Linnéa is a permaculture designer, and co-founder of workerBe Oasis – a series of urban farms. The first site is in Newtown, producing fresh veges for Kaibosh and providing training for budding urban farmers.
Did you grow up in a politicised family? If so, or if not – how did the politics of your childhood home affect you?
My parents were part of the ’68 generation that got politicised through the Vietnam War, and I see myself as a daughter of that generation. Dad does not see himself as belonging to any particular political group, but definitely belonging to the very left fringes, and in the seventies he was part of a lot of fringe, communist groups. Mum was the first in her working-class family who went to university, and was financially independent as a woman.
Also, environmental consciousness was quite big in the early nineties in Sweden. In the eighties it had been almost forgotten, and my parents were weird and fringe for having all of those Greenpeace magazines and stuff.
What are some of the actions you took yourself, early on?
My parents were also members of Swedish environmental organisation similar to Forest & Bird, but more oriented around activism and environmental protection. When I was around ten, I joined the youth group within that – they only allowed people between the ages of 7 and 26 – so at 13 you’re a full member, and at 26 you get kicked out and offered an adult membership. So everything is organised by young people, all the decision-making is quite radical because at 13 you’re like, ‘We can do this so much better!’
So I started to get really active from around 12 or 13. We worked in groups of about ten, of kids from about 4 villages in our area. We did a lot of climate stuff – leafleting, holding demonstrations outside supermarkets and at traffic lights, occupying carparks with bicycles. We set up a youth centre in an abandoned factory – that was a lot of meetings, thinking. And adults looking at you when you’re a kid being really active, and going, ‘Oh, that’s so cute. In a couple of years, they’ll be cynical too.’ And we were like – ‘No!’
Then when I was 14 or 15 I moved into the district area, and was on the organisation council for the district. That was when they were building the motorway from Gothenburg to Oslo on the west coast of Sweden, and we were teaming up with other more green-and-black organisations – more anarchist, deep green resistance organisations. We put sand in the tanks of the machines, some people were chaining themselves to the trees. Nature protection stuff.
So you also knew early on to spot the difference between greening capitalism and real resistance.
I’ve been through different phases of understanding that. When I went to France when I was 18, I discovered how in France there’s this mainstream society – and then a green fringe. So you have 100% organic stores, and no organic foods in the supermarket. You had 5% of people sorting their waste, and most throwing it on the landfill.
Whereas in Sweden, it’s always been a consensus thing. So, Sweden’s seen a campaign around chlorine-bleached toilet paper, because it’s something that everyone can agree on: we don’t need our toilet paper bright white and perfumed. Since then, there’s none of that toilet paper in Sweden. Slowly, all the supermarkets have organic milk, fair trade bananas, organic carrots, coffee, chocolate – the staples, the things everyone can agree on. These things are really bad, so let’s do this, together. Whereas in France there’s more argument, and, “who are you to police me.”
But, so, greening capitalism and greenwashing in Sweden is very omnipresent. There’s consensus that cutting trees down is really bad – so we have “FSC”, Forest Sustainability Certification. But that just means they leave like, one tree out of fifty – so the rules are so non-stringent, that we can have these nice labels on something that’s really quite horrible.
When I was a teenager we worked a lot with encouraging lifestyle changes: it’s the small, everyday changes that will make a difference. But that just gave everyone a really clear conscience, and go, ‘Yeah, I’m taking the plane once a year for a 2-week holiday on Grand Canary island, but the rest of the year, I compost almost all my food waste.” So it just makes you walk around and feel like a saint, because you’re making these insignificant changes.
So that was as a young’n back in Sweden. How did you progress from there?
When I lived in France, I was living like a no-money lifestyle. The first big switch for me was getting in touch the more radical, anarchist movements, like Friends of the Earth. There are a few movements in North Western Europe that were really active then, that sported the green-and-black, black for anarchism.
I learned more there about how to organise, how to create small cells of four or five people who know each other and trust each other, and how you then go through a consensus process. That really opened my mind to how differently we could organise – compared to how the world is run with committees, mayors, offices, bureaucracies. If we could all organise within syndicates – and anarcho-syndacalism – it could work. Then there was the thrill and excitement of doing stuff that’s kind of illegal.
Then, it was when I lived in France and met people who lived on the street – and didn’t have any money, and lived without money, and who were happy. That made me go – Hey. Within that anti-consumerist movement of lifestyle changing – these guys are radical. They’re on the forefront of what it could be to live with less. That really opened my eyes to – how little we need to be happy, and how little happiness depends on what we have. Yeah.
So I went out travelling for a couple of years without an income.
Then I went back to uni, part time, by correspondence – so I got a little grant from the state, so I had a very low, basic income, there were two of us living from that. I spent probably five years living outside of the system – not working, not having an income, not having social security. Just being within the web of interconnectedness and human support.
How did you make that work? Like, dumpster diving –
Yeah, dumpster diving – but to be able to cook for lots of people, so that meant that people who might have somewhere to live, but not enough money for food, would come along, like an informal soup kitchen, managed by people on the street rather than by charity. Squatting – I was part of a few squats. But I never took a leadership role – it was a good thing to do in winter, when it was too cold to sleep in a tent.
I didn’t really want to stay anywhere a long time – and I was much less vulnerable than most people. I didn’t do drugs – most of what I did daily wasn’t illegal, I just wasn’t living a conventional life. I was also mostly in it for the discovery of another world.
Rather than out of necessity.
Well – once you’ve stepped outside of the system, it’s really bloody hard to get in again. It’s really, really tough. But I was a young woman, I wasn’t of colour, I spoke decent French, I had lots of privileges that made it a lot easier for me to be on the street than it is for many other people. So even though we were all in the same situation of not having money, and sharing whatever we had, and getting drunk together – I was still in a position to support others, rather than vice-versa.
So I think a lot of people got to think of me as a little sister that they wanted to take care of – but also as a mother-type figure, who could sit down with them when they were drunk, crying and lamenting their bad childhood – yea? – or when they had bad trips, or someone was hunting them around town with a knife, or the stupid, stupid things people do for drugs.
It got me to know that whole part of society. In Europe they call it the “fourth world”. It’s not the third world, the exploited countries, but it’s people within the West who aren’t even considered as people. And who are completely outside the system. And then at the same time I was going to Rainbow gatherings, and doing WWOOFing, discovering permaculture and helping people who had farms and didn’t manage them very well – slowly getting into that whole thing that’s now my profession.
How did you discover permaculture?
I was WWOOFing in Southern France, with Pete and Jane, an emigrated UK couple – it was one of the early permaculture places in France. My then-boyfriend was basically starting permaculture stuff in Mali, we went down to Togo to do beekeeping installations. He was very strongly Rastafarian – I was too, and still am somewhere in my heart. So through those two things – I was basically travelling with the big, thick permaculture designers’ manual in my backpack, using that to interpret and understand, to figure out how to redesign squats in cities, and stuff.
So permaculture brought another big shift for you.
Yes. I then realised that in my childhood, I was in this whole vibe of, “we have to save the world.” My generation, we have to make change, otherwise the planet is stuffed.
Then I discovered permaculture, and I went – actually, humanity is one of the threatened, endangered species as well. If we don’t change things for ourselves, and create ecosystems that are resilient to climate change, that nourish us – we are going to die out. Nature, as a whole, life on Earth, is in no danger. It’s got so much resilience. Bacteria in the oceans are currently gobbling up plastic, for example. It’s like – why would I worry about the planet?
Sure – lots of the mammals will die out – and we’re one of them. And I really, really like humans. Like if I had to choose between pandas and polar bears and humans, I would prefer to save some humans. So my focussed shifted at that point. And as a side effect of creating tight, small, useful ecosystems that support and nourish the local people, we leave more wilderness to recover by itself and through natural, regenerative forces, just restore itself, and create new habitats for wildlife.
So my focus shifted from “save the planet” to “save the humans”. While not losing sight of the fact that we are the greatest threat to our own species, and that threat is residing as much in our exploitation of nature as in one another.
Integrating those concepts in my head and heart, that’s when that important shift came and when I started looking for solutions, rather than fighting against. I’d spent ten years fighting against: going down to Gothenburg, going to all the marches and organisations I could, doing all the illegal stuff people couldn’t do because they were too invested in the system. Also knowing I wouldn’t have kids, because I was way too radical and my lifestyle couldn’t accommodate family.
And that lead to, okay, we need to find solutions to all three of these things, for earth care and people care and fair share, and social justice.
So in your mind, what are we resisting and trying to change, as activists today, essentially? Is it a power system, like patriarchy, is it policy, or is it something in our collective consciousness, like human greed?
It’s the system of money and ownership; the use of patriarchy to suppress femininity in everyone and women everywhere; the use of our consumerism and materialism to exploit nature – they’re like three legs to the same stool, oppressing everyone, everywhere, limiting our survival.
We see ourselves as entitled to things individually, like – because I paid for this, I am the sole user. Instead of seeing ourselves as being part of a landscape, we are the owners of the land. For me, through those years of living without money, I felt sometimes like an alien coming in from outside and going – ‘Hey, you’re gripped by this collective madness. It’s not reality. You’re mad!’
Each of those three things lead to one another, and all of them stem from our deep disconnectedness, our perception of ourselves as being disconnected from each other, the surrounding ecosystems, nature, and the wider spiritual realms.
And what we’re fighting for – that’s something you understand in terms of the shift that you had.
For a world that is abundant for all forms of life, where all waste is useful for another living being, where suffering and death is limited to that necessary for metabolism – but that’s so far from our life experience that most of us can’t even really envision what it would be like. So we’re fighting for a transformation of everything into something that we can’t yet imagine. Charles Eisenstein’s book title, The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible, captures it. That’s what we’re fighting for.
And I think in the last couple of years I’ve become more and more inspired. I read Derrick Jensen, probably six years ago – Deep Green Resistance, and Endgame.
Then I got into the whole Dark Mountain movement – a movement of artists and writers looking at the deep grief that we have to deal with when we realise that the planet’s stuffed or humanity’s stuffed. Delving into those feelings of grief that you get when you realise that, however hard you try, you’ll never save everything. A lot of species become extinct every day; a lot of people suffer every day; a lot of people will be killed, and through the cataclysmic things that are going to happen over the coming years, a lot more people will die, and that from the billions of people that are on Earth right now – it’s probably going to pare down to about one billion.
That’s a hell of a lot of death. That’s a hell of a lot of suffering. There’s nothing I can do about it – and that sense of deep grief, compassion for all the suffering, and all the stages that grief brings you to: anger, denial, tearfulness, paralysis. That’s where I am at now – realising that. And for many people, it’s just too much to look at.
Yes. Activism is often characterised in terms of ‘politics’ – but when you think of it in terms of social justice, and realise the natural response to injustice is grief, you realise just how much the world asks of the grieving. In a state of grief, you need to withdraw, and go inward.
And be cared for by the ‘mother principle’, which is in every one of us, which is plenty of compassion and plenty of holding space for emotions to run their course, and that’s what transforms us. And what the world needs most is for humans to transform.
So what do you think might be holding us back in activism, at the moment?
What I see in activism everywhere, all the time, is a lack of shared purpose. That is something that often ruins things. You have to be able to put aside everything on which you don’t agree, to work on that which you do. I mean, you have to make tactical alliances. You have to be tactical! You can’t just be an idealist, and do things because “it’s right”.
Whatever issue you’re working on, whether it’s getting rid of plastic in the oceans, or making life better for sex workers, or eradicating it altogether – you have to collaborate with people who you really don’t agree with on a lot of other things. It’s not a sell-out to collaborate on a specific issue with people who might be your opponents on other issues. If we only collaborate with people we agree on everything with, we won’t get very far. That’s the times when I go, ‘just let go of being right all the time,’ because that’s just ego speaking.
The other thing is having good, effective meeting techniques and having activism work as efficiently as the best enterprise. Because enterprises, most of them, are destroying the planet. Most of them are working toward exploitation of people and the planet. We have to use techniques that make us at least as efficient as they are. We’re so inefficient! That makes me frustrated. All these ideals, all this goodwill – and then you go – come on, you can’t spend half this meeting talking about stuff that doesn’t matter.
You want to get stuff done? Use techniques that are proven to make it efficient. Don’t sit around having bloody – I mean I’m not against consensus, it’s just often, we don’t need it. We just need to get stuff done.
I have two questions now. One is around this grieving you were talking about – how you think it plays out in activism. The other is around what kind of strategies you think will make us more efficient. An interesting combination!
So – grieving. Grieving disorients us, in general. So – not acknowledging that we’re all in a state of grief – in a group of activists, we’re gathering together in a room, trying to make decisions that are rational and efficient, without acknowledging that what’s actually motivating us to be in the room, is deep grief. It’s like, well – if what we’re fundamentally working against is the sense of disconnectedness, and we’re trying to work against that by not acknowledging that we’re grieving, then we’re completely disconnected. From our own emotions, other people’s realities, even disconnected from the cause.
So we’ve got this tension, shakiness, unstable ground that we’re trying to build this efficient resistance on, against the very thing that we, at the same time, somehow fear and already have given into. Not in the sense of ideals, but actually, somewhere inside we know we’re not going to “win” – we’re not going to revolutionise things and it’s all going to be fine. We’re on our way into a darker place. We’re on our way into more suffering. We’re on our way into worse conditions. We’re not seeing the end of the tunnel – at all. But we have to go into this deep, dark mountain to get out into the other side.
So I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so inefficient: we’re not acknowledging the grief.
Yeah. Often I feel, at demonstrations and stuff, that there can be a tension between expressing anger, although I think a lot of that can be diffused for people already just through turning up – perhaps too much even – but then, there’s those who are deeply insistent on keeping an ‘upbeat’ vibe, and having music and making sure that everyone feels nurtured by a positive atmosphere. And I feel both grateful, and wary of that. And I feel it has a lot to do with what you’re saying. On the one hand, it’s an acknowledgement of grief and a way to try to transcend it – but in another way, it can feel like a form of denial.
And I think it is both. For different people, at different times. Sometimes I will feel that grief so strongly that I will want to escape it, and I will go out partying or play music and dance round the house – just to keep it upbeat. Other times, that deep grief can be allowed and welcomed, if someone’s holding space for it. Maybe in a druming circle, or in a sharing circle. In the solidarity that you feel when going to marches, or organising things together, there is something there that relieves our grief. Like you say with the angry people.
For me, sometimes we have to run away, and sometimes delve in. But what is problematic is when we just don’t acknowledge that deep grief.
So the need to acknowledge deep grief and the need to become more efficient though – they don’t look like they go hand-in-hand. If you think about when we grieve – that’s when we’re the most stationary, the least productive, the hardest to motivate – that’s when we can’t get out of bed. So you are right. How to reconcile these, is interesting.
For me, that’s like two polarities. An activist is active, by definition – but you can’t be active without being passive, and letting processes run their course. When polarities aren’t balanced – light and dark, male and female, hope and despair, joy and grief – when that balance isn’t respected, things don’t work. Energy gets stuck. If I’m all in my head and not very grounded, I go shaky, I’ll get headaches, I’ll trip and break my leg. You have to keep balance.
That’s a risk when you’re an activist and you’re beginning. Because you’re burning with that angry energy that keeps you from seeing the grief.
So we’re really upset abut social injustices – and I’m still angry too – but underneath there is grief. The challenge is to not let the emotions cloud judgement of what is efficient to do. And if we don’t acknowledge emotions, they get in the way. But if we make space and honour them, they’re important driving forces.
Yes, we have to deal with something that is really nasty. Really awful. There’s death, and suffering, and lots of emotions, and we have to both acknowledge it and keep a completely cool and clear head.
So how would you summarise the way you see these two together, and would you like to see us deal with these side by side?
I would like to see all activists do inner work. In whatever form that takes for people – like, writing down your dreams in the morning and reflecting on them; or meditation, or boxing to get some of that anger out – so you can access what’s underneath. It’s just about healing stuff inside. Because otherwise we’re only outside. And what’s outside is really important – it’s just finding the balance. Making sure we have enough sleep, making sure we have other people who can hold space for us while we’re dealing with heavy emotions.
Making sure that, just as you have people you work closely with in your activist work, you also have people helping you with your inner work. They might not be the same people but you’ve got to set yourself up so that you’ve got support. If I’m an activist, and there’s a risk I might go to prison, these are the people who’ll support me in case that happens. There’s a risk that I might go into burnout, and these are the people who’ll support me. I think that’s putting the same emphasis on the two sides.
I guess that will also help people not bring things into planning, that they might otherwise need to. “Guys, I’m actually a bit scared,” might be something you have to raise – but not something you want to dwell on if you are trying to achieve something in a group.
Yeah. And I’ve quite recently discovered holacracy as a way of managing groups, I’m hopefully within a couple of years going to have full training. It’s a flat organisation for the vision – not for the people, per se. Sociocracy is a way of organising so that everyone feels valued. This is flat, but for a vision. So once you’ve got a shared vision and an objective, you’re taking on roles, with accountability, and that’s really clearly defined – and you’ve got two different levels of management – governance, and then tactical meetings.
I think those things, combined with a sharing circles, where you’re just making space and having facilitators holding the space for emotions, motivations, doubts. Having both sharing circles and using holacracy to manage the actual operations, that would make us more efficient. That would make it more plausible that we’d manage to achieve what we want to achieve.
Are there historic moments you look to that make you think – that’s when we had a really good thing going on?
I like to remind myself that we have a really long history. And I love going to new places and discovering their history of resistance. Like how workers in the UK and France fought against the ‘robotisation’ of manufacturing. People sabotaging the train lines in France when they started building the railways because – rail will bring us an ‘inhuman speed’ to life, and people will flee and go to the sparkling cities. And the fight against electric light, because you wouldn’t be in tune with the seasons – if you don’t get to sleep in winter, then how would you be functional in summer when you need it for the harvest?
The fight against slavery – the first time they freed slaves in Sweden was 1,200 years ago or so. So this is an ongoing thing.
I also look to the European guerilla, countryside resistance to the second world war quite often as being exemplary. They knew how to organise. They hid and struck when it was the right moment. It was very stategic, and efficient! They were fighting in life and death conditions – so they had to be very precise.
In Sweden, support consisted of shipping Norwegian resistance and refugees into Sweden with little fishing boats. And smuggling food out, making sure the caves where they stayed were protected. This was all through the Mediterranean and France.
They were targetting the Nazis. As the Nazis took more and more control of France, they exploded bridges, they destroyed vital infrastructure so that the Nazis couldn’t advance anymore. They freed people. I don’t think the Allies would have had as much success if it weren’t for the guerillas already being there. Lots of women were involved. And all the people hiding Jews all through the war – the mosques that protected Jews, pretending they were Muslims. Lots of churches as well.
God – it makes you think how our war histories are so insanely imperialist and biased. Linnéa, what are your biggest hopes for 2016 – for you, for us as activists?
If we’re fighting against exploitation and oppression, we kind of have to fight it from within as well. Being able to identify and put words on the way I exploit or oppress myself, I think that is essential to being effective outward.
But, the goal is still to be effective outward – the goal is not, ‘I find peace within myself, then it’s all done’. It’s a means towards change for humanity. There are a lot of people talking about mindfulness as an end in itself, and for me that’s…
It’s a distraction.
Yeah. It’s just protecting your own privilege to sit on a cushion and look blissful – it’s not okay.
But in a sense, that’s a very true and important practice being co-opted.
Totally. Because that’s also the resistance of lots of religious groups throughout history – informed by their spirituality. They have been strong because they knew how to listen to divine inspiration as well, and I think that if we’re not open to emotions with ourselves, we can’t channel that in the world either.
I guess closing off to your own emotions obstructs your capacity to empathise too, and then to be motivated toward helping others – if you’re blocking emotions so you no longer recognise them in others.
And then it becomes a moral thing. Instead of a compassion thing. So you’re against things that cause suffering because you’re supposed to be against them; that’s what you did before when you were still in touch with your emotions. I think that’s when people can turn into quite oppressive leaders within the movement. You know how you see that – often, guy – turning up and being really passionate about things, then going on to be pretty oppressive as a leader.
Also – joy! There’s more space for joy when you’re efficient as well. And you can’t feel the joy if you’re not also feeling the grief, and the anger.