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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 281: July 2020

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Well, there you are and here I am... and it will be a strange summer insofar as some of us have been ‘off’ or in another different, coronavirus, routine for the last few months. And no one is going to be jetting too far away, well, very few anyway. But make hay while the sun shines (a more modern ‘make silage while the sun shines’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it), assuming of course that it does... it hasn’t been recently.

The fine spring weather has meant that things that grow are well on if they were fed and watered, though some spuds in farmers’ fields and other crops may have suffered from the drought. Our courgettes started coming in almost the earliest ever though they are only approaching full productivity; time to dig out the courgette recipes (including tian – the Provençale one and not Chinese heaven! – and grated-courgette-in-everything-including-gram-flour-pancakes).

Socially distant protest and persuasion
Believe it or not, I do try to take my own advice – and most of the time I follow it [What a guy - Ed]. So when I spoke last time about exploring the possibilities for socially distant protest and persuasion in the era of coronavirus, well, I persuaded myself to look at this further. Obviously when people feel strongly enough about something – as many have done in numerous countries about Black Lives Matter – they may be inclined to risk demonstrating without practising social distance. However this does put other people at risk and also may not be the best way to win friends and influence people, especially those who are in at risk groups, whatever age they are.

There are all sorts of possibilities. You can have a ‘social distance’ demo in some places, as was shown in Belfast and Derry for Black Lives Matter demonstrations; however it requires good organisation, and in a bigger city with a bigger demo it wouldn’t be practicable, though a continuous socially-distanced flow of people might be very impressive if people stayed on the move and you have a good turnout (and people could drop in and drop out according to their time and energy). It is also possible to have public installations which respect social distance, indeed you don’t need anyone there for people to view it, e.g. (and the pictures beside that). This is an area with substantial potential.

Standing by and lining a route (as has been common for funerals during lockdown) at a social distance is another way of doing it; this could also be used as a sign of ignominy (e.g. turning your back on a procession or ignoble figure). Or you could have the old (and republican in the North) ‘white line protest’ (people holding placards in the middle of the road) – though there is a sectarian Northern adage which could apply literally, “Those who stand in the middle of the road get knocked down”, so care in positioning would be needed so there is no danger.

Of course some tactics are ‘naturally’ social distant such as letter writing, and online petitions fit that bill too (though at this stage they are so run of the mill that you need a huge number of signatures to have any impact).

I mentioned the last time the possibility of using economic tools for protest and persuasion, and that they might be particularly effective at a time like this when so many institutions and companies are at risk financially. So such bodies may be more amenable to pressure than is the norm. This includes boycott, or threat of boycott, or selective action of one kind or another. There are all sorts of possibilities here from out and out boycotts of a firm or institution through to non-purchase of certain goods, in store protests (e.g. filling shopping baskets or trolleys and leaving them in the store with the items unpurchased). A refusal to pay due fees or charges can be effective if enough people do it.

How ‘work place’ strikes, slow downs and even disobedience or disguised disobedience (and not just in the economic sphere) might work at the moment probably requires detailed analysis of the situation involved. Many businesses are rather more precarious than they were so it needs a nuanced understanding of the situation to know whether a particular action is likely to succeed (maybe more likely to succeed in the current environment) or destined to make the business so precarious it topples over the edge.

Reverse strikes – work ins – could be a possibility, perhaps as part of a ‘constructive programme’, either in relation to an economic body or a local/community situation. People ‘doing something positive’ for change could be persuasive. For example, lifting plastic refuse – and perhaps taking a step further to return it to the firm it emanated from – could be positive in two ways, both tackling the problem and where it originates.

It should also be possible to do socially distanced street theatre and/or politically-oriented music somewhere there is a reasonable amount of space though you might need someone(s) to ‘manage’ any crowd – should you have one! - to encourage people to stay socially distant. ‘One person’ street theatre is also an option where someone adopts a relevant persona to make a dramatic point.

Leafleting is frowned on or forbidden in some urban spaces these days anyway (partly because of the risk of littering) but it should still be possible to display material, and have leaflets available for picking up. This could be done in conjunction with the street theatre and would help in getting attention to the material.

Social media has come into its own but you need a certain amount of work, a lot of imagination, and oodles of luck to have much of an impact. Going viral is not something you can simply turn on; it needs creativity before you have any possibility of getting anywhere.

Wheeled processions - preferably cyclecades rather than motorcades, being conscious of green issues, should be another possibility, and not just on transport issues. However a ‘stay at home’ protest in relation to economic issues is not going to work if someone is working from home unless they clearly down tools; homeworking is something which has been more unusual since the days of cottage industry but post-Covid 19, and in the era of modern e-tech, is now much more common.

Fasting is a method of protest which dates back in Ireland to the time of the Brehon laws but simply fasting at home and no one knowing about it would not achieve anything. It would need to be clearly linked with a widespread campaign and have some way of being made visible to others, whether that is through physical presence, social media or whatever. Sit-ins and the like could be even more effective than normal insofar as removing people who are protesting would be more arduous – but then authorities may come down harder than normal so you need to ‘be prepared’.

INNATE’s workshop on exploring nonviolent tactics, using Gene Sharp’s 198 varieties for starters, (go to ‘Nonviolent tactics workshop’). There are many more possibilities than I have touched on here so get your thinking caps on...

Clockdown on the lockdown
So, have you made any changes to your lifestyle during the lockdown which will be lasting? Yes/No/Maybe/Too soon to tell. Did you start a new exercise or relaxation regime, did you get reading something(s) different, did you get cooking more and do it differently? Did your sourdough work (ours didn’t)? If you have a garden, did you, in that archaic hippy term, ‘dig’ it? Did you develop other interests? It is worth considering this ourselves individually at the moment where we stand and what we will do to preserve the positive - before we find ourselves fully back in a rat race we decided we didn’t want to be involved in.

The only ‘profundity’ I am going to share here is in the culinary area. George Ohsawa, the macrobiotic guru, when asked the secret of the universe said “Chew your rice slowly”; I wouldn’t go that far but I think food is important for a variety of reasons, including both health and enjoyment. While in the household I live in we cook the vast majority of the food we eat from scratch anyway, it was, I thought, interesting that while I enjoyed being in the kitchen I didn’t want to spend long hours there, in fact probably less time than ‘normal’. To this end I probably extended the rule of ‘cook twice the amount and keep half in the fridge for later in the week and/or freeze some’. On second use within the week I would use it with a different combination of dishes than the first time.

We didn’t cook anything way different but one or two old staples that had lapsed made a reappearance, or occasional ones became regular. I will share a few simple items which are all vegan.

One thing which became regular, for inclusion with muesli or porridge (where it combines excellently with the slightly nutty flavour of oatmeal porridge), was stewed apple and date; it can also be used as a dessert, perhaps with yoghurt, ice cream or a nut cream. This is total simplicity. Core, peel and slice 1kg of cooking apples; cut up 300g or dates, each one into 3 or 4 pieces; add water to half to two-thirds way up this pile in a pot; stew for 10-15 minutes, stirring so the dates are well into the water; check all is soft and then mash well to get a fairly consistent mid-brown colour. This should keep in the fridge for a week to ten days – I’m not sure because it never lasts long enough to go off..... Dates can be purchased at a very reasonable price in wholefood stores – we are not talking fancy dates here (and cutting them up also means you check there are no stones left in them); you can use more or less dates than I mention above if you fancy the end result sweeter or less sweet.

A very simple spread which we hadn’t made for years is ‘tahini-tamari spread’. Tahini, sesame butter, has a small amount of soya sauce mixed in and stirred well; I add another small amount of olive oil to make it more spreadable – it can go quite solid. We call it tahini-tamari spread but we just use regular shoyu/soya sauce. Use only naturally brewed soya sauce - on no account use factory-made fast-produced so-called ‘soya sauce’ (that you get in a lot of supermarkets) which is an abomination to be poured down the nearest drain. You could try this with other nut butters too.

We also seem to have had tapenade on tap (ho ho) all the time. The good, soft olives that I bought at a reasonable price, complete with stones, cannot be had at my regular suppliers (nothing to do with coronavirus, I think it is due to problems in olive production going back a year or two). However I found that I can make a reasonable tapenade with cheap, green supper-market olives; open two jars of about 250g, drain well and place three-quarters of the olives in a container for liquidising. I use a stick blender. I then add a couple of dessert spoons of olive oil and liquidise them. I don’t bother adding anything else (they are already pretty salty) although tapenade connoisseurs may be horrified at this and say it is simply liquefied olives – I don’t mind what you call it. This amount should fit in the empty jar and you still have half a jar of whole olives for use another time in salads or whatever.

Another recipe which we seem to have on tap more, including for children, is toasted sunflower seeds. This does have a certain amount of salt, through the soya sauce, but if the rest of your or their diet is not too salty that should not be a problem. Dry fry sunflower seeds to go darker – burnt - while the rest are uncooked, turn the heat well down); this may take 10 – 12 minutes. When done, shake lightly with soya sauce to cover them and stir. The soya sauce dries onto the sunflower seeds leaving a tasty snack or dish which goes well with rice and a variety of other foods; this is much tastier fresh and decline in palatability so a few days will not be that good (though perfectly safe to eat). Again sunflower seeds should be really cheap in your wholefood store – if available in small quantities in a supermarket they may not be so cheap.

Finally, making batches of potato bread is very cheap and easy, and it freezes well. See page 14 of my culinary collection, “Vegetarian and Vegan Cuisine”.

All pretty simple, huh?

Your armies are above your handies
A country without an army, what kind of country is that? Well, it is likely to be small, it might be rich or poor but the position of women is likely to be better ‘than average’. See which includes some brief but interesting info. I’m afraid I have never got the supposed link between having an army and nationhood (and in fact often the nations are the hoods...). I certainly don’t believe that any part of Ireland needs any army, official or unofficial, and believe it would be better off with an unarmed peace and emergency corps which would also be relatively devolved.

The Swiss are good at having lots of referendums/referenda and some years ago voted on the issue of ‘Switzerland without an army’. The result wasn’t very close but there was a respectable showing (over 35%) for the unarmed option. Nonviolent defence is possible and options for Ireland include a (now rather old, 1983) proposal from Dawn magazine which can be found on the INNATE website under “An Alternative Defence for Ireland”.

The skype is the limit as you zoom about in your blue jeans
And how have you been getting on communication-wise in the socially distant recent past? Even some technophobes and techno-refuseniks have been dragged into the Zoom room because either that or they had to make do with voice only for live communication. Some people of course will or prefer to continue with their WhatsApp (or WhatEver programme you use) phone/video conversations but for group conversations it was time to plunge in to new ways, though questions about the ethics and efficacy of different providers remain.

A lot of electronic meetings can be tiring, depending on the nature of the conversations and their length. I like video conferencing where there is a type option as well since this gives an additional means of communication without disturbing the main flow, and you can thus sign up issues or make a comment, even a humorous one, almost as an aside as you might in a face-to-face meeting. The benefit of a remote meeting saving on the travel time and probably the fossil fuels used for it is certainly a bonus. Though of course having the option of a face-to-face meeting is to be greatly desired.

Learning to do it using particular programmes is a learning curve but not too difficult. And you can practise in a remote meeting with just a friend or colleague, or even just yourself, so you are confident when your turn comes to host. Allowing a bit of social chat, at the beginning most beneficially, can be important too even in a ‘business’ meeting, just as you would get with a physically present session, it makes it all more human. But just remember to have the right selection of books or backdrop behind you for what will be seen on screen by your peers....

Well, there we go, I get a month off for good bah-aviour in August and I return to torment you again in September [As usual there is just a news supplement in August - Ed]. The last few months have certainly been a break from our usual routines but, while they may have had positives such as time with our closest loved ones, if we live with them, it hasn’t exactly been a holiday unless your ideal hooley-day is putting your feet up at home for weeks on end and you have no children or others being cared for to disturb that). So I do wish you a good break of some kind and hope you will be ready for what the autumn – there, I expressed that dreaded word before summer is far gone – throws at us.

Before I sign off I wanted to comment briefly on one aspect the interesting times we live in. I think democracy in the USA is vastly overrated as an example to anyone but it has a few positives, not least the vibrancy of many social and political movements (often invisible to outsiders). However it is all under threat in the era of D Trump. In the name of ‘liberty’ POTUS could try to take away what civil liberties exist for US citizens. Let’s hope he doesn’t succeed and that the soap opera that is Donald Trump’s presidency doesn’t turn out to be a tragedy of massive proportions.

I often end up this ‘last before summer’ issue with a quote from Christy Moore’s Lisdoonvarna where he has the best definition of holidays I know: “When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there”..... This year that ‘there’ will be rather more limited than heretofore but I hope there is a ‘there’ there for you.

Take care of yourself and others, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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