I was working in my greenhouse last week, planting out lettuce seedlings with the kind of grounded but slightly heady optimism that starts to course through a gardener’s veins at this time of year, and listening to the radio. The news came through that the jury in the Hillsborough Inquiry had ruled that the 96 people that died were ‘unlawfully killed’. I felt the same powerful emotional reaction I had felt 6 years earlier, around the same time of year, when I had also heard the findings of the Savile Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, a sense that a vast, gaping wrong had been righted, that a lie told for so long could no longer be told.
Turns out, with the benefit of hindsight, that I grew up through a time of systematic abuse of children, a profoundly corrupt financial system designed to serve elites, with endemic police corruption on a huge scale, and the brutal suppression of dissent by minorities and those seen as ‘other’.
We now know that for 27 years, South Yorkshire Police lied, covered up, smeared and intimidated the families who lost loved ones on that dreadful day at Hillsborough in 1989, and indeed they tarnished the reputation of a whole city. Likewise, when I lived in Ireland for 10 years, no-one believed the British government’s account of Bloody Sunday, but it took 26 years for the truth to be officially stated: that British soldiers had started what happened, had lost control, had shot fleeing citizens, shot injured people, and then covered up what had happened.
More recently we’ve seen the release of the over 11 million documents known as the Panama Papers and the insights into how the wealthy manage to avoid tax and thereby deprive the rest of us of what we need in order to sustain good public services, shareholder revolts against bonus pay such as that against the proposed £14m bonus for the Chair of BP, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the degree to which our private lives are not so private as we thought they were, etc, etc., etc. We know that Orgreave, during the Miners Strike, wasn’t a riot by miners, but a ‘police riot’; brutality on a huge scale. Banking scandals, political scandals, ecclesiastical scandals. The people we imagined had our best interests at heart are turning out, again and again, to have their own interests, and those of people like them, held really quite a lot closer.
Yet as this happens, and as the pressure builds to right other, still on-going and long-standing wrongs such as the mass incarceration of people of colour in the US and elsewhere, the use of solitary confinement, the ongoing predations of fossil fuel companies and so much more, we also begin to see a clearer ‘yes’, a clearer defining of the future we do want to see, and the kind of spirit, values and principles that will run through it. It’s a huge shift, and Transition is but one tiny aspect of that.
I was very moved by Julie Fallon, one of those who campaigned for Justice for the 96, in solidarity with those who died in the Hillsborough disaster, who wrote the following, reflecting on how she was still standing at the end of 27 years of campaigning:
“We are still standing here because we are decent, ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances of someone else’s making. In order not to be cowed whatever the cost, we have had to find within ourselves skills and attributes we never knew we possessed. We are an example of the very best this nation has to offer; dignified, resilient, honourable, compassionate, fair-minded and driven by a determination to have the truth exposed”.
A friend of mine who lives in Ireland recently told me that if when she first moved there 20 years ago someone had said that in 2016 it would be the priests and the bankers that people would cross the road to avoid, she wouldn’t have believed it for a second. Into this space where the old systems are crumbling, new models rooted in a different set of ethics rooted in a culture of care, equality, relationships and wellbeing, are taking hold.
We see young people in France mobilising in the Nuit Debout movement, occupying squares, and recently organising a screening of ‘Demain’ in the Place Republique in Paris:
We see huge popular movements coming to the fore in Spain, Greece and across South America, the reimagining of all aspects of what we do, from the ground up. We see community-led responses to the refugee crisis around the world.
So our theme over the next 2 months is ‘Springtime Renewal’, with one foot rooted in our rage as the inherent awfulness in so much of what we always took to be “just how it is” comes into focus, and the other foot rooted in that sense of excitement that the gardeners among us feel at this time of year as we stand with seed packet in hand surveying what might be possible as the imperative for new ways of doings things becomes more and more apparent We will be also looking at the intriguing question of what it might look like to ‘Spring clean’ our Transition groups and plan our work and projects around nature’s cyclical seasons instead of linear time.
We will be seeking out ideas that could inform the reimagining of things that once seemed to be permanent, but which now remind one more of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake in Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations: still standing, almost entirely hollowed out, with an appearance of permanence that is largely illusory. We will seek to inspire you with possibilities, and to offer you some very real building blocks upon which the future could start to emerge, indeed already is emerging. We hope you will enjoy it.