True North Health invited the Erasmus Plus / Step Across the Border project partners, and also the general public, to participate in this Queer Punk Health Creation Week which constituted a series of internal workshops and talks, including 2 private and 2 public events over a 5 day period.
Director for True North Health Caro Smart writes: "As a young one I only saw punk as angry white men, rightly or wrongly,the diversities and nuances absent from my understanding. Recently I saw an inspiring film called Queercore and was re educated about the diversity and the inclusivity of punk activism as outsider queer subcultures.It nourished and grounded me in my lived history of resistance.
The strength of punk, the spirit of DIY (just get up and do it even if it is crap) plus the anger at an unfair system, underpinned the energy and spirit, and was a main driver for the part of the London Underground free party rave scene that I was a part of in the 90s. That anger transmuted into sound system cultures and a Do It Together ethos, dancing love peace and unity. Together. And I always felt more at home there than on the "gay and lesbian" scene (as it was called then).
It is my background with this that informs my lived attitude to health creation and also the creation of True North Health, a not for profit grass roots organisation of which I am a voluntary director. Obviously True North refers to finding your own guiding star to navigate through challenges in life but also to represent a different face of the north, than the white voracious patriarchal system that colonises us and is imprinted on us and our understandings.
True North Health is about health creation that joins up the dots, that is, to use the buzzword of the now, intersectional. It is about wellbeing for all, not wellbeing for some, at the expense of others. It is about looking at systemic diseases like cancer, and the body and its relation to the world for example in a different way. By that I mean an invitation to embrace the concept of radical compassion. To be able to hold with compassion the body when it fails, when our cells and systems don't work as they should, and make positive restorative action from that place. Like wise for our social and collective bodies. Radical compassion is a way of collapsing the binary of "them and us".
It is in the spirit of all this that we present the 5 day programme Queer Punk Health Creation, as part of the Erasmus Plus horizontal learning exchange called Step Across The Border with our allies and fellow partners from Berlin and Marseilles, sharing sound, music and the coming together to share a moment in our lives to radically learn, teach, create support and cohesion and empathy. "
Inspired by the Scapegoat theme of our Marseiiles SATB project partners l'Embobineuse / Compagnie Peanuts, this activity schedule aimed to look at the body and how and where in our bodies we scapegoat ourselves. This is particularly relevant for activists in the constant battle against "burn out" as well as people existing on the margins of society.
Each morning was marked by a daily movement and meditation check-in, also involving small discussions about how to create health and well-being and also recording sound before and after the sessions. The purpose of these sessions were to see how the voice transmits our state of well being – an important indicator both for ourselves, as well as in the work of our respective organisations and especially relevant for picking up hidden cues from people we might be working with.
As a small and itinerant loose organisation of women and trans people who are low on economic resources, True North Health come together to create projects and events without a fixed operations base, using outside and inside spaces including New River Studios, Lordship Hub Community Centre and the Curve Garden Dalston who are all not for profit community projects.
SATB Meeting & Activities Programme
Tuesday 9th October Thanks to meticulously prepared directions by True North Health (TNH) coordinator Caro, the SATB participants from Marseille, Berlin and Arnhem, managed to easily navigate the sprawling metropolis, meeting together on schedule at Caros house in the Seven Sisters area of Tottenham in North London.
Participating in the weeks activities: Magdi Reichi, Elsa Gobert and Ana Servo (lEmbobineuse/Marseille ) John Moulden a.k.a. "Coost", Stine Brinklov and Renate Koening (Unter Druck/Czentrifuga/GER) and Caro Smart, Rasheeqa Ahmad and Marwa Barakat (True North Health/ UK)
Firstly, a touch base meeting; whereby the group were given itinery lists and brought up to speed with latest developments concerning the planned activity programme.
We were fortunate to have warm sunny Autumnal weather which was perfect for the afternoons outdoor medicinal herb identification walk with TNH member Rasheeqa Ahmad who also works for the Herbs Without Border http://herbalistswithoutborders.co.uk/ network . These herb walks have become a recurring and important theme throughout the SATB transnational meetings and Rasheeqas invaluable knowledge on the subject has been both informative and inspiring. By now the sun was setting, which meant we were sadly unable to visit the Olympic Park for a Capoeira session at the invitation of Paulinha Martens and Zoe Marriage. Just to mention that this is a cultural musical/dance tradition from the African diaspora, played equally by people regardless of gender that has traversed time and geographical borders as a way of creative expression and remembrance of cultural roots. These regular free for all sessions feature live musical accompaniment.
Wednesday 10th October On this beautifull sunny day, the group walked over to nearby Downhills Park, to begin the first of our daily movement meditation sessions led by Caro from True North Health.The workshop focused on voice exercises which help tap into the body and are mostly a mixture of Chinese and Daoist medicinal practices.Caro made voice recordings, the purpose of which, to sonically monitor how the participants, and the group as a whole, progress throughout the week.Magdi, actor and director from theater company Peanuts in Marseille, remarked on the similarities with actor training and „grounding“ techniques.
Wednesday afternoon the SATB group split according to their wishes with the choice to visit Groundswell in Brixton, which is a peer to peer project for the homeless, and also St Ethelbergers Peace and Reconciliation Centre which prioritizes building community resilience through nurturing diversity and building relationships across division and difference, working to find ways of acceptance and co-operation between different faith based communities and dissolving prejudices and whereby LGBTQI+ people of faith integrate and are empowered.
Ana & Elsa (l'Embobineuse) , Coost & Renate (Czentrifuga) 2018 Step Across the Border on 199Radio, London
That evening we visited New River Studios, the location for the following days SATB public event, in order to look at the space as part of the preparation work and later we made a live radio show there on 199Radio, We bunched together into the tiny room to talk about our project and the respective work of the partner organisations, as well as promote the upcoming SATB events. Caro gave a great talk about her work, her philosophy and the SATB activities, together with Elsa, project coordinator for lEmbobineuse who also talked about their in-house migrant theater group Compagnie Peanuts, as well as the actual case of the refugee support ship Aquarius, which, a few days before, had been stripped of its flag and was lying paralysed in the Marseille harbour. Also recently, there had been been a huge demonstration in Marseille which was aimed at drawing attention to the current illegalisation of helping refugees and demanding that the Aquarius be given a French flag and allowed to continue helping refugees at risk in the Mediterranean. (LINK TO OUR RADIOSHOW)
Thanks to producers Freddy and Lee for their support! True North Health are now in discussions to continue and make regular radio shows there.
Thursday 11th October 10:30 - Midday: Continuing our daily collective sound workshop, this time at the Lordship Recreation Ground at the the Hub Community Centre, which is part of a 4 million pounds redevelopment project which started in 2009 through funding by Big Lottery, the Marathon Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund.
This South Eastern corner of the park is adjacent to Broadwater Farm, housing estates which, on 6 October 1985, was the flash point for urban riots between black youths and largely white police, sparked after the death of Cynthia Jarrett, an African-Caribbean woman who died the previous day due to heart failure during a police search at her home. At the time, Broadwater Farm was a national symbol of urban neglect and, unlike the adjacent park, the cheap and inadequate buildings were never improved upon. Today, plans are underway to destroy them to make way for new buildings for wealthy people which will effectively push out the local community.
The Hub is an ecologically designed construction and community space and it was here that we carried out the second sound and meditation workshop focused on sound bathing, whereby participants took turns to lie in the center of the room surrounded by the group who, using their voices, intone the name of the subject for 3 minutes. After the 9 participants had completed the exercise, they shared their experience with the group. This technique is aimed more for people working as teachers and practitioners in psycho/social health care and is not necessarily recommended for people with severe trauma, as it can trigger painfull memories and have contra productive effects. Indeed, not all members of the group found the experience (of lying on the floor in the middle of the group ) pleasant, but for the most it was a remarkable meditative sonic experience.
Caro (True North Health) Magdi (lEmbobineuse) & Rasheeqa (True North Health)
Next, the group visited Mel from Herbalists without Borders, who lives on a canal barge „Stormvogel“ which is part of a boat community based at Stonebridge South Moorings at Tottenham Hale. Here, we were priveliged to take part in a 3 hour medicine making workshop, which is part of the effort, along with Refugee Community Kitchen, to help refugees stranded in the Calais area. The group helped prepare a cough medicine using cinnamon, marshmallow root and vegetable glycerine.
Mel, who makes regular trips to Calais, explained how she worked alongside volunteer doctors who were there treating serious conditions such as TB and she outlined the most common illnesses and afflictions affecting the refugees there. Most of Mels herbal and plant remedies were for coughs, colds and skin conditions but the most common issue was treating people suffering from police beatings and gas attacks which, of course, is also a traumatic and bewildering experience for the carers themselves.
Another health issue amongst refugees in the Calais region was, gaining trust of women in order to help them with intimate health problems such as cystitus. A further problem was how to effectively label medicine bottles amongst a diaspora who speak many different languages and many of whom cannot read or write. The medicine we prepared was to be sent to Calais that same week and, at the end of the workshop, Mel asked the group about our thoughts and how we could imagine using this knowledge in the sense of our own organisational community outreach. Ana from lEmbobineuse, who is also a festival and activity organiser, was interested to share and promote this knowledge amongst her network. Coost from Czentrifuga was interested to look at solutions for medicine bottle label designs by issue using pictograms. Thanks also to Mels partner Russel for his valuable assistance and sharing his own insights into herbal medicine.
"Activisms of Connection" This public event was held at New River Studios and the focus was on collective and individual well-being, celebrating the psychosocial impact of connection through music, herbal medicine, discussion and film. The event included guest speakers, live music, Djs and vegan pizza. The aim of the event was to promote the SATB project, encourage networking, and also help build solidarity and promote the benefits of social psycho immune boosting health.
Magdi, theater director from SATB partner Compagnie Peanuts (lEmbobineuse, Marseille) together with his Marseille colleagues Ana and Elsa, presented their new film made by Jerome Fi.no which explores the phenomena of scapegoating as portrayed with first hand knowledge by the companies' mostly African (Comorean islands) migrant cast and production team.
Also represented, the landmark project Rainbow Pilgrims https://www.rainbowpilgrims.com which examines the hidden history of LGBTQ+ migrants to the UK, documenting the interconnection between faith, sexuality, gender and ethnicity through oral history, film and photography. Project founder, Jewish male transactivist Shaan Surat Knan, presented the work of his organisation and participated in the panel discussion together with special guests Monica https://rainbowpilgrims.atavist.com/community#chapter-3414091 and Rakel https://rainbowpilgrims.atavist.com/faith#chapter-3388109 who were both collaborators and contributors to the Rainbow Pligrims project, and who presented testimonies to the descrimination and hardships they have undergone as LGBTQ women, both in Africa, and also through UK Home Office interrogations. (click on the links to read their stories).
Also joining the discussion were Rasheeqa Ahmad (True North Health / Herbalists Without Borders) http://herbalistswithoutborders.co.uk/ and Victor Paes from the Westminster Herbalists Without Borders Student Society https://www.uwsu.com/society/8918/ HWB is a fast growing network of practitioners growers and students who are actively engaged in the effort to give medicinal aid and support refugees and migrants.
Nina Alonso from Yellow Days Organisation talked about their grassroots work helping to integrate refugees within local communities in Greece firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Bedlam, one of the founders of Refugee Community Kitchen https://www.refugeecommunitykitchen.com/ talked about his organisations work, not only in the Calais and Dunkirk area, but also about new initiatives to help in Bosnia and also in London, where the RCK organisation are helping to feed the cities homeless. Meanwhile, the Calais operation has served over a million nutritious meals and is still cooking and distributing 2000 meals daily.
Steve pointed out that although „The Jungle“ refugee camp has been evicted, the problem has not gone away and, in fact, is on the increase with refugees now coming from more countries than ever before. Steve also maintained that it was the grassroots organisations and networks in Europe that were effectively „holding down“ emergency relief for refugees and used the example of a recent trip to Bosnia whereby the large NGOs working there were offering people a single bowl of rice in comparison to RCKs principle of serving quality food , with diverse menus that reflect on the culinary cultural differences of the refugees. The point here was that people were offered the „dignity of choice“ after having suffered so much. Also, these meals were being produced at a quarter of the cost of the aforementioned NGOs plain rice. Steve went on to say that RCK had the logistical capacity to feed up to 10,00 people daily, indicating his organisations readiness and resolve to deal with the refugees and migrant phenomena and „feed people without judgement“.
The evening continued with live music on the highest level by an incredible solo djembe drum & voice performance from Khadijatou Doyneh who is a Guyanese raised and London based singer-songwriter, author, spoken word poet, musician, and dancer. https://soundcloud.com/juju-rock/bawling
Continuing with the high level music programme, we were honoured to have Dj Ritu http://www.djritu.com This pioneering global grooves guru, turntablist & BBC broadcaster has been active on the British and international club scene for 31 years. „The ultimate musical chameleon“ who also co-founded the internationally acclaimed Outcaste Records. Last but not least the Samba Sisters Collective a multi-cultural group comprised of women of all ages and backgrounds who come together to give sonic support at demonstrations and fund raising events.
There were approximately 150 people in attendance and it was encouraging to see the panelists, musicians and guests, many of whom were unknown to each other, exchanging contacts and pledging mutual support. The event was live streamed thanks to TNH member and Cambridge University researcher Lucy van de Viel and proceeds from the event went to support Refugee Community Kitchen and African Rainbow Family.
Friday 12th October After the daily voice workshop, participants moved to the Islington area where they were invited to sit in on the "Diversity Building Solidarity Symposium" This was an important LGBTQ+ awareness event that highlighted the many sides of London’s diverse LGBTQ+ community and, for the SATB group, it was an important resource for our undertstanding of current issues as well as an opportunity to look for shared goals, solidarity building and to be a part of raising the voices of the most excluded within the rainbow community.
The HEAR Equality and Human Rights Network „connects and supports equalities specialists across all equality characteristics and across London to get their voices heard and to influence policy and the environment within which people work for human rights“ The event was open to charities, campaigners, policy makers, funders and service providers and we were very honoured to be invited, thanks to Shaan for that!
Other organisations and contributors in attendance were, Surat-Shaan Knan (Jewish Liberal Movement), Ash Kotak (#AIDSMemoryUK), Regard (LGBTQ+ who self identify as Disabled), Gendered Intelligence ( Transgender Awareness), Bi Pride UK (support group for Bi-Sexual,and any others who experience attraction beyond gender), Intersex UK (organisation by and for Intersex people) and also UK Black Pride (LGBTQ+ People of Colour) This was an information packed symposium and transcripts from the speakers can be found at the HEAR website.
Here are a selected few points from amongst many interesting informations we gathered this day.
Ash Kotak Ash Kotak curator, playwright, filmaker and executive producer of films, The Joneses and Punched by a Homosexualist, gave an upbeat talk on his various roles as social cultural activist, including #AIDSMemoryUK; #Aesthesiaarts collective; #YouthAfterGrenfell (referring to the tragic fire at Grenfell tower in West London last year) as well as outreach work with Palestinian artists via@ArtsPalestine. Talking about AIDS, Ash dispelled the commonly held myth that the disease was on the decline and that AIDS is not over, it kills women and POC, and 50% of 35 million people living with HIV worldwide cannot access life saving medications. Under the motto "fighting for unity and commonality“ Ash called on the attendees for solidarity with the U.K. wide #EndAIDS2030Festival (26th November to 3rd December) marking the 30th year of World AIDS Day which includes events at the Royal Society of Arts, the BFI, Brixton Jamm, and at Club Kali with DJ Ritu as well as a simultaneous AIDS vigil around the U.K. to remember, to celebrate and to raise the concern that we must fight on. Access to HIV medication is very much about privilege; people on HIV meds cannot pass on HIV and we could stop AIDS now.
Also incredibly active and „wearing many hats“ was speaker Surat-Shaan Knan who (also) works for the Liberal Jewish Movement. Shaan outlined the work of the Rainbow Pilgrims project which he had already presented at the previous nights SATB event ,which is included as a PDF file at the bottom of this article. Shaan is also a member of the Stonewall Trans Advisory Group and mentioned the invaluable support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. There was also a spokesperson from the fund present at the event offering advice and consultation.
REGARD is a national organisation for LGBTQ+ people who self identify as being disabled and was represented by Dr Ju Gosling who gave a remarkable and enlightening speech which covered issues such as the double exclusion of LGBTQ+ disabled people amongst both LGBTQ+ and the rest of society, not disimiliar to to the plight of LGBTQ+ refugees in fact.
There was a lot of insightfull information to absorb with contentious issues such as „genetic descrimination“, whereby unborn babies diagnosed with (e.g.) Down Syndrome are sometimes aborted, although we know that DS people can be perfectly capable of living autonomously. The point raised was that medical professionals are often advising on abortion rather than offering neutral information to parents.
Ju also talked about hate crime (the following week was National Hate Crime Awareness Week) and also „befrienders“ - unscrupulous people who take advantage of disabled people, going in their homes and taking over their resources. Like most of the spokespeople and organisations we came into contact with in London, REGARD is a grassroots organisation, which often means, that the work is done by people who themselves belong to or identify with the client group. In this sense Ju pointed out the difference between „organisations for“ and „organisations with“ and that larger, state subsidised, „organisations for“, have vested interests in supporting the status quo in order to maintain funding. Another point raised was how society is conditioned to view family life and sex between disabled people in a negative light. Amongst other services REGARD offer „inclusion confidence training“ , altogether a highly compelling speech and a lot of food for thought.
Perhaps the most burning issue that was raised and picked upon by several of the speakers was the „Gender Recognition Act“ (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/gender-recognition-act) which is a very contentious and often divisive issue amongst LGBTQ+ communities. In this final week of this Governmental preliminary survey, there were united calls to ask LGBTQ+ and their allies to fill in the online questionares, which are part of the process in order to amend and make new legislation.
Abigail Kay talked about Bi Pride UK , outling the misconceptions and misnomers associated with the term of Bi sexuality and referred to a remarkable survey by the Stonewall organisation that states that 49% of 18-24 year olds identify as being neither straight or gay. Abigail also referred to a film to watch out for on the subject of being non binary “Move Away“.
The phenomena of people undergoing traumatic experiences by having to prove that they are transgender, can have an adverse effect of people being reluctant to come out. Another contentious point was raised about how surgical genital modifications are carried out so that people „fit in“ with projected norms of society. Also, differences were underlined concerning terminology such as bi-romantic in contrast to bi-sexual. There are circa 20 bi supportative groups in the UK.
UK Black Pride is Europes largest celebration of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and Caribbean heritage. It aims to foster, present, and celebrate Black LGBT culture through education, the arts, cultural events and advocacy. Representing was Josh Rivers who is also a spokesperson for TUC (UK trade union movement) who raised several interesting points, which often intersected with statements by speakers from other organisations. Here are a few points of interest from that presentation.
- "Rainbow Racism" - citing an example of how some gay men clubs refused entry to brown skinned people in the wake of London terrorist attacks.
- Dealing with micro aggressions and conflicts arising due to clashes of identity politics within the LGBTQ+ community.
- The phenomena of LGBTQ+ people being over objectified and oversexualised within society at large.
- A call out for equality , solidarity and unity!
Intersex UK This organisation is by and for intersex people (those born with difference of sex development or variations of sex anatomy: (Biologically diverse and non binary), working to protect the bodily autonomy and civil rights of intersex children and adolescents, and their families through government lobbying and educational outreach. The IUK mission is to end unnecessary surgeries and the normalisation of hormonal regimes on intersex infants and adolescents, promoting bodily autonomy and recognition/validation regarding Variation of Sex Characteristics (V.S.C) as well as lobbying for increased public education and access to to identifiication documents with preferred gender markers.
Co-founder Holly Greenberry who also adresssed the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014 on the subject of intersexuality, spoke to us via Skype about human rights abuses and civil inequality facing healthy intersex children and young adults, citing the example of their lack of rights to civil partnerships and marriage due to not being able to change gender classification on birth certificates. Some other interesting infos and points:
- Gender defintions are not just about genitals but also „hormone receptor responses“
- Another reference to the ongoing government work on the „ Gender Recognition Act“ which is causing infighting within LGBTQ+ communities, pitting fights between e.g. trans and feminist women, whereby transgender women are sometimes not accepted for their gender and often, fear based, assumptions that transwomen will usurp womens spaces and funding streams.
- Doctors and medical staff are often uninformed on this subject and hormonal regimes and gential surgery is often performed on people before they are of an age to make informed, self-choice and „the right to self declare“. These people are pathologised and can be subjected to traumatic horrific processes. Decisions are taken: this person is female and therefore, biologically needs the capacity to be penetrated, therefore surgery is carried out on the clitoris/vagina and , conversely: this person is male and requires the capacity to be able to penetrate and so operation is made on the penis.
- Intersex argues that gender assignation comes in later years and is something that does not overly concern a 6 year old. Existential decisions are therefore imposed by elders, doctors, society etc.
The seminar demonstrated perfectly the meaning of intersectionality and the SATB group stayed late in order to chat and join workshops together with the smaller remaining group. Many thanks to all the speakers and organisers!
Saturday 13th October We visited the Curve Garden in the Dalston area and were given a small tour by TNH representative Rasheeqa. The garden is a grassroots initiative which provides a green oasis for local people to relax in this particularly dense and busy area. There are many socio cultural initiatives coming together here, including a pizza- making initiative involved in local outreach work.
Saturday 13th October 14:00 - 17:00 public event: "Transformative Sounds for Health and Well Being" Shacklewell Lane Mosque
This remarkable building was formerly a synagogue and The SATB participants were honoured to see at first-hand how the guardians of this space (Egg and Mel) navigate cross cultural dialogues in order to create a radical community asset.
Transformative Sounds for Health and Well Being This TNH / SATB organised event was a LGBTQ+ and POC led, 3 hour immersion of transformative sound, a psycho social exercise in aspects of health creation which foster connection, spirituality, empowerment and transformation using sound as a tool. The co creators of the space were: Caro Ophis (TNH/ Interval Oracle) - toning and voice work to help centre and connect; interactive music and art for empowerment from Angelus Squid Marr as well as the Qraft Bistro collective and also gong bathing for immune boosting relaxation by Tafrina Dubois. This was a pay event with discounts for unwaged and free places for people from migrant and refugee communities. https://www.facebook.com/events/2140694809515655/
The event ran longer than expected and, sadly the SATB group were unable to attend that evenings "Woven Gold Choir " event at Café Karamel which is a grassroots socio cultural, vegan venue in the Wood Green area. This event was the musical highlight of the Spotlight on Asylum Festival season . The choir is made up of refugees and asylum seekers from many of our world’s most desperate and divided countries. Its members have fled from treacherous and threatening circumstances in Iran, Algeria, Myanamar, Chechnya, Pakistan, Congo and Uganda all with the common desire to find sanctuary. Over the past ten years, they have formed a family through their love of music and their yearning for peace, safety and solidarity. https://www.facebook.com/events/253770835349958/?active_tab=about
Many thanks to Caro and her team for organising such a dynamic and productive 5 days in London. This was a week whereby we were priveliged to be able to learn some sublime and specialist techniques aimed at re-charging, detoxing and calming, overactive and overfilled minds. The practices we learned go a long way in helping volunteers engaged in psycho social care with traumatised people, to reclaim their own equilibrium and are an effective antidote for one of the most common issues amongst care workers: burn out. Parallel to these exercises, we were fortunate to be able to dive deep into the diverse universe of Londons pro active LGBTQ+ community, as well as others involved with support work for refugees, migrants, the homeless and others who are socially marginalised. Only a city with the multicultural dimension of London can claim such an intense concentration of highly skilled and dedicated volunteers and True North Healths efforts to help bring together these intersecting forces is exemplary and very necessary in these troubling and divisive times.
For the next meeting we return to Berlin whereby we hope to bring many of the topics and threads together in oder to present a cohesive overview of project results.