Alternative Editorial: On Our Birthday, Moving Away From the Terrible Twos

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By Indra Adnan, Co-Initiator, AUK

On March 1st The Alternative UK celebrated its second birthday. So much has occurred since our first. The ground we are all standing on continues to shift, dangerously. But also, occasionally, alluringly.  

If Brexit was the moment of our conception, the two-year spectacle of Westminster politics in meltdown has just recently begun to show signs of historic fissures. The demand for a genuine alternative to the cultures and structures that led to this national impasse is now making the front pages and trending on twitter

And although Westminster shows no signs of hearing anything outside its own bubble, the growing clamour from the grassroots - accelerating new forms of governance - is loud and clear in the Daily Alternative

In the meantime, the wider context of globalisation and a dying planet has returned to the foreground with full force. The shock of grasping the 12-year time-frame, beyond which we can no longer turn the corner on climate change, has galvanised many. Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and the international School Strike for Climate, the prospect of a Green New Deal and a US Presidential candidate focused solely on the task in hand are only shooting stars in a sky full of galactic possibilities slowly coming into view.

Of course, anyone who only occasionally reads this column might think we are wildly exaggerating the possibility of change. If your main fodder is the mainstream news, it’s very hard to imagine. We’re in tharn – captive to the multiple crises and powerless to do anything. But when we focus our attention on what’s happening outside the 2% bubble (the discourse generated by those that buy into party politics) the possibilities grow exponentially. 

Yet it’s true they are only possibilities right now. If we think about ‘the alternative’ as the baby we - all of us reading now – have given birth to, and are trying to bring healthily into the world, then it’s early days. While the child has life, it’s not clear yet what it will look or act like in the future. And in that sense, last year was very much the terrible two’s: what Parent magazine describes as “a time when outbursts of “no!” dominate a child’s vocabulary”. 

Apparently, according to Parent, these are not “acts of defiance, directed towards you, but a developing independence”- a way to hold onto their sense of self, even as they are learning to be social. In A/UK’s case, whenever somebody tried to define what the new political or social form is, before it emerges as a genuine alternative, we found ourselves saying No! As Buckminster Fuller said, simply fixing the old is not the task, nor the opportunity. 

But just at the end of last year, that No starting moving into something more like Yes. Previously siloed organisations in places like Plymouth (but also Montreal, Taiwan, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Murcia, Kilifi in Kenya..) have begun to move into each other’s orbit in ways that could give rise to a visible, tangible form - one that is capable of responding to our multiple crises in the places where they are occurring. We’re calling them Citizens Action Networks – CANs. 

For now this is a loose concept, but is already emerging as a construct that can begin to respond to the three major crises we are facing at this time. One, the crisis of our individual psychosocial health which has led to epidemics of depression, addiction and crime – particularly acute amongst the young (what we call the “I” realm). Two, the crisis of our divided, conflicted society – brought to the surface and polarised by Brexit (the “WE” realm). Three, the crisis of our growth economy resulting in climate catastrophe (the “WORLD” realm). 

On the surface, the CAN enables all citizens to gain access to a metaphorical eco-system of resources available in their own town, city or region, to help combat all three of these crises. In ways that consistently link them together in the I, We, World system. So, not just how to build a business, but how to build a sustainable business in ways that help your staff get their emotional as well as physical needs met. How to become an active citizen for the welfare of others, without losing your own identity and going broke. How to be an activist for radical change, without ‘othering’ half the community. And in ways that link your uprising to real time solutions.

This includes making available – through local learning clubs - the new thinking and initiatives that have not yet caught the attention of big business, government, or funders. In particular, ways for that community to respond to the climate crisis now.

Below the surface it makes relationships that have never been made before, between people living in the same community – often the same street – but who never spoke. Offering belonging, and connectivity, out of which comes security. 

But it also brings into the system the kind of self-learning we all need to ensure our movements don’t fracture under the stress of rapid social transition. How to become internally strong and coherent, generous and collaborative, so we can flourish as builders of the future. The move from 20C worker to 21C creator, is above all a shift of internal narratives: what is possible for me and my loved ones?

The CAN is not simply a horizontal network of connected bodies; not simply a vehicle for community organising. Not simply a gathering of like-minded people. 

The CAN is more like a container for a new civilisation. Linking at all times the development of the individual to the development of the community, within a finite planet that nevertheless has infinite - entirely new - possibilities. Using the tech now becoming available, to face the future with imagination and creativity.

And making that the basis of a new politics, starting in cities, towns, or wherever genuine relationship is possible. Making networks of CANs (a generic, unbranded term) that, through their influence, constitute a political force. Until a national level party arises from those Citizen Action Networks, guided by the heuristic of I-We-World.

That may be too much to aim for as a political platform. On the other hand, can it be anything less than that to transform the dire circumstances we find ourselves in? Certainly, as we enter Year 3 of The Alternative, the stakes have only risen and the solutions have to capture the imagination in ways that transcend the old framing. The more dysfunctional the current model proves itself to be, the more yearning there is for something more, much better than ‘this’ 

And for those of us who feel we have been working on these solutions for decades, now is the time to look at each other and ask why we are not working effectively together? What is stopping us from being the answer to the current problems? Why don’t some people like what we are doing? When we take those questions into a CAN, we start to do the ‘human revolution’ needed to shift gear. 

Whatever your stance on the 12-year window we’ve been given to turn climate change around, we can use that time frame to step up. As we all know, simply cutting carbon is not enough to transform our future, but it’s a clear goal around which we can re-organise our lives, get ourselves on the road to flourishing. 

For us – all of us - to be on track in 12 years, we need to be in some form of concerted action throughout the 2020s. That needs to become popular within the next three years if it’s going to be effective. Which makes 2019 the year of developing a prototype for the Citizen Action Network - one that could be copied anywhere.

Welcome to Year 3 of The Alternative UK.