Why are you an activist? Now you might say this a stupid question and ask me to look around or give me a long litany of a list, but what I mean is what in your life inspired you to take the path you're now on?
Hmm difficult starter.... I think I've always been aware of environmental issues from an early age, coming from the countryside in south Armagh I got to witness a lot of countryside abuse as farmers/landowners pursued the latest EC grant and tore up hedgerows and pumped slurry into rivers poisoned and shot wildlife, etc. etc. Always being a bit of a puff as a lad I was into wildlife and bird watching rather than football etc. I was a member of a very conservative conservation group the Young Ornithologist Club (youth RSPB). One of my earliest memories is doing a piece on radio Ulster about the plight of red squirrels. I remember winning an environmental essay competition early on at secondary school. In my teens I was more interested in human rights and was a member of amnesty, and having questionable sexuality at school meant I was exposed to a lot of ism's and spent a lot of time trying to figure stuff out. I became veggie at 15 and vegan at 19 it just all seemed like a natural progression. Getting bullied by teachers and other pupils instilled a healthy disrespect for authority. Coming from a relatively well off family and getting to University before they fucked up student grants, I studied a joint degree in Social Anthropology and Ethnomusicology, which in some senses helped to further my thoughts and philosophies being exposed a little to other cultures made it seem even more of a necessity to reject the mono-culture that was continually forced down my throat. Another good thing about University was that I got hooked up with Green Action. Up until then I was basically an armchair activist, but I was itching to meet up with other people and get my arse in gear. Green Action opened a new world of opportunity and possibilities. Shortly after this I started a zine Direct Action Against Apathy and through an international d.i.y. network of zines have been exposed to a lot of ideas. I guess in more recent years I've developed more class awareness, and really see the potential in anarchism. I read a lot and hang out with a lot of stimulating people so I learn a lot all the time.
How is Green Action organised?
I'm currently not as involved in Green Action as I have been, as I'm focusing on other stuff at the minute.
Perhaps a better question would be is Green Action organised? Green Action is an official society of the Queens University of Belfast. But in reality being a student hasn't had a lot to do with it as long as I've been involved. Since I've been involved we've met up once a week, and people just brought up issues they thought we're important and if there was enough interest and enthusiasm we'd try and do something about it. The group lacks any real organisation or real long term strategy it just kinda goes with the flow. I know that probably makes a lot of anarcho-syndicalists cringe, but its actually quite a positive thing. The way I see it Green Action acts as a doorway, to a lot of issues, lifestyles, and ways of interacting with the world its kinda a stepping stone were people can get introduced to some issues. It provides links and networking opportunities with other lots groups and gives people a chance to develop as activists at their own pace and in their own way.
The central issue of the moment of your group seems to be G.M. foods and your main targets supermarkets, what's a typical Green Action protest. Apart from anti-GM actions what else do you do/have you done.
I don't think there is a typical Green Action Protest. We do have a tendency to be dramatic and to have fun.
Green Action in conjunction with various other groups have been involved in organising all sorts of stuff, demo's at $hell, McDonalds, anti car stuff at motor show, animal rights, anti-vivisection, critical mass, genetics and fuckloads more. There's also been the more mundane things like student politics, implementing policies, getting recycling going in the university etc. And we travel to meet up with other activists a lot i.e. green student gatherings, all over the Ireland and the UK, reclaim the streets, June 18 in London, Sustainable Earth Fairs in Dublin and Maynooth.
Is the purpose of Green action events disruption or publicity.
Actions generally do not have a sole purpose, but can work on many levels and their can be many different perspectives on the same event. For me empowerment as an individual is very important, because through taking part in these kinda events has helped me to reclaim my life. But anyway back to the question It depends on the event, if I go hunt sabbing I obviously wanna disrupt the hunt, If I'm standing outside $hell with a placard I wanna publicise what a bunch of despicable bastards $hell are.
Street theatre seems to play a part in green action tell us about that.
Street theatre is perhaps to grand a phrase but we do aspire towards making complete spectacles of ourselves whenever possible. Whether its running around supermarkets as genetic mutations or dressing as businessmen and laughing at 'slaughtered bodies', outside a shell station. One of my favourites was when Myself and two others dressed as the Clinton Family and paid a visit to the American Embassy. I was dressed as Hilary,(in an elegant full length black velvet frock) and we also had Bill and socks the cat. It was during the Kyoto Summit on Climate change and it was Thanks giving and we handed over an offering of burnt earth it was good fun.
One of the advantages of Street Theatre is that with a relatively small group we can bring a lot of attention to an issue. I've been to too many demo's were a group of people stand around waiting for someone to give leaflets to feeling disillusioned because no-one turned up. Again its an empowerment thing. If people feel energised after a demo they'll wanna get involved in more stuff. Other wise we end up dejected and apathetic. In a lot of senses it could be seen as a sad reflection on the state of society we're in, but a stroll through a city centre and your bombarded by right wing Christians and pro-lifers and socialist workers etc. etc. Political oration or handing out leaflets doesn't get the message across. We need people to actually see and hear us so as they can take our ideas seriously.
What sort of a reaction do you get from shoppers and has this improved from the controversy which emanated from the Rowit institute and the subsequent media feeding frenzy.
The genetics issue brought out a great response from the shoppers, people were really interested and some really enraged by the extent to which governments and multinationals were prepared to fuck them over. It was a very positive experience and people were hungry for information. This is a good contrast where often people seem to have some kind of vehement hatred for protest/picket lines etc as we're infringing on their freedom to eat at McDonalds or whatever.
I recently read a guardian report on the June 18th riot in London, it was by John Vidal the bloke that wrote the Mclibel book, he seemed to take the police line on events. Do you reckon the establishment media can be used to any significant extent, and if not how do we challenge it?
I don't remember this particular article, although having taken part in the June 18th 'riot', I did buy a lot of the papers the next day to find out what they had to say. In fact we spent the next day hanging around Brixton reading the papers and laughing at how ridiculous they all were. One of the best examples was a quote that people calling themselves green anarchist were wielding huge sledge hammers. The truth was a guy selling GA papers had a loaf of bread on a stick presumably making a statement on the poverty and hunger, caused by the financial centre of London.
Anyway back to the question. I think we can use the establishment media, and I do use it quite a lot. We send out quite a lot of press releases and have got quite good coverage for some of the things we've been up to. I tend to have a lot of respect for some journalists eg. George Monibot, John Pilger (check out his critique of the mainstream press in his book Hidden Agenda's), and also the aforementioned John Vidal (he wrote some fucking excellent pieces on Shell in Nigeria published in the Guardian recently). There are a lot of good journalist. However its mostly lost in most of the bullshit and capitalist propaganda thrust upon us by what is now an infotainment industry.
Capitalism is a system failing the majority of people on this planet, the corporate press is forever (whether explicitly or by accident) providing us with examples; manifestations of this. What the corporate press doesn't do (and by its nature never will), is encourage radical change, truly revolutionary ideas, for replacing the current system with a better one that can meet the environmental and social needs of everyone.
That is why we need the D.I.Y. media. Although it may not challenge the corporate media in superficial terms ie. sales etc. it does challenge the ideas propagated by these, at by the very of existence of D.I.Y. is a living example that there is more to life and other possibilities other than capitalism.
Do you accept the testing of G.M. food on lab. Mice and if not why not?
No. Animal experimentation is founded on just as bad science as GM food. I could go on forever on this, but basically animal experimentation is founded on a series of fallacies. It makes a lot of basic scientific assumptions that are a bit sceptical. Animal testing and the breeding, manufacturing of supplies for pathogen free animals for testing is a multi-billion dollar industry. Most testing is carried out for liability purposes so as if something goes wrong with a companies product they can claim to have carried out tests that are legally required and avoid litigation.
The case of the Rowit Institute testing GM foods on lab rats may have generated a lot of publicity. But I didn't need the evidence of this research to tell me that GM is fucked up. It also in some senses deflected the real issue of the extent to which corporate control has infiltrated our life- no longer being in control of something as fundamental as our diets.
Personally I think vivisection is morally wrong.
Would your main aim be (1) an outright ban on GM foods, (2) more testing (3) clear labelling (4) to raise the issue of minority control of the food industry and its profit driven nature? And why?
Personally I guess my long term main aim would be to raise the issue of minority control of the food industry, and to address this issue in ways in which people can have more autonomy and control of such a fundamental aspect of their lives as their diet. That is why I helped to set up the Belfast Food Co-op. I really don't see much point in criticising our current corrupt system, if we don't strive towards building a better one.
In terms of a lot of the genetics actions I've been involved in there has been more immediate aim to ban GM as the technology once released into the environment may be difficult to stop.
You're also involved in the development NGO Tools For Solidarity have you been making the linkage between GM foods and development issues?
Yes biotechnology companies have promised to feed the world eg. 'Let the harvest begin campaign' by Mutanto. There have been huge direct actions in India with farmers burning GM crops and even mass suicides.
In Tools For Solidarity we have always been aware of how poverty in 'developing' countries is caused by politics, and there will be no technical solution. GM food is just another recent manifestation of how the capitalist powers try to use the excuse of 'feeding the world', to further there corporate dominance and ideological and technological imperialism. Tools For Solidarity as an organisation has always tried to challenge this. The following quote is from a newsletter to celebrate the Tools centre 5th Birthday.
'The struggle to redistribute power and resources all, be it on a small but significant scale continues. We are not just another aid agency with big packages and fancy words. Poverty does not occur by accident. People struggle against vested interests (national and international) first to survive and then to win back some of the resources from which they have been excluded. In many countries, like Tanzania, which has been the focus of our support, this struggle is a matter of life and death. But as well as justice and a fairer deal men and women need tools and they cannot work to improve their lives with just their bare hands! Thus while raising awareness of the unequal and exploitative relationship that exists between the 'West' and the 'Third World' we also enable ordinary working people to carve out a livelihood where the odds are stacked against them.'
Why do you think it is GM foods is a big issue but food irradiation, which is banned in the EU but happens to imports seems to be ignored. I don't hear much about E numbers or additives these days either. Do you think the whole food issue goes beyond GM or any particular technology to fundamental control. What positive long term solution do you seek?
GM food posed an immediate threat, and the press really picked up on it, but actually most environmental groups were and are campaigning on all food issues, i.e. Greenpeace's 'True Food' campaign is calling for a shake up in the way food is to be produced addressing a lot of the issues you've mentioned above. Friends of the Earth 'Real Food', campaign goes even further it seeks to address issues of food poverty, ie not only should healthy food, be available but it should be affordable for low/no income families. This reflects a new direction or FoE into the social justice arena. Whilst you won't exactly here them mutter the words 'class war', they are making the connection that its generally the 'scum' on the lower rung of society who eat shit food and live in a polluted environment. This kinda area is their priority at the minute, whether or not they'll make a difference or if they'll be neutered by their middle class ineffectualism remains to be seen.
I think yeah the issues go way beyond technology, food has become centred around profit not about feeding the hungry. 80% of the worlds population does not have enough food to eat, and this is not just in the so called 'developing' world, but also in Western Europe and the US more and more people are suffering from food poverty.
In my ideal world no one would profit from food so as others haven't enough to eat.
What is your opinion on alternative technologies such as solar power or replacing petrol with rape seed oil or alcohol?
I think 'appropriate' technologies will play an important part in the survival of our planet, but its important to get it into perspective. Solar power in the hands of BP or Shell oil may make the air a little cleaner, but it does little to restore the balance of power or to move towards a more egalitarian way of life. Another important point is that we don't need 'alternative' but 'appropriate' technologies. Currently there is lots of technology for the wealthy to live 'sustainable' lives. Truly sustainable technology should be available to everyone. It's important to realise that there is no quick fix technical solution to the problems we all face. I believe we need political and social revolution, and our future technologies should be used to help deliver true democracy and not used as tool of power. (Incidentally DAAA # 7 focuses on issues of technology and should be out around Feb. 2000 - another plug!)
What would you say to the criticism that some of the green movement seems to support 'good' capitalism against 'bad' capitalism. Body shop versus shell, organic versus non organic, McDonalds versus your local chipper, rather than saying you have a social system based on minority control, orientated towards profit making and subject to market competition that you are going to have an unsustainable level of environmental destruction as a result.
I would totally agree. I despise green consumerism, and all its spawn. We are in a situation were we can have an eco-groovy version of anything you want. I think that this criticism is true of mostly the very conservative edge of the green movement. Unfortunately as this threatens corporate dominance very little it gets a lot of media coverage, were-as the more radical end of the movement gets fuck all. Generally these issues are being a addressed more. Consumerism is getting a bashing with No Shop Day in November becoming one of the big international events in the green movements calendar. Also corporate dominance is being tackled more head on with events like June 18 and the shutting down of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle. Like I've mentioned before within any movement there is a wide spectrum of ideas and philosophies. I like to think that we moving in a positive direction where more and more people feel alienated by capitalism and are no longer prepared to live in this type of system.
Finally what have you planned for the future?
I'm involved in a few projects with my co-conspiracist and partner in crime Tina. We have a band called 'devils bit scabious', and we're involved in the 'Direct Action Against Apathy' media empire. We plan to bring down world trade and over throw state capitalism with our zine, and music production. I'm also broadcasting a radio programme on a pirate radio station I helped set up. We've got a couple of zine and musical projects in the pipe-line so keep your ears and eyes open.
I've mentioned the Belfast Food Co-op a few times. Together with 5 other people I co-ordinate that, basically ordering food arranging work rota's and trying to promote the co-op. The co-op and is almost 2 years old and has just over 100 members. In the future I hope to help get some housing co-ops up and running.
More recently I've got involved in Giro's Drop-in/The Warzone Centre. I help out in the veggie/vegan cafÈ and other bits and pieces.
Get in contact about any of this stuff:DAAA C/o Green Action QUBSU University Rd. Belfast N. Ireland BT7 1NF e-mail: email@example.com
Thanks for the chance to put my point of view across Terry.
And sorry it's so late!!