I apologise profusely for the lack of newsletter, although perhaps one less item of correspondence is not such a terrible tragedy. I have made an effort to pen something each month, but then aborted. I have been determined to write something joyous because this is what the project demands. Perhaps my heart has not been feeling it, despite the glorious, if somewhat worrying, weather.
The T4 Ceilidh
I will return to why I think this project demands something joyous in a bit. First the big news, then the big thank you. The big news is that we have a party. The #T4Ceilidh is back. We will be (failing) to strip the willow on 29 July at St Mary’s Church on Surrenden Road. It will be a delight, even for those of us whose moves are so bad that we have no left feet. The dances will be called and performed by Moves Afoot. There is supper, fun, love and silly dancing. Tickets are between £10 and £20, depending on how rich you feel. See you then.
big thank you is for all those of you who have signed up more people,
upped your donation or switched from gocardless to standing order. We
are, according to Mr Moneybags, Jim Grozier,
the treasurer, about £100 a month richer than we were at the start of
the year. We are still a long way off being able to take an extra flat
but that money has been spent helping people, some of them without leave
to remain, make up the shortfall in their own rent because, well, times
I was lucky enough to spend most of today in the Pavilion Gardens at the annual charity day held there. I met some lovely people, but also a few people who said, “oh, I know you. I signed up years ago”. At least one of those people seemed almost sheepish about not having done more. But, of course, that’s the whole point. It’s the small little everyday actions that, when aggregated, make all the difference. That is part of what makes this project so joyous.
The glass half empty
For me one of the challenges of being involved in any movement for
social change is to remain aware both of the horror and the power
against which the movement is pitted and of the strength and hope that
the movement embodies. As my brother used to say, when you look at the
proverbial glass and you say that it’s half full, it’s because you know
how bad things really are. When you say it’s half empty, you are only
just finding out. Of course, that’s the pessimist’s way of putting it.
The pessimist is expecting things to be better. It ought to have been
full. The optimist has no such illusion. It’s as bad, so as good as,
half full. We still have some drink to enjoy.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by attempts to warehouse people on barges, or remove them to Rwanda, or to imprison someone for taking the tiller on a small boat. These are terrible, terrible things. We all know that there is not now and has never been a migrant crisis or refugee crisis. There has been a crisis of compassion which, from where I’m sitting, can only be explained by a refusal to recognise the humanity of those who are not deemed to be wealthy enough or white enough to merit a chance to pursue their own happiness. Talk of needing to reform a broken system is pure codswallop. The system was designed to be broken. If you wanted, you could just believe the victims and grant people asylum at the border. Even if you didn’t want to do that, you could let people work and claim benefits rather than leaving them in limbo for years. Barges, Rwanda and criminalisation are nothing more than a spectacular punishment for the non-crime of crossing a border.
The glass half full
Why joy? Because we are building community. Joy is always shared. There
is no such thing as a private joy. It comes from compassion. It comes
from a shared recognition of our common humanity, which, for me, is to
recognise that each of us is unique and uniquely valued. Each of us
matters infinitely. I share a world with you, with another I. Or, to put
it in a somewhat highfalutin way, there is no first person plural, just
a plurality of first persons. “We” really ought to be spoken as the
Jamaicans do, as “I-and-I”. That infinite plurality of values is the
fundamental richness of the human world. All joy reveals that basic
This year in the festival I was very lucky. I managed to see Teabreak. It was a free performance piece in Valley Gardens. I hope that all of you were lucky enough to experience it. I cannot do it justice. When you arrived, you were given headphones and a cup of mint tea or chai , from a pink Indian tea wagon. The performance itself consisted of various unnamed individuals talking about their relationship with tea whilst two dancers performed a sort of interpretive dance alongside the stories. They managed to capture something both about the colonial, political history of tea but also its universality. It was a generous performance.
I was told earlier this year by Selma James to reread Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and to pay attention to Antoinette Cosway/Bertha Mason’s dreams. It is good life advice to do what Selma James suggests. It is a wonderful book. It also sees no way back from racism. It is evil. It is unthinkable. There is no way to recover from the split in humanity created by the slave trade that divides white from black. All one can do, in a moment of lucidity, is burn it down. For Jean Rhys everything must burn.
Not for the makers of Teabreak. They were fully cognizant of the fact that tea is a cash crop soaked in blood and raised on stolen land. They knew that tea is at the heart of the global economy that divides East from West, white from black and, worse, subjugates one side of that divide. They also saw a way to transcend this brutality. Tea remains personal and private. That is to say that the moment we take to put the kettle on and prepare the tea is wholly ours. It is a moment that belongs to you, whose meaning and value is yours alone. Each of us has a relationship to tea. It means something unique to each of us. Nevertheless, that is something which we all share. This is joy.
Tomorrow I will go with three children, whom you have supported over the years, to look at the treasures in the British Museum. By and large, these are things plundered by imperialists housed in the institution from money generated by enslaving people. The treasures too are soaked in blood. Hopefully the children will be excited to see the mummies, the marbles and the Benin bronzes. I hope that it will capture their imagination and bring joy. Even if it doesn’t, the very fact I am privileged enough to take them is an embodiment of the community that you have built. That in itself is joy.
I feel so lucky to be able to work for this project. What you have created allows me and others who volunteer for this community to meet people from all ages and backgrounds and share in their struggle to be part of life in Brighton. I also get to meet and talk with people from all over this town. Each of you have your own unique legacies and struggles (and we’d love it if you wanted to volunteer with us). Everything that we do is an embodiment of joy. I am with the makers of Teabreak. I think that it allows us to hope for more than the fire next time.
See you at the Ceilidh,