“It is essential to enjoy life”

by Kitty Drake in March 2020
Current affairs

Good Trouble is the broadsheet-sized title devoted to resistance, profiling activists who use art as a tool for political action. Named for a phrase used by the veteran civil rights leader John Lewis, who has spoken of the need to get into some “good trouble” in order to make any difference, the magazine is rigorous, but at the same time, joyful. Even this issue, dedicated to climate change — the most hopeless challenge we face — is illuminated by the creativity of its subjects. One memorable piece is by Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, about a year spent ‘radically performing’, literally singing and dancing in protest, around the world. Another great profile is of artist Ekene Ijeoma, whose Deconstructed Anthems (2017) takes apart ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, repeating it multiple times while removing notes at the rate of mass incarceration, ending in silence.

Editor Rod Stanley talked to us via email about the joy of singing, and the editorial value of an element of surprise.

This line, from Jex Blackmore, part of the sex-rights activist collective Sex Militant, is great: “It is essential to enjoy life, to celebrate each other, to love and fuck and play — these are basic human needs. It is imperative that what we fight against does not overshadow what we are fighting for.” How important is it to enjoy life?

The original tagline for Good Trouble was ‘Celebrate the Culture of Resistance’, because I was hoping to shine a light on individuals and movements who are using art, culture and creativity as a tool of social change, although I’ve lately dropped the ‘Celebrate’ bit as I felt it came across a little too fluffy, too uncritical, perhaps… although I still think the desire is to be positive. That’s obviously a challenge when you deal with issues related to the climate crisis, and I didn’t want to shy away from the harsh reality that we are now seeing and experiencing some of the consequences of global warming that scientists have long warned us about — which is why there is an aerial photograph of the melted remains of what was once an ancient glacier on the front cover. Not the most commercial decision I’ve ever made, but there you go. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of inspiring stories inside, including Sunrise Movement, indigenous leaders, Bill McKibben, who founded 350.org, Extinction Rebellion and everyone else, as well as all the non-climate stories in the More Trouble section.

There’s a spoof recipe included (“The fragrant toxicity of catastrophic public shaming tastes just right after the palate-thickening stickiness of insincerity, gluttonous wealth and self-serving Toryism.”) Is it a dig at the fancy pants food industry, or am I reading too much into it?

I don’t know, really. Maybe both. Sometimes, I just like to put things in that don’t really have any explanation. Those unsettling recipes were created by my friend Mark, who is a self-styled ‘professor of the fourth dimension’ with an actual PhD and everything. Every so often, it’s good to just throw a wrench in and see what happens — sometimes, unexpected meanings and connections arise, causing people to pause and think about what is ‘meant’ or not.

I also like the little spoof adverts, for example the one for “Hell” oil. What gave you the idea to make those a feature?

The ‘ads’ are the wonderful work of the artist Darren Cullen aka Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives. He’s been making satirical work of this nature for some time, which is brilliant. I wanted to feature him, and his work often actually appears inserted guerrilla-style into bus stops, tube carriages, so I figured it made sense to place them in Good Trouble as ‘ads’, especially since we don’t carry any actual advertising. I like the way you don’t really register them at first on the page, because you just subconsciously process them as an advert and therefore your brain tries to filter it out as a blur of colour — and then if you actually look at it, you’re like ‘Hang on… They’re turning their carbon emissions green for Earth Day?’

Good Trouble is really three separate papers. Luxurious! Why so big?

The idea was for this third issue to be a ‘climate crisis special’ but what actually happened was we filled an entire issue with climate stories, but then still had enough of our more typical arts-activist stories left over to fill an entire extra issue, so ‘More Trouble’ was created as a second section for them. The Waste Land is a kind of continuation of the themed art supplement from the last issue (The Unmanifesto). We also added a large poster. Each issue just gets bigger than the last, despite my best efforts. The artist Scott King (who made the balloon poster) said this issue was like “The Sunday Times for Mick Farren fans”, which made me laugh.

I enjoyed the piece from Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. He sings, which seems to be a theme of the issue. Why is singing a theme?

Yes, the good Reverend Billy is a stalwart of the protest world, and we actually ran into him recently at a fossil-fuel protest outside Chase bank in midtown New York. Singing is a recurrent theme probably because music has historically been such an important tool for movements — singing together keeps spirits up, unites and inspires people, gets messages across, and so forth. In the last issue, we featured the Resistance Revival Chorus who are an all-women choir who sing traditional labour movement and protest songs, and they quoted Harry Belafonte, who told them: “When the movement is strong, the music is strong.”

Climate change is a central subject of the issue. Many pieces note the fact that the situation can seem hopeless: we are already too late. Do you feel hopeless? Or hopeful?

We are already experiencing some of the effects of climate change, so in many ways we are already too late. However, we can still make a difference in that every action we now take that brings us closer to a zero-carbon society means that harmful future effects will be lessened. It’s about action and mitigation – so, if you think about it like that, hope doesn’t really come into it. As Bill McKibben told me in this issue: ‘We have a chance.’


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