With a new Transition event announced for November 9, Cavan McLaughlin describes how a smile can be as effective as a placard…
In 2009 I came across YouTube videos from two street activists, Danny Shine and Charlie Veitch, later to refer to themselves and their micro-movement as ‘The Love Police’. These two incredibly infectious and wily tricksters recorded a number of instances of them taking to the streets of London wielding placards and megaphones to announce that: “Everything is OK”. In what is sometimes more widely known as ‘The Change Movement’, protests are common. People are energised by righteous indignation. They see injustice in the world and they make a rallying cry for change. I have been one of those people. Hell, I am still one of those people. But I have seen often how antagonistic such protest and righteous indignation can be. People do not like to be made to face their responsibility in being complicit to an unjust social, political and cultural system. Faced with angry protest many simply entrench themselves further into an oppositional position. Sometimes it is right and proper to be angry about the injustices of this world, but it can’t be right to be angry, all of the time. Besides, anger begets anger, it can, and often is, counterproductive.
So when I first saw these two charming agitators taking such a novel approach as taking to the streets to announce, ‘Everything is OK’ I was immediately intrigued. People were faced with something genuinely unexpected and new (and novelty is at the heart of change). These two poke fun at the system, and the mainstream media, by subverting messages of fear, doom and gloom. They are literally ‘being the change they want to see in the world’, by bringing messages of love, hope and contentment, and trying to hug everyone they meet. They have since gone their separate ways (due to ideological differences) and the story does not end as well for them (particularly Charlie) as it began, but their legacy remains. Their videos have millions of hits on YouTube and they still pack a punch nearly a decade later.
A huge takeaway from this for me was that although we need to spot problems in the world that need to be ‘fixed’, as it were, so we are judging those things negatively, we are judging them to be a problem. But we don’t always have to respond negatively. Sometimes that is appropriate but there are other ways of being a social activists and making a change. At the centre of all of this is our humanity, and we need to show it. We have to inspire others with models of how things could be. And who wants to be angry all the time. I don’t. So maybe we can’t go as far as Charlie and Danny’s purposefully extreme position that everything is OK. There is clearly a lot that absolutely isn’t OK. Issues of power, identity politics, inequality, discrimination and injustice cause very real problems for countless numbers of people, day in day out. And we should make every effort to do something about these injustices, but if all we ever focus on is negative, we lose sight of what we have already changed for the better. We are unquestionably at a time in human history where we are richer, freer, healthier and have wider access to education and real democratised power than ever before. We still have a long way to go but, for example, the civil rights movement, feminist movement and LGBTQ rights have taken huge leaps forward and it’s not only reasonable, but every now and then vitally important to celebrate that fact. The general trend is toward greater and greater social equality, the general direction—even with smaller undulations back and forth—is progressive. We are headed in the right direction.
Earlier this year my academic colleague, Roy Wallace and I put on a series of community events under the name “Transition”. These events were themed around a form of transitioning, or an area in which transition is needed. We aimed to bring innovative, independent and academic research, about methods of realising progressive change, to the wider community, while providing a safe, shared, creative, recreational space for everyone. These events were successful in building a sense of community amongst people that saw injustice and desired change, they provided a valuable forum for discussion amongst that community and helped bridge the barrier between the ivory tower of the academy and the more general public around these important issues.
Roy and I are also launching a new open access online academic journal called Monad: Journal of Transformative Practice. Our mission is to seek out, publish and share—methods, models and makers of change. We aim to provide a digital publishing platform for practices, and practitioners that actively seek to combat hegemony, challenge normativity and contravene conformity. On Thursday 9th November 2017, we have also arranged a one-day academic symposium to launch the Monad project and journal at the Faculty of Arts, Science and Technology within the University of Northampton, with a selection of invited speakers addressing various forms of transformative practice in relation to progressive change. We are very excited about both the journal and the symposium, but we were also aware that this is once again inside the university and apart from the local community. We decided it was important to continue our attempts to bring these ideas back into the wider community and so we resolved to bring back the “Transition” event format one more time. This time as a celebration. A celebration of individuals, social movements and community groups that are already making change—making a difference—right now.
We have brought together an amazing array of performers, speakers and countercultural heroes who have trailblazed a different way of being successful. One that doesn’t leave others behind. They espouse all these ideas that I have been talking about and people love them for it. For those that align themselves with the wider ‘change movement’, these people are quite simply: our success stories. And that makes a nice change. A message of hope.
We will have legendary Ska/Punk band Inner Terrestrials; world-renowned author Alan Moore; comedian, musician and writer Andrew O’Neill and writer-poet Sophie Sparham; along with academic musings, charities and one would expect, an entirely appropriate measure of good cheer. I hope some of you will join us in this celebration. Maybe everything is not OK yet, but if we don’t occasionally take stock of our successes and celebrate them—it never will be. So come along, “find the others” and help celebrate our differences and our diversity!