Welcome to the age of diminishing returns

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Occupy is not dead, just resting


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.



5 comments:

  1. Graeme - that sounds like a fascinating event. I'd very much like to hear what common ground the activists shared as the basis for collective global action - was there anything in the way of a manifesto agreed, or is that a goal of some future gathering ?

    On one point I'd have differed with the consensus you report (but being decades too old for the chosen age-range maybe I'd not have had a say).

    "Those who abuse the planet, or cause it harm, should be charged with violating everyone else's human rights. "

    Given that for any practical purpose, "Human Rights begin with Breakfast", and this is daily denied to billions, a fresh approach is clearly needed. Thus I'd suggest that those who wantonly and avariciously abuse the planet should be charged with negligence of the Human Duty of care.

    This is no mere technicality but a fundamental reform of liability for irresponsible conduct. Given that we seek 'Climate Justice without Vengeance', and that aggressive litigation will only feed the beast that must be controlled, shifting the onus onto the neglect of the duty of care will prove far more productive of societal change.

    Regards,

    Lewis

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  2. Although the event was clearly fascinating and surely also an excellent learning experience for all those who attended and participated, (and I think it also was great that the event was attended by people from beyond the typical so called industrialized countries) and eventually probably also will prove quite useful in terms of bringing about the many practical changes which were discussed and which are sorely needed, I can't say that I read in your (undoubtedly faithful to what happened summary above) anything that I had not heard before.

    "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" (and it also sounds like they rightfully also wanted to change the mainstream media and a number of other things as well) But the above is a pretty tall order. So where should we start?

    The key question in my own mind now is this: Now that a lot of people throughout the world seem to more or less agree on what needs to happen (although not necessarily on the precise priorities) who, how and when is going to make those changes happen?

    "The desire for collective action remains strong" and the "Occupy movement is not dead, just resting". And I am sure that's true. But how (through which organizational forms or forms of collective action) is it going to achieve its objectives going forward? Or is it all just going to sort of happen by itself as the awareness and etc. of more and more people all over the planet increases and many people take relatively independent action in their own communities? I think this is a very important question and I hope that at the next meeting of such a group it will be given emphasis and attention.

    However the event certainly sounds to me like a great initiative and with some great initial results.

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  3. Anybody there mention how Religion amputated us from the earth, how Science amputated us from Spirit, orphaning us in a harsh, senseless universe to be abused by materialist predators?

    Was there any dancing or singing? Drums? Or were you all very earnest and serious, centralizers of another stripe? Collectivizers of a different command control variety? Consumer institutionalists of a hierarchical green kind?

    Being a 'Merican, I'm naturally wary of collectivist talk. Knowing how herd like my fellow 'Mericans are, red or blue, and consumerist generally. Not least how readily Europe abandoned even the pretext of democracy, in the name of saving it's banks. Brussels does not inspire me by its wisdom, generally.

    More, I just wonder how they can still extend and pretend? And what will the security situation be, when that fails epically, which I presume they just exacerbate the probability of, continually putting it off?




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    Replies
    1. (to WHD above and others)

      ...But luckily things are changing "even in America" ! The following is a particularly apt and brief quote from a recent article by Rebecca Solnit. (obviously a "Merican" - "collectivist", and perhaps -heaven forbid- even a socialist ! And the entire article (which is well worth reading) is available on: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/12/24-0


      "Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or lose bigger. This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial realms"....and....

      "Not long ago, too many Americans were on the fence, swayed by the oil company propaganda war about whether climate change even exists.

      However, this month, according to the Associated Press, “Four out of every five Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it.” That widespread belief suggests that potentially broad support now exists and may be growing for a movement that makes climate change -- the broiling of the Earth -- central, urgent, and everybody’s business.

      Ten years ago too, many people thought the issue could be addressed, if at all, through renunciatory personal virtue in private life: buying Priuses, compact fluorescents, and the like. Now most people who care at all know that the necessary changes won’t happen through consumer choice alone. What’s required are pitched battles against the most powerful (and profitable) entities on Earth, the oil and energy companies and the politicians who serve them instead of us.

      That clarity matters and those conflicts are already underway but need to grow. That’s our world right now, clear as a cold winter day, sharp as broken glass"

      And also excellent is Rebecca Solnit's latest book: "A Paradise Built in Hell" but at least that HELL is likely to come fairly and equitably both to "Socialist and collectivist Europe" as well as to that "Shining City on the Hill and Land of the Free and Home of the Brave" "across the pond"

      (Since the laws of physics are extremely egalitarian and couldn't care less about either one, or even to a judicious hybrid of the two were that ever to happen in about 2000 more years. (don't worry, we're not going to make it even close to that far) 393 PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere is what it is no matter through which ideology or prism one may wish to look at them and will have the very same effect on any political and economic system)

      So hopefully the above group will meet again in Switzerland (or wherever else) and so will 350.org and many other such groups hard at work in the United States. (which admittedly is not only a bigger culprit as far as climate change is concerned, but also a much harder nut to crack thanks to Bill O' Reilly and many other such always hard at work helping mainstream Americans become BOTH much bigger patriots as well as much bigger pinheads. (often the two tend to go together naturally)


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  4. More interesting news from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave of interest to the Occupy Movement and to whether it will be able to move forward at all or not, or could instead all end up being locked up in "the gulag which will be cemented into place": (and the complete article can be found here: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/12/24 )


    "The Final Battle
    by Chris Hedges
    Over the past year I and other plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg have pressed a lawsuit in the federal courts to nullify Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This egregious section, which permits the government to use the military to detain U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers, could have been easily fixed by Congress. The Senate and House had the opportunity this month to include in the 2013 version of the NDAA an unequivocal statement that all U.S. citizens would be exempt from 1021(b)(2), leaving the section to apply only to foreigners. But restoring due process for citizens was something the Republicans and the Democrats, along with the White House, refused to do. The fate of some of our most basic and important rights—ones enshrined in the Bill of Rights as well as the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the Constitution—will be decided in the next few months in the courts. If the courts fail us, a gulag state will be cemented into place. "

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