If not you, then who? If not now, then when?
By Stella Baker.
Our current situation
The recent transformation of Qultura is just about complete and the website you're reading this article on is pretty much the actual website, and not the beta version. In a little over a week we have our first Qultura event - the London vigil for condemned Texas inmate Rodney Reed, scheduled to be executed a week later for a murder he very clearly didn't meet. Then early in December we have the Victoria Sleep Out to show solidarity with the street homeless in Central London. This is as part of the global World Big Sleep Out event organized by Will Smith and Helen Mirren. While this is a charity event and we will be seeking to raise money for this World Big Sleep Out event to tackle global homelessness, this is also our first major empathy event in London.
All we are asking people to do is to show solidarity with the street homeless around London's Victoria. We're asking people to spend one night - 10 hours in total - together with people who have to spend every night on the streets because they've got nowhere to go and nobody who really shows them any interest.
What links these two events
These two events are very closely connected because in both cases - with Rodney Reed and also with the homeless forced to sleep on the streets in central London in both cases we have people who are serving a death sentence for circumstances way beyond their control. It's important to bear in mind that last winter close to 800 people on the streets died as a result of being homeless. That's far more than the total number of executions carried out by the state of Texas. While Rodney Reed is in a desperate situation which personally I cannot even imagine being in - he's spent 22 years on Death Row despite the fact that there is a lot of evidence pointing out the fact that he could not possibly have committed the murder he's been sentenced to death for. But unlike the homeless forced to live on the streets of London he has somewhere to sleep, access to food, access to lawyers, a close knit family and lots of supporters.
Many of the homeless forced to sleep on the streets in the world today have got nobody and nothing. Their life is consumed 24/7 with just one thought - the thought of survival to make it to another day exposed to not just the elements but also anyone on the streets. I know this from my own personal experiences of being street homeless for a month in a harsh Warsaw winter. This was from about November 8th 2005 to December 4th. Think ankle deep snow. Think subzero temperatures of up to minus 25 degrees.
Most people cannot imagine what being homeless in winter is really like
In such a situation your life is a hard struggle just to get your most fundamental and basic needs met. Most people cannot envisage it. Being street homeless in winter means being constantly freezing cold and often numb where you cannot feel your hands or your feet. Sure you can wear thick coats and have sleeping bags but they can only go so far as to keep you warm in winter. Do you know how it feels to shit yourself because you just couldn't find a bathroom in time, or you were denied access to one? Imagine what it must feel like knowing that your desperate battle to survive just got harder as you feel warm faeces flowing down your legs and the relief that comes from opening your bowels. You know you have no access to a change of clothes. You know that you are going to stink and cause people to either avoid you or be even more hostile than they already are. You know that you now have a major hassle finding somewhere to get clean and hopefully you can find a warm enough bathroom to spend enough time in to do an emergency laundry and get yourself cleaned up.
How many times have you stripped naked in a public toilet because you had nowhere to go? How many times have you had to search for food in bins, or take a chance on something you found lying in the street? Have you ever spent an entire day or two walking the streets just trying to find somewhere to sleep? Have you ever gone through a process of trying to scrape together a couple of quid from begging just to get the cheapest and strongest alcohol to knock you out just so that you can get a few hours sleep together? Do you know just how difficult it is to fall asleep on even a back street in the middle of the city?
If you ever wondered why many homeless people drink let me tell you. It's to safeguard their mental health which can often deteriorate if they don't drink. Street homeless is often an experienced by constant stress, constant fear, constant anxiety, which can skew your perception and you have no access to experiences which can balance these things out. I didn't drink when I was homeless on the streets in Warsaw and then London back at the end of 2005. I was fortunate to have been rehoused at the end of 2006. This is how come I struggle even today with depression and social anxiety.
So now you know
This is a major part of the reason I followed through on my promise made to another homeless person and created Qultura to what it is now with a handful of people, whatever space I could find and whatever money I could spare and invest in it. I got the idea from another homeless person in Warsaw while I was in much better circumstances and working in Warsaw theatre. I was travelling between two cities and missed my train from Warsaw Central. I ended up having to take the night train. But again it was the middle of winter - January, it was freezing and there was snow. I headed for the waiting room where there were around 50 or so homeless people sheltering from the bitter cold. Some asked me for a cup of tea. I got two of the men to go round and ask everyone if they wanted a hot drink too and I gave them enough money to buy teas and coffees for everyone. It was nothing, but even one cup of hot tea on a cold winter's night when you're homeless makes all the difference. I chose coffee.
Some continued to try and sleep but I got chatting to some of the people and they shared their stories. These were all former members of Polish Solidarity, the factory workers, farmers, agricultural workers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, who all marched and put their lives on the line to achieve system change and win what they thought was their liberty. But it wasn't to be. Freedom turned to harsh economic reforms and then to unemployment, poverty, homelessness and family breakdown. I witnessed old men crying like children as they recalled memories of sons and daughters who they missed, and who wanted nothing to do with them since they became homeless. Some of them begged me to do something to help them. I promised them that I would.
Following through on my promise
That what you see on this website, the community space, the films and videos, the creativity, and what Qultura has become so far - this is me following through on my promise. What keeps me going is my own personal experience of being street homeless in the harsh mid winter and knowing that there is such a thing as a 'circle of empathy' between people so that when others need you give, and when you need others will appear and come through for you right when you need it. Yes I never managed to recover enough from my homelessness to find paid work, despite trying, so have spent years on benefits. But this is what I've been doing with all those years and I have invested every penny I could, even starving and risking homelessness again just to make Qultura work. This is how it's always going to be, and I made a pact with the other founder member Ian or Fibbo - who sadly passed away in December 2013 aged 45 - that Qultura will be my legacy. The people who are involved are under strict instructions that when I pass away they get together in a pub for a drink or two and focus on finding my replacement.
Back to the main topic of this article
The only thing that's holding Qultura back is the lack of people involved in the Qultura Core project in London and people joining the wider Qultura community. I'm aware that life is hard for many people nowadays but such is the nature of the situation when you have everything based on a failing ideology - individualism - and very advanced process of cultural decline and your society is falling apart.
I understand this process many people seem to be going through. We've all been poorly educated and told what to think, rather than how to think, so inevitably when we've been educated to see the world not as it is, but as those in authority want us to see it, then our lives are going to get progressively harder and more complicated. This is especially true if something hasn't worked out in our lives, or we never got the chances or opportunities, and life becomes more and more of a struggle and as much as week seek change, it's always disappointing or leads us nowhere. I can quite understand how many people end up apathetic and just want to be left alone with a few hours of television in the evening, a cup of coffee in the morning, and enough to get to work and back home again. I get it.
There's another side to all this
But there is another side to this as well, which is why I've included the song at the start of this article, it's 'Unify' by Snowflake. Many of those who are better off, and many of our politicians are not intentionally and deliberately trying to wreck people's lives. They're just riding the wave, enjoying their personal fortune and success and believing in the system, because of course the system is working out for them. Please put yourself in their shoes for a minute. If your life is working out for you and everything just kind of flows, would you want to change it? Probably not, right?
Much of the divisions, conflicts, damage and harm comes down to the fact that the people who are better off and those in political power just don't have the consciousness or empathy to be able to make better decisions. They simply aren't conscious of the consequences of their decisions, the harm it's causing people and their lives, the deaths they are causing, simply because they lack the empathy, the insight, the awareness or understanding. They don't care simply because they don't see any reason to care. We all have our individual perspective and way of looking at the world and other people. They don't see the truth because their worldview is based on the skewed, narrow and false perspective of individualism. It's also heavily rooted in ideology because it's always someone else's fault, always someone else's issue, always someone else who is doing something wrong and they see themselves as the only people who can make it right.
It's this political and ideological gridlock where each side thinks that they have the solutions and the other sides don't which is creating the trauma that nobody seems to be able to get past. This is what is causing the depression, the anxiety, the mental health issues the suicides and the homelessness. Too many people in power assume that people's lives are easier than they are, that they are far more comfortable than they are in reality, that they can get by on less.
The truth is of course that they can't, and many people just don't have anywhere close enough access to the resources and things they need to be able to live comfortably. But they also know that because there's so much political and ideological gridlock out there that there's nothing they can do to change their circumstances for the better and so they kind of give up on everything. This is where all the apathy is coming from. This is the bottom line.
Something or someone somewhere has got to give
We cannot spend the rest of our lives shaking our fists at each other, calling each other names, or hiding away in our homes with our faces behind our screens too scared to do anything ourselves which could result in meaningful change and expecting someone else to do something about it. Personally I've done as much as I can to create as much as I can for Qultura, and I am also know that I could not have asked for any more when it comes to the other people who are involved. Everyone who has been involved with Qultura has given me their best, I'm often somewhat humbled by the amount and level of support I have received from people, but we badly need new faces to take this further.
That word again - empathy.
Empathy is the one thing which will ensure that there is a breakthrough in the current maze of deadlocks in society. Empathy is also something which will ensure people's survival in the current system and impeding social collapse. But empathy is something which you can only develop through connecting to other people and going through the experiences.
We need people who see this as the way forward and who are prepared to give it a good shot. You might be one of those people. If so, please, get in touch and we will figure it out together from there.