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What if..? by Ruth Potts

ruth pottsWe often get so caught in where we are that it can difficult to imagine how life could be fundamentally different. Limited by the permission we give ourselves to imagine the world as if could be and suffocated a surplus of redundant orthodoxies, change can seem impossible. That is why it is hugely important that we come together to share and celebrate what is already underway, and to give ourselves permission to believe that another world might just be possible. It was in that spirit that we joined over 50,000 visitors at this year’s Bristol Big Green to ask: What if?…. we organised the world a little differently.

Social media has been alive with reports of great upsurges of popular democracy from Taksim Square in Turkey to demonstrations and people’s assemblies in towns and cities across Brazil. In the UK, a quieter revolution has been underway that has begun to shift politics away from conventional party politics and towards popular democracy. One of ten successfully elected ‘Independents for Frome’ former Mayor Pippa Goldifnger explained in her SCHed talk how, from humble beginnings in a pub conversation, people across the UK taking matters into their own hands and standing as collectives of ‘Independents’ in council elections, often using the many of the collaborative decision-making and participatory processes used by the global ‘Occupy’ movement. The American anarchist and Activist Paul Goodman had a simple and powerful vision of change. “Imagine that you have won the revolution… you have the world that you dreamed of” he said. “Now think what you would be doing in that world”. And, once you have that idea, he concludes, “try to do that tomorrow morning. Don’t wait a minute.”

The Independent councillors now running Frome Council have discovered the full power of that vision. There have been many things they have been able to change almost instantly: a ten year waiting list for allotments disappeared overnight when the group bought land and created new growing space. But there have been barriers too. And that, in part, was Goodman’s point. It is often only when we try to do something that the barriers to change are revealed. The Frome group are now planning to stand for election at the district level: not to hold power, but to grant more power locally. They are providing support and advice for groups of local people wanting to do the same around the country, and are writing a DIY guide to winning elections as an independent.

It was another, very different, but equally radical, politician that Andrew Simms, fellow of nef (the new economics foundation) and author of Cancel the Apocalypse chose to begin his vision of a ‘Goodland’. In ‘Goodland’ Andrew explained in his SCHed talk, the president gives away 90% of his pay, living on the national average wage to share in the struggles of his people. The nation’s constitution is written by citizens. It has a dynamic, largely mutually owned, local banking system, avoids bad risk and bends over backwards to help small businesses. Human wellbeing is more important than economic growth: there is a national plan for good living, free health and education services, subsidised childcare, and support for the elderly. It has a law enshrining protection of its life-supporting ecosystems that stands above all other laws. Goodland’s cities are green and grow healthy, organic food for the inhabitants. A phase-out of most fossil fuels is planned by 2017, and its business sector has large, intelligently connected cooperatives.

So where is this paradise? Surely it is hopelessly utopian? Or is it? Goodland, as Andrew revealed, already exists. It is just a little unevenly distributed. Each element can already be enjoyed, but not all in the same place (yet).

President José Mujica of Uruguay lives on about £450 per month, drives a 1987 VW Beetle and criticises the rich countries’ development model, berating other world leaders’ “blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption”. In Porto Alegre in Brazil, since 1990, citizens meet every week to decide how a big portion of the city’s public purse gets spent. One reason Germany was less hit by the bank crisis is because 70% of the sector is in small or community banks. Bhutan famously measures its success not by using GDP – simply a measure of the amount, not quality, of economic activity – but by assessing Gross National Happiness. And, after the UN General Assembly adopted 22 April as Mother Earth Day, Bolivia adopted its Mother Earth Law legislation in 2010. The law requires all current and future to accept the “ecological limits set by nature”. In practice, it means pushing a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

What else? Well, as Molly Conisbee, co-founder of bread, print & roses explained, spend a bit less time in the office and a bit more time in the garden, and we might be able not only cultivate more of what we eat, but ourselves and the changes we want to see in the world. As William Gibson observed: “the future is already here, its just not very evenly distributed”. Get together a little more often, in our communities and at events and festivals and we might just help that future to spread.

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