I am lucky enough to have gone to university with someone who channels his hyperactive nature into a consistent and wide-reaching campaign for good. Dan Glass’s contagious spirit has always encouraged me to do more, but I’ve never felt judged for not doing enough.
From dancing on runways to supergluing himself to the ex-British prime minister, he has always been drawn to using creativity and a deep sense of pride in humanity to further causes he believes in.
DS: When and how did you get into activism?
DG: I think the need for activism was something I was born into rather than something I got into. I’m not a very pre-meditated person, I just dive in at the deep end of where my instinct tells me to! I am born of a long line of European Jews, spanning Holland, Poland, Romania, and Germany. I have learnt that for centuries Jews were persecuted, flung from their homes and massacred. During the Nazi Holocaust my grandparents were hunted and bludgeoned by those who decided that Jews (and other minority groups) had no right to live on this planet. My parents and my generation didn’t find out about my grandparents’ stories until they were very old, when their minds stopped looking forward and instead reversed, releasing the tide of their horror stories. I believe the darkness of this unprocessed trauma passes down inter-generationally and guides many Jews, such as myself and my siblings, today.
This cultural heritage has provided my generation with an in-built sense of awareness of the scale of human emotions. This includes nightmarish effects of calculated destruction and human depravity, of the depths of people’s courage to struggle, and of how much one’s spirit can withstand. As a child, my eyes were immediately opened to issues of injustice, and once opened they could not be shut. The ‘banality of evil’ taught me how everyone can become complicit and how oppression becomes normalised. Because of this, I learnt the purpose of critical thinking and sticking to your values. So whatever issues and campaigns I have been fortunate enough to organise around over the years — whether that’s climate change, anti-racism, HIV, LGBTQI — it’s just natural that if you see something terrible going on, you make lots of noise before it’s too late.
What groups have you been a part of, or interacted with around the world?
In 2010 I was voted one of Attitude Magazine’s campaigning role models for LGBT youth, and in 2011 a Guardian “UK youth climate leader.” Through co-organising political trials defying police repression (the Climate9 trial in 2009 and Ratcliffe Trial in 2010), founding organisations confronting racism, poverty, and climate change (So We Stand in 2008 and Let Freedom Ring! in 2012), organising dances under flightpaths, bashing whaling ships with the Sea Shepherds, occupying airports, playing tricks on politicians, getting naked as part of mass protests stuck to government departments, exposing CIA infiltration on the anti-airport expansion Aviation Justice North America tour, it’s been an honour to cause trouble in all the right places and be a spanner in the works for those at the root of the destruction.
What 5 groups inspire you the most right now around the world and why?
A great question but a tricky one as there are so many inspiring movements! The fierce, bright-pink-sari-wearing Gulabi Gang in India who go after corrupt officials with sticks and axes striking fear in the hearts of wrongdoers and earning the grudging respect of officials. Voina the so-called “art terrorists” in Russia, drawing massive phallic images in front of the Kremlin and having orgies in inappropriate places. The Sounds of the South Caravan across Africa, a cultural movement based in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township that uses hip-hop to fight oppression. The Monitoring Group in the UK, who are the leading anti-racist and civil rights group empowering and supporting friends-and-families campaigns against the widespread rash of racist police brutality. The Church of Stop Shopping in the US, who occupy shopping centres and sing belly-thumping beautiful gospel to shut down stores and expose the evils of consumerism.
Whilst all of these movements organise to change different issues, the one thing they have in common is the way they choose to make change. With might, dignity, rowdiness, and raucousness, through the vehicles of music, art, popular education, participation, creativity, and a healthy dose of cheekiness, they capture the public’s imagination. I dread to live in a world of greyness and earnestness. I’m not involved in fighting for a better world if we get out the other end and people are just stuck on their computers. As the great Emma Goldman says, “If I can’t dance it’s not my revolution.”
What kind of activists have the most fun and why?
The activists having the most fun are the ones who have no fear! Whether that’s not being submissive to authority, whether that’s people sticking to their guns and using any means to fight for justice in their communities, or whether that’s the ones scrambling over places of power to poke fun at their egos — fearlessness is the key. Inspired by the Training for Transformation programme mentioned above, Steve Biko speaks loudly to this in his philosophy: “The biggest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is your mind.”
Tell us in detail about your legendary interaction with Gordon Brown…
In 2007/8, I’d been campaigning and taking direct action against the growth of the aviation industry. I found out I had won an award for my work. To collect it I was to go to No. 10 Downing Street and meet the prime minister, the same man who had been willfully ignoring all campaign group Plane Stupid’s work and the 70,000 London residents’ rejections of the third runway at Heathrow. It didn’t take long to decide what I would do.
With a team from Plane Stupid backing me up, I put on my secondhand suit wearing a device in my pocket that was linked up to an anonymous Skype account on a computer in front of the team. At 6:15pm Brown came out into the audience to shake our hands. I knew what I was about to do as I squeezed the superglue into my left hand.
I grabbed his arm, and started to deliver my speech. This is what I started to say as I superglued myself to his arm before the PM tore my hand away from his suit. It turned out to be the biggest news story in the world, and was one slice of the pie which ended up shelving the Heathrow third runway plans altogether.
If I could have continued talking to my captive, here’s what I would have said:
We need you to make the tough decisions you keep on talking about. If you need someone to hold your hand, then we are willing to do just that. But we are not going to wait around for politicians to catch up. Remember, you only have two possible legacies before you leave office: as the first prime minister to take climate change seriously, or the last one not to.
It’s time you stopped hiding from communities on the frontline affected by climate change. While we stand here smiling nicely for the cameras, Inuit communities in the Arctic are planning survival strategies for their families as the deep seas gradually engulf them. While we stand here drinking champagne and eating canapés, communities in Tuvalu are desperately building sandbanks to stop their island, their families, their lives, and ultimately, their dignity, from going underwater. And, prime minister, as you know, the community of Sipson in West London awaits complete demolition because of the planned third runway at Heathrow Airport.
Your Heathrow consultation is a fix, pure and simple. It is the single most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing this government has done since the Iraq War. If supergluing myself to you, prime minister, is the only way to cut through the power of corporations like BAA and ensure you hear what people from West London really think, then so be it.
Heathrow is a sign of things to come. In Heathrow, the battle-lines are drawn. We could continue careering down the path of relentless economic growth and ignore the world’s top scientists who are calling on us to curb aviation, or stop, take a breather, and support workers in the aviation industry and communities surrounding airports into a sustainable lifestyle, before it is too late. The choice, prime minister, is yours.
Allow us, the future generation, to shake your faith. Put your hand in ours, let us lead you through this labyrinth and realise that we have this remarkable opportunity. I could be your son. Explain yourself to the next generation. The people of the next generation will either thank us for taking the necessary, logical action, or lament us for not being radical enough. It is not good enough to do our bit — we must do what is necessary. If you find a basis to disagree, by all means take the other side. But please don’t ignore it, don’t look away, prime minister.
Almost every day, I notice signs that more and more people are longing for our species to cease its self-destructive war with earth and each other. And that’s the real strength of Plane Stupid; creating new spaces to confront climate change. Powerful people know that ordinary people are not innately selfish or slaves to consumerism. Creating spaces to strategise resistance to forces promoting this inter-generational catastrophe is not just a campaign, or even a movement, it’s a whole culture not negotiated by governments, but enforced by people. By the public. A public that can link hands across national borders and acknowledge that we are all learners, and always continuing to learn to tackle climate change.
Bring on the spanners. If we succeed no one will remember. If we fail no one will forget.