Episode #162 Being the Change: Journeys in Service to Life with Gail Bradbrook
How can we shift our mindsets away from service to a destructive and extractive culture and offer ourselves fully in service to life. With Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of XR and now of the ‘Being the Change Affinity Network’, we delve deeply into the nature of the meta-crisis and how to cultivate the cultural effervescence that will move us forward.
This week’s guest is a friend of the podcast, Dr Gail Bradbrook. Best known for her role in co-founding Extinction Rebellion, Gail is one of our nation’s (and our world’s) deepest thinkers on radical change: what will it take to shift the juggernaut of predatory capitalism from the orgy of extraction, consumption and destruction that has brought us to the edge of crisis, and instead turn it towards a celebration of life in all its forms?
Gail is also a leading beacon of practical activism – how can we bring the collective conversation to bear on the existential crises of our time?
In our conversation, Gail honours the teachers that have helped her to find balance and insight, and to find practical, clear-eyed hope amidst all the potential for despair. We go on to explore her work in BCAN (see below) and, particularly, to explore the nature of horizontal organising. In a world where half the (western) population is wedded to the old hierarchical, patriarchal structures of top-down dominance, what happens in the other half when we experiment with other, less culturally familiar ways of being? Extinction Rebellion was one of the biggest, and most public expressions of horizontal organising in the modern contemporary world. A great deal of theory was put into practice and the results were often visible in newspaper headlines. Recorded a mere handful of days after the ‘We Quit” press release from XR, we look at some of the lessons learned, and how we might do things differently next time.
Dr Gail Bradbrook has been researching, planning, and training for mass civil disobedience since 2010 and is a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion (XR). Since its launch in October 2018, XR has spread around the world so that now, there are more than 1150 XR groups in 75 countries.
Gail has trained in molecular biophysics, and her talk on the science of the ecological crisis, the psychology of active participation, and the need for civil disobedience has gone viral and been inspired many to join XR. She is from Yorkshire, the mother of two boys, the daughter of a coal miner, and was named by GQ as one of the top 50 influencers in the UK, and honoured in the 2020 Women’s Hour Power list for her part in instigating a rebellion against the British Government.
More recently, she is one of the cofounders of the Be the Change Affinity Network of XR activists exploring ways to shift our cultural rigidity into something regenerative and distributive by design.
Gail is a genuine visionary leader – one of one of the deepest, most enlightened thinkers we know; living at the leading edge of change and exploring radical answers to the questions of our time. She’s also deeply spiritual and emotionally thoughtful, and it’s always an enormous joy to explore with her the big questions of our time: what are we here for and how can we shift the entire nature of our culture in practical ways?
Manda: I am utterly delighted to welcome back to the podcast Dr. Gail Bradbrook, one of our world’s deepest thinkers and most committed activists. Gail is best known for being one of the co founders of Extinction Rebellion. And now she’s a key part of XR’s Being the Change affinity network. But as we move into the new year and XR changes direction, we wanted to look back on the learning. As we say in the podcast, this was one of the longest, biggest and most extensive experiments in horizontal organising ever to have been practised. This was actual application of sociocracy and holocracy and all of the other technologies that we talk about so often on this podcast. In XR, they were put to use.
And so in what for me was a fascinating, inspiring and at times deeply moving conversation. Gail and I were able to explore where XR has been, what led Gail there in the first place, and where she’s putting her energy now, and how we can shape ours in similar ways. As with Eva and Justin last week, this felt like a real breath of fresh air. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Dr. Gail Bradbrook.
Gail, welcome back to the Accidental Gods podcast and Happy New Year. At the time of recording, we are only just into the New Year, just enough to have wrestled with HMRC yesterday, on the first day of full operations. Sounds like hell. So that apart, our question going into 2023, which feels to me like a year of real transition. 2022 was us understanding that the world really is changing, and it feels to me as if 2023 is the year we sit down and go, okay, nothing is as it was; Let’s see how we can make it different. So I have a question for this year, which is: what makes your heart sing and where does that lead you?
Gail: Thanks, Manda. Thank you. It’s good to be here. There’s quite a few things come to my mind when you ask that. I had a really nice time dancing on New Year’s Eve, being in my body. And where did it lead me? Was to getting bursitis, old lady hips. But that’s another matter. And look, I’m just showing you my little pouch that’s got Amanita muscaria on. I was waxing on about amanita or fly agaric. I think relationships with the non-human world as a way of deepening my own humanity. So I’ve been binge watching, I have to admit, amanitadreamer.net videos about this mushroom. Because I’ve always wondered about him or her, we’re not sure if they gender, and our relationship with that mushroom, which is very associated with Christmas. Apparently when people in Nordic countries were snowed in, the shamans who serve this medicine would drop it down the chimney, because they could get because of the shape of the houses and other gifts that the people were sharing around. So that red and white Christmas and the magic, the sense of magic. So I have tried a little micro dose with this mushroom and it’s interesting, yeah. But there’s a lot more to learn. And I have a sense that it’s coming back in the next few years in a big way, this mushroom, into our lives.
Manda: That opens up so many new ways to go that I wasn’t expecting. And resonates really beautifully with what Eva Schonfeld said in last week’s podcast, because I asked her the same question. And for her, connecting to plant energies particularly was what made her heart sing. So just an aside on the Scandinavian countries, when you drop it down the chimney, does it then burn and create a vapour that everybody breathes in? Or were they dropping it down as a parcel for people to, to collect and then…
Gail: As a parcel. Yeah.
Manda: And then you make a tea from it or make yourself kind of Scandinavian equivalent of hash brownies or something? How do you take it?
Gail: Well, as I said, there’s lots of information on https://www.amanitadreamer.net/. There’s lots of different ways. One way is you can make an oil and you can rub it on your hips for, I think, for sciatica and things like that. So there’s some very wonderful herbalist witches called the Seed Sisters that I got to hang out with in the summer at Green Gathering. And they have rediscovered the flying ointment, which is the ointment that we believe would have been, if you had it, pretty much guaranteed to see you burnt as a witch, right? And witchcraft comes with some sexual energy, I don’t think always, but that’s part of the magic; and that the way you take that. So that has 15 different herbs in their reconstitution of this medicine, I guess, or magic potion. And I don’t know if people know, but you take it through your vagina, with a broom handle, and then you fly! And that’s where the witches flying comes from. Not that I’ve done that with a broom handle or necessarily recommend that.
Manda: Too much information, we don’t need to go there.
Gail: The chemistry associated with this mushroom, there are two main ingredients: muscimol and ibotenic acid. And it depends how you treat it. And it’s very small amounts. So just to be very clear, if you see that mushroom, don’t go and eat it. You’ll end up in spasms in your body and possibly in A&E. So what I really love is when people are helping us work out what our relationship is and the nature of the relationship. And it seems to go back to ceremony. There’s a lot to do with ancestors. Interesting times to learn.
Manda: Yeah. And a kind of way of decolonialising our own past. Or at least getting to the roots of who we were before the the incredibly misnamed Enlightenment, and even potentially before the invasion of Christianity and everything that was crushed there. We could go all the way down that route, but I’m thinking that might be a bit of a rabbit hole. So let’s lift out a little bit, because it seems to me that use of psychedelics is very much in the air at the moment. The use of psychedelics for therapy and end of life treatment. I was reading recently about, I think Lou Reed, one of the famous pop stars, who was becoming quite agitated as he was dying and his partner gave him a tab of acid, as you obviously do under those circumstances. Wouldn’t have been my first thought, but she did. And he calmed down immediately and said, Oh, God, it’s all about love. Everything is about love. And then he became completely peaceful, you know, would be, I think, a calm way of saying. He became iridescent and died like that. And it struck me, I read this ahead of teaching the Dreaming Your Death Awake, that wouldn’t it be a really good idea if we all learned that lesson before we were 30 minutes away from dying. And yet it seems really hard for us to let go of the angst of being human. And as we move into this year of total transformation, I’m really interested in what would it take for us to let go of that? So here’s an avenue of questioning:
You’ve been associated a long time with XR. Things are changing within XR; we can look at that potentially. But I’m much more interested in the fact that whenever I talk to anybody about how do we need to change world governance, or even recently I’ve been talking to Chat GTP, the bot AI that everybody says is going to replace us all. And apparently you can ask it to write a novel in the style of, I don’t know, Lee child, and it’ll write you a lee Child novel. So therefore Lee Child is going to be redundant. I would say from my experience of it, this is not true. I’ve asked it to write several novels in several different states and it’s not remotely readable stuff. But I have asked it it’s answer to a number of quite core world questions and it comes out with stuff that to me is pretty bland, but always hinges around we need to change the governance structures and the democratic structures of the world. Which I think actually is probably quite radical. And you have been within a big organisation that has deeply embedded within it horizontal structure, which is where everybody gets to. That governance structures need to be much less hierarchical, much less top down, much less electing people who are manifestly unfit to govern and much more giving power to the people on the ground. And I wonder if you think, having been within this, that this would translate easily or well to national or even ecosystem area, bio-regional area governance? Does that make sense as a question?
Gail: It’s a great question and lots of what you said beforehand resonates. And like you said, there’s lots of routes to go with that. And actually somehow I see them all tied together. So when we talk about the global system or think about the global finance system and it’s all around us, isn’t it? And you can think about all these different components and it has these simple rules and it’s showing up in this way. But fundamentally, it feels like a monolith, doesn’t it? It’s such a big thing to try and understand how do you change that? Because my understanding is once you’ve set up a system and unleashed it, it’s like, where’s the off button?
Manda: Yeah, totally.
Gail: I’ve been listening to some podcasts, I’d like to remember where they were, but about system change and what it seems to be is creating a different system alongside the one and trying to hospice the one that you’re in, trying to help it to have a good death. Because my understanding is this one’s on its way out and it’s what it collapses into – chaos or eco fascism, neither great, right? So what else might we seed that’s different? And I suppose in some ways we have had a bit of a mini experiment with that in Extinction Rebellion. We set up this self-organising system and then it runs itself and it’s a phenomena, but it’s relatively small scale and you can sort of step to one side and think, Gosh, it’s doing that thing. For example, to talk negatively about it, the way that patriarchy, patriarchal ways of being and doing, show up.
You’re like, Oh, it’s doing that thing now. Yes, that makes me wonder, like, how do we create systems that work well for us? Because there’s something… The thing that worked well in Extinction Rebellion was saying, Here’s ten principles and values and you can do anything in the name of XR as long as you follow these principles and values as best you can. And that really did unleash a lot of energy. The thing is, you also and when you’re talking about global governance, you want a layer at the the UK level. How are we all going to come together? So it’s all very well if, you know, XR Brighton wants to focus on oceans. Or XR Stroud wants to focus on Barclays Bank, etc.. But when you come together and how do you decide how to come together? So that’s the thing. How do you make decisions at a national level? How would you make decisions at a regional level or at a global level? Miki Kashtan, by the way, did define a system, design one and put it forwards.
And I think we have to have some things in place, especially the more power that you have access to. You have to have an understanding of power and we have to have a how as well as an aspiration. So if we say we want to mitigate for privilege, how do we do that? And people are less curious about the how, for some of the principles and values than others. And that allows patriarchal functioning to come back. And you can see how certain processes like sociocracy and holocracy, these are organising formats that we’ve used, can be misused. So just as one example: fully horizontal, the idea is that you decentralise power, you have the power to do this, you have the power, this team does that. They’re all supposed to be nested together, focussed on the same purpose. That got set up in a funny way in XR, in my opinion. And then when a team makes a decision, it should take advice. There’s an advice and feedback process it should do, and I’m not seeing that happen a lot at the time for quite significant things. And I think that leads to some problems. But what’s good is to have done that experiment. Because if somebody wants to set a new thing up, I would have lots of advice.
Manda: Well, would you? Would you be happy to go with that? Partly because I’m hoping to be writing the second novel in a series which is exploring where everything goes. So I am basically mining you now for for potential novel information. I will definitely acknowledge you in the end notes. But let’s, if you’d be up for that, it seems to me that nobody in the world has done an experiment in real time in the way that has been done with XR, on the scale that has been done with XR. And that the learning of, okay, this is not a bad system, but there are ways of implementing it that are perhaps less than ideal, is absolute gold in the movement that we are trying to create. So if you were to start something new in 2023, what advice would you give? Or if somebody was to, what advice would you give?
Gail: Yeah, well, I am really essentially, with XR Being the Change. We’ve been meeting together for a year as a team. And the first thing that we have done is to spend time on our relating, on our relationships. Who are we? Because we’re really quite a sort of diverse team, different backgrounds and perspectives. And that’s good. You know, that’s a good thing. I think that at this stage, visionary leadership is important and to understand what that is. I don’t know if you’ve come across the three horizons Manda? The idea that there’s the current one that you’re in, this shit shower of an economic system and so-called democracy. And then there’s the third horizon that’s in your dreams that maybe there are some seeds of, or some cultures that have things of value to say to us, in the middle horizon, the second horizon where the interesting stuff happens. So recognising things in the middle horizon and recognising the value of visionaries. And especially I do think this has been a terrible weakness in XR, at the UK layer, to understand the role of visionary leaders who aren’t racialised as white. And to support them to thrive in our movement. So I have a lot of grief around that, actually.
Manda: Right. So let’s honour the grief around that for a moment, because that feels really, really big.
Gail: But yeah, just because there’s something… What you were describing a while ago made me… I’m so obsessed with the hemispheres in the brain. You know, you talked a bit about about some artificial intelligence. And there’s the part of ourselves, as I understand it at the minute, and Iain McGilchrist would be the go to person for this; The Master and his Emissary. There’s a part of our nervous system, our left hemisphere that can be quite angry and it’s the thing that reacts. It’s the thing that’s checking, trying to keep us safe, trying to make sure that we’re wanted and welcomed, you know? It’s in the sympathetic nervous system. And we’re in a system that makes us be in that part of ourselves and makes it seem like that is a good thing to be in. In part, that aspect of our humanity, it’s a computer, it’s a calculator. It’s meant to be in service to something else, in service to life. And I really like that bit of my brain, you know. As Jill Bolte Taylor’s called hers Helen, Hell-on-earth, gets things done right? I like problems. I like solving problems. I’m interested in information and ideas, right? So it’s not all bad and wrong, but when it’s running according to its own emotional landscape, humanity’s in a bad way. And that’s the story. You know, you go back to the witches and the burning. We were separated from the other part of ourselves, the visionary part of ourselves, and it’s atrophied, especially amongst people racialised as white. And as my dear friend Skeena was pointing out the other day, Racialized as White stands for Raw.
Manda: Yes, doesn’t it?
Gail: She’s studied birthing and how we treat babies and what happens in the cultures that we’re in to our little ones, right. So there’s a thing here, whereby our humanity, our joyful, connected, empathetic side – And I don’t know how you create that as an artificial intelligence, by the way. It’s the aliveness of life. And maybe you can – it needs to be in charge. That would be a key piece that like we need to be able to see that. And that’s where I think some of the plant and fungal allies might support us to reconnect with our ability to vision.
Gail: There’s a lot more to say, but what I will do is send you this report that we had written by external folks, looking in a good way at XR. It’s called the Systems Realignment Project, which was like, well, how would you make this better, what you’re doing? What collaborative practices do you need to agree on? When you put people in a system like a self organising system, in the face of a climate and ecological crisis, where there’s a lot of agitation, fear, despair, grief; it’s naturally putting people left hemisphere and our culture’s doing that. And that’s what I think we mean, when we recreate things. The system. That we talk about having a regenerative culture, but we actually actively need to…that is the foundational thing. People start talking about regenerative culture as something that we did when we have time off. It’s like, no, that’s what we have to be doing the whole time. Proactively, Consciously. Because to be a sort of progressive left, we have to understand something there that the right isn’t going to do. Because we have to have our USP, so put it like that.
Manda: Yes, I’m remembering Anita Lawson’s Entangled Activists and this is really resonating here, of we’re embedded in a system that is broken; We are raw, I love that from Skeena; racialized as white. With everything that encompasses. I watched Faith’s grandkids and I’ve never had kids, so I’ve never experienced this. But watching little hunter gatherers being domesticated and thinking, Why are we doing this? This is… It’ll take them decades of therapy to get over this. Why are we putting? But it’s what is required by our culture to function, because otherwise we’re considered wild and we don’t fit. Which is one route we could go down. But I’m wondering. I’m wondering a lot of things, but the thing that’s rising to the top of my wondering is you said that the plant teachers might be able to help us with this. And I’m really curious as to how. Because let me unpick my thinking a little; which is we all love our left brains. Our domestication was an elevation of that reductive linear capacity to see things as complicated, which is to say, if I pull lever A, it will have effect B and I will be able to map these things and everything is contained and constrained and I can understand it all, and I will have all the answers, and then nothing will possibly happen that is unexpected. And we believe this in the face of life’s experience, which is completely not that. Until we don’t.
But if it is the case that plant teachers can help us to step out of that need to be certain and become flexible and familiar with and comfortable with uncertainty. I’ve been listening a lot to Daniel Schmachtenberger, listening to the systemic podcasts, or how to think systemically. And that becoming comfortable with uncertainty seems to be a real key, and very difficult to teach. So I wonder, and this may be too personal and something that each of us needs to undergo alone; but to what extent have the plant teachers helped you to become comfortable with uncertainty? Or what have they helped you to be comfortable with that you weren’t before?
Gail: Yeah. Thank you. I think it’s worth saying there are other practices out there as well, aren’t there. Breath practices, body practices. So I liked Jamie Wheal’s book Recapture the Rapture, where he’s doing a sort of overview of the different types of practices. For me there is something really special in the Plant Teachers, and there’s a good series on Netflix at the minute with Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind. I think one of the aspects is, at the minute and if you watch the Michael Pollan series, apart from the fourth one, which is about peyote in indigenous practice, it’s mostly about individual healing and recovery. And what I think I was alluding to with regenerative cultures, is that we have to understand how to collectively cultivate the ‘good mind’, as Oren Lyons calls it. So that’s what the Haudenosaunee people’s nation focussed on. Like you have to proactively cultivate something together. There’s a spirit intimacy, and there’s a togetherness, and that there are ways with the ceremonies and the seasons that the plant teachers have been part of. I mean, that can include alcohol, right? I mean, a ceilidh! Actually it’s not my favourite thing, because I like to cut loose when I’m dancing, I don’t want to be so controlled. But although probably I just don’t do Ceilidh properly. But you know what I mean. There are ways of being together as a group and it seems like this is why I’m interested with what Aminatadreamer is working out, that with the Amanita muscaria, it’s asking for a particular type of ceremony. I’m aware of some people and obviously to protect them because of the legalities, that have have been gifted plant medicines from indigenous practice as a way to support our remembering. And that they’ve been in that work for some years and that they’re now working out how to work with the psilocybin mushrooms from this land, because they’re quite wild.
You know, they’re different medicines. And I have been around in part of this stuff, right? So for me it is that thing of coming together to pray and it’s that place with the uncertainty, where you’re innocently asking for help and guidance through prayer, that feels like being open to life. Just to say something about control and the left hemisphere. So I listened to George Monbiot’s new book recently Regenesis, on the food systems; and yeah, there’s things and stuff about that book to say. His analysis of the food system, where this thing is going very mono focussed; like I think there are four countries that grow wheat and five that grow rice and what is that kind of thing, right? The bottleneck, it’s a system that’s going to collapse. So much desire to control actually leads to a lack of control, interestingly. I mean, there are things in his book that, you know, there’s a live debate with people like Chris Smaje, who talks about Small Farm Futures and how we have a relationship with the land. And one of the things the left hemisphere does, Manda, it makes everything either/or,when both/and, you know. The uncertainty is often that both things are true. Like, how can you integrate different perspectives? So yeah, I have had a lot of experience with the plants and the fungus, and it’s still a journey, isn’t it? A journey in becoming.
Manda: Yeah, I think that’s life. At the time when we stop the journey of becoming is the time when we stop breathing. So for sure. I’m remembering… I can’t even remember whose podcast… I listen to too many and I don’t take notes. Somebody pointing out that the reason acid and similar things were made so illegal, was because it was the time of the Vietnam War and they were leading a lot of people to pacifism, at a time when the American government needed people to sign up, so they could send them to die or spread napalm all over innocent villagers. And the experience of what we now call psychedelic drugs was the opposite of that. And therefore, they needed to demonise and constrain their use. And then that spreads around the world, because when America sneezes, everybody else follows. And yet now people are beginning to do really grounded, really intelligent, really useful work on what happens if we begin to shift the boundaries of our minds. And I remember in my years as an anaesthetist, we used ketamine a lot for various reasons. And what was really interesting, it’s one of those things you get very left brain and everybody says, you need to understand how everything works. And nobody understood how ketamine worked. They just wrote an awful lot about what they observed and then pretended that was understanding how it worked.
But what it seemed to do, on the occasions when somebody would give it by mistake to the horse that had not been previously sedated. Was it undid the horse’s logical boundaries to its mind and then the entire world became a very, very, very frightening place. And once you understand a little bit about how horses are conditioned into learned helplessness, I think what it was doing was removing the learned helplessness. Anyway, the horse would try to kill the person on the end of the rope, because they were clearly extremely dangerous very suddenly. And it’s not a mistake many anaesthetists make more than once. And some of us managed to create protocols never to make that mistake, because you’d seen somebody else do it. But it was really interesting that that then became a recreational drug. I think why would anybody choose to remove the boundaries of their mind to that extent? And the answer is that their current existence is so unpleasant that wherever they go is at least better than that, which is a horrible indictment of our current system. And yet there’s so many other ways of exploring what happens when we change our perception of reality. And I love that you brought up the Recapture the Rapture. Because he’s very keen that we find ways that are reproducible and disseminatable and don’t require people to have the privilege of enough money and access to whatever it is that we take.
And also, I think, both of us would want to be really clear that this is not a fast track to being a god. I remember in the years when I was training to do shamanic work, there were lots of people who just wanted to take ayahuasca because it was going to get them to be a shaman. It’s like, Oh, that’s such a very bad idea, on every level, please don’t do this. It’s not a shortcut and it’s not going to be easy. And deciding in advance the goal that you think you want to get to, by taking whatever it is you’re taking, is entirely the wrong way up. So you’ve had a lot more experience with this than I have. I’m really genuinely curious as to the before and after Gail. In what ways has the work that you’ve done, in ceremony with trained teachers – and I think both of these are really important – and under supervision and in a held space. How does it feel? How different is your capacity to perceive reality as a result? And is it a permanent capacity to perceive reality differently?
Gail: Thank you. Thank you for all those stories. And yeah, I think one of the downsides of Michael Pollan’s program in a way, is that it kind of does to some extent give that sense of the magic bullet moment. And it can be that profound, like a single psychedelic experience can be that profound in some pathologies and problems. So there’s a person there who had OCD, who didn’t have OCD. The people that I worked with with iboger were former heroin addicts, you know, it got them off heroin. So there are those very big breakthrough moments that can happen.
Gail: I wonder how much is also there in terms of that person’s having tried lots of other things, or in terms of the therapists that are around supporting the process, etc.. I don’t think it’s a shortcut to wisdom, but I think it can be a fast route to healing. Faster than, you know, when people have been kept on Suboxone or, you know, some heroin substitute, when there is a process that can help heal an addiction. And I think it’s something like 60% efficacy in some cases, for certain… Yeah. I mean, there’s this guy, Rick Doblin, who has been really, I think, 30 years trying to move forwards the science in a multidisciplinary way, so that these medicines will be accepted as what they are, as medicines, right. But what I’m interested in is the group process, which I understand very little about and also the practice of prayer. The practice of being in dialogue with something bigger than ourselves, with a sort of bigger intelligence and wondering, asking for support and help. And my experience is that it’s come. Is that the support and help has come. And I would say in terms of that question about did any of it make a permanent difference? Yes, I had probably a version of complex PTSD, it was never diagnosed and I worked with iboga and also ayahuasca on a particular retreat. But I think it was the iboga that went in and rewired my body and brain. And I was different after. Yeah.
Manda: Brilliant. Wow. So these teachers and medicines might be one of the keys to healing our culture, if we can use them in a way that isn’t using them to manifest the toxicity of our culture. It’s going to be a very interesting…
Manda: I can imagine that like regenerative agriculture is in the process of being hijacked by the same multinationals that grow wheat in four countries. It wouldn’t be hard.
Gail: On that topic. There’s a long essay just come out by Alnoor Ladha and I’m afraid I can’t remember his colleagues name. He wrote it on psychedelics and sort of colonialism and the so called psychedelic renaissance, as an act of colonialism when it gets off the path. So that’s worth a read.
Manda: Right? I will put that in the show notes. Okay. I think we’ve probably mined this as much as we can, because it is definitely one of those things that people are going to have to explore on a personal level. I’d like to head back to… We’re still unpicking, we’re in the overhead of unpicking how would we do horizontal organising differently, with the experience of XR behind us? And you spoke about the need for visionary leadership, and it struck me that this chimed very well with something that Charlie Fisher said, on a podcast towards the back end of last year. And he uses sociocracy within his cooperative architecture practice. But he was very clear that if you simply get a whole group of people around to discuss stuff, they will talk endlessly and achieve nothing. And that you needed to devolve power very cleanly and very clearly to the people on the ground who needed to use it. Give them the power to make decisions, and then have the advice and feedback. And I wondered then, having visionary leadership gives the visionary leader a hat to wear; a crown, a pirate’s hat, whatever we call it; they suddenly become the person in the room that everybody is listening to, which can be extraordinarily useful if they are genuinely visionary. If they are just someone claiming leadership, then you’ve instantly got a power dynamic that needs to be unpicked. How do you go about that?
Gail: Yeah, yeah. Oh, brilliant questions. I think when we’re just trying to work out how…when we’ve decided what we’re going to do and we’re trying to work out how to get it done, that’s when the sort of sociocracy and advice processes and all that type of stuff helps. But you have to be very clear on what the purpose is. And that people are there because they’re in alignment with that purpose. And I think, again, Miki Kashtan uses this word preclusion. So it’s not about including or excluding people, it’s like that people would select to be in, because they’re in alignment with that purpose. They’re not here to say, Well, I think that’s sort of good, but I really want to be X, because that causes a lot of disturbance. The issue is, you know, with Extinction Rebellion, it came out of something…it came out of many things, actually, to be fair…but one of the things was Compassionate Revolution, which was a company that myself and George Barda had set up, which was about acts of art, heart and civil disobedience. And the idea was that you’d have lots of different groups focusing as they wanted, and you come together to focus specifically around democracy and economics. But whatever would emerge, and the more I’ve understood about social change theory, you call that the power breaking moment and you need to know how much power you’ve got and what your target is that you could break. Now therein lies potentially some data and some analysis. For example, I don’t think we should keep focusing on the government. Why are we going to parliament? I mean, symbolic is fine, but it’s an authoritarian government full of sociopaths. Like they’re not going to do what we want.
Manda: Yeah. And they’re not going to listen.
Gail: You know, and if you if you keep tickling the nose of the tiger, you can enable authoritarianism. So there’s risks, right? You think about be smart about where you target. If you target mainstream politics, it might be that the other parties change. And the Labour Party have got no new oil and gas policy…so great, you know. So I’m not being black and white about this. So there’s that side of thing. How do you make the decisions about where the focus is? I personally think the finance system is reaping more change at the minute and is worth focusing on. We’ve had, I think, something like five banks announced that they’re not funding new oil and gas and coal, and some of the major actors in insurance making declarations. Some of them are too superficial, but still, there’s there’s actual concrete change rather than just the alarms being sounded and it’s being heard. Now, the next thing is… and this is the nature of the difference between tactics and strategy. That can be quite tactical. At what point do you look back at your strategy and you say, where now? Oh my goodness, this actually worked.
XR was a prayer, with the medicines, by the way. This actually, in quotes, ‘worked’ to some extent. Where now? Like, what could we do together now? That’s where the visionary piece is necessary. And I think maybe finally to say on that; it’s not about the visionary leadership being given sort of power. I think power there arises because people want to listen, because there’s something there to be said. It is more, though, that there are sort of certain channels of communication that people have control of. So how much listening happens to certain people, and when it’s people that aren’t of this dominant culture, that come from a global south culture, for example. How much work and listening are people racialised as white willing to do? How much understanding is there? Sometimes you have to get used to somebody else’s different language, different way of saying things and lean in and ask questions, right? And be curious. So that becomes part of the dynamic, Yeah.
Manda: Yes. And I’m remembering the Braver Angels, which is a group in the States that’s trying to bring Republicans and Democrats at least into the same room to not demonise each other. And their Los Angeles chapter ended up having an entire weekend devoted to unpicking the nature of the word liberty.
Manda: And that even amongst, I’m guessing, people broadly racialised as white, on either side of a political divide, that one word had entirely different spans of meaning.
Manda: And it’s only… Again, Eva and Justin in last week’s podcast, were talking about the fact they set up a process online, and it followed the dawn around the world. And it went, I think, from Friday through to Sunday or Monday morning, depending on where you were in the world. And they continued the conversation; people could obviously go away and sleep and come back; simply to get to a point where people were able to speak their truth and feel heard for what they were actually saying. And it seems to me that this is essential, but that there are so few people who know how to facilitate that and probably even fewer prepared to put that amount of time in, to understanding that what I heard you say is not necessarily what you thought you were saying.
Gail: Mm hmm.
Manda: And then if we can get to a point where I am clear that I heard you say what you actually meant to say, where does that then take us? And I gather, listening to Justin and Eva, that it takes us, the people involved, to very new places of being able to explore purpose and strategy and tactics. But it’s long and it’s slow. And back to left brain right brain, were used to walk into a room, have a meeting for an hour, make a decision, walk out and implement that decision. And not let’s spend three days with 12 other people working at who we are.
Gail: Yeah important.
Manda: Given all of that, in your world now, what is your purpose? What’s arising as your purpose, and how do your strategies align with that?
Gail: Well, I think that’s why I said that we’d spent, with the Being The Change team, we’d spent a year just meeting and relating, and that feels really, really important. I sort of heard stories of indigenous cultures where different tribes are coming together and they spend at least two or three days just hanging out before they try and do any business. So what we have to understand, again with this hemisphere thing, is that when you’re asking a question about liberty, which bit which person are you asking the question? Literally, because there’s at least four different people in your body, depending on how agitated you’re feeling and how much the sort of machine mind control person you’re in. You know, there’s going to be a version of liberty where I just want to do what I do without interference, you know? Ayn Rand said the question is not who’s going to let you, the question is who’s going to stop you? That’s the attitude on the sort of extreme right, isn’t it? And then there’s the there’s the thing that says that I can’t be free, as a social creature, without the blessings and the togetherness of a functional community, where we all help each other to meet each other’s needs. Like what sort of freedom is there in this sort of culture where you can’t guarantee shelter, food, clean water and meaningful work? You know? So I think that the dialogue’s really important.
But this is what I meant again about the group practices. Like what gets you in the space to be well together. And the very first thing is to understand that that’s a thing. So what we say in Being the Change is relate, repair, protect, become. That’s what we see as the arrow for humanity right now. Relationship. You know, be in good mind together, be in your own well-being. You know, find a way to be your best higher person. And then repair; what’s ours to repair? There’s so much repair work to be done, many levels and layers. Protect. You know, there’s a domination system that’s at play. It’s going to eat, extract, excrete, consume the world and tell us all sorts of stories about why that’s okay. We have to stop it. That’s part of where my strategizing takes me, is we actually have to stop this. We have to… We can ask companies, corporations, governments to do things differently, but see that as a communication tool, we actually have to stop it. What does that look like? I personally think there needs to be more encouragement..I don’t know if encouragement is the right word, probably get legally problematic… But sabotage and smart ways of stopping things.
Manda: Yeah. Can we unpick that? I think also… Let’s be very careful of what the legalities are, but. Why and how? Because it seems to me the kind of Andreas Malm How to Blow Up a Pipeline or even remembering Kim Stanley Robinson and Ministry for the future. And he was very clear in there that there was a violent arm that allowed the what Rupert would probably call the moderate flank, actions to take place under cover. And the violent arm was what pushed the world into acting. And yet, it seems to me, watching our current government, that it would be really happy to have somebody do something violent because then they could really come down on everybody with a ton of bricks. And the Daily Mail would be cheering from the sidelines and The Telegraph would be giving them an umbrella of cover. And that without a lot of the work done first, to not end up with people being shot in the streets, then the whole XR ‘we are peaceful’ was a really essential part of what XR did. I messed up that question. But does that make sense? That the fact that XR was peaceful was really core and if we drop that, then we lose a lot?
Gail: Well, first of all, I really question the word violence. You know, I mean, I think that it’s violent to force people to take out a mortgage for like £400,000 just to have a roof over their head and then to have to do some kind of crappy work for some crappy planet destroying corporation. There’s violence implicit in that system, right. And I think to go and break a computer that’s engaged in perpetuating the destruction of the planet is a move of protection. I think I don’t see it personally as violence. And I think a lot of what… Again, quoting hopefully not misquoting dear old Miki Kashtan, said something that one should lean towards something like minimum force, maximum love with service to life as the intention. It was something like that that she said. I didn’t quite get it right, she said it better than that. But also just to say one of XR’s principles and values is non-violence. And we’re very clear about how we define and talk about that. There’s a longer write up. We’re not there criticising anybody else’s how they need to operate, when they’re frontline land defenders in other countries. But you couldn’t do things as XR that sabotage. But I mean, you may have heard of the tyre extinguishers, for example, that have taken on the SUVs as a phenomena in our culture. They’ve taken that on and they’ve been sabotaging the cars, right. And I think that has its place personally. Yeah. But I’m more talking about a level of coordination.
I think about it like an immune response. Which would say, it’s not like we’re going to work together to ask them to stop doing this thing, So we’re going to work together to stop this thing from happening. It’s a different focus. And somebody like Greenpeace needs to be leading the charge with that. They’ve got the resources and the reach actually, in my view. But so it’s for example, you might be going after the insurance company that’s going to insure the coal mine. You might be sending people to the front line where you’re stopping things on the day to day with bodies. There may be people working behind the scenes that are dismantling the equipment. You know, there may be people that are going after the banks that are funding it. So there’s a coordinated move that says we understand there’s a tendency amongst humanity to run a domination system, and we now have to stop it. We have to protect ourselves from it. We don’t have to hurt anybody in the process. We do the minimum damage, but we have to stop it because it is killing life on earth. That’s a shift. That’s what I’m talking about. And it could be that if you’re a b corporation, you would be funding some of the movements for resistance. It could be that you’re, you know, we all have to… We can’t just be Oh, we’ll just do this nice bit over here that feels nice. It’s like, how are we going to protect ourselves? Yeah.
Manda: Okay. This is really getting to the edge of where we are as humanity. So what I’m hearing is… if I reframe things in Johanna Macy’s, three pillars of the Great Turning. There was the holding actions, the systemic change and the shift in consciousness and that all three needed to happen. But if you don’t have the holding actions, which are the lying in front of the bulldozer that’s about to start fracking or whatever, then the systemic change and the shift in consciousness won’t have time to happen. And we’re up against Hobb’s definition of the nation state as being the political entity which controls the monopoly of violence within its own borders. And the definition of the state is, that’s far as our monopoly of violence extends and at those borders, someone else has a monopoly of violence on the other side. And then the state gets to define what is violent and what isn’t. So I live in a little rural village and I’ve had people I would consider friends look to me as if they were on the verge of a heart attack, purple faced, pulsing veins. Very, very triggered by Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain sitting on overhangs over the M 25 and somehow slowing down and or stopping the traffic. And they will literally scream at me about the fact that somebody might have died in an ambulance, and not care about the fact that 500 people a day are dying in ambulances because the government is deliberately underfunding the NHS.
Manda: And so I see the logic of this, but I wonder how that maps up against the fact that relatively ordinary people are on the side of the government on this one. And they think that stopping the traffic on the M25 is literally evil, but the government defunding the NHS is essential because it hasn’t got enough money. Let’s not go into their complete misunderstanding of economics at this point, because that’s something we’ve spoken about on the podcast a lot. But at what point does the government getting to define what is violent and what isn’t, cease to be legitimate? And how do we de-legitimize that?
Gail: Sure. I mean, these are very live questions for me, Manda, because I’m in court on Friday and we’re recording this on Wednesday. And some of these things I’ll have to speak to, because there’s been recent rulings where they’ve decided what counts as violence and what doesn’t. And it’s interesting, like, how is it not violent to, you know, Barclays bank have put something like 145 billion of new funding into fossil fuels since the Paris climate agreement. How is that not violent? And, you know, I take a hammer and a chisel to one windowpane at 6:00 in the morning, when nobody could possibly get injured. In in the spirit of the suffragettes, where we got our vote, like the Chartists, etc., you know, And they’re wanting to define that as an act of violence. There was a recent survey and I think it was something like 66% of people support non-violent civil disobedience.
Manda: Non-violent civil disobedience. So how do we define what is violent? That’s the key then, isn’t it?
Gail: I think we get to define it, actually. I mean, this is where when you’re describing your purple faced sort of neighbour or whatever, the propaganda is extremely effective. We have a media machine that’s owned by the billionaire sort of oligarchy elites, and they’re driving a propaganda machine. I’ve been on the receiving end of it. I know exactly what it’s up to. You don’t have a functional democracy when you have that level of misinformation and propaganda running. And something like one in eight people think we don’t have a functional democracy, I’m one of them. And all of these rulings that the judges are coming out, you can’t have this kind of protest, you can’t have this kind of defence or whatever. They say, Well, because we’ve got a functional democracy…and I’m like, Oh really? Is that what this is? Because people are subject to a vicious propaganda that’s trying to make the people that are fighting for a future for their children and grandchildren, their own lives, a functional NHS, etc., the bad guys. Whilst it’s daylight robbery, daylight robbery folks! You know, and telling that story on the mainstream media, it’s not easy, because the elites have captured the media. So, you know, which is why our mutual friend Donnachadh McCarthy is so focussed on the need to shift the media. And we have to create our own media, don’t we? But I think we perhaps need to understand that maybe there’s just something in the stress bodies of people that needs to be listened to, and we need to feel compassionate around when we have those moments with a purple faced neighbour and say, Wow, you’re obviously feeling a lot.
Manda: Yeah, Yes. And we have good discussions actually. And it’s very interesting because I live in a bubble where everybody thinks Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil are heroes. And to remember that outside that bubble there is an actual majority of people who don’t see things that way. So for our last few minutes, I’d like… This is a genuine question to which I don’t know the answer… I tend to try to ask those. But I’ve been listening to Schmachtenberger a lot, and one of the things he said recently is when he started on this path, he’d go to somebody who’d say, You know, the problem is obviously the media. It’s been captured by the oligarchy. If we could change the media, we could change the message, we could change the stories, and then somebody and he’d go, Oh yeah, that’s right. And then somebody else would say, But obviously we need to change the governments and the governance system and the whole issue of democracy, because quite clearly we don’t have a functioning democracy. And he’d go, Yeah, you’re right. And then somebody else would say, Yes, but obviously what we need to do is change the finance system. And somebody else would say, we need to change the education system because we get kids young enough while their brains are still plastic and on and on and on. And there’s at least 20 different interlocking systems where somebody who’s it’s their focus – agriculture, food and farming system, we need to change that – and we need… And he’d be going, yeah, you’re right. Yeah, you’re right. Oh, hang on, they’re all right. And what we need is systemic change. And that’s really, really hard. And I’m guessing that that concept is also very alive for you. And I’m wondering where it’s taken you.
Gail: When you’re saying all of that, all these different things that need to happen, I think, Well, good that there’s so many of us then, ey? There’s a lot to do. Roll your sleeves up, folks, which what’s yours to do? So the thing, as Donella Meadows said about changing systems, there are different leverage points and different, you know, people to cover them. We need to sort of say, well, right now this is where there’s weakness; we could focus here. That’s the sort of smart, global strategic thinking we need. And I like to know who’s doing that. Daniel Schmachtenberger is a good mind on that stuff. But there’s yeah, there’s a lot to change. And one of the big things is the story, right? The paradigm that we’re living under, the paradigm that many of us are living under, not everybody, is the one that says you’re powerless, you’re separate, you’re separate from life, you’re separate from each other. Keep your head down. There’s a machine, there’s a cog in the machine that’s your shape. You just get to fit in and carry on, Right? And that’s what your life’s about. Keep your head down.
And I’m saying and many other people are saying, there’s a new true old story that’s re-emerging for these times. That’s the story of togetherness, of beauty, of being in life. And each of us gets to choose; what a great time to be alive in that way. It’s an exciting time. Things are definitely going to change. Who knows where? We get to be part of that. Find our humanity, Understand that there is a different way of being in relationship with life and actively choose that in all the ways that we’re able to. Which starts with yourself and your own wellness and your own connection. And one of the things we want them to do with Being The Change is bring an oath to life, in service to life. To bring forwards a way of saying, you know we’re just defining our principles at the moment, but on the back of that, that we are here in service to life. And we recognise what we would call Wetiko whiteness; this system, the machine mind, whatever you want to call it, patriarchy. And we are setting our arrow on life and it’s an adventure. It’s supposed to be fun! And that’s where we’re different from the right, because it’s miserable that stuff. The control mind, it might feel better when you’re in the grip of fear, but the uncertainty, the messiness of life is fun. When you’re in that bit of your body, your nervous system, it’s joyful, right? That’s the choice. Be more human. So who knows what’s going to happen, whether it’s going to work or not? Don’t worry about it. Let’s be more human, enjoy, get on with it, be in purpose. What else is there to do? What are you going to do with your life? You know, and there’s a lot to choose. So find your bit: Relate, repair, protect, become.
Manda: Fantastic. I was going to ask you if you had a last message for anybody and everybody, but that sounds like it’s it: relate, repair, protect, become and have fun! In your body and in connection to the world while you’re doing it. That’s just glorious. Was there anything else you wanted to say as a last?
Gail: No, I think I can talk forever, Manda my darling. So it’s great to be with you.
Manda: But it’s so inspiring. And Gail, I just hope Friday… By the time this goes out, it will be last Friday. So, yeah, I hope that the judge listens to the service for life and the service of life and that the result is what you need it to be.
Gail: It’s a magistrates court. And actually I do think it’s back to what you said. The prayer is …As my dear friend Polly Higgins used to say… Whatever happens, may it be for the best. Like it’s not ours to know and to control, you know, just be a peace with it. So I know why I’ve done what I’ve done, and it’s not me that’s on trial. The system is doing its thing, and I’m just going to be there watching it, doing its thing. So there you go.
Manda: Do your best. Yeah. Within our dreaming group, we ask for the best and highest good without defining what that is. So if it’s all right with you, I will definitely go into my altar on Thursday night and ask for the best and the highest good for you. And let’s talk again sometime on the other side of all of your various court appearances and see where you’re going with your oath. That would be really interesting. But in the meantime, thank you so much for starting off our new year.
Gail: Thank you.
Manda: And there we go. That’s it for another week. So much thanks to Gail for her courage, her audacity, her intellect, the depth of her feeling and her thinking. And by the time you listen to this, she will have been in court for one of the charges. Another is up in July. And if you want to support her, she does have a signal network and I will put a link in the show notes, together with as many of the things that she mentioned as I can find. And that apart, finding what each of us can do in service to life, does seem to me to be absolutely what this year is for. So if there’s any way that we can help you, please do let me know. We will bring as many of the people who are doing this as we can to the podcast. And within the Accidental Gods membership we have the intention intensives, which are running one Sunday a month for the whole year, and you can drop into these. I’m hoping that we get a core group of people who will work together at depth through the year. Because I do think this takes depth. But I also recognise that not everybody can turn up at seven till nine on a Sunday evening once a month for the whole year.
Manda: So if you can’t make it to the first one, please come along anyway to some of the others. I genuinely believe that the capacity to set clean, clear intentions and to hold them and hone them, is part of what we can offer in service to life. So if that makes sense to you. Then come along. You will find us as ever at accidentalgods.life.
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