Journalist Mark Shields said that on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour years ago and I've never forgotten it. And today, especially it seems important to repeat.
If I had sat at home listening to the radio and frightened of the sirens I heard today, I would not have walked outside to see:
and people walking around, smiling mostly, shop windows not broken and the road works continuing. I would not have experienced the eerily not overcrowded tube journey into Central London where I went to work with my friend Robin, who is a dancer/choreographer, with some of his research.
In walking into The Place dance studios, London went from 'war zone' to a dance studio. I was able to engage with this really interesting project, weirdly enough as a subject, who actually - well kind of - danced. And watched Robin and his collaborator Laura dance me or what they felt and saw. It was an extraordinary experience that I cannot put into words precisely, except to say that through movement certain things can be expressed that perhaps cannot be otherwise, that stimulate words and expression after the fact and somehow get into essential areas of experience.
I do not know precisely what Robin will do with the material generated but it was a remarkable thing in which to participate.
And had I listened to my media-driven fear, I would not have gotten out of the house to the studio. Not just the radio and news, but also the sirens.
However, luckily our MP in Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, has done an incredible job of tamping down rumors and staying in touch with people, helping set up a respite center, reaching out to young people, giving respite to police and volunteers and generally keeping the peace.
That plus the fact that Walthamstow is also a basically working class area, with no one much wealthier than anyone else, and as mentioned earlier, Ramadan. I think all of this has conspired to keep it peaceful. We had the one spate of looting of chain stores and that was pretty much it. I think there were some wheelie bin fires as well, but those were put out and I don't think anyone was hurt.
And tonight, it's quiet, though it must be said, weirdly quiet. Most shops (stores) shut early and there is very little traffic. People are driving a little funny, a bit rushed and as darkness fell people were more nervous. But so far, it's quiet.
That doesn't mean all the trouble is over, but there have been 10,000 more police put on the streets (last night there were 6,000 and tonight there are 16,000), all the politicians deigned today to come back from holiday (big of them I know) and the looting seems to have spread North and to the Midlands.
I went to meet with some friends again tonight, and that was a relief, another room that was relieved from fear and instead filled with joy.
There is something about coming together in rooms to connect in some way, either through dance or talking or whatever, and paying attention to what is in front of us rather than what we are being told is happening.
When I walked outside, all was well. The sun was shining and there was no reason to feel unsafe.
This does not mean that the fear was/is unfounded. Some horrible things happened last night and might happen again. But there was also a large force today of people who came out to clean up their neighborhoods, help each other out, reach out to those more vulnerable and generally be a force for good.
There is in the UK, too, I am pleased to say, an understanding that is broadcast on mainstream media (like the BBC) that the kids that are looting and stuff are not necessarily 'mindless' and that there are real social problems underneath all this, not the least of which is the incredible gap in wealth and aspiration, and that a lot of really rich people have gotten away with looting the financial system, so why is this any different?
Answer: they won't get bailed out.
There is also a lot of rhetoric from the wealthy people in power (and they are all incredibly wealthy and privileged in the Tory cabinet - not one person had to claw for anything more than the last Armani scarf at Harrods) about mindless thuggery, etc. as if all these kids just came out to do all this because they had nothing better to do than terrorize all of London and now the UK.
I mean, to some degree this is true, they Don't have anything better to do - because of the education, training and youth services cuts, most of these kids have very little to do at all and a lot of time to do it in. But I think it's more than that. What no one wants to see is that they are literally mimicking what they see as the way to win this world: steal it and who gives a fuck. I know I keep saying this, but it bears repeating: who can show them differently? I mean, really.
And then we go back to the planes that land. Those people who do simple stuff like: help clean up their neighborhood, try to keep the peace, give gifts of themselves that ask nothing in return - those people Are a power of example. Those people are not just stealing money from the banks or poorer countries or minimum wage workers. There are ways to show a different way.
But they are not glamorous, and they won't get you rich or famous. And since we've decided as a culture that the only lives worth celebrating are those lives, what do we expect? What do you think our children will want? A conscience? Ha.
I think they will want: smart phones, trainers, clothing and plasma TVs.
Is this enough? No, absolutely not. Will this satiate what perhaps, one can hope, is truly desired, probably not.
Assuming what is desired (and I am not these young people so hold my hand up right now to say - this is a theory and I could be wrong) is: respect, a voice, a sense of meaning and purpose, something meaningful to do, a way to contribute, a place in a real community, a way to relate to each other, and perhaps the means to have a family...well, then all the looting in the world isn't gonna help.
But then again, neither is the status quo where the rich get richer off the backs of the despair and warehousing of these kids.
If the looting and arson can show us another way, open up a dialogue, at least show us all that we are Way off course, then it does not have to be 'meaningless thuggery'. If we buy into Cameron & Co's idiotic and willful ignorance of the causes of this violence, we can just put the lid on this with enough force for a few days and start playing whack-a-mole with violent outbursts for years to come, tut-tutting the state of Youth, etc. as we go. That would be a waste of an opportunity to listen to what is being said here.
Is it a political protest in the old-fashioned manifesto-driven sense of the word? No. Are there massive political implications of this violent explosion? Yes.
And to be fair to the Met and everyone else: there was pressure today to bring in the Army and start using water cannons and all kinds of 'harsher' tactics. They decided today to just try to bring in more police before escalation. Many people criticized this, and there has been a hysterical call for martial law tactics and curfews and such. I hope it will not come to this and am glad these tactics have been at least put on hold. They still could come in, but I pray not.
Our MP here in Walthamstow used to be an outreach worker herself, so her impulses run in that direction, along with supporting the police, and I hope cooler heads like hers prevail.
All the poor and disaffected young people in the UK have not suddenly gone insane, but they do desperately need a voice. And to be heard when they do speak. This may seem like incoherent communication, but it's not really - not if we actually listen.
There are sirens still outside and I can feel fear underneath my calm words. I cannot tell if something has shifted or there just is a lid coming down over a boiling pot of water.
But I will continue practicing my versions of Julia non-violence listed yesterday.
So far. So good.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.