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Slow down for social change: join the Tolpuddle Pilgrimage

United Kingdom
Social Change

Calling points on the Tolpuddle Pilgrimage © Edd Baldry

In a period of political urgency and existential crises one would have to be quite contrarian to suggest that by slowing down we can actually speed up social change. In this networked age we see ideas and innovations go viral but wonder why this isn’t reproduced in the real world. Could it be that community-building and human relationships can’t be sped up? And that political change is essentially a social process that will always be people talking to people?

On 10 July I will be part of a group launching a new 10-day political pilgrimage-of-sorts from Plymouth Harbour, Devon to the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset. It will be a walking festival to connect the history of those famous Dorset farmer workers with the new co-operative and community-led initiatives that are reinventing our food system and changing the way we feed the future. The walk will network those who are actively part of what the New Economics Foundation has called the Great Transition, and will, I hope, activate those who know we can’t wait for the next crisis and who need something outside of traditional political channels and beyond the online inspiration industry.

Along the route we will be taking part in workdays and will share stories and strategies of social change from community to community. At Dartington’s School Farm we’ll be part of a ‘weed and feed’ at the new Community-Supported Agriculture scheme started by local women farmers as a response to our global food system. We’ll also be supporting local transition groups’ new initiatives –  energy co-ops, credit unions, community food gardens – that are part of re-localizing our economic systems in response to peak oil, climate change and financial collapse. And we’re finding out about relevant events and local campaigns to support along the route from living wage campaigns to start-up community farms.

Another important aspect of the walk is the history of enclosure, land rights and how we can reclaim our evicted countryside, so we’ll be placing pilgrimage markers to landscape people’s history back into the public realm and celebrate those campaigning for access and working on the land.  We’ve just starting working with a local stone carver, Rebecca Freiesleben, to create a milestone sculpture and we’re also planting saplings from the 334-year-old Sycamore tree that hosted the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ political meetings back in the 1830s. We are calling them ‘organizer trees’ to represent the need for more public open-air meeting spaces, much like the historical Gernikako Arbola was to local politics in the Basque or the more recent neighbourhood assemblies in post-crash Argentina.

One part of the recent surge of re-localization is the rise of the microbrewery. We are collaborating with Dorset’s Glye 59 to produce a specially commissioned beer – Freedom Hiker. Head brewer, Jon Hosking, has dug out a Tolpuddle-era (1830s) recipe using British hops and he will also be introducing an Australian variety to represent the Martyrs’ deportation. ‘I’m really happy to be involved with the Tolpuddle Pilgrimage and the events supporting local community projects that surround the build up to the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival,’ says Hosking. ‘I hope that the beer will refresh the pilgrims, enhance the enjoyment of the people attending the events and celebrate the return of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to Dorset nearly 200 years ago!’

We’re encouraging local trade union branches, co-operatives, transition initiatives, landworkers, church groups, environmentalists and anyone who wants to support these new communities to join us on the pilgrimage - even if it’s only for a day walk. The Brazilian educator Paolo Friere said: ‘you make the path by walking it’ and we hope you’ll help us tread a new course so we can tell stories about what’s possible, decide what direction we should take and show that change is already happening.

Jonny Gordon-Farleigh is editor of STIR, a quarterly magazine of co-operative and
community-led alternatives. Find out more about the Tolpuddle Pilgrimage on Facebook or email [email protected]

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