DANCE join Children Against Global Warming to stand up to BP.
Sunday 13 September, 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 brought the day to a close with a giant flash-mob, spelling out a clear NO to the British Museum to not renew their funding deal with BP.
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It’s coming up to a year since the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (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 environmental fine ever given – that BP received due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The protest, which took the form of a prose poem read out by performers from BP or Not BP, was called ‘Gross Negligence’, and included ‘actorvists’ re-enacting 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. It was a poignant and moving reminder to many involved, and onlookers at the museum joined in to show their respect.
Since then it’s been a busy year for the groups within the Art Not Oil coalition, with protests and pop-up performances occurring on a regular basis 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 25 portraits in oil at the National Portrait Gallery, 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 dirty oil money from one the world’s biggest polluters.
2015 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 have met, and carbon emissions have continued to soar – by 61% since the first set of talks. During this time other statistics – such as the 1% and the 99% – have also 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 which might bring about effective change. Within this concentrated knot of influence, fossil fuel corporations, such as BP and Shell, sit at the very core.
As dangerous levels of CO2 have continued to rise, so too has public awareness of the consequences, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are heeding the scientific warnings and witnessing the stark reality of climate change first-hand, more recently in the desperate images of refugees crammed onto boats fleeing lands ravaged by war, droughts, 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 become part of the mainstream conversation, endorsed by the NHS to be as effective for helping with anxiety and depression as anti-depressants, and backed by modern neuroscience has enabled hundreds of thousands of people an increased capacity to be able to turn towards challenging circumstances, and to face what is disturbing rather than shut down, disengage, numb out or look the other way. It can also allow a deepening sense of reconnection with the wider weave of relationships beyond a culture of individualism, encompassing an intimacy once more with 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 a group of 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 speak from the heart again, this time 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.”
On the day of action there were many kids present, both at the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum, as there are most days, busy with school-kids and 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, as if they are a 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% of funding that they provide to the British Museum’s annual income is permission and legitimacy to continue with their life-threatening extraction activities as usual, despite the warnings from scientists that all remaining fossil fuels must stay in the ground, and the health of future generations that they continue to put at risk.
Miranda Shaw, a campaigner with the Art Not Oil Coalition and member of BP or not BP?, described the mass day of action at the British Museum, as: “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).
Read more about the day of action via Art Not Oil and sign the petition to get BP out: www.dropbp.org
Find out more about Children Against Global Warming and sign the petition at: www.cagw-uk.org
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