For the weekend, the goers of Sunrise Off-Grid were a group of architects of other existences who, besides dancing, arrow firing, dome building and gong bathing, drew up new societies. They thought up other ways people can organise themselves, so that more people can have access to decent food, clean energy, materials and homes. Together, they looked into how to turn philosophies into practices, in order to answer the question the event was based around: What would you do if the world ended tomorrow?
If you could imagine for a moment, a world in which the state and its institutions, the organisations and the corporations, were not there to give us support, or if there were no imports and consequently, no supermarkets or petrol stations, then where, you might ask, would we get our resources from and how would we function? The response from the Off-Gridders was simple: We will sort it out ourselves, working on the notion that if people were able to provide for themselves, then we would not rely so heavily on the larger, resource-supplying bodies; the middlemen.
The weekend was not, however, a training camp that was preparing us for an apocalyptic disaster. Rather, these aforementioned questions simply provided a field in which we could have the debate about how to make changes in our lives. Changes, so that we can supply our needs, without ripping someone else off or being ripped off ourselves, which is the current running model of things. The weekend then, consisted of talks, walks, transcendence and expeditions, theatre, time-travel and dance, with some tea drinking and potion making too. Off-Gridders, connected to their roots on the earth, gathered in the grounds of Fernhill Farm, in the Mendips. They gathered to the sound of drum beats and the smell of chai spices that rose from many of the fires. They were there to gauge the patterns of the past and to direct the next sequence.
Sunrise Off-Grid was a place of education. We looked at movements from the past, which campaigned for social change and our gaze took us as far back as the seventeenth century. Back to a volatile time in England, a time of two Civil Wars and two groups who came close to changing the way the laws of this land were given out. We visited the Diggers and the True Levellers and their campaign for land and a more emancipatory society, where governance of people took place on a person-to-person level, rather than from the top down by priests and lords. The Diggers and the True Levellers held that, since God created us all as equals, the land belonged to all the people as a right. They also held the first and second commandments: ‘Love thy lord and Love thy neighbour as thy love thyself’ as all-encompassing of the other laws, which were regarded as superfluous next to these commandments. The True Levellers believed they could create a classless society by seizing land and holding it in common.
The levellers were a group of radical thinkers and debaters whose ideas were rising in popularity during the English Civil War period between 1642-1651, which was between King Charles’ royalists and Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. Cromwell supported many of the Levellers’ ideas and many involved in the movement were part of the New Model Army, where we have reports of Leveller soldiers debating with the Generals. The Levellers published their demands:
· Power to be vested in the people
· One year Parliaments, elected by equal numbers of voters per seat. The right to vote for all men who worked independently for their living and all those who had fought for the Parliamentary cause
· Recall of any or all of their MPs by their electors at any time
· Abolition of the House of Lords
· Democratic election of army officers
· Complete religious toleration and the abolition of tithes and tolls
· Justices to be elected; law courts to be local and proceedings to be in English [not French!]
· Redistribution of seized land to the common people
Oliver Cromwell found their demands too radical for the new order to implement so with the next outbreak of violence, many of the key leaders in the movement were killed. Interestingly, there are still similarities today with the time the Diggers and True Levellers, so we then looked at campaigns closer to us in history and we discussed contemporary squatting, which is now illegal in residential properties. The Kindness Offensive described the squatting mentality held by groups that go into dilapidated old buildings and ‘do them up’, so that they can be used as fully-functioning homes or social centres holding cinema nights, libraries, cafes or other social, community, services . In discussions afterward, people shared their views on squatting, some said the squats they have been to have been hubs of activity. Others described some of them as open houses where passing travellers stayed for a while, as if it were an inn for the moving, undercurrent, of travellers today. Others found squatting in buildings or on land as an eye saw. They believe there is simply not enough land now for everyone to lay claim to, in some sort of free for all and that the sight of vans, trailers and horseboxes pulled up onto a field was an eye sore to the countryside.
I spent a great deal of time with two radicals from the 1960s and it was the first time I’d heard first hand stories from the time of the first explosion of psychedelic culture. It was a time when people were questioning their social surroundings. their culture and their position within it. I noticed there were a lot of people at Sunrise Off-Grid who had questioned themselves; the position they were naturally placed in, socially, culturally and by society and some were happy with it. Others, had made alterations. In the 1960s, this was happening massively and it became the popular youth culture; to collectively challenge the status quo, to the point where that was the trend. “Taking Acid, well, it was the thing to do then, you were either on the bus or off, and being on the bus, well, it was fun,” said my friend Claudia. I have in the past wondered what it must have been like to have been in that swell of movement and excitement, where there was popular belief that people were really making progress and changing and moving towards a better place. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote:
“There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing we was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or Military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”
That was a start of something perhaps, maybe the works of those activists, those hundreds of thousands who joined together in Washington in 1968, but who never able to complete the project in only one generation. To stop all wars, for world peace and for no one to be hungry, is a challenge that cannot be completed in one generation and probably still not in ours, but does that mean efforts should not be made? I left with a clear feeling, after being in touch with many movements, practitioners and communities that we can take lessons from the people in the past, not to not bother because they did not fully succeed but to learn the reasons of why they didn’t and move on.