Guest post by Graeme Maxton
The desire for collective action remains strong
What happens when you bring a group of young political activists together?
You might be surprised.
Over the last five days, in a sleepy part of Switzerland, we brought together members of the Occupy Movement, the Pirate Party and some of the biggest political NGOs for the first time, ever. We also invited some edgy film makers, alternative-thinking academics, popular online journalists and controversial bloggers to sit in. The odd banker was asked to take part too. And also a radical feminist from Ukraine, famous for grabbing the headlines topless.
All those who came to the meeting had two things in common. There were all in their 20s or 30s. And they were all passionate about wanting to change the world.
The conference was the culmination of months of work by my colleagues and was the first of its kind. The 60 attendees had been selected after we received a deluge of applications from all over the world.
We had representatives from more than 40 countries – not only the mainstream countries of America, Germany and Japan but also from Namibia, Iran and Bolivia, countries less used to being given an equal voice when it comes to driving the international agenda. We had green party politicians from Australia, environmental lobbyists from China and animators with something radical to say from Venezuela.
We started by inviting Holocaust survivors, climate change scientists, economists, politicians, writers and religious thinkers to give us their perspectives on the world and its future. Then we asked the attendees to spend three days working together. We asked them to think about the world. We asked them to discuss the future of humanity, and our relationship with nature. We asked them to consider the purpose of our societies. We asked them to look at what our priorities should be over the next 30 years. And we asked them to think about what is right and wrong. We also asked: does the next generation have any rights and where do our obligations to them lie?
What we got in return was unleashed passion and anger in equal measure, from a group that no longer believes in the traditional political process, because they simply don't think it works. People who said economics had got it wrong. That it should focus on people and not just growth. That we need to think about the long term, not just next week. They talked about a finance sector that was out of control, which only served its own needs. Some called for revolution.
They were worried by two trends more than any others. They were concerned about the accelerating pace of climate change and they fretted about the expected rise in poverty, almost everywhere. Both could be fixed they thought, and easily. It was politicians who were standing in the way, as well as the greedy, those “who keep buying stuff they don't need with money they don't have”, they said.
When 60 political activists come together, what do they want to do? Well, for one thing, they want to redefine the word 'education'. It should not just be about teaching children at school and university. It should also be about learning sustainable values and the social skills to make good decisions. It should be about teaching entrepreneurship and about developing the next generation of leaders who can take the right long term decisions.
Humanity as a parasite
They were also concerned about the media, which they thought was manipulative and often dishonest. It was not informing people as it should, and it was not connecting with these people in particular. There was also a concern that many of our problems are global, but that almost no one was thinking globally. Climate change should be an issue for the UN security council, they said. Not just that. Those who abuse the planet, or cause it harm, should be charged with violating everyone else's human rights. There should even be a principle of climate justice; those who create environmental problems for others should be made to face criminal charges. They felt that while it is not in our nature to be destructive, to ruin our home, humankind is behaving like a parasite too often. Our society has become like a weed, they said.
They wanted change. They wanted to change our values. They wanted to change our education systems. They wanted to change our economic and political systems. They wanted to change our relationship with nature. They wanted to hold the greedy to account.
More than anything they wanted to be heard. And they felt that no almost one was listening.
At least, in that, they were wrong.