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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Heathrow voodoo

Thinking about Pinki/ Tanith. If she had still been alive she would have been getting organised to go to the Heathrow Camp for Climate Change next week. What would have made the Camp most interesting for her is the archaeology of Heathrow:
The largest single archaeological excavation in the UK [ 2002] , at the planned Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, has yielded an unprecedented insight into the way mankind has used the landscape over the last 8000 years. The excavation includes the Stanwell Cursus, a four-kilometre pathway about 20 metres wide and flanked by ditches, which was built as early as 3,800BC and cuts across the Terminal 5 site [and will of course, be obliterated by it in the name of more air pollution - Ed]. A team of around 80 archaeologists has been working at the 100-hectare (250-acre) site of Terminal 5 for over a year and has found evidence of human activity going back to hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age, around 6,000BC, as well as Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Saxon, Medieval and later remains. In all, 80,000 objects were found, including 18,000 pieces of pottery, 40,000 pieces of worked flint and the only wooden bowl found dating to the Middle Bronze Age (1,500BC-1,100BC). Archaeologists have also been able to piece together a fascinating insight into changes in the way that people expressed their religious feeling towards the land as farming developed. They found field boundaries laid down as early as 2,000BC continued into the 20th century. Ken Welsh, the project manager, said: “The excavation revealed that the change from transient, mobile communities, where farming was carried out in short-lived clearings, to that of a settled agricultural economy with individually owned fields took place as early as 2,000BC. This is five hundred years before the accepted date. “It also showed how the religious system changed under pressure from the new farming method. Land was needed so much that the cursus lost its significance and was used for growing crops. Instead, water for livestock became more difficult to get and waterholes were dug and became venerated sites - we find many valuable objects placed in them as a sign of their importance.”


That Heathrow has a history stretching back 5800 years is unlikely to be a theme of the climate change camp, but it should be. In June 1983 Pinki and some other women from Greenham were invited to what was then the CND Glastonbury festival. En route they stopped off at Silbury Hill , West Kennet long barrow and Avebury. For Pinki this was a really important experience. She was pregnant with Sky and when she lay on top of Silbury Hill - which is like a huge pregnant goddess mound - she felt connected with the past. And with the future. She felt and experienced at a primal level the continuity of existence over thousands of years. This spiritual experience reinforced her commitment to the political struggle at Greenham, at Stop the City a few months later and - ten years later- to the road protest movement.

Most political activists shy away from making such links. Their concern is with the immediate situation. Anything which might be a distraction from the immediate situation is dismissed. This is understandable. It takes a huge effort to struggle against the status quo, against popular inertia. Each generation of activists must believe that they are more effective and dynamic than their predecessors. To believe otherwise is to admit defeat even before the struggle has begun.

Take the road protests of the 90ies. They did seem to win. The massive road building projects planned by the Conservative government were put on hold after Labour won in 1997. But gradually they are creeping back, with plans to widen the M6 and M1 at a cost of £1000 an inch. At the same time -hence the Heathrow campaign - there are plans to expand airports and thus add to greenhouse gas emissions, even though the government are in theory committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As with the intensification of the Cold War implicit in the Greenham/ Molesworth Cruise missile plans ( or the belief that invading Iraq was a good idea) it is a kind of insane rationality. As if we live in a world where decisions are made by people possessed , obsessed, by a destructive ideology called ‘progress through development’.

So possessed are they - are we - that it is if there really are no alternatives. But there are alternatives. The problem is that the alternatives are either sidelined or forcibly suppressed. Go back to 1974 and the shock to the system delivered by the massive increase in oil prices which followed the 1973 Yom Kippur Arab- Israel war. A whole host of ‘alternative’ low-energy technologies - wind, wave and solar power- were proposed, but none were taken forward. They were sidelined, dismissed as ‘impractical’. Instead (in the UK at least) a whole set of nuclear power stations were constructed.

In parallel with the alternative/ radical technologies, an alternative ( low- energy) culture came into being. This was a social phenomenon and so less easy to institutionally sideline. Therefore it was physically suppressed the eighties, most violently in 1985 at the Battle of the Beanfield. At the same time through, for example the sale of council houses and attacks on trade unions, there was shift to the right politically and socially. This shift was reinforced rather than challenged by ‘new Labour’.

Was chaos magic part of this process? At the time (1986) I encountered chaos magic would have said No. At the time the ‘yuppy’ magic of Pete Carroll seemed to be only one strand of an exciting and diverse current emerging out of the ‘chaos’ of the time. A magic which challenged the orthodoxies of Thelema , Wicca and Druidry - a magic of Stonehenge Free Festival and punk, of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and Stop the City… but it was not to be. Instead - perhaps as an artefact of the early internet - chaos magic became nothing but Pete Carroll’s yuppy magic and its creative potential vanished. So it goes. So it went.

And now? Ever the eternal optimist, I imagine the surreal conjunction of the magical and social themes expressed so powerfully by Stephen Grasso in his ‘Live and Let Die’ Treadwell’s talk of 7th August and the political and environmental themes embodied so passionately in the Heathrow Climate Change Camp of the 14th to 21st August.

I can’t explain what you ought to know. But go back to the top and re-read the quote about the archaeology of Heathrow. Think about it. Feel it. This too was a sacred site, a place where if anywhere, our ancestors exist; are objectively, physically, actually ‘real’. We’ who are no less objectively, physically and actually their descendants, may lack the continuity of tradition which is found in the African/ voodoo traditions Stephen works with , but, as Pinki and her fellow Greenham Women found at Silbury Hill/ West Kennet/ Avebury in 1983, connections can still be made. Back then, the fear of immediate destruction bridged the gulf (abyss) between past/ present/future. Now other connections must be made.

Cheap holiday in other peoples misery!

I don't wanna holiday in the sun
I wanna go to new Belsen
I wanna see some history
'Cause now I got a reasonable economy

Now I got a reason, now I got a reason
Now I got a reason and I'm still waiting
Now I got a reason
Now I got reason to be waiting
The Berlin Wall

Sensurround sound in a two inch wall
Well I was waiting for the communist call
I didn't ask for sunshine and I got World War three
I'm looking over the wall and they're looking at me

Now I got a reason, Now I got a reason
Now I got a reason and I'm still waiting
Now I got a reason,
Now I got a reason to be waiting
The Berlin Wall

Well they're staring all night and
They're staring all day
I had no reason to be here at all
But now I gotta reason it's no real reason
And I'm waiting at the Berlin Wall

Gotta go over the Berlin Wall
I don't understand it....
I gotta go over the wall
I don't understand this bit at all....

Claustrophobia there's too much paranoia
There's too many closets so when will we fall
And now I gotta reason,
It's no real reason to be waiting
The Berlin Wall

Gotta go over the Berlin Wall
I don't understand it....
I gotta go over the wall
I don't understand this bit at all...

Please don't be waiting for me


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