I have eaten real food off a plate made of china and drunk tea from a mug. I have scrubbed my fingernails until the point of rawness; all traces of mud are gone. I have washed the faint stink of cowshit from my hair and skin. It is now time to tell a story about something that happened at Glastonbury.
It is not a cool, sexy story. The story I will tell does not involve a cocktail of psychedelic substances, or a celebrity encounter, or a clawing, sweaty, passionate fuck in a hot tent, or seeing the face of Thor appear in the sky to a soundtrack of tribal drums inside a stone circle.
It is not a disgusting story. The story I will tell does not involve a taxonomy of mud types, or running out of bog roll at a crucial moment, or dead Tories in portaloos, or pissing into a paper cup.
Some of those things actually happened. They are not important stories.
The story I will tell is unglamorous, homely, even mundane. And that’s part of the problem.
On Sunday morning, I attended a debate in the Leftfield tent entitled “Equality and the Cuts”. It opened with the three speakers taking a few minutes to talk about equality issues: Laurie Penny spoke of how the cuts affect women, another of a successful campaign to allow deprived children the same opportunity to attend a nearby school as more privileged children, and the last of how the trade unions are engaging with equality issues.
After ten minutes, equality was never mentioned again, and the whole debate, thanks to questions from the audience, turned into the classic lefty infight: are trade unions A Good Thing?
That was it. Equality was ignored for the rest of the debate.
So much was left unsaid. Only the mere surface on the extent to which the cuts increase inequality was scratched. Women and deprived children had been discussed. What of, for example, people with disabilities who are facing horrendous cuts to a welfare state which helps them live a dignified life, while dribbling cockend Tory backbenchers declare they should work for less than minimum wage?
Why was there no discussion of the inequality and shit that exists in our own back garden, as foul as the squelchy brown lakes surrounding overflowing latrines? Being a woman and an activist is difficult when one’s opinion is not even taken particularly seriously by some male activists. How about the trade unions themselves? How are they looking in terms of equality? The left is still dominated by the voices of the privileged. Will this impede our ability to fight for equality for all? We are all under the umbrella of people fighting the cuts. We need to discuss how we practice equality. What is being done is generally little more than a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.
Some said that there was no need for debate, that everyone agrees that equality is good, the cuts are bad and that the cuts are going to disproportionately affect already disadvantaged groups in society. It is, perhaps, true that everyone inside that tent held that opinion, but this is not the general consensus. How can we work to get the message out and make people care?
We could have discussed whether the government was wilfully targeting the abjected, the deprived, the underprivileged. Do the Tories actually hate poor people, women, disabled people, travellers? Or are they just so fat on champagne and caviar that they have not noticed the lives they are destroying.
These questions buzzed through my head, yet I did not speak. In part, I was tired and inarticulate. In part, I did not want to interrupt the lively debate on trade unions in which everybody else was wholly engaged.
Even in a time slot dedicated for discussion of equality, the topic was the same thing I see so frequently on the left. It was talk of process, it was talk of theory. It was not talk of the actual issue at hand.
Discussion of equality isn’t cool or sexy. It isn’t even particularly interesting. It is, however, vital that we talk about it, as it is an integral part to rebuilding society into something that is, at the very least, more palatable than what we have now.
My Glastonbury tale does not include poo-pirates, spiritual experiences or sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It is unpretty. But it’s a talk that we need to have.
4 thoughts on “A Glastonbury tale”
Love this, love you, thanks for writing it up and pointing this stuff out. Damn fucking right.
Were you consciously echoing the opening of David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”in your first paragraph?
Who? I wasn’t; but it sounds like something I’d enjoy reading 🙂
Oh, he’s great. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace
You can find an early version of the essay here:
Click to access HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf