Dan Glass was named one of the UK’s youth climate leaders by the Guardian, and one of Attitude magazine’s 66 new role models for helping bridge LGBTQ and environmental justice movements. The grandson of four Holocaust survivors, he’s perhaps best known for having superglued himself to the Prime Minister to draw attention to communities impacted by aviation and climate change. We invited him to speak in the US as part of our Aviation Justice Express lecture tour, but he was never issued a visa because of his prior participation in peaceful civil disobedience. Dan’s now on a parallel tour in Canada, and both he and his fellow speaker John are speaking to US audiences via live videoconferencing.
Read Dan’s story in his own words:
Throughout the Aviation Justice Express tour so far I have been feeling torn in two. I’ve been bowled over at the level of excitement and support at the need for the sharing of campaigning minds against pollution from across the pond. I’ve been motivated to arise every morning amidst the clamouring of voices screaming with joy and tenacity at our global ability to make change. All across the aviation fossil -fuel production line, across Canada from the creative Toronto City CommunityAir campaign to the tenacious people by the Tar Sands against oil extrapolation used for military jets, to American communities under the flightpath from Jamaica Bay, Pittsburgh, Peotone and onto Bellingham, the cacophony of voices pierces the perceptions of perceived apathy.
North American communities combatting desperate poverty, pollution and the other associated impacts of the big metal birds in the sky have been organising for over year to build a tour and invited John Stewart, Britain’s most ‘effective environmental’ and myself, as guest speakers. The United States FBI deemed our attendance too dangerous and of more importance than the First Amendment’s commitment to freedom of speech. Back in July 2011 when I went for my US Visa interview, I had a surprising welcoming committee – namely the CIA. Before I even stepped onto the embassy steps a huge man broke out and said ‘Are you Dan Glass’ to which I smiled (the kind of smile which appears when your utterly flustered) ‘yes’ and he responded, ‘hello, come with me, I’ve come to speak to you about the ‘incident.’ The FBI agent, who welcomed himself as Eric Jackson, had flown from the US to interview me (he obviously missed the point of our protests) about ‘the incident’, as part of an investigation using thousands of dollars of tax payers money. By this he meant the ‘superglue’ – used as tool of creative action, part of British Demoracy in Action when I met Prime Minister Gordon Brown years back, where charges weren’t pressed and there was no arrest. At the entrance to the embassy office I was swept aside, taken to the agents hummer where next to it, stood a table and deck chairs. He sat me down and questioned me on my intentions in the USA – whereby I explained the placid nature of the environmental education tour that is Aviation Justice Express. He jokingly repeated ‘I can’t believe this is you….I just can’t believe it….I mean you’re a nice young articulate man….I just can’t believe it’ – he obviously had the impression that I would turn up doused in superglue with a d-lock around my neck. After approximately 20 minutes of looking through the 60 letters of support I had in my ring binder (including support from members of Congress, MSPs, MPs, MEPs, lawyers, US and UK organisations, educational establishments, filmmakers and human rights advocates), questioning and photographers springing up out of nowhere, with gasping stares from people in the visa queue, I finally was allowed to join the queue. The agent, Eric Jackson, repeated that ‘I hope you can understand why I am here, I just need to protect the President, and with the ‘incident’ its my duty to question you.’ Fair enough! Once it was finally my turn to have my actual interview the interviewer said ‘ah hello Dan, I’ve been reading all about you….and I hear you want to superglue yourself to Sarah Palin.’ Wow. For possibly the first time in my life, I was speechless.
‘I’m not some kind of superglue addict. As a campaigner it’s important that you are original and creative in your methods, and no I don’t want to go near Sarah Palin’ I said once I recovered the ability to talk.
John was temporarily barred from the US and my visa application was sent to the White House for ‘additional administrative processing’ we soon found out. The FBI have since kindly suggested that we apply for our visa’s again once the tour is over. It’s a kind gesture FBI, thank you, but it’s er…kinda missing the point. We are there to discuss first hand how people can fight for their rights for a healthy environment, even if this dents corporate profit…or is that what’s really the issue here?
So because of this physical barrier from our half of our hosts, the American half, I’ve also been devastatingly sad. I just returned from a morning walk around a leafy Vancouver suburb and I cried non stop like a wee baby into my scarf to protect people from seeing my tears. Why, a normally happy go lucky young man, have I found myself reduced to these depths? Because as much as I extoll the virtues of skype we have used well with our American friends, transnational communication, business and ways of life sans-flying, nothing truly beats the values of seeing the spirit first hand of people across the world. Witnessing people alight with the fire in their bellies for creating change and recognising – relishing – the mad life-affirming glint of purposefulness in someone’s eye.
I didn’t get involved in aviation campaigning just because I’ve witnessed first hand the impacts of pollution, poverty and community disruption of living under flightpaths. Deep down, we know that topics of desalination, desertification, hydrological cycles and alternative noise pollution testing mechanisms are not the subjects of conversation which keeps our eyes full of stars and our hearts warm with hopeful possibilities for a new way of life. The real reason that the Heathrow story, the ‘victory against all odds’, has captured the imagination of people across the world, is because of the ability of people to rise up against seeming inevitability in unexpected ways. I got involved because of the excitement which occurs when the seemingly inevitable is brought down to size. It’s because against many barriers and with little resources, the choices we face in life are a result of our own manifestations, the classic David and Goliath you could say. And above all else, its about spirit. It’s about the indomitable spirit of John Stewart, one of the nicest men I have ever met, whom once interrogated by the FBI and sent packing to London, has been sleeping on his office floor for most of the month for the Skype calls across North America in the many different time zones. It’s about the older generation of campaigners involved in the tour, whom I would rather were able to put their feet up in their retirement but instead keep treading the campaigning trail. It’s about the younger activists whom are charged with skills of documentation, art, and ideas for mobilisation in building people-power, are hypnotised with horror to combat climate catastrophe by trying to understand what it is about cultures which motivate people to act in the short time we have. And about how America, the seemingly more tolerant Canada and the UK, for all the environmental and social havocs they have wreaked upon the world, have an encyclopedia of tales and people who have set the world to rights. It’s about the soul of people, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, to come together and make the necessary changes. It’s about how throughout history people have awoken every morning facing crushing oppression and continue to act, even if they know in their minds, heart and in their actions, that they may fail. It’s also about reflecting on how such a spirit has weaved through each of our own histories to enable our individual existence today. In my case, this spirit which kept my nan, aged 14 at the beginning of WWII, hiding in a cupboard in Holland eating tulips for survival, knowing that her only sibling was likely dead. This spirit which keeps my ma constantly on the verge of tears as she watches my dad work himself to devastating ill-health, both victims to oppression of gendered fates by organised religion, through to my twin sister who works night and day in inner city London sharing the importance of growing healthy food. That’s just my lot – whats the case in your life?
From FBI agent Eric Jackson’s” conversations with John and myself in our visa interviews and traceable all throughout our history, is the suppression of our right of freedom of expression.
It. Ain’t. Nothing. New.
We’ve had attempts to infiltrate Plane Stupid through Toby Kendall, the hilariously bad corporate spy. We’ve also had ‘going rogue’ Mark Kennedy, the cop who lived undercover in environmental movements for 6 years to the recent exposes of police infiltration in American environmental circles. Take these recent ingredients of unaccountability and add to the sensational historic mixture of Gestapo infiltration, the secret state police of Nazi Germany to anti-fascist resistance, of COINTELPRO (the often illegal and covert Counter Intelligence Program conducted by the FBI aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations they deemed ‘subversive’) investigations of Dr. Martin Luther King and the US Civil Rights movements and many more, and we understand that this recipe proves that there has always been state resistance to the movements that won us our freedoms.
When truth is spoken to power, the masks of entitlement begin to slip. If we pride ourselves on the establishment of every person’s fundamental human right and in the scribing of the First Amendment for the freedom of speech, then the political suppression of voices for truth comes not as a surprise, but as a compliment. It means we are engaging the powers in their achilles heel.
If keeping the faith is about sharing stories of hope, by default, it’s about sharing stories of loss too. How in our lifetimes alone, the American roaring cougars all died last year, that all but 5% of California old growth forests have been cut, that overfishing has slaughtered some fish populations by more than 90% in our oceans and many indigenous cultures who provide stories of sustainable living have been wiped out. It’s about understanding that this loss to the natural environment is intimately connected to the loss of our mechanisms of human support. How anxiety, depression, drug addiction and mental despair has arisen three-fold in one generation amongst young people in the UK, US, Canada and other nations out of the top polluters due to the precariousness and unsustainable pace of our lives. Trying to get my head around the World Health Organisations report that depression will be the second biggest killer of of young people by 2020, behind heart disease, makes me numb. How everyday suicides rise dramatically in our young people on both sides of the pond because so many of our spirits are crushed and we are actually dying inside. It begs the question, what does this say for a culture which lets this happen to its youth? This disappointment at the lack of connection for young people, and the continued acknowledgement of the loss of love, empathy and a pervasive feeling of broken-heartedness, has led me to begin thinking more deeply about the meaning of building real, loving relationships in our culture to combat the root of our despair. Is love truly absent or is true love displaced and supported by other things? Or do we just have an inability to nourish ourselves appropriately? Whatever the answer, the lack of love, support and ultimately meaning, particularly for young people facing the tide of climate change in our world, continues to pierce my heart and leave me with sensations of broken-heartedness so profound I am endlessly spellbound.
The power of building campaigning and personal relationships simply cannot be quantified. It’s about listening to the stories and breaking down the barriers of what makes a ‘good’ and a ‘bad ‘ protestor, a ‘bad’ banker and a ‘good’ environmentalist, a selfish aviation lobbyist and an earnest rail enthusiast by understanding all our common needs. Whether your art is your aeronautical engineering, your campaigning strategy or your written word, we must listen to the wisdom your great American author Maya Angelou tells us “All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.” From the trillions of debt which capitalism creates and the extreme poverty that 1 billion of our planetary population exist within, we have to use all the weapons in our arsenal….and now. By focusing on our common enemies and refusing to load the planes with fuel, declining to sign the agreements to cut the forests and ignoring lobbyists sickly-sweet smiles we may have a chance to release the grip of greed from our imaginations. Once we break down the human divides that greed and profit creates, every time we understand that no matter whether you like or hate growing airports everyone likes to breathe clean air, eat food thats good for us and live with our loved ones forever more. And so this necessitates the conclusion that we must live within our ecological means.
Hope and loss, the two sides of the coin, are the symbiotic tales of the Aviation Justice Express tour. We are for sustainable travel and against polluting pathways. We are for affordable buses and against the tax cuts the aviation industry receives. If I am to understand the positives and negatives in this complex world I need to see first hand the joys which motivate North Americans and stir them into action. For in-between conferences and events John and myself were laden with plans to delve into the heart of the incredible breadth of music, arts and politics which make the tapestry of American culture so rich – which provide life, not death. To name a few, Nina Simone, Etta James, Lady Gaga, Sam Cooke, swing, honky tonk, and the cha cha cha fill up my ears with joy and make me wiggle with excitement at the prospect for change. Malcolm X, Harvey Milk, Angela Davis, Julia Butterfly Hill, Van Jones, Ella Baker and expand my mind with orations and stories of hope. Witnessing the power of the Appalachian mountains, the beauty of the Pacific ocean and the vastness of the pine forests would nourish my visual senses and my computer-tired eyes. This tantalising sensual assault and adventures into the depths of the human spirit are more than any Twitter feed, flashy website, grandiose activist conference, cosmetic apple-Mac, Skype programmes and my UK- North American plug adapter can ever hope to achieve.
As Aviation Justice Express draws to a close, whilst sitting in the kitchens of so many hospitable families in Canada, when the American events arise on Skype, I try not to dwell on this first flight I have taken in years and instead imagine the stories of the people sitting in the American audience. Whilst it pains me not to hear what makes Americans tick as well as the energy of Canadians, I also take solace in the unknown. The wealth of unknown mysteries which motivate people to peek above the parapet. Capital and profits drive to quantify and price the entirety of the human – ecological imagination will always be undercut by the beautiful understanding that humans are just a part of a much larger sum.
So how do we turn our vulnerabilities into volition? Our sensitivities into strategic campaign action? Our trauma into tenacity (and when will I stop writing so p-p-p-pretentiously?!) – I don’t know. That in order to try to understand, to feel this collective pain and to relish in the hope of our struggle for aviation justice and for stronger healthier communities, I am reminded that this is a journey. A journey of continued struggle, reflection, fervour and the magic of surprise, spontaneity and standing up to adversity in our battle to justice. For if humans weren’t complex and life was simple, we wouldn’t be here now.
We all wake up everyday, underneath it all, desiring a life where we are further psychologically fulfilled – don’t we? You can likely tell that I’ve talked about what is motivating my head and my heart and to complete the pattern we are definitely not short of ideas for the hand to act either. I often think about the social inequality we face, this war on the poor, as an ecosystem in itself. Just as ecosystems are rich in diversity, species are interdependent and have the magic ability to root out invasive species. Our human behaviours of resistance unsurprisingly also mirrors ecological patterns. I feel the atmosphere has changed across the world in 2011. Taking action is no longer an exercise in finger-waggling and moral righteousness that this is simply ‘the right thing to do’ but something much more powerful. Aside from gripping combination of hope + horror, my other major emotional motivation is embarrassment. Embarrassment that the next dominant species, in however many years, will look in their children’s schoolbooks, whatever they may look like and say ‘oh no, you don’t want to be like humans, they are stoopid, they killed themselves pretty quickly’. Uh no no, we don’t all want to die out of our own stupidity. The next generation will either thank us for taking the necessary action or lament us for not doing enough. Communities are rising up everywhere in self defence of their communities – that’s what happens when people see acutely what they love being thoroughly destroyed. Maybe that’s why, along with the FBI’s over the top treatment, that the tour proudly went on and their suppression backfired. In fact, there has been so much more attention on the tour than we ever initially anticipated. What say you now Mr. Eric Jackson? It’s time to root out the oppressors of our people and our planet, those fuelling the airport expansion, those thwarting our fundamental right to freedom of speech and chase them down to the end of their unimaginative dead-end road. Right Now. Immediately. Before any more damage is done.