Stealing the Future

StealingtheFuture_m_webUtopian and dystopian writings often have a great appeal to those of us who consider ourselves to be working towards a better world. If that chimes with you, then you might want to know about Stealing the Future, written by a good friend of Rhizome, Max Hertzberg. In Max’s own words:

There are quite a few novels describing utopian societies, particularly in the science fiction genre (Ursula K. Le Guin‘s The Dispossessed, Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars Trilogy), but it’s rare to come across a book that doesn’t just attempt to describe a utopia set up in a new environment (new planet, new continent, ‘uninhabited’ island etc) but actually attempts to chart the progress of a society like ours to one with more utopian properties. Stealing the Future is an attempt to close that gap – an attempt to describe that phase of hard work, hope and (seemingly?) insurmountable challenges. It’s a thought experiment: how could the East Germany of 1989 go from Communist dictatorship to something much more equitable, much fairer and more just than we even dare dream is possible?

The book’s supported and enhanced by a whole load of related articles on the website. It’ll be launched at the Anarchist Bookfair next month. Happy reading!

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Democracy starts the day after the election…..Days like today can seem

There’ll be a lot of people in the community activist groups, the campaigning organisations, and the co-operatives that we work with who will be feeling the anger, frustration, disbelief, despondency, resignation, powerlessness and more that an election result like the one we’ve just had here in the UK can bring about. So much time, energy, hope has gone into making change and we’re still left with a government who divide and rule, who pit us against each other – those in work against those on benefits, those from the UK against migrants and refugees, the non-disabled against the disabled and so on.

Here at Rhizome we believe in community and we believe in action. Neither of those things is election dependent. There’s been a lot of talk about promises, pledges and vows this election. Our promise, pledge and vow is to continue to work with you, to the best of our ability, to support you to make change, to build community, and to take action that delivers real democracy.

Support is out there if you want to work by more genuinely democratic processes like consensus decision-making, or to take action despite the political system through nonviolent direct action. Here’s a quick run down – whether it’s for formal advice or an informal chat, mentoring, training, facilitation of meetings, try:

  • Rhizome – that’s us. We can help you with your group and organisational processes to build a culture of cooperative democracy. We can also help you strategise and plan for action, as well as train you in the ethos of nonviolent direct action and its techniques. We have lots of free resources on this website

Then there are our sister organisations who can make a similar offer:

Days like today are hard. But this is where democracy really starts – when we decide to set aside mere formalities such as election results and engage in real democracy – in our workplaces, community groups, families, and neighbourhoods. Relearning and rekindling the values of community, of empowerment and of relentless nonviolent action. Get in touch.

Call it democracy

Just been listening to this as I have on and off for the last 26 years, thought you might like to as well. Lyrics below as well as a few comments from The Cockburn Project website. Back in the day it was a song about “the third world”. Nowadays could apply much closer to home…

Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor

Who rob life of its quality
Who render rage a necessity
By turning countries into labour camps
Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament —
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called “developed” nations’
Idolatry of ideology

North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It’s just spend a buck to make a buck
You don’t really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there’s one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you’re going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there’s one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

And from Bruce Cockburn……

1990: “Through a growing familiarity with the Nicaraguan revolution, a recognition of North-South relations began to take shape. Nicaragua, the Philippines, Chile, virtually all of Latin America really, Indonesia, emerging African countries… Wherever you look you find the same financial interests at work. Working to get rich without controls, at the expense of the poor. When the poor complain, out come the troops, and then the arms companies get rich too.”

2000: “That song is fifteen years old and it shows. The words are outdated. Back in 1985, they needed the notion of ‘democracy’ to justify what they were doing. Now they don’t even use that as an excuse.”

the challenge of democratic co-operative governance

The words ‘co-operative’ and ‘governance’ have rarely been written together in the same sentence, let alone in a headline. But now our democratic organisations are facing scrutiny. Rhizome’s even been asked to help facilitate an open space about it in London on February 8th 2014.

So what makes co-operative governance different? Of course there are the seven principles underpinning all co-operatives, of which democracy is principle 6, but from our perspective in working with co-ops, collectives and social change organisations it also means that:

  • we don’t work for other people who simply profit from our success
  • we don’t give work to people because they are our mates, members of our lodge, or attend our church/ synagogue/ mosque; we trade fairly, only prioritising other co-operatives because we know they also trade fairly
  • we don’t go on strike, we communicate, we work together, we resolve
  • we don’t have a figurehead who is forced to take responsibility for everything, we share the responsibility – and we share the risks
  • we don’t steal from ourselves – what would be the point?
  • we don’t bolt on an ethical policy, we start with one and develop it further; based on respect, we cherish diversity as it brings us strength, we cherish our communities as we live and work in them; we cherish our world – why doesn’t everyone?
  • we don’t declare other interests as an afterthought – they are integral, we have so many; building a movement of radical change means working across borders, making alliances, having interests all over the place
  • we don’t all look alike/ talk alike/ dress alike – we are individual, unique. And though we may make mistakes, we may buckle under pressure, we know that we always have others around that we can trust to support us.

So what might be some of the issues for democratic co-operative governance these days? Here’s a selection of some of the issues that Rhizome get asked to help with as facilitators/ mediators/ trainers:

How do we make time to get the processes right when we have to focus so hard on the business/ campaign/ change we are trying to achieve?

Do our high standards make it hard for everyone to keep on meeting them all of the time?

Does having excellent accountability and transparency mean we are vulnerable, we can’t cover up our mistakes?

If having power corrupts, how can we always acknowledge and manage each other’s power?

Does size really matter?

Of the people, by the people, for the people?

Democracy’s a word that can divide almost any group of people. What does it mean? Is what we do now real democracy? Is there one right way?

Here’s a nice video (4 mins) about one town’s experiment with participatory democracy. What do you reckon?

hat tip to NatCAN

Thinking outside the ballot box

So the UK election is over, although we don’t yet know who’ll be forming a government. How does it feel? Are you convinced that we’re going to be living in a fairer, more just society within the next few years? Me neither. Personally the old adage – “whichever way you vote the government always gets in” still rings true for me.

I can’t help it, but I just don’t believe this is real democracy.

Have you ever had Neapolitan ice cream? You know the one – 3 flavours in one tub. I’ll let you decide who’s strawberry, who’s vanilla and who’s chocolate. The issue for me is it’s not the flavour of ice cream that’s meaningful. It’s the tub they’re in. If the fundamental structure isn’t conducive to democracy you won’t get a democratic result. In this case the tub is capitalism. The people calling the shots here are the big corporations. Many of them have more cash than many small countries. They certainly have more power. Through their lobbyists they have the ear of government every day of the year at the highest levels. You and I get their ear for a day every 4 or 5 years. Not quite the level playing field we’re so fond of in this country.

Voting alone is not enough for us, the people, to be truly empowered and for there to be real change in society. The best we can hope for from the current system is a change of flavour. But what if we don’t want ice cream? I don’t want to downplay the value of the actions taken to secure the vote for all of us – whether the fight for women’s suffrage or the formation of the labour party to get the working man and woman’ voice heard. But the world has moved on and labour is now new labour, and the corporations are running the show.

Let me give you an example. If I ever doubted who was calling the shots, the attempted introduction of genetically manipulated (GM) crops crystallised things for me. In 1996 US corporation Monsanto tried to import GM soya into the UK. Fortunately Greenpeace were there to stop them by occupying loading cranes and obstructing the boats. They had hoped to get the GM soya into the food chain unnoticed so that by the time we became aware of it, it was too late. How do we know this? Because that’s exactly what they did in the USA. Simultaneously Monsanto and Agr-Evo (now Bayer CropScience) were quietly growing trials of GM potato and oilseed rape across the UK. Each and every trial contaminated the ecosystem with invisible, self-replicating, unstoppable genetic pollution.

The point is that they did all of this with the blessing of the government of the time. In fact as public opinion raged against GM the government’s response was to talk of educating us at the supermarket checkout through pro-GM adverts. The government never ceased in its unswerving loyalty to the corporations. What stopped the corporations in their tracks was not our government representing our views, protecting our environment, our health, our economy. No it was people taking action. People like Greenpeace. People like the dozens of autonomous activists who went into supermarkets and fields.

Yes, much of that action was through the parliamentary process – lobbying MPs and the like. But what caught the headlines, what forced GM into the daylight, what threw the biggest spanner into the works was nonviolent direct action. It’s no surprise that many activists refer to direct action as direct democracy. People together making the change they want to see. Now that’s real democracy!

For me making real change involves thinking outside the ballot box. It involves people working together in all the days between elections to change their communities. It’s for us to inject humanity back into society on a daily basis. And humanity can’t be squeezed into an ice cream tub.