Sunday 13 December, 2015: Members of DANCE London and DANCE Bristol joined with 15 other groups to take part in a mass day of action against BP sponsorship. Staging stunts, interventions and pop-up performances, hundreds of people joined a flash-mob in the Great Hall of the British Museum, spelling out a giant NO to the British Museum about renewing their funding deal with BP in 2016.
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It’s coming up to a year since DANCE took part in their first collaboration with the Art Not Oil coalition, performing a pop-up protest with the London Quakers and BP or Not BP at the British Museum. The piece, directed by BP or Not BP, was written to mark the $18.7m fine – the largest corporate fine ever given – that BP received due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, charged with ‘reckless’ behavior from the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. In response to a piece of prose poetry read out loud by BP or Not BP, called ‘Gross Negligence’, performers re-enacted harrowing scenes from the spill, followed by a circle of worship, held by Quaker and Buddhist meditators, to mark the deaths of the 11 humans who lost their lives with 11 minutes of silence. Onlookers at the museum joined in to show their respect and solidarity, and it was a poignant and moving experience for many involved.
Since then it’s been a busy year for the groups within the Art Not Oil coalition, with protests and pop-up performances occurring across all four institutions who accept money from BP – be that composers singing impromptu protest songs from the stalls in the Royal Opera House, to oil-swigging execs performing theatrics in front of the crowds at the British Museum, to the daring beauty of a 25 hour unsanctioned intervention by 75 artists from Liberate Tate, covering the floor with thousands of quotes and words warning about climate change. In 2016 important decisions will be made regarding whether these organisations renew their funding contracts with BP, choosing whether to continue to accept money or not from the world’s biggest corporate criminal.
It is an especially pertinent year. In December the UN climate talks will take place in Paris, where government and world leaders will meet once again to discuss and negotiate around safe carbon emission targets. This will be the 21st time they will have met. In the decades in between carbon emissions have soared by 16%, and other statistics – such as the 1% – have entered and taken root in the global consciousness, along with an understanding that power has become more and more concentrated into the hands of a very small minority of decision-makers and business leaders who continue to influence and undermine policy to bring about effective change. Within this concentrated knot of influence, fossil fuel corporations, such as BP and Shell, sit at the core.
As dangerous levels of CO2 have continued to rise, so too has public awareness, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are hearing the scientific warnings and witnessing the stark reality of climate refugees, extreme weather conditions, floods and famines. Growing numbers of people are realising that where government is failing, the people are called to step up, collaborate and respond.
DANCE has always been aimed at creating a space, and a network, for empowered response to the climate emergency, and one which is flexible enough to offer various pathways to suit a range of different temperaments, capacities, skills and preferences. This includes holding space so that deeper emotional currents are not bypassed, feelings which naturally arise in response to a planet in clear distress, and a system of growth which is not only waging war on the most vulnerable, both human and non-human, but is also, in a previously unimaginable scale, destroying the fragile and complex eco-systems which sustain all life. Meditation and the practice of Mindfulness has also become part of the mainstream conversation, endorsed by the NHS to be as effective for helping with anxiety and depression as anti-depressants, and enabling an increased capacity to be able feel into the what needs to be felt, to be disturbed by what is disturbing, rather than shut down, or numbed out. It can also allow a deepening sense of connection with the wider weave of relationships beyond a culture of individualism, including the natural world, which in the words of scientist and activist Bill McKibben “is never going to be as beautiful and intact as it is now so I do everything I can to take pleasure in, and protect, it.”
For this year’s mass day of protest at the British Museum, DANCE offered up two actions, created by members from groups across Bristol and London. Following on from a mass singalong where crowds joined in with songs by the choir Raised Voices, the London group led a Chi Gung session, wearing bright t-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘one song, one dance, one world, one chance’.
Meanwhile across town at the National Portrait Gallery, members from DANCE Bristol, working in collaboration with some young activists from Children Against Global Warming, held a space so the children could express their feelings and concerns about climate change, voicing their sentiments in front of a BP sponsored exhibition entitled ‘Next Generation’. Following on from this, the group moved across to the British Museum to perform the same piece, in front of the Pantheon Marbles.
Speaking about her first time of taking direct action, Laurel, 13, explained why she wanted to do something; “People think we’re ‘just children’ but we know what’s going on, we’re not stupid. I felt nervous about the guards and about speaking out, but it’s important we do something now.”
At both the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum there were many kids present on Sunday, as there are most weekends, crammed with tourists and families coming to look and learn. To many visitors the BP logo will not seem out of place, blending in with the background scenery, appearing as some kind of benevolent provider, a vital thread in the weave that makes up the tapestry of our history, arts and culture, as if they’ve always been there. What they are granted in return for the tiny 0.8% that they provide of the British Museum’s annual income is a green card of social legitimacy to continue with their activities as usual, despite the scale of the destruction they are wreaking, and the future generations they are putting at risk.
Miranda Shaw, a campaigner with the Art Not Oil Coalition and member of BP or not BP?, said:“This was our most ambitious intervention to date, and showed just how large the movement against oil sponsorship has become. As the British Museum, the Tate and others start debating whether to renew their five-year BP sponsorship deal our message to #dropBP could not be clearer. With so many other institutions cutting their ties to fossil fuels, museums and galleries must end their relationship with big oil or end up on the wrong side of history.”
The groups that took part in Sunday’s festival at the British Museum (in order of performance) were:
Christian Climate Action, Codswallop Theatre Company, Platform, Azerbaijan Solidarity Campaign, Fuel Poverty Action, London Rising Tide, DANCE (Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement) South-West, Children Against Global Warming (who also performed at the National Portrait Gallery), Los Perros Romanticos, London Quakers, BP or not BP?, Fossil Free Kings College London, Divest London, Fossil Free Warwick and DANCE London/South-East and Liberate Tate (which also performed in all three other BP-sponsored institutions before coming to the museum).
Coming together to acknowledge the impact of the flooding in Somerset members of Bristol DANCE gathered together to stage a question intended to challenge the silence around climate change. The event, which overlooked the flooded plains of the Somerset levels, was organised by Lindsay Alderton, Julia Wallond and Jill Bird.
“The extreme weather we’ve been experiencing is forcing many of us to wake up to the ecological crisis in a new way,” said Julia, “and recognise that the care of our planet goes beyond environmentalists, but is the responsibility of everyone. We wanted to link in with other groups across the country who are also putting forward this same question, in a hope to break the silence and get the public talking – and acting.”
The event was staged in a week where the world’s largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science – which holds a membership body of over 120,000 scientists – released a report warning that the effects of global warming are already being felt and that the future of the world is at risk of irreversible dangers, with the window to do something about it rapidly closing.
“It was important to come and witness the flooding first hand,” said Lindsay “to serve as a reminder and instil a sense of urgency to get active in response. The record rainfall and storms we’ve had this year are already proof that we’re experiencing the impacts of climate change, but it’s alarming how these connections aren’t being discussed by our politicians and the majority of the media, or even the general public.”
The group gathered together at the top of the hill overlooking the flooding to take in the extent of the damage, where Jill read a newspaper report on local reaction before Julia led a short meditation using Joanna Macy ‘Coming from Gratitude’ framework. When it was time to take the photo with the banner several passerbys stopped to cheer the group on, and some approached to have conversations about the flooding, and respond to the question which was posed on the banner.
Other attendees who traveled out to the event were Tony Almond, a musician from Bristol and his children Maizy, 8, and Bradley, 15. Mr Almond said “Of course we’re concerned about climate change and the effect it’s having on our planet. This is a pivotal year to take action in a unified demand for the creation of an energy economy which is no longer dependent on fossil fuels. If not the situation we’re witnessing today will only get worse.”
Would you like to stage your own event to break the silence around climate change? Contact Lindsay or Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org to borrow the banner.