Wednesday, 3 June 2020



USA = 108+ thousand people dead of the corona virus, 1.8+ million people infected, 36+ million people unemployed - a country arguably more unequal now than it was decades ago - the filmed killing of George Floyd an African American man, who just like Eric Garner in 2014 - stated clearly he couldn't breathe while under arrest. Racial division in the US? No - Racism. So when people bleat that all lives matter - of course they do - but not before racism is confined to history. I'm not sure if it's deep sadness I feel or total anger. Right now all our eyes should be on the electioneering oaf in the Oval Office.
Hold him to account.
Emory Douglas
Back in May 1967, The Black Panther newspaper published a set of guidelines for their movement, titled the "Ten-Point Program". Sadly, much of these much of these points are still relevant today :

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Back in 2016 my presentation to the ARTLANDS 2016 conference in New South Wales interrogated the arts, social justice and inequalities, which through the sublime music of Louis Armstrong and others, I attempted to take those listening on a journey through a bloody civil war, in what was then, the Belgian Congo, via Central High School in Arkansas and the Little Rock Nine, all the time, exploring the relevance of the arts in an unfolding political maelstrom, suggesting that in the heart of fractured and unequal societies, artists are offered up as the answers to all life’s problems.

Through music, verbatim theatre and poetry I explored inequalities and social injustices, suggesting how the arts might offer us different kinds of evidence, and where grass roots organisations like the Black Panthers in the 1960's and  #blacklivesmatter today, perhaps represent a cohesive force for social and cultural change, across a spectrum of inequalities. 

As civil unrest inevitably erupts across America, and as the election-year-ape resorts to tear-gas and the threat of bullets, n
ow, more than ever, we need to disrupt inequalities and social injustices and perhaps, taking to the streets alongside direct, cultural activism, might enable that parity of voice. Again and again I am reminded of the prescient observations of James Baldwin in 1972:

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” *

This edited short film of Louis Armstrong singing C’est si Bon in 1962, was something I created to give a taster to my performance in Australia.

A Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change  
I have to admit (1) to being frustrated and just a little angry that my university have decided to postpone the launch of this new masters that Helen Felcey and I have worked so hard to get started this autumn. As well as disappointing all those people who have applied or expressed interest in enrolling, now has never been a more relevant time to embark on this socially engaged approach to the arts and health agenda. Social inequalities are rife; culture and the arts have never been so relevant to society and we are navigating new terrain in this risk averse society. This course would have been at a critical edge of thinking, research and action. The postponement is inevitably wrapped up in the university resisting taking a punt on something novel in a time of uncertainty - not least the uncertainty surrounding covid19. My own ill-health has certainly played a part in them playing things safe too - that said - I aim to be back in force shortly and tackling full on, wishy-washy middle of the road arts & health gibberish. Those of you who have been in touch will all get a personal email from Helen and I over the next week.

I have to admit too, (2) to being overwhelmed by my inbox. I've usually been quick off the mark with responses, but lately I feel the weight of the mail through the very keys themselves. Then there are the million or more well intentioned creative responses to the virus that encourage singing, poetry, painting and more - it seems the whole world has woken up to human creativity, all optimistic and evangelical. And funding (or so it's said) is pouring into digital platforms and artists responding to Covid19 and like the rolling news, it seems everything is viral-flavoured. I only hope that this unfolding realisation that the arts are like a medicine for the soul has currency once the wretched crisis is over - and it's not just the individual mean-making that continues, but deeper realisation of the place of culture in our collective identity.

Talking with a friend through wires and satellites last week, it was heartening to hear another isolated human saying how they just wanted to make work that was nothing to do with all this pandemic - yes, created in a time of crisis - but not explicit in its 'being a response' to it. In fact, we both crave something of the beautiful - to make it - to feel it - with all our senses.

I have to admit also, (3) to being more than pissed off with our leaders responses to the pandemic. Their failings have been listed and commented on by many authoritative commentators and I have little to add, but the whole thing drags me down. Then there are the bloody soundbites for the masses, which just like Get Brexit Done, sees Save our NHS peddled by a party that is committed to privatising it by stealth. Beyond this wretched virus, let's not let politicians use a pandemic as a smoke screen for their misdemeanours. If Cummings sees fit to ignore the rules, he should be out. I am ashamed of our country's government and its chaotic, scatter-gun approach to this public health issue - a catastrophe born of its own mismanagement. They are accountable.

(footnote #10) Side-swiped by a mid-winter diagnosis of cancer and the prospect of aggressive treatment, I found myself doing all I could to compliment chemotherapy with things from the world outside my suddenly uncertain body.

On the edge-lands of Lancaster where the M6 divides the city from the Forest of Bowland, single track lanes and pathways bisect a quiet hilly spot around Clougha Pike with its panoramic views of the Lakeland Hills. Transformed from a runner to a walker and unaware of the stealthy pandemic that was making its way into all our lives, my slowed-down reality saw me absorbing the seemingly familiar with a new kind of lucidity. 

Burbling electrical calls of lapwings and the gamekeeper’s gibbet of silky moles threaded on barbed wire amongst unfurling fronds of bracken and cow parsley - and crossing all these narrow lanes - an abundance of tough, wind-swept oaks. In the thick of all these trees stands a pollarded oak; hacked at, perhaps part way through being chopped down. Three imperfect limbs reach twenty feet into the sky, grasping for daytimes invisible stars.

Embracing its trunk, I look up through ivy covered bark to the fast moving clouds, feeling earthed. Standing there, this seemingly permanent thing feels solid and connected, grounding me to time and place, offering remission from wider uncertainties - and in its denuded form - a deeper kind of beauty.

* Some of this text has previously appeared on this blog on 28th May 2017. My paper, Weapons of Mass Happiness (2018) was written up as a book chapter HERE.

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