Nathan Hegedus: Along the Horizontal


Hegedus explores how protests, even failed ones, teach us something vital about our communal responsibilities @ The Morning News.

Libkovice, Czech Republic, August 1996
There was power in the circle, or maybe it is better to say there were powerful people around the circle. Ostensibly equals, we sat on the patchy grass in the Czech countryside in 1996, surrounded by teepees and with the hellish flames of coal plants flickering on the horizon.

Except I was new, had staggered in at midnight after a three-hour hike and a six-hour train trip and had slept under my jacket under a table my head against someone’s knee, and I was heartbroken, and I really did not care about Ecotopia, this tidy festival in what had been an 800-year-old village whose residents had been driven out in the early 1990s by rapacious coal companies.
The morning meeting was supposed to take half an hour. But we blew past 30 minutes before the first point was even defined, much less decided upon. This was pure consensus—the ultimate in horizontal decision making—so everyone had to agree, and it was a large circle, maybe 50 to 60 people, and you try getting even like-minded environmental activists to come to that kind of consensus quickly. I couldn’t pick up the anarchist-inspired hand signals, and I soon resented what I saw as the smugness of the almost guru-like organizers.

These were anarcho-activist power players, people who had founded Ecotopia years before, people who were preparing to stage a mock attack on a Czech nuclear power plant, people rumored to live in free-love communes where everyone discussed even the most intimate details of their relationships. These rock stars of the political underground were all mixed up intellectually and romantically, and how I was supposed to be their equal in the circle at the festival they had organized?

The minutes dragged, the first point never got made, and I checked out and went to eat my spare serving of vegan breakfast, sprouts or some such, listening to a screechingly bad Welsh folk singer on his guitar. They held a party that night in an empty shell of a church, and it remains the most otherworldly torch-swinging, drum-pounding, pot-infused get-together I have ever stood awkwardly at the edges of.

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