From Jeremy Corbyn’s rousing speech to the festival’s reaction to Brexit, Glastonbury has been home to plenty of political moments over the years.
While this weekend’s Glastonbury festival has (rightly) been held up as an example of its political power after many of the acts spoke out against the end of Roe v Wade in the US, the festival has a rich history of political protest and discussion.
Over the last few years, artists have spoken about issues ranging from racism to climate change – and the festival’s charitable endeavours have continued to send a clear environmental message.
So, to give you a taste of the history behind the activism at this year’s festival, Stylist is taking a trip back in time to look at some of Glastonbury’s most iconic political moments. Keep reading to check out what’s happened over the years at Worthy Farm.
11 years after the first festival was held on Worthy Farm, the event officially became known as Glastonbury Festival. Founder Michael Eavis took a clear political stance for the first time by donating the festival’s proceeds to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
This partnership with CND lasted until the early 1990s, and the group has been present at every festival to signal its fight against nuclear weapons.
As Michael Eavis struggled with licensing issues, the 1981 festival saw the introduction of the Green Fields, a section of the festival ground dedicated to raising awareness of environmental issues and demonstrating practical solutions.
After 20 years of growth, 2004 saw the introduction of the festival’s ‘Working together for a greener Glastonbury’ scheme to encourage more recycling and less waste.It paid off; 32% of all waste was recycled, including 110 tonnes of organic waste that was composted.
That initiative continued to grow and in 2018, the festival managed to recycle half of all waste and turn 132 tonnes of food waste into compost.
The nationwide success of the cross-charity Make Poverty History campaign spilled over into Glastonbury, and Michael Eavis made an appearance on the Pyramid Stage alongside Bob Geldof. 50% of all waste was also recycled for the first time as part of the festival’s continued green efforts.
One of the biggest political initiatives to take place at Glastonbury to date saw all of the charities and causes supported by the festival come together for the I Count campaign, which highlighted the need to address climate change. Over the course of the festival weekend, 70,000 people signed up to the campaign.
Alongside an incredible line-up, this year saw the festival support the White Ribbon Alliance’s Million Mums campaign, which aimed to end the needless deaths of women in childbirth. Over the course of the weekend, 10,000 signatures were collected in support of the campaign at the charity’s HQ in The Park.
On the Friday of Glastonbury 2016, attendees woke up to news of the Brexit result – a moment that reverberated around Worthy Farm throughout the weekend.
On stage, many of the performers referenced the result, including Blur frontman Damon Albarn, who claimed that “democracy had failed”. A poem posted on the site from the Glastonbury Free Press also referenced the result, calling for festival attendees to embrace each other.
In 2017, the then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the Pyramid Stage alongside Michael Eavis, where he delivered a rousing political speech just two days after the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, which killed 72 people.
“Is it right that so many people in our country have no home to live in and only the street to sleep on? Is it right that so many people are frightened of where they live at the moment, having seen the horrors of what happened at Grenfell Tower? Is it right that so many people live in such poverty, in a society surrounded by such riches? No, it obviously is not.”
In a push to go completely green, festival goes were asked to bring or buy reusable metal water bottles and use the WaterAid kiosks or on-site taps to fill them up. David Attenborough appeared on the Pyramid Stage to talk about climate action, and Extinction Rebellion carried out a procession from The Park to the Green Fields.
Stormzy used his iconic headline set to highlight numerous political issues. Alongside wearing a Union Jack stab vest designed by Banksy to highlight the UK’s high rate of knife-related homicides, he also got the crowd to chant, “F**k the government, f**k Boris Johnson” – and used a video of the Labour MP David Lammy to highlight racial disproportionality in the justice system.
Alongside all the artists speaking out about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, this year’s festival opened with a video from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who gave a powerful speech before The Libertines’ opening set.
“Glastonbury is the great concentration of freedom these days, and I ask you to share this feeling with everyone whose freedom is under attack,” he said via Zoom.
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