Updated: Sep 27, 2020
"Call Us Angels is not here to give you an answer to this crisis. There is no one way to solve it." - Charlotte Discombe, 2020
Angels ready to litter pick. Photo Credit: Zoe Mills Photography.
On Saturday 8th August 2020, me and six fellow angels litter picked our way from Newlands Corner to Slyfield Recycling Plant. The journey took four hours, taking us through woodlands, over hills and onto the streets of Guildford. Our aim was to have fun, pick up as much trash as we could, and call on fellow angels to do the same. For me personally, this "Call to Action" became a therapeutic and reflective journey with my friends, symbolising an end to the making process of Call Us Angels. Now is my chance to share my reflections...
For over 100 days, I have been living in Call Us Angels. The first thing I do when I wake up is inform fellow angels of what day of Call Us Angels we're on via Instagram stories. I continue to vlog throughout the day, updating angels on what I'm thinking and doing towards the project all day, every day until I fall asleep at night. The project has become a part of my life, but it has also become a burden.
Since the beginning of July, I have gone through many sleepless nights, anxious as to whether I really would be able to make wearable wings out of trash. Although fellow angels have been watching and supporting via Instagram, this support has come from a distance and has been virtual. I was solely responsible for the physical making of these wings, and that burden has been unbearably isolating. To finally wear these trash wings, taking them out of my home, out of the container of Instagram, and placing them into the public domain, was such a relief - I actually made wearable wings out of trash and people actually noticed!
Until I started walking with my wings for the first time, I did not realise how massive they were - 167cm in height, and 171cm in width. Interacting with my environment became a challenge. My natural gait and posture changed in order to carry the wings safely, often walking sideways down narrow pathways to avoid brambles. crouching down to avoid branches and pressing myself into walls to avoid hitting cars or fellow angels. This was a slow, laborious process. My movements with the wings became trial and error, something that felt like a reflection of the trail and error process of making the wings themselves.
My shoulders began to ache twenty minutes into our journey. Within an hour, the straps attaching the wings to my body had tightened so much that I began to lose circulation in both arms. The wings were painful, a burden to carry. However, without this pain, the sheer scale of the trash I have personally used and picked this year would not have been obvious to me. The pain was not just my own trash. The pain was also that packet of crisps you threw out your car window without thinking. The pain was also our never ending consumerist habits that rely on cheap and unethical labour to keep producing. Perhaps most significantly the pain was also the burden of activism to fight for a world where women will not be disproportionately impacted by climate change and the ecological crisis.
Before 'A Call to Action', I was constantly worried about the public's reaction to the wings. I was expecting to be heckled, ignored and pushed past as we struggled our way to Slyfield. I worried that the public would see us as a nuance, a protest interrupting their everyday lives just for the hell of it. This was not the reaction we got. The sheer size of the wings and support of six fellow angels meant people actually took notice. Six women peacefully took up space by litter picking and we were applauded and encouraged by the general public to continue to do so as we powered on to Slyfield. The support from my local community was overwhelming. It has given me courage to continue with this project, to reach out to more angels and push Call Us Angels into a monthly litter picking group that also provides a space to discuss gender, the ecological crisis and the threat of climate change.
"Protect the wings at all cost!" - The Mills Sisters, 2020
Having such support, and having six angels join me on this journey made me realise I was never alone in this process; the project mattered just as much to them as it does to me. Having tracked the making of the wings on Instagram, these six angels wanted to become the protectors of the wings. They held all the heavy bags of litter so I could balance better. They guided me down narrow paths, making sure the route was free for me to get down. They always provided encouragement when I was struggling to keep going. They wanted the project to succeed. They wanted to tell the public about the gender disparities women around the world will face as a result of the ecological crisis. They wanted the wings to make it to their final destination in one piece. It is an understatement to say that I would not have been able to do this journey without them, highlighting the importance of working together not just on a local project like this, but also on a macro level when dealing with gender disparities and the ecological crisis.
Wearing the trash wings. Photo Credit: Zoe Mills Photography.
This journey was not smooth sailing. The trash we were collecting became a problem. The further we travelled into Guildford, the more trash we found. We kept on stopping and starting, desperately trying to pick up every single piece of litter before the Summer heat melted our determination. The litter we were picking became more entangled with the bushes and brambles on the side of the road, as we gradually lost all strength to keep going. Harmful, horrible substances were picked up and carried in ripping bin liners and carrier bags. The smell was wretch inducing. The more we picked up, the more I realised the majority of this trash was destined for landfill. This was not the plan. The plan was to re-use the trash collected, to add more trash to my own wings and sort through the bags with the six angels so they could take some home to make their own trash wings. Maybe this was idealistic of me. Sometimes plans have to change, and that is ok.
On our next litter picking journey in September I am going to categorise bags into recyclable and non-recyclable litter, that way we will be able to know what can be re-used to make wings and what is too disgusting to be used. Until then, I encourage you all to collect your own trash, and maybe even litter pick in your local area. If you want to join the project and make your own trash wings, you can access the 'collecting' instructions HERE.
For those of you who didn't manage to see the 'A Call to Action' live stream on Saturday, you can access the highlights HERE.