Burning The Books

Alinah Azadeh

Tag Archive: library of birmingham

  1. The Book of Debts at Birmingham Library: Talking with Campaigners (1)

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    A lot happened when I was with my Book of Debts at The Library of Birmingham last week. You can get the picture quite quickly from the contributions that are now in the book by clicking here , on ‘explore debts’. And please, do contribute as The Book is open to anyone to add to, at any time, whether in Birmingham or not.  But first things first.

    My very first encounter in the foyer area of the lovely Library, (so welcoming! Thankyou. esp to Cathy wade in the Carousel) was with John Nightingale, Birmingham –based campaigner for the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) – a natural ally to this project from the perspective of financial and social debt.

    Interestingly, last Thursday  Oct 17th was officially UN Poverty Eradication Day  – and I timed the start of my encounters to this as it seemed apt – but this event went totally unnoticed or marked in the media – or anywhere –  poverty fatigue??, National Day marking fatigue?  or , as one journalist friend told me she had heard her editor remark , ‘poverty is so…boring’.  Let’s cover the prices of luxury branded art commodities at Frieze art fair instead then… Enough said. Or rather, too much to say.

    But back to JDC, whose work I have been aware of over the years and is a very practical way that anyone can get involved with that affects poverty in a very real way, by campaigning for the cancellation of unjust debts globally.  So, John began by explaining their aims in very accessible way, covering a lot of the moral questions which I have looked at over the last 18 months, which might be useful to hear here. He also put £58bn of unjust unpaid debt into The Book (!)– the foreign debt burden of Pakistan, more on that in the next post.

    Since this project – and The Book of Debts itself – operates as a framework for a multiplicity of perspectives, whether spiritual, activist, utterly personal or totally pragmatic, I try to deliver what people bring to me in a simple way. The final recital is influenced by what i am given and how much impact those givings have on my own growing understanding of this often confusing phenomenom of debt as a human construct.  So here is the transcript of what was said and brings the international perspective to this particular Volume, it was a long conversation so it will come in two parts:

     

    BTB Trailer still

    Still from BTB trailer, produced by The Swarm

    ‘ Jubilee Debt Campaign calls for the unjust and unpayable debts of poor countries and also a changing of the system so that sort of thing does not happen again. Not all debts are unjust – there can be some debts that are for good purposes, I mean you can lend some people some money, they buy some tools, they do some work, they repay you – that’s’ a good thing that could not have been done before.

    With debt there is always a risk – it shouldn’t be just one party that bears the risk…. Risk should really be shared, that’s only fair and just. But anyway some debts can become unpayable, something can go wrong, there can be an accident like that and once you get 10% or more of your income going into debts, there is no way you can get round it. It is in everybody’s interest that something is done. As you will know from David Graeber’s book, this goes back to time immemorial. Primitive societies didn’t necessarily need to have money, all they needed was some way of reckoning obligations to one another, that at certain times becomes intolerable and either you get a new ruler or a revolution or something like that – and when you do, the first place they go to is the place where the record of the debt is kept and they destroy it.

    So, in one sense there is a right sort of debt – because we are part of the human community you see and we are not isolated individuals, and we owe something to one another. That’s good – you know families don’t necessarily like one another but you do help one another, owe something to one another- we ought to be more like a family. But on the other hand you have got to keep up the relationships and when things become intolerable, things have to change.

    A good thing did happen around the time of the millennium there was, with Jesus’s birthday, a question around how do you celebrate it ? etc., and one of the things that Jesus historically at this time  said  (which went back to the ancient Hebrew scriptures) was  in terms of the cancellation of the debts and the idea of the ‘ jubilee’  every 7th year and returning to a level playing field again. So that was necessary because in his time there was the most terrible debt, I mean people were paying debts to the Romans several times over and to the temple several times over and they had to sell their land because they didn’t have enough money etc. they were becoming debt slaves. Jesus speaks about this  (I’m a Christian myself but not all those involved in JDR campaign are Christians). Jesus speaks far more about money and debts than he ever speaks about sex or anything like that because it’s an absolutely crucial theme. And when you look at the followers of Jesus, when they got going on their own one of the things they were very concerned about was to help one another, and not to get into debts, into trouble.

    So Jubilee Debt Campaign brings together those of all beliefs, faiths or none – and the great event which was here in Birmingham in 1998 was the human chain, when the leaders of G8 were surrounded by 60,000 people holding hands and as a result of that there were promises that something would be done about the unjust and unpayable debts. And since that time about $130bn of debt has been cancelled .It was done very carefully, so that the money that was released did not go into someone’s back pocket but would go towards health or education and we have many examples eg Tanzania and Zambia of the mortality rates of mothers and children going down as a result and the rates of people being educated going up. But if course things don’t stand still and you have to come up to a crisis and that in many ways, just as it’s worse for the poorer countries that it hits hard something has to be done again’…

    Tbc 

  2. Letter to the people of Birmingham – Invitation to contribute to The Book of Debts Volume III

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    Photo: Sogand Bahram

    Photo: Sogand Bahram

     October 2013

    Dear Strangers,

    We may meet, or we may never meet. I am an artist, mother, southerner, human being and… debtor. I’m also the keeper and scribe of The Book of Debts  which, one Volume per location, will be filled, read from and burned as it travels the UK, starting in the Library of Birmingham this Thursday 17th (UN Poverty Eradication  Day ), Friday 18th and Saturday 19th October, meeting its fiery end on Saturday 2 November  at Minerva Works, Digbeth hosted by Fierce Festival. (see details below).

    We can meet to talk in person.  Or you can contribute to The Book of Debts online and I will only know you through your words.

    With the Book in hand, pen ready and ears open, I offer you a conversation about debt you might not expect to have. We are all debtors on some level. Here is a moment to listen to the experiences of others, be heard, and speak about  or describe the lived experiences, issues and hopes of those who inhabit the same city as you – and further afield too. The Book of Debts is open to anyone who finds it and wishes to contribute, whether debtor or creditor – past or present. The debt can be owed by you or to you. Or it may be owed  to or by a third party – individual or institution.  It may be financial, social, emotional, ecological or spiritual – or all of the above. All contributions are anonymous and you can add as many debts as you like, one by one.

    So, what do you think about when you think about debt ?  Money, time, love, attention?

    Shame, denial, regret, anger, injustice ?  Love, community, compassion, forgiveness? Who owes what to whom? Do all debts have to be repaid?  How responsible are we for what we, our family, community or nation owe?  So far I have collected, recited and burned around £3.6 billion of unpaid financial debt, spanning unpaid corporate taxes, student loans, credit card bills and  defaulted mortgages. But debt is a broader than finance. And there is no debt without story.  Some of the immeasurable debts I have collected are tales of unrequited love, political repression, ecological damage, family feuds and missed opportunities. Sometimes they are a single word, name or figure of money. I have put many of my own debts into the book and if you want to know why and how I am doing this project, you can read my blog  and find out.

    Burning the Books II. Photo: Sogand Bahram.

    Burning the Books II. Photo: Sogand Bahram.

    I’ll be on the streets, in communities (some slots still open to invitation so do contact us if interested) and in the Library of Birmingham, beginning this Thursday October 17th  3-6pm in the ground-level foyer somewhere. I’ll also be there Friday 18th October (3-6pm) and Saturday 19th October (11-1pm) and Thursday 24th October (3-6pm). Come sit with me for 15 minutes – you can listen to existing debts and their stories from The Book of Debts  (including my own) and – if you wish – you can tell me your own – or call another to account – and I will scribe it to the book.

    Or you can browse existing contributions and add your own to reach The Book in absolute anonymity via www.burningthebooks.co.uk/contribute now or at anytime before Saturday 2 November, 3pm. The Book of Debts will then be recited in public and burned in a symbolic act of ritual destruction, at 5.30 – 7.00pm Minerva Works, Digbeth.

    Please share with anyone who might find this interesting. All events are free.

    Yours truly

    Alinah Azadeh

     

    #burningthebooks to follow me around the city or follow on facebook.

    Supported by Arts Council England, Fierce Festival and the Library of Birmingham

    Touring producer, community and press contact: Elizabeth Lynch

     

    Burning the Books, in the words of one of the first contributors –  is ‘a free public service’ for anyone who wishes to use it. It is an imaginary form of debt relief which all are welcome to be part of. It aims to challenge the social stigma around debt and also consider the alternative economies that communities are turning to as the mainstream economy is drying up for so many of us.