Guest Blog by Manda Brookman
The Importance of Being Unreasonable
In “Hope in the Dark”, Rebecca Solnit tells how seeing a small cluster of women standing in the rain outside the Kennedy White House in the early 1960s to protest against nuclear weaponry persuaded Sir Benjamin Spock to look into what issue would drive a small group of women to such relentless and lonely discomfort. He did; and it was a turning point for him. He went on to become one of the most high-profile activists against nuclear weapons.
Those women and those they worked with and debated against and influenced were the beginnings of a tipping point. They were social dissent writ large: gain-sayers, active-ists, creative disruptors: women willing, without the comfort of huge crowds, to challenge and then disrupt the status quo, and demand the creative space to craft a better alternative. The compelling message is that dissent is a crucial part of our evolution; we need continuously to challenge the norm in order not to slide into the mud of injustice and inertia; and that hope we will succeed in that challenge is more than simply wishing for something better. It’s a visceral, live force. It’s about the conviction that our efforts will contribute to change, it’s knowing in our bones that our every eye-stinging belly-clenching will-bruising effort will move the argument forward, and the fact that we may not see that change makes no difference to that effort. Dissent begets progress. And everything is better when men and women work together.
Right now there are women across Cornwall galvanising their communities, their close and not so close friends and their peer businesses to begin the Stygian task of cleaning our beaches of monumental quantities of plastic waste. It feels like a task that can never be completed and is much too huge to change. Microbeads from toothpaste, bits of Lego sets, bailer twine, fishing nets, plastic lighters, crisp packets, plastic packaging, polystyrene burger boxes, yards of dumped tarpaulins, shampoo bottles, yoghurt pots, bleach containers, plastic bags, endless, endless water bottles surge up onto the beach every day to ruin views, habitats, wildlife and livelihoods. And every day small groups arrive with carrier bags, spades, rubber gloves and garden tools to scrape, sift, dig and heave the unwanted scum of our plastic-ridden lives out of the surf and from where it has gouged itself into the sand and rammed itself between the rocks and wrapped itself round the wild geography of our beautiful coastlines.
We know it will come back. We know every day the sea brings more of this stuff from further up the coast, or across the ocean, or from ships and boats and ferries carrying tourists or fishermen or freight passengers and that every high tide means not only more of the stuff to heave off the beach but more incalculable damage to marine wildlife and sea-dependent communities.
One might question the point. And sometimes when your fingers are frozen and you can just see the rubbish stretching for miles and you can see more tiny fragments amongst the pebbles and seaweed turning into a hideous of awful plastic sand, it can be easy to wonder why. It’s endless – a rolling, wicked surge bringing a fresh hell of plastic pollution every morning.
And yet we are there, with our hand tools and weeding gloves and our spades, in the rain and the wind and the sunshine and refusing to be baulked by this mountainous task and ready to garden the beach. We are teenagers and retirees, students and business owners, surfers and strategists. And the point is not just the beach. The point is the doing. Because by doing, we are precisely articulating the problem.
We clean and haul and dig and heave and create piles of grotty battered bits of unwanted perpetual plastic and then we take photographs and write articles and call friends and then we social media the hell out of it and refuse to be daunted. Because the point here is not the plastic: the point here is the dissent. This is not ok, it’s not something we are prepared to live with and until we figure out a way to stop it we will clean it up and say so loudly and unrelentingly with increasing decibels of outrage. Pat Smith, founder of Cornwall’s “The Final Straw”, had had enough after years of working to care for her natural environment; as a tourism business owner, her livelihood depended on a clean environment; but it was much more important than that. It was her home and her children and grandchildren’s home. And she kept wondering why “someone didn’t do something” about plastic straws until watching Plastic Ocean tipped her into a one-way epiphany that she was indeed someone and she was damn well going to do something about it. And we have been, for years. We’ve been cleaning up our real and metaphorical beaches and urging action for decades, as individuals, community groups and lobby organisations like Surfers Against Sewage, demanding clean seas and clean business practice; and now these unrelenting creative dissentors are welcoming a new generation of disruptors: Pat of The Final Straw; student Emily of Beach Guardians; Debbie of RefillBude; Jill of Clean Cornwall; Rachel of Plastics Free Penzance and Collette kicking off Plastics Free Newquay - and many, many more. And these women, together with groups like Surfers Against Sewage, Bude Cleaner Seas, the Environment Agency and hundreds of local businesses, are dissenting and acting and disrupting our wholly unholy plastic habit. And we know we will succeed.
About Manda Brookman
Manda has been working in Cornwall for the last 16 years on creative disruption and social change, and previously in local, national and international programmes around the environment, homelessness, literacy, human rights, networking and communications. She is Director of Permanently Brilliant, a social enterprise sited on a national Demonstration Permaculture Site, running four interconnected programmes: CoaST, the One Planet Tourism Network, with 3,000 members across 50 countries, galvanising responsible tourism activism; permacultural practice and community outreach programmes; a support network for Cornwall’s response to the refugee crisis, and the dismantling of the asylum system; and the emerging Café Disruptif network providing support for social, economic and environmental "creative disruptors". Permanently Brilliant is a systems-thinking social enterprise reconnecting economic, social and environmental progress, with a particular focus on the nature of the human mind and how we can best communicate the need for and our ability to craft progressive change.