Going North, community, and the future

So here we are at the end of a summer of playing politics and street-level democratic dialogue. After the sunny success of Brighton, Democracy Outside headed to Yorkshire for dates with learning disabled activists in Leeds, friends and permaculturists (some overlap there!) in Hebden Bridge, and then to Manchester to take part in the Hazard festival of street theatre.

Thursday 12 July in Leeds’ busy main shopping street, Briggate, was a blast – the disability activists from Change who helped stage the performance were engaged, enthusiastic, and had a lot to say about their rights to think and speak for themselves. It was a really empowering experience, not just for the volunteers – on seeing disabled people playing Democracy Outside, other disabled people passing by joined in, something which hasn’t happened with any of the other performances. They really proved that almost cliched point about diversity for me: that if you feel excluded, you’re more likely to join a movement when you see others like you already part of it. After the performance, we went back to Change to hold a workshop about how to make democratic processes more accessible. Big thanks to the inspiring activists from Change, not least for taking a lot of brilliant photos.

Disabled activist at Democracy Outside performance in Leeds

Speaking out in Leeds

Two days later Democracy Outside rocked up in Hebden Bridge, less than a week after the second, devastating flood had washed through the town. But the sun had been shining for a few days, and people were glad to be out and about. Hebden was the smallest town where we did Democracy Outside, and energy was low. Quite a lot of people watched from nearby cafes, and a few people challenged us, asking why we were bothering, or what was the point. Then some young people and children brought the buzz back when they stopped by to play – and told us we had to change the questions and explain them better for young people: “Use our language,” they said! We tried, but it showed up the generation gap, and made me think that maybe we need to show young people how to do Democracy Outside for themselves!

Two performers hold banner and placards in Hebden Bridge

artists getting ready to play in Hebden Bridge

Finally on the last date of the tour we took Democracy Outside to Manchester with anti-cuts and (pro) NHS campaigners, mixing art and politics as part of the Hazard 2012 festival of street theatre. Debate was feisty, with a lot of people moving about between ‘YES’ and ‘NO’, hovering in between, changing their minds, doing what I like to think of as the ‘dance of democracy’, and with a lot to say about it all! Thanks to Tamsin Drury of Hazard, local anti-cuts hero and performance poet Steph Pike and Siobhan for bringing glamour and excitement to the end of Demo2012…

crowd playing Democracy Outside in St. Anne's Sq Manchester

a Hazard-ous spectrum of views in Manchester

It’s been a great summer. Travelling around with Democracy Outside, I’ve found that, despite the despair of the mainstream, ordinary people outside the ‘Westminster bubble’ – the people who are assumed not to care about democracy – really do believe they have a right to speak and be heard, and will take a chance to share their views with each other. There’s an appetite for more – Bristol Climate Rush want to get some public dialogue going around climate change and what we can do about it. Brighton players want to take Democracy Outside to smaller towns nearby (watch out Worthing!)

So now it’s time to reflect a little more one what came out of Demo2012, and think about what comes next! Share your ideas here, or on the facebook page and help develop future democratic dialogue fun.

Democracy is about communication, and communication comes from the same root as community. So I’d like to thank my community who helped make Demo2012 happen: the goddesses and citizens of democracy; my loving friends who encouraged me and held me together; and special thankyous to Ellie, Stig, Zoe, Benoit, Vicky, Jon, Mo, Max, Sushila, Phil, Andy, Christina, Siobhan, Cornerstone (number 40), Tomas, Val, Graham; the Arts Council and the Lottery… and thank you to the rain for holding off often enough to make Democracy Outside possible in the wettest summer in memory!

x Clare

Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Democracy Outside is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Sun, sea and speaking up: Democracy Outside in Brighton

On Saturday 30 June, Democracy Outside went to Brighton – and what a day we had! It turns out sunshine (see last post for the observation that bad weather = low voter turnout) and enthusiasm are a great combination of ingredients for exciting dialogue, and creative participation in imaginative exchanges of ideas and opinions. We drew in strangers and passers by, people who thought they didn’t have much to say – but found they did; children as well as more experienced (i.e. older) citizens. We found out about each others’ opinions, and thanks to participants from Sweden and the USA, we found out about other kinds of government and monarchy. Some of us found out new things about ourselves – a woman who has been a councillor in her own town, said she surprised herself: “I always thought of myself as someone with very firm, fixed opinions about things – but I found myself sometimes moving about when I heard others speak, and standing in the middle on many issues.”

We talked about lowering the voting age, the possibility of a ‘just war’, (military) intervention in Syria, the separation of church and state, whether Britain is democratically governed, the difference that quotas of female MPs might make, the Royal family, encouraging democracy in schools, and much much more. Democracy Outside is a work constantly in progress (like democracy!) and after Brighton I’ve developed some new questions for the next outings. Come and join in if you’re nearby! Coming up: Leeds, Briggate (near Debenhams), 11am Wednesday 12 July; Hebden Bridge, St George’s Square, 2pm Saturday 14 July; and Manchester, 1pm Piccadilly Gardens & 2pm St Anne’s Square, 21 July as part of the Hazard arts festival

Meanwhile, here’s a flavour of the fun in Brighton:

Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Democracy Outside is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Brave Beginnings in Bristol

“Extreme Democracy Outside” was what one of the team called our outing to Bristol on Saturday. The wind and the rain put the kit, the enthusiasm of Bristolians, and the dedication of the instigators to the test – and all passed!

A Dutch study found that bad weather does indeed translate into low voter turnout in elections; on Saturday in Bristol the weather meant that not many passers-by passed through the Harbourside Area, and those who did were mostly pretty reluctant to stop, with grey clouds alternately threatening to dump rain, and actually dumping rain.

Doing democracy in the rain

But a few did. Two children enthusiastically gave their views on the royal family: “They just sit around in baths of money”. A local man with otherwise quite radical views on voting and royalty surprised us with his opposition to giving people in prison the right to vote: “They’ve taken away the rights of others so they shouldn’t have those rights.” Some appropriately enthusiastic Climate Rushers turned up, braving the weather for their own campaigning, and joined in with articulate gusto, and even asked their own question: “Do you think that the next generation will call us criminals for failing to take action on climate change?”

Playing politics in Bristol

When the rain got too much the DemO trio headed over to the Bristol Nature Festival to find a marquee with tea in it. Eventually the sun broke through, and our enthusiasm briefly revived – and in the spirit of opportunistic street theatre, we set up again, attracting a lovely variety of younger and older participants; a couple were in pushchairs, though it’s fair to say they didn’t participate terribly actively. Discussion got very involved and as we packed up for the afternoon, participants wandered off continuing their conversation and making new connections.

A big thankyou to Zoe and Benoit, and to Aaron and all who took part.

So we weathered the challenges of the first outing, including the challenges of the weather. Next stop Brighton, 30 June, on New Street, opposite the Mash Tun at 2pm.

See you there!

Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Democracy Outside is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Burning questions to set Democracy Outside on fire

questions questions questions

what are your burning questions?

Just over a week to go until Democracy Outside kicks off in Bristol (Saturday 16th, 2pm at the Harbourside Area opposite the Hippodrome) and at Democracy Outside HQ we’re getting excited – the placards are ready, the leaflets are at the printer, the megaphone has arrived, and the banner is being sewn.

Now the burning question is: what questions shall we ask the people of Bristol to get our dialogue about democracy going?

Questions are key to the whole process. In fact, thinking about it, it seems to me that asking questions is pretty much key to getting anything moving – in any field of enquiry, the search begins with asking questions. For example:

Invention, e.g. Margaret Atwood: “How can I sign books without travelling across the country to a bookstore?” http://www.internetwritingjournal.com/blog/221061

Research, working out what answer you want to get involves formulating the right questions: http://www.internetwritingjournal.com/blog/221061

Education – just think about little children always asking ‘Why?’ It gets annoying, it’s true, but it forces the adults around them to come up with answers. And because children are so persistent with their questions, we have to go further and further with our answers. (Sadly that child may soon reach a point where the teacher or the school curriculum says: “Well, because that’s just the way it is.” At that point it’s time to go and get a library card and start self-educating, start reading the books that aren’t on the curriculum.)

And the key to keeping moving, to sustaining the momentum is to not stop when you get an answer, because every answer contains the essence of a new question. The key is to keep asking questions, just as annoying children do, and when you get an answer, reformulate that as your next question.

But it’s also about asking the right questions. And asking the right kinds of questions. For scientific enquiry, or getting to the bottom of things, or developing a new idea and honing it, “why” and “how” questions are great.

But for dialogue, you need the kind of questions that you can answer with “Yes”, “No” – or “Maybe”…

In Democracy Outside we’re concerned with getting people to articulate and share their views. And when they hear others’ views, change their position, shift their perspective, move a little (or a lot), and start to see things in a new light. So we ask questions like:

“Should the voting age be lowered to 16?”

“Do we have a free press in this country?”

So what are the key questions about democracy that we need to develop through dialogue next week in Bristol?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DemocracyOutside, and we’ll pose the best to the people of Bristol on 16th June. And if you can, come along and explore the answers with us!

Like Democracy Outside? On Facebook? Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Help tour Democracy Outside around the UK – give us a fiver, a tenner, or some spare change: http://www.sponsume.com/project/demo-2012

Democracy Outside is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Can Democracy Be Saved?

Dr Henry Tam, Director, Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, University of Cambridge and Visiting Professor, Birkbeck, University of London, set out on Question the Powerful how he thinks it can:

Should we ever trust anyone with the power to make decisions affecting our lives without ever having to answer to us? ‘No’ is the resounding answer. To allow anyone to capture such power would risk being at best ruined by a misguided fool, or at worst subjugated by a shameless oppressor.

It is this simple recognition that drives people everywhere to clamour for a guarantee that they will have a say over how decisions affecting them are to be made. The dramatic struggles across the Middle East have reaffirmed this vital political fact. But even as the call for democracy is irresistibly made, its fragility in countries with relatively stronger democratic credentials is becoming alarmingly clear for all to see.

In Europe, the importance of placating financial markets trumps democratic engagement. ‘Technocrats’ are hailed as saviours while suggestions of holding any democratic referendum are quashed. In the UK, a party with a parliamentary minority is able to impose the vast burdens of cuts on the poor while protecting the interests of the rich, simply because it is supported by another party which jettisoned its most high profile pledge to the electorate in order to have a share of power. In Spain, the ‘indignados’ (the outraged) draw attention to the fact that in the recent election, there were 11 million spoiled ballots, more than the number voted for the victorious rightwing party. The upshot of course is that the people of Spain now have to suffer even more plutocratic policies that have outraged the majority. And in the US, the Republican Party is showing how democracy can be thoroughly abused by parading candidates who are ignorant of policies they criticise, or cynically distort Obama’s position by editing the President’s words in campaign ads designed solely to deceive.

The underlying cause of democracy being so easily usurped is twofold. First, the wealthy elite can buy more media outlets and pay PR (public relations/pseudo research) to fill the public domain with misleading information, resulting in many people accepting that they have to become poorer to help the rich. Secondly, even amongst those who see through the lies and want to have different policies, there is a lack of awareness as to how they can articulate, let alone achieve, a coherent alternative. Protests, strikes, electoral abstentions help to express disillusionment, but they do not by themselves lead to better outcomes for those in need.

So is democracy doomed? Only if we ignore the many initiatives and experiments which have been carried out all over the world in enabling citizens to come together to formulate and advance shared policy demands. We should learn from these and apply them to any political action we are organising. As a small contribution, in ‘Rejuvenating Democracy: lessons from a communitarian experiment’ (written for a special issue of the journal, Forum), I outlined an experiment I carried out between 1995 and 2010, first at a local government level, then with the national government, to promote both innovative and tried and tested participatory practices so that more citizens could gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to exert their democratic influence over public policies.

The five key lessons I draw from this 15 year endeavour are as follows. Lesson 1: different people want different degrees of involvement, and organisers should give people the appropriate opportunities they seek rather than insist that everyone should participate in the same way. Often the ‘ladder of participation’ analogy is unhelpful when it is taken as downgrading less intense forms of engagement. Play to people’s strengths and personality preferences, and you get more people involved than just a small vanguard.

Lesson 2: the value of democratic participation is considerable in social, political and economic terms, and yet more often than not it is underestimated or overlooked completely. Even in narrow monetary terms, taking on board citizens’ views helped to save hundreds of thousands, even millions, in improving the effectiveness of individual policies and programmes. Consistently, where people are given meaningful opportunities to reflect and contribute their views on the development of public actions, it tends to lead to more satisfactory and cost-efficient outcomes.

Lesson 3: to be effective democratic engagement needs to begin with people being given structured opportunities to talk about the things that most concern them. This should be followed by facilitated discussions to examine the real causes of the problems. Participants should be enabled to share any proposal with others, while options put forward can be challenged, with a transparent process for agreeing the priority actions to be taken. Feedback is to be provided on implementation, and the impact of the agreed plan is to be kept under review. As a result of the communitarian experiment, there is now a wide range of excellent resources on engagement techniques which are available (as free downloads) from the National Empowerment Partnership/Community Development Foundation.

Lesson 4: partnerships between state and citizens are not easy to build. It requires patience, skills and considerable emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, in addition to the risk of those in government shutting people out from their decisions, there is now a growing danger with the Conservative-led coalition government simply passing the buck to communities. Attempts to pass endless social and economic burdens to individuals who cannot cope without collective political support, are nothing more than an abdication of democratic responsibility. To do it under the pretense of building a ‘big society’ insults our civic intelligence, and betrays the citizenry who had assumed the state was there to serve them.

Lesson 5: the key to successful democratic renewal is leadership. For those who stress the importance of having a groundswell of active citizens in sustaining democratic vibrancy, this might sound paradoxical. But whether it is widespread sceptical disengagement from public bodies or mass protest degenerating into mindless violence, the pitfalls of random public action/inaction can only be avoided if there is dedicated energy in organising and sustaining the pursuit of inspiringly articulated goals. Positive results have rarely been achieved without the drive of committed civic-minded leaders. (Materials relating to civic leadership can be accessed at the Take Part website.)

And above all, we need such leaders now. From young people, residents association, workers, teachers, the elderly, all diverse backgrounds, we need those who are prepared to show leadership in rallying, organising, and championing what the wider democratic public seeks to come forward and save democracy.

Like Democracy Outside? On Facebook? Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Help tour Democracy Outside around the UK – give us a fiver, a tenner, or some spare change: http://www.sponsume.com/project/demo-2012

Democracy Outside is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Announcing Democracy Outside (Hot) Dates!

Announcing the DemO 2012 schedule – an odyssey of working class self-organising, temporary autonomous and unautonomous zones, oppression, liberation and revolution…

The wait is over, and we have five confirmed dates for the Democracy Outside tour, and each of them is, in one way or another, a landmark date in the history of government, democracy, and power-holding and decision-making.

Words to the Chartists' song The Chartists Are Coming, thanks to Plashing Vole via flickr.com Creative Commons

16 June: Bristol

Join us in Bristol on the anniversary of the 1836 founding of the London Working Men’s Association. Out of the LWA came the Chartist movement, a working class campaign for democracy and political reform that had 6 main demands:

  1. universal male suffrage;
  2. a secret ballot;
  3. no property qualification for members of Parliament;
  4. pay members of Parliament (so poor men could serve);
  5. constituencies of equal size;
  6. annual elections for Parliament.

They don’t sound so radical now, but despite a petition that attracted ‘millions’ of signatures the Chartist’s demands were not met outright, though many of them were incorporated in later parliamentary reform acts. So that’s alright then! This is also the day that, in 1958, the leaders of the 1956 Hungarian popular uprising against the Communist Party government were executed.

30 June: Brighton

The Brighton performance falls on the day that, in 1997, the Hong Kong turned from a colony into a Special Administrative Region (a semi-autonomous zone which after 50 years will become part of China proper) when sovereignty of the territory was transferred from Great Britain to China. The Democratic Party of Hong Kong refused to join the Provisional Legislative Council as they would not take part in what they felt was a sham democracy, and so were excluded from the first post-handover legislative council. Ironically June 30 is also the anniversary of Congo becoming independent from Belgium in 1960, under its first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

12 July: Leeds

Celebrate with the disabled rights activists of Change in Leeds on the anniversary of the first flying of the Aboriginal Australian flag in Adelaide in 1971. This is also the day that, in 1789, French revolutionary journalist Camille Desmoulins made a speech that started the ferment that led to the storming of the Bastille on 14 July – the event that really kicked off the French Revolution…

14 July: Hebden Bridge

Sisters and brothers – join us in storming Hebden Bridge on the anniversary of the 1789 Storming of The Bastille! Sadly this day is also the anniversary of the Nazi government in 1933 in Germany passing a law banning the establishment of new political parties, effectively making the Nazi Party the only legal party in Germany.

21 July: Manchester

And finally, help us wrap up Democracy Outside’s 2012 tour 76 years to the day after the birth of Revolutionary Catalonia, the autonomous region of Spain held by anarchists and socialists at the start of the Spanish Civil War, which lasted through two and half years of terrible struggle, and constant battle against right-wing and government forces. The story of Anarchist Catalonia has inspired many who believe that it’s possible for women and men to work to bring about an equal, fair and just society free of dictatorship.

The problem with historic dates is that we always interpret history through the biases, lenses, and hopes and fears of the present. But we can still be inspired and enraged, and ultimately learn from the things that have gone before.

So join in with Democracy Outside when it comes to a town near you, and let’s explore a new way of doing politics together!


Like Democracy Outside? On Facebook? Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Help tour Democracy Outside around the UK – give us a fiver, a tenner, or some spare change: http://www.sponsume.com/project/demo-2012

Democracy Outside is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Grants for teh Arts logo

Posted in Aboriginal, activism, anarchist, Australia, Brighton, Bristol, China, Congo, democracy, disabled, France, General, Germany, Hebden Bridge, Hong Kong, indigenous, Leeds, Manchester, people, revolution, Spain | 1 Comment

Politics vs Culture?

political tools in everyone's hands! photo cc beakatude flickr.com

How many times have I heard phrases such as ‘let’s take politics out of it for a minute’, or ‘regardless of the politics’, or worst of all (because it comes from politicians) ‘that’s just playing politics’? When did ‘politics’ become a dirty word? And when did it become possible to believe we should separate politics from the rest of life – economics, culture, relationships?

Well I’m going to lay my cards on the table here and declare that I don’t think ‘politics’ is a dirty word, and I don’t think you can separate politics from anything else. It’s not like separating an egg yolk from the egg white (tricky but possible especially if you have one of those handy little plastic egg separators or a couple of spoons and some nifty wrist action). Politics can’t be detached from any part of life not because it’s glued on really strongly but because it is both inside and outside every situation in which we find ourselves. A few years ago there was an advert by the Electoral Commission in which two men sit in a pub discussing whether it’s worth voting or not. One says he doesn’t ‘do politics’, whereupon the other one takes him through a typical day and points out that everything he does, including buying a pint of beer, is political. The ad implied that if you’re going to be politically active you have to vote – obviously that’s something that’s raised and talked through at every Democracy Outside performance! But it does rather sweetly and neatly make the point that all the parts of our life are political.

Relationships – who you love, who you live with, how you live with them, who controls the bank account, even how and where you met them.

Your job – whether you have a job, how you got it, what qualifications you had to have to get it, how you got these, and how secure your job is.

Your home – how big it is, how much it cost, how many people you share it with and how you are related to them, who owns it and your relationship to the owner, where it is and how much it costs to travel to work or school or to see your friends from there, whether you are able to come and go from it freely.

The safety of your community. The size of your family. The leafiness of your neighbourhood. The food you eat. The state of your health. All of these things are to do with class, race, gender and power. Your class, your race, your gender, and where you stand in relation to who has the economic power (how easy it is to make choices about your circumstances) and political power (how much influence you have to change things or make decisions about the way things should be).

But what about art and culture? Obviously ‘political art’ is political – for some really great recent examples see these performance artists demonstrate animal testing in a Lush shop window, and the Tate a Tate oil sponsorship protest audio tour for Tate Modern.

But even ‘non-political’ art is political. If you aren’t convinced, ask yourself a few questions the next time you’re in an art gallery or listening to a piece of music. Who made that art work / wrote that song? What was their race or gender? How easy was it for them to find the time to do it? How much support did they get from family and friends? How difficult was it for them to survive financially while making the work? Who paid for the final product and how much did it cost – what proportion of the average monthly or yearly salary? Were many made, or just limited editions, or even just one? Could everyone afford one? Where was the work displayed / performed? Who was able to go and see it? How much did it cost to get in?

Maybe you can’t separate politics and culture. After all, culture is just tradition (new traditions count!), tradition is history (and the future, or history that hasn’t happened yet), and history is politics.

Whether we realise it or not, we are political beings, being political all the time. Let’s wake up to that, and have fun with it – let’s get out there and play politics together.


Like Democracy Outside? On Facebook? Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Help tour Democracy Outside around the UK – give us a fiver, a tenner, or some spare change: http://www.sponsume.com/project/demo-2012

Posted in activism, art, General, public | Leave a comment

We are Losing Democracy…

…but Will of @artofactivism says we don’t need to lose heart – together we can bring it back to life

Tea cups

democracy starts with tea and talking, mat.teo @ flickr.com

We are losing democracy. Like navigation by the stars, eating seasonal food, mending our clothes and walking to the shops, democracy is one of those skills that is dying out.  The vote, that once-every-four-years (or more often if you’re super keen) moment when you play your role in the game being played out by the powers that be, has anaesthetized our entire experience of democracy, numbing us to its potential and allowing us to forget why we needed it in the first place.

We have forgotten what it means to have our say, how to think of ourselves as part of a wider society – our connections to other people, to our neighbourhood, to the social and to the political have been under assault for decades by a culture that prioritises above all the perspective that individualism is actualised in materiality – when we own more, consume more, do more, then we become better beings.  Adverts that tell us to buy a new car, politicians that tell us to stock up on fuel, councils that take away our public spaces, watchdogs that penalise doctors for caring and police that tell us to report our neighbours are piece by piece dismantling what makes our society social;  and without the social, then we have no need for democracy.  Having lost any understanding of the need for collective wellbeing it is no surprise that democracy is broken.

The skills of democracy are being lost – because they are not skills that an individual by herself / himself can gain.  The skills of democracy are practiced collectively because democracy only exists when everyone is taking part.

Damn them who told us we’d achieved democracy when ‘everybody’ (except minors, prisoners, asylum seekers and all those other groups who live on the fringes of society) was given the vote.  Democracy isn’t something that can be achieved, a gardener doesn’t ‘achieve’ a garden, and democracy, like a garden, is a beautiful and unending process that needs constant attention, constant nurturing to develop and mature – sometimes it may even need total renovation.  The skills of democracy don’t lie in putting a cross in the ballot box, but in finding ways to express, and then act on, societal concerns; problems that might not necessarily affect everybody – but which the resolution of can contribute to a collective well-being which will in the long-term benefit us all.

Democracy doesn’t lie behind a closed door in the polling booth, but out on the street where its impact will be felt; it doesn’t lie in the head of an individual but in the bonds that tie individuals together – and we are losing hold of how to put it into action.

So how can we save this dying skill, how can we re-learn the tools (if ever we had them in the first place) of democracy. Let’s start with talking to each other, with sharing our concerns, with meeting over cups of tea and saying hello to strangers. Let’s start by thinking about our concerns and then expressing our worries to others. Let’s imagine how we can make things better, and then work out ways to put our plans into action – and let’s do this together. Let’s discuss our differences and understand what compromise and consensus really means, and how privilege and power can corrupt these processes so that one side always wins. Let’s remember that we are equal in every way to the men in suits who stand in front of cameras telling us what is right – and that if we don’t agree with them, if we feel they have totally misunderstood the needs of our society, if they assault our relationships to each other and our environment, then we have a duty to stand up and be heard. And then we might start to understand what democracy could be.

Like Democracy Outside? On Facebook? Like Democracy Outside on Facebook

Help tour Democracy Outside around the UK – give us a fiver, a tenner, or some spare change: http://www.sponsume.com/project/demo-2012

Posted in General | Leave a comment

democracy reflections – it’s about Doing it Ourselves

oxguin, a DIY tech activist on what recent history can teach us about what democracy isn’t – and what it is

Thatcher not the answer badge

Questioning representative democracy

Unlike many of my peers, born in the early 1970s, I remember Callaghan being voted out of office. And I remember Thatcher coming in. Oh, I remember her, and the Miner’s strike, the Falkland’s ‘conflict’, the women on Greenham Common, and the Poll Tax. And I remember Major, champion of Citizen’s Charters, and the grey suited opponent of traffic cones. And all the time, we as a nation becoming more divided, more unequal.

And then there was Blair. Surely after 13 years of Tory rule, things could only get better? But they didn’t. Wars intensified, surveillance at home increased, and we were all made to feel more dependent on the state than ever before. Brown, when elected, did the same, just more so.

And the division and the inequality within our communities continued to grow.

And now we have the coalition government. The most duplicitous government in over a generation.

This is not democracy. Democracy is not about me and you kowtowing to those with privilege. It’s not about us electing the great and the good. It’s not about about doffing our caps to people in power.

It’s about us, the real people (not the politicians, not the bankers, not the filthy rich) coming together and working things out for ourselves. We don’t need our ‘betters’ to help us do this. We can do it by ourselves.

And that’s what Democracy Outside is – it’s you and me saying “this is how our society and our communities should work – let’s make that happen. You with me?”

Got something to say? Write a guest post for DemO2012. Email us! uninvisible71 [at] gmail.com

Help tour Democracy Outside around the UK – give us a fiver, a tenner, or some spare change: http://www.sponsume.com/project/demo-2012

Like Democracy Outside? On Facebook? Like Democracy Outside on Facebook


Posted in General | Leave a comment

democracy reflections – talking to each other

As he pounds the streets of Oxford, Adam Ramsay has been reflecting on how to get people talking democracy…

Don't sit on the fence

Don't just sit there!

I have recently been knocking on lot of doors and asking people to vote for me. It’s local council elections in Oxford, and I’m standing as a Green. I always enjoy this process – it is one of the few times I ever get to talk to lots of strangers about the problems in our lives, and how to fix the system which creates them.

Sometimes, I take friends with me – friends who have never knocked on a strangers’ door in their life. Usually, they are scared – they think people will be rude to them, or that they’ll get into some big argument and won’t know what to say. I am of the ‘Stranger Danger’ generation – at primary school, we were taught to fear everyone we don’t know. We were told to ‘say no’. In our utopian Thatcherite economy we move job and house annually, never getting to know the people next door.  But I always reassure my friends: people are lovely – just ask them questions and have a chat. And my friends almost always love it, and usually come back for more.

Whilst I love this process, it makes me sad – partly because it is about the only time I have conversations with people about how we are going to organise our community. But also, because it reminds me that I am in a tiny minority. Most people never get to have such conversations – hence the fear my friends have.

Is that not terrifying? Almost all of our conversations about the way we structure our society and our communities are either mediated by the media, happen one to one on doorsteps with politicians (if you live in a marginal seat), or down the phone with pollsters. That’s why Democracy Outside excites me. It is a way of creating space for strangers to begin to ask those questions – to talk together for what may well be the first time.

I am sure people who take part learn lots about the subject areas they talk about. But I am also certain that they will learn something else. If they are anything like my friends, they will elarn to stop fearing their neighbours, and that when we chat, we can sort things out together.

In Argentina’s second biggest city, Rossario, they set their whole municipal budget this way. A study of this process found something remarkable: it made everyone better, more caring citizens. And perhaps we can hope that Democracy Outside will start that process here.

Want to write a guest post for DemO2012? Email us! uninvisible71 [at] gmail.com

Help tour Democracy Outside around the UK – give us a fiver, a tenner, or some spare change: http://www.sponsume.com/project/demo-2012

Posted in activism, democracy, General, people, public, support | Leave a comment