Creative Engagement

Glastonbury Oracle, September 2018

The new A361 Action Group was successfully launched at a meeting in St Benedict’s church at the end of July, and a growing number of people are finding ways to stand up for Glastonbury in fresh and positive ways. I came away from the meeting with a feeling that something new had really begun.

After all, we are not just challenging the oppression of heavy traffic shaking our houses to bits, or some distant decision dictating that the answer is a bypass bisecting our sacred landscape. We are challenging the way that things have been done for so many years; the arrogant assumptions, the unaware duplicity, the dead weight of take-no-risks bureaucracy.

This way of conducting politics has failed. Locally, in the face of the biggest issue that has faced our town in decades, it has failed to keep us properly informed and it has failed to actively engage the people. In the face of a vibrant expression of grass-roots opposition, it doesn’t seem to know what to do at all.

The Action Group meeting established working groups, each taking on different aspects of the campaign and working semi-independently. The most popular was the group interested in direct action, and the first thing they decided to do was to make dummies, human-like figures that could be placed beside the road – to encourage drivers to slow down. Making these is also a great way to engage people’s creativity in doing something public and positive.

This group is also talking about their first ‘slow crossing’ action, meaning walking across a zebra crossing and back again for as long as they can get away with it, to make the point that we do not want all these HGVs roaring along our roads and making life for many of our residents a misery.

A few days after this was proposed I was invited round to visit some friends, and met people who were interested in the road campaign and wanted to know how it was going. I did my best to answer their questions, but found myself talking about the issue in quite a technical way and noticed that their eyes were beginning to look a little glazed. Then I mentioned this direct action idea.

The group included two film makers and a photographer, and what fired their enthusiasm was not so much the idea of walking across a zebra crossing themselves, but the possibility of filming the event and creating something more from it. They also talked about artists making art that could carry the same political point. Musicians could no doubt find a way of joining in with this too. The whole tone of the conversation changed remarkably.

Film, and creative engagement by lots of enthusiastic people, has already made a huge contribution to Glastonbury campaigns to save our library and to embarrass the banks that have all pulled out from our High Street. Now we are dealing with a bigger issue than either, and one that is likely to bring in far more people.

I am beginning to feel excited. Whatever the result may be, we can enter into this with creativity and imagination, we can deepen our connections with each other whilst we’re at it, and we can enjoy ourselves with as much good humour as possible.