Activism and... Festivals

IssueJuly - August 2010

I’ve never been to a festival. I don’t like big crowds.
Woman activist, Oxford

I used to go to Glastonbury, it looked like the Third World War at the end, all the mud, and it was a bit dispiriting. I prefer the smaller festivals like the Big Green Gathering. Some of them are really good meeting grounds for networking. Glastonbury already has facilities for campaigning so you can add your bit.

And some peace groups have jobs at festivals, like doing the lock-up at Glastonbury, which are big fundraisers for them.
Some events, like Womad, you’re just there as a person, but there’s usually something, a tent with Third World issues, Greenpeace issues and something else.

But most people aren’t there for that kind of thing. It’s hard to bring heavy issues into that kind of atmosphere.
You can capture the imagination of some people, but most people are just out for a good time, have something to drink, and have a party.
Woman activist, Oxford

I’ve only been to two festivals, the last one was Latitude. It hasn’t got anything to do with activism , but the portaloos put me off camping so much that I refuse to go to all the brilliant Peace News Summer Camps and things like that.

I suppose there is a political point. It came home to me at the festival that the portaloos waste a lot of water.

I realised how selfishly I use water with my own toilet habits, and it made me wonder how far I was prepared to stand up (or sit down) for what I believed in.
Woman activist, London

I’ve been to the Big Green Gathering once, to the campaigns area. I was excited to go. When we got there, we had an anti-war campaigning dome and we were right next to a nightclub tent which played nightclub music till 5am.
As a result, we had a child who got no sleep, and who was vomiting everywhere. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve ever had in a tent.
I was so excited to arrive there on a double-decker bus, that was laid on. Then the entrance to the Big GREEN Gathering was the biggest carpark I’d ever seen. And when you’d walked through all the cars, you were at the green bit.
I also remember the Rock Against Racism festivals in the ’70s. I remember The Who playing at Brockwell Park, and it was a really strong experience of linking music and culture and a political statement of the whole community.
Neighbourhood festivals are the best. You get to meet all your neighbours, and you get bonded with people you only know a little bit.
It gives you emotional security in the place where you live. It’s the most crucial bit of community building.
Woman activist, Hastings

I’ve not really gone to a festival as an activist, though the last time I went to Glastonbury I spent most of my time in the CND tent trying to keep dry.
People who haven’t been to a festival think they know what they’re like and they’re probably mistaken.
You could spend the whole of Glastonbury in the Green Field, for example, and never see a main stage performer. You could be going round the stalls, finding interesting people to talk to, listening to three people and a guitar play, small bands, entertainers.
Then there are the smaller festivals like the Big Chill, which are much scaled-down versions, more contained, not so gargantuan. They still have campaigners at them. Possibly because they’re smaller, and cheaper, they get smaller campaign groups, like Solar Aid, who I hadn’t heard of before the Big Chill.
If you can cope with the crowds, a festival might be worth a try, if you can find one that suits your style of music, or your interests. Probably the most important thing from a campaigner’s point of view is that it is an opportunity to reach out to new audiences. Especially if it’s muddy and wet. They’ll go into your tent to keep dry and hear about your issue. The last editor of Peace News had a great crowd at Glastonbury one year for her workshop on nuclear weapons – because the weather was so awful out.
Woman activist, London

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