How Your Hamper Can Change the World

By Cloake, Felicity | New Statesman (1996), July 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

How Your Hamper Can Change the World


Cloake, Felicity, New Statesman (1996)


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On May Day 1978, Finsbury Park played host to an unusual party. A yellowing flyer for the Anarchist Picnic (dedicated to "all prisoners rotting in the world's jails"), now in the archives of the Bishopsgate Institute, urges freethinkers to bring their own food, drink, musical instruments and kites, promising in return "mass football (N London v S London)" and a Punch and Judy show.

A picnic seems an apposite choice for anarchists--a meal exempt from the usual formalities, sweet and savoury mixed in a glorious jumble and eaten supine on the ground, often with scant regard for "table" manners or even cutlery: as the anthropologist Margaret Visser puts it, "a thrilling reversal of normal rules".

A brief rummage online produces a recent "picnic protest" against Windermere parking charges, an "axe the bedroom tax protest and picnic" in Margate, and innumerable munchie-heavy cannabis "picnics" in support of drug legalisation from Surrey to Sydney.

The 2009 picnic protest against Heathrow expansion, conducted on the floor of Terminal One, was particularly sumptuously catered for, with a journalist reporting "scotch eggs, Carr's water biscuits ... wild-rice salad, a broccoli and brown pasta dish, couscous, cupcakes and beautifully made cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off". (The slogan? "Climate change is no picnic".)

There are fewer green issues on the menu, and less broccoli, at Kentucky's annual Fancy Farm Picnic, where politicians come to canvass votes, often by pledging their support for the local coal industry, from an audience visiting primarily for the nine tonnes of barbecue pork and mutton.

But politicians love their barbecue, too. President Obama soured his already fractious relationship with Congress last year by cancelling their customary White House picnic, usually held in early summer--"in time" (as the congressional commentator David Hawkings explains) "for the afterglow to shine favourably on some bipartisan deal-making in even the most rancorous election years". …

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