Alternative Editorial: The New Logic
By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of The Alternative UK
If politics is broken: what’s the alternative? This is the question this platform is defined by. And if our Daily Alternative is anything to go by, there is a wealth of projects and initiatives vying to provide a piece of the puzzle.
When faced with so many responses – each distinctive and many a possible starting point for the whole new unfolding of a politics fit for the 21st C – what can we hold onto as we try to make our future potential real and plausible?
Given we are mid-revolution in terms of access to information and connection, and increasingly in the era of the non-state actor (not so much ‘the people’ as the activists and the organisers), where is the logic for change?
Here are some starters:
1. Over the past 10 years, local and global power dynamics have changed. While the 1% are still materially in power, the 99% are learning how to sabotage their hard-power plays through soft-power – influence through storytelling, new behaviours , and organising.
2. There have always been long term transformational movements – we celebrate the suffragettes this week – but the 21st Century has accelerated them. The Arab Spring and Occupy were early uprisings that had not prepared for power. Trump and Brexit are the latest – though these uprisings are as much manipulated by those in power, as reflecting the potential of people power coming down the line. Popular movements such as #metoo are reshaping the public space.
3. There is some appetite for big new ideas from smart people. But the real prize is a politics that arises directly from the people’s carefully deliberated will - that is, democracy. As we described here, strategy increasingly belongs to people who are working out how to live well together in their communities. A possible future is one in which politicians will be the tactical actors, enacting strategy that comes from below, delivering resources and providing governance that serves the grass-roots. Both Alternativet in Denmark and its sister party The Initiative in Sweden are experimenting with how to be that party.
4. Power is not easily redistributed – even less so in countries like the UK where there is hugely more inequality and diversity than in Scandinavia. You cannot simply give power away if people have little experience of managing it. Or worse, if it is transferred within a narrative of scarcity and inequality. It's when they are strong enough to ask for it that power flows more naturally to previously excluded people, For all its good intentions, government – made up of competing political parties – cannot do that job for them.
5. Power redistribution works best in smaller units, such as local communities, where people can find security through relationship and belonging. There is something fundamentally unworkable about a first-past-the-post party political system that divides communities into Us and Them. Think about it.
6. For communities to begin to offer the spaces for people to come together, they need to be both safe enough for the vulnerable but also vibrant enough for the active. And creative enough to draw what is best from all those attending. That mix is not easy. For example, how often have we been in spaces that claim to be listening but are not really hearing what is on offer?
7. For that we need the mediators and facilitators who are skilled at listening and translating. We need the artists who inspire and lift their audiences, irrespective of their differences. We probably need more women than before – re-balancing the private needs with the public ones, bringing the personal as political. This is not an abstract call: there are many people, individuals and small civil society groups already at work in this space – each working at a different level of engagement, reaching people at different level of agency, developing a continuum of participation that we are currently mapping for our Alternative Labs. Watch how Fun Palaces helps people to meet power. Or Chickenshed Theatre turns inclusion on its head.
8. And as that map is manifested so are the tools and techniques of community empowerment. Whether it is new local currencies – from CounterCoin to the Devon Pound – or new food projects like Underground Farms. Or strategies for local political control like Flatpack Democracy.
Some reading this will see it as a recipe for chaos - or worse, for mediocrity. But those mindsets have only ever been able to imagine advance where all the light is at the front, pointing the way like a silver tipped arrow. Or a head at the top of a body. This isn't just trickle-down economics, but trickle-down ideas and mythologies.
But others will see that without circulation a body atrophies. including the head itself, which becomes fuzzy, incapable of clear thinking. Yet if we can use the means we have now – new practices, methods, technologies – to get the whole body active, it might have a chance. If we can get the heart – our sense of a beautiful, complex society - pumping again, the head will be astounded at how many new, game-changing ideas start to flow through the system, transforming the whole.
This is not a waiting game: it is a shift of perspective. Once we experience communities coming back to life – check Preston, Frome, maybe Scotland for a bigger framework – we feel less vulnerable to the constant flow of bad news coming from the mainstream. We can suddenly see that the dominant narrative – that we are all helpless and powerless – is a lie.
If we are lucky, we become pronoid, capable of seeing the darkness shared on our media as the contours of the real light that exists outside of it. News of sexual abuse become the triggers of #metoo campaigns that transform the public space. News of increasing poverty gives rise to ever escalating charitable donating and the proliferation of new civil society initiatives. News of Trump’s plan to hold a military parade, will throw light on the incredible work that has been going on for decades to change from a war to a peace agenda – and what we can now do to shift it forever.
And when we feel emboldened, so much more becomes possible. Just watch.