My 2009 Christmas Letter

Saturday, 26th December 2009 at 19:16 UTC 5 comments

Dear all, my sincerest apologies for the day’s delay in getting this to you. In part, its because its only 4 days since I returned from Copenhagen. It was the summation of a very busy, and often bizarre, year. Its had its ups and downs, as they all do, of which I shall attempt to cover the highlights briefly, before looking ahead to the dramatic changes 2010 is going to bring to my life.

The year started with myself working a desk job for an engineering services firm, handling designs for buildings, many of them schools and hospitals. It was not exactly a bad experience of the private sector, but as the office temp, I was first in line to go when the recession hit. In one sense, grim as the situation seemed, it was a blessing both to myself and the rest of the office, many of whom had families to support.

It also started with some mad organising of protests around the Gaza Invasion that began a year ago today. I organised a regional demonstration at the BBC in Leeds in less than a week, which was attended by 120 people from 6 different towns and cities in Yorkshire, and drew media attention to the plight of those trapped inside what has become effectively an open prison.

During the whole of 2009 I have had the immense pleasure of being a member of People and Planet at York University, carving out a unique role in the group and earning an “Official Advisor” t-shirt. Along with other groups, we spent much of the Spring term working on the Disarm campaign, making many new friends in the process, and leading one of the largest campus protests in several years. Disarm aims to have the University of York, the North’s largest Higher Education investor in the Arms Industry, implement ethical investment policy in all areas.

On April 1st and the early hours of April 2nd, I and several of my friends would witness one of the largest and widest acts of police brutality upon a peaceful protest this decade. We joined Climate Camp’s “Financial Fools Day” camp on Bishopsgate. I had specifically chosen the Bishopsgate action outside the European Carbon Exchange building over the protest at the Bank of England as much for the tactics as the message.

After a brilliant afternoon, a senior police officer is said to have reported at around 6pm “a peaceful, party like atmosphere” to his seniors only minutes before hundreds of riot police moved in, shield-bashing hundreds of protesters. The actions of the police continue to be the subject of court and parliamentary review. The emotional fall-out amongst friends took up most of my time in April.

Early in the summer I was told about the Parish Assistant scheme at St Michael le Belfrey, York’s largest church. In the hopes of raising some money towards a year during which there would be little prospect or even time for employment, I began training for a sponsored cycle ride in the summer. Alongside this I began running workshops at the University in an ongoing series entitled “Tools for Action”.

The summer months approached and many of my friends left the city at the start of July. But life wasn’t quiet for long as my friend Rebekah returned from Canada. We met at the Student Christian Movement summer gathering 2008, and spent time together during the rest of her 2 month stay, before she returned to take up a place at Med School in Calgary. We met up in July when she arrived in Manchester for a short placement, and spent most of her two vacation weeks together. Eventually we got around discussing our feelings, and have now been together for six months, though “together” is perhaps an odd word given ‘the pond’ separating us.

In August I set off for Soul Survivor in Somerset… on my bike. 250 miles, 4 nights and 2 sore knees, and I arrived at the Bath and West Show Ground in Shepton Mallet. It was, as ever, an amazing time of reflection and recharging, and the bank holiday weekend brought with it Greenbelt, which my parents and sister attended.

In September I began my work at St Michaels, a vast and complex entity that I still struggle to navigate. Its at once both an amazing gift to have a position within such a large and renowned church and also a massive uphill struggle effectively running the “Social Action” department singe-headedly – I’m somewhere between running the volunteering office, being the pet-campaigner, and providing the voice of conscience for anything being planned or purchased.

It’s probably 90% frustration and very difficult to see what difference I might actually be having, as the same people seem to be showing up to any and every event I run, and I have to adjust to working in amongst people with very different attitudes to those I’m used to seeing even amongst groups of Christians. I’ve already caused one huge controversy just by trying to open up a debate, and there’s probably plenty more to come.

Late in September, I was offered a day a week of paid work at the Alzheimer’s Society in York. Though the job is mostly desk-work, its been an eye opener in many ways; I’m not an expert on care of neglect of the elderly in the first world by any means, but its something I confront every one of the days I’m in the office.

In October, a few members of St Michaels joined groups from churches and wider society from around Yorkshire for a “Human Wave” around York Minster, symbolising rising seas and rising public opinion. 400 people linked arms in a giant chain, with the local MP and civic party starting the Mexican wave myself having to shout the countdown, without a megaphone. If only my MP moved when I asked him to the rest of the time!

In November I ran workshops at the University again, and held a screening of Climate film “The Age of Stupid” at St Michaels. Just before the Copenhagen Climate Summit, I ran a Climate Change themed prayer event at church. On 5th December, I took two buses to London for the National Climate March, “The Wave”, including St Michael’s brand new “Social Action” banner. I also helped out with the “York to Gaza” aid campaign, which has purchased, equipped, filled and staffed an ambulance for the “Viva Palestina!” aid convoy the is currently stuck on the banks of the Red Sea in Jordan, trying to enter Egypt en route to the Rafah Crossing.

The Climate March and the Ambulance Farewell both out of the way, I attended the penultimate meeting of People and Planet last term with my rucksack already packed, and after the meeting 8 friends accompanied me to the station to say farewell as I boarded the train for Copenhagen. I checked with a few friends over there; apparently my send off was the biggest for any single activist, well done guys – it meant such a huge amount.

I shall write elsewhere in detail about Copenhagen, but the 4 words I would select to describe it would be “Exciting”, “Frustrating”, “Draining” and “Inspiring”. What time Government’s wasted, Social Movements used well. A new consensus for globally connected activism on Climate Issues emerged more strongly than I could have imagined, despite immense pressure on Global South delegates, Civil Society representatives and Social Movement actors from the conference centre to the streets. Due to the snow, my return was chaotic to say the least, and I ended up diverting through the Netherlands and onto a boat to Hull.

As Mum left St Barnabas in September, my parents moved out of York, and so I’m now at their new home in Alnwick, Northumberland. Tomorrow I head to York where my housemate and I are hosting a New Years party to which all friends are invited.

In the months ahead I shall be handing over everything I do, as far as is possible, to other people pending my emigration for Canada, tentatively scheduled for September. It will be a huge upheaval. There are various possibilities for work in Canada, of which one is the “Tar Sands Campaign”, aiming to shut down the most dangerous and carbon intensive oil-extraction project in the world.

As I prepare to leave familiar patterns and places, I’m certainly nervous about what the future might bring. I’m sure greater things are yet to come, but I suspect at least the first year in Canada is going to be quite disempowering as I start from scratch, get frustrated with different ways of doing things and try to embed myself into completely new communities and social movements. Given the lower standards of public transport in North America, I think the most scary idea beyond moving has to be learning to drive!

I’m not really sure how to wrap this year’s message up. There are many things I could say, many of which might be more wishful thinking than actual reality. I hope everyone has a really great 2010, and that I get to see you all to make my farewells before the time comes to move on. I’m so very thankful to all the friends who’ve made this year an amazing time of relative stability in the midst of so much I could feel gloomy about. I’ll miss you all.

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Entry filed under: Personal.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bryony  |  Saturday, 26th December 2009 at 19:52 UTC

    Hi Graham,

    Having lived in Toronto, it was the best public transport system I have ever used, so don’t necessarily assume Calgary’s/all of Canada’s public transport will be rubbish. I have a friend who’s doing a Masters in Environmental Design in Calgary who’s also generally pretty green-minded (she was my housemate in Toronto but has since moved to do her course) so let me know if you want to be put in touch!

    B x.

    Reply
    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Saturday, 26th December 2009 at 19:59 UTC

      I was certainly referring more to the town-to-town connections, and in particular, going anywhere the isn’t a town. I’m not spending my life on Greyhound if I can help it! Would be awesome to be put in touch with your friend nearer the time, by the way.

      Reply
  • 3. Neil T.  |  Saturday, 26th December 2009 at 20:54 UTC

    Best of luck with your move to Canada!

    Reply
  • 4. Greg  |  Monday, 28th December 2009 at 10:36 UTC

    Canada? Sheesh, that’s a long way. Oh dear. Best of luck.

    Before you go, I have one last piece of correction to indulgein. “Summation” is not the word you want here, and has never been the appropriate word wheneve I’ve seen you use it. The word you are looking for is “Summary”.

    Reply
  • 5. Helen P  |  Monday, 28th December 2009 at 13:24 UTC

    Good Luck for Canada!!
    Where abouts are you heading to. After Uni I spent 3 and half months living over there in the North West Terrortories (mainly in a town built by ESSO but not through my own choice) I was offered work by family friends as a sort of Eu-pair. I loved Canada and would have happily stayed out there if i had not got committments to come back to the uk for. It was strange how familiar a lot of it feels, the queen on the bank notes, cadbury chocolate in the shops etc. I also spent time in Vancouver and Edmonton and the travelled through the rockies its a spectacular country.
    Its nice to hear you are happy!! ///don’t be scarred of whats to come be excited for the new adventures life holds. Good luck keep in touch!! Helen Plant xx

    Reply

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