Some Thoughts on Patti Smith, Batteries for Bread and Jeremy Corbyn

Some Thoughts on Patti Smith, Batteries for Bread and Jeremy Corbyn

Two images from Patti Smith's incantatory show at the Roundhouse that will linger long in my limbic system 'batteries for bread' and 'People have the Power. That moment when her Johnny, a Burroughs Wild Boy, surveys the debris of his generation watching children scavenging among the mountains of my detritus, reclaiming batteries for bread, hits me between my two white opals. Somehow she forces me to look on the landscape of my consumption and reflect 'what am I doing?' Here in my comfortable world I see the endless consumption of my generation effortlessly upgrading my ephemera, discarding the old, adding to that mountain and wondering how I have I been persuaded that this is progress. And then there is the incantation that 'People have the Power' and I question 'Do we really?' Is this just a hippie dream to change the world into something better than it is.

The recent elevation of Jeremy Corbyn from backbencher to leader has made me contemplate the problem of change even more. I am well aware that many consider that he is not Prime Minster material but really does that matter? What matters most perhaps is that his election may make people think differently, challenge their way of doing things and have an unseen impact on our world. He may or may not be the person to lead the Labour Party to a position of electoral victory, at the moment that is unclear; after all we are at least four and a half years away from another general election. What he is doing is creating a space in which we can finally talk about things. And even if he did lead the Labour Party to victory I am still faced with the difficulty that in any democracy the winning party will be doing things that a large number of people disagree with.

So I am struck by the problem that my better may be somebody else's hell, a paralysing moment of fear recognising that the perfect world I may envisage is not the world that others would want to live in. So what can I do? Well I think it starts by recognising that power is everywhere, in the minute actions of the everyday, not in the hands of the few, neither Jeremy nor David, but in the hands of the many. Power is not macro but it is micro. If I take the Foucauldian notion that power is about the actions we take that modify the actions of others including ourselves then people really do have the power, everyday I can take action to modify my actions and do things to modify those around me. I can take a pebble and watch the ripples flow. Power becomes taking the opportunity to engage in a single random act of kindness.

I have often been paralysed into inaction by the enormity of the task of making things better and that is my problem. I do nothing because I often think 'well what difference will it make?' and I fear that many of us think the same. That because we cannot see the long-term effect of the small changes we might make we hesitate to make any change at all. Which brings me back to Patti. Forty years ago with her band she made a record, a record who's ripples are still moving across the face of the earth. Horses may have been a very big pebble that made some very large ripples, but I truly believe that I can toss out my own small stones into that lake and cause a ripple, the effect of which I may not see but it may join with others to create a tidal wave. So tomorrow I will remember to do one random act of kindness, I will remember to use one less battery, I will remember that I have been changed by seeing Patti Smith, who was changed by reading Rimbaud and Blake and Dylan. People really do have the power to wrestle the world from fools. I may not be able to change the world but I can change my world and who knows where that might end.


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