In this series for Emerge, Indra will be exploring what is emerging in politics at this crucial moment in human history. This is part 12. Read the rest of the series here.
Part of him loathed her. So easy for her to say, you should have done this, should have done that. But she’s just in the audience, not the person having to take these shots. She’s never stood in front of any kind of formidable opponent, serving straight aces at you. Or backhanding from god knows where. The speed of it is disorientating. She’ll never know what it actually takes to respond.
No-one could really talk. No-one felt they could put words to the misery they all felt at yet another defeat. They were sure they had the right ideas, the best policies, the most credible leaders. All that time they had spent thrashing out what the people wanted, how it was all going to be different. Yet still they voted for those bastards.
What do we do with all this new awareness – this wokeness?
In this final section of the series we’re going to try and answer the big question – ‘SO WHAT?' So what if we have a bigger evolutionary picture of the present moment (articles 2 - 5
), understand the motivations of human beings, accept the reasons we feel powerless and grasp our planetary existential crisis (articles 6-10
). What now?
How does all this land helpfully in ‘the real world’ of people going about their daily lives - and increasingly stressed by the impact of their own ‘waking up'. Maybe they suddenly grasp why they have been so disadvantaged in the race to succeed in life. Maybe they come to own their culpability in creating the economic and environmental crises we all face. What do we do with all this new awareness – this wokeness?
When starting The Alternative UK
political platform, we had a very early realisation. It was exciting to set processes running that exploded citizens into imaginative action. But for all this new meaning to find focus and purpose, our collective emotions and new theories of agency need to find a container
. By this we meant a specific physical space, capable of holding these new and different energies for development in relationship with each other. We wanted boundaried, wholistic and systemic outcomes for the people and local resources within that space.
This would not necessarily be measurable by any of the old criteria, such as numbers of people involved or wealth generated (though those are also relevant). But we wound find a way of manifestly answering the broader needs people have for belonging, agency, autonomy. For better lives.
We also knew that there were already communities of practice, like Transition Towns for example, that were holding similar kinds of practices and values I’ve been describing here – if not all of them. Yet for one reason or another, they were meeting unforeseen limits and not proliferating sufficiently to prevent the multiple crises we are now facing. When Brexit happened in the UK, it became clear that something more was needed to reach those alienated by the strictures of our socio-political culture.
As many have done before us, we imagined community spaces that could hold people from across the political divides—and beyond that, people who never considered politics at all. Like Alternativet in Denmark we opened collaboratories around the country – Eastbourne, Birmingham, Brighton – to get a feel of what the needs were. However, no matter where we landed, we found that we were attracting mostly those who had been in many of these conversations before. There was very little progress other than to come to some basic agreement about what was wrong and needed addressing: but by whom, it wasn’t clear. After all, the local councils had been diminished by austerity over the past decade: they had nothing new to give.
Folks who always turn up to share practice, give their time freely and are already active in community organising are the glue and the engine of social change.
Our sense was that we needed to pay attention to one or two places for a longer period of time and help build something new in these post-Brexit moments. And that whatever that construction was, it had to answer more of the emotional needs of the people living there. In doing so, at that social level, they would be less vulnerable to manipulation and instrumentalisation—from outside and top-down—than they have been in the past.
We were drawn to the South West, home of Permaculture and Transition Towns: but it was Pam Barrett, a charismatic representative in Buckfastleigh, who advised us to connect with the more diverse, working class city down the road: Plymouth. This is a place with a massive history: out of many moments, consider that it was the Mayflower’s last stop before heading for what we now call the United States of America. But the city had undergone repeated efforts - and failures - to really lift off the ground in the first decade of the new century, despite lots of sporadic government grants.
We started by what we call ‘deep hanging out’ – just spending time in bars and cafes, chatting with people and finding out what micro communities made up the larger ones. We found out pretty quickly who the ‘usual suspects’ were. By this we meant, and in an appreciative way, the people who always turned up to share practice, give freely of their time and were already active in community organising. These folks are the glue and the engine of social change.
We found out who was currently excluded from that group – not because they held different values, but more because they lacked any direct connections to the network. Or didn’t see themselves as activists. We also saw distinct groups of people who would shy away from any public conversation – doubly so if they thought it was ‘political'. Either because they were not interested in politics, or because they were deeply distrustful of ‘politicians'. Invitations to a conversation on your terms rarely tempts them: they’ll turn up because you’ve made an effort to understand their lives. And as a result, they like you.
We designed a ‘collaboratory' (what it sounds like: a place to experiment with collaboration) made from three stages, which could be repeated in a cycle. Each uses the best facilitators, musicians and artists available from the local environment:
The Friendly: 100 people in the widest possible mix of the three groups mentioned above. Offer food, drink, arts, games. Practices deployed go from deep listening to shared appreciation and energy building.
The Inquiry: the same people meeting the same facilitation team, both coming together to think about the Future of their locality. What could be created that would help everyone look forward?
The Action: bringing ideas to meet resources (of wildly variable kinds, from traditional to relational). Then build a ‘Citizens Action Network' (or CAN).
We understand better that progress depends as much upon the conditions and capacities as the mechanisms for change.
While the CAN started out as a simple idea - connecting the people to each other and to the resources and solutions already available in the town/city/region – its action and purpose keeps deepening at every step. Instead of being an extending network – flat, peer to peer, local – it emerges as a fractal of the bigger global system of development. Within each CAN are the same elements that would, on a global scale, address the multiple crises we face. A microsystem that both implies and constitutes a macrosystem. One that – as Buckminster Fuller would say – “outmodes the old one, making it obsolete”.
So what are the characteristics of that system – locally or globally? The list below is shorthand, but each point is covered in previous chapters as indicated.
- A more complex understanding of the human being’s bio-psycho-social-spiritual needs and capacities (In this series, section 1
- The inter- and intra-connectedness of individuals to communities within a more coherent idea of society, itself deeply connected to the planet we all depend upon. This creates bridges and makes relationships between these levels, releasing the energy for change. New social patterns are revealed; and new ‘constitutes’ (fluid institutions) are formed, which become the vehicles for regeneration. (section 2
and section 3
- There is a new understanding of power as both soft and hard (section 7
). It’s not all about guns and money. How we talk and think about ourselves – the stories we live by – are shaping outcomes all the time.
- A new dynamic appears between the feminine and masculine both in the public and private space (section 9
). We understand better that progress depends as much upon the conditions and capacities as the mechanisms for change. We are not machines.
- We develop a new ‘feel’ for gathering and collaborating both locally and virtually. This signifies an ontological shift, a shift of being, without which a epistemological knowing - what counts as true - cannot land. This emerging “feel”, or sensibility, is deeply relational, excited and experimental – full of possibility, rather than suffused with convictions.
What kinds of initiatives and innovations cultivate and nurture these characteristics? In real time, what appeared and keeps appearing in our CANs as they develop?
- Well-designed places to meet, talk, play – on and off-line.
- Learning initiatives – from self-development classes, through uses of drama, games and immersion, to tech enablement.
- Social enterprises that draw on cosmo-local talents (available people operating at a world-class level), both rising to the emergencies we face.
- Digital networks, giving rise to tools for participation.
- Energy and food projects that do the job that government (and the corporate sector) has failed to do.
- Festivals, markets, experimental spaces for large scale gathering.
-New currencies of all kinds to bring people into relationship with the place they live.
All of these are citizen /people led, strongly autonomous and self-determining, moving into partnership with the local councils when they are ready. Or, just as likely, they put up their own representatives to take over these councils as independents. As such, CANs are the units of a new politics. A politics that starts and ends with the people waking up and – in friendly, connected and planet-positive ways - taking back control of their own lives. Illustration for Emerge by Christopher Burrows.