Pray for the dead and work like hell for the living

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Lindängelund community garden. Sunflowers planted by children from the local nursery

I have been volunteering in community gardens in Malmö for the last four years as well growing as much as I can on my balcony and window ledges. Yet this summer, when visiting friends in England and Scotland, both gardeners, my partner and I realised it was time for our own allotment.

The allotments are part of a community gardening project on the outskirts of Malmö that is based around the values of growing, sharing, learning and creativity. As any gardener will tell you, getting your hands in the soil and seeing the wonder of tiny seeds turning into flowers and food is good for the soul. Somtimes it is called horticultural therapy and has much to recommend it.

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In 2010 Rebecca Solnit wrote:
“The word radical comes from the Latin word for root. Perhaps the most radical thing you can do in our time is to start turning over the soil, loosening it up for the crops to settle in, and then stay home to tend them.”

Solnit, however, is not talking about the people who have no choice but to move, fleeing their homes and risking death because their homes are no longer safe. Who would love to tend their gardens, but cannot.

Right now, Europe, rich, safe Europe, is see ever more clearly the consequences of our greed for oil and the miseries created by finance-driven capitalism and neoliberal doxa. (The film Let’s Make Money is an excellent primer). Many poor in rich Europe are struggling to feed their families, heat their homes and pay their bills. But many millions of displaced people in the Global South are trying to stay alive, to make it to safety, and many are dying.

If we want to change this, we need to organise together. We need to not only turn our swords into ploughshares but our rage and sorrow into action.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

From The Low Road by Marge Piercy

One example of incredible civil society organising is Kontrapunkt, a cultural collective in Malmö, run on a wing and prayer. As of today, 21st September 2015, it is providing shelter, 2500 clean beds, food, water, legal advice, bus tickets and great solidarity to refugees arrving in the city. They have set up a support network that includes their neighbours, the Turkish mosque in Malmö. Hundreds of volunteers are part of this network.

The collective started this work on 7th September, completely transforming their space. The speed at which the support centre has been set up and the efficiency of the organising has to be seen to be believed. They are moving mountains.

Civil society gets its arse into gear while our elected representatives do … not very much … but talk up a storm.

I am privileged to be able to plan ahead and grow food and gain strength from working with the land. I want that privilege to be a human right. If you feel the same way, I cannot tell you what to do, whether to donate time or money or expertise or necessary items. You might even provide some horticultural therapy for someone who really needs it.

But whatever we do, we can all do something and that includes a critique of the system we live in and taking responsibility for changing it.