< SWITCH ME >
|Written by Larissa Olenicoff|
Disillusioned by increased alcoholism, crime and the oppositional nature of British politics, Markus Petz made his way over from his native United Kingdom to Finland in 2006 where he now actively works with a local artist collective called Hirvitalo. Instead of sitting in an office from 9 to 5, his jobs consists of spreading ideas and raising passion for social and environmental change across Europe... Markus told E&M author Larissa what drives his passion for promoting alternatives and what the youth of Europe can do to enhance their quality of life. The punch line is pretty much: bring it back to the basics!
E&M: You have been involved in a variety of interesting pan-European projects promoting a greener and simpler way of life. Tell us more about your work!
I like my projects to propose a new reality. So, my work is primarily about raising awareness! A few years ago, for example, I took part in the Eurizons trip where we hitch-hiked as a group across Europe to the European Parliament to promote the Millennium Development Goals. In the various cities we passed, we organised festivals, concerts and street theatres. We planned flash mobs, radical clowning, music events and panel discussions and also reached people through local media interviews in the radio, TV or newspapers. It was really a lot of fun! In Poland I travelled with a girl who kept singing and dancing to keep the energy up while awaiting a ride. She was able to talk trucker slang and so the truckers were using their radios to arrange another truck to pick us up where they dropped us, so actually we ended up arriving before the support vehicle that was supposed to go ahead!
When promoting alternative ways of living, I want to promote models that are easy for people to realise; that are practical and reduce the ecological footprint. I promote ways of living that lead to anarchism, by which I mean self-organised and without the need for the state. I also want them to be fun where possible and preferably cheap. Hitch-hiking is actually a great example, but I also like the concept of collective kitchens. The idea is that we cook collectively and share the chores, the food and the costs. Hospitality in homes - Couchsurfing, BeWelcome and Hospitality Club - can also make a really big impact on our society both in terms of money, facilitating a green footprint and promoting social cohesion.
E&M: You live in Tampere, Finland and are involved with the artist collective Hirvitalo. What exactly is your role there?
My role at Hirvitalo changes. First of all, I am a member, and we describe ourselves as a collective. I've done everything from planning foreign trips and curating various exhibitions, to peeling potatoes or cleaning. I have also been on the board as a Vice Chair of the association and right now I am working as a researcher. We are non-hierarchical and demand a lot of self-organisation from our members. There is however a board for legal and administrational matters. All participants are volunteers and we decide everything in a weekly open house meeting.
E&M: You strive to be self-sustainable. What does that actually mean exactly?
Self-sufficiency for me means primarily growing your own food. This is the most powerful act of activism! If you are self-sufficient through wilderness harvesting you don't need money and therefore you cannot be controlled by wage slavery. Then we can of course trade or buy from other people in the area - such as a nearby farm. This year we will actually start a project called "My Own Field" - where we will pay a farmer to grow a range of seasonable veg and buy directly from him. It is risky, as if the crops die through some pest we get nothing, but it is a more direct and fair trade.
"In the beginning it is difficult to avoid being commercialised."
However, we are not 100% independent nor isolated from the rest of society. The state, for example, chooses to give me free money (social benefits) for signing a piece of paper once a month - I can do it from my laptop at home. So of course I take that. I do have friends that do not take that money and also those that do not pay taxes (but it is hard to escape the indirect taxation on purchases). In general, I take the position that as an advocate of change and wanting to share that attitude with people, I have to interact and not take the hard-line primitivist position of no electronics and just go and live isolated in the forest.
We are a product of our environment - I grew up with hippy parents who played folk songs and lived in a house that was different from all the other houses in the street in a small village in England, called Rippingale. This individualism means I have always had the confidence to be who I am, even when I am the only one. My parents grew and still grow their own vegetables, led a protest to save my village primary school from closure, printing T-shirts and all, and have always played a part in organising community performing arts events. I would say my activism and anarchism and eco-action and artivism is all just a natural part of that family culture.
E&M: Have you ever gotten frustrated or tired of living the way you do?
Well there are always frustrations, but no I have not got tired of it as it is the right way. In the beginning it is difficult to avoid being commercialised. We are bombarded by images all the time and it is a challenge not to want new things constantly. However, when I take my daughter to the swings in the park and I never have a problem finding a spare swing, because they are all empty, that frustrates me! Children today are zombified, all glued to a screen playing games that are sucking their life away. When I was in England a couple of years back I was looking for Christmas presents and noticed that most of the toys for children were now electronic. While I think electricity is wonderful, I am unsettled by a world where entertainment is only given by someone else and you must be enthralled to it. I only have to think of those things to know that I don't want to live like that!
"Get used to the idea of giving goods without any stated agreement for immediate or future reward."
E&M: What are some things the young people of Europe can do to make a difference?
Grow your own food, cook it in a collective kitchen, join Couchsurfing, sing, give lifts and hitch-hike, tell your own stories (not ones from TV), harvest wild berries and mushrooms, make your own clothes, dumpster-dive, free-cycle, reduce, re-use and repair, share your books for free with BookMooch or BookCrossing, bake a cake and give it away, do radical clowning, join a re-enactment group, tell poems, don't do bad things and push yourself to design them out of your life. Put solar panels on your roof, or, even better, get up in the morning when the sun comes out and go to bed when it is dark. Shop locally, or preferably, develop the gift economy and get used to the idea of giving goods without any stated agreement for immediate or future rewards. There are many more examples on the following website (http://p2pfoundation.net/).
In a nutshell: live simple, live free!
Photo: Pamela Mclean (Markus in Landau)