Attac meeting in Bedarieux
I just got back from my last of three trips, involving a lot of driving (3500k), and am settling down to my own private “rentrée”. Rentrée is when the summer holiday is over and all the associations, lessons, events of the normal year, schooling … start again after the two month break. Although there are some exceptions, most of this normal daily life stops during the summer, replaced by holiday trips, family and friends visiting, blossoming of musical and other cultural events and nothing much happens on the socio-political front at the local level. What with my bike trips to the Dordogne/Luberon, the drive to Vesoul with Naurika to do various things for my mother-in-law, now wheel chair bound in a retirement home, plus a genuine five day holiday in Spain with Naurika (hotel, beach, Costa Brava), it is only now that I am beginning to make my choices for the next year. The first meeting I went to was Attac, where I have been a member for 12 years, through many manifestations of the group.
Attac (Google it if you want to know more) is without a doubt the most politically active group in town, and has an active group life and wide variety of concerns. Not only is there a monthly meeting, but every Monday earlier in the morning there is a meeting which decides things, but is technically subordinate to the monthly meeting in the evening. So a meeting nearly every week. It is a good enough reflection of political concerns at the grass roots in France. Not every Attac group is the same, and ours is a rather exceptional group for a town of 7,000 in the middle of nowhere. We are way more active than Beziers Attaceven though they have a urban area population of 150,000. While I was in Spain Attac showed a movie about Strikes at the local cinema. The NEW cinema itself is now open and running films by the Cinema Club, other groups like Attac and mostly first release French films. So far I have not been to the cinema, but that is another story.
There were about ten people at the Attac meeting, a pretty good turnout. With fifteen the room would be too crowded and not everyone could speak. One new person, a woman, don’t know much more about her yet. I also missed a meeting of the Collective Non-violent while I was gone. Not to mention the meeting of the Social Forum to evaluate the event we organised in July. I really did miss the rentrée. I try to catch up, but it never is the same hearing the story from someone else.
First item of business was to figure out how to pay some bills, how to distribute the expense of the management of our “citizens’ local”. This is the first time so many citizens’ organisations have used the same local and have to share upkeep costs. The rent is covered by the mayor with a subsidy (subvention). So all we have to pay are things like electricity (heating, lighting) and costs involving improving the local (minimal). All the groups will no doubt pay whatever Attac asks, although on close examination, the criteria for paying more and paying less will be a little fluid and contestable. More on that next months when the amounts are announced. Money does focus the mind.
There was some discussion about whether Attac should “support”, or help organise, an initiative for a slightly tighter organisation of the “alternative groups” in Bedarieux, present some kind of front, some kind of image, to the world. But more particularly a unified voice directed toward the immediate sources of finance and some useful expertise, “the mairie”, all those people who work for the state, at the town government level. In any case my understanding of the discussion got confused between the notion of “supporting” a local young sheep farmer in his very difficult struggle to get enough land to ply his trade. Everyone was for this, especially since we all know him, although not everyone will be involved in this support group. On the other hand there was a subtle change in organisational direction also advocated, led by the people who in fact were a bit agro-ecologically inclined. At present, all the associations who use the “citizen’s local” are quite autonomous. They occasionally support the same project, a movie, an initiative, a teaching event, a particular action, but always as a one-off support by a completely autonomous group. It should be added that there are many double or triple memberships in these groups, so they are never really totally autonomous. This new initiative is beginning of a debate about whether and how we find some procedure to express a unified voice, on various local issues, perhaps on wider issues. The point would be to increase the efficiency and power of the “alternative scene”, within a larger framework, that is, the local government, and maybe regional government. This is where “things can get done” and where there is a greater financial support for projects that are normally too expensive for each group on its own, or even with one or two temporary allies. It should be an interesting discussion as it percolates through the various associations and groups. I am keen to keep up on this issue. It focusses attention on the way that the political sector which most of these groups are not in and never have been in, will try to tempt the groups to join in their game. I might go to the meetings of this initiative, but I think I better keep my mouth shut.
There is one other guy in the valley who had a Social Forum workshop on “an alternative intercommunality”. Intercommunality is when a number of adjacent communes (towns, villages, hamlets) get together and agree to have a budget and make decisions about daily life in the area. So it is less than a departmental level group, but more than just one commune. So this guy, a recently elected councillor and very much an “alternative” guy, wants to figure out what an alternative at this level might look like. I figure he will join up with this initiative for co-operation between alternative action groups, and something might happen that is somewhat interesting. I will always be suspicious of such incorporation into the ways and means of the local government. Even if there is some serious money in it. But then my constant insistence, for fifty years, in local federations and local power, makes this level very interesting. The limit of the permissible. Having been here for a long time, I know lots of the people, and two of the local councillors are people who are genuine friends, if not bosom buddies. Attac was, as a whole, slightly suspicious of yet another set of meetings that would distract from the real work of organising our actions.
There was a quick reminder of how it is relatively easy to put on films at the new local cinema. We suggest the film, and the cinema puts it on, collecting 5 euros from everyone who attends, keeping it all. Some in the group thought that was not how it should work. We do free films, or contribution as you wish. So maybe a film of high technical quality might be in the cinema. But normal films can quite easily be shown, as always, by us, in Salle Achille Bex, which can hold a hundred people easily. We were a bit suspicious of suddenly charging money for what used to be free.
There seems to be a nascent connection with what might be called “alternative forestry management”. Someone might come to talk. There might be a film. I learned the French for clearcut, “coup blanc”. This was very interesting, must read about it a bit. Seems from the talk that none of them burn wood for heat, but I could be wrong. There is also some kind of notion in the group Etc&Terra, for organising an AMAP for wood. You make deals with some local wood cutter to supply a group who guarantee payment up front, or on the day. Everyone gets a stable situation and good wood. I would join for sure. The home wood business is exceedingly local already. You need to get your wood from someone who does not have to drive an hour to make a delivery. It is all local wood. There is plenty of it. It is a business sector that is perfect for supporting local rural businesses. Green too. Looking forward to seeing how this works out. I am interested in wood.
Some discussion of an anti-TAFTA day of learning and action in Narbonne. TAFTA is about the opening up and crushing of barriers to commercial relations with anyone, all over the world. Starting with the USA, and us Europeans. There is an Asian American TAFTA also, but that does not make the papers here. Basically a “free market” solution to everything. Health, education, food, energy, air, everything. “The state” will lose its feeble influence over the capitalist barons. Those with money have more power, end of sentence. I think several in the group are going to Narbonne, car sharing. Narbonne is only one hour and eight minutes from here, but I have never been. Doubt if I will go. There was some discussion of a guy called Serverin Pistre, a Montpellier based Hydro-geologist who is against fracking. Was he also some kind of right wing guy? Must look him up.
Last thing was developing the notion that some kind of educational thing on the VI Republic might be good. People seem to agree that, slowly seeping through the grass roots, the notion that we need to re-do the constitution, re-organise political decisions is taking form. The French can talk about this easily, they have already had five Republics, so a sixth is not exactly subversive. If this discussion happened, it would be VERY interesting period. I am pretty sure that nearly everyone in Attac would be for a VI Republic, a severe re-crafting of democratic power in France. Attac people would be for a “genuine democracy”, although what that means is not clear in the French context. So Attac people will search out some person who will come and advocate a VI Republic. And no doubt within Attac, casual conversations about this subject might be more frequent.
So there you have it. A superficial take on what concerns lefty, political minded folk at the grass roots in France. No discussion of the “High Politics” of parties and presidents and elections. My kind of politics.
It is definitely autumn now. I have raked the leaves under the ornamental plum three times now, and started filling in the leaf compost bin, which will vanish into the soil of the veg patch next spring. The leaves of the cherry and the Tree of Judea are beginning to come down. Two days of rain and today a heavy fog in the morning, indicate that the “Cevenol” effect is in action. The warm moist air from the Med gets blown up north to the Cevenne mountains, where it pisses down, eventually causing floods downstream, nearer to the sea. Mostly in places where greedy mayors allowed houses to be built in known flood plains so their tax budget would increase. I have just folded up my summer short sleeved shirts and will shortly tucked them under my bed in my plastic immigrant storage bags. Naturally they will be replaced by the winter gear, heavy jumpers and long sleeved shirts. It is a real plus in life to be able to live where I can have clothes for two seasons, and use the summer ones every year. I am constantly looking at the prairie we have (not really a lawn as such) calculating when to make the very last trim so it does not grow too much more and looks neat and tidy all winter. The meeting season is underway full scale. After the deep hibernation from June to September, the associations woke up, and the flow of meetings in October is full on.
For example, Attac organised a rather successful pique-nique last Saturday. Maybe forty people there at one time or another, a few kids, some partners, local bio sausages, with pretty good home- made tabouli, locally baked bread, organic of course, with some fine home made puddings. We had it at the picnic area of the newly refurbished Pierre Rabhi Park. Now Pierre Rabhi is someone who comes often to Bedarieux, our mayor likes him a lot. He is a “quite radical agro-activist” and writer, sadly not well known in the Anglo world, but he is worth knowing about. A bit of searching in English would be a very good idea, he is exceptional. http://cycloasis.org/partners/pierre-rabhi/ There is plenty of stuff in French about him or by him. Anyway the picnic was well timed on the day, which was a bit murky and fresh. Just about when everyone had dessert and several people had left (including me), the rain came down. The other notable feature of the picnic was that there were six people, SIX, who spoke English. One French guy, the professional cycling teacher I may have mentioned, a young German who I have never seen before, a kind of unusual American woman who seems to be back in the area after some travelling, an English alternative energy guy from a tiny hamlet who seems to be adopting Bedarieux as a place to be politically active. OK, five people. Rather unusual, and rather nice actually to drift past a conversation in English or even have the option to speak English. Of course, except for the American woman, they all speak French as well, sometimes I speak French with them. In fact, I had the intriguing experience to be talking to the English guy (whose French is really good) and a French guy, but when the French guy drifted off, we spoke in English immediately. Doesn’t happen much in my life here.
Then yesterday evening, Christophe, who is a militant in Attac, and also works for the Town Council on Agenda 21 (google) organised a meeting about “the energy transition”. Funny how that concept is popping up in France this last year. I know it is new because one of the most well-informed Attac militants was saying a month ago that she didn’t know what that meant, and had not heard it before. The notion of Transition Towns (Villes en Transition) is also growing a bit, with the “manual” having been translated into French. As yet, there are no overt signs of that particular movement in Bedarieux, but I know people know about it. This meeting was very well attended, sixty people maybe. Quite a spread of participants. Elected officials, middle class folks, activists, and people from the hills dress informally (and smelling like wood smoke in the winter). One thing I noticed very happily is that the two “experts”, one working for a group called Negawatt http://www.negawatt.org/ as well as an energy co-op http://www.enercoop.fr/ and the other working for a company that consults and organises projects, http://www.groupevaleco.com/ were well informed, knew the alternatives and were very matter of fact. This “transition” is no longer an idea, but a practical path. It was intriguing to me because back in the very early seventies when I started collecting material for my edited book on Radical Energy (there was no such book on earth at the time), most of this was speculation and a few experiments. I never finished the editing job, character flaw. Now you simply inform yourself a bit, order the products and set them up with or without professional aid Even in our lotissement (suburban stye development) there are two little windmills and several solar panel arrays. Back then, alternative energy was dreaming, and a few examples. The argument had not been won yet. But today, their expert responses to questions were simple, sane and without huge debate.
The first question was about how it is all capitalism and profit, and therefore somehow a plot. But, in response, the experts said they agreed, not trying to make that argument. A huge relief to me as I have heard it so many times before. Yes, one agreed agreed it could be just capitalism in disguise, but that is why they were a co-op with profits not given to shareholders, and that he agreed with the hostile guy who thought he was going to argue. The second expert even said hey, we make a living, 6% profit, although there were few who thought 6% was a big deal. And when another guy who is off grid completely asked a question, the experts also agreed with him as well. And even argued FOR people doing it themselves and being disconnected which they agreed was one strong possibility, even though not their choice. No fights, no shouting arguments, just how can we do it, this is how you can do it. For anyone who thinks there has been no change, I can tell you we have, over the years, done a lot. I am aware, and everyone else was, that most of the developments are funded by the state, and are executed by giant multinationals, with massive industrial windmills, purely for money. But there are now at least two sides, and two tendencies, and plenty of realistic plans. Industrial built in France or elsewhere line, admittedly the bits are made here, but the assembly is more likely in Spain, Denmark or Germany. Good meeting, followed by some nice pizza and lively chatter. Oh yes, there was a movie on Fukushima, which is a total disaster, getting worse, and I don’t want to watch it ever again.
Off to the Saturday Market, a much smaller one than Monday, but the products sold, maybe ten stands, are all organic and local. So what happened? First I had my customary coffee with Yves, my pal who is a joiner, locksmith, father of five. We often sit and chat for half and hour or an hour on a Saturday or Monday, unless one of us has something more important to do. We talked about his work,and also about rich people and the nature of money. A few words about the kids. Probably my best French pal. Passed by “the English table” too, while Yves was buying some veg at the organic stall. We chatted briefly about operations, cataracts, and not much else. There are four of them who are the core of this group, and they meet on Saturday and Monday. Sometimes another couple joins them, and today someone’s daughter popped by, I think they were visitors. I take less interest in visitors than I once did. Usually they don’t really have a clue what is going on, say things that I am tempted to reply to in a critical manner, and I probably won’t see them again. But maybe it was a nice English couple who lives here full-time, and I just don’t know them. Passed down the road to the organic local coffee shop (obviously the coffee is not local). On the way, I had a remarkable conversation with two of the ex-cyclists who no longer ride with the club. Usually I don’t talk much with them, but this time we had a rather long (ten minutes) discussion about the World Championships. I seldom talk about cycle racing with my cyclist pals, somehow it never happens. Many of them are not really fans of racing on TV, others are cynical about doping and dismiss the racing with a wave of a hand and motion resembling injections. Furthermore, it is clear, when I do talk, that they don’t really follow racing, they don’t even know all the French riders, and don’t seem to care much. Others just lecture me about what they know and dismiss my observations since I have never been a boy racer. Overall, it was rather unusual. My last semi-serious conversation was with a German woman whose French is impeccable. She is an architect, and lives on a farm on the causse above Bedarieux, husband grows grapes and makes wine. She helps right now, it is the season. She is a lovely woman really, smart, part of the vague alternative culture, nice kids who almost got taught some English by me, but the idea did not become a plan. She works at what she can, a very underemployed woman. I think she might speak English better than I speak French, but we seem to have got in the habit of speaking French. And as I left Le Local (see previous blogs), I saw my friend Michel, who I think must have a new girlfriend. At least he went to the Fukushima/energy meeting on Friday night with her, and she was there with him on Saturday morning. Could be his sister, I didn’t get introduced yet. He is slightly hard to get to know, or maybe he just doesn’t like me, but a nice guy. We have been in several groups together. He built himself a bio-eco house just above ours, and is currently doing one for another friend who is a very high level windmill specialist. It was a good Saturday at the market. Next report might be on the Monday market. I love Market Days, although I don’t actually buy anything.
Cine Club Bedarieux (with Collectif Non-Violent)
I am already getting behind. The powerful swoosh of the rentrée and the blossoming of meetings about all sorts of stuff, and classes and gatherings of all kind starting, patterns being disrupted and being created, makes things more time and energy consuming. True, normal life goes on, Market Day morning happens and I hardly say a thing about it in the blog. Although I wasted some of this past Monday morning seeing the ophthalmologist to find out that I should get my cataracts done very soon. And then I even baked a cake for the Collectif Non-Violent rentrée meeting. Other than the wife of the president, everyone else bought stuff or picked it off trees (plums and figs). Anyway we ate well and charted the New Near a bit. In fact we more or les decided to ease up on the pretty much failed “increase the youth awareness about non-violence, and focus more on local economy, decroissance type of issues. I have never been much intrested in youth around here, as I hardly know any. Turns out the people in the collective are not well-connected with “youth” either, as I suspected. “Villes en Transition” might get some direct airing in meetings for the first time in Bedarieux. But tonight I went to the first meeting of the new Bedarieux Cine Club.
There has been a cinema in Bedarieux at least since I have been here. Other than the rare occasion, it shows newly released French movies. Not that many people went when they could drive to proper big screens with good sound systems. I am not sure exactly when it stopped being a paying business. So ‘the town”, which means the mayor, has bought it. Mayors in France can buy anything that is up for sale, in the interests of the people. The council is putting lots of money into the revitalising, digitalisation and 3Disation of the place. I think I heard the figure of 450,000 euros. There is a big budget for “culture” in this town, as the mayor is quite keen to bringing people into the 21st century, make them better than “traditional Bedariciens” who tend to closed off and care little about the outside world, although they do have powerful and deep local relationships. IN some sense that is complicated to unpack, Bedarieux both embraces and resists outside influence. This first public meeting was fronted by a woman who has only lived in Bedarieux for one year, but who has some experience of cinema. I missed exactly what. She was flanked at the top table by the “Minister of Culture” for the town, and a couple of other local worthies that I have seen around, but don’t really know. I probably knew 10 people in the forty that were there, although I have seen a few others around. Without getting ahead of myself, I think what I saw and heard was the aspiring cultural elite which is not quite the same as, but related to “the middle class of Bedarieux”. I think maybe even leftish inclined, but I am not sure.
There is no doubt that the club will happen, and I have no doubt they will recruit enough active members for the organising committee to get it going. For some people it is a dream to be able to work on a local cinema, choose the films, animate discussions, and generally get involved. A good pal of mine will be one of those people, but he was not there. I think the Cine Club will take his time and his heart (to the detriment, sadly, of the Social Forum). As the local lefty town councillor pointed out, they should really go all the way and municipalise the whole thing. Top to bottom. Then it would be run by public money, and a couple of jobs created. Looks like somewhere it has already been decided that the town will not RUN the thing, but will provide huge backup and subsidise it here and there, including training and paying the projectionists. So a partnership between volunteers and the local state will slowly evolve over the next few months.
I myself will not be able to act in this process in any but the most specific and punctual ways. I might help organise a themed film series, or now and again invite a film and producer to come to town. What became quite clear is that although I am not deeply comfortable in the middle class and its social events when the language is English, there is no chance at all that I could survive and act skilfully inside the French middle class. I admit that the Bedarieux middle class is more accessible to me, especially since I know some of the people, and one or two will be friends. But the strain on not being too direct, of accepting the obvious as obvious (“normal”), and the basic deep difficulties of being complicated in French are too great. I can do it in the Non-Violent meetings, as I did two nights ago, and I can sometimes even act effectively in Social Forum meetings. But amongst what might be called totally straight people, I am not very at ease, unless I know them. So I can focus on other activities, especially since others can do whatever I could do anyway. I am not a genuine film buff anyway. I just adore the cinema, big screen, good sound system, almost any movie will do.
I will give you an example of how French these folks are. I agree, they ARE French. They SHOULD be French. But sometimes they don’t even know they are French. Know what I mean? As sometimes Americans or British people just don’t even know they are being “English” or “American”. Thinking of a name, quick agreeemnt on just having a direct, honest, straightforward, descriptive name like the Cine Club Bedarieux or Bedarieux Cine Club was never going to happen. Seems sensible, unambiguous, everyone will know what it is. But they are trying, without anyone saying anything, to find some local personality who has something to do with the cinema, and naming it after them. Like they name schools after someone, rather than Bedarieux Primary School. Trouble is, there is no one really famous, no actor, no director, only a few semi-connected personalities from this area, who have made it big in the French cinema world. Of course almost no one would know who this guy is. Certainly the name will be a male name. Nearly everyone will have to ask who this person is, thereby educating them in the filmic history of the area. Why not just call it what it is? Although one guy suggested Cinema Paradisio, but I could tell he wouldnot fit into the ruling group.
The room was arranged in one of the usual unreflected “traditional” formats. No one ever dares to try a circle, except my tribe. At the front, ranged in a row behind a table, were four people. Two women, two men. The Minister of Culture, the woman meeting organiser, and two others, one of whom has coffee nearly every Saturday with my friend Jean-Claude. JC is bike riding along the Danube with his wife and another couple, but he will be activeon the final committee. In addition to forty of us, there was one guy in the front row who obviously runs the Beziers Cine Club. http://cineclub.biterrois.free.fr/ He had lots to say, but always talked to the front table, so since I was at the back, I missed a lot of what he said. He had a habit of laughing at private jokes no one else got. A useful participant, but just talked all the time. There was no talk of principles or overall visions, just a phrase now and again. The “detail people” won out, people being very practical about the organisation of the association. Probably quite good for a first meeting, but a little less exciting for people like me, assuming there were others like me who were interested in bigger conversations. I guess those kinds of conversations need to go on over coffee. Exact sequence of this, how big or how much of this or that. No doubt by restricting talk to the details, many latent conflicts were avoided. People like me who like making latent conflicts manifest were a little bored. On the other hand, it was a good way to get the thing going, avoid much reflection, just get it done.
They talked about putting on a film once a month or maybe once every fortnight, so it is not going to affect my life for some months. They also didn’t seem very visionary, as with publicity of the mairie, they should be able to fill up a small cinema room once or twice a week. Still, start small I guess. Maybe before Xmas, maybe not.
There was talk about involving the schools, which would be a very good idea. Would there be a ticket system and what kind? Probably buying a card with a dozen admissions. How much? Maybe four euros a go. Discussions after the films, very good idea and will happen often. The whole thing will be part of tarting up an kind of dilapidated, slummy, poor peoples’ area of town.
I did like the local lefty guy. He had a good point about how halfway this was, and how much other cultural activities would suffer. He also had the closest thing to an argument with a long-time opponent of his. The opponent plays alongside the lefty in the Harmonie Bedaricien. They are clearly opponents over the long term. Hard to know how far to go with basic criticism in a small town. The two opponents didn’t even agree on what the town council had decided. This cinema is going to take a huge percentage of a substantial cultural budget for at least this year and next. The lefty thinks it could be spent better on smaller projects, rather than a glamour project. I don’t agree with him and since he was sitting next to me and whispering his notions in my ear a lot, it was a bit tricky. I admire many of this guy’s persistence, rebelliousness and critical qualities. But sometimes he just seems too straight, too syndicalist, too left. Still, an honest man I think.
Maybe four euros a go. Although we were all surprised to hear from André, the Bezier guy, that a film could cost 1,000 euros to hire. There was some debate, but I lost most of the details of that discussion, as there was a sudden eruption of several conversations at that moment. “1,000 euros, I would never have thought that much” … In fact, the whole meeting was not really very skilfully animated. The guy from Beziers talked way too much, not enough was heard from the floor. Still, it will all come out in a few months. There will be some movies.
A very good pice of news for the New Year. Later for the non-violent collective. It was a busy day since I also went out for a quick ride and watched half an hour of the Vuelta.