Individuality and activism - a public expression of courage

Individuality and activism - a public expression of courage

21 May 2019 170 views

by Till Höffner

Carrying conference content into the public sphere. This has already been a wish several previous student conferences, but it was primarily out of concern about the not exactly low-risk undertaking to go on a trip to a city with hundreds of minors, and also out of concern about the large organisational effort, never realized, until this year. The decisive argument, why we dared it this time was: Courage is the topic of the conference, therefore we are courageous now and simply go for it!“

Shortly afterwards we found ourselves in negotiations with the SBB to rent an ’extra train’, the only answer we had to the question of how 700 people could all together move from the Goetheanum to Basel. Applications and long telephone calls with the cantonal police and various authorities were added, and a few months later it became clear that we were actually going to Basel with all the participants and march to the Münsterplatz, where we would spend two hours.

Realising this, the question arose: What will we do there? Are we looking for artistic performances or a protest? If so, for what or against what do we protest? "Bringing conference content into the public sphere" always sounded so beautiful, so meaningful, so necessary. But how does one actually do that? What content is it about and in what form can it be shared with others?

What role do we as organizers and what role do the participants play in the shaping of this space? It was important to us that no message or content was imposed on anyone, which would contradict what we could actually experience as 'conference content'.

A free engagement with diverse topics, in great respect for our fellow human beings. A common learning from each other. An unconditional interest in the other, the otherness of the other. What would the world look like if a global dialogue also looked like this even in a political realm? We do not have a common opinion, nor a common goal. What we actually wanted to express, the just described spirit, this special interacting in a free dialogue, gets lost as soon as it is tried to be expressed in form of a choreography, a speech choir or similar.

How can one nowadays bring opinions, impulses and questions into the public eye in a way in which they find a hearing? "Loud, scandalous and as outrageous as possible" seems to be a common answer to this question considering different activist movements.

"650 young people from over 30 nations gathered on Basels’ Münsterplatz to raise their voices for ...." The power of this headline, which we foresaw already, was a great appeal. Due to the size and diversity of the group, everything we would take to the streets seemed to have an significance and reach that young people are not necessarily used to when expressing their questions, impulses and ideas. The only condition to achieve this significance and thus this reach seemed to be synchronicity in the said, asked, demanded.

"650 young people from over 30 nations gather on Basels' Münsterplatz to engage in an open dialogue with each other and with passers-by and to represent their individual convictions" sounds rather less appropriate as a headline and also does not give a clear picture of the intention of the whole undertaking.

However, it was clear to us that our role in the planning of this operation could not be more than a frame-giving one. Deciding on a content would contradict all the values that can be experienced at the student conferences.

So we decided to set up a corner at the conference where signs, posters, T-shirts and more could be painted. We rehearsed some songs, some Eurythmy and Body Percussion together. We entrusted all contents to the participants.

On the penultimate day of the conference it kicked off. In pouring rain, equipped with megaphones and card board signs, we headed to the train station Dornach-Arlesheim. Shortly thereafter we took the chartered 'extra train' to Basel. There we marched with the police to Münsterplatz - mostly in silence. Some attends were made to start yelling a slogan through the megaphones, but mostly it trailed away after being repeated by some people a few times.

Arriving at the Münsterplatz some workshop groups started performing their work after a brief singing together. Some tourist groups and other passers-by approached and were integrated into the events as if by self-evidence. Some, sang and danced along, others talked to students, others watched the whole happening from a distance.It quickly became apparent that what was expressed in this action took place much more around the stages than on them.

Many of the people I talked to were touched by the happenings. An elderly lady told me to experience this, gave her ‘confidence and faith in the future’. I wasn't quite sure what she was talking about at the point. My attention was focused on the stages and I was hoping for a big statement, a statement that could serve as headline in a retrospective article like this one. But that never came about. At least not on a verbal level.

What was experienced, however, was a free engagement with diverse topics, in great respect for our fellow human beings. A common learning from each other. An unconditional interest in the other, the otherness of the other. Outsiders were included, faced with openness and respect. It was clear that it makes no difference where you come from. What was important here was what connected us, what questions, wishes and dreams we shared, where our views diverged and how we could learn from each other.

The entire event was neither loud nor outrageous nor scandalous. On the contrary, it was quiet, peaceful and harmonious. The atmosphere that makes the student conferences so special was carried into the public sphere by the students, the different questions and wishes of each individual and their admirable openness towards other people and the world.

A common eurythmic Hallelujah in the rain closed our "Creative Intervention" before everyone headed back to the Goetheanum. Satisfied and exhausted.The reach of the event could certainly have been expanded by a large collective statement. But looking back, the number of people reached by the it seems much less important than how it has touched those it did reach.

Till Höffner