The world-wide awkward squad

IssueJune 2012
Comment by Jeff Cloves

Recently I was at a film show of pro-cycling films promoted by the excellent and innovative campaigning collective Bicycology.

The films were of variable quality and content and mostly strident in their opposition to car ownership and use.

Now whether such stridency is counter-productive is another debate but, as I’ve often mentioned in this column, PN’s embrace and promotion of cycling as a peaceful and healthy means of transport runs through its make-up like the lettering in Southend rock.

Despite some reservations, I found the films quite inspiring, energising, entertaining, and occasionally witty.

In the later discussion, however, a man spoke about his concern for his children’s safety and the risks involved in allowing them to cycle to school. He went on to broaden his angst to include the impossibility of using his street because of parked cars, the corruption of the banking system and his distrust of all political parties.

He said he felt angry, despairing and helpless and had anybody any suggestions?

I knew there were many Greens present but, by and large, they sat on their hands and kept their traps shut. The Green party had not done well in the recent local elections and I guess morale was somewhat shaky.

Now the fact that he’d bothered to come to the film show I felt was a start, but in a town like Stroud, which bristles with campaigning groups, it struck me as odd that he felt so helpless. Most readers of PN know all about despair and feelings of helplessness, but what we all know for sure is that doing something positive always makes you feel better.

It struck me though that he might be one of those who – for a variety of reasons – are not happy working in groups. And it was then I was reminded of The Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds.

I’ve always liked this idea and it’s a sure antidote to despair and helplessness. Further, it doesn’t involve you joining anything, you don’t have to identify yourself and thus, you are unidentifiable. You become, in effect, a one-person guerrilla group which simply, in small but persistent ways, refuses to collaborate with the state.

The principle is: you act alone and don’t tell. The idea is innately subversive and I first became aware of the expression in the ’60s.

I associate it – maybe erroneously – with the short-lived wall newspaper called The Moving Times which fleetingly appeared in London underground stations, and the appearance of the anarchic Dutch environmental protestors known as ‘The Provos’ and their innovative free white bicycle scheme in Amsterdam.

The Provos were an identifiable group, however, and the Powers That Be descended from a great height and sabotaged their free bicycles by insisting, as I recall, they be insured. One of the most prominent Provos ended up on the city council.

Invisible their insurrection was not, but they were inspirational.

I suggested at the meeting, that there’s room for all sorts of resistance and you choose the form that suits. Invisible insurrection might be the thing for you Mr Lonelyheart.

And the beauty is, we’ll never know whether he’s taken it up.

Booing the Olympics

Yesterday (I write on 24 May) the flaming torch of the corrupted Olympics was born aloft through Stroud. There was a massive turn-out of Union Jack-wavers who, it occurred to me, had somehow conflated the queen’s jubilee with the endless huzza of ‘The Games’.

I was part of a small group of visible insurrectionaries (Bicycologists among them) who booed the enormous parade of police and sponsors, vans, coaches and limos and waved home-made pom-poms made from plastic bags.

The subtlety of this protest against supermarket bags was lost in the general euphoria but it was a small act of insurrection none the less.

We were identifiable though and a plain-clothes policewoman appeared from nowhere and urged us not ‘to do anything silly like running in front of the torch’.

We didn’t, and had no intention of doing so, but it’s notable that in all the pious claptrap about the Olympics bringing nations together, the word ‘PEACE’, so far as I’m aware, has never been mentioned or printed.

Invisible in fact.

Topics: Activism
See more of: Jeff Cloves