Episode #22 Activism in service to the earth: a conversation with Gail Bradbrook of Extinction Rebellion
Dr Gail Bradbrook has a PhD in molecular biophysics. She was founder of a program called ‘StreetSchool Economics’. She’s a visionary, social and spiritual activist – and, of course, she’s best known as one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion. Gail also has a deeply held spiritual path that underpins the values of all her work – being in service to the earth in the best way she can guides everything she does.
In this podcast, she talks about those values, about the moments when she prayed for help – and was answered – and about the vision that drives the latest dreams of how we move away from the corruption of the current system to the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
We explore the spirit of activism that underpins her work – and look forward to future Rebellions held in the trickster spirit of Fox and Crow.
My guest today is Dr. Gail Bradbrook. Gail has a PhD in molecular biophysics. She was founder of a program called Street School Economics. She’s a visionary, a social and spiritual activist, and of course, he’s best known as one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion.
I met Gail late last year when we both taught on a Spirit of Activism course at Embercombe in Devon. It was genuinely extraordinary to be able to sit in ceremony and in circle with someone for whom I have so much respect. Gail seems to be one of those rare people who embodies the needs of our time. She understands energy and the flow spirit. But she’s also deeply embedded in the political realities of the times we live in, the gritty, grimy realities and the possibilities. Her integrity, her deep sense of humility and above all, her capacity for absolutely shining intellectual thought is incredibly inspiring. We talked for a long time in great depth. People of the podcast, please welcome Dr. Gail Bradbrook.
Manda: [00:02:09.14] So, Gail Bradbrook, so much welcome to Accidental Gods. It’s a privilege and an honor and a delight to be speaking to you. So how is lockdown for you? I’m thinking you’re in Stroud. Is that right?
Gail Bradbrook: [00:02:21.47] That’s correct. And thank you, Manda. It’s wonderful to be here. I’m enjoying lock lockdown. It feels odd to say that in the sense of knowing how much other people are struggling with it and that people are dying – and dying unnecessarily. But from my own personal perspective, I’m very much enjoying that, to be honest.
Manda: [00:02:43.24] I haven’t spoken to anybody yet who isn’t. But then we live in small market towns or the rural communities that border small market towns. We’re not on the tenth floor of a high rise with an abusive partner and six children.
So given that and given that we are in lockdown and that we all understand the horror and the pain and the unnecessary death, it still seems to many of us – and I spoke to Rupert Read right at the beginning of the season – that this is a moment of potential, a turning point where if we choose to, we could walk away from the way that the entire system has been, the economics, the social structures, what we used to call the social agreements.
So what I’d like to do as a as a springboard for the potential of this moment is to very briefly look back at Extinction Rebellion, and particularly at the last year. And it seems to me that you shifted what we might call the Overton Window of climate awareness, a long, long way towards the green end, the aware end as opposed to the red, unaware end and that for whatever Extinction Rebellion does in the future that was an astonishing feat. And I wondered if you could synthesize for us how you saw that from the inside as a systemic process.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:04:11.0] Well, obviously, first to say that we weren’t the only people taking action. You have the Sunrise Movement in the States. You have the work of Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future. There were significant reports out from the IPCC and specific scientific papers being reported on. Mark Carney made an intervention. Sir David Attenborough’s film took place. So it was in in a context. So, we want to keep the humility around our intervention. And you can see graphs where you can see the April rebellion and the spike from YouGov, as in a spike of people saying ‘Climate really matters’.
There was a big shift. So I suppose we were working with a few different aspects. One is sacrifice and disruption – the twin paths, if you like, of civil disobedience that are both the willingness to disrupt normal life, and that’s what that means. And it’s common for people to say, ‘Please don’t be disruptive, just do a protest. Why don’t you just do a protest? And the obvious answer is it doesn’t work. I’m sorry. People are doing that and it’s not being listened to.
But it’s also the sacrifice. You know, it’s watch in 90 year old women being carried off by police officers from Waterloo Bridge. It says something to the world. It’s watching. Doctors, for XR, and lawyers and writers for XR and others coming together and saying, ‘Something has to Change’. Then the other big piece was the welcoming in of feeling and emotion that so many of us have watched this thing in horror and numbness, in despair and to name all of those things and the grief that needs to be felt and the despair that needs to be felt – this is a process. It’s not an intellectual exercise as much as, of course, there is science to understand.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:06:10.22] And then there was the piece around mass mobilization. There’s techniques that have been worked out and we used them.
So it was it was an incredible feeling. I’m sitting in the room now where we decided to try and start a rebellion. And several of us have been working on that path for some time. But to go from that decision and to say the first thing I want to do is shift that Overton Window and to watch that happen did feel quite miraculous.
Manda: [00:06:42.71] I didn’t get to the April Rebellion. I watched it with awe and joy having joined up. I think pretty much at the moment when XR arrived on my screen back in the previous October, I was enthused and thought it looked really interesting. And then April happened, seemingly out of the blue and I had friends who were there and they came back absolutely glowing.
And it felt like it was an outpouring of love and relief that things were happening. We started up a group in our tiny little market town. And 70 people turned up. We had to find a different room because there were so many people who were so grateful that there was something that they felt they could do. Having exactly as you said, spent years writing letters to their MPs or going on marches and achieving absolutely nothing except becoming more frustrated, more upset, more locked into sympathetic structures.
I’m still remembering my conversation last week with Sarah about Poly-vagal theory. And then October came around and our tiny little town sent I think there were 33 of us or so, and there were a couple of hundred in the background supporting. And I’m guessing that was replicated all around the world. And I think it felt different than I was expecting. And the people who had been to both said it felt different and it felt much more like we were entering a slightly surreal war zone. And I’m wondering if you felt a difference or whether really deep on the inside it felt the same?
Gail Bradbrook: [00:08:10.54] No, it was absolutely different. April felt like a real honeymoon period and the sun was shining and we got away with so much. It was just an incredible feeling to watch, the Pink Boat arrive in Oxford Circus to see kitchens set up in Marble Arch in the middle of the road. People sitting around making music. The Red Rebels making their appearance – and just the creativity, the coming together, the sense of community.
Each side had its own flavor, but there was a clear sense of the future of our longings in many ways. There’s always difficulties and so on. But, April was incredible.
And social movements are attacked. That’s the point. They’re a threat. So first they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win. And then they say it was their idea all along, maybe.
But October was different. It was raining. We were heading into the winter. There’d been conflicts within XR with successes – not a bad thing, but people’s feelings and pressures were evident.
So it was a different time. And obviously the police response was very different. It was about making sure that we didn’t have our equipment. And that was especially an outrage – one of the duties of the police is to uphold the right to protest. And they made it especially difficult for our disabled rebels – taking away disabled toilets and so on.
And I felt, with the water all around us, here was something about a need to find a resilience, a need to deepen. It was harder on us. There’s many ways of looking at it. I think we need to know that something is possible. And that was April. And then for me, there’s been this question that’s been asked which goes, are you are you really ready for the change?
In fact, I worked with the grandmother Ayahuasca before the March Rebellion, and it was a really, really, really hard journey. Incredible. And I was repeatedly asked the question, ‘Have you had enough yet?’ It was about this. Right. Industrial society and its current format.
And it wasn’t a question to me. It was a question to humanity. My body was writhing, I was, vomiting. I was all over the place. If anybody’s ever worked with the grandmother in that way when she’s giving you a real pasting. And I didn’t feel like me… But have you had enough yet? Have you had enough yet?. And then I’m only speaking from my own feeling of it, but October was about our having to find our resilience. And the autumn was tough.
And not long after that October Rebellion, you had the election launched and attempting in some ways to be a Rebellion that’s also meeting the electoral process was tricky. We had people on hunger strike. I don’t feel like they got the coverage that was really appropriate.
Manda: [00:11:35.17] But neither did the October rebellion.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:11:37.39] Well, actually, it had five times the coverage of the April rebellion.
Manda: [00:11:42.15] Really? I was part of the group that sat outside the BBC while they studiously ignored that it was happening. And I am not a great fan of the BBC at the best of times, but my goodness, I was cross.
And then I remember the death march on the Middle Saturday, which was so creative. I was completely blown away by the astonishing creativity and the amount of work that people had poured into that. And it got, I don’t know, 30,000 people, almost no coverage.
The weekend after it was the the idiot Brexit March where all the way along, I was thinking. ‘Sit down, guys. Just sit down. You’ve had a model. Just sit down’. And no, they had to march and all of the media were covering every pace of that utterly pointless expression of futility. And it seemed that the contrast between that was was huge. But if you say it’s five times, I’m sure it’s been measured.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:12:42.58] But bear in mind, quite a lot of the coverage came after the Canning Tube incident when there was violence and aggression between protesters and the ordinary folks in the tube.. And that kind of shows you the difficulties within a movement. So we work with something we call ‘Pressure Building Actions’.
It’s the idea that you have to sort of escalate the impacts of what you’re doing – and how to do that in a way that meets a need to hold a vision that change is possible.
So there was a moment when I think I was supposed to go on the show that Phillip Schofield does with James Brown, that incredible Paralympian who climbed on top of an aeroplane despite being afraid of heights.
Partly, I ended up in jail, in the cells for a day because I’d broken a window at the Department for Transport. But they also kept bumping us and Sarah ended up on on that conversation after the Canning Tube incident. They were saying ‘How dare you? This is outrageous. Why would you do this?’ And she said, ‘Look, you keep bumping as now you’ve got us on.’.
I had a message from David Shukman from the BBC saying, ‘We want to dialogue and conversation.’ So, you know, it’s really, really tricky. The media soon gets fatigued. They want the new story. They’re following the political narrative.
From my perspective, the way to keep the publicity off is to be disruptive. But it’s to do it in a way that makes sense and does hold a vision. And it’s not easy to figure that out. And I do personally feel like Canning Tube was a mistake. But I understood the people that did it, why they did it and what their intention was.
Manda: [00:14:31.39] And it was seems to me that’s also part of having a decision making process that I witnessed happening where people could come together and create decisions that were non-hierarchical. And one of the most astonishing things for me of being on Trafalgar Square for that first week was the way a number of thousand people in total uncertainty can nonetheless create fluid and flowing decision making nexuses that work.
When everybody came from broadly the same place with broadly the same ideals and broadly the same aims, there was an ability to achieve consensus because everybody was wanting a similar outcome. And I was so appreciative that this was being modelled – that we could see that that could happen. And it seems to me that part of a big part of what XR has been doing is modelling alternative ways of being, and that this must have come from the DNA that was built into it right in our start.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:15:37.26] Yes, I often say that. I think how we rebel is as important, if not more important than the Rebellion itself. Because, perhaps speaking to Morphic Resonance or something, we are trying to be the change that we need to see in the world. And there’s something about practicing our own power and our own togetherness in our own agency that’s really important through things like people’s assemblies. They can be super, super powerful experiences. And I often feel like there’s not a great deal of point in debating, you know, how the world ought to be or should be or whatever when we could find out we what are we actually capable of? What are we made of right now? What can we bring forwards? What can we do?
But there’s a couple of other things to say from what you said. Firstly, it’s not correct to say that XR’s nonhierarchical. There are two ways that are generally thought about in the world around decision making. One is the whole top down, very specific hierarchy. And the good thing about that is that somebody gets to decide. And the bad thing about it is that it just won’t have all the information to hand, you know, one or two or small senior management team
Manda: [00:16:57.41] And they might be Boris Johnson
Gail Bradbrook: [00:17:03.24] And then this consensus decision making, which is quite often the idea of the progressive left. And it’s the idea of everybody having a say in trying to reach consensus. And that’s great in that it’s inclusive. And may make more space for the hive mind. But one of the problems is that it can be very slow and it can water down a good decision to a more kind of liberal perspective, and XR needs to keep its radical edge. And it can not actually make the distinction between people who’ve done the deeper thinking about a such situation or have expertise in it.
So what XR attempts to do is organize in what’s called a decentralized way. And I spoke to one of the experts in the world on that recently: Frederic Laloux. And he was saying, that we’re on the leading edge in terms of trying to think about decentralized organizing. There’s so much about that that we were struggling with because it’s not an organization of scale X. What you have is a network that’s gone both global and local. So how you organize in that way is really, really tricky.
Manda: [00:18:15.3] And then you have something else you wanted to say?
Gail Bradbrook: [00:18:16.88] I also have a story about People’s Assemblies as well, which relates to the Pink Boat, if you’d like to hear that.
So there was a particular situation that happened in April. The Pink Boat was just this incredible thing – to be honest, I didn’t know it was going to happen. At that stage, I was in charge of the finances in the UK and my focus was absolutely on getting the right money to the right the people. And you often get money after you started Rebellion, when you need it in advance (I’m talking about Rebellion on the streets).
So this Pink Boat arrived and I was like, ‘Ooh, my goodness, we’ve put a vagina in the middle of Oxford Circus!’. It had a real brilliant energy. I don’t know if listeners when people were putting soil on the ground in Oxford Circus and people were dancing and it was ecstatic at times. It really was magical. I have magical stories to tell about that and I’m reining myself in because I could go off at many tangents
Manda: [00:19:31.0] No – don’t! Our podcast is about magic. Tell us the magic.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:20:03.58] So I had to sort of relatively free floating role in the April Rebellion. I was on a particular decision-making group and I was doing quite a lot of the media. So other people were very attached to specific sites because they were holding that space and so on. So, I had the glory of walking around in the sunshine and just watching this thing unfold. It was one of the best times of my life, if not the best.
So I got to the Pink Boat one time and I’d just been on Good Morning Britain. And it was the first time I’d done live TV. And I can tell you it terrifies me. I do a lot of praying beforehand to be grounded in the earth, to reach my branches to the sky. And also just generally asking for help to get it rightow. And on that Good Morning Britain interview, you can see there was a former police officer. And I had asked him in the Green Room if it was okay to to touch him, that I can get quite tactile and he said, yes. So it was kind of a cute interview!
And it was sort of it was sort of daft because the guy who interviewed me called Sir David Attenborough something like a minor broadcaster. And I was relieved that it went okay. And then I’m coming back into the Rebellion and thinking, ‘Okay, I can relax’. And I got a phone call to say, ‘Would you be on the Today programme with Nick Robinson?’ Which I don’t think I can give you the sense of terror that gave me. But also I’m here in service if that’s what’s necessary. If I’m the right person, I will do it, of course.
So anyway, I walk to the Pink Boat and I bumped into somebody accidentally, who I happen to have been in ceremony with – who is of the landed gentry – an establishment type of person.
Manda: [00:21:54.81] We need to be clear for the listeners, these are spiritual ceremonies.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:21:56.66] Yes, deep, deep medicine based ceremonies. He’s a rainforest defender. To give this context, I have been in ceremony with people from the Bullingdon Club – so anyway, I got to the Pink Boat and met him and he asked ‘How you doing, Gail?’ And I said, ‘I’m great. I’ve just done this interview. I think it went well, but I’m shitting myself. I’ve got to do the Today programme’. He said, ‘Don’t worry. I know John Humphreys. I’ll put in a good word for you!’
And then just immediately after that Daiara from the Tukano indigenous tribe in the Amazon spoke from the Pink Boat in a way that was absolutely incredible – saying ‘If you’re alive at this moment in history, you are here to do a job’. And it was beautiful. I referred to it in the in the Extinction Rebellion book (“This is not a Drill”). It was a very moving piece. Just magic.
So anyway, I had to go into the Today Program and yet again, I was praying beforehand. ‘Please have this go well’. And again, you can see bits of that interview. And I didn’t intend to be, but I cheekily rebutted Nick Robinson.
But what was interesting, was that I walked into that studio, and I said, ‘Please be nice to me. I didn’t go to Eton.’ And the point I’m trying to make is that I’m an ordinary working class woman – my dad was a coal miner – and I haven’t been trained in those ‘edge of bullying’ interviews.
So then Nick Robinson’s in the studio, but also John Humphreys who says, ‘Oh, my friend phoned up and said, “Be nice to her”.’ And Nick Robinson said, ‘Well, I’m never nice to anybody’.
But in the context of the interview, the job of Nick Robinson is to give me a hard time. And yet his body language was entirely different – incongruent. He kept giving me the perfect sign, the thumbs up, encouraging me. So he comes across as if he’s given me this horrible time. And it would put my body into absolute rigid fear. However, his body language was encouraging.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:23:57.11] And I don’t know his personal perspective is, but it’s the way to get something out of a person. Ask them challenging questions, but put their body at ease. Anyway, the interview, you know as well as it could. And the editor said, ‘Oh, well done. I think you did a good job. My daughter’s on the streets wiht you!’ And I gave her a badge.
I don’t want to make out that the Today Programme is really corrupt and behind XR because they’ve definitely given us a hard time, but I certainly thought, ‘I’m in the old boys network at last!’ But what magic. What magic support.
But anyway, that wasn’t the pink boat story. There’s another pink boat story which is in the magical realms where there’s a sense of support. And not everybody in XR sees things in these ways – we need to say that – but I can tell this story here.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:25:26.51] So we have this situation whereby the Pink Boat had been there for several days and had already become iconic. That particular boat is still impounded by the police. But there are similar boats are museums and deals with museums – there are all kinds of htings happening around this boat now. Anyway, the boat had finally been taken by the police. They’d got the lock-on people off and it had been surrounded.
I was back in the office and we were getting phone calls saying, ‘You’ve got to come and help with the Pink Boat’. This goes back to the conversation about hierarchies. Just to finish the point about hierarchies, the point is that people get to be in charge. So somebody was in charge of the Pink Boat situation, a small group. They’re the decision makers, not everybody. Those. And they may take feedback and advice from other people. So they’re the decision makers, not me, not anybody else.
Even so they’re phoning those up, saying ‘Please come and help. And I would say ‘Well, it’s up to the guys on the ground.’ And then the phone calls came again, ‘It’s getting really hairy. Please come.’ And in the end, we got the message and ‘Someone known to the Youth Movement needs to come’.
So Roger (Hallam) and I leapt on our bikes and pedalled down there. Before we went, I looked around to try and find a loudhailer because I understood there were a couple of hundred people there and I”d need to be able to be heard. But no, all the batteries were flat. And I found a green plastic horn. And I stuck that in my money belt and got on the bike and we got there. And it was heavy. The atmosphere was shifting. And I’m thinking, ‘Goodness me, this could be the end of things if this turns violent.’ One guy had tried to leap on the boat. He’d had his head shoved to the ground and there was a police officer with his knee on his head. There was two to three hundred of our Rebels there. The energy was starting to feel a little bit more mob-like, somebody had glued themselves in front of the Boat. It was feeling like this desperate hanging onto the Boat.
And I would say, there were about twelve hundred police there, because they would have at least three for every rebel. It was potentially going to be a meltdown situation. And the police don’t want that. In general, I would say that they don’t want that. And I got there with from Roger, who said to me, ‘Gail, I’ll handle the police. You handle the folks.’
And was stood in front of this group and I had two really strong thoughts. One was ‘This is an absolutely significant moment. How this goes going to matter to the rest of the Rebellion.’ And ‘It’s entirely down to me to sort it out. And I don’t know what to do.’
I took this greenhorn and I blew it three times and got everybody to sit down. And I just felt there was a download – as if something came in support… It’s not me, you understand…
Manda: [00:28:37.82] I know. I know. But you’ve done work that allows that to happen. I think that’s a really important thing. I don’t mean to interrupt your story, but you have done enough personal work, that when whatever it is that creates the downloads need to download, you are there to take it. And that’s huge, actually. And I just would like those listening really to know that, first of all, it’s possible – everybody can get there, but you do have to have done the work – and you’ve done.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:29:03.89] I think for me with a practice, it’s a prayerful invitation to be a vessel. I think that my hesitance is that there’s such a pull around celebrity and there’s a pull around messianic nonsense.
Manda: [00:29:20.69] Particularly when we’re dealing with sacrifice yourself. The whole of our culture is attuned to that. And you’re right, it’s a big gap that we don’t want to fall into.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:29:35.12] And the wounds around wanting to be loved. There’s a path to be trodden here. I take care where I can see the danger. You can’t always see. So anyway this download happened. And essentially what I did was to say to people, ‘Well, let’s talk about how we’re feeling.’ We ran a People’s Assembly spontaneously.
What occurred to me was that we were hanging onto the Boat in a way that had become a symbol. And that part of our maturity as a movement was to know when to let things go. And that’s what we have to learn how to do. But it went on for about an hour and a half – the People’s Assembly deciding whether to let the Boat go and honoring the people that didn’t want to let it go. The majority did and so we created a beautiful way to let it go. So my colleague April said, ‘Let’s sing this song. And somebody asked if it was cultural appropriation? And, no, it was a mourning song from the Isle of Skye. And she’s of Scottish Scottish heritage. So it was beautiful. And so eventually we made an agreement to serenade the boat and walk it to somewhere with the police’s agreement – and we let it go.
And it was incredible. And as it left, there were then twelve hundred police that came through afterwards. It was like a mad carnival. And somebody had already leaned in and whispered to me, ‘Gail, there are more boats!” Which is the point – there are always more boats. And then we dispersed. And immediately I got a phone call saying ‘We’ve retaken Oxford Circus. And we’ve all got these signs saying ‘We are the Boat!’.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:31:22.82] And this is the thing is that if we can believe in feeling our togetherness. We have such power, we have such power. And it’s so fragile, that togetherness. And I work with XR still, and I wondered how this podcast would go, because so much of what I do is just working in tensions and conflicts and upsets and misinformation and humanity at its most beautiful and its worst at times.
There is so much stuff coming up. That story makes makes me weep, and I watched it happen – bits of that were live on Facebook and the extraordinary visual effects of the Pink Boat and the police in all their yellow jackets was astonishing.
Manda: [00:32:10.07] There are places I want to go shortly. But just what arises for me is that I often end up thinking about how this impacts the police Partly because I have close friends who have children in the police. I have a particularly close friend who has two children, one in the Met and one in the City Police. And so I hear their view from the inside. And these are people who are very committed to a different world. And then they have to manage that existence. And I’m thinking, twelve hundred police stood and watched a People’s Assembly happen and they cannot not have been touched by the energy of that.
And I remember watching in Trafalgar Square a young policeman, in tears because he was having to arrest someone in the end he had to turn away and let his older colleagues do it because he he couldn’t arrest this young girl. And then and it has always seemed to me that the point when the police sit down and join us is the point when a very big threshold has been crossed.
I saw something on Facebook yesterday to the effect that the Bulgarian police had sat down with protesters. And I don’t even know what they were protesting, but it happened in Thailand. It happened in Paris, in the student revolts. At the point when the police say, ‘You’re right’ and sit down with us, then the world changes overnight.
So I wondered whether you had any sense that amongst the police there were some on the edge. There was there are clearly the ones who want to fight. They are clearly the ones who would support whatever they were told to do. But there have to be others for whom there are limits.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:33:49.68] It’s a big topic, the relationship between the environmental movement and the police. But I forgot to say that at the end, as 1200 police went through in their various vans and the crowd was spontaneously chanting, ‘Police, we love you. It’s for your children, too.’
And on the one hand, I love that chant, in the sense of in its intention to say ‘We’re all together, we’re all human beings.’ And yet it’s a very problematic chant, which we can speak to in a minute.
But there are police officers, former police officers who speak on behalf of Extinction Rebellion. And that’s very powerful in and of itself. I think Bob Stevens is one of them. We’ve got some great spokespeople. I have a friend who’s quite high up in the legal system, who speaks to senior people in the police profession. And they said that to police the October rebellion, they had to bring a lot of people in from outside. I remember one guy saying, ‘I’m a carrot muncher from Devon!.’ And it’s the point at which you can overwhelm the state. And that’s part of the intention. When they’re having to bring people in. Now, what I can share anecdotally at least, was that police didn’t want to go. They didn’t want to police XR.
And I’ve had this from bankers as well. They sit at home around the dinner table where their children are asking ‘What are you doing, Dad? or Mum?’ And they didn’t want to go and lots of them weren’t going to. They had to do it through compulsion, not not normally people would be up for the overtime and all the rest of it. They didn’t want to go. They had to be forced.
But in terms of that chant and the wider thing with the police,there was a really brilliant podcast last night (14th May) – it should be on Extinction Rebellion’s YouTube channel – with Ian Haney Lopez who’s an academic from the States and Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper – so two mixed race guys talking about racial politics of the environmental movement with, with Roger Hallam.
And the absolute fact of the matter is that there is and has been institutional racism in the police. And when some people of colour, some racially marginalised people, watch a bunch of white folks having a bit of a love-in with a police, it’s sore. This is my understanding. I’m not speaking on anyone else’s behalf, but the effect is ‘Do you not see what they do to us? Do you not care?’.
And I tried to redesign that chant, which went something like, When you stand for injustice, we can’t stand with you. But still we love you and we do this for your children.’ I don’t know if that would still work for anybody to hear a chant said in that way, but it’s somehow saying we know what else happens here.
Manda: [00:36:52.58] And Tom Compton, all of the work of the Common Cause Foundation – of the Intrinsic and Extrinsic value systems, and if you speak to people’s Intrinsic value systems, they rise and the Extrinsic values that stimulate them fall. And I think that’s exactly what Ian is saying. And in the end, we are humanity. And we have to find our common humanity.
And so what’s arising a lot and I’m not sure I want to go here, but I just want to say it because it’s at the forefront of my head is that Boris Johnson’s father spoke in October. And you talked about children’s impact on their parents. And I am working at the moment on a television script with a number of people because again, if we can’t create the roadmap of where we’re going to, then we can’t get there. And part of what we’re building in is the understanding that the younger generations or the different generations… Now, I do want to go here. So what would be really interesting is that you said you’ve spoken to been in ceremony with people from the Bullingdon Club. And there is a sense of there being a hierarchy that is deliberately aiming towards the maximal increase of the neoliberal model, which is an extractive destructionist model. You put it very nicely. I can’t remember patriarchal wounds of separation.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:38:20.17] Scarcity, separation and powerlessness is the wound underneath it all
Manda: [00:38:22.96] Brilliant. And it seems to me that there are people who wish there to be scarcity, separation and powerlessness because for them that means gaining power. And I can get quite paranoid about the sense that there is collusion amongst that very thin layer of our current structural hierarchy. And yet Boris Johnson’s father spoke in Trafalgar Square in October. I’m not sure he was received particularly well because his answer was let the market be more free and it will sort everything. But he was still there. He had an XR badge on. It would have been hard to declare us all terrorists while he was doing that.
And you have spoken very movingly the on occasion – including just now – about the children of bankers. They go home and their kids are going, ‘Dad, you’re destroying the planet.’ And so it seems to me that the generations, either side of the generally white, gnerally men – who have had the empathy beaten out of them quite young and whose internal terrors leave them seeking to create the scarcity, separation and powerlessness in everybody else… that they are amenable to conversation from either end of the generational spread.
And that, therefore it feels to me like there’s a kind of a Berlin Wall moment that we may be heading to and that the coronavirus may be bringing us to, where we all thought it was going to be there for the rest of our lives. And yet, when it began to crumble metaphorically – and really – it went down incredibly fast. And that this layer of let’s call it the ‘Bullingdon tendency’ is thin and fragile and that there must be ways to change it. I’m having a vision of this white wall with green vines and hawthorn trees and brambles just weaving through it until it’s not there – quite fast. Does that feel like something because you’re talking to these people? Does that feel possible?
Gail Bradbrook: [00:40:35.14] There’s a very beautiful Boris story that I’ll tell, which is truly, truly magical. But yeah just to answer your directly, your question, I guess this thing could go really quickly. I used to work with Harvey Jackins, who started Re-evaluation Co-counseling and one way he said is that it’s like a wooden block – an unhelpful block – that has been nibbled away by woodworm, but it still looks intact. But one moment you can tap it and it’s going to turn to dust. You know, it’s done with.
I did once have a bit of a download in a in a ceremony about that Powerplay piece. And it was around George Osborne. I just kept seeing this little boy in absolute despair. And you think about what we do to our upper classes with the so-called public schools. You literally take them away age seven from their families and put them in this bullying environment. And I’ve experienced despair in its depths twice. It’s a hard place to be – it’s like a vacuum. It needs something to fill it. And what happened in both times, to me, thank goodness, was that love came back in. Because you’re very present with despair. It’s not like a kind of vague numbness or vague depression. You’re here and it’s horrendous – you’re fully present.
But there’s no love. That’s my definition of despair. And I could feel that feeling powerful would would be a replacement that you could live with when the love is not there. And that’s what I think might happen to some of our upper class people. We need to get them back and and help them to heal. That’s part of the journey, isn’t it?
Gail Bradbrook: [00:42:29.73] But there were some wonderful XR folks led by Tori Lou that were walking the Mary Michael Lines and their intention ws bringing love to power . And their story was that they were delayed many times on their journey and they were two hours late to get to Checquers and they were delayed by the toddlers that needed feeding or the mothers had to sit and breastfeed or some other bit of chaos. So they got there much later than they had planned. A couple of them walked into the farm shop and Boris was there. And they’d been singing a song ‘Listen to your heart, let love lead the way.’ And so they just spontaneously sang to him, ‘Listen to your heart. Let love lead the way.’ And he fell into silence. He put his hand on his heart. And at some point started to become quite emotional. And then he was heard, saying to his girlfriend. ‘Who are these people? It’s like they just emerged from the earth.’.
“Listen to your heart. Let love lead the way.” That’s what he said. And of coursehe’s gone on to do horrendous things. On the one hand posing in front of David Attenborough talking about restoring nature and then next minute give HS2 the go ahead to smash through our woodlands. I’m not celebrating the guy, but that possibility of redemption is a possibility. There’s still a person there.
Manda: [00:44:04.35] And we could set the intent to reach them. I interviewed Daniel Thorson, who lives at the Monastic Academy for the Preservation of Life on Earth, which is a Buddhist monastery in Vermont. And their stated intent that they really are working on an energetic and spiritual levels is to bring wisdom to those with power, and power to those with wisdom.’ Which if we could all work towards that, one would imagine the world would be transformed.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:44:31.91] I think Daniel was one of the core people in the Occupy movement, if I remember rightly. And he gave us some really good advice at the start, which was, with the power that a social movement gives, to take care with it. Because Occupy wanted to share that power really quickly. And I handed it over and it collapsed really quickly.But it’s this power with peace that you want to bring forward, but doing it with care and attention. It was a useful piece of advice.
But that’s slightly tangential. To go back to your point about the crumbling wall. I’m reading the Story of Be. I didn’t massively enjoy it. To me, it feels like it’s quite long winded. Others may enjoy it. But I’m certainly finding value and it’s essentially a philosophy talking about the New-Old story as Charles Eisenstein would call it. Talking about totalitarian agriculture when it emerged and what it’s done to us in terms of drive in unsustainable ways of living.
But what happens when you have dense populations together and they hit famine, then they get into their wounds? And other wars arise out of all of that.
That story is about domination, about extractivism that we can take, take, take, and that our role here is to to dominate nature and how that talks about then dominating the feminine, etc.. I’m sure people know this, But it’s then the new-old story, as one beautiful guy, Victor puts it, that we’re a body in the body of life, that life is sacred and that we are in this relationship, and then it speaks then to the what what vision do you hold with all that we know? Because that is obviously indigenous wisdom. And so it’s not as if humanity stopped having that wisdom. It’s just that our culture stopped having that wisdom and that wisdom still exists.
Manda: [00:46:44.27] And then if we can reconnect with that wisdom, it changes where we’re heading. So I don’t want to take up a huge amount more of your time. But one of the things we haven’t discussed and I know it’s one of the things that you’re very good at discussing is economics.
I did the Masters in Sustainable Economics at Schumacher, and as part of it, I wanted to write a term paper on what would shamanic economics look like. And I got to the very end of nearly having to write up. And I was doing the ceremonial work and I was told, you’re asking the wrong question. Which was a bit distressing given that I had two days to hand in.
And the question I should have been asking is, ‘What are we here for?’ Because you cannot design an economic system until you know what it’s doing. Part of the problem is we’ve defaulted to an economic system that is empowering the people who hold the reins of power. And what it does very, very well is to shovel value uphill to the few from the money. And if we’re going to live a different way on the other side of this pandemic, we need to find new reasons why our economy might flourish. And you’ve thought a lot about this. You used to hold the Barefoot Economic forums and talk to people. If you were to restructure our economy, what would it be for and where would it be heading?
Gail Bradbrook: [00:48:21.13] Exactly. And I think you’re right, it is founded in that question of what are we actually here for. By the way, the work I’ve done in the past was called Street School Economics, just to honour whoever did Barefoot Economics.
I think a simple way of saying it is that if an economy is to maximize well-being and minimize harm, it’s gonna be a much better signpost for us. I think the deeper piece is around purpose. And that’s why Frederick Laloux’s work on reinventing organizations is so exciting to me. You can see the emergence of businesses that are really in purpose, not just talking about it to pose or Greenwash or the rest of it.
So in his work, there’s an organization called Buurtzorg who are so in their purpose – which is around independent living for older people – that they get 80 percent the market share because they’re brilliant or what they do. The chief exec goes to their competitors and says, ‘I’ll teach you how to be like us so you can get more market share. For free.’ Because they’re so behind their purpose.
And I think that to me, the deeper piece here feels like the dance of consciousness on Earth- this beautiful place. And for us to have had this journey of separation, which came from eating from the fruit of knowledge – we got to know things. We got to separate. Charles Eisenstein is a brilliant writer in terms of both talking about that journey of separation through his incredible piece of work, ‘The Ascent of Humanity.’ And he does talk about sacred economics, about an economic system that would be in service to life. And I think there’s just something about that way. We can dance with nature – that agro-ecology is talking about.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:50:19.25] I think I heard you say you’re reading about regenerative agriculture. I’ve just read Isabella Tree’s, about Knepp Farm. I shed many tears reading that book about how much nature can heal. I have a background in science. The first rule, as I understand, of science is to observe. This is the rule of permaculture, too. It’s not to get in there and try and do something. It’s to observe, to watch, to watch, to watch – with minimum interventions. ‘Maybe if we do a little thing here, what happens?’ Observe. ‘Maybe if we bring Long-horned Cattle back on the land, what would that do?’ It’s a beautiful story.
Manda: [00:51:02.57] And so I’m just I’m wondering, can we rewild our economy? Because one of the things that we always talked about, a college back in 2017, which feels like an aeon ago – was how do we create the soft landing? This idea that the fossil fuel economy, – the extractive economy – was a Boeing 747 in full flight across the Atlantic, and somehow you have to get it to land in a way that isn’t just falling out of the sky. Because falling out of the sky is going to render very large numbers of people destitute. And you can’t do that. You don’t want to. And you mustn’t. And yet why exactly coronavirus is causing that Boeing 747 to land.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:51:42.05] It’s magic, isn’t it?
Manda: [00:51:43.04] And so where do we go forward? I hate to say this, but it feels as if we are being offered an opportunity. It is serious enough that we are taking it very seriously. Everything else that was serious, we have largely ignored. We are having to take this seriously. And so are you speaking to anybody who is actively producing roadmaps of how we can go forward from here in a way that isn’t back to business as usual?
Gail Bradbrook: [00:52:14.46] Yes. XR did an interview with Paul Mason and Ann Pettifor and Molly Scott-Cato and Molly used that analogy of an airplane. She said that the thing with changing economy, it’s like an aeroplane mid-flight. You want to turn it into a helicopter. And this corona virus has gentled us into some stillness.
Of course, you know, Amazon share price has rocketed, as has Zoom and others. It’s not finished. But it is a moment of quiet, where we didn’t get a choice, really. And I think both of us are feeling super cautious to not want to use words like opportunity in the face of people dying. But it does feel like one of the most gentle ways that nature could have intervened with us because a virus does come and go, whereas antibiotic resistance is a tipping point. It’s a war.
In terms of roadmaps, one of things Paul Mason said there was, ‘This is not like the financial crisis when the roof fell in. This is like the foundations being pulled out because so many people are not able to work.’ And so I can’t imagine it’s anything other than a deep depression that we’ve we’ve gone into. And so there will attempt to be a pathway out of this, both from the old story and from the new story. Roadmaps abound. There were Dutch economists that gave a kind of six point map. Jason Hickel tweeted about that. There’s Project Drawdown that’s got loads of good signposts. The New Economics Foundation talks about the Great Transition. You’ve got the work of The Rapid Transition Alliance. We’re not lacking ideas. Change has to happen on many, many levels. We have to tackle the corruption within this economic system.
I used to be the chair of the governing body of the Tax Justice Network, which was a great honour, they’re an incredible movement and organization. People know about tax dodging, but the extent to which that’s organized from the U.K. and Crown dependencies is not often known. We are the number one organizers of that corrupt economy. It’s that has to go.
Manda: [00:54:55.86] If we even taxed Amazon as it could legally be taxed, we could furlough everybody for the rest of their lives. All right. Let’s not. I could get quite tetchy about that. I’ve been invited to take part in something called Humanity Rising, which has arisen in the last months and has huge reach.
One of the things I’m afraid of is that there are huge numbers of disparate people all trying to reinvent this wheel and actually what we need to do is bring everybody together to reinvent the wheel. Because I read something by Bernard Jenkin, who is not the most right wing of the Tory party anymore – he was once – of how he thinks we need to restructure the economy to move forward. And it was quite scary in terms of its libertarian free market principles.
And we know that Hayek and the others that the Montpelier Society did sit down and work out how their ideal structure would move forward. And they’ve spent quite a lot of time honing that concept. And there is a counterweight on the right that knows what it wants and how it thinks it’s going to get it. And that we on the environmentally aware other wing (I hate left and right and I don’t really want to use them), but whatever we call it the progressive side has quite a lot of underlying principles and not a lot of unified ideas yet. And it may be that we resist unified ideas because they lead to hierarchical structures. But that it would be good to have some sense of a unified roadmap to move forward in the next six months.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:56:44.11] I don’t think that’s the most important thing, although I would totally welcome it. And you’re right about the the extreme libertarian right. Naomi Klein talks about the Shock Doctrine. And it’s always seen as an opportunity. Milton Friedman talked about that. Milton Friedman also said that the great virtue of a market capitalist society is that by preventing a concentration of power, it prevents people from doing the kind of harm which really concentrated power can do.
Baked withnin the ideals of the neoliberal philosophy is this idea that what they’re trying to keep people safe from the harm of a state gone wrong – Nazi Germany being the obvious case in point. The reason why I say it’s not about the what we do instead, as much as it’s important to hold a vision – those ideas are there and you have political processes for bringing them together and so on.
The issue is political power and it remains political power, in my opinion. And so I think we mustn’t at this time let go of our rebellious spirit. If we want a different economy. We need to rebel on behalf of that new economy, which is the work I’m doing at the minute – called Money Rebellion.
What I’m talking about is making sure that the space exists for the new ideas to be inevitable, to come forward, to find their way. Because often we want to bring them all together in a room package them up and create the perfect blueprint. And all we do is keep arguing and does that create the space? And it’s an ongoing process, isn’t it?
Now, how do you create the space? The idea with money rebellion is to say we are all in some ways in service to this economy that we know. Daniel Schmachtenberger talked about it beautifully with Charles Eisenstein – we’re all in service to this destructive system that is destroying life on Earth. Debt is a key part. I think we’re trying to avoid getting into our nerdy sides here, talking about debt and how it fuels GDP and so on.
Gail Bradbrook: [00:58:56.35] Anyway, there’s all of that. So debt rent is based on asset price inflation when housing is being put to market economics. And I’m not criticizing anybody who rents rooms out. I have done it myself. We’re all in this system – paying utility bills where there’s profit extraction. So there’s lots of ways in which we are part of this system. We all know it. As much as we might want to participate in a gift economy and do what we can – or paying tax returns and so on.
So the thing is, how might we say? ‘I have these resources and I’m not willing to put them into this economic system is I’m going to put them over here.’ So you’re visioning the new economy. You’re saying ‘Instead of giving the council my tax, I’m going to pay in labour, in service, in my community in this way.’ Or ‘Instead of paying my some aspects of my tax bill, I’m going to go and help nature restore itself.’ ‘Instead of pay my debt off to this mortgage company. I’m going to give money to the frontlines of resistance that resisting that same bank that’s creating chaos’.
So it’s about being the change.There’s a lot of detail in here because taxes pay for the NHS. But this is not going to have any impact compared to £123billion of tax dodging that happens annually in the UK. This is tax disobedience to make a point. Or it can be debt disobedience to make a point.
Gail Bradbrook: [01:00:40.61] The system’s already bringing itself down. This is not about us trying to bring down a system. This is about us saying, ‘We are not in service to this system. We’re in service to a new economy.’.
And I think a Money Rebellion, if we could pull it off, is the way to create the space for the new way. Now, people are obviously really frightened of things like that. ‘What’s it going to do to my credit rating?’ It comes back to our togetherness. So some people would be willing to do what you might call a ‘Vanguard action’. Just do it because they believe in that. There are people around of that spirit. But another way we can do this is what you call a ‘Conditional Commitment’, which would go, ‘Yes, I’m a Barclays Bank mortgage holder. I won’t pay if a thousand people join me.’ Or, ‘I won’t pay rent to my student accommodation if 500 people join me.’ ‘I won’t pay taxes or a portion of my taxes if 10,000 people join me.’ And we’re talking about, you know, NHS, not HS2 or something like that.
So what we’ll be doing when we launch this, which I hope will be soon – it’s a real work in in progress – is asking people to just say, ‘Yes, I’m interested.’ And then if they’re willing to have a phone call with us, where we can ask where their boundaries are, what they’re willing to do. That’s how we could get this thing moving, I think,
Manda: [01:01:53.59] Gosh, I’m I’m envisioning the work and the logistical input to that, which is huge. But, yes, that’s so interesting because I think a lot of people who would be prepared to sit in the road and face arrest – we live in a country where the police are brutal, but they’re not actually tear gassing us or clubbing us with batons most of the time – and yet the fear of, ‘Oh, my goodness, my credit rating! What happens my my credit card might not work anymore!’ Feels more existential, really.
Gail Bradbrook: [01:03:03.19] And that’s it. This is the piece. Another piece around the rebellion for me was the initiation that comes from saying ‘No’. You know what? Of course it’s about what you’re saying yes to. But it’s the way in which I think you go for initiatory process of unhooking from the system through that peaceful mischief, of ‘I’m sitting in the road, I’m not having this anymore.’ There is a financial version of that. And if we say we want this new economy, then we have to really be for it and be willing to take some risk.
We’ve got a debt expert advising us about how the credit rating system works. And there are things you can do if your credit rating falls to get it back up again. So, you know, we could we could bring we can bring playfulness to this and some support. But it does need some of us to say, I’ve had enough. I’m willing to take the hit, you know.
Manda: [01:03:25.48] Yes, interesting. And to have the very clear media impact, because it has to be. And it has to be ‘NHS not HS2’ or the Mail will take us apart. It’s very interesting, because my activist head thinks ‘Yes!’ And yet the bit that likes the four walls that are here going ‘ Oh my God, they’ll impound my house. And ‘then I have nowhere to live. And suddenly it feels. very scary. I want to go and really think about that, because you’re absolutely right. We have to be the change that the world needs.
Gail Bradbrook: [01:03:58.08] So pray for Crow here. And Fox. Because there’s mischief to be had. I mean for example, with the mortgages… ‘We’re not paying. We’re not paying. Oh, actually, we will pay again.’ There’s all sorts of things that can be done here that minimize risk and maximize impact.
Manda: [01:04:19.24] And at a time when when the economy is is flatlining anyway, when they’re actually probably going to give mortgage holidays. And then there’s a really interesting dialogue of, ‘OK, you chose not to take the mortgages and then we chose not to pay them. And what is the difference between these two?’
Gail Bradbrook: [01:04:35.67] Well there was a whole narrative of ‘There is no magic money tree. And now we found the magic money forest.
Manda: [01:04:42.45] And anyone who has studied economics for more than 30 seconds knew that that was the case. Because this is my absolute baseline of the thing that drives my blood into steam, is Thatcher managed to get everybody to think that national economies were like household economies when there’s staring difference is that the government is allowed to make money and does all the time. And if you make your own money, they will lock you up for longer than if you killed people.
Gail Bradbrook: [01:05:09.6] Mrs. Thatcher said economics are the method. The object is to change the heart and soul.
Manda: [01:05:14.99] And doesn’t she succeed?
Gail Bradbrook: [01:05:17.21] And so we feel very tied in. That’s the purpose of neoliberalism. I do have a talk online about neoliberalism. If you put my name and StreetSchool economics. It’s as if it’s a natural process. And that’s what infuriates me. Nature, doesn’t do this, though. Nature allows competition and so on.
Manda: [01:05:46.74] And yes, we could we could talk about negative interest rates and what avenues of when when money naturally devalues, which is much more natural. We are going to have to stop. But I would be very interested in the media narrative. The people who create the media narratives in our nation went to the same schools, the same universities, often the same Tory club meetings as the people who hold the power.
And they they seemed to believe that economics is a law of nature, that the markets are somehow an external thing over which no human being has control. When evidentally that is not true. At the beginning of the coronavirus, the markets collapse 30 percent because the algorithms were doing exactly what they were programmed to do. And within a week, the guys whose bonuses depend on the market still going up had very obviously reprogrammed the algorithms because they didn’t do that anymore. And so the market is is utterly human and utterly controllable and could be eradicated overnight if we chose to. In the same way that economics, the laws of economics are human laws, they are not like gravity. So, in the conversations about the Money Rebellion, how are we going to get to people like Robert Peston who could genuinely seems to believe the old narrative? How can we reach them?
Gail Bradbrook: [01:07:18.71] I don’t know, Robert Preston’s personal economics are. I’ve got a book on the shelf and I must read it. But I think it should be self-evident now that after 30 years of knowledge about the ecological crisis with a 60 percent increase in carbon dioxide, that the markets just aren’t tending to this. I’m not personally against markets as a concept. We have the UK’s best farmers market, apparently in Stroud. It’s wonderful. So the idea that the idea that markets have a place is fine. There’s a brilliant podcast, by the way, called The Tax Cast from the Tax Justice Network. And the last one was talking about the financialization of the economy.
And one of the members of that tax justice network, Nick Saxon’s, written this fantastic book called The Finance Curse as well. So all nerds unite here! But one of the points Naomi Fowler talks about this time with John Christensen is that basically the FTSE 100 companies, of course, others have been gorging on their own profits.
If this is household economics, every last penny that they’ve got, they’ve spent: there’s no savings. And so immediately you’ve got capitalism begging for socialism. And this is this is the whole point. You know, it’s exposed itself. It’s not just one company, is it? It’s all so many companies asking for a bailout.
Manda: [01:09:12.92] Richard Branson offering his tropical island as some kind of collateral to go right to. He can’t eat tropical islands. It’s not got value anymore.
Gail Bradbrook: [01:09:21.71] There’s just da massive amount of piss taking. This is the piece that I don’t think people know about tax dodging is that when companies hide their money in secret jurisdictions, as they’re more accurately called – or ‘tax havens’, they do something with the money. What do they do? They buy government government bonds quite often because they’re seen as a safe bets to make money from. But what this actually means is that we’re not only not getting the interest that we should, I think it’s over 200 billion just from Apple alone – incredible amounts of money that are believed to be held offshore – but we pay them interest on the tax they didn’t pay.
Can you imagine that we let that happen, you know? So then when people are going, ‘Oh, you know, I’ve got to pay my mortgage. What if people did pay their debts?’ Is really if you actually know just how deeply corrupted this system is – that comment ‘Only the little people pay taxes’.
And it’s because it’s hidden behind obfuscating language, collateralized debt obligations that are hidden offshore in exotic vehicles. There are two things about economics. One is that some people are taking the piss. And it’s folks with money. It’s on an industrial scale and benefit fraud and all the rest of it are meaningless in the face of all that. The second thing is there are alternatives. You only need to know these two things.
Manda: [01:11:32.89] And then we can swing the narrative away from the idea that it’s all the immigrants taking your jobs. That’s the reason that ‘ve actually your real income has dropped in the last 30 years, which is is just on every level completely abhorrent. And if we could move the narrative in a way that becomes unassailable. Then we could change the system. That feels very exciting. It feels like a very, very wonderful place to end. Have you got anything that you wanted to say that we haven’t covered?
Gail Bradbrook: [01:12:07.26] I don’t think so. just going back to that piece about our togetherness and our willingess to step forward in these times and what that might look like. So that we are all making our prayers for the more beautiful world our hearts know as possible as Charles Eistenstein says. And to be offering ourselves in service to that. I mean, I’m obviously pushing the rebellion and we all have our roles and our things that we can do at this time whenever there’s an opportunity for togetherness. Let’s take it.
[01:12:45.45] That’s so wonderful. Thank you. Thank you, Gail. That’s I. That’s a very good place to stop.
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