Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Monteiths, maybe's and May Day 09

May Day 2009 saw a number of folks converge on the sleeping giant that is Blackball, continuing a long and vibrant tradition of West Coast working class celebration. And while the weekend kicked of with stories, songs and semantics of a working class long gone, it wasn't mere nostalgia that brought us all to Blackball (some for the 13th time running). Lured by the promise of the famous Hilton hospitality and a planned forum on neo-liberalism, it wasn't hard to attract a small but diverse range of people to what was arguably the birthplace of twentieth century revolutionary syndicalism in Aotearoa and the 'Red' Federation of Labour.

'Can we still think the system or does the system think us?' was the provocation of the weekend's poster, which was then continued with multiple provocations from various people during the course of the two hour forum. A wide range of topics naturally reflected the wide range of of politic positions — education, the family unit, the nature of work, trade unions, community organising, feminism and motherhood, childcare, childbirth, collectivism, revolution? And while no specific answers or strategies were given, discussion was thought provoking, challenging and at all times inspiring (well for myself anyway). I think being able to hear other points of view not always considered was a major highlight of the talk — and if some felt even more depressed after the collective realisation that everything most on the left has been warning against for the last ten years has come true, then it wasn't shared by me. Personally, it simply re-enforced the fact that the old ways of organising, the old ideologies, the old party line, the old trade union talk, quite simply, has failed. Depressing? Not at all.

Besides the amazing weather and Monteiths Original on tap, the afternoon session on the Blackball 08' Strike Memorial was also rewarding. Ideas were brainstormed on the proposed museum and sculpture to be built in Blackball celebrating the 1908 strike, with particular emphasis on future May Day events, educational workshops and various activities for who the day celebrates — workers, of all shades and forms. From oral history podcast and participatory learning to May Day picnics and other class-conscious events, the future of May Day in Blackball and ongoing attempts to encourage the self-organisation of those who toil looks both positive and constructive.

Before exiting Blackball we were left with a special insight into the thought patterns of Paul Maunder via the performance of 'The Curator of Baghdad: a story of Guantanamo'. While I'm still processing the ideas of faith frequented by the narrator, and feel the review below by Francie is more than adequate to capture the spirit and form of the performance, I will tentatively put forward the conclusion I took from the performance. As our protagonist Yassif stumbles through the Iraqi desert and stripes back the layers of accumulated knowledge, status, faith and ideas of his individual life, and upon the painful recognition of the lack of any real value in all that had come before — there appears snippets of hope on the horizon. A meal, a community, and a little faith.

A review: The Curator of Baghdad: a story from Guantanamo
Performed Saturday 2nd May in Blackball.

Enter the church by the back door. Be punctual or you won't be let in. The door is slammed shut. File into the church proper. A cage made of scaffolding – a Guantanamo Bay cell – in Blackball Community Church. Sit on a pew facing the cage.

Yassif (Paul Maunder) sits on the bed in the cage. Caroline Selwood and Garyth Bensley are alternately soldiers and voices off.

Yassif goes searching for God to avoid family obligations to side with the Americans. He is fed and sheltered by a communist and becomes a messenger. He is arrested and caged. Bagged. Tortured. Transported to Guantanamo Bay. The story is interspersed with the never ending present at Guantanamo Bay.

This play, written to be performed in a chapel, is based on 'the difficult conclusion that Guantanamo Bay is the spiritual centre of late capitalism.' It is intimate and uncomfortable in its proximity, and powerful in its depiction. Here's hoping it tours.

Photos coming soon!

Type rest of the post here

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