Superficially it looked like a happy band of weirdly-dressed people, dancing, listening to poetry, or singing about nature.
Superficially, the booths around them were about bees and flowers and free cake.
Superficially, the leaflets held helpful suggestions on how to minimise one’s impact in this endangered world.
Superficially, I could smugly spend a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine, collecting leaflets for the grandchildren, smiling at people, chatting with friends, enjoying the music, photographing the dancers and then go home, proud of being a good citizen.
But I wasn’t, so I couldn’t.
Campaigners are intimidating and bewildering. At least, that’s what I thought on my first encounter with a solid group of them. Here was a new form of humanity, threatening my easy way of living. Horrors – they even might make me a Vegetarian! Nevertheless, I was powerfully drawn to their integrity, their self-containment, and what they stood for. Intimidated, yes, because I’d never seen a group so strong in their own identities, rejoicing in each others’ otherness, so sure of why they were on this planet.
So comfortable in themselves to wear whatever delighted them at the time. Strong in their perseverance of uncovering the thin wallpaper of superficiality and revealing the crumbling fetid rot underneath. In our culture, if there were a patch of torn “wallpaper” showing, I was used to another lie, to make the problem go away into the future, or the future’s future, but campaigners, unpopular or not, would doggedly keep speaking, showing, or dancing the truth of the NOW, to the self-blinding, self-deafening public.
Scary as they were, I couldn’t help but be attracted to their courage to get to the truth no matter what, to spend hours doing so, consulting with retired scientists they called “citizen scientists” who added to their band, and brave enough to broadcast their findings to the world.
Yes, this honest, sham-free, group, was intimidating to the self-righteous me, convinced that my paltry peripheral attempts were enough, as I proudly re-used plastic bags and turned off the extraneous lights to “save the planet”.
The event I’d just attended was to focus on the condition of the River Wye, a previously beloved vein of Great Britain, and in the last 5 years now so polluted that it was a blasphemous stinking scar on the country, with no one to defend it. These voluntary campaigners had amassed copious information – all in their own time — of what was really happening.
Now, every inch of the River Wye was being walked from source to mouth, with water samples taken along the way. It was probably something the Environment Agency would have told us, before their budget was cut by two-thirds: the loss of kingfishers, salmon, water plants that breathe life into the ecosystem, the increase of algae blooms that stifle life.
Campaigners had images of effluence and purified water being emptied simultaneously into the river, the increasing millions of chickens raised along the river to feed the ever-demanding poultry processing plant, the farm pollution inspection system that meant a farmer could rely on an inspection every 263 years, the hundreds of breaches of the government codes and not a single arrest, the water framework network that should have been enacted in 2003, then 2015, then 2017, then 2021, then 2027, and now “as soon as is practicable.”
They found out about other campaigners and River Action, promoted by the Eden Project, asking all of us to “give the river a voice.” The Wye is not the only polluted river in Great Britain.
It’s hard, but necessary, to face and embrace the truth discovered by these campaigners. I’m trying. “Experience teaches us,” says Saint-Exupery, “that to love is not to gaze at one another, but to gaze together in the same direction. There is no comradeship except through unity on the same rope, climbing towards the same peak.”*
Scary as it seems, perhaps I’m learning to love in a new way.
*Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1995
More information? Have a look at the River Action website, or George Monbiot’s Youtube presentation – “Rivercide”.
Next time you’re taking a picnic down to your favourite river, why not add a few easy crunchies to the menu. Have you ever tried these?
Take a small dish/egg cup. Put a tablespoon olive oil in it. Add a pinch of garlic granules, a pinch of onion salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional), and mix. Brush on a tortilla or two. Cut into 8ths with a pizza cutter. Place one layer deep in a roasting pan, and bake a few minutes in a low oven. Watch piercingly so that they don’t get too brown or burn, just a few minutes, so that when they have cooled they are crunchy. A good time is when your oven is heating up, or right after you’ve turned it off. Woila!
I’m still trying to figure out what to add so that seeds (poppy, cumin, nigella, sesame?) will stick to the tortilla, without having to resort to egg white. Any ideas? Share on the blog under “comments” so that others can try it out.