about everything,” he explained. “That is the only way to be the change we want to see.” Hands in the audience raised and were shook to express noiseless excitement and agreement.

Another working group leader stood up and took a vote regarding meetings with public officials. Several people in the crowd stood up to express their opinions. Anyone who wished to speak was allowed their time to talk with proper attention and respect. The debate continued on. What is our goal? Are we heading toward our goal without compromising? Is this a compromise that we feel OK making?

Oh my. Could this be the type of democracy I learned about in grade school? Where we all listen to each other and go forward with a majority consensus? Where we respect one another and focus on a common shared end goal?

It is true that I only dropped in for a few hours. The real trick at these things seems to be to stick with it without compromising your core values.

I left the general assembly in search of the Tent City University. This was what truly sparked my interest: a series of lectures given for free. I wanted to know more about the issues.

When I arrived, Anthea Lawson from Global Witness was giving a talk on the process that enables criminals and brutal dictators to outflow their money into the global tax haven network of banks.

Next up was academic Mike Neary to discuss different approaches to education. As a group, the room explored concepts and strategies for education and skill sharing.

A woman sat breastfeeding in the corner. Two school aged children entered with their dad and stood in the back. A middle-aged visually impaired woman came and sat on the cushion next to me. The people in the room were from all over and represented various socio-economic backgrounds, ages, colours and life circumstances.

I left for the day more knowledgeable of our social system and with an understanding of what #OccupyLSX was all about.

I thought about how I could stay and learn for quite a long time. I then thought about my life and how I was a bit eager to get back to it. I have a lot of respect for those who have relocated here away from their comfy beds  or those who commute in and give up their days to organize and run such a long-term event.

If you have some spare time, I recommend a visit. Even if you are unsure about the movement or don’t care to volunteer, they are happy to have you stop in and learn.

Knowledge is power and truth is love, y’all.

OccupyLSX has expanded to include Finsbury Square. Check out the organization website to find a schedule of events or how to get more involved.

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I’m typing this from the security of my flat. I came home from work tonight and deadbolted my bank vault style front door. I then called a friend and asked her to alert me if there was any danger in my neighborhood. I’ve decided not to watch any more news tonight. Absorbing the news on the riots was making me feel like a prisoner in my home.

This smells of terrorism. For the first time in my life I’ve uttered the words at work “I’m sorry, but we’re closing early due to civil unrest.”

“Wow,” said one of my yoga teachers, Gabriella. “The country I grew up in was a war zone. It feels like I’m back there.”

My mind brings up newspaper and television style images of war torn foreign countries seen across oceans. I’ve been so grateful in the past not to have experienced such things.

But now I’m seeing this all differently. I’m cautious, but not devastated. My house is fine. None of my friends are hurt. It’s still a little distant, but I can see it with my own eyes. There’s another shift too. I’m seeing the difference between the truth and the media portrayal.

I took the bus home late last night after working. I was aware of the riots, but oblivious to the level they had reached. The atmosphere around town was eerily quiet. People were being just a touch too polite for this to be London. I checked my Facebook page and was confronted with a steady stream of riot related updates. I decided that I was sticking my head in the sand and that I really should turn on the television. The next three hours were consumed by BBC and Twitter. The BBC kept asking people to check on their kids. I thought it was touching that the British were so concerned about the safety of the next generation, until I finally understood that the majority of the looters were indeed children.

I was so tired but I was afraid to go to sleep without a conclusion. Perhaps that’s a product of our TV culture. We want everything to be wrapped up neatly before we leave it. To be honest, I was more afraid of nightmares than I was of a break in. My neighborhood was still untouched, but the youtube videos were daunting. One moment a group helps a bleeding disoriented kid up off the street, the next moment they rob him. As Gabriella says, we all embody the good, the bad and the ugly, but this is a darkness I just can’t understand. Correction. This is a darkness I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to believe this is a naturally occuring state of humanity, but my eyes are now wide open.

I stayed up until I absolutely couldn’t. It worked- I slept through the night.

As I didn’t have to work until evening time, I knew I had two options on how my day would go. 1.) I could sit at home obsessively watching TV, checking Twitter and damning humanity. 2.) I could pitch in and help with #riotcleanup. I chose the second option. The first choice was never really an option.

How do you pack for a riot cleanup? I don’t know, so I went with water, trash bags, a shovel and garden clippers. The garden clippers ended up being unnecessary. I made my way to Clapham Junction figuring that I would spot the other anti-rioters in progress. I arrived to find about 500 people standing around with brooms and trashbags.

Many had already been to areas like Camden and Hackney cleaning up. They reported that with the sheer numbers of people it only took twenty minutes. Others had arrived at 9 am only to be turned away. Forensic testing needed to be completed before the cleaning commenced.

Typical crowd member: broom, home made shirt (trust me), staying connected through social media

The atmosphere was one of camaraderie. People were making shirts and posters. They were talking to one another and meeting strangers. The attitude was of “we’ll do this everyday if we have to, and we’ll do it with a smile.” I honestly had more fun meeting similar civic-minded people who fight fear and rage with love and grace than I could ever imagine having rioting. And that’s not because I don’t get angry.

Lovely girls with home made t-shirts.

As we waited, a man from Sainsbury’s came out to pass out water. Battersea Art Centre brought over loads of sandwiches. We shared food and stories.

Sainsbury's passes out water

Sandwich boxes from Battersea Art Centre

The crowd was not without it’s diversity. An elderly lady named Brenda came out to join. She had been out the night before challenging the thugs who were destroying her community. “Why don’t you go to a movie?!?” she asked one. “Because there’s nothing on,” he told her.

Brenda

We played the Mexican Wave with our brooms. (That’s just simply “the wave” in the U.S.) We dubbed ourselves the Broom Army.

Broom Army

The atmosphere was much livelier than when I had first arrived:

First arrival: Fire and police men in the distance at work.

I waited several hours in total as the officials carried on. The firemen in the distance are hosing down a party supply store. The looters raided the store for masks to hide their identity from CCTV and police while engaging in their debauchery. Surely that’s the type of clever thinking that when channeled appropriately could benefit our society instead of destroy it.

And that’s the theme that keeps popping up. As adults, how can we direct those who feel helpless when budgets are cut and futures are bleak? How can we help them channel their rage into something productive, good for society AND them? – not just the people at the top. Or at least we could teach them to protest properly. The riots were not a protest. Unintentionally, the cleanups were.

This is not the Big Society - we're just here to clean.

The rumor had hit that Boris Johnson was on the way. We instantly read from twitter that he had been heckled while addressing others in the area. As we saw him approaching, the resentment started to bubble. The crowd began chanting “Where’s your broom?” Lucky for him, someone passed him a broom. He stood in front of the crowd and addressed the cameras. I was standing near the front, but did not hear a single word he said. At this moment, I began to feel like a prop. A loving grassroots movement to clean up our community was turning into a PR opportunity.

I kept reminding myself and others “It doesn’t matter. We came here to clean.” Finally we were let go to do the job.

Finally.

The streets were clear at this point and most of the shops were asking the cleanup crew to stay out. Hundreds of people milled around the streets looking for things to pick up, but feeling largely useless. There was some cleaning going on, but mostly the feeling was of community support.

Some cleaning to do

Appreciation.

Some of the stores were passing out snacks and drinks to the clean up crew. Starbucks was there with coffee. Jamie Oliver’s Recipease had cupcakes. M&S had sweeties. “Great PR for you” a woman told the Starbucks crew. A little cruel, but indeed it’s hard not to be cynical.

Coffee

This lack of cleaning left a lot of time for gawking. The reason I hadn’t brought my fancy camera was exactly to avoid this. I did not want this to be a voyeur experience, but I guess some gawking was unavoidable.

T.K. Maxx Store Front

The Curry's was completely wiped out.

It was interesting the stores that were chosen. They seemed to be ones the rioters patroned themselves, like a backlash at their own consumerism. Many of the stolen goods were destroyed in the street and not even taken home.

I left at this point as I was of absolutely no help.

I sat by a police officer on the bus on my way to work. The city is now swarmed with them.

We gave each other knowing glances. He looked at the Battersea love sticker I had acquired.

“I don’t think I was much help, but I think my presence was appreciated,” I said.

“I’ve been working very long hours today. I’m going home to my family now,” he said.

“Get some rest and good luck,” I told him.

He exited the bus and stopped to wave from the sidewalk. I waved back, not knowing how to process this exchange or the past 24 hours.

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