Solidarity: An Evening with Joshua Virasami and Wretched of the Earth

Podcast & Transcript

This is a recording of the event Solidarity: An Evening with Joshua Virasami and Kieran Kirkwood from Wretched of the Earth. This event took place at ONCA Gallery on the 5th of December 2019.

Transcript

Voice over: This is a recording of the event Solidarity: An Evening with Joshua Virasami and Kieran Kirkwood from Wretched of the Earth. This event took place at ONCA Gallery on the 5th of December 2019.

Joshua: Okay, so Kieran. I know a bit about you already, but for the sake of everyone here tell us a bit – a bit about yourself, and how you got into resistance work and maybe even how you got into climate activism.

Kieran: My name is Kieran – my pronouns are they/he so you can refer to me. I grew up in Hackney, which is in London for those of you who don’t know. Um… My area is actually being very gentrified right now, which is something that I can’t take away from whenever I think about Hackney, I immediately think about social cleansing, gentrification. Um… I’ll mention that later. Um … As we mentioned before, my parents kind of like were organisers as well, so unlike a lot of people I meet, I’m very lucky that I kind of have this connection to the 70s and 80s and from way further back as well, in terms of like anti-fascist stuff that was going on in London at the time. So I kind of think about all of that, that I kind of stand on their shoulders. Um, and like we kind of met through anti-racist organising in the UK. And like as a black person who has grown up in the UK I could see how what is seen and not seen and what you’re seeing and not seeing and how we always get compared to the US but you don’t really see what. Here, it’s pretty deep here. It’s pretty… there’s a lot of history, we made most of it. I say “we”… it wasn’t me. [Laughter.]
I’m very rambly when I speak. But it’s like rivulets. What was it? Rivulets.

Joshua: Rivulets. Yeah.

Kieran: And I’ll probably look at you more as the evening goes on, and I get more comfortable. Um…yes. And recently I’ve been, like four years ago I started doing stuff with Wretched of the Earth. I’m also part of London Renters Union as well, which is just like a union in London, like a Workers’ Union, but for renters. So for a Workers’ Union people would organise, to increase their power compared the boss. And with renters union we do the same thing to increase power among renters so that they don’t get f****d over by their landlords, essentially. So, lots of different things that are all really connected.

Joshua: Maybe we could take Wretched of the Earth and four years ago?

Kieran: Four years ago?

Joshua: Yes it was 2015. Maybe tell us a bit about what Wretched of the Earth does, how it started and what it’s doing now.

Kieran: Might even read the description out because I have it, and that’s a good place to start actually. Give me a second. It was four years ago, it was organised as a bloc on a climate demo, and the climate demo – this was around COP 21, and COP 25 is happening now so it was four years ago – and – there we go – and it was organised as a bloc on what – I’m going to be very candid with my words right now – what was a very white, very middle class, quite boring demonstration about climate change. They might have used the word climate justice, but I don’t know if climate justice was being used by the NGOs and things at that time, which is relevant, you know, it was like a climate change demonstration. And it was like Greenpeace and 350.org or whatever they’re called – other NGOs, other really white NGOs are available. [Laughter.]

Kieran: But er, it was a bloc organised to kind of like essentially like decolonise that whole space you could say, and to centre the voices and the narratives and the struggle of black and brown and indigenous people in the Global South and diaspora communities. [Reads] “Wretched of The Earth is a grassroots collective for Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups and individuals demanding climate justice and acting in solidarity with our communities, both here in the UK and in the Global South.”

Um. Yeah. And we organised a, well, I kind of came into it like a few meetings in – so the organising of a bloc on this demo, and we were, like “We’re gonna wear black and red, and we’re gonna like…” Somebody I remember was saying, like, “Somebody wants us to wear like traditional costumes or something.” And a lot of people were like “No”. But a lot of people were like, “We have to wear it,” so it was a nice mix of people all wearing red and black, and people who absolutely could not… A lot of different people from indigenous communities could not not wear their like traditional costumes. So there was like, yeah, I don’t know if anyone’s seen the photo or if I can find it, but there’s good photo from that demo. Um, some of you might have seen it [Kieran shows photo on phone screen]. See it? Yeah. [Laughter.]

Joshua: The banner says, um – ‘Still fighting colonialism’, but instead of ‘colonialism’ it says ‘CO2onialism’. F**king genuis. Took a very long time to make that banner. For some backstory, somebody bought material that absorbed paint. [Laughter] And then like the next morning I was like, “Where did it go?” We had to repaint it so many times and that also meant it was all really bold and strong because… [Laughter] It was a good thing in the end. Yeah, I guess we’re trying to get that… It’s interesting, because as you say that, as you say this, I’m thinking about, you know, this conversation we’re going to go into with the Green Deal and how there are so many parallels about what’s missing. But I guess in that, that march it was about what was missing. And never accidentally, right? No, because we tried to – maybe you can tell the story of how we tried to – we were physically blocked.

Keiran: We were promised the front of the demo. But as people might have experienced, when you’re on demos, protests, demonstrations, marches – um, the front, when people say, ‘You have the front,’ they don’t always mean the front. They mean ‘Oh, yeah, obviously behind us’, like depending on which organisation or which, you know, because the, the idea is default is this organisation who’s doing it. And then, and also their messaging is very important, and it’s all about press. And the people who are organising a lot of very huge demonstrations, sometimes might, you know, I don’t want to, we all do important work, but sometimes might get lost in the idea of like, how important they are and how important that they get press rather than… You know. And so it was that.

So we were, we were told we could have the front, and then they were like, nah, nah, on the day. And we already were like, having a very different experience than everyone else on this demo. You know, it was all, like the idea was like black and brown and indigenous people to the front. And indigenous communities specifically at the front. And there were people from around the world who were at this demo. People from the Amazon, Sámi people from Norway – I’m missing out lots of different people, but lots of people from diaspora communities –

Joshua: From Aotearoa, New Zealand –

Kieran: From Aotearoa, which was called New Zealand by the colonisers of New Zealand. And, yeah, and in the end, we were like, Well, we’re just gonna have to take the front. And so we like, as a group – it was really, this was a big thing for us that day, and it was very symbolic but it also was like, quite material as well. And so we went like, around the, like we basically were like, 123 go! And it was a big bloc but somehow we all just kind of stayed together. It was quite a beautiful moment. Um, I mean we got round. I think they called the cops on us didn’t they? Didn’t they call some cop over? Insane! That they can be calling cops on like, I mean they weren’t like, ‘Ring ring, you know I want the police,’ they were like, called someone over, you know but the fact that they would do that when… One, like, a bunch of fellow, like one, sorry, one just comrades who are there, fellow people who are like on the same side as them but two to a bunch of people colour who were like … You know what I mean?

Joshua: Yeah, I felt like that was pretty much like a birth by fire for the, for the group and it was a good experience and it was bad experience, but it was a good experience, in that like um…. we went through that together. And it was kind of, for a lot of people it was kind of like, you can tell people that, you know, there’s a problem with the fact that the story of climate change is polar bears. You know at the demonstration, there was a placard, the main mission was … it said, ‘Fight climate change for the love of…’ and you write in what you want to put in. And most, most of the placards were like, ‘For the love of skiing,’ ‘For the love of coffee,’ ‘For the love of bananas,’ for the love of you know, that kind of stuff. And we were like, you know, there’s really… there’s a problem here. One of the things that happened that made us kind of go, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ is that, remember the animals?

Kieran: Yeah.

Joshua: So, we were getting ready to move to the front of the march and then we suddenly suddenly saw huge inflatable giraffes and –

Kieran: It’s like they brought the cast of Lion King.

Joshua:  – Being snuck around the side of the march and taken to the front. Um… as we were told that we were going to be going there for our huge photo op and then … Basically it was all trickery and when we went there, we had, we had very … Yeah, they called the police because they, because we had the coffins. I’ve forgotten what the name of that is. It’s actually from another group.

Kieran: We had a “first to fight, first to die,” that was one of the things … and it was to point out that…

Joshua: No yeah, exactly… but it was, it was extremely violent. There was actually physical tussles with some of the key organisers from the big NGOs. And the big big NGOs, the new clicktivisty ones that are very, you know – I’m just gonna say it, Avaaz is a very, very powerful NGO. Like they had people, very, very, you know, they employed people. Some of them are probably on £40+k, so that they have a really – these kind of protests they have a command centre with a whole bunch of people and stuff, and they just don’t – the way that they’re gonna engage with you sometimes it’s as if it was any other kind of corporate march. So it was also a physical altercation. And it was, it was very hard and it was very difficult. But I think that’s what kind of drew, sort of forced us, together. Yeah… Maybe you could tell us a bit more about um… so, Wretched of the Earth, um, had a pause.

Kieran: Yes.

Joshua: And now has come back in the last kind of like – year… year and a half? Maybe you could tell us a bit about the work you see Wretched of the Earth doing now.

Kieran: Okay. And I’ll also say like, you can probably get all of this because I can tell from … like that people are kind of getting what the whole thing is about. But I would say that Wretched of the Earth really formed to shift the narratives around and stories around climate justice from being about recycling and polar bears. And I mean the narratives here, cos if you live in other places, it’s different – to being about communities that are in the front line of climate injustice, you can say – and the history of colonialism and how empire and capitalism how those things are all extremely relevant and not extremely relevant but are the thing itself. And so talk about that from the perspective of people who experienced it, and in solidarity with those communities. In terms of what we’re doing, we kind of had a break because of like, what people call burnout and stuff, but wasn’t the worst burnout though. But it was just kind of more of like a relationship that kind of fizzles out. That’s what it was. And like, I like to look at relationships like really like relationships in like a group of people, You can see it’s very similar to the relationship between this one, just two people to the same stuff happens basically. Um yeah, and we kind of had a break. And I think because of that we thought about pace and about like, not going too fast or too slow and things like that.

And right now we are building capacity to hold, like more people because there seems to be a big appetite for what we’re saying. And in terms of what we’ve been doing recently, we’ve been doing – I did a workshop the other day in a school. That was great, because they were like 16 and it was in Tower Hamlets, and they’re mostly people of colour. And they hadn’t really thought about climate change or colonialism as concepts, really. They kind of knew about climate change, but they didn’t really know about it. And I’d much rather teach… talk to kids anyway. Because that’s what I do outside, and they’re much easier to talk to. There was a 16 year old who was like, “Man, I’ve changed my mind now”. That was it. And you only, you get a specific response from 16 year olds which is like, “Well now I think the opposite thing,” and they’re just fine, there’s no ego about it, they just say it. But we’ve been doing workshops and we’ve been doing, we had an event where we were trying, because there’s clearly – people, in response to a lot of stuff that’s been going on recently, are kind of like, “What is missing from this conversation?” You know, I know I could go on for longer.

Joshua: Yeah, I felt like that so that we had a big kind of one day event kind of – became a bit more like a festival – some of you might have come. And I feel that was kind of a kind of when I try to think about what political activism is, the three words that kind of move me are: educate, agitate, organise. I said that really fast. Educate, agitate, organise. We’ve done a lot of educating, self-educating, educate around us and in our communities and in the movement, and we’ve agitated – we’ve mobilised people to take action and done actions, but the kind of deeper longer more into the systemic stuff is organising. And that event was an opportunity to kind of collectivise how organising happen, so we did a big event. It was really beautiful and really profound. To kind of collectively explore organising. What we brought into the room was a set of principles that we’ve refined over time, some ideas of tactics and some 10 out of 10 facilitation. But we was trying to collectivise the idea of…

Kieran: Complimenting yourself.

Joshua: Actually I was doing the facilitating. But um, I wanted to kind of, I wanted to jump back because I didn’t get to ask you. And actually, I think this, this talk, this series is titled Solidarity. And you mentioned that for Wretched of the Earth kind of solidarity is in the fabric of what it does. And I wanted to ask at the beginning but I forgot to ask you, it’s quite a big question, what does solidarity mean to you? And maybe, to make it a bit simpler, what does it mean in terms of climate justice?

Kieran: Quote. Sorry. [Laughter.] I just realised that the perfect quote… a good response to this is that I remember when somebody asked either in a Wretched of the Earth chat or something like … Oh lets think of some descriptions like, how do we define solidarity? It’s one of those words we know kind of – well I hope anyway, we kind of feel what it means, but I can’t, it’s hard to give a description just straight out. But there’s a really good quote by Lilla Watson.

Joshua: Yeah.

Kieran: You know who I’m talking about?

Joshua: Lilla Watson

Kieran: Yeah, she’s a Aboriginal activist. And there is a quote – here. “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together.” and that’s Lilla Watson who is a indigenous Aboriginal activist from Australia. And I think a lot of that a lot of those kind of thoughts always come, tend not to come from the West, they tend to come from like communities in the Global South who have a deeper understanding of like, yeah, community and things. Or that understanding has not been taken away as much. Yeah, solidarity is like… I guess a good, like, antithesis or opposite to solidarity is like, charity, which is kind of very paternal, patronising. Like it doesn’t mean that it can’t be – have good uses, but it’s very apolitical … kind of … Yeah. And solidarity. I’m trying to think of my own, what comes to mind when I think of it. It’s like, people … black people in the US sending messages to Palestine, to Palestinian activists. And it’s not just messages.

It’s like understanding that our fight is your fight. And I’m not free unless you’re free. Understanding, maybe understanding privilege as well. And understanding, like sometimes people ask like, “What can I do?” or something (that’s the voice of the privileged). [Laughter]. And I’m like, the answer, sometimes the first answer is literally just like: the money and the resources that you have had more opportunity to receive – use those, just give them to other people, to not even like, just don’t copy the plans, just give it to someone. Or like raise up the voices of… And I think that’s another thing when it comes to Wretched of the Earth – amplifying the voices that come from communities that are really affected by climate injustice you could say, the climate crisis. Yeah.

Joshua: I like what you said about like, well, when you first started you were like, you spoke about it as an intuition or something you feel – I really like that. I feel like um … like there is something about … Recently I’ve been thinking about organising, like good organising as something that has to be worked around solidarity. It’s like organising is about bringing people together at a site of struggle, and about, like, feeling. You know, that quote about feeling – that quote. I was reading about this, it’s the largest pork factory. This is so random – it’s the largest pork factory in the world, called Smithfields Foods. And it’s in the southern States, southern US. And in the last few years they were trying – anybody heard about Smithfield? – Yeah, there was a, they’re trying to unionise there. And it’s historically difficult to unionise in the south just because of the legacy of unionisation, and also because there’s still Jim Crow regime … regime like Jim Crow things in workplaces and communities. And 5000 people in that in that packing facility. And then one of the main organisers who went there and was working from another union called SEIU was saying how the only thing that actually brought together like, you know, there’s the black community, the Latino community and the white community, and they were so segregated and part of the practice for the bosses there was to keep them segregated and to really .. It was really dark and horrible how they did that. But he was just speaking about how, given the opportunity to really think about how they have a shared struggle in the workplace and a shared struggle in the community, like solidarity, which is kind of like – It’s … it’s almost like it was a flower just, you know, just waiting to burst out of the soil that was there. Yeah, it was a really felt thing and he didn’t – he didn’t come in and kind of theorise solidarity to them. He just kind of gave them the opportunity to feel the impacts on each other.

Um, maybe this is the segue when you – because you were talking about what was it I mentioned? But anyway, what I wanted to say: how do you and Wretched of the Earth relate to the Green New Deal as a kind of humungous vehicle that has kind of rolled into the environmentalist movement and has been occupying a lot of space and thinking and resource for good, for better for worse. I know Wretched of the Earth has, within their organisation, there’s been a bit of debate about how we interact. It would be good to know what you think about it, and how Wretched relates to that.

Kieran: Yeah, and I think I heard it was already sort of laid out in that context about how … what we’re … the narrative that … I say narrative that we see – I would just say it’s the truth – and what I mean is like fully understanding how we got to where we are, and where we’re going, and the systems that like, govern things around us.

If not, it’ll come, it’ll come to the surface as we talk. I’ll start with me because I find, as we were talking on the train, starting from the personal thing is really good. definitely when I look at like the green New Deal – I was to talking to you about this last night, I think. We were like, the Green New what? And I feel like that’s the response that a lot of like, people on the ground – and when I say people on the ground I mean most people – would have to something like the Green New Deal. Unless you’re already kind of doing maybe like climate organising or your, or your, um your job is part – is connected that all you have a lot of disposable time and income and you’re kind of looking into news or you’re politically engaged in that kind of space, you’re not really gonna be, you’re gonna be like what? I think policy is something that I didn’t really care that much about. And I still, I still very much, I’ll like squint and look up at it almost. I’m like ‘What is this?’ But that’s how I feel. And obviously, there’s reasons for that. I think Wretched sees it as like – I guess there’s two sides: there’s this is a positive, like these could be really exciting positive reforms for capitalism that could lead to me personally like liberation in general. let me I was thinking like, it’s my way of trying to explain to people why they should vote not with the Tories and vote Labour, maybe, in this election, and it’s more like Well, I’m not, I’m not, I’m like a revolutionary. I don’t believe that – if Labour was in I’d still want to overthrow them. But like I it’s a lot it’s hard to organise when you’re starving and sick from a decade of austerity. So vote Labour to – it’s that sort of argument of like, well, just because I’m not a reformist doesn’t mean I believe that reforms are a bad thing. Yeah, and it would be great if capitalism could be reformed, so that – there would still be capitalism there. But it would mean that there’d be more power in our communities to organise, because there would be more of a holistic approach to transforming society going on. And I guess the Green New Deal is an attempt to transform our current system into one that relies less on fossil fuels and to decarbonise the… This language is a bit new to me – decarbonise the economy, I guess. Yeah, that’s a thing.

Joshua: It’s something like…

Kieran: Also sorry if I’m being very rambly. I’m trying to slow down my talking now.

Joshua: When we were talking about it before, we were like… There’s something missing in the conversation. It is a refreshing conversation to be having, that we are talking about decarbonising the economy, and that we have deadlines. Although, you know, they were they were fixed in place from Labour at the conference and they’ve been shifted. The goal posts have been shifted by powerful people in the labour movement. It’s a welcome conversation, but we’re saying how there’s something missing from the conversation. And what feels like is that there’s – there’s justice, global justice missing from that conversation. What, what do you think in terms of – concretely, what’s missing in the Green New Deal, what do you think is missing?

Kieran: Um, and I hope for the room people already know what’s already there, which is like just quickly which is like, and feel free to jump in. But it’s like the idea of the Green New Deal in the UK and it’s something I’m still getting my head round now is like transformation of jobs and the way we use energy in our homes and every bit yeah .. A lot of … what’s the word infrastructure and without rocking the boat too much essentially, make a just transition and all that kind of stuff. Like so that we don’t rely on fossil fuels as much as this sh*t. But yeah, what’s missing is like, talk about reparations, for historic… for historic contribution, I say contribution like it’s like a gift! For historic responsibility, for essentially like creating – like Northwest European states, including the one we’re sat in now – for creating this entire system, and forcing the world to rely on it for the sake of their profit at the beginning, and still now. It’s all built on that. Yeah.

Joshua: It’s interesting because the Labour Party have… I’m not even trying to hate on the Labour Party, I’m actually going to go out canvassing this week.

Audience: You what?

Joshua: I’m actually going to go out canvassing next week. But the Labour Party have this policy which is really wonderful, which is that when they, when they take power, they want to introduce into the curriculum an honest assessment of British history, which means talking about colonialism, which is really, it’s wonderful and um, I think it’s important to talk about history and learn about it in an honest way. But you’re talking about historic responsibility. Harpreet, one of the people from Wretched of the Earth, a really solid academic and researcher Harpreet Kaur, she was saying how there’s this – there’s this ‘fair share’ policy which as part of the Green New Deal is that countries are responsible to take on their fair share, that’s the technical term. And if you… I was part of a group called Black Lives Matter UK, and one of the things we did was we blockaded City Airport to be able to highlight the injustice that was taking place. They were expanding, it is in a community, a poor majority BME community. £125,000 average salary of a flyer, £20,000 pounds the average salary of a person living in Newham. And there’s so many stark things taking place there. And we closed the airport for the day, it cost them, made them lose millions of pounds. It was a really successful action. But one of the things that we put into the key messaging was that if we take a long historical view of Britain from the Industrial Revolution until now, it is the biggest per capita contributor to climate change.

And what Harpreet says is that if you, if you do a fair share, which is a real fair share from the early 18th century, then actually net zero by 2030 is not even a quarter of the journey of what Britain needs to do, it needs to do minus 200% what it’s doing now at this moment in time. And so what that means is actually Britain needs to be giving a lot towards adaptations in other parts of the world, they’re feeling the effects of this long, industrial march. And as wonderful and brilliant as it is that we will be talking about it in the classroom, what, you know, what would be justice to those histories, is that, to recognise that they are alive in this moment and people are losing their homes and their livelihoods. And actually it means putting money where your mouth is, as well as – as well as talking about it in school, which I think is important.

Kieran: Yep.

Joshua: What other things?

Kieran: There’s I mean, we’re talking about renewables, for example, if we’re like, I mean, there’s a lot of things missing, obviously, but it, but I’m not, you know, I wanted… the reason I said the thing at the beginning was to frame it in a sense of like, it’s like if I’m talking about Labour where it’s like, I’m not a social democrat and like, I believe in complete… but that doesn’t mean that these things aren’t so. Yeah, the understanding that renewables – like okay, so Harpreet said this great thing about how if you turned every car in the UK into an electric car, the amount of cobalt you would need would be like, two and half times the amount of cobalt that exists or something ridiculous. And so there’s cobalt, nickel, lithium. These minerals used for, to make renewable technologies – where do we, where are they sourced from? They’re not sourced from here. They’re sourced from the communities in the Global South who have already been dealing with 500 years of this sh*t in the first place. Harpreet was talking about in the Philippines there’s like mountains that the only way that you can get nickel from them is by essentially slicing off the top. Yeah, and this would be essentially to benefit you know, to save Tarqin and – what’s some white middle class children’s names? – Tarqin and like, Daisy and Daisy. Sorry if anyone’s kid’s named Tarqin. [Laughter.] Yeah. But we laugh because it’s true because it’s like it’s this idea of like – Whose lives are valued? Who essentially will be sacrificed? Which is a really horrible way of looking at it – to save the lives of, I would say like those in the West, but it’s more like just like Western money and capitalism I guess.

Joshua: Well it’s the 1.5%.

Kieran: I mean, that’s details… [Laughter] No it’s serious. And it’s that that’s the thing of like, when we look at things like this, it’s like, okay. One of the questions I wrote down was like: So we have green capitalism, now what? Like, I’ve started to realise that this apocalypse .. and this is also it’s not just my personal thing is like, it’s sort of a lie in this – this false narrative of urgency from the wrong place, not from the right place: this urgency to save who, though? And like to save what? And what are we saving? Because like, there was a really good quote that basically which is “1.5 degrees is murder for Africa; 2 degrees is when whites burn.” And like, that sums up everything, it’s very deep, you know. And that sums up everything because it’s like – and obviously when ‘whites’ is being used in that context it refers to a sort of, a projected image of whiteness and supremacy and like the people who almost don’t even exist – but essentially means like, Europe and dominance and power in the West, And like yeah, this idea of two degrees even being an option is insane! Because two degrees is… Where we are now, with one degree of warming – huge amounts of flooding, hurricanes, typhoons, forest fires all around the world. And there are places where, like California or Australia, where there’s forest fires that don’t affect people there as much – or at least like, people with more money there as much – because they’re like white settler states so they have the infrastructure to deal with it. But for the rest of the world, which is the majority, the world’s global majority, is not like European or US… For the majority of the world, it is happening right now. And this, you know, you get scared about Venice or something like that – but Bangladesh floods more and more and is like, yeah. And that’s a lot of stuff that Wretched of the Earth talks about. I always – when I heard that stuff, I was always like, yeah, of course but I hadn’t thought about it, I think.

Joshua: Hmmm… I feel like yeah, I was, I feel what you’re saying about the, like, feeling torn – knowing you have a certain amount of energy, and a certain amount of a belief in what can happen in terms of, you know, legislative change. Or, hmm… if you want to cut to that revolutionary moment or something, and I feel like, yeah, what would I want to do that I want to build in the community? And in Wretched of the Earth – to speak candidly – in some of the weekend strategy sessions that we’ve had there’s been … what’s the best word? It’s been not camps – but you know, some people are like, “Oh, we really need to put a lot of energy here.” But in some ways, you know, I feel like the decision’s already been made because… TJ Demos who was here as part of the conversation last year – he calls the, one of the words to use for the Green New Deal is “green new colonialism”. And on the way, here I was thinking about what’s really new about it, and actually in many ways if it follows the same paradigm of who can be extracted in order to enable people to be able to survive? Then it’s more like an Old Green Deal than a Green New Deal. [Laughter.]
And you know, the Zapatistas say, nothing for us without us. Yeah, we need to be in the conversation, we need to be in the room. And the way this conversation is moving, which is at lightning speed. And it is – it is a progressive conversation. And it is a vehicle through which lots of change can happen. In fact it is, it’s happening, it’s happening really fast and I think, personally the hesitancy I have to kind of like engage with it. Also because it’s like I dunno, there’s a kind of um .. it’s a deep feeling. You know when Michael Gove mocked Stormzy, I don’t know if you saw?

Kieran: Oh recently yeah, that was funny.

Joshua: Stormzy was like… Yeah Stormzy! [Laughter.] Stormzy said some other things and then Michael Gove kind of took him to task and said, “You do rap, I do politics.” There’s something quite deep there like… He’s touching on something that’s really deep by saying you do rap I do politics. And I feel like for me it kind of hit a personal feeling of like – because I am a rapper – that politics with a big P or like that kind of place is not a place for us. And it’s good to kind of actually take ourselves to these conversations and be like, I want to be at the round table. I want, I can understand this and I want to be part of that debate. Yeah, and it’s moving very fast. So I think it’s very important. I think one of the things that is interesting for me when looking at it is that the part – the green new colonialism part of it – is that when we talk about moving to a renewable energy economy or we talk about like, housing that is green, which is, which is very personal to me, because I used to do door to door sales… loft insulation, you know, when that me that was tried to sell you insulation for free and you were like “Can I have this for free?” And I was like “This one’s for free.” That was hard work!

So housing and, and renewables, that, that transition can easily be, and we all see it, we see that the billboards of BP talking about how they have huge new departments working towards clean energy, all kinds of brands are having full circle garments: Napapijri which is – you might have seen that jacket everyone wears – that’s actually run by the VC corporation that sustainable fashion Timberland, North Face. But they’ve now moved into full, full circle garments, recyclable garments. And actually, if we … this deal can easily go forward and have all the right principles, but just be filling the pockets of the same companies.

And actually one of the things that’s exciting, um, somebody I know called Mika, and she does really cool work at Platform which is a charity in London, if you want to know more about what I’m about to mention, it’s a good place to go to. But also not just Mika in other parts of the world, like in Rojava, which is the democratic confederation of northern Syria, which is where the revolution is taking place where it’s actually being shown. Exactly, you have these ideas, which is actually if we moving towards that idea of energy, we can take a whole kind of democratic model with it, which is it can be cooperatively owned, it can be community sourced, we can be taking new paradigms into this world. So I feel like the idea of people-powered and community-owned and cooperative approaches to construction and to energy is a really exciting opportunity in the conversation around the Green New Deal. Because I guess it’s like this: I’m starting to see it as like this, this vehicle that’s rolling through and actually, because it has to sound progressive, you can start to throw things on it and stick things to it. And then by the time it comes out on the other side you don’t even recognise the vehicle anymore. Um sorry, I like to use analogies and…

Kieran: That’s intervening, essentially in policy and stuff from the grassroots. It’s like people use the word ‘intervention’. Yeah, like making an intervention and saying “Actually, it’s about this,” or what you’re missing here or not including these people who are marginalised, or whatever it is. Um you know. Yeah.

Joshua: Yeah. Before we take a break and open the conversation, one of the things I want to ask you was a lot of these things that we’ve been talking about. And a lot of these discussions, there’s a lot of kind of lofty idealism, there’s a lot of values and a lot of ideas. But what, like, where do we start in terms of, you know, I hate when people ask me this question about to ask you. But what, where do we start? What can we do on an individual level as an ordinary person? How can we come to climate activism from a place of climate justice? How can we come to the Green New Deal discussion from a place of climate justice?

Kieran: Because it does often feel like these things are lofty, I mean the ideas are lofty and big and beautiful and stuff. But also, these things are like big stuff that we don’t… It just kind of happens over your head and you are like okay, well this is happening now. You know, about like, like, the election, you know? Oh, okay, well, now there is going to be an election in December. All right, I guess. It’s that sort of thing. It feels like that a lot of the time. So it feels like how, you know, policy and stuff like that just feel so far removed from everyday life, even though it’s, of course it affects us. Look at austerity over the last like 10 years, that’s affected everything, I mean like you brought up here. You’ll talk about, like more police on the streets and stuff, but no one talks about youth services being… Like it’s so visible, and so visceral in London. That’s where I’m from, and where I live. In London right now, how visible that is. And that, you know, what would what – my answer is building power in our communities as much as possible. My general answer to like, every question and when I’m talking to myself, you know, every question is, “What can I do?” Because it feels weird. I remember someone when the Amazon was on fire – which parts of it will continue to be because they get set on purpose by people want that land. Um, like someone’s like, what can I do about this? It’s insane. I’m like, you know, what can you do about huge wars that happened? Like, what can you do? But it’s more like you do what you can? I don’t know You sometimes people might imagine that you could become some kind of celebrity and like, stop it. Also, I don’t know that sometimes what might go through my head – well used to definitely and still like, oh, imagine if I made the right film. I could, like show that film and everyone would know and capitalism would end. But if it was that easy I think it would have happened already.

And it’s more like yeah, build power in our communities. And that is just a throwaway thing when I just said like that, but it means not having to rely on the structures that create all of the sh*t. So that if we’re talking about like, how these structures were created in the first place, like I know that in Israel when settlements are put down, water is stolen from people and things like that. Like people are made to rely on the state so that they can’t like be organised. You know, if you have to rely on everything that happens, like in this place. I mean, you know, we wouldn’t want, we don’t like the fact that the air is disgusting, especially in London, you know, we it’s not like we’re like yay. Like, we like if we could have changed the history of that then we would have. So instead it’s like, well, clearly the people who affect our lives so deeply, who have a lot of money, and a lot of power don’t – aren’t doing it properly, because they’re not thinking about us and it’s all for profit. And even with local councils and housing. I know it’s a long answer, I’m going to keep going.

I know that like it’s a Labour council and still, if you’re in a marginal vote Labour, or for whatever thing to stop more austerity and horrible Tory horribleness. Please do that. But the council is a Labour council, it is a shame that they’re not doing their job properly because they’re so tied down by the system that they find it so much easier I think because of pressure to go with the tide. And the tide is evil. So they go with an evil tide. And they essentially just like, developers are in their pockets and they don’t really… there’s good people but they’re not, they’re stuck in a kind of position. So we can’t rely on that, we can’t rely on the structures that have been built to … you know, governments around us. We have to create new spaces. We have to create communities that are powerful and strong, and then the more power that you have then you can actually be like “No,” when they’re like, “We’re going to put this here,” and we’re like, “What? No. We’ve decided that you don’t do that. We as a community decide that you know,” and if that happens, and the small is big you know, I think that’s what we were talking about on the train. Like, building power in my little tiny street or my borough, that’s huge, because – that’s what everyone – if everyone’s doing that around the world, that’s the biggest thing. It’s a huge thing. I’ll stop talking now.

Joshua: I really hear you about building power in the community.

Kieran: I also mean, like, not allowing the police. If we’re talking concrete things, like self policing, especially black communities. I mean, you know, because the police – we can’t trust them you know. And yeah, running our own services and stuff. Just to be clear, because it’s big ideas, but like specific things, like what Black Panthers did a lot of.

Joshua: When I first got involved in activism, many many years ago there was like, there was nothing. There was like, there was like one of those kind of old vanguardy left kind of Trotskyist movements. The kind of like, I was at a demo and they were like: “Oh, is this is your first demo?” and I was like “Yeah, I made this placard at home.” And I put cling film over the placard because I thought it might rain.

They got me to pretend to be Obama and shoot a … while they pretended to do an interview – it was really bad. I mean, they kind of brought me in and then I was really passionate about climate change. It was my geography teacher, who I went back, I had a court case and I went to go meet him and I was like, I still call him Sir. “Sir. Are you a lefty?” and he was like “Yeah, I’m a socialist” and I was like “f***! It all makes sense now.” But he kind of really instilled this thing in me about inequality, you know, history and climate change and like the speed at which we need to move. And I remember going home and telling my sister, “We need to stop climate change!” She was like “What are you talking about? Let me watch Charmed.”

And I remember when I came to that group, and I was like, “I think we should speak about climate change in some of our campaigns.” And I remember them, and this is, you know, not gonna name names, but this guy who was in front of me is now that one of the head of one of the chief economists working with … and they’re a group that’s quite powerful. And I remember him saying to me, “People aren’t interested in that – like, working class people aren’t interested in climate change.” And for them, it was a wedge issue. It was an issue that creates distance between people and the real issues. And I think it’s a wedge issue. It’s less of a wedge issue now in our communities. But and it’s one of those interesting that it’s one of the kind of leading issues that they will have gone through. And I think that’s because a lot of young people are very… predominantly a lot of young people are very enthused and want to take action. And they know they need the youth, but it’s still kind of an issue that people don’t connect to their lives.

But I think one of the main sites of struggle in climate change is the workplace and workers. I think workers are going to be part of the whole, this whole Green New Deal – all of the transitions we’re talking about, whether it’s in construction or whether it’s an NGO level, wherever. We’re talking about workers and workers lives and when we’re talking about an internationalist perspective, we’re talking about being in solidarity with workers in other parts of the world and trying to build worker – worker solidarity in a communities where workers are and if you’re if you’re building a deep understanding of sort of solidarity and worker struggle in the community and also and also I feel like that’s what…

Kieran: Plus they build all the shit that they used to f**k everything up in the first place. We obviously … we make all that … they make like … I said, they make us … in some sense that – that is how it works and so like we built as much … It’s very holistic to build up power, comes from all angles, but although I do feel like looking climate justice pretty much now is very alive. Kind of connect everything up. Sorry.

Joshua: No, I was just going to say that actually I feel that – that’s where the of us need to be. Because more than that all kind of left to … saw it as a wedge issue in the community, one of the biggest issues now is that people leaving workers movements seeing climate change as a wedge issue and an immigration as wedge issue and not really taking it seriously. And not not really embracing … and watering down, the Green New Deal and watering down stuff on immigration.

And in New York, that was a big issue with the unions there. But actually it was people like ourselves, who are part of different projects, engage with climate change as, you know, part of social movements that actually shifted the unions in New York and took them on a journey to really appreciating the importance of a Green New Deal over there. And now the unions are a part of the vanguard with the social movements thinking about what role can workers play. And that comes right back to like what cooperatively owned worker controlled systems in the Green New Deal. I think we play an important role in uniting and standing close to workers and, and you know lifting up each other’s consciousness. You know – we have a lot to learn in terms of lifting up our worker consciousness and we have things to impart to them in terms of lifting up consciousness around climate change. But if we’re not – if we’re not in those places then .. we can’t, I mean we can be like “Ah for f**k’s sake, the unions are watering down these things,” but really we know what we have to do is go into those spaces and make those connections and have those conversations. And that’s a really important thing we can be doing with building that solidarity and that union between social movements and working movements are really important – yeah.


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Posted on February 22, 2020
Categories: Environmental Justice & Activism, Interviews
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