2 November 2020

Ben Turner shares his thoughts on our current Arts Council-funded project Begin the World Over Again

Radical thoughts and actions for radical times

I’m smiling as I type this as the thought of writing a blog about a podcast project is laughable: I engage with zero social media forums / platforms and am firmly analogue (although I did join what’s app / enjoy Internet Forums for a while 15 or so years ago).

How did that happen? What does it mean in terms of next steps / moving on from the old abnormal? Is there any hope?

They’re the kind of questions that we’re thinking about quite a lot at the moment (but not too deeply!), and they look like they’re going to be part of the Covid landscape – and beyond – for some time to come … and not just for me in terms of engaging with the modern world!

What do I know? is another question … and the answer (whether it’s about a lack of digital interaction or possible thinking around 2020 vision solutions for the 21st century) is what led to this project about radical thoughts and actions for radical times. What felt radical 9 months ago (lock down / a summer with no outdoor events / millions of workers being furloughed and their wages being paid by the government) suddenly doesn’t feel quite so extra ordinary (although it’s definitely out of the ordinary!) and as Einstein said we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. It definitely feels like everything is up for grabs all of the time at the moment.

Walk the Plank and the Working Class Movement Library first worked in partnership on the 2019 project Bones of Paine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8d65ZmDXjf0 and when Lynette, Library Manager mentioned there was emergency funding available from the Arts Council to support projects taking place in the Covid crisis it got me thinking: there’s an incredible wealth of thought, knowledge and ideas in the Library’s collection and maybe this is an opportunity to not come up with new ideas but celebrate what’s already there – no point re-inventing the wheel. Radical thoughts and actions for radical times.

We came up with five different starting points (which was increased to six due to the number of participants that wanted to be involved – they’re each working in a duo with an podcast artist) which are:

1.The Ballad and the Strike, looking at the General Strike / Pit and Factory PapersEwan MacColl. How, and when, do collective voices join together for change?

Artist Alison Surtees working with Tracy

2.Women’s struggles focus including Lancashire Women Against Pit ClosuresManchester & Salford Women’s Trades Council, activist Betty Tebbs.  How do we ensure gender equality means more than just votes?

Artist Sarah Llewellyn working with Helen

3.Thomas Paine: challenging the thinking of the status quo / universal income and credit / Shy Radicals. What might a welfare state for the 21st century look like?

Artist Dan Steele working with Peter

4.Joseph Brotherton (Salford City roots and vegetarianism) / parks / environment – healthy us for healthy places / Kinder Mass Trespass / public rights in privately owned spaces. How does being outside help us to be an outsider?

Artist Danielle Porter working with Hilary

5. BaME focus, centred around the Moss Side member of the Communist Party Len Johnson, but also the 1945 Pan African Congress in Manchester plus Black Lives Matter. Why now is the time toinstigate a change against institutionalised racism 

Artist Danielle (Lae) Carbon Wilson working with Jemma 

6. Engels(as we celebrate the bi-centenary of his birth this year) / Roy Whitfield’s research scrapbook about Engels in Manchester/ the Burns sisters. What might Engels scrap from the last 200 years as we look forward beyond 2020 to ensure ‘an ounce of action is worth a ton of theory?’.

Artist Alan Williams working with Christina

And then I remembered the Thomas Paine quote about beginning the world over again … it seemed – as is unnervingly the case – to sum things up just as precisely in the here and now as it did when it was written over 200 years ago: which gave the project its title of ‘Begin the World Over Again’.

We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months. The reflection is awful, and in this point of view, how trifling, how ridiculous, do the little paltry cavilings of a few weak or interested men appear, when weighed against the business of a world.”

Perhaps now is moment and we no longer have to wait for the great leap forward https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_vK6OWwmbQ

Who knows? I think a lot of people care. I’m hoping the podcasts will provide a few pointers from the past to help with the future, something to listen to and think about before we do whatever it is we might do.

More information on the project here https://www.wcml.org.uk/about-us/projects/begin-the-world-over-again/ and the podcasts should be completed and ready to listen to mid – end November. In the meantime, let’s keep thinking how to make the radical a little less radical and the normal a little less new: there’s some thinking from the past which maybe isn’t so strange after all.