Thursday, 21 February 2013

G. Rilla - Controversial Activist - A Critique and a Response

Since his recent guest post on this blog and a number of appearances at demonstrations in Bath and further afield, Simon Jilley (a.k.a. G. Rilla) has generated a fair bit of controversy over his gorilla costume and antics. Due to the stir he has caused amongst other activists, I have agreed to publish a critique of G. Rilla that was sent to me, and have given him the chance to respond. This post intends to be the last word on the subject - on here at least - as there are more important issues to write about, but please feel free to continue to the debate in the comments below. 

G. Rilla
Part 1: G. Really? A critique of G. Rilla

by Jon from the Class(room) War blog

The following article is an attempt to articulate a vague sense of unease about the role of mysterious protest simian G.Rilla at recent protests in Bath and beyond. Rather than a personal attack, I will attempt to deliver a critique of the ideology and style of activism of which G.Rilla (aka Simon Jilley) is representative. It should be understood that Jilley, as an individual has expressed opinions and undertaken actions which have sharply divided activist opinion and this should be regarded as nothing more than an ideological repost to a few of his tactics and assertions. From here on in, I will refer to Jilley by the name of his alter ego by way of differentiating between the man and his ideas. I should also point out that, while I disagree with most of what he has said regarding the benefits and importance of meditation or whatever, each to their own! I will focus only on the aspects of this ideology that, in my opinion are of detriment to the movement.

Before, we start, a little bit about Jilley and his alter ego G.Rilla –

Rilla first came to my attention in snatches of overheard conversations in which various comrades were involved in friendly arguments about ‘that fucking ape’, some speaking in his defence, others expressing the earnest wish that he stop attending local events (some even arguing that he should be banned from events organised by their groups). Having not been a Bath resident for a few years, and having seen all manner of hippy activism in my time in the city, I didn’t pursue the subject, until I got several phone calls after last years tax-avoidance demo outside a Bath branch of Starbucks. The calls from various people who, between them have been active in left-wing/radical politics in Bath for decades all told roughly the same story – that the demo had been sabotaged by G.Rilla and that several comrades had left the demo, or been made to feel highly uncomfortable due to frustration at his behaviour. The lowest point of the demo appears to have occurred when at least one protester attempted to engage Rilla in a debate over his motives and outlook on the demo, only to be confronted with ‘ape noises’. Funny though this sounds, it does not create the environment for a healthy political discourse, and the behaviour continued long after it became apparent that it was causing the fellow protester considerable annoyance and upset. These events more or less coincided with a ‘Political perspectives’ article on the excellent radical Bath based blog ‘standing stones’ in which Rilla justified his politics. I’ll admit that I found it difficult to follow, but the main points can be summarised thus –

*Rilla turns up to student demos with the express intention of preventing what he describes as ‘feisty violence and unclear anger’ (presumably referring to well-planned and efficiently executed direct actions such as the trashing of Tory HQ). He primarily attempts this through dressing as a Gorilla and publicly meditating.

*Rilla dislikes the ‘scatty’ atmosphere of ‘political’ demonstrations, so turns up and meditates in the hope of ‘invoking/inspiring people to keep in touch with their deeper selves’

*Rilla shuns a focus on material concerns, choosing to focus rather on inner peace and fulfilment. In his own words, ‘Rather than aiming towards the economic revolution that so many speak of in the media, we have got to see the plausibility in the transcendent qualities of a spiritual revolution’

(For those of you wishing to read the full article, it can be found at http://standingstonesblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/political-perspectives-5-thoughts-on.html)

There is more, but these, as well as how the public may perceive his protest are the features on which I want to focus.

Firstly, I’ll get my shallowest concern out of the way first. The broadly defined left already has a poor perception by many, looking at the wackiest excesses of our movement and judging us all as theatrical lunatics with poorly defined arguments. Harsh though it may sound, I do care about our public image, and if that means speaking up when I feel someone is making us look foolish or detracting from our credibility, then I’m happy to do that. In a broad sense, I’m happy for Rilla to do what he wants and dress how he wants, but when he turns up to a demo centred around a specific concern such as tax-avoidance and hi-jacks it for a completely different cause, while at the same creating a public association between the demo and his stunts, that needs to be questioned.

Onwards, and a quick look at Rilla’s dissatisfaction with elements of the recent student fees protests. To describe the many acts of inspiring direct action occurring around the fees protests as ‘unclear’ shows not only an air of superiority, but also a lack of understanding of the hours of strategizing and planning that went into the vast majority of direct actions from that period – from the group who first formulated the plan to head to Milbank to the fluid, effective, spontaneous and militant blockades, occupations, coordinated heckles and targeted property damage that spanned almost a year of protest. If Rilla disagrees with the actions, then fair enough (although a counter argument could be expected), but to write off what was clearly a well organised movement, carrying out pre-meditated and targeted actions as ‘unclear’ is patently false; More an attempt to justify a pacifist ideology than an attempt to reflect reality.

This opens up a broader argument, about the general air of superiority pervading much of the pacifist movement. Very rarely does a protester engaging in property damage seek to interfere with the protest of pacifists. Not only does the reverse of this scenario happen frequently (Think rows of hippies locking arms to prevent a Starbucks getting trashed during the Seattle riots for one of many examples), but rather than engage seriously with the arguments for and against ‘violence’ and property damage, sections of the pacifist left seek to discount militant actions as ‘unclear’ and confused, while presenting no serious evidence to back up the claim. In fact, this attitude – far from confined to Rilla – smacks of an elitist arrogance which feels empowered to shrug off any act which doesn’t fit with their own ideology as the impulsive actions of a confused idiot or herded sheep. This simplification and misunderstanding of militant actions (deliberate or otherwise) provides the rationale necessary for sections of the pacifist movement to act as self-appointed morality police for the movement-as seen when Rilla chose to place himself at a potential demo flash point to attempt to dissuade militant protest.

While I’m on the subject of pacifist misunderstanding of social dynamics on demonstrations, I’ll take the opportunity to wander a little off topic and look at Rilla’s interactions with the cops. He states that, at one student demo, he spent time wandering along the police line attempting to crack smiles etc. This sort of tactic is another case in which de-politicising a highly political situation can lead to some strange tactics and attitudes (and rather than being out-and-out judgemental, some of the following is from first-hand experience). The main function of the police is to protect the interests of the state and corporate property. They do what they are ordered to do, and their orders are based on the wishes of the state. If they refuse to carry out orders they are reprimanded. It is also worth remembering that most of the cops encountered at tense protest situations are members of riot-trained groups such as the TSG – hand-picked for their pathological and ideological hatred of the left and that many cops are not the nicest people in the first place! In my time at slightly more hippy protests, I have seen attempts to foster positive relations with the cops play out mainly in one of two ways –

1) You succeed in eliciting an emotional response from the cop other than extreme anger. They are immediately removed from the line and replaced with a fresh officer.

2) (The more frequent of the two) You succeed in opening a dialogue with the cop. You have a laugh and trade pleasantries. Senior cop orders an advance of the line/clear the streets/whatever. Previously amiable cop pulls on helmet and starts hitting you!

Of course there have been situations where police have deserted and joined social movements en-masse (the solidarity movement in Poland being an obvious example), but this has been the result of a mass movement winning a political argument more than isolated acts of ‘niceness’ which, since their rise to popularity among the counter-culture has achieved very little in altering the collective or individual mind-sets of the constabulary.

On to the second point – the idea that people attending political demonstrations need reminding to ‘keep in touch with their inner selves’. In describing the atmosphere at political demos as ‘scatty’, Rilla again perpetuates the notion that a confused mob somehow need calming, and he is the man to do it. I have been a participant in many a militant mass action (without going into specifics for legal reasons!) which was highly organised, efficient and carried out in an atmosphere of calm, level headed determination. This is a small point, but again feeds into a trough of evidence which suggests that Rilla has misunderstood the mind-set of political demonstrators, or has general contempt for them and their ability to take measured and rational action for themselves– militant or otherwise.

I will ignore the question of why Rilla feels that what he describes as a ‘personal’ revolution needs to be carried out so publicly by himself, and how he can possibly hope for anyone to respond to his stunts with a thought process other than ‘oh look, a kneeling ape – I wonder what he’s advertising’ and move on to what has to be my biggest bugbear – forsaking material concerns in favour of spiritual well being.

Rilla states that ‘Rather than aiming towards the economic revolution that so many speak of in the media, we have got to see the plausibility in the transcendent qualities of a spiritual revolution’. This is a flawed argument on several levels. Again, in light of this assertion, the more basic argument of why he feels the need to intervene in actions carried out over implicitly material issues is a baffling one, but not what I want to focus on.

Stepping away from protest for a second, I applied the ‘abandon material concerns’ argument to my job as a teacher of young people with severe behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. The pupils I teach are hardly at all in touch with their ‘inner selves’, in fact I work with them quite intensively to help them understand or deal appropriately with the most basic emotions. What links the pupils is a combination of factors, including, but not limited to; abuse, poverty, neglect, unsuitable or precarious housing and malnourishment. In short, they cannot become more ‘at one’ with their spiritual sides because their very basic physical and emotional needs have not been met. When working with such children, teachers are referred to ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of need’. Maslow states that the first layer of need is physiological (the need for warmth, food, water and shelter), the next, safety (security, stability, freedom from fear), the next, love and belonging (friends, family, carers, appropriate relationships) and lastly, self-actualisation (Pursuing inner talent, creativity and fulfilment). It is impossible to progress to the next level of Maslow’s hierarchy until most of the criteria for the previous level have been met. In very basic terms, unless, you are safe, clothed, sheltered and have a full belly, it is nearly impossible to focus on any significant level of personal needs-meeting in a spiritual sense. It is lucky for some people that they have been brought up in an environment where material well being, love, food and shelter are so readily available that they can shun material pursuits in favour of spiritual well being, but this is simply not the case for many. In a country where nearly ¼ of children live below the poverty line, benefits are being slashed, bailiffs are nicking our stuff and booting us out of our houses, bosses are slashing our pay and supermarkets and energy companies charging us more and more for the basics, an ideology which writes off pursuit of material fulfilment is frankly an insult to the most vulnerable in society. A position which down-plays the importance of material well being can only be espoused by someone comfortable in their ability to fulfil their own basic safety and material needs. Such ideology would be poorly received on the estate in which I work, where many choose between feeding themselves or their children, between electricity or a bus fare. This is not to say that people who struggle to meet their material needs will be negligent, uncaring or lack creativity, rather that the struggle for basic physical needs is a primary human concern, the pursuit of which can make creative or introspective pursuits a low priority.
If Malsow’s argument is to be believed (and there is ample evidence that it should), the pursuit of inner happiness, contentment and well being is intrinsically linked to the struggle for material well being. It is impossible to nurture your inner self unless you are able to nurture your physical self, and it is certainly not helpful to encourage someone to choose a path of spiritual fulfilment until these criteria have been met. This may be going slightly off track, but it is an attempt to highlight the fact that without an ‘economic’ revolution which enables people to meet their material needs, a spiritual one is impossible.

Maslow’s hierarchy of need
It is noticeable that with every period of ‘economic’ revolution, or heightened class-struggle comes an outpouring of the most magnificent, experimental art, literature, poetry and music, often from people at the ‘bottom’ of society, who had no education in the creative arts. During the course and execution of political and economic revolutions, beggars and thieves have become philosophers, peasants who previously toiled with the sole aim of avoiding starvation have created masterpieces and factory workers working round the clock for no money have become composers. Why is this? Because people who were previously victims of an economic system that forced them to struggle to meet their basic material needs left them with no means or energy to pursue strides towards inner or creative fulfilment. Simply put, the struggle for an economic revolution is a vital precondition of the struggle for an inner revolution.

Before writing this article, I received mixed opinions from friends and comrades. Some felt that a critique of what they saw as an elitist and privileged form of protest was necessary, while others felt that any critique could be perceived as attacking others on ‘our side’. This raised an interesting point. While I have been clear that this is not a personal attack, I’m not sure that Rilla and I are on the same side. Rilla struggles for an inner revolution that can only be achieved by those that already enjoy sufficient privilege to follow such pursuits, whereas I work towards a political and economic revolution that will democratize the pursuit of inner happiness and creativity- extending it to those whose material conditions currently make meeting anything other than the basic needs of them and their families a distant priority. The type of ‘activism’ espoused by Rilla, while doubtless well intentioned, comes from a position of privilege which needs to be examined if he is to play a part in the struggle for our collective political and economic emancipation, which must precede any of the goals which he pursues.

Part 2: Simon Jilley/G. Rilla's Response

by Simon Jilley

Dear fellow activist,

Thank you, firstly, for your article on myself/G. Rilla. I appreciate the amount of consideration that you have gone through in writing the article, and see that critiques like this can only possibly be seen as steps in the right direction. It is essential, in my opinion, to offer critiques where necessary whilst undertaking this journey through activism that we are all going through.

Now, please accept my apologies but I will have to keep this response to your article fairly brief. This is in part due to my belief that the article should be allowed to be as it is, just as my article was allowed to be as it is, and that there should not be any obstruction in allowing this to be so. Also, however, I have written several possible replies to the article, all of which have been ungrounded, and, in my opinion, far too long to be in this place. If you would like to receive the much more extensive reply, please email me at simon.jilley09@bathspa.ac.uk and I would be happy to piece it all together for you. But, because this is a public blog for the entire community to read, I do not feel that this is the right place to put my fullest response.

As such, I will not respond to any of the political arguments raised within this article, but will just advise that my response could either be found through the article that I initially wrote for the blog, found here:
http://standingstonesblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/political-perspectives-5-thoughts-on.html;

or on my own blog, which is could be summed up as my non-dualistic spiritual/political writing space. Here is the link for that: http://sisinvincible.livejournal.com/

I would appreciate that any citations found in the critique are referred back to in my original article, as I feel like some of the quotes have been quite taken out of context (as is expected when writing an article with a motive behind it...it is likewise what I did at times in the writing of my own article! But please, please, read my article before you take judgement on things that I have been quoted on).

The only point that I will make, now, is related to the activism that I practice. I practice activism with the intention of making change happen right here and right now, and get extremely frustrated when this does not happen, or when things happen too slowly for my liking. This could explain how G. Rilla came about – no matter how you take it (and, as is seen in this critique, it seems that about half of the activists that are in the same circle as the writer seemed to be supportive of Rilla), Rilla has had a noticeable impact that has changed things somewhat. If nothing less, it has given the public an extra level of engagement with the different demonstrations, and in my opinion that is great. The importance of engaging all of the public, no matter what, comes from my Occupy Bath days, when we truly did see ourselves as trying to represent 'the 99%', and thus to also attract all of the public – right and left-wing alike, along with the non-aligned – into being a part of what was happening. I believe that engagement with all of the public is essential in bringing about the changes that we, as a collected community, really want. I worked for a long time as a football mascot, and saw the supreme benefits that the actions of the Pig had on things (which, again, you can read about in my blog if you go back to entries in early 2012/throughout 2011). A quick call to the football club will, no doubt, give very supportive feedback to support my case. In that role, whilst some people were annoyed at the mascot at times, the majority seemed to be extremely supportive of it, and it genuinely did have a huge impact on the stability of the football club during a turbulent time. With the effects of this in mind, G. Rilla came about, and has, in my opinion, been a very useful figure in making this engagement with the public much more solid in activism.

Other forms of activism that I am currently involved in are: The Bath Love Police (doing positive actions of giving on a mass scale around the city centre), a Bath Freegan group, I am the Religions & Beliefs Liberation Representative in my Students' Union, I am leading the 'Barefoot Revolution' in Bath, and I very much align myself with Transition Bath. All of these forms of activism, for me, are all about physical action happening right here and right now. When I get involved in these forms of activism, I see things changing immediately around me. I see that my role in any form of activism will always be about making things happen immediately, rather than putting pressure on getting things to happen.

You mentioned about the possibility of banning G. Rilla from future demonstrations. I see that you should rather be banning myself, Simon Jilley, from demonstrations if you do not like the style of G. Rilla. I would not possibly be able to assure that my actions away from G. Rilla would be much different from those of G. Rilla. As I said, I am completely focused on making things happen in the moment, right now. I cannot wait for things to happen. I cannot stand still with a placard. I need for things to be opening up all around me with my very actions. If this means that I get banned from future demonstrations, then so be it. I will continue to demonstrate, no matter what, and my voice will continue to be heard, as will those around me who are likewise committed to bringing about change immediately.

Lastly, I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the disruption that G. Rilla did seem to cause at the second Starbucks demonstration (the first, with Occupy Bath, seemed absolutely fine). It must be said, though, that the only observation of the disruption made by Rilla was given by the fellow activist who did forcefully take Rilla aside, almost all the way to the Abbey, tried pulling Rilla's head off, before an agreement was made with the help of two student activists for Rilla to meditate rather than walk around for the rest of the demonstration. No previous suggestion had been made to Rilla regarding the disruption that he was causing, and once this activist had made his complaint Rilla was happy to meditate the rest of the demonstration out. Perhaps this raises the question of personal responsibility at this demonstration – if people had felt that Rilla was 'sabotaging' the demonstration, they should have said before the point of the other activist doing so.

The important point, though, is that some do feel that Rilla had a negative effect on this demonstration. For any negativity felt, I am extremely sorry.

G. Rilla, I believe, will continue to live on. My own activism is extremely strong in my life, and takes over almost all of my time and energy when I am not doing university work. I see that activism will form the foundations of my future.

If you would like to follow the future actions of G. Rilla (which, it should be noted, have been put on hold over the winter months), then please follow the G. Rilla Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/g1rilla

If you have any comments that you would like to make privately, please do feel free to email me. The email address, again, is simon.jilley09@bathspa.ac.uk.

3 comments:

  1. fucking g ri11a mate! I az big respect 4 dis cunt cuz he iz doin his own thing and being 1ike FUCK you! you bastard. He is meditating whi1e the word burns and probab1y proper opens up pp1s mind by having a wank dressed as an ape. Whats that a11 about...big fucking questions! BIG FUCKING QUESTI0NS INDEED MATE!

    I reckon one day we wi11 1ook back and be 1ike "u know wit m8? that fucking monkey cunt was SP0T 0N!" U other krusty dick cunts iz just we11 je1 coz he iz making more impact dressed as a monkey than a11 u have dun or eva wi11 do.

    kind regards,

    Mr S 0ates

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