Paths through utopias

IssueJune 2008
Feature by John Jordan, Isa Fremeaux

Sadly our Utopian tour has ended. We’ve been back in London a few weeks and most of our friends have (quite expectedly) asked “So, how was it?”

We never thought that answering this simple question would be so difficult. And yet, how to relate, describe, depict an experience that has changed our lives? How to, without talking our interlocutors into boredom or sounding a little like one has been touched by some “revelation”, express the inspiration, the hope, the energy, the motivation found in these magical places? How to sum up the lessons, the questions, the realisations, the challenges induced by all these practical utopians, these realist dreamers met along the way? The experiences have been so rich, so intense that recounting them nonchalantly over a glass of wine feels more complicated than we expected.

We fear being superficial; we fear not doing justice to these 12 projects that have been such eye openers; we fear not being accurate or fair in our representation of the places and people. We fear also getting tired of telling the same anecdotes too many times. The anarchist school without bells, the ex-soixante-huitards shepherds, the pedal powered washing machine, the mechanic turned CEO. We almost end up reluctant to talk about these wonderful seven months.

It’s a bit ironic when one has decided to write a book and make a film about the journey! Here is the challenge we set for ourselves: not only visit but also describe and analyse 12 European utopian initiatives, show that hundreds of people all over the continent have refused to resign to the ambient fatalism and, on the contrary, with courage, pleasure and creativity, propose myriad alternatives to this destructive system.

So we are torn between our enthusiasm for sharing our extraordinary experience and our fear of representation… Truth be told we also feel rather shell-shocked to find ourselves at home, once again chained to our computers, after seven months of freedom on the road, living pretty much outdoors and sharing the collective lives of our hosts. Talking or writing about something is never quite as fulfilling as living it!

Thankfully we have also come back to our own community of utopians. As we started our tour with the Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow, we are coming back to the frenzy of organising the next one. All around the country hundreds of people are meeting, planning, organising to highlight the scandal of EON and the government’s plan to build the first coal-fired new power station in 30 years. The energy and commitment of all those involved to make the Camp happen, to take action against the root causes of climate change as well as propose a beautiful model of sustainable living is uplifting. We have to resist the temptation to give up on writing and join the plotting. We are still trying to find a difficult balance between action and representation. But we know that a new, fresh, powerful social movement struggling for a just and sustainable society is in the making, here and now. And that is definitely Utopian!

Topics: Utopias