Rosemary Bechler https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/1866/all cached version 18/12/2018 17:25:35 en A People’s Vote won’t heal Brexit divisions – we need a People’s Debate https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/rest-and-west-thoughts-on-brexit-and-migration-part-two <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A TV debate would solve nothing, and claims about “the will of the people” are vapid. We need to find a way to hold a meaningful debate.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screenshot 2018-12-02 at 11.07.08.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screenshot 2018-12-02 at 11.07.08.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="261" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: the seven-way BBC election debate, May 2017. YouTube.</span></span></span></p><p>This is Part Two of '<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/rest-and-west-thoughts-on-brexit-and-migration-part-one">The rest and the West: thoughts on Brexit and Migration.</a>' </p><p><em>“I don’t think there is a silver bullet, but the market-place of ideas is at the heart of democracy. We all bring ideas and opinions into that market-place and we talk and discuss, and we argue, but we bargain and we compromise. That is what is collapsing.” </em>&nbsp;Matthew Goodwin on preventing the rage of the US parcel-bomber from spreading, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06q0km0">BBC2 Newsnight</a>, October 26, 2018</p><p>“The debates where the politicians are squabbling amongst themselves don’t do anything for the process of electioneering”, said Theresa May after <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-40105324">ducking out</a> of the televised seven-way general election debate of 2017. That won her a reputation for ‘not doing debate’. The Brexit TV debate she proposed for December 9 – in front of millions of viewers who will have no say in the outcome – was “consuming Westminster’s political advisers and the nation’s broadcasters” <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/01/may-v-corbyn-on-brexit-the-debate-over-the-debate">four days ago</a>, but now seems unlikely to happen. Caroline Lucas, calling for another public vote on Brexit, argued that any debate "must be cross-party, featuring a diverse range of voices representing every nation, as well as every stance on this deal and our relationship with the EU". The BBC version of plurality appeared to be “10 prominent supporters of May’s deal and 10 opponents who would have the chance to ask questions”, described as “messy” by Labour, since the opposition would precisely be seen as squabbling among themselves. But as Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former director of communications put it, a TV debate is not a debate: “It becomes a basic method of message delivery rather than a real debate.”</p><p>Meanwhile, the real debate with which Theresa May has not engaged during her lonely tour of duty in one-way persuasion, is surely the one at the heart of a liberal democracy: democratic debate leading to compromise between legitimate political adversaries. Setting aside her preference for conducting the Brexit process as a secretive Whitehall operation, everything May has done since inheriting the binary referendum result on the UK’s future relationship to the EU has been an avoidance of debate, from the resistance of the UK government to seeking parliamentary approval for Article 50 or to a “meaningful debate” on the final deal, to the ministerial power grab over the Withdrawal Bill and secretive plans for trade deals, the marginalisation of the devolved nations, the refusal of plan-B discussions, and the insistence that “Brexit means Brexit” through months and years in which it has become increasingly clear that no-one really knows what Brexit means. </p><p>Yesterday like the proverbial worm, the despised and marginalised ‘squabbling politicians’, turned, aided by carefully timed advice from the advocate general to the European Court of Justice. This was the first mention of anyone officially involved in the negotiations that Britain might change its mind. Faced by no-deal, a member state could change its intention to withdraw from the EU and revoke Article 50, since Article 50 is invoked in the first place “to notify the European Council of ‘its intention’– and not of its decision – to withdraw, and such an intention may change.” Not only this, but in accordance with our parliamentary sovereignty, and, as the advocate general adds, in the interests of European integration, the decision indeed rests with the squabbling politicians of a member state to choose to “reverse its initial decision.” </p><p>Today, May’s ‘triple defeat’ by Parliament has elicited a warning from the leading Brexit-backing cabinet minister, Liam Fox, that Remainer MPs are trying to “steal Brexit from the British people” which he describes as a “democratic affront”. But the truth is that MP’s supporting the legal action in Luxembourg, like Caroline Lucas and Chris Bryant, in their campaign for a second referendum, have been fighting a valiant battle against the odds and May's Government, to give the British people a say. Under the desert conditions for democracy created by those conducting the Brexit negotiations, they are the ones who have insisted on keeping some sort of public space open and ticking. Bryant’s response to the legal advice was to express the hope that the final say on Brexit would be handed back to the public, “because only the people of the United Kingdom can sort this out.” It is being argued that the advocate general’s opinion, by the same token, gives the EU every reason to extend Article 50 for such an outcome, since a choice to remain made by the people might well be considered a stronger mandate than a decision to remain made by MPs alone.</p><p>But whether Brexit is to be stolen from the British people or sorted out by them, the invocation of a unitary people’s will in both cases should raise alarm bells. Just how should a large and diverse, not to mention increasingly polarised people 'change its mind' or 'have a say'? Albert Weale’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/albert-weale/second-referendum-yes-will-of-people-no">pithy answer </a>to the question, "Can 'a people' have 'a will' "? is decisively in the negative <em>– </em>“<em>There is no singular will of the people emerging from a plurality of people</em>… <em>There is no one super-individual – the people – that has changed its mind</em>… <em>There is no will of the people independently of the rules used to combine different opinions</em>”. He reminds us that a people does not change its mind, but that in a democracy, under a set of rules chosen in a decision that is supremely political, people do. Whatever the outcome to the roller coaster on which we are now riding and even at this late and bewildering stage, we can only begin to “take back control” to the extent that our voices can finally be heard in a way that can persuade and effect meaningful change. The question, for both Parliament and people, is what is a “meaningful debate”? </p><p>All selective versions of a Brexit debate proliferate enemy images. We see only too well the cumulative dehumanising impact on ‘migrants’ when they are only ever spoken about, and, in the Windrush case for example, how shocking the effect when we finally hear directly from them. The speed at which “Europeans” began to be sucked into the “hostile environment” for migrants created by Theresa May as home secretary came as another, more recent shock. Don’t we need a debate that can “out”, identify and encompass all these points of view, one that brings Leavers and Remainers, ordinary and elite, face to face across all the boundaries and borders so far erected by the multiple toxic polarisations of the issue?&nbsp; </p><p>This would be a public debate at least as ambitious and inclusive as the Scottish referendum debate was at its best. One that included the 16 to 18 year olds who were included in that process, and not in the EU referendum, on the grounds that this is their future we are talking about. A debate that welcomes the voices of the many migrants and fellow-Europeans in our midst, elite and ordinary as well. But above all, voices open to each other in all their diversity, willing to listen, even to care, and yes, even to change their minds. </p><h2><strong>What is a 'meaningful debate' ?</strong></h2><p>Only a comprehensive, extended and inclusive People’s Debate can effect this process of citizen empowerment. Anthony Barnett’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/anthony-barnett/how-to-win-brexit-civil-war-open-letter-to-my-fellow-remainers">‘open letter to Remainers’</a> this June on openDemocracy was the first sign of movement towards the kind of listening that would be involved. By September, Neal Lawson was on this platform warning supporters of the People’s Vote to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/neal-lawson/people-s-vote-on-brexit-be-careful-what-you-wish-for">be careful what they wished for</a>, and extending Barnett’s argument in the direction of a four-point agenda for democratising the process that included <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/oliver-norgrove/interesting-brexit-experiment-worthy-of-analysis">citizens’ assemblies</a>, a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/stuart-white/will-constitutional-convention-democratically-refound-british-state">constitutional convention</a> for the UK and a new policy agenda for Europe. Lawson also demanded a “systemic domestic policy response to the causes of Brexit”. Recently, as the Brexit deadlines threatened, another breakthrough moment was Caroline Lucas’s closing contribution to the <a href="https://www.channel4.com/news/major-new-brexit-poll-shows-voters-swinging-towards-remain">Channel 4 <em>Big Brexit Debate</em></a><em>: What does the UK really think?</em> as a key proponent of the People’s Vote: </p><blockquote><p>“ What we need to be doing is recognising as well that many of the people who voted ‘leave’ have very legitimate grievances that need to be tackled. So the People’s Vote campaign isn’t just saying&nbsp; – ‘Let’s just swap and see if we can get a vote like this that changes the balance…’. It’s massively important that the People’s Vote campaign and all of us who want to seize the opportunity for people to have a say, recognise that this is not about turning the clock back two years, but about saying let us make sure that we address those underlying reasons that drove so many people to feel that the only solution was to leave the EU, when in fact leaving the EU will make things worse for them.”</p></blockquote><p>Fellow People’s Vote advocate and openDemocracy columnist, Mary Kaldor, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/mary-kaldor/labour-and-brexit-sensible-deal">reiterated this point</a> in her advice to the Labour Party: “if we are to address the real concerns of the leave voters we need to be inside the EU campaigning for a change of rules.” But she also called for “a genuine constitutional debate throughout the country – a debate about the kind of society we want to live in and how to tackle the deep-seated problems linked to jobs, housing, health, and, above all, democracy that led to the howl of anguish represented by the Brexit vote.”</p><p>But it took Gordon Brown, as former UK prime minister, to go <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce2ed1ce-e902-11e8-94da-a6478f64c783">further in thinking</a> about what is needed over and above any second public vote or even beyond a general election, if we are to have a democratic Brexit process at last. Divisions could “merely worsen” in an already “bitterly divided country”, since “at least two and possibly many more years of acrimonious EU negotiations still lie ahead”, he warned, ("To calm the Brexit storm, we must listen to the UK’s views again",<em> </em>Financial Times,16 November)<em>.</em></p><p>Because “the deadlock in parliament seems unlikely to be broken by MPs alone”, Brown proposes bringing together in each region a representative panel of a few hundred citizens, together constituting a “platform to allow discussion of important issues such as immigration, sovereignty, the state of our industrial towns and regions. Through it, by exploring both the causes and consequences of Brexit, we can see whether any consensus can be forged.” </p><p>Brown proposes the creation of a “new kind of royal commission” in order to be credible, authoritative and impartial. But I would argue instead for parliamentarians to become joint custodians of this new politics of persuasion in a constitution that devolved their most precious function to the citizens ­– what <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Will-People-Modern-Myth/dp/1509533273/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1543357654&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=Will+of+the+people">Albert Weale calls</a> the “institutionalised debate in which competing views are expressed within a set of rules”. Citizens already have voices in ways without parallel before the internet era. Becoming the guarantors and enablers of such an inclusive, pluralist debate could be the best way to rescue democratic representation from its ‘gatekeeping’ crisis, with a useful knock-on effect on an overweening media. </p><p>All it would take is the simple acknowledgement that who picks the subjects and frames the debate is the democratic crux of the matter, as the political theorist Stuart White <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/stuart-white/will-constitutional-convention-democratically-refound-british-state">pointed out on openDemocracy three years ago</a> in his survey of constitutional conventions:</p><blockquote><p>“If we are in a constitutional moment, then it is not appropriate to let the key questions be settled just through the processes of ‘normal’ politics. Democratic theory says that this is a time when ‘We the people’ have a right to settle what happens precisely because what is at stake is a set of very basic questions about how we are ruled. A constitutional convention (CC) is potentially one way of giving ‘We the people’ this leading role…&nbsp; If a convention is to be genuinely ‘people-led’ mustn’t its agenda be responsive to the people? Allowing the convention a wide remit, or allowing it to identify issues for itself, gives us all an opportunity to campaign to the convention to address issues we think important. It draws us all into the discussion and thereby helps to create a democratic constitutional moment… A key principle here is that devolution and decentralisation ought to be bottom-up processes with real accountability to local people.”</p></blockquote><p>White had an encouraging message for us when it came to Labour and the Greens:</p><blockquote><p>“First, as I think Labour (and the Greens) already accept, membership of the convention – or conventions – should be drawn largely from members of the general public, chosen by lot but in a way that is designed to be broadly representative of the population. (Exactly which population? The standard assumption is that the relevant population consists of UK citizens, but David Owen <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-owen/who-are-%E2%80%98-people%E2%80%99-in-people%E2%80%99s-constitutional-convention">argues</a> forcefully&nbsp;that non-citizen residents and non-residents should also have representation in a CC.)”</p></blockquote><p>Gordon Brown’s choice of subjects for his debating platform, ought he thinks to “particularly examine those contentious issues where the situation has changed significantly since 2016”, citing both “national identity” and freedom of movement. Yet if Brown acknowledges the evidence of shifting opinions on the latter, Theresa May certainly does not.&nbsp; We learn that she rejects any Norway-style compromise deal with the Labour party. Why? On the grounds that ending freedom of movement is the hardest of the prime minister’s red lines. Again why? – we don’t know. Maybe it is for the same reason that <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annegret_Kramp-Karrenbauer">Kramp-Karrenbauer</a>, hailed as the most Merkel-like of her successor candidates, has announced that she would be much “stricter” on migration than Merkel. </p><p>But can’t we do better than that? Couldn’t we hope instead, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/rest-and-west-thoughts-on-brexit-and-migration-part-one">taking inspiration from Ada Colau’s PAH movement</a>, that one advantage of a People’s Debate over a People’s Vote is the chance to include non-citizen residents and non-residents in this inclusive, empowering national debate? And that those pluralist encounters might similarly lead in a mutually enabling direction?</p><p>Brown’s proposal is a breakthrough, first and foremost, in the recognition that Brexit is a historic process in which people need to have a say. It pays the referendum due respect for being a democratic prompt for a “unique consultation”, a multi-faceted process of exchange that “by opening a dialogue across the country and engaging in a constructive, outward-looking conversation about our future” might help us discover “a road back to a more cohesive country, reuniting around shared values and rediscovered common interests.” </p><h2><strong>How not to frame a democratic debate</strong></h2><p><em>“So we need to think about what institutions, what mechanisms can we put in place that support that market-place of ideas. And that means mixing our friendship groups and our social networks – it means having better political leadership – it means starting early at university and at school level and making sure people are exposed to different perspectives…”</em>&nbsp;Matthew Goodwin on preventing the rage of the US parcel-bomber from spreading, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06q0km0">BBC2 Newsnight</a>, October 26, 2018</p><p>If this is what is needed then one way not to frame that People’s Debate is highlighted by the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/matthew-feldman/paging-mr-aaronovitch-radical-right-doesnt-need-any-more-help-from-mainstream">interesting spat</a> that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/academics-for-meaningful-debate/framing-ethnic-diversity-debate-as-about-threat-legitimises-hat-0">recently broke out</a> on openDemocracy among other places, between academics protesting at a panel debate billed for December 6 by Claire Fox’s Academy of Ideas and UnHerd. </p><p>A number of academics, journalists and commentators are planning to take part in a ‘debate’ originally titled and intended to answer the question: <em>“Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?”</em>. Speakers include Matthew Goodwin, Eric Kaufmann, Claire Fox, Trevor Phillips and David Aaronovitch. (The title has now changed.)</p><p>Their critics accuse them of framing diversity as a threat, when it is perfectly possible to “discuss far right language without using it yourself”. &nbsp;Their <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/academics-for-meaningful-debate/framing-ethnic-diversity-debate-as-about-threat-legitimises-hat-0">open letter protests</a> that: "This debate shuts itself down, as no other alternative factor or scenario is identified as a ‘threat’, and it is hard to recognise much in the way of a diversity of opinion on a panel where most of the speakers are on the record as blaming immigration and multiculturalism for complex and multi-faceted social problems ". In the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/academics-for-meaningful-debate/framing-ethnic-diversity-debate-as-about-threat-legitimises-hat-0">comment spaces</a> of openDemocracy, the ongoing argument soon arrives at the key issue of democratic debate: “The people hosting this debate, so narrowly framed in such a way, seemingly provide a platform for arguments that can only draw one possible and predefined conclusion. So. Not much of a 'debate' then...”,“To reiterate, we are not seeking to shut down debate or evade difficult arguments – these issues are widely discussed in academia and in public fora. We are simply asking that we do not give yet more ground to those who seek to shift the blame for systemic failures onto communities who are already subject to oppression and hostility, and legitimise hate and scapegoating as if that is analysis.” </p><p>Critics of the critics, for their part, are determined to defend free speech, “Because in order to think we have to be free to speak. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech is a dialectical process in which we express and explore ideas, and as a society how we reach solutions for complex issues. Having to tolerate ideas that you do not agree with is the cost of freedom of speech.”</p><p>A dialectical process is one in which both sides cross boundaries, and a third term emerges which goes beyond them, into new territory. It's certainly what is needed. But how exactly can this take place? With polling indicating a widening gulf between Remain voters determined to ‘stop Brexit’ and Leave voters reconciling themselves to crashing out, what can stop this runaway process of polarisation?</p><p>Some of us have been asking this for some time. </p><p>On openDemocracy the indefatigable journalists, Adam Ramsay, Peter Geoghegan and others, who have for many months been <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/dup-dark-money">investigating questions</a> about the funding and the political influences behind the Leave campaigns, have recently secured the grim satisfaction of the Electoral Commission belatedly referring Aaron Banks to the National Crime Agency for investigation. Whatever the outcome – and Laura Kuenssberg told us on the same day that this was “unlikely to affect the Brexit process” – it is precisely at this point that we need to remind ourselves of the article Adam Ramsay wrote a year ago, to say, “<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/remainers-dont-use-our-investigations-as-excuse">Remainers: don’t use our investigations as an excuse</a>”– an excuse, that is, not to ask much deeper questions about why they lost the EU referendum to 17 million voters in the first place. </p><p>One of the speakers participating in the Academy of Ideas/UnHerd debate, Matthew Goodwin, has been <a href="https://quillette.com/2018/08/03/britains-populist-revolt/">making exactly the same important point</a>. Goodwin complained this August about “a clear and concerted attempt to try and delegitimize the result by implying that either voters were duped or that the Leave campaign was crooked; and absolutely no engagement whatsoever with the growing pile of evidence that we now have on why people actually voted for Brexit.” At the time he concluded, “To many on the liberal left – Brexit is to be opposed not understood.”</p><p>Goodwin is an expert in the deep roots of English euroscepticism, the rise of UKIP and the Brexit result. His disappointment that the referendum didn't pave the way for a long-overdue national debate focused on addressing the divides, inequalities and grievances that had led to this moment is palpable and surely justified. What better candidate might one seek for framing a Brexit People’s Debate, particularly as together with Roger Eatwell, Goodwin has just published a new book entitled <em><a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/306/306038/national-populism/9780241312001.html">National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy</a>, </em>promoted<em>&nbsp;</em> as a “compelling<em> </em>case for serious, respectful engagement with the supporters and ideas of national populism.”<em> </em></p><p>The signs were promising. Here were authors willing to challenge the longue durée of&nbsp; “the deep-rooted suspicion of the ‘masses’ which lies at the heart of liberal democracy”. &nbsp;Here we have not only the expertise and the research base, but the manifest concern for the people they were studying and commitment to reversing their political disenfranchisement. Roger Eatwell’s <em>The rising tide of national populism: we need to talk seriously about immigration, </em>summarises <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/roger-eatwell/rising-tide-of-national-populism-we-need-to-talk-about-immigration">the key democracy argument</a> that runs through the book for openDemocracy, and urges a braver generation of politicians to embark on “serious talk about immigration”. Matthew Goodwin, publishing his overview <a href="https://unherd.com/2018/10/populists-get-right/">on UnHerd</a> on October 23, ends with a refreshing call for “more room for deliberation and input from across society through devolution, the roll-out of citizens initiatives or making greater use of referendums at the local level.”</p><p>On that same day, however, openDemocracy published the open letter citing Goodwin as one of the speakers and organisers of <a href="https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/immigration-and-diversity-politics-a-challenge-to-liberal-democracy-tickets-51188298579">the debate</a> planned for December 6 and originally billed, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” Could it really be that at this <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/28/far-right-brexit-tommy-robinson-leave-voters">critical conjuncture</a>, some of our best intellectuals, commentators and journalists, including those most alert to ‘national populist’ alienation, were seemingly absorbed in another round of “How can we play with xenophobia without being xenophobic ?” </p><p>Is an answer to be found in Goodwin and Eatwell’s accounts of <em>National Populism. </em>Or might they instead give us just what we need to frame our inclusive, national, People’s Debate on Brexit and migration?</p><h2><strong>‘National populism’ – what is going on?</strong></h2><p><a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n19/james-meek/brexit-and-myths-of-englishness">James Meek </a>&nbsp;in the October 11 issue of the LRB had raised his own concerns over Goodwin’s framing of the Brexit debate. Pointing out that his reading of Brexit tended to oppose “ordinary Leave voters against an arrogant Remainer elite as if those were the two sides at issue”, Meek argued that in doing this, Goodwin not only overlooked, “ordinary Remain voters, many of whom, though typically younger and better educated, feel as powerless, angry and betrayed as their counterparts on the other side”, but also ignored “an arrogant Leave elite, the Brexiteers”. &nbsp;Every day brings further revelations about their <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/nov/17/arron-banks-emails-steve-bannon-brexit-campaign-funds">motivation, role and reach</a> at work in British politics and its decision-making processes. Surely, for example, it is important for the British public, and not them alone, to be alert to the foreign and domestic <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/22/us-rightwing-groups-bankroll-campaign-to-free-tommy-robinson">backers of Tommy Robinson</a> as well as to his plans?</p><p>But looking more closely at Goodwin’s argument in UnHerd, there is one additional strand in his framing of the Brexit debate here which sure enough leads him inexorably to “<em>Diversity [as] a Threat</em>”, despite the fact that as a filter, it can only be self-defeating with regard to the very “deliberation and input from across society” which Goodwin and Eatwell seek. It is an argument that by the same token plunges us back into the increasingly stark choice of our times between horizontal empowerment and the monocultural National Us with which my argument began. </p><p>The strand begins by narrowing in on a particular definition of the UK’s excluded and unrepresented: </p><blockquote><p>“ you will see record numbers of women and ethnic minorities in the corridors of power. This should be applauded. But when it comes to others in society, who have also been the most likely to vote for national populists ­– the working-class and non-graduates – it is an entirely different story.”</p></blockquote><p>These are the people that Trump, Farage, Salvini and Le Pen claim to speak for, and Goodwin says that they “have a point.” However it is a rather selective point, if we consider the strange Leaver coalition which actually spatched together genuine victims of austerity and internationalisation with much more affluent leavers in the southern counties nostalgic for a Greater Britain. This is then accompanied by an equally selective definition of the defining opposition:</p><blockquote><p>“As those with advanced qualifications have acquired more representation and power, governments have over time become more empathetic toward their desires and shaped more around ‘cosmopolitan standards’.”</p></blockquote><p>Soon we are presented with the European elites, including those in the UK, backing everyone but their own working class and non-graduates, due to their ‘cosmopolitan standards’. This makes a certain sense, given that: </p><blockquote><p>“ while 57% of elites across Europe felt that immigration had been good for their respective country only 25% of voters felt the same way. Political, business and media elites were far more likely to feel they had benefited from being in the EU, to back further integration and support refugees and the role of Islam in Europe.”</p></blockquote><p>Education plays a crucial role in this division. But the role that it plays has nothing to do with the way that a technocratic political class hand in hand with their media might manipulate the fears of the less educated to consolidate their power, leaving only the better educated relatively unscathed. Instead, Goodwin quotes <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2017/11/29/book-review-diploma-democracy-the-rise-of-political-meritocracy-by-mark-bovens-and-anchrit-wille/">Boven and Wille</a> approvingly, whose study of ‘diploma democracy’ in the Netherlands (2011), was broadened to <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/diploma-democracy-9780198790631?cc=gb&amp;lang=en&amp;">cover Europe</a> in 2017. Their concern is that education is exclusionary at the level of political debate:</p><blockquote><p>“In a diploma democracy the well-educated voice resonates much more strongly at the ballot box; in deliberative sessions and expert meetings; in parliaments and cabinets”.</p></blockquote><p>and their conclusion that the educated can moreover, be narrowly self-interested: </p><blockquote><p>“Yet whereas Plato’s idealised ruling class was an ascetic brotherhood working for the common good in small city states, today’s rulers are increasingly cosmopolitan, insular and at times self-serving.”</p></blockquote><p>There are many reasons why political representation is in crisis today, and an inability to serve the common good must be a dominant factor. But can a cosmopolitan tendency really bear the explanatory weight that it is given here? It is a convenient descriptive, to be sure, since a sense of relative ease with ‘the other’ is perhaps the sole factor seeming to unite the advantage of EU membership with further European integration, welcoming refugees and being happy to live side by side with people of the Muslim faith. Moreover, in itself, the consequent willingness to accept change provides a ready if not obviously irresponsible point of contrast to the “socially conservative views” that Eatwell informs us are “common” among national populist supporters and “deeply held”. </p><p>However, for researchers so alert to homogenising biases and stereotypes, this choice of unifying trait seems hasty, if only and in particular because everything we might assume about the self-serving nature of political élites today suggests a marked inability to empathise with another ‘other’ – namely the very people whom Goodwin and Eatwell have committed themselves to understanding, caring about and empowering. Why draw the ‘cosmopolitan’ line at them?</p><p>Yet this is where Goodwin’s argument ends, in a quotation carefully chosen to urge an opponent that by now is a curious amalgam of European élites and ‘the liberal left’, to “reflect on” the “pluralist heaven” of the former and their distance from the real people:</p><blockquote><p>“The academic E.E. Schattschneider once observed that a key risk that faces democracies is that they become dominated by the privileged and ignore the less well off. “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent”,&nbsp;he wrote. Today, the heavenly chorus might sing with a middle-class accent, but its members are now holding degree certificates.”</p></blockquote><p>Goodwin’s preoccupation with education and representation gives this choice of antagonists a particular twist, but the framing underlying this strand of argument is familiar enough. It is the opposition between rooted Somewhere people and rootless Anywhere people packaged by David Goodhart, and chosen as Book of the Year for 2017 by <em>The Guardian</em> and the <em>Economist</em>, just in time to be coopted into Theresa May’s <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-speech-tory-conference-2016-in-full-transcript-a7346171.html">campaign to become prime minister</a> as her own personal brand of patriotism: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” </p><p><em>The Road to Somewhere</em>, as Jon Bloomfield points out in his <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/jon-bloomfield/dangerous-road-to-divisive-places">highly critical openDemocracy review</a>, relies on a similar “mixture of selective facts and figures” to construct Goodhart’s particular version of a divided society, in which the working class is pitted against an “Anywheres” category that lumps together “everyone from those who go on to do low grade office and administrative work through to hedge fund managers and senior executives” via three years at university which are “apparently sufficiently formative to mould all these diverse people into one homogenous bloc”. </p><p>Here too, an “unbridgeable gulf between the working and professional classes” takes centre stage, moving neoliberal globalisation, financial crisis, the concerted austerity drive and forty years of changing attitudes conveniently to one side, while it invokes a timeless “bedrock” and yes, the unitary National Us. </p><p>Here too Jon Bloomfield finds the far right being treated with “kid gloves” in the process. Goodwin and Eatwell are eager to abjure words such as ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’ to describe UKIP members, the far right and populism in general, though they may not have anticipated UKIP’s most recent ‘<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/23/ukip-tommy-robinson-tories-racism-establishment">metamorphosis into an outright, unapologetic far-right party</a>’ at the advice of the Bannonite ‘Tommy Robinson’, now explicitly aiming to head up an aggrieved majoritarian movement in response to what he calls the ‘Great Brexit Betrayal’. Goodhart, before them, had designated UKIP, Trump and Le Pen alike “decent populists”, arguing that “UKIP and the Front National have been dragged sharply to the left in recent years” and that Trump is no “white supremacist”. </p><p>But the selective concern with some dangers and not with others is not the only problem with this approach. When it comes to democratic debate, foregrounding “pluralist heaven” as a no-go-area can only lead to a series of missed opportunities. </p><h2><strong>The immigration debate</strong></h2><p>Take Roger Eatwell’s call for a “bottom-up” conversation “about immigration and how best to live together.”</p><p>In his attempt to persuade us that “the vast majority of British people are ‘balancers’ who recognise the rights of genuine asylum seekers and need for migration”, Eatwell is surely right <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/roger-eatwell/rising-tide-of-national-populism-we-need-to-talk-about-immigration">to ask his readers</a> not to assume that racism is at play among the “many voters” for whom immigration is indeed “a major concern” and to seek to understand what is. One example we are asked to give a sympathetic hearing to is that national populist supporters think immigrants “should be expected to assimilate into the dominant culture, which many people still strongly identify with (though their conceptions of Britishness often differ).” The closing qualification here is a mere aside, the postscript of a scrupulous researcher. But isn’t Eatwell neglecting a more interesting line of inquiry? Looked at another way, conceptions of Britishness in the plural pose challenging questions about how coherent the ‘dominant culture’ is in our ‘hyper-diverse’ modern societies; questions about who is to decide which Britishness should dominate; and about who decides, if at all, who should assimilate to what?</p><p>Furthermore, if we admit that the plurality here is a reality and not a cosmopolitan indulgence, couldn’t this recognition precisely take us in the direction of a mutually vulnerable, inclusive debate, open to ‘the other’ – in which even migrants or Europeans might have something to contribute to our changing perceptions of who British people are? </p><p>Eatwell, in fact, agrees. His article concludes with an “urgent” call for a serious “bottom-up” conversation about “a new and more inclusive conception of national identity” that can “combine old aspects of British identity with the new realities of migration and multicultural communities”. But much more effort goes into urging educated readers to understand assumptions about assimilation, than goes into exploring what it would take in a democracy to have such a serious conversation that could change people’s minds. Which brings us back to the whole question of&nbsp; ‘contact’. </p><p>This missed opportunity occurs when Eatwell is mapping concerns over immigration. He explains that “Concerns are often greatest in areas where people have recently arrived, or where there are fears about such an influx”, or where, as in a South Wales former mining village, “The only foreigners were inside the Daily Mail”.&nbsp; He moves on to the apparent anomaly that “the Brexit vote was often lowest in parts of Britain, like London which have relatively large ethnic minorities”, and provides one possible explanation, nodding to “social-psychological ‘contact theory” which “holds that over time people from different ethnic groups accommodate to each other through direct interaction.” </p><p>But again, wouldn’t we do well to linger? Isn’t the contrast at work here the same one that underpins the choice between two ways of building community with which I <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/rest-and-west-thoughts-on-brexit-and-migration-part-one">began my argument</a>: on the one hand the horizontal empowerment of direct citizen involvement as a contact sport, working across borders and boundaries over time; and on the other, the rapid balloonings of the imagined monocultural National Us, under sudden threat from some imagined but never quite encountered enemy? If it is true that ‘contact’ makes such a difference, and bearing in mind for example, how every partial and selective version of the Brexit debate proliferates its own lethal enemy images, then mustn’t this be one priority for the proactively implemented “suite of packages” that Goodwin <a href="https://unherd.com/2018/10/populists-get-right/">calls for</a>, adding to his emphasis on what the populists get right, an accompanying emphasis on the need to be “exposed to different perspectives” that is pretty well indistinguishable from “cosmopolitan standards.” </p><p>Goodwin and Eatwell are always worth reading, because their work contains so many of the relevant facts. Take for example, Goodwin’s scrupulous qualification to his proposal for “making greater use of local referendums”, that “Such initiatives would not necessarily halt populism, as countries like Switzerland with its long tradition of direct democracy show.” So what advance on local referenda is conducive to the “meaningful discussion among citizens about political reform” that Goodwin seeks, that might respond to the “lack of voice” and sense of “distant elites that united many Leave voters”? </p><p>Turn your back on pluralist encounter, or fail to question “assimilation” and are you really helping anybody? Isn’t it at least worth wondering what would happen if we dropped the <em>Somewhere: Anywhere</em> binary, and thought instead about a deeply polarised but hugely diverse society, divided between people <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/oliver-norgrove/interesting-brexit-experiment-worthy-of-analysis">like the leavers and remainers brought together</a> in the Citizens Assembly on Brexit in Manchester last September, who were relieved to hear each other out, able to change their minds, and honoured to have the opportunity to think about the interests of the country as a whole; and those who are determined neither to persuade or to be persuaded, for whom reliance on force of number, a strong man, crashing out of the EU, or failing these, the lurking possibility of violence, seem the only hope?</p><p>If that is truer to the reality in which we live, as I believe, then a framing of debate that pits those who are privileged by dint of their sheer capacity for debate against those who are not, perversely leaves national populist supporters with little to fall back on but stubborn silence and a gathering sense of betrayal. Eatwell asks us not to “ignore the views of national populist voters who have relatively low levels of education, and are not greatly interested in politics” – fair enough as far as it goes. But in this reductive straitjacket of a stand-off, don’t we begin to ask ourselves what is cause and what is effect? Framing the immigration debate in a way that assumes assimilation is the name of the game can only exacerbate the unpreparedness and fears of people panicking at the prospect of further, disempowering change. “Brexit means Brexit” is such a counterproductive dictum of majority reassurance precisely because it promises that you won’t have to change your mind. “Stopping Brexit”, reversing it or getting it over and done with plays exactly to the same humiliations and sense of powerlessness. So why should people be interested in politics, or democracy, when it only offers further loss of control over their lives?</p><p>Cas Mudde <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/cas-mudde/on-extremism-and-democracy-in-europe-three-years-later">writes this week</a>&nbsp;on this platform that, “Today, the far right has established itself at the center of European politics, while scholarship is predominantly “neutral”, although most scholars remain hostile to the far right itself (but increasingly sympathetic to its voters).” Unfortunately, it seems true that these scholars also prefer to dwell on our need to understand the “strong identification” of such voters with a non-existent or imaginary monocultural National Us, at a time when Tommy Robinson is busy inflating that balloon, by claiming that his far right will lead “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/28/far-right-brexit-tommy-robinson-leave-voters">the 52% who opted for leave in the referendum</a>”. </p><p>Aren’t we doing Robinson’s work for him, when we encourage people to ignore the diversity in their own ranks; when we reassure people that they don’t have to change their minds or take minority viewpoints into account; and when we create an enemy image out of the ‘other’?&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/rest-and-west-thoughts-on-brexit-and-migration-part-one">The rest and the West: thoughts on Brexit and migration. Part One </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/roger-eatwell/rising-tide-of-national-populism-we-need-to-talk-about-immigration">The rising tide of national populism: we need to talk seriously about immigration</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/albert-weale/second-referendum-yes-will-of-people-no">Second referendum, yes. Will of the People, no</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/how-to-win-brexit-civil-war-open-letter-to-my-fellow-remainers">How to win the Brexit Civil War. An open letter to my fellow Remainers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/neal-lawson/people-s-vote-on-brexit-be-careful-what-you-wish-for">A “People’s Vote” on Brexit – be careful what you wish for</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/mary-kaldor/labour-and-brexit-sensible-deal"> Labour and Brexit: a ‘sensible’ deal?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/stuart-white/will-constitutional-convention-democratically-refound-british-state">Will a constitutional convention democratically refound the British state?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/david-owen/who-are-%E2%80%98-people%E2%80%99-in-people%E2%80%99s-constitutional-convention">Who are ‘the People’ in a People’s Constitutional Convention?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/academics-for-meaningful-debate/framing-ethnic-diversity-debate-as-about-threat-legitimises-hat-0">Framing ethnic diversity as a &#039;threat&#039; will normalise far-right hate, say academics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/remainers-dont-use-our-investigations-as-excuse">Remainers: don&#039;t use our investigations as an excuse </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jon-bloomfield/dangerous-road-to-divisive-places">Dangerous road to divisive places</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/cas-mudde/on-extremism-and-democracy-in-europe-three-years-later">On extremism and democracy in Europe: three years later</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/neal-lawson/brexit-citizens-assembly-rising-to-crisis-in-democracy">Brexit Citizens Assembly: rising to the United Kingdom&#039;s crisis in democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/rosemary-bechler/wherever-people-meet">Wherever people meet</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Rosemary Bechler Wed, 05 Dec 2018 18:32:03 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 120870 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The rest and the West: thoughts on Brexit and migration. Part One https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/rest-and-west-thoughts-on-brexit-and-migration-part-one <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Why the decisive political space for the Left is not Europe, but an inclusive democratic debate that alone can challenge the monocultural National Us. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37380152.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37380152.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Life jacket hung on Christopher Columbus monument in Barcelona as Oscar Camps, founder of Spanish ngo specialising in search and rescue at sea and Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona, attend press conference, July 4, 2018. Paco Freire/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>Invited to speak on migration and Brexit by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/caterina-di-fazio/agora-europe-disembarks-in-uk">Agora Europe</a>, there is one idea worth exploring in more detail, that I have been mulling over <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/carlos-delcl-s-rosemary-bechler-alex-sakalis/what-kind-of-hope-is-promise">since I interviewed Carlos Delclos</a> a social movement expert and activist based in Barcelona, in 2016.</p> <p>Carlos was talking about the 15M movement and rise to fame of Ada Colau, famous Mayor of Barcelona, and the role in this of the PAH, or Mortgage Victims’ anti-evictions platform set up in 2009, whose motto was “people living together, for one another”, and whose spokeswoman she became. This is what Carlos was saying about them:</p> <blockquote><p>“ <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plataforma_de_Afectados_por_la_Hipoteca"><em>The PAH</em></a><em> are in many ways the best migrant rights organisation in Spain, because they organise around a common need – housing – and say, “ I don’t care if you have got documents. If they try and evict you, I’m going to show up at your house to block it, if you will show up at mine when they try to evict us!” </em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p class="body"><em>That’s really the key to the success of the </em><em>indignados</em><em> and the situation in Spain right now, this ability to take hopelessness and make it about that vision! It’s not the vision of society that they propose ‘out there’, but the one that they put into practise which made the difference.<strong>”</strong></em></p></blockquote> <p>I’ve been thinking ever since about this mutual deal across boundaries, here the potentially noxious one between migrants and citizens – “I’m going to show up at your house… if you will show up at mine!”– and why it is such a stroke of genius. Barcelona is the only place where I have seen demonstrations calling on their government for the right to welcome more migrants in their midst, and I don't think this can be an accident. As Carlos said:</p> <blockquote><p class="body">“<em>The key to the </em><em>indignados</em><em> was how they organised in the midst of the hopelessness dominant in Spain prior to their emergence, pushing developments in a virtuous, subversive, emancipatory direction, as opposed to this game of, “How can we play with xenophobia without being xenophobic? ” which was going on in the rest of Europe. They said, “We have to be the protagonists of our own change. We have to break down borders in our own practise.” </em></p></blockquote> <p>There were other important borders and boundaries crossed too in this process of horizontal empowerment, as we learned from a PAH activist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/carlos-delcl%C3%B3s/victims-no-longer-spain%E2%80%99s-anti-eviction-movement">interviewed earlier in 2013</a>:</p> <blockquote><p><strong>“ </strong><em>Without a doubt, the PAH’s greatest success has been to empower people.&nbsp;These are men and women who at one point were sold on the idea that they were part of a middle class, and now realise that they are part of a much larger majority, which is the working class.&nbsp;One day they were just a number in the labour force and now, thanks to the PAH, they are activists who not only defend the right to decent housing but work with those they have met from other movements to weave the social fabric of their own communities…&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em>PAH people arrive at those local assemblies looking for a solution to their individual situation, but they quickly realise that through solidarity and civil disobedience, not only can they find solutions to their problems, but also that they are part of a community that is capable of largescale success.”<strong>&nbsp;</strong></em></p></blockquote> <p>By then, the 15M movement had helped launch 200 PAH groups throughout the country, enlisted the <a href="http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2013/02/16/actualidad/1361053281_008924.html">support </a>of up to 90% of Spain’s population, while stopping over 800 evictions, including in the impoverished neighbourhoods. When the Popular Party rejected a petition of 1.4 million signatures to change the archaic mortgage law, they started squatting housing blocks owned by financial firms and giving them to evicted families. Jordi Vaquer took up the story for us in 2014, pointing out that this form of empowerment scaled up very well: </p> <blockquote><p><em>“ </em><em>The signature action of the PAH was street action to stop evictions, but they have run the whole gamut of savvy, determined activism, from a popular legislative initiative to Congress; the occupation of untenanted, bank-owned apartments for evicted families; direct street pressure on Members of Parliament; action in provincial courts; successful strategic litigation before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg; permanent vigilance with regard to eviction threats and agitation online; to direct negotiations with banks, sometimes after occupying one of their offices or their empty houses</em><em>.” </em></p></blockquote> <p>And in June 2015, Ada Colau, PAH’s former founder and spokeswoman became Mayor of Barcelona, where she now runs a worldwide hub of connected ‘fearless cities’ –crossing national and continental boundaries, on a bigger scale, but still <em>living together: for one another.</em></p> <p>Why go on about this ‘signature action’ now much overtaken by events? It’s all rather simple at one level. The mutuality of it, its egalitarian nature, is refreshing: this is not setting out to ‘help migrants’ in the more familiar unidirectional way.&nbsp; And in that regard it is worth noting that this is something it has in common with conflict resolution processes designed to overcome enemy images. I <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/creativity-must-operate-across-borders">recently contrasted </a>‘safe spaces’ in the Irish ‘troubles’, where Protestants and Catholics met each other to explore ways out of violent conflict, with what goes by the name of ‘a safe space’ now. The same was true of those conflict resolution spaces: whatever the power imbalances between the parties, and regardless of the conflict raging outside, for the duration those present were equal.</p> <p>As decades of research into racial prejudice have shown, the most powerful way to get people to stop demonizing each other is to introduce them to one another. PAH too was a ‘contact sport’ in this regard. Sheer face-to-face contact and reciprocal solidarity allowed PAH activists of various kinds and class backgrounds to supersede Them and Us divides. It did this as well through complicating the narrative and widening the lens for all concerned, so that people who came in with an individual problem could soon see that they were part of a much wider picture. </p> <p>Again, <em>en passant,</em> it is worth our registering one of the essential advantages of radical municipalism in general – the “different scale” involved in “the politics of self-government in towns, cities, and city regions”– as Plan C put it in their <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/plan-c/radical-municipalism-demanding-future">inspiring pamphlet </a>, that allows radical municipalism to generate “direct citizen involvement.” </p> <h2><strong>Largescale success of altogether</strong> <strong>another kind </strong></h2> <p>Contrast this process of “direct citizen involvement”&nbsp; – its horizontal self-empowerment, its particular way of scaling up from the mobilised individual across borders and boundaries to achieve “largescale success” – with a very different way of constructing political community, which is the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/danger-of-nationalisms-today-four-part-essay-on-lethal-logic-of-">monocultural National Us</a>. &nbsp;</p> <p>In particular I am thinking about how in country after country, in Europe and elsewhere, under the leadership of nationalists and xenophobes, we can see the emergence of <em>aggrieved majorities</em>, encouraged by their political representatives to perceive themselves as the “real people”, the ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/danger-of-nationalisms-today-four-part-essay-on-lethal-logic-of-">National Us’</a>, unfairly victimised by some Other – let us say a few thousand migrants destitute on European shores whose arrival has triggered a major political crisis throughout the European Union. It seems as if a few desperate migrants are the only identity-forming ingredient required to construct this exacerbated or aggrieved majoritarianism on a major scale. </p> <p>The “real people” routinely get the numbers and impact of “the threat” wildly wrong, as they do the proportion of Muslims in the UK and elsewhere… but this is all part of the essential feature of this type of identification. At its core there is a hyperbolic, aggrandizing function – present, you could say, in direct proportion to the sense of political impotence and humiliation of those who benefit from such an imagined community. And what it takes to seal the deal with a national populist leader is an enemy image that allows the ‘National Us’ to feel simultaneously superior and under threat.</p> <p>Note too that this is not a sense of community predicated on citizen involvement. It has its activists to be sure. But it is first and foremost an experience within identity politics, an identification with a larger power that people who may feel humiliated, powerless or meaningless need to make personal sense of their lives. &nbsp;And it does this primarily by making them feel bigger than they are. Indeed the examples I can think of are often associated with the ‘People’s will’, a unitary category without internal disagreement that is deemed to represent and unite the “real people” of a nation, as opposed to “the others” in so many of our countries today.</p> <p>This is always about winning and losing. In profoundly unequal societies, the people involved in this form of identification seem convinced that they are winning only if someone else is losing out. This identification with the monocultural National Us can take several different forms. It can be:</p> <blockquote><p>-&nbsp; projected onto a strong leader full of derring do, not to mention impunity, who breaks any and all the rules we ourselves might have felt constrained by; </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>-&nbsp; the projected image of a lone wolf like Breivik whose own sense of humiliation receives what it needs from the aggrandizing hyperbole involved in saving the nation from itself, interestingly in his case by massacring the “multiculturalism” that undermines the “real people”;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>- or, more usual and taken for granted today, it could be an aggrieved and exacerbated majoritarianism – the fiction rising up in our midst, invariably encouraged by certain types of leaders, of a unitary “real people” over and against the “others”. </p></blockquote> <p>By contrast to the Barcelona conflict resolution effect, these identifications are proliferating machines for enemy images, and en route to violence.</p> <p>Take the UK. There has been ongoing debate about how much the nostalgic element of the Brexit vote owed to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/david-edgerton/why-does-left-ignore-british-nationalism-of-post-war-government">nationalism and how much to empire</a>. Anthony Barnett’s <a href="https://unbound.com/books/brexit/"><em>The Lure of Greatness</em></a><em>; England’s Brexit and America’s Trump</em> roots his explanation in a neat hybrid of the two, which, as it happens, adds a further variation on the type of aggrandizing hyperbole to those concerning us here. &nbsp;</p> <p>This is the author’s longstanding warning that England’s loss of faith in the once-glorious British project could become an enormously disruptive force, if the UK’s “long drawn-out constitutional and political impasse” is not resolved in a progressive way. </p> <p>Here it is the identification with nationhood made even more glorious by empire, that promises collective meaning in particular to English individuals who in themselves, for whatever reason – manufacturing decline, financial crash, globalisation, incomplete UK devolution – have no adequate means of democratic self-expression. A long-gestating series of rebuffs to the monocultural National Us from austerity to superdiversity, has led to a Brexit vote determined to “take back control”, on a wholly unanticipated tidal wave of humiliation.</p> <p>The response of May’s government to the EU referendum result, however, is even more striking in this regard. One can only admire the speed with which executive power grasped the need to fill the monocultural National Us vacuum with a replacement aggrandizing hyperbolic identification. In a country that has prided itself on parliamentary sovereignty since the seventeenth century, the move they came up with was an unprecedented invocation of the unitary ‘People’s will’, </p> <p>Albert Weale in his latest book, “<a href="https://www.ucl.ac.uk/european-institute/events/2018/oct/will-people-modern-myth">The Will of the People: a modern myth</a>” recalls what a particularly strange and important moment it was when the three judges who said that the UK government needed the approval of parliament to trigger Article 50 were declared “enemies of the people”. He writes: </p> <blockquote><p><em>“You need to take a deep breath before you even attempt to get your mind around the steps of this argument. It begins by equating the will of the people with the outcome of the referendum. It goes on to equate government policy with the referendum result.&nbsp; It ends up by equating government policy with the will of the people. In consequence, parliament becomes the enemy of democracy and has to be replaced with government by executive decree.” <br /></em></p></blockquote> <p>Weale is most concerned by the populist undermining of representative democracy, warning that the populist error that democracy means direct determination of government policy by the people all too often has the “paradoxical effect” of putting more power into the hands of the executive. &nbsp;Where Weale and I wholeheartedly agree is that at that moment, the democratic principle that “democracy is an institutionalised debate in which competing views are expressed within a set of rules” – is simply extinguished.</p> <p>But my interest here is in the hyperbolic or aggrandizing impact of this identification process on millions of people, whereby a slim advantage in a binary referendum immediately has conferred upon it the status of the will of the whole people, erasing all self-questioning, internal diversity, opposition or further debate. None of us will forget the incessant repetition of the phrase, “Brexit means Brexit”. Over two years later, when it is regrettably abundantly clear that nobody knows what Brexit means, we have gradually gathered what that phrase is really saying, in direct proportion to the lack of democratic articulation – “We don’t have to spell it out, but We Know Who We Are”.&nbsp; </p> <p>So what are the key points of contrast between the PAH signature action and this other way of constructing a community through a retreat to the “real people”, “people like us”? The monocultural ‘Us’ believes in its superior strength and relies on its superior force. It is rendered purposeful, not to mention unwavering, thanks to its:</p> <blockquote><p>- &nbsp;lack of openness to the Other, plus a ready capacity for enemy images</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>- &nbsp;victim sense of a National Us under threat of imminent destruction, </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>-&nbsp; arrogant sense of having the advantage of force on its side,</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>- &nbsp;lack of interest in diversity in its own ranks. </p></blockquote> <p>Think about it in this way, and it is not just the Leave campaign in the UK that is caught up in this logic. As <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/nick-inman/6-comforting-lies-about-brexit-and-why-hard-brexiteers-are-being-un-british">Nick Inman </a>wrote of the Remainers on openDemocracy: “<em>I have never heard anyone speak up for those who think the EU is a terrible thing but on balance, the UK should stay in for a little while longer and figure out the best course of action calmly.” </em></p> <p>So in Brexit Britain, we are seeing two such formations squaring off and in the process, pulling what is left of our democracy in the UK apart. Both are in these few important respects, mirror images of each other.</p> <p>In this type of majoritarianism, crucially, we hear very little about the respect for minorities that has always been held to be a litmus test for a healthy democracy; and very little of the need to reach accommodation with opposing views. Instead we hear much more about a strength in numbers – for example the call for a second referendum vote to ‘stop Brexit’ in its tracks, which seems to have succeeded at least temporarily in helping to reverse the 52% versus 48 % in the opposite direction. The latest independent poll result dramatically unveiled in the culmination of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKCrKtOsPNg">Channel 4’s Brexit debate</a> told us that we now stand at 46% leave to 54% remain. </p> <p>Unfortunately for our ever more deeply polarised nation, the concept of winning is still about force, whether of strong men or sheer strength in numbers. It is never about listening, let alone persuasion. By extension, it shuns both non-institutionalised and institutionalised forms of debate. </p> <p>Yet in the digital communications era, that fragmented era that leftists tend to mourn rather than set out to shape, aggrieved majoritarianism becomes a use of force potentially as lethal and divisive as identification with the strong man, or lone wolf identification with the nation. Its proliferating enemy images can lead to violence, as we learned so early on in this process, with the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP. We need something else. </p> <h2><strong>Horizontal empowerment vs. nihilistic governmentality</strong></h2> <p>My point is this. The really crucial feature of the PAH exercise, which became the 15M of the <em>indignados</em>, and brought Ada Colau to power, was that people in those horizontal movements of the squares learned to work across boundaries with the Other and other others, to achieve what they could do together; without these hyperbolic identifications which for a while persuade us that, united in our resolve, we constitute a single, unitary indomitable National Us. </p> <p>In the process, by comparison, people are cut down to size and returned to their own stature as highly diverse human beings, only to be mutually raised into empowerment by working together. Adapted for our communications age, this understanding of empowerment, the creation of a transformational agency through political interaction that we once called ‘people power’, may be the main if not the sole advantage that the left has today over and above the much readier balloonings of identification accompanying the rise of proto-neofascist “real peoples” in our midst. </p> <p>In the unseemly race to the bottom that is the game of winning and losing, Them and Us, how have we forgotten that all good relationships are predicated on mutual vulnerability not force, whether we are talking about conversation, friendship, love or community?&nbsp; The answer of course is fear, fears happily engendered in us by a political class in systemic crisis. </p> <p>As Bolsonaro takes over Brazil with 55% of the vote, his euphemistically-described ‘conservative policies’, economic liberalism and out and out violence, we see him joining Trump in moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, on the same day that Trump threatens to send 15,000 troops – a number roughly equivalent to the size of the US military presence in Afghanistan – to the US-Mexico border, whipping up vigilanteism through the fear of "invasion". Bannonite leaders cannot thrive in societies that are confident about crossing borders, and this is something that they understood very well some time ago.</p> <p>No democrat, left or right, can afford not to think about the implications of this for our democracies. And we are not just talking about weaponising physical borders.&nbsp; </p> <p>The clients of Cambridge Analytica and their ilk are willing to deploy predictive algorithms, psychometric messaging, with every intention of finishing democracy off. &nbsp;They do this through the calculated aggravation of prejudice leading to the proliferation of enemy images and toxic polarisation. </p> <p>As Alan Finlayson pointed out in his <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n10/alan-finlayson/brexitism">article on Brexitism</a> (LRB) in May, 2017, the politics of continuing referendums and recalls such men advocate are also aimed at stalling action by elected politicians and public service professionals alike, to leave the way clear for “a new kind of nihilistic governmentality”, where the ebb and flow of mood and opinion in big data can be surfed and any useful wave amplified, ballooned and capitalized upon. The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan/brexit-bankroller-arron-banks-cambridge-analytica-and-steve-bannon-expl">evidence is gathering </a>and has hardly been hidden for quite some time. Aaron Banks after all, did spell out for us his “very simple agenda: to destroy the professional politician”. </p> <p>So we on the left need to seize every opportunity to cultivate constructive and confident encounters with the Other. Much more than Vote we need Voice, and parliamentarians dedicated to guaranteeing inclusive, open democratic debate: we need a People’s Debate that can bring leavers and remainers together across the borders and barriers of age, class, race, geography, nation and ability, in the opening act of a historic and transformative process of citizen empowerment. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/rest-and-west-thoughts-on-brexit-and-migration-part-two">A People’s Vote won’t heal Brexit divisions – we need a People’s Debate</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan/brexit-bankroller-arron-banks-cambridge-analytica-and-steve-bannon-expl">Brexit bankroller Arron Banks, Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon – explosive emails reveal fresh links</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/carlos-delcl-s-rosemary-bechler-alex-sakalis/what-kind-of-hope-is-promise">What kind of hope is a promise?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/danger-of-nationalisms-today-four-part-essay-on-lethal-logic-of-">The danger of nationalisms today: a four-part essay on the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/nick-inman/6-comforting-lies-about-brexit-and-why-hard-brexiteers-are-being-un-british">6 Brexit myths – and why both Hard Brexiteers and Ultra Remainers are being un-British</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/creativity-must-operate-across-borders">Creativity must operate across borders</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/martin-shaw/truly-project-hate-third-scandal-of-official-vote-leave-campaign-headed-by-">Truly Project Hate: the third scandal of the official Vote Leave campaign headed by Boris Johnson</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/caterina-di-fazio/agora-europe-disembarks-in-uk">Agora Europe disembarks in the UK</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/caterina-di-fazio/agora-on-european-political-space-why-is-europe-decisive-politi">An agora on the European political space: why is Europe the decisive political space for the Left?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Brazil </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Brazil United States EU UK Spain Brexit Rosemary Bechler Sun, 18 Nov 2018 21:34:28 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 120596 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Creativity must operate across borders https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/creativity-must-operate-across-borders <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>DiEMVoice took to the stage at Central Saint Martins in London this October, to share its creative vision for Europe in a time of culture war. Short speech.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 08.22.42.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 08.22.42.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Delegate from Northumberland at Labour Party Conference. </span></span></span></p><p>It’s great that <a href="https://diem25.org/">DiEM25</a> and <a href="https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2018/10/04/diem-voice-presents-here-now-a-creative-vision-of-europe-with-brian-eno-srecko-horvat-danae-stratou-bobby-gillespie-rosemary-bechler-yanis-varoufakis-wednesday-10th-october-2018-7pm-plat/">DiEMVoice, our arts platform</a>, are here at Central Saint Martins tonight. I’ve been looking at your <em><a href="https://www.arts.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/42219/CSM-UAL-Creative-Unions-A-Call-To-Action-300317-PR.pdf">Creative Unions response</a></em> to the triggering of Article 50. And I think this call to demonstrate that creativity must operate across borders and boundaries couldn’t be a better starting point for us. </p> <p>I say this because I want to talk&nbsp; – not so much about the direct threat posed to our beleagured democracies by what Yanis rightly calls the nationalist neofascist international – as about its challenge to a cultural politics of self and other that I believe is all around us.</p> <p>Operating across boundaries is at the heart of this challenge. As <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/5050/moana-genevey/divisive-populists-obstacle-womens-rights">Inna Shevchenko</a>, the exiled Ukrainian leader of FEMEN says, “Democracy is not only about counting silent hands… it is about allowing the confrontation of different opinions; many, many voices; about public debates, discussions and disagreements too.”&nbsp; These are ‘discussions and disagreements’ where people listen to each other, and may change their minds about what is the right or the winning position, because, as Shevchenko says, “We all have multiple identities and we also have multiple answers.”</p> <p>She contrasts this with the way that rightwing populists and extreme nationalists aim instead to divide society “by reducing people to only one identity, only one adjective; by creating clashes between groups, groups that live in the same way, think in the same way, practise their religion in the same way. Then, they claim to represent these groups, manipulating societies by playing on the fear and insecurity of individuals.”</p> <p>The truth is that the Bannonite leaders of Europe cannot thrive in societies that are confident about crossing borders. &nbsp;If “Brexit means Brexit”, it is because the ‘people’s will’, this unitary sovereign will they are so fond of invoking, must be beyond question or change. The Bannonites only thrive in a profoundly unequal Us and Them society, secured from its enemies without and within by the strong man who can act with impunity, breaking all the rules on behalf of the ‘real people’, people who are only readily convinced that they are winning if someone else is losing out.</p> <p>Take a recent classic example <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/sara-garbagnoli/matteo-salvini-renaturalizing-racial-and-sexual-boundaries-of-dem">from Italy</a>. This August, using his loudspeaker, a train conductor ordered “gypsies and molesters” to get off the train on the grounds that they were “pissing off” the other passengers, presumably the ‘real passengers’. &nbsp;As a public official he was picking up on the wishes of Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, who had recently announced his intention of opening a file on the Roma people, regretting having “to keep” ones holding Italian citizenship, as he put it. Matteo Salvini now promptly returns the compliment on his Facebook page, by publicly naming the passenger who had reported this discriminatory act, and calling instead for support for the official. As a result, the passenger received <em>more than 50,000</em> messages – the usual mixture of sarcastic, intimidating and menacing.</p> <p>For DiEM25, the passenger operating across boundaries is the imaginative democrat here, a victory in itself against the Nationalist International. But what of the 50,000, a force proliferating enemy images and <em>en route</em> to violence? If we are to reinvent our democratic cultures, we need the skills to be able to reach out across those boundaries and change people’s minds. And for that, my premise is that we need a culture of “openness and generosity” that acknowledges vulnerability as a strength. </p> <p>This is why I am concerned at the shift in the meaning of the ‘safe space’ that has taken place in my lifetime. During the euphemistically-called ‘Irish troubles’, a ‘safe space’ was the place where brave Catholic and Protestant individuals, and the very brave people who brought them together, would meet to work out a better way forward than violent conflict. In these conflict resolution spaces, whatever the power imbalances between the parties, and regardless of the conflict raging outside, for the duration those present were equal. They were mutually vulnerable, face to face and crossing boundaries to overcome the enemy images and change each others’ minds. &nbsp;How different is the ‘safe space of today’? – an identity politics that demands recognition and state protection for socio-economic groups unjustly marginalised, by securing them <em>from the Other</em>, in a borderless space free from threatening conflict, criticism, or too unsettling debate.</p> <p>Of course inequality creates far too many victims in our societies today, but this victim culture worries me. Because the nationalists and the xenophobes are all too quick to capitalise on the worst aspects of a securitising relationship to the Other, with its repertoire of anger, authenticity, truth-speaking and public presence and its retreat to ‘people like us’. Writ large, under their leadership, we can see in country after country the emergence of <em>aggrieved majorities</em>, encouraged by their political representatives to perceive themselves as the real people, the ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/danger-of-nationalisms-today-four-part-essay-on-lethal-logic-of-">National Us’</a>, unfairly victimised by some Other – let us say a few thousand migrants destitute on European shores whose arrival has triggered a major political crisis throughout the European Union.</p> <p>In renewing our democratic culture, our strength will never rely on force, whether the force of numbers or the strong man with his warlike qualities, but in sharing time and time again the creativity, and yes the pleasure and joy that is released in that moment when we are not frightened of the multiple identities and multiple answers in each of us. Theatre people surely know this in their core, because theatre happens in those spaces between the different worlds that people are. “Even in political theatre”, as Harold Pinter said in his famous <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2005/pinter/25621-harold-pinter-nobel-lecture-2005/">Nobel lecture</a>: </p> <p>“The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will.”</p> <p>That is why I urge you tonight, in your Call to Action, don’t move too swiftly to what binds us together in the Creative Union. Let us instead freezeframe the previous precious moment, which is the crossing of geographical borders, social borders, borders of all kinds – that openness to what is different when the outcome hangs in the balance for all, when – as I believe creatives know – whole new worlds can appear.</p> <p>That is a pluralist democratic culture, one sorely needed back here in Brexit Britain, where two aggrieved majoritarian National Us’s have been so busy tearing our political fabric apart.&nbsp; </p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***</p> <p>I end with a suggestion. I don’t know if any of you saw that interesting moment at Labour Party conference when a young delegate from Northumberland, confronting a sea of enthusiastic Remainer activists fresh from an impressive demonstration on the Liverpool seafront, was the first speaker to come out clearly against the People’s Vote. He said: </p> <p>“Delegates should remember what people feel about a ‘people’s vote’ in places like my constituency in Blyth Valley <em>where we voted overwhelmingly to leave</em><em>.</em> I am not against Europe. I myself am a European, from a third generation Polish refugee family expelled after the war. But now I believe the European Union to be a capitalist club that is for the few, not the many.</p> <p>“I implore you all, come to Blyth Valley, go to Bowes Court where the buildings are crumbling behind St. Wilfrid’s Catholic church. Go to Cowpen ward. Tell <em>them</em> why you want us to remain, and go to Kitty Brewster, where for too long they’ve felt marginalised <em>like they have not had their voices heard</em>.” (my italics)</p> <p>Here’s my idea. Why can’t we say, yes? Let us cross the boundaries between Us and Them, geographical, class, age barriers and so many other borders. Let’s bring the metropolitan Remainers to Bowes Court, St Wilfrid’s Catholic church, Cowpen ward, so that we can all get to know each other better. </p> <p>Let’s ask ourselves why neither side in the Brexit debate and none of the main political parties, have ever thought to propose and enable this – why they incite us, scare us or maybe just manage us – but never invite us onto the stage of history to meet each other and change each others’ minds, confident that our differences can be mutually revealing and that we Leavers and Remainers can build a better future together? </p> <p>It is my belief that we will never renew our democracies until we the people, in all<strong> </strong>our diversity, come onto that stage of history in our own right, once and for all. I’m hoping that you will agree that this is a job worthy of the best creative minds. And thank you for listening.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/danger-of-nationalisms-today-four-part-essay-on-lethal-logic-of-">The danger of nationalisms today: a four-part essay on the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/chantal-mouffe-rosemary-bechler/left-populism-over-years-chantal-mouffe-in-conversation-with-rosemar">Left populism over the years</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/rosemary-bechler/dangers-of-illiberalism-call-for-pluralist-state">The dangers of illiberalism call for a pluralist state</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU UK Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Internet Rosemary Bechler DiEM25 Sat, 13 Oct 2018 07:24:47 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 120079 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Left populism over the years https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/chantal-mouffe-rosemary-bechler/left-populism-over-years-chantal-mouffe-in-conversation-with-rosemar <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A conversation about the rise of the right-wing since the turn of the century, what this tells us about liberal democracy, and the deepening of democracy needed in response.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35999180.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35999180.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protesters at an "anti-Macron" demonstration organized by La France Insoumise in Marseille, April, 2018. Chagnard Guillaume/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em><strong>Rosemary Bechler, openDemocracy (RB)</strong>: </em><em>Chantal, this is exactly twenty years after my last interview with you.</em><em><em>Thank you for giving me this chance to talk to you on the occasion of the most recent reformulation of your project, published this year in </em><a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2748-for-a-left-populism">For A Left Populism (Verso)</a>.<em> </em>I am intrigued to find out from you how you think your thinking has moved on in the intervening years. But the first thing I want to do is to acknowledge the considerable success with which twenty years ago you envisaged the crisis of democracy that we would be encountering today.&nbsp; </em></p> <p><em>In 1998, it was five years after you had published the first edition of </em>The Return of the Political<em> and six since </em>Dimensions of Radical Democracy: Pluralism, Citizenship, Community<em>. In those works you already anticipated the rise of the radical right in several European countries. At the time you only really had Austria’s Freedom Party in your sights, as well of course as the advance of Le Pen père in France. But you saw these as symptoms of the deep crisis of political identity which liberal democracy was facing. What impressed me then was that your call was not for the demise of liberal democracy, but an urgent invitation to rework liberal democracy in ways that can overcome precisely these types of crisis.</em></p> <p><em>At that time you were talking about the triangulation experiments of New Labour and Clinton’s Democrats in the United States, and how they had removed the conflict between left and right that is an essential component of modern democracy. You argued that doing this had precipitated an archetypal failure in democratic politics; that “the political in its antagonistic dimension” was bound to manifest itself in other channels as a result; and you suggested that conflict would arise from other types of collective identity, around religious, nationalist or ethnic forms of identification. </em></p> <p><em>You were rather scathing at the end of the twentieth century about the distracting new types of obsession with the corruption and/or the sex lives of politicians. And of course, neither of those obsessions has proved to be a passing fad. But what I remember best is that you quoted Elias Canetti approvingly when he said that “the parliamentary system exploits the psychological structure of struggling armies” – struggles in which “the contending parties renounce killing”, and warned that unless a real leftwing emerged, there would be an “explosion of antagonisms unmanageable by the democratic process”, fraught with non-negotiable moral values and essentialist forms of identification.</em></p> <p><em>Looking back on the intervening decades, would you agree that your entire opus has been very much influenced historically by witnessing the deep-structural construction of a Thatcherite hegemony, a process thinkers like Stuart Hall were grappling with for the left, and the failure subsequently of the UK's New Labour to produce any kind of counter-hegemony. Wasn’t this a key founding challenge for your thinking on what would become “left populism”?</em></p> <p><strong>Chantal Mouffe (CM):</strong> But I would want to go back a bit earlier! It’s very important to begin with the theoretical approach I outlined with Ernesto Laclau in 1985, in <a title="Hegemony and Socialist Strategy" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegemony_and_Socialist_Strategy"><em>Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics</em></a><em><span>.</span></em><em> </em>This informed all my subsequent reflections and as always in my work, that book was both theoretical and political in design. We were thinking in a particular conjuncture: the crisis of the post-war Keynesian welfare state and the rise of neoliberalism with Thatcherism. We were concerned by the incapacity of left politics to take account of a series of movements that had emerged in the wake of the 1968 revolts and that were the expression of resistances which could not be formulated in class terms.</p> <p>We felt that this was due to an epistemological obstacle in the thinking of the left, which we referred to as “class essentialism”. For both Marxists and social democrats, albeit in slightly different ways, the idea was that class interests would determine your political subjectivity. In Marxism, the main contradiction is the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and everything needs to be organised around class positions. I remem­ber when we feminists were discussing such questions with left politicians, some of them would say: “Yes that’s very important, but first you know, let’s make the revolution, and then we’ll see what we can do.” You probably remember that particular stage in capitalist patriarchy… Or some would say, “Those are just petit-bourgeois concerns.” That, I would say, was the starting point! So our original question was a political one: how could socialism be redefined to be able to integrate the demands of the new social movements? We proposed that socialism be redefined as a radicalization of democracy.</p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>And it was the same with gay politics, anti-racism – you name it. Something else went with that denial, didn’t it ? If it was the case that one’s subjectivity was entirely based in one’s class position, then all that needed to happen is that the truth of that defining relationship needed to be pointed out to you... and you would recognise it.</em></p> <p><strong>CM:</strong> Yes you needed to tell workers who didn’t see this that they had “false consciousness”. Examining this question, we came to the conclusion that it was this class essentialism that was the problem. </p> <p>So we decided that it was necessary to develop a new anti-essentialist approach and this we did by combining insights from post-structuralism and from the thinking of Antonio Gramsci. That was <em>Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics,</em> developed in a particular conjuncture, the crisis of social democratic hegemony, But as I wrote in <em>For A Left Populism</em>, today 33 years later, we are in a moment of another crisis, that of neoliberal hegemony. </p> <p>Of course, the social democratic crisis of that time had its economic determinants, but there was also political failure on the part of the Labour Party of that time, to resist Thatcherism.</p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>In 1998, you told me, “Blair represents a kind of Thatcher with a human face rather than any real attempt to create a new hegemony, to transform the relations of power… Neoliberalism is the only game in town.”&nbsp; </em></p> <p><strong>CM:</strong> Yes. Thatcher was able to construct a new, different hegemony. And from 1997 to 2010, New Labour made no attempt at all to counter this. In a Soundings article in 1998 called&nbsp; ‘A Politics Without Adversary’, I indeed referred to New Labour as ‘Thatcherism with a Human Face.” &nbsp;Later, in 2005, in <em>On the Political</em> I examined in much more detail how not only New Labour, but all the social democratic parties throughout Europe, had indeed accepted this model. I was concerned then with what I saw as a Europe-wide neoliberal hegemony. </p> <p>This then was another conjuncture, the moment of Blair and Schröder and their theorists Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck – the moment of the Third Way in which they defended the idea that the adversarial model of politics had been overcome, that antagonism had disappeared, and that as Blair said, we are all middle class now. In between, of course, there had been 1989, the fall of the Soviet Union, and Francis Fukuyama was talking about the end of history. At that time, I was really going against the current, because they were celebrating this evolution saying, “ Democracy is becoming more mature!” and I was claiming that it was a danger for democracy because there was no place any more for the exercise of popular sovereignty.&nbsp; <span class="mag-quote-center">They were saying, “Democracy is becoming more mature!”</span></p> <p>By the way, I have a particular understanding of the term, ‘popular sovereignty’. I don’t believe that popular sovereignty can ever really be put into practise – Hans Kelsen, the Austrian jurist, legal philosopher and author of the 1920 Austrian Constitution, used to say it was a “totemic mask”. What <em>I </em>mean when I invoke the term is that people need to feel that they have a voice, that when they go to vote in an election, they have a real choice. But because there was now no difference between centre right and centre left; because these parties agreed that there was no alternative to neoliberal globalisation; it meant that politics had been reduced to a question of technical decisions that should be taken by experts. So people simply didn’t have a voice. I was warning that this had created the terrain for the rise of rightwing popular parties. </p> <p>I was going regularly to Austria at the time and was very interested in the trajectory &nbsp;of Jorg Haider. At that moment there were only two important rightwing popular parties in existence: Haider’s Austrian Freedom Party and Le Pen’s Front National in France. There was also the Flemish Vlaams Blok…</p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>But there wasn’t much else and you said that there would be.</em></p> <p><strong>CM:</strong>&nbsp; Exactly. And I have been proven right. People can’t believe that I wrote about this at the turn of the century. They say, “Really, but it is so pertinent for today!” However, at the time, people used to tell me that there was something wrong with my argument and that I only had to look at what was happening in Britain, where there was no rightwing popular party. I said, “No, that’s true. But I think the conditions are ripe for the emergence of such a party.” Of course you need a leader, but the terrain was there. The other example they used was Germany: yes, but now they have got the AfD.</p> <p>I am absolutely convinced that the current growth of rightwing populist parties is linked to the consensus of the centre and the lack of agonistic debate. In my view, those who are responsible for this situation are the social democrats. <span class="mag-quote-center">Those who are responsible for this situation are the social democrats.</span></p> <p>Those are the parties who abandoned the popular classes. It was inevitable, the minute that they began to believe that there was no alternative to neoliberal globalisation, a process as we know in which there are losers and winners – and the losers are the popular classes. In every single country, the social democrats ceased to have any language to address the problems that emerged for them. So they abandoned them and they decided to concentrate all their efforts on the middle class. </p> <p>This was quite visible in France, for example, because this abandonment was clearly spelt out. The think tank, Terra Nova, considered close to the French Socialist Party, announced that, “The working class are lost to us. They will not vote for us any more. We should concentrate on the middle classes and on the immigrants” – because the immigrants are of course less likely to vote for Le Pen. Naturally, if you have that kind of attitude, the popular classes are going to look somewhere else.</p> <p>In a sense you don’t expect the right to take care of the interest of the workers. So this is why I am saying that it was the social democrat turn to the right which was at the origin of the development of rightwing populism.</p> <h2><strong>For A Left Populism</strong></h2> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>Let us move on then to the argument for a left populism. As you write about it now, it is to be understood as a “discursive structure between the people and the oligarchy”. In the ‘populist moment’ that we are now in, you maintain that this is the type of politics needed to recover and deepen democracy. And that it is because of the “variety of democratic demands that exist today” that you have gone beyond the left/right dichotomy, to find this new frontier capable of articulating the collective will…. Could you explain?</em></p> <p><strong>CM:</strong>&nbsp; OK, let me try. In order to understand left populism, you need to locate yourself within a specific theoretical approach. The first premise is what I call the dissociative approach towards the political. What is the political? There are two ways to define it. There is the associative view which says that the political is the domain of liberty, of acting in common, and where you should try to establish consensus – the view dominant in liberal democratic political theory, and here I am taking the term liberal in its very broadest sense. Habermas is a liberal in this sense. Then there is the dissociative view which says that politics has to do with conflict and antagonism, which is a very specific type of conflict. Antagonism is a type of conflict which does not have a rational solution. So it is not a question of sitting and discussing and discussing. This is why I am critical of deliberative democracy! In politics there are sometimes tragic choices to be made, because a decision has to be made in an undecidable terrain. The pluralism of values which for me is crucial for a pluralist democracy reaches a point where we can’t reconcile positions any further, and we have to make a choice. </p> <p>This is why for me, politics is inherently partisan. I inscribe myself in this dissociative view alongside Machiavelli, one of my heroes. He used to say that the people is divided between opposing <em>humori (</em>humours), those of the <em>popolo (common people) </em>and the <em>grandi (great) – “ </em>Their interests are incompatible.”&nbsp; </p> <p>It means that politics has to do with how you establish a frontier between the Us and the Them, and that politics always has to do with collective identities. This doesn’t mean that US and Them are always going to be enemies. They could just be different. There is an important principle inscribed in the model of the structural linguist Saussure, who said that identities are always relational. Saussure said that the term ‘mother’ could not be understood if it was not in a particular relation with ‘father’, ‘son’ and so forth. So you never have an identity whose essence is given independently of relationship and context. In the field of politics, where we are always dealing with collective identities, those identities are also relational. Us is always in relation to some Them. The crucial question is, how to establish the political frontier between them. <span class="mag-quote-center">Politics is inherently partisan.</span> </p> <p>For the liberal – liberalism in the philosophical sense – there is no frontier, no antagonism. Theirs is a pluralism which is not located in the dissociative conception of the political. Marxism does establish a frontier, but the frontier is constructed between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. And this is where we come to the point about left and right. </p> <p>Many people, including Marxists, believe that left and right describes interests that are already given and that the conflict is between those interests. Today, with the transformation of capitalism, we can’t confine ourselves to the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. We said this already in <em>Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) </em>and were roundly criticised for those views<em>. </em>When Blair and Giddens were heralding the end of the adversarial model, they were right in one regard, that you could no longer divide up society, the field of conflict, in the traditional way.&nbsp; Their mistake was to say there was no more fundamental conflict. </p> <p>In fact, the frontier needs to be established differently from the way it is in the model of the class struggle. This is what populism does, it draws the frontier to accommodate the variety of democratic demands that exist today. In Ernesto Laclau’s book, ‘On Populist Reason’ (2007) he said that in fact populism is basically a discursive strategy to establish the political frontier between the under-dog and the oligarchy. So populism is a different way of doing politics that cannot be conceptually understood independently of a dissociative sense of the political.</p> <p>However, there are many different ways of constructing the populist frontier. All depends on how you construct the people on the one hand and the oligarchy on the other. We are not referring here to terms with a specific empirical referent. These are two political constructions. And when we say the people, there are many different social sectors with heterogeneous demands…</p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>And they all experience subordination.</em></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Yes exactly, but ‘the people’ has to be constructed from these heterogeneous demands. I hope you don’t mind my taking the, for me, paradigmatic example of France: the rightwing populism of Marine Le Pen and leftwing populism of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. For Marine Le Pen, the people is constructed very much in terms of the French National Us, and of course the Them is the immigrants, seen as a danger because they are represented as those who are taking away our jobs and our privileges.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36109073.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-36109073.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President of the French far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen attends a protest rally against the French government's immigration policies, April, 2018. NurPhoto/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>But isn’t the meritocratic élite also the enemy for Marine Le Pen’s ‘people’ ?</em><strong></strong></p><p><strong>CM:</strong> Yes, but it is not what interests me. In the case of Marine Le Pen, I am particularly interested in the popular sectors that she has been able to win over. They are the ones I think who need to be won back, which is where I have a disagreement with people who say that it is unthinkable that the people who voted for Marine Le Pen would ever vote for Mélenchon. This is totally wrong. In fact we have seen in the last election Mélenchon win in Marseille, a stronghold of Marine Le Pen. Another interesting example is François<em> </em>Ruffin who won in Amiens, also in a stronghold of Marine Le Pen: so these people can be won back. Didier Eribon’s <em>Returning to Reims </em>is particularly interesting on the reverse direction of conversion, from the Communist Party to the National Front – do you know it? </p><p><em><strong>RB: </strong>Yes, I’m a great fan of that book</em>.</p> <p><strong>CM:</strong> Eribon’s family, when he goes back home thirty years later to Reims, feel abandoned by the socialists and the communists, who they think no longer represent their interests. Those are the people who need to be won back.</p> <p><em><strong>RB:</strong> But isn’t it interesting the way that Didier Eribon precisely escapes from Reims into the meritocratic élite, where he is ashamed to own up to his own background until he reconciles himself to a ‘second coming out’?</em></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Yes, he escaped, but he remains a leftwinger, a very active leftwinger! But to get back to the difference between leftwing populism and rightwing populism, basically of course they have got something in common, which is that they draw the frontier in a ‘transversal’ way, by which I mean that they cut across different social groups. You can see this when Podemos says, “We don’t only want to speak to the people who consider themselves as being on the left and who always vote left. We also want to win to our cause people who have been traditional voters for the Partido Popular, because they are also suffering from these neoliberal policies and they can be won over.” </p> <p>In this regard I have to say that I feel that on one side the situation today is much worse than the situation when we wrote <em>Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, </em>because in the mid-1980’s the institutions of the welfare state were still very much in place. Now, so much of that has been dismantled. But on the other hand, the potentialities are greater for the construction of a progressive collective will. In particular, as a consequence of the 2008 financial crisis and the policies of austerity, we are living through the process of what I call the oligarchisation of our societies. The gulf has grown between the small group of the very rich and the popular classes and growing sectors of the middle classes that have also entered into a process of &nbsp;pauperisation and precarisation. That is a very new phenomenon. It means that the conditions of those middle classes are now much more similar to the popular classes In that sense, the constituencies for a progressive, emancipatory, radical democratic project – whatever you want to call it – are potentially greater. What is most important is to have a political project that will try to articulate the demands of the precarious middle class together with the demands of the popular sector, with the LGBT demands, the anti-racist demands and so forth.</p> <p>My argument is that today we are seeing a lot of resistances to what I call post-democracy in our societies. When I speak of post-democracy I refer to two distinct features, the phenomenon of the ‘Third way’ post-politics that I examined in <em>On the Political</em>, and a much more recent second phenomenon which is oligarchisation. Many resistances to the latter are observable and can be expressed in many different ways. </p> <p>In fact I think it is interesting here to draw an analogy with the situation analysed by Karl Polanyi in his book, <em>The Great Transformation, </em>published in 1944. In it he used his theory of the ‘double movement’ to show how you were seeing throughout Europe at that time a lot of resistances against the processes of commodification that had been taking place there since the beginning of the century. He also saw the rise of fascism and Nazism as ‘resistances’, but not only these. So you have the hegemony of a model which creates a lot of resistances – Polanyi described this as a ‘counter-movement’ – but one which could take many different progressive as well as reactionary forms. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, for instance, was a progressive resistance against the same process.&nbsp; I think we have a similar double movement today. The populist movement is a series of resistances against neoliberal globalisation. But those resistances can be articulated in a regressive or progressive way. <span class="mag-quote-center">I think we have a similar double movement today.</span></p> <p>I have been accused of presenting these resistances as if they were all against neoliberalism. I do want to say that all those resistances are resistances against the post-democratic situation – these are people who feel that the values of democracy – popular sovereignty, equality, and so forth, have disappeared. My argument is that this post-democracy is indeed a consequence of the hegemony of neoliberal globalisation. But I am not saying that all those resistances are necessarily resistances against neoliberalism. It is one thing to say that these are resistances against post-democracy, and post-democracy a consequence of neoliberalism; and quite another to say that they are all resisting neoliberalism. In fact, many rightwing populist resistances are not questioning the hegemony of neoliberalism at all. </p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>Quite the reverse: we have Trump, Orbán, Erdoğan</em><em>, Salvini and Five Star promoting neoliberal policies while Macron mobilizes xenophobia. But this raises for me the huge difficulty of being able to distinguish between right and left populism. </em></p> <p><em>In ‘For A Left Populism’ when you are talking about the critical role played by the signifier ‘democracy’ in the political imaginary, you advocate the Gramscian idea of “making critical” already existing activity in liberal democracy, rather than, say, calling for its abandonment. But didn’t Goebbels and Mussolini in the early stages of their rise to power precisely “make critical” the shortfall in post–democracy too? Didn’t they also “transform relations of subordination into sites of an antagonism.” And indeed moving to examples rather closer to home, didn’t Theresa May and Donald Trump in their inaugural speeches, follow exactly the same formula when they spoke of “</em><em>shifting the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people…” and “transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.” </em></p> <p><em>So my question is, how do people who are third parties observing all this to begin to distinguish between left and right populism when much of the vocabulary and many of the postures are identical?</em><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>CM:</strong> You are right – those speeches were pure rightwing populism. But I don’t think it is so difficult to distinguish between them. First let me insist that all those resistances are a reaction against post-democracy. They are democratic resistances and they constitute a cry from the people. They want to have a say. And of course May and Trump respond, as Jorg Haider was already doing in those early years of the rightwing rise – “I’m going to give power back to you, the people”.</p> <p>But of course the key thing here is who are you going to establish as the adversary, the Them? “Who has taken that away from you?” In the case of rightwing populism in general &nbsp;it is the immigrants. “You don’t have a say because of the immigrants.” Mélenchon on the other hand, says, “You don’t have a say thanks to the forces of neoliberal globalisation.” So the way that you construct the adversary is decisive. </p> <p>But there is something else, and this is very important I think. It is the role played by equality in these discourses. I have studied the discourse of Marine Le Pen in some detail, and equality does not play a significant role in what she says. To be sure, at one stage she was much more on the left in her discourse than François Hollande. She was defending the welfare state and very critical of neoliberalism. But she never mobilised the idea of equality. “The welfare state – but only for the French!” That was her discourse. For Jean Luc Mélenchon, the immigrants are a part of the French people. And on the other side are the forces of the political and economic élites who sustain neoliberalism. <span class="mag-quote-center">“The welfare state – but only for the French!”</span></p><p>For me the central criterion is the role that equality plays in the discourse, because in a sense both leftwing and rightwing proclaim that they are going to give a voice back to the people. That is true. But when I speak of post-democracy, the two main values of democracy under attack are popular sovereignty and equality. The rightwing populist wants to recover the popular sovereignty for the National Us, but they don’t mobilise for equality. That is the crucial missing factor. </p><p><em><strong>RB: </strong>To pursue this notion of equality, can we dig a little more into how the left populist political project articulates the demands of the people in a way that can overcome its divisions and conflicts of class, gender, or ethnicity? I would like to explore your concept of the ‘chains of equivalence’, by comparing this with a memorable moment in an interview I did with Jean Luc Mélenchon in 2013. This was the year before he published </em>L’Ère du Peuple<em>, and of course he has hugely changed his political vocabulary since then. But at the time, talking about the left, he said:</em></p> <blockquote><p>“Our left is above all cultural. It's a very extensive cultural continent, with many different landscapes, hills, valleys… This image allows me to say that political reconstruction will take place on the ‘broadest cultural field’ and not on strictly political themes. And we try to traverse this broader cultural field looking for where there are overlaps.”</p></blockquote> <p><em>At this point he illustrated his thesis by taking up a series of three overlapping table napkins and continued:</em></p> <blockquote><p>“We take our bearings from the great cultural hegemonies, identities, reference points in France. For example, you're for laicité. You support secularism and are not interested in anything else. You couldn’t care less about right or left. Now, there is a second person who is for sharing.You can't be happy when there are unhappy people. Then, the next person is for equality, and in particular cannot bear inequality between men and women. So there are three landscapes and one place in which all three overlap. If you are here [in the overlap], you are Front de Gauche - if you are here [outside the overlap], it’s something else. I don't have contempt for you, but this is different. The ideological strategy of the Front de Gauche is to reconstruct French cultural hegemony in the Gramscian sense, and to rebuild it together.”</p></blockquote> <p><em>Was it this search for the overlap that moved Mélenchon out of the left that he used to occupy? And was this an adequate illustration of ‘the chains of equivalence’ that I was being treated to here? </em></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Clearly he is speaking here of transversality and the need to articulate a series of different demands.&nbsp; And he is still saying that. The only difference now is that he is saying that he doesn’t want to make reference to the left, and this is the same with Podemos in Spain as I mentioned. In the book which <a title="Íñigo Errejón" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%8D%C3%B1igo_Errej%C3%B3n">Íñigo Errejón</a> and I wrote together in 2016, this was the only point of disagreement. “In Spain”, Íñigo said, “you are not going to win people by saying, ‘I’m on the left.’ No! There are too many negative connotations.” And I think in France today, Mélenchon would say the same: when you speak of the left in France, people think of François Hollande! That is the left! Several people in La France Insoumise have told me, “ When we campaign, we can’t present ourselves as being left, because we will be rejected.” But they acknowledge that they come from a left tradition...</p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>Isn’t it the case that Mélenchon’s electorate is clearly leftwing, the young and the working class who don’t vote, and people attracted in the first place by a leftwing social democratic programme?</em></p> <p><strong>CM</strong>: Of course – so this is pragmatic and only about what label to use. But basically, although he doesn’t use the term, ‘chains of equivalence’, we are talking about how to construct ‘the people’ for a left populist strategy. Left populism is not a regime, it is a discursive strategy of construction of the political frontier. I have to insist on this. If, for instance, La France Insoumise comes to power, they will not be installing a left populist regime – there is no such thing!&nbsp; Or let us come back to Trump. Trump, most definitely ran a populist campaign. But his regime is not populist. <span class="mag-quote-center">Trump... ran a populist campaign. But his regime is not populist.</span></p> <p>So you can see that basically left populism is a way to construct a people, and to create the conditions for a new hegemony. Once that is in place, then, of course, this new hegemony must be reoriented around the recovery and deepening of democracy – since you are in the business of defeating post-democracy. This is when I suppose it will be possible to see the difference between rightwing populism and leftwing populism. Both of them pretend that they are going to recover democracy and give a voice to the people. But the way in which rightwing populists recover this democracy is to restrict it to the nationals, whereas leftwing populism recovers democracy in order to deepen and extend it.</p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>But let me push you for a little more detail now. In your latest book, you quote Ernesto Laclau as saying: “ Each individual demand is constitutively split: on the one hand it is its own particularised self; on the other it points through equivalential links to the totality of the other demands.” </em>&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Mélenchon’s napkin demonstration said that all three demands had to come together into an identical idea in the Front du Gauche. Whereas, it seems to me that it is absolutely essential that a leftwing deepening of democracy is about a mutual, pluralist empowerment, and that is not the same thing as everybody now united behind the same demand against the oligarchy, is it? </em></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>No, of course not. But I don’t think that is what Mélenchon meant and it is not what we argue. This is something I have tried to explain. It is in fact a running debate that I have with Didier Eribon who is very worried that when we talk about articulating the different demands, what we will actually do is to homogenise them. He is very Foucauldian in this regard, and I remember that we had the same discussion in the Foucault journal MF with which I was involved. &nbsp;We insisted, and I still insist, on the necessity to acknowledge the specificity of feminism. But, at the same time, and this is my Gramscian side, I insisted on the need to enter into a chain of equivalence with other struggles. But a chain of equivalence is not simply a rainbow coalition in which you put different struggles next to each other. There can be conflicts between democratic struggles and they need to be articulated. This requires the construction of new subjectivities. <span class="mag-quote-center">A chain of equivalence is not simply a rainbow coalition.</span></p> <p>This is one reason why I am critical of the ‘multitude’ in the work of Hardt and Negri, because they take it for granted that all those elements of the multitude converge. And we are saying, no, they do not converge automatically, and indeed in many cases they are in contradiction, because the demands of women can conflict with those of labour for example. So you need to construct ways of formulating each demand so that a chain of equivalence is established: and it is equivalence we are after, not identity. What they have got in common is the common adversary. And what unites those very different constituencies is the need to prevail against that adversary. </p> <p>Margaret Thatcher for example won over a section of the working class, the elements of the labour aristocracy you might say. People don’t like to talk about that, but she did. And she did it by saying to those workers that she&nbsp; understood their problems, but that they were caused by the feminists whose insistence on women entering the labour market were taking their jobs. The same with the immigrants. So the aim of those in power is always to divide, and to prevent unity from forming among the oppressed.</p> <p>What is important is that when you construct an alliance, women, for example, do&nbsp; formulate their demands in such a way that they cannot be satisfied simply by pushing the burden onto the immigrants, who will then be the ones to lose out. </p> <p><em><strong>RB:</strong> As in Saskia Sassen’s unforgettable concept of the Global Woman to refer to those immigrants worldwide who increasingly do the caring in advanced societies…</em></p> <p><strong>CM</strong>: That’s right. But you see what is crucial in each case is creating new forms of subjectivity. </p> <p><em><strong>RB:</strong> And in this process, wouldn’t you agree that it is not just a question of finding the common enemy, but that this enemy in common gets more deeply characterised as you begin to put together, for example, the experience of oppression of people in work, with insights into patriarchy both from the feminists and from gay activists. These combine to give us a new and indeed deeper sense of the role of the family for example in the reproduction of the system. </em><span class="mag-quote-center">It is equivalence we are after, not identity.</span></p> <p><strong>CM:</strong> Finding a common ‘Them’ is a necessary element in the process of creating an ‘Us’, but it is never simply a matter of saying – “Ah, we all have to fight against neoliberalism!” Of course not. </p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>Isn’t this where intersectionality becomes a rather useful analytic framework?</em></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Yes, I agree with that and even if the term in not present in <em>Hegemony and Socialist Strategy</em>, I have been arguing that the idea is present. We maybe go further because when speaking of a multiplicity of subject positions you also acknowledge that you can be dominant in one position and dominated in another one, so that there exist oppressed workers who are nevertheless sexist and so on. Those struggles that need to be brought together are very heterogeneous, and this is why we say that a new form of subjectivity has to emerge that is going to impede the adversary who will aim to divide us to satisfy some of the demands, but not others. We need a solidarity which will say, “No. that will not satisfy my demand because you are just going to transfer the burden to other people…”.</p> <p>So a rainbow coalition can be an early stage, I am not against that. But the construction of a new hegemony requires a new form of subjectivity, and a new kind of common sense. <em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>Ah yes, common sense. Now I have a real problem with that concept from a British empirical point of view. Because for me common sense statements are pre-eminently those, like the one I recently quoted about the Reithian BBC, “The House of Lords Communications Committee… decided there was no clear definition of what&nbsp;Public Service Broadcasting&nbsp;is – but it didn't matter. It's the sort of thing we all recognise. When it hits you…”. You can never define what makes the BBC such a national treasure, but we nationals all know it. In other words, ‘common sense’ is the very mark of a dominant ideology, isn’t it? Non-negotiable and exclusionary – and what is empowering about that? </em></p> <p><em>Whereas what we have been talking about with respect to the chains of equivalence is something that is consciousness-raising – in particular about the relations of subordination that are being overcome, in different ways, but on all sides?</em><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Wait a second! I am using ‘common sense’ according to the Gramscian meaning of the term, which has nothing at all to do with British empirical common sense. There is nothing natural about this common sense: it is a total construction. Living in Britain over these years, I have seen, and you must have seen this too, the way in which ‘common sense’ in Britain has been transformed by Thatcherism. I remember when I arrived in 1972, it was a very social democratic country in terms of values. A lot of solidarity was normal. And I have seen that being undermined and undermined and undermined. This is the direct product of the way in which Thatcher was able to construct a neoliberal hegemony and I think that if we are going to break with this hegemony and construct a different one, we need to create a set of values, a different set of expectations, new ways of judging what it is that we aspire to. It is a total transformation that is involved. This is why I am very interested&nbsp; in artistic and cultural practises, because they play a very important role in the construction of subjectivity and the creation of the common sense</p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>Yes Thatcherite common sense is a very clear example. What is more elusive is to see how left populism works in its emergent stages. Can I give you one more example? This one comes from an article by Omer Tekdemir, one of your students, I believe, who describes the Kurdish-led and left-leaning populist Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) that brought 80 MPs into the Turkish Parliament in June 2015, in this way:</em> </p> <blockquote><p>“The HDP established a chain of equivalence between its diverse components without essentialising Kurdish identity over other alliances, using radical democracy as a common point of affiliation. The HDP has identified ‘we’, ‘the People’, in terms of an agonistic pluralism that… promotes compromise in disagreement (such as the association between devout Muslims, Alevis, LGBTs, feminists and Afro-Turks and non-Muslims) positioned within a symbolic democratic ground based on the democratic principles of liberty and equality for all.”</p></blockquote> <p><em>This seems a pretty exact account of the process of constructing a left populist party. But I wondered about one element that seems to be missing. You speak quite a lot about the importance for left populists of constructing a left patriotism to counter the rightwing version. In a country with Kemalist roots, like Turkey, where the ruling party is giving the dominant ideology an increasingly oppressive and nationalist turn, it is hard to see how the HDP could bang on this particular drum?</em><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>I trust my Turkish friends when they tell me that the HDP is clearly a left populist endeavour.<strong> </strong>As to patriotism, aren’t the HDP trying to redefine Turkish identity in a much more pluralist way? So it is not that the dimension of patriotism is absent, it is just that it resignifies what it is to be Turkish. My insistence on the question of nationalism and patriotism is very much a consequence of my interest in psychoanalysis. I think we need to acknowledge what Freud called a strong libidinal investment in the identification with the nation. I disagree with Habermas’ idea of a post-national identity. We need to see how we can work on national forms of identification and construct them in a way that is really going to be open and pluralistic. </p> <p>That of course is going to take very different forms in different countries. It is easier in some countries than in others. I think that in France, a left patriotism is much easier because of the French Revolution. You can really establish it on the basis of values that are universalistic values. It is much more difficult in Germany and in Austria where I had quite interesting discussions with my friends at the time of Haider’s rise. I would say that I had never seen a country where the left were so antipatriotic. Austrians are so anti-Austrian – it’s incredible. I used to tell them, “You can’t reduce the whole history of Austria to those years in which some Austrians &nbsp;were so enthusiastic about the Anschluss. There are a lot of other stories, of Red Vienna, the Austro-Marxists” – and Vienna has had a social-democratic government since then – “You can construct a different narrative about the values of your nation!”&nbsp; </p> <p>I can’t imagine a society where these progressive elements and episodes are totally absent. In the case of France it is vital. La France Insoumise is very good about that. They realise that they cannot leave to Marine Le Pen that whole field of patriotism. With her references to Jeanne D’Arc, Le Pen is in the process of constructing a whole narrative of the history and meaning of France around her rightwing values. You need to have a counter-narrative. In Britain, I know this is of interest to Anthony Barnett, but I wouldn’t presume to comment on how you go about it.</p> <p>All I know is that if you are going to try to envisage how to act politically and how to define an emancipatory project, you need to start from an adequate political anthropology. It is very important. I am often criticised for insisting on the national dimension, but my conviction is that you always have to start from struggle within your country and then from there you can begin to establish alliances with like movements in other countries. </p> <p>My friends in the anti-globalisation movement, for example, tell me that the problem with that movement was that it was not an emanation of real popular support in each country. A lot of NGO’s were meeting in Porto Alegre and that they had there fantastic discussions, but then they were coming back to their country and there was no real basis of support for what they were doing.&nbsp; I think you have to start from the roots, from the local, and then move out from there. Ultimately a left populist strategy will only be successful if it manages to exist at the European level, obviously. You can’t think otherwise. And there are struggles where it is very important to organise at the European level – against TTIP for instance. </p> <p>But with regard to nationalism, the key issue that I want to raise is this. My interest in writing <em>For A Left Populism </em>arises from one central question, which is how to act politically in the present conjuncture? I am convinced that we are at a crucial moment because there is a crisis of the neoliberal hegemony, and here you must understand what I mean. We need to distinguish between neoliberal policies and neoliberal hegemony. Of course neoliberal policies are still powerful but what is in crisis is the hegemony. </p> <p>For many years neoliberalism in the Anglo-Saxon model was seen as the universal panacea, the only solution. This is why all social democratic parties converted to that cause. Since the 2008 financial crisis, we have seen the cracks appearing, and what for me was another important moment, was 2011, the Indignados and all those other ‘movements of the squares’ rising up. It was when resistances began to come from the left and not only from rightwing populist movements, that we entered &nbsp;what I call a ‘populist moment’. Of course the outcome depends on which of those two prevails, which side is going to hegemonise those resistances more effectively.</p> <p>If the left is not able to understand the opportunity that is on offer and to seize the initiative, then it is going to be the rightwing populists who prevail and they will bring in authoritarian, nationalistic regimes. In the name of recovering democracy, they will restrict democracy. </p> <p>So what I am saying is that it is necessary to know how to fight rightwing populism, and that to do that, you have to avoid what I see so much of on the left, which is a reliance on moral condemnation. “They are fascists!” is the cry, and once you say that, how are you going to continue the fight against them? For example, just before the elections in France, a lot of publications came out arguing that “Marine Le Pen is not Republican!” They were convinced that just saying that they would deter her voters. I was arguing that in that case her party should not have been subsidised in order to allow it to compete in the elections. Either one way or the other. </p> <p><em><strong>RB: </strong>It is rather like the Remainers in Britain trying to argue that the Brexit referendum vote is just a mistake?</em></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Or Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” to describe those who voted for Trump. I totally disagree with that. I believe it is completely self-defeating and counter-productive. Do you imagine that this rhetoric is going to change hearts and minds? It only reinforces the anti-establishment feelings of those people.</p> <p>Recently Macron spoke of a “populist leprosy” afflicting Europe, and indeed this is quite familiar this vocabulary of moral disease, the return of the plague and so on.. </p> <p>In a sense it is understandable why social democrats take up that refrain. It gives them the moral highground. They feel: “We are the good democrats!” Except that those good democrats really should understand that if we are where we are it is because of them. I think this moral highground simply helps them to avoid making an auto-critique. Because if they really were to understand the reason for the rise of&nbsp; rightwing&nbsp; populism, they would have to recognise that it was because they abandoned the popular sectors. <span class="mag-quote-center">Those good democrats really should understand that if we are where we are it is because of them.</span></p> <p>I have been criticised a lot for my unwillingness to label Marine Le Pen as “extreme right” and for sticking to my designation of rightwing populist. But strictly speaking&nbsp; “extreme right” is an anti-liberal, anti-parliamentary right, that uses and incites violence and does not accept the democratic institutions. Marine Le Pen is not in that category. Of course those extreme right parties do exist in Europe. But so far they are very marginal. </p> <p><strong><em>RB</em>: </strong><em>But extreme violence can lie just under the surface of an apparently democratic polity, can’t it, like the murder of Jo Cox MP which suddenly erupted into the early stages of the Brexit process, which has been followed by a marked upsurge in racist and xenophobic violence ever since? These can be given permission by apparently democratic institutions that would never admit to being responsible in any way, just as the AFD denies all linkage to the Nazis who attend the protests they called for in Chemnitz, while stating that they understand why people are so angry.</em></p> <p><em>In fact, here we are back to Canetti. Given the enormous centrality that you accord to the channelling of “antagonism” – struggle that sets out to destroy the enemy – into “agonism” – struggle with an adversary whose legitimacy is perceived as legitimate – (you reiterate this argument as one of two underlying assumptions in your Theoretical Appendix to </em>For A Left Populism<em>) – I wonder that you do not make the commitment to work against violence of all kinds and of course, war and the nationalisms leading to war, a much more distinctive feature of left populism, demarcating it clearly once and for all from rightwing populism. Why not make conscious and explicit something that runs throughout your analysis? </em></p> <p><em>Ultimately, the violence afflicting democratic societies, let alone the threat to the survival of the species unleashed by the same forces, must have at least as much capacity to convert some of the winners under neoliberalism to radical democracy as the “ecological question” that you place at “the centre of any radical democracy agenda”, mustn’t it?</em><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Antagonism is an ever-present possibility. I’m a Freudian, so I do believe in eros and thanatos: we need a realistic anthropology that recognizes the ineradicability of antagonism. But what one can do is to try and create the conditions for agonism. And the more immediate danger is the coming to power of rightwing populists who are not fascists but who are more authoritarian and who are going to restrict our democratic institutions. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37566679.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37566679.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President Emmanuel Macron and Chief of the Defense Staff of the French Army on the Bastille Day military parade, Champs-Elysees, Paris, 2018. Pool/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>What I am worried about is a situation where political leaders like Emmanuel Macron are so oblivious to the desperation that his policies are causing, that unless La France Insoumise is able to channel the resistances against Macron in an agonistic way towards a radicalisation of democracy, then for sure they could lead to an explosion of violence. I have discussed this with my friends in France recently and we agree that there is a recrudescence precisely of those manifestations of violence at the hands of people who feel that the entire system excludes them. If it has no other way of expressing itself, that anger will explode in violence. Left populism is a way to channel those resistances in an emancipatory direction, not that I believe you could ever have a complete emancipation – but the perpetual radicalisation of democracy, that I do believe in.&nbsp; </p><p><em>RB: In addressing this </em><em><em>need to replace denunciation with hope</em>, you talk interestingly in </em>For A Left Populism ­<em>about the importance of learning from the arts and from cultural workers about how to address the emotions, the affects as you call them. </em></p> <p><em>As we come to a close, I am thinking about everything that we have discussed. We agree on the sheer amount of work that goes into maintaining the neoliberal hegemony, “constantly mobilising people’s desires and shaping their identities” as you put it. We are talking about a massive piece of work, political work, intellectual work, work on the affects, to construct a new counter-hegemony. </em></p> <p><em>But who are the people who are meant to be doing the thinking and the constructing? You have little time for “auto-organisation” and over the decades you have been very consistent in your antipathy to the notion of political agency: in 1993, you told New Times, “ We should be very wary of the concept of agency. The left has always been seeking an agency…&nbsp; But as we are not seeking a ‘revolutionary’ change we do not need an ‘agency’. We need a maximum number of struggles and their articulation.”&nbsp;&nbsp; </em></p> <p><em>However, where does the change ultimately come from? You are surely not proposing to leave this work of transformation to a small bunch of political leaders, however charismatic?</em></p> <p><strong>CM: </strong>Of course not. We used to talk about parliamentary and extra-parliamentary politics, and don’t really use these terms any more today. But I have always said that there needed to be much more than purely parliamentary politics dedicated towards this construction of a new hegemony. Nowadays, we are talking about a multiplicity of grass roots movements, social movements, groups which experiment in new forms of living, new experiences of citizenship and democratic participation. I think this is very important. When I disagree, it is with people who claim that they are going to be able to change society exclusively through what I call the ‘horizontal’ level.&nbsp; I don’t believe that. At some point you need to engage with the political institutions: you need to engage with the state. And you have to come to power and for this you need an electoral machine... But of course, it can’t be only that. To establish a new hegemony it is necessary to create a synergy between electoral politics &nbsp;and the diversity of progressive civil society struggles and experiences. To articulate the ‘horizontal’ level with the ‘vertical’ one – this is what the left populist strategy advocates.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rosemary-bechler/jean-luc-melenchon-interview"> France is a universal nation: Mélenchon speaks out</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/omer-tekdemir/turkey-s-three-dimensional-populism-three-leaders-and-three-blocs">Turkey’s three-dimensional populism, three leaders and three blocs </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/spyros-sofos/turkish-election-as-warning-against-irresistible-charms-of-populism">The Turkish election as a warning against the irresistible charms of populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ric-fassin/neo-fascist-moment-of-neoliberalism">The neo-fascist moment of neoliberalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/francesco-ronchi/liberals-year-zero">Liberals, Year Zero</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national">Our nationalist stories about ourselves can be benign or dangerous – how can we tell the difference? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/chantal-mouffe/populist-moment">The populist moment</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/chantal-mouffe/populist-challenge">The populist challenge</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics Rosemary Bechler Chantal Mouffe Mon, 10 Sep 2018 16:45:52 +0000 Chantal Mouffe and Rosemary Bechler 119584 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The danger of nationalisms today: a four-part essay on the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/danger-of-nationalisms-today-four-part-essay-on-lethal-logic-of- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Nationalisms of one kind or another have been with modern human society for centuries. Why write now to urge new attention to the current upsurge in nationalisms?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26683489.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26683489.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rally in Trafalgar Square to celebrate what would have been the 42nd birthday of the MP Jo Cox, June, 2016. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>Why this essay in four parts? What I want to expose is the current crisis in the ability of élites to ensure consent in democracies and the particular form that this takes. </p> <p>This question arises from two highly topical debates that are unfolding on openDemocracy. The first is a discussion about ways in which flaws in liberal democracy are directly responsible for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/europe">the rapid rise of the hard right </a>in the European Union and the United States, mirroring developments in many less liberal and less democratic societies worldwide. There was a time when civic nationalism represented satisfactory progress away from the dark days of ethnic nationalism, marking a clear differentiation between democracies and the rest. But today when a spiralling authoritarianism has emerged at the very apogee of market ‘liberalism’ – that self-congratulatory contrast between ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ is foundering. I want to argue that the dangerous political formation which we now have in common is the Monocultural National Us. We need to become alert to its chief characteristics, and the many different forms, preparatory and fully-fledged, that it takes in very different societies today, precisely because of its inherent potential for political violence.</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-one-introduction">Part One</a> therefore sends an alert to liberal and progressive complacency in an openDemocracy <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/europe">debate </a>which is already impressively full of self-criticism, because I feel we have not yet grappled with the depth of the crisis of civility in our societies caused, for example, by exacerbated and aggrieved majoritarianism. Secondly, I want to make an early contribution to openDemocracy’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/spyros-sofos/turkish-election-as-warning-against-irresistible-charms-of-populism">latest debate on populism</a>, where with the help of researchers in the field from different disciplines, we finally concentrate on getting to grips with this confusing phenomenon. In particular, I want to suggest that attempts to create a progressive or left populism to counter that of the right and far-right, must acknowledge the latent dangers of the Monocultural National Us, since in some important regards, the form that is sought is close to the structuring involved in that ideological formation.</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national">Part Two</a> turns away from these debates to look at the apparently innocent versions of the Monocultural National Us which educate citizens in advanced democracies like the UK into a particular configuration of hopes and fears, and how these relate to the very basic building blocks of identity. Neoliberal individualisation of praise and blame, celebrity culture, the rise of identity politics, and the extraordinary power for change, good and bad, of access to the internet and social media in particular have all contributed to this education. Citing Anthony Barnett’s profound contention in <em>The Lure of Greatness; England’s Brexit and America’s Trump</em>, that ‘England’s loss of faith in the once-glorious British project’ has played a central role in the Brexit ‘civil war’, we look briefly at how this might play out in World Cup football, where Englishness is at stake, and then move on to look at Britishness, the NHS and the BBC. These are everyday narratives about the meaning of our lives, but ones that arouse strong passions and loyalties for millions of people. How should we cognise and assess these nationalist identifications today? </p> <p>I argue that it is no easy matter to differentiate between the good and bad varieties, partly because the same formation can mutate pretty quickly from one that is confident and outward-looking to one that is hostile and fearful. But also because, from the financial crisis onwards, it has not been possible for liberal democracies to deliver on its promises to our societies. The most benign fantasies of the Monocultural National Us to which we increasingly turn as a result, simply no longer have plausible happy endings. I further argue that disappointment and loss in this identity formation has a cumulative impact, and that, in short, whole societies are running out of patience with the old nostrums and old élites, and casting around for new solutions that could break this cycle with gathering desperation.</p> <p>But my central concern in this section is to explore how we citizens take this decline personally in the most intimate and individually alienating ways. </p> <p>In <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-three-two-case-stu">Part Three</a>, I look at two ‘case studies’ of the Monocultural National Us, beginning with the importance of this concept for the contentious debate about Zionism as a state ideology. My argument is that the trajectory of Zionism is a clear example of the lethal logic of this ideological formation, and that its later stages backed by a strong consensus in Israeli society can only lead to ever-increasing levels of violence. At the same time, I hope to show how central it is for the wellbeing of citizens everywhere who live in increasingly authoritarian democracies, that we open up a civil debate on the significance of this logic for all of us. Only if we continue to explore this phenomenon together, and begin to see the similar ways in which our fears and hopes are encouraged to play out across the democratic world today, will we be able to find the solidarity we need to move beyond these toxic divisions. </p> <p>Turning to Brexit, I argue that we can see two versions of the Monocultural National Us ‘facing off ’ in ways which can only lead to further toxic polarisation and disappointment. &nbsp;</p> <p>In <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-four-suggestions-for-deeper-democracy">Part Four</a>, Brexit again provides the lead-in to concluding remarks on what kind of democratisation process might avert this fate. I hope the accumulated examples of how these ever-more dominant ideologies work have pointed to two conclusions: firstly, the need to replace these managerial designs on our emotions with real devolved power, information, and decision-making. Those who currently represent ‘ordinary people’ could usefully facilitate this process as their primary responsibility. Secondly, much is to be achieved by democrats seeking out forums that are literate in conflict resolution, capable of tackling proliferating enemy images and enabling people to change each others’ minds. The relief, joy and release of creative energy with which ‘adults in the room’ greet this process, is the energy that will save democracy, I believe, but a deeper democracy that has moved onto the next stage which the world so urgently requires.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-one-introduction">Which conflicts strengthen a democracy, and which tear it apart? How Europe is finding out</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national">Our nationalist stories about ourselves can be benign or dangerous – how can we tell the difference? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-three-two-case-stu">How the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us is at work in Zionism and Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-four-suggestions-for-deeper-democracy">The cure for the abuse of nationalism? More democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rosemary Bechler Esplanade Fri, 17 Aug 2018 15:41:50 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 119291 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The cure for the abuse of nationalism? More democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-four-suggestions-for-deeper-democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If democracy is to survive, there must be a step change to an empowerment which comes from government by the people. Pt.4 of 4.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_9077_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_9077_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Citizens Assembly on Brexit, 2017. Cade Hannan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This is the fourth part of a 4-part article exploring the concept of the Monocultural National Us in Europe and beyond. See other parts in Related Articles.</em></p><blockquote><p>“<em>He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.</em>” William Blake’s Proverbs from Hell.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>“<em>To hold different opinions and to be aware that other people think differently on the same issue shields us from Godlike certainty…</em>” <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/ashoka-amody/recovering-human-dignity-richard-bernstein-on-relevance-of-hannah-ar">Why Read Hannah Arendt Now?</a></p></blockquote><p>So what could work to empower people to find a deeper and more constructive sense of belonging? In all these cases, left out of the equation as ever is that ‘other people’ that Giorgio Agamben refers to, the excluded and underprivileged, waiting in the wings for even the slightest acknowledgement that we exist. Is there a way that we can fight back? To take one of my running threads, who and what could unify Brexit Britain?</p> <h2><strong>Leavers and remainers – come together</strong></h2> <p>Some citizens have tried. An enterprising group of young people in Wolverhampton who decided that it was unacceptable that no one had invited them to discuss their future under Brexit conditions, since the future is theirs, set up their own process of debate for mutual understanding, Q&amp;A’s with politicians, opinion surveys, radio show etc. Venandah Madanhi and her fellow activists have an upbeat and ingenious approach to youth organizing. Check them out at <a href="https://wecanwin.co.uk/campaign/our-brexit/">OurBrexit.</a> </p> <p>Or spotted recently in <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/15/stratford-brexit-balance-leave-remain">the Guardian</a>, Stratford4Europe’s public effort to bring both sides together is ‘Brexit Café’, a coffee-morning forum that’s been held twice at the Townhouse Cafe for Remainers and Leavers to air their views and bridge the divide “one cup at a time”. </p> <p>Then there was a valiant group in Cambridge, which not only brought together Leavers and Remainers, but also town and gown, producing a report over a year ago now, the <a href="https://issuu.com/cambridgebrexitreport">Cambridge Brexit report</a>. </p><p> In the useful summary of their findings they threw down the following gauntlet:</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 17.15.19_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 17.15.19_1.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>We must ask ourselves why none of our main political parties, and neither side in the Brexit debate have ever thought to propose and enable this. If you raise the issue of Leaver and Remainer discussion groups in your local party branch, you are likely to be told, as I have been, that the relationship is too toxic. But isn’t the reverse the case? That it is the absence of contact coupled with the mounting enemy images that creates the toxicity? For political parties in particular, another factor must be the stranglehold on our political class of the first past the post, winner-take-all electoral system, and the seductions of the Monocultural National Us. But one day soon they will surely have to choose between this rusty management tool and the empowerment of people.</p> <p>Then last September, in Manchester, thanks to a team put together by Anand Menon’s ‘UK in a Changing EU’, a <a href="https://citizensassembly.co.uk/brexit/about/">Citizen’s Assembly</a> brought Leavers and Remainers together by sortition from all over the UK, selected to reflect the Brexit vote, alongside factors of social class, region, age, gender and ethnicity. For a few days, they were invited to engage in in-depth discussions on everything from the Single Market to migration policy and these citizens jumped at the chance. The more technical results are noted here:</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 16.35.43.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 16.35.43.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>A <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/oliver-norgrove/interesting-brexit-experiment-worthy-of-analysis">brief and compelling discussion of the event</a> in openDemocracy touched on some more general results. Participants were delighted to have been chosen; glad to have access to careful, thoughtful discussion of the arguments for and against different options; and gladdest of all and relieved to realise that they could engage in discussion with fellow-Brits of an opposite persuasion without the ceiling falling in. It simply showed that, well away from the hyperboles and given a chance, people of very differing viewpoints can coexist and work towards constructive solutions to complex problems. </p> <p>The exercise necessarily combined three of the lessons learned from conflict resolvers by the solutions journalist, Amanda Ripley; first, complicate the narrative; then, widen the lens: “TV news segments are dominated by a narrow focus... The narrow-lens nudges the public to hold individuals accountable for the ills of society rather than corporate leaders or government officials. We don’t connect the dots… By contrast, people who saw the wider-lens stories were more likely to blame government and society for the problems of poverty.” And lastly, encourage contact: ”The most powerful way to get people to stop demonizing each other, as decades of research into racial prejudice have shown, is to introduce them to one another.”</p> <p>Freed from the solitary confinement of ideology, from the enemy images, bubbles burst. People may indeed cut each other down to size, but they listen to each other’s hopes and fears in the process. They change their minds. They compromise. They reach a liveable solution. For the duration, to steal Yanis Varoufakis’ profound phrase, they become ‘adults in the room’. You can read more about this Citizens’ Assembly <a href="http://citizensassembly.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Citizens-Assembly-on-Brexit-Report.pdf">here</a>. </p> <h2><strong>A deeper democracy</strong></h2> <p>We are wrestling with a paradox when we try to identify the role of the Monocultural National Us in our societies today. We cannot quite believe in the spiralling authoritarianism that marks the apogee of market ‘liberalism’. Yet, paradoxically, 'free' markets require 'strong' states to suppress their socially anomic consequences. </p> <p>The danger of the Monocultural National Us was clearer when war was more popular. It is noteworthy that two of the greatest recent challenges to the democratic status quo were launched from anti-war movements, anti-Vietnam and anti-Iraq. What we have failed to appreciate since then is the way that state coercion has taken over the field of governance that used to work through consent and filled it with enemy images on all sides – a major reason for the febrile selfishnesses and emotionalisms of our cultures. So much so that one could argue that ‘reason’ in our times, rather than moving from the particular to the general – doing as we would be done by and so forth – has now to include a good dose of conflict resolution before it can go ahead.</p> <p>So bearing in mind our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-three-two-case-stu">two case studies</a>, I want to return to the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-one-introduction">debates with which I began</a>, to draw a tentative conclusion. In particular I want to return to Edmund Fawcett’s acknowledgement that the “<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/edmund-fawcett/daunting-task-of-repair">task of repair is daunting</a>” for our liberal democracies, and his invitation to liberals and leftists alike to clarify our disagreements so that we may join forces to fight back. I take it that Andrew Gamble is accepting this invitation with this week's outline for us of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/andrew-gamble/hard-right-and-open-left">an Open Left</a>. What seems even more hopeful to me is that in Fawcett’s lucid account of the four things a liberal has to stand for, each of his four clauses appear indispensible in the task of repair that this debate has so far brought to the surface. All of them, if some more obviously than others, are threatened however, by the rise of the Monocultural National Us with which I have been concerned. Fawcett writes:</p> <blockquote><p>To be a liberal you have to stand for four things: resisting undue power whether the power of the state, wealth or oppressive social majorities; commitment to the improvability of human life; legal and social respect for everyone, whoever they are. You have also to accept that society is inevitably in conflict, materially and morally. Past unity or future brotherhood are, for liberals, fantasies. In today’s terms, you have to believe in diversity. Liberals don’t, as Barnett suggested, believe in “singular cohesion”. Theirs is a diverse, inclusive tent.</p></blockquote> <p>To this Edmund adds a fifth consideration for anyone who considers themselves to be a democrat. These are the commitments which have to be defended if democracy is going to survive. </p> <blockquote><p>“Democracy’s about who gets the protections and permissions liberalism offers, few or all. Democratic liberalism is liberalism for everyone. It’s an ideal, not a fantasy.”</p></blockquote> <p>And here we return to the problem of “decades of rising inequality” which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">Michael Sandel</a> singles out as a prime failure of technocratic liberalism. If democracy is going to survive, this “democratic ideal” has to become more of a reality. But if current&nbsp; conditions require a much more in depth response, what might this newly persuasive politics look like that could start by winning the support of democratic liberals and open leftists and then go on to the much harder task of winning over those who are currently profoundly unconvinced? I think there is a clue in the example Fawcett recommends to our attention of a moment after 1945 when western societies took “measurable steps towards the ideal.’ He cites the abortion referendum in Ireland that was taking place as he wrote this May – an astonishing success, much of which can be attributed to the formidable <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2DgyetL9aUTMry_F9B9yUw">Citizens’ Assembly of Ireland</a> which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler/wherever-people-meet">some of us</a> on openDemocracy have been following with particular interest. Here was an inclusive process that empowered the many not the few.</p> <p>I have cited a lot of rows in the course of this discussion: a great deal of rowing online and off is going on – much uncivil and generating far more heat than light. But perhaps even in this process, Agamben’s other people are finally becoming savvy. </p> <p>This at least is the argument of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/phil-burton-cartledge/democratic-politics-beyond-liberal-democracy">Paul Burton-Cartledge</a>, responding to Michael Sandel. He argues that only a deeper democracy – with everything we must suppose this means for our uncodified constitution, our institutions, education systems, our media and of course for power itself – can ultimately rise to this challenge: </p> <blockquote><p>“If empowering people to take charge of their lives is more than a feel-good phrase, or a strap line for corporate social responsibility, we need a politics that is serious about it… Never before in history are so many people educated, skilled, competent, tolerant, and connected... Treating people as voters, as passive consumers of politics, is a recipe for turning them off, deactivating them… The rejuvenation of democratic politics can only pass through more democracy, of loosening politics up so it becomes less about manoeuvring and position, of ending its exalted position as something separate to and apart from an increasingly connected and savvy populace, and letting them – us – take control. Only then can politics proper begin.”</p></blockquote> <p>Burton-Cartledge seems to me a little complacent about how this ‘politics proper’ will come about. Pointing to the service sector, as well as socialised and networked lives outside work, he argues that people in liberal democracies have been empowered by the increased opportunities for sociality, networking and cooperation that immaterial labour depends on. However, now that the “social commons is a strategic vector of capital accumulation”, capital cannot help but undermine the cooperation, critical thinking, soft skills and collaborative working that it needs, by “individuating and atomising its employees, denying them rights and expecting them to get by on episodic and insecure work.” </p> <p>With capitalism in this latest bind, Burton-Cartledge seems to think that economic determinants will somehow bring about a more tolerant world, regardless of the “rise of authoritarian capitalisms, the threats to democracy in eastern Europe, and the challenge populist politics pose to the so-called mature democracies” that he earlier identifies. </p> <p>What I see in this clash between cooperation and atomisation that he locates at the core of capital accumulation is yet another facet of the contradiction between community and conflict with which I opened this discussion. So my view of the world is more of a race to the finishing line between the forces of incivility and civility, incitement and empowerment, the proliferation of enemy images, and the cultivation of a mutually assured vulnerability which is the precondition for listening and changing our minds. </p> <p>In this battle, the rapid rise of the Nationalist International seems much better prepared than the rest of us. Dominic Cummings’ warning to Tory MPs and donors on the “Brexit shambles” is chilling: “If revolution there is to be, better to undertake it than undergo it… Best wishes”. </p> <p>The psychomachia I envisage may be the politics that I miss from Burton-Cartledge’s account. However, I cannot but agree with him on the end-result. If democracy is to survive, there must be a step change from élites no longer convincingly equipped with the ancient arts of ensuring consent, to a mutual empowerment which comes from government by the people. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-one-introduction">Which conflicts strengthen a democracy, and which tear it apart? How Europe is finding out</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national">Our nationalist stories about ourselves can be benign or dangerous – how can we tell the difference? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-three-two-case-stu">How the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us is at work in Zionism and Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/oliver-norgrove/interesting-brexit-experiment-worthy-of-analysis">An interesting Brexit experiment worthy of analysis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/edmund-fawcett/daunting-task-of-repair">The daunting task of repair</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">Populism, Trump, and the future of democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/phil-burton-cartledge/democratic-politics-beyond-liberal-democracy">Democratic politics beyond liberal democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/laurence-davis/only-bold-and-popular-left-radicalism-can-stop-rise-of-fascism">Only a bold and popular left radicalism can stop the rise of fascism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Rosemary Bechler Thu, 09 Aug 2018 08:29:35 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 119138 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us is at work in Zionism and Brexit https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-three-two-case-stu <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Monocultural National Us wreaks havoc all over the world. How do we loosen its grip on our imaginations, and what might this mean for the defence of our democracies? Pt.3 of 4.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37543473.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37543473.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Donald Trump and Theresa May hold a joint press conference at Chequers, July 2018. Stefan Rousseau/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This is the third part of a 4-part article exploring the concept of the Monocultural National Us in Europe and beyond. See other parts in Related Articles. </em></p><p>I want to apply the criteria for a ‘healthy nationalism’ <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national">sketched in part two</a> to two cases of the Monocultural National Us that have been causing havoc in our midst: the use of the word Zionism as a pejorative; and the two warring versions of ‘Us’ in Brexit Britain.</p> <h2><strong>Talking about Zionism</strong></h2> <p>Here it is an altercation between two Facebook posters. It strikes me as mild but typical in the long-gathering process of accusation that has accompanied any enlightenment the<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/david-rosenberg/uk-government-new-anti-semitism-definition-conflates-racism-with-valid-criticism"> IHRA definition (plus examples)</a> of “anti-semitism” has afforded since it reappeared over the horizon, despite noble attempts since the <a href="https://www.oscepa.org/documents/all-documents/annual-sessions/2002-berlin/declaration-13/220-2002-berlin-declaration-eng/file">OSCE Berlin Declaration</a> of 2002 kick-started this process, to point out its inherent flaws. Here, GLG and RE are discussing "a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece on this thorny topic."</p> <blockquote><p>“GLG When I claim to be anti-zionist, what I mean is I am opposed to the colonialist actions of a succession of Israeli governments - especially the current one under Netanyahu, and the Settler Movement. Who, aided and protected by the IDF, are blatantly evicting Palestinians and taking their land and property for themselves. I also hold the strong conviction that Israel should withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and that all sequestered lands should be returned to their rightful owners. I do NOT mean reversing the historical fact of Israel's creation, even though I do believe that the way that it was done in the first place was grossly mishandled - for which the UK is most to blame.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>RE Best not to define that as anti Zionist then - your position is clear when you define it the way you do here, but will be understood differently if you call yourself an anti Zionist.”</p></blockquote> <p>What is interesting about RE’s response is that it contains no criticism of GLG’s analysis, but warns against the offence that may nevertheless be given attached to the role of the ‘anti-Zionist.’ This is meant to be a helpful warning. But it is a confused one, and repeated in many places, has led to a chilling effect on debate around the relationship of Israel and Palestine, when that debate is surely crucial for progress in the world. </p><p>It is a confusion at many levels, beginning with the fundamental problem shared by definitions of antisemitism with hate speech legislation generally, the minute it moved beyond the relative clarity of&nbsp; ‘incitement to violence’, which is that the meaning of language is crucially determined by context, and that exactly the same phrase can mean completely different things uttered by different people in different situations. Even statements calling for the destruction of the state of Israel mean something very different when yelled by a young Palestinian, trapped in the Occupied Territories and humiliated by the experience of occupation, from, say, the opinion of a Middle East military man with influence over the development of a nuclear arsenal in his country.</p> <p>But setting aside this comprehensive dilemma, and all the uncertainty around who is qualified as a result to judge the use of certain formulations and expressions, let alone an appropriate response… the concept of Zionism has a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/jonathan-shamir/zionism-history-of-contested-word">particularly vexed history</a> thought-provokingly described in openDemocracy by Jonathan Shamir, who also concludes, though with more clarity than RE, that “ these polarising terms should be shelved, and taken out only when we are discussing political philosophy, which most of the time we are not.”</p> <p>I hope I may be forgiven by him for what follows, on the grounds that it is Zionism as a term of political philosophy that concerns me. In the accusations and counter-accusations around the term Zionist, I want to argue that what those who are avowedly anti-Zionist often fail to articulate is the Monocultural National Us which lurks implicitly in its definition, with all the results in terms of violence that concern us most about bad nationalism. When they spell out what they criticise about Zionist support for the Israeli state, there are controversial analogies with apartheid, disputes about the precise nature of a colonial-settler state, all sorts of ways of trying to pin down what is uniquely appalling to them about Israeli policies with regard to Palestinians. All versions of course are furiously pushed back, and accompanied by the statement that has been given new topicality by Trump’s decision to pull out of the ‘cesspool of political bias’ which he alleges is the UN Human Rights Council, on the grounds that Israel is being singled out for special opprobrium in a way that can only be antisemitic, when there are many other – the implication is far worse – transgressors who are even members of that Council. </p> <p>Trump doesn’t attempt to explain, of course, why the US singles out Israel for its special protection, considerable support and military alliance, one reason for the dismay in what used to be thought of as the free or civilised world at the impunity with which Israel acts towards the Palestinians.</p> <p>The Zionist state claims to be especially for Jewish people: in fact it goes out of its way to offer Jewish people everywhere a special access to its citizenship. In this regard, and because Jewishness is linked to race and religion, it is very easy to make the mistake of seeming to criticise Jewishness when criticising the actions of the Israeli nation state. And it is not quite so simple as following the advice that one should always differentiate between criticism of the state and criticism of the Israeli people, in a situation in which so many Israeli citizens seem to have bought into the Monocultural National Us. </p> <p>However it is not surprising that they have. Given the history of antisemitism, fear and violence in which the state was born, it is actually almost obvious that in this context the ‘Never again’ of World War II should with very little encouragement become, let us always have the upper hand and never be weak or frightened again. And as we have seen, that is not a million miles away from the basic building bricks of the Monocultural National Us, which always in the end requires a Them. So it is not at all surprising that internally in Israel, the exclusion and discrimination against its Palestinian minority (around 20 per cent of the population) has become entrenched over the years in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ben-white/land-citizenship-and-exclusion-in-israel">laws that are deemed</a> to “preserve the ability to realize the Zionist dream in practice”. It is not surprising that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/dahlia-scheindlin/human-rights-and-public-opinion-in-israel-anger-vs-pragmatism">human rights</a>, particularly minority and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/alexandra-embiricos/israel-s-invisible-refugees">migrant rights</a> are on the run in Israel, or that the Knesset Presidency <a href="http://www.other-news.info/2018/06/the-knesset-officially-declares-that-israeli-democracy-is-for-jews-only/">recently disqualified a bill</a> named: “Basic Law: Israel [is a] State for All its Citizens”. And it is not at all surprising that the projected external enemy that always returns to threaten one’s peace has been steadily turning the Occupied Territories into a large open air prison that is a reproach and scandal to us all. Because this is the logic and inevitable destiny of the Monocultural National Us, and it is precise to criticise Zionism as the political philosophy which underpins the Israeli state, because it is (or has become) this type of National Us, backed by the violence of the state that Zionism is committed to, and it is in the nature of that same economy of desire that, unless it is recognised for what it is and stopped, it must lead to all this violence.</p> <p>But doesn’t Trump have a point? There is something extremely normal, even mundane, about what is wrong with the Israeli nation state in its response to Palestinians, and it is not very different at all from the European nation-state that was its model, only differing recently in the degree of violence internal and external that it has been willing to undertake in perpetuation of that model.</p> <p>This is precisely where three of the examples of what could be considered antisemitism “taking into account the overall context”, given the then new EUMC definition of antisemitism which was the precursor to the IHRA definition – take their aim:</p> <p><em>‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.’</em></p> <p><em>‘Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’</em></p> <p><em>‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.’</em></p> <p>By these definitions, Jacqueline Rose’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/conflict-debate_97/zionism_2766.jsp">thoughtful book</a> <em>The Question of Zion (</em>2005<em>)</em>, could be said to have transgressed on all three counts, when it argued that, “Zionism …imported into the Middle East a Central European concept of …organic nationhood, founded on ethnicity and blood (or “land, descent and the dead”)… the very version of nationhood from which the Jewish people had had to flee.”</p> <p>What we are meant to conclude from these warning definitions is that an Israeli democracy so constituted has as much right to pursue such policies as any other democracy similarly constituted. But Rose’s point is the opposite one: that the rigour with which Israel pursues the defence of a state based on racial and religious unity makes it a stark and leading example of the inevitably racist and self-defeating outcome of ‘organic nationhood’. </p><p>And not only ‘organic nationhood’. At a time when most European countries are engaged in a decisive worldwide swing towards the defence of various monocultural constructions of the ‘National Us’ – for example, not just Hungary or Poland, but the re-Christianisation of Italy, the re-laicising of France, Brexit Britain – and what’s next, a central European “axis of the willing against illegal immigration” ? – not to mention Trump’s United States, the Russian version including its “<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nicu-popescu/elixir-of-life-or-toxic-poison-russias-liberal-nationalist-cocktail">liberal-nationalist cocktail</a>”, and the staggeringly violent <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/umut-ozkirimli/uncanny-communitarianism-key-to-understanding-pre-and-post-referendum-turkey">Turkey</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/l-k-sharma">India </a>– we could go on – there are timely and important conclusions we might indeed draw from the Israeli experience that these formulations, like the Facebook poster RE, are instead aimed at removing from contestation. </p> <p>So I hope we will continue to debate the nature and effects of Zionism, as we consider the banality of evil taking place all around us. Because this is one way to show solidarity with the predicament in which the Israeli people find themselves, and do more than bear agonised witness to the violence that results. Meanwhile, if this argument is to be taken seriously, popular movements like <a href="https://www.standing-together.org/standingtogether">Standing Together</a>, pioneers in the social change that can liberate Israelis from this lethal logic, are an avant-garde from whom we all have much to learn.</p> <h2><strong>Brexit means civil war</strong></h2> <p>In investigating nationalisms we have been talking about fictions that seem to amplify the power of the individual at the same time as they enrich our lives in their lived reality. These fictional realities are essentially ideological formations, and ideologies always have exactly the dual character that we have been exploring here. Are they false? Not at all. The nineteenth century novel can tell us more about life then than many a drier document of fact. At the same time, we recognise that the fiction has other intentions. It is designed to produce pleasure, promise a happy ending and perform other functions not strictly to do with reflecting reality. The same is true of ideologies.</p> <p>These visions of what we have in common can really unite people, and they can exact enormous sacrifices. They can be rich and revealing in their vocabularies and their assumptions about the world. Moreover, there is no form of lived reality which can detach itself from ideology to know the world directly, without any vocabulary or assumptions. </p> <p>At the same time, in having the function of making sense of our world, ideologies necessarily aim for closure. They do this in many different ways, all summed up in the classic Marxist reading in the function of repressing contradiction by producing a smooth surface over reality – hence the unitary or monocultural compunction. This smooth surface holds for a while, making us feel whole, until history and the world moves on, and then, as with the NHS or the BBC, the contradictions in the narratives we use to explain our experience begin once again to disturb and fragment that surface. </p> <p>For this reason, ideologies are simultaneously our only way of knowing about the world, and a way of knowing the world which always and increasingly contains an element of not wishing to know. Bertolt Brecht, that canny baiter of dominant ideologies in his time, surely put his finger on one key aspect of what nationalism didn't want to know when he wrote: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes”. </p> <p>To grapple with Brexit, however, I need to return to the work of Giorgio Agamben, and his ideological deconstruction of a key Brexit category in <a href="https://people.ucsc.edu/~stamp/200a/FILM_200A/Readings_files/Agamben,%20Means%20w:out%20End.pdf">“What is a People?”</a>. The essay opens with him pointing to the deeply ambivalent nature of “the people” in modern European languages, beginning with its use in the French Revolution at the very moment in which the people’s sovereignty was proclaimed as a principle. At one and the same time, he points out, “the people” represents the body politic as a whole, and a dispossessed subgroup of the poor, the excluded and underprivileged: </p> <p>“Even the English <em>people – </em>whose sense is more undifferentiated – does retain the meaning of <em>ordinary people </em>as opposed to the rich and the aristocracy. In the American Constitution one thus reads without any sort of distinction: ‘We, the people of the United States…’; but when Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address invokes a ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’ the repetition implicitly sets another people against the first.”</p> <p>What is fascinating about this opening move in an essay which gathers increasingly devastating analytical force as it unravels this conundrum, is how similar it is to an account of how ideologies fundamentally work. In the 1970’s, when wordplay was fashionable, Ros Coward and John Ellis in ‘<em>Language and Materialism: developments in semiology and the theory of the subject</em>’, gave us a definition which I believe has stood the test of time, “the function of ideology is to fix the individual in place as subject for a certain meaning. This is simultaneously to provide the individual with a certain subject-ivity… and to subject them to the social structure with its existing contradictory relations and powers.” This subjectivity simultaneously involves a recognition that enables the subject to act, and a misrecognition, since, “The individual lives his subject-ion to social structures as a consistent subject-ivity, an imaginary wholeness… a reflection of himself as the author of his actions.”&nbsp; </p> <p>By these accounts, the identification of the individual with the Monocultural National Us is an ideological move which represses the contradictions in which we live, in order to be able to assert our own importance and agency, in this case against the evidence of our subjection. We know who we are, is the statement. And we know if you are one of us. </p> <p>This very certainty about what ‘we know’ which dismisses any challenge and refuses any elaboration is the regular mark of ideology. We can hear it when <a href="https://rts.org.uk/article/public-service-broadcasting-house-cards-lord-dobbs-gives-rts-huw-wheldon-lecture">Michael Dobbs</a> defines what the BBC brings to the nation in 2015, “The House of Lords Communications Committee… decided there was no clear definition of what&nbsp;Public Service Broadcasting&nbsp;is – but it didn't matter. It's the sort of thing we all recognise. When it hits you… one of the essential characteristics of&nbsp;Public Service Broadcasting, it seems to me, is that it must be a window into the nation's soul. Our ways, our values, our qualities. What makes us different.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Dobbs is following in a noble British tradition of uncodified non-explanation, as we read in Paddy Scannel’s history of the BBC: </p> <p>"It is well known that broadcasting in Britain is based on the principle of public service, though what exactly that means can prove elusive. The most recent Parliamentary committee to report on broadcasting, the Peacock Committee, noted in 1986 that it has experienced some difficulty in obtaining a definition of the principle from the broadcasters themselves. A quarter of a century earlier, the members of the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting were told by the Chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors that it was no use trying to define good broadcasting – one recognised it. With the passing of time the concept has become more and more obscure. Most commentators rightly attribute a central role in the definition to John Reith but few have attempted to go much further…. Briggs summarises Reith’s concept of public service as… There is no mention of its political significance.”</p> <p>And we hear it again in recent times, in the brazen circularity and withholding of meaning which is Theresa May’s counter-intuitive claim that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Here, the very circularity announces a deep contract with the people. “Join me in knowing who we are – the people of Britain taking back control, and in the very process giving up any questions you may ask, shedding all the conflicting interests, ignoring all the contradictions, and asserting, with me, the <em>people’s will</em> …. You will be delivered from the servitude, the exclusion and humiliation of Agamben’s ordinary people. You will take back control and in one stroke, be in possession once again of what makes us different, and that which, unquestioned, makes us whole.”</p> <p>Theresa May knew exactly what her job was when the Brexit referendum delivered its surprise result, if never so clearly since then. Here she is setting out her vision for running Britain in her Birmingham speech to delegates on Oct 5, 2016, and talking revolution:</p> <blockquote><p>“But change has got to come too because of the quiet revolution that took place in our country just three months ago — a revolution in which millions of our fellow citizens stood up and said they were not prepared to be ignored any more. Because this is a turning point for our country. A once-in-a-generation chance to change the direction of our nation for good. To step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be…</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>It was about a sense — deep, profound and let’s face it often justified — that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them… And the roots of the revolution run deep. Because it wasn’t the wealthy who made the biggest sacrifices after the financial crash, but ordinary, working class families…</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>But today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street. But if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word “citizenship” means. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>So if you’re a boss who earns a fortune but doesn’t look after your staff . . .  An international company that treats tax laws as an optional extra . . .  A household name that refuses to work with the authorities even to fight terrorism . . .  A director who takes out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust . . . I’m putting you on warning. This can’t go on any more…</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>That means tackling unfairness and injustice, and shifting the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people… Because too often that isn’t how it works today. Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public. They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal, your attachment to your job security inconvenient. They find the fact that more than 17 million voters decided to leave the European Union simply bewildering…”</p></blockquote> <p>For an Establishment appreciation for the centrality of this key rhetorical intervention, and the huge problem presented by its remaining just that – rhetoric – see Sebastian Payne's <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ef83b896-9950-11e8-ab77-f854c65a4465">FT column for August 7</a>, 2018, <em>Forget Brexit, Britain is failing to tackle its 'burning injustices'.</em> The brazen cheek of it is breathtaking. And more or less exactly the same message was uttered by her American counterpart in his inaugural speech: again, brazen, and breathtaking:</p> <blockquote><p>“Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital, has reaped the rewards of government while people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered period, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”</p></blockquote> <p>These are leaders of the people tapping into archaic managerial wisdoms, perhaps planned long before the financial crisis of 2008, but anticipating the fall-out of such an inevitable occurrence and knowing in those circumstances what they have to do. </p> <p>But I don’t want to concentrate on the very obvious Monocultural National Us that has arisen in our midst to Ukipise Britain’s Conservative party. You can easily fill in all the gaps for yourself, from what has been said so far, brought up to date by Adam Ramsay on <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/trumps-visit-marks-start-of-shock-doctrine-brexit">the no-deal Brexit th</a>at Britain’s hard Brexiters never mention but actually want. Chillingly, this scenario is made more likely because of the impossibility of assembling positive majorities for any single Brexit option, since it is the only option that doesn't require one. So much for ensuring consent.</p> <p>Instead, I would like to point to a second Monocultural National Us that has been in formation since the referendum in 2016, and whose recent emergence in our midst leads to similar dangers.</p> <p>Anthony Barnett has written better than anybody on the two warring factions that have emerged from this toxic debate and polarised the country, in his ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/anthony-barnett/how-to-win-brexit-civil-war-open-letter-to-my-fellow-remainers">How to win the Brexit Civil War. An open letter to my fellow Remainers</a>’. He is surely right to warn us against the violence lurking in the gathering confrontation, and implicit in the enemy images that he summarises. What he calls this “civil war” has already tragically claimed the life of one young and dedicated MP. </p> <p>Yet the winner take-all-character of the contest he describes continues in both camps. Neither ‘Us’ is sharing useable plans for the country’s future. They are too busy projecting their people as the whole people, either on the grounds of the scanty advantage of the referendum result, which is declared to be the ‘people’s will’, or on the thin grounds that Leavers must see that they couldn’t have been more stupid. The Remainers whom Barnett tries to chastise into a more respectful stance, have been calculating what it would take to reverse the referendum, 52%: 48% in their favour, given for example the demise of enough older Leave voters. They too have a certainty, a vision, of a quite different ‘people’s will’, better informed maybe – this is surely where Michael Sandel’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">‘meritocratic hubris’</a> has its provocative part to play? – but which still shows no real interest in the diversity of the permanently absent people whom they claim to represent. </p> <p>Whether we are promised a return to the centre ground, delivery from right and left extremists alike, or a government <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/diane-abbott/national-government-would-be-government-for-rich">for the nation</a> with an extra dash of Cold War thrown in &nbsp;– isn’t a ‘People’s Vote’ billed as designed to ‘Stop Brexit’ only a mirror reflection of the ‘people’s will’ behind little global Britain ‘taking back control’? Like the latter, it admits of no relationship except hostility to the many Leaver worlds outside it, and no awareness of the many different Remainer strands within its ranks. Nick Inman is surely correct when he says in his recent openDemocracy contribution on ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/nick-inman/6-comforting-lies-about-brexit-and-why-hard-brexiteers-are-being-un-british">6 Un-British Brexit myths’</a>: “I have never heard anyone speak up for those who think the EU is a terrible thing but on balance, the UK should stay in for a little while longer and figure out the best course of action calmly.”</p> <p>These two warring Us’s, taken together, mark the radical decline, if not the end of the élite manufacture of consent. And this is without even mentioning the illicit forces behind Cambridge Analytica, Aggregate IQ and the Vote Leave campaign, working very effectively for the élite manufacture of civil wars they intend to win. Yet this development marks an extraordinary moment in human affairs, when for the first time the future defence of democracy may depend not only on the ‘democratic media’ Adam Ramsay would <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/cambridge-analytica-is-what-happens-when-you-privatise-military-propaganda">bring to the rescue</a>, but on giving internet users the rights of opting in (or not) to any dominant ideology with which they may be targeted.</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-four-suggestions-for-deeper-democracy"><em>Part Four – a suggestion</em></a></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-one-introduction">Which conflicts strengthen a democracy, and which tear it apart? How Europe is finding out</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national">Our nationalist stories about ourselves can be benign or dangerous – how can we tell the difference? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-four-suggestions-for-deeper-democracy">The cure for the abuse of nationalism? More democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/jonathan-shamir/zionism-history-of-contested-word">Zionism: the history of a contested word </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/antony-lerman/labour-should-ditch-ihra-working-definition-of-antisemitism-altogether">Labour should ditch the IHRA working definition of antisemitism altogether</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/how-to-win-brexit-civil-war-open-letter-to-my-fellow-remainers">How to win the Brexit Civil War. An open letter to my fellow Remainers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Israel </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? UK Israel Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rosemary Bechler Thu, 09 Aug 2018 08:27:29 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 119136 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Our nationalist stories about ourselves can be benign or dangerous – how can we tell the difference? https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Why it is so difficult to differentiate between good and bad nationalisms, and why the World Cup might help us. Pt.2 of 4.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37509209.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-37509209.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Marcus Rashford and English manager Gareth Southgate after England's FIFA semi-final against Croatia. Aaron Chown/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p><em>This is the second part of a 4-part article exploring the concept of the Monocultural National Us in Europe and beyond. See other parts in Related Articles.</em></p><p>Anthony Barnett wrote <em><a href="https://unbound.com/books/brexit/">The Lure of Greatness</a>; England’s Brexit and America’s Trump</em> having long feared that England’s loss of faith in the once-glorious British project could become an enormously disruptive force, if the UK’s “long drawn-out constitutional and political impasse” was not resolved in a progressive way. </p> <p>Underpinning the constitutional question, the book is full of rich anatomies of nationhood and the yearning for nationhood, from Barnett’s recognition of Mark Rylance’s Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron in Jez Butterworth’s play, <em>Jerusalem,</em> as an English hero for our times, to his uniquely sympathetic treatment (despite his own Remainer convictions) of the anger and frustration of those who voted to leave the EU. In these detailed descriptions of what it is in the modern world to want to be whole and free, he challenges his readers to recognise what is credible in the ‘take back control’ slogan of Brexit, leading us towards a vision of pluralist, networked nationalism that surely ranks among the ‘new forms of cooperation’ sought by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/francesco-ronchi/liberals-year-zero">Francesco Ronchi</a>.</p> <p>Part of <em>The Lure </em>argument is predicated on a quest to draw a clearer distinction between ‘positive nationalism’, which qualifies us for joining the world, and ‘negative nationalism’ which is about being belligerent and exclusive. In this day and age of burgeoning nationalisms in most western democracies, there can be few lines that are more important to draw. </p> <p>Yet it is in the nature of these identity-formations that they are resistant to any clear breakdown of the interests at stake. Driven by desire, identity and emotions in ways that defy logic, they also have a capacity for mutation in either direction. What at one moment is considered a benign confidence-boost to enable us to look outwards with equanimity, might at the next be unpleasantly enjoyable as a punitive source of power and exclusion, or desperately needed to shore us up against fear of the Other. </p> <p>Take the many faces of nationalism recently on show during the World Cup weeks, from the uplifting everyday loyalties that connect people all over the world, to <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/73b55b52-8b6d-11e8-bf9e-8771d5404543">uglier varieties,</a> or the <a href="https://metro.co.uk/2018/06/18/domestic-violence-cases-set-spike-around-englands-world-cup-matches-7640772/">domestic violence</a> that spikes when England wins or loses, especially during a World Cup. How for instance, might we draw the line between the good and bad nationalisms of UK media coverage of the English win against Panama? Here are a few examples:</p> <blockquote><p>- "<em>We believe in miracles... you sixy things,</em>" <em>The Sun</em> declared, paying homage to a Hot Chocolate hit from the 1970s, on its front page over an image of players celebrating Sunday's 6-1 win over Panama, England's biggest ever at a World Cup…</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>- The Times</em>, meanwhile, wrote on their front page that ‘<em>Harry heroics</em>’ have allowed England fans to ‘<em>dream the improbable dream’</em>.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>- Daily Telegraph</em>: ‘<em>Dare to dream</em>.’</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>- Daily Express</em>:&nbsp; ‘<em>Skipper Kane is convinced England can conquer the world. “We Believe”</em>.’</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>- The <em>Daily Mail</em>’s front page declared: ‘<em>Didn’t they make our lionhearts ROAR!</em>’ with a picture of captain Kane and young England fans celebrating the goals.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>- Harry Kane on the fans in the <em>Express</em>: <strong><em>“</em></strong><em>The fans have been brilliant, both sets of fans to be fair, that is what the World Cup is about.”</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p>- David Beckham on <em>Instagram</em> on Panama fans: <em>"Fantastic, that's why we love this sport, they lost 6-1 and look at this happiness".</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p>- &nbsp;The <em>BBC</em> has received a barrage of criticism in wake of England’s 6-1 win over Panama in the World Cup for “biased” commentary. In particular, UK viewers from outside England were disappointed by Danny Murphy’s use of “we” when referring to England. “<em>We, we, we…</em>” “<em>BBC could do something about it. Bill McLaren never said “we” in 50 years commentating on Scotland."</em></p></blockquote> <p>Clearly this is all about confidence, and not just that of the national team. Taking Barnett’s lead, we can distinguish between two different types of confidence at work here: the type that promises us in a hostile environment that we are at the centre of the only universe that matters; and the rather different type that gives us enough confidence to go out and be part of the world. </p><p>This, I suggest, might be a more <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/jon-bloomfield/dangerous-road-to-divisive-places">useful distinction</a> than the one recently made popular by <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-goodhart/nation-state-is-in-rude-health-solving-british-puzzle">David Goodhart,</a> between the rooted Somewhere people and the rootless Anywhere people, coopted into Theresa May’s famous nationalist goad that, “ If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”</p> <p>Given what is at stake, one of the great moments of drama for the English this season has been to watch Gareth Southgate, the England manager, as he negotiated the arc of national aspiration from its almost impossibly fragile and precious bubble of euphoria to the cold ashes of defeat. </p> <blockquote><p>- The Sun, July 9: “ARISE, SIR GARETH England manager Gareth Southgate tipped for knighthood… with some Twitter jokers even backing him to sort out Brexit mess.” </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>-&nbsp; Inews, July 10: “Well, there is arguably only one person who’s managed to unite the country since Brexit. Only one man who’s been able to fill us with collective joy, to make us feel part of something. </p><p>Yeah, that’s right. Gareth Southgate for Prime Minister. It’s an idea that’s certainly catching on…” </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>- Gareth Southgate as reported in the Evening Standard, July 11, 2018 : “Our country’s been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity and sport has the power to do that ( unite people)” he said. “Football in particular has the power to do that. And so for us we can feel the energy and we can feel the support from home and that’s a very special feeling. It’s a privilege for us.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>- BBC, July 14, 2018: Gareth Southgate says England are 'not a top-four team yet'… “It has been nice to receive a lot of praise but, balanced with that, we have had a lot of reality as well."</p></blockquote> <p>He seems to have accomplished this difficult task with compassion and integrity, but the largesse of a winning trajectory can so easily be lost altogether. For once the bubble bursts, there is a danger that like the packed audiences of “Tory anarchists, romantic urbanites and frustrated suburbanites” who gave Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron his many standing ovations, we will awaken as from a Midsummer Night’s Dream and ask ourselves where we have been.</p> <p>Here is openDemocracy’s Sunny Hundal engaged in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/sunny-hundal/england-may-have-lost-but-it-gave-us-sense-of-unity-our-political-leaders-have-faile">an important salvaging job</a>, advancing the “corny” thesis that “We won something bigger than a game: a sense of pride and connection we hadn’t felt for a long time.” That England is “crying out for leaders to bring it together not tear it apart” and that “Football may not be loved by everyone but it did a better job of unifying us than our politicians have been doing lately.” Hundal’s claim is more modest than the suggestion that this could unify Brexit Britain. It is that crafting a promising English team of equals from the multiple identities that make it up has given us an image of what we can be together. In particular, that whereas “our political leaders” have berated immigrants to the UK and their children, urging them to “‘sign up to British values’ (code for: be more patriotic)”, it took “one man in a sharp blue waistcoat to show that nationalism needs to be inspired not lectured out of people… For once we got carried away with a sense of national pride without bitterness or division.”</p> <p>In hanging onto that experience, Hundal is tapping into a wisdom that unfortunately tends to be far too confined in our societies to professionals skilled in conflict resolution. This is how <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/louisa-weinstein/negotiating-brexit-from-ground-up">Louise Weinstein</a> defined the mood,&nbsp; “What it demonstrated more than anything was a desire to pull together, that we prefer to work as a team than to be at odds.” One major insight discovered by US journalist turned conflict resolver, <a href="https://thewholestory.solutionsjournalism.org/complicating-the-narratives-b91ea06ddf63">Amanda Ripley</a>, is that people very much want to be part of a conversation that is bigger than themselves and that “Generally, it’s a relief to people to be pulled out of deadlock.” It’s an experience that was memorably summed up in 2009 by the writer <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/article/we-are-a-better-people">Philip Pullman</a>, when he told the Convention on Modern Liberty, “We are a better people than our government believes we are; we are a better nation.”</p> <p>Sunny writes, confident in the knowledge that “you have felt this too”, only to be confronted by naysayers:</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 08.38.32.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 08.38.32.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot. Twitter. July 18, 2018.</span></span></span></p><p>France meanwhile, provides us with a reverse mirror image of Southgate’s rollercoaster ride, this time on the upward arc:</p> <blockquote><p><em>- FT: “The display of collective joy echoed the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xemll_qAo-g">1998 win</a>, when the country celebrated its “black blanc beur” ethnically diverse football team that crushed Brazil 3-0, heralding a period of national unity. Twenty years later, for an evening and maybe longer, France set aside the threat of Islamist terror attacks, the remnants of fraught presidential elections last year and contentious economic reforms to enjoy a moment of national pride.”</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em>- Straitstimes: ‘With success on the pitch, a country riven by tensions and still shaken by a string of attacks that have killed nearly 250 people since 2015 has been able to revel in a newfound feeling of togetherness. "We must be proud to be French! We don't say it enough," star striker Antoine Griezmann reminded his compatriots on Friday. Despite France's enviable lifestyle, it has lacked "joie de vivre" for years, with numerous surveys finding the French some of the most pessimistic people on Earth.’</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote> <p>But already in France, the commentators are asking how long the effect will last, and whether Emmanuel Macron overplayed his hand when in the heat of the moment he told journalists, as relayed by RTL: "I had asked them (the players) only one thing, bring back the World Cup home. They did it, I am very proud of them, of all the players". </p> <p>What does it matter? Football, you may say, is just a game. Yet the titillating sense of a dress rehearsal for life-and-death choices and realities is an essential part of the dynamic. Nobody can deny the sheer investment in the ‘beautiful game’, economic and emotional – personal, corporate, national and collective. These glimpses of the better nation that we are give millions of us the meaning and the bonding that we crave in our lives, if inevitably, some of the enemy images too. </p> <p>But for how long? What happens to the losing teams, or when the expectations don’t work? What I want to take from these World Cup examples, apart from the sheer emotional investment, is the mobility and brittleness in these identifications today, which makes what is to be gained by them so horribly close to what there is to lose. We are on a carousel which is gathering speed. We so nearly believe and then we don’t believe. We believe one minute and not the next. And each time we lose in a myriad of everyday aspirations, both the need to win and the difficulty of believing may be just that much more acute. As societies, we need to understand these everyday building bricks and dress rehearsals for nationalisms good and bad. If we rely on the eruptions of violence to signal the dividing line, won't we always arrive on the scene too late? </p> <p>The hold that these switchback operations have over us comes from deep within. To see them at work, we need to drill down through the building bricks of the nation-state, to two basic individual processes of identity-formation, identification and projection. <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Language_of_Psycho_analysis.html?id=DCpokE8C2WgC&amp;redir_esc=y">Laplanche and Pontalis </a>give us a neat dictionary definition for the crucial psychoanalytic term, projection. This is the operation whereby “qualities, feelings, [or] wishes, . . . which the subject refuses to recognize or rejects in himself, are expelled from the self and located in another person or thing.” You can see it clearly at work in misogyny, albeit complicated by desire, where the weakness of the woman within oneself is projected onto the woman who then appears as a threat. (It is surely this deep-seated misogyny, and not just the combination of “alcohol and tension” offered in some of the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/08/police-fear-rise-domestic-violence-world-cup">reports </a>citing the <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0022427813494843">Lancashire research findings</a>, that plays its part in World-Cup-related domestic violence, as the <a href="https://www.thedrum.com/news/2018/06/28/if-england-get-beaten-so-will-she-posters-bleed-world-cup-fever-domestic-violence">powerful poster</a> designed by the National Campaign against Domestic Violence memorably acknowledged.)</p> <p>There are other ways of enjoying football of course that are a bringing together of strengths, including the great strength which lies in vulnerability to the other. But this is the distinction I am making when I say that the Monocultural National Us is a clubbing together in strength of a great many potential weaknesses. It is this process that sets up the categories of Us and Them in the first place – ready for exploitation by national ideologies. </p> <p>Take the impulse to link foreigners to losers when it comes to attitudes towards Europe or migrants. The deep-seated fear of the loser within is projected onto a series of enemy images in the world at large, who are then deemed to threaten our wellbeing by claiming some kind of kinship. This refutation of the other, alongside more straightforward identifications – these are the natural building blocks that play an important part in the development of the distinction between the ego and the outside world. Literally they are what makes me, me. If I am confident in my identifications, then the world is likely to feel far less inimical: if I am feeling humiliated or powerless, this may well have me turning for consolation towards the amplification of my status on offer in the Monocultural National Us.</p> <p>Now look again at the impact on a whole society of decades of rising inequality leading to the kind of “political failure of historic proportions” that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">Sandel describes</a>. In our relatively immobile winner-take-all societies, yes, people want to belong to a winning side. But behind this, there is the accompanying drama in which the stakes get exponentially higher as we become more desperate to believe in ourselves. Faith and despair, cynicism and gambling are equally rife in societies where there is nothing to be done. We can see this in the everyday logic of participation in elections, especially in first past the post systems. Voters of course think about the party political manifestos, the character of the leadership, behaviour of their representatives and the policies. But there is also a gambling circularity in any election, fed by polls and media commentaries, whereby people vote for the likely winner or out of a fear of who the losers are. They vote to find out whether they are losers or winners, and whenever people experience political impotence or personal humiliation, these stakes too rise that little bit more. </p> <p>My argument is that we dwell in an era unprecedented for its incomplete projections, its unbelief and dashed hopes. In our societies majority reassurance never works for long: wars don’t ‘work’ as they once did despite ever more lavish commemorations; peace never arrives. Enemies proliferate without any sense that we are secure in our own fortifications or united in our self-defence. You may well ask if this isn’t less dangerous than full-blown and self-satisfied completed projection. But both conditions have their dangers. The most complete projection, I suspect, is never entirely complacent. While in the incomplete version, a stubborn devotion to the worst elements can linger on, regardless of the gradual hollowing out of everything that enriched it, until we have zombie world views and deeply frustrated and insecure subjectivities.</p> <p>Neoliberalism, as we know, places the burden of shame and defeat as well as the fear of precarity ever more firmly on our own individual shoulders. With increasing desperation we turn to another strong leader, another collective show of force, even another World Cup. But with the best will in the world, unifying Brexit Britain through football is even less likely to work than through the act of voting. <strong>&nbsp;</strong></p><h2><strong>OurNHS</strong></h2> <p>I hope my colleagues at openDemocracy will forgive my further unsuspected scrutiny of their views on good and bad nationalisms. But I would like to close this section with an informal clash of opinion that took place in our ‘comments’ space between oDUK editor Caroline Molloy and founding editor Anthony Barnett. </p> <p>Caroline Molloy had written another <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/dont-invoke-nhs-to-sell-false-idea-of-good-nationalism">splendid article</a> about the NHS, and more particularly, the utterly cynical way in which Tory anti-NHS legislation and May’s announcements of her ‘hostile environment’ – both of which consciously undermine the NHS, were the backdrop to Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympics NHS montage – invoked by Zoe Williams in <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/08/nationalism-positive-case-immigration-counter-narrative-nhs">this Guardian article</a> as an icon of ‘good nationalism’. </p> <p>Molloy begged to differ. “The Tories genuflect to the NHS as a ‘national religion’ almost as much as Labour” she pointed out, “but that hasn’t stopped them disestablishing it and excommunicating large numbers of people from it.” Moreover Williams had failed to acknowledge who contributed to the making of the NHS: “Those Caribbean nurses who came here to build the NHS, now finding themselves or their children denied healthcare, and worse? The Commonwealth doctors, routinely discriminated against? The slaves who were forced to help ‘this nation’ establish its wealth?”</p> <p>Barnett was in turn incensed: “You could not be more wrong, Caroline… Surely all countries have good and bad forms of nationalism. All are also contested. … On the NHS, this is now intrinsic to our uncodified constitution. It is integral to what it means to be English / British (also Scottish, Welsh). That is why it certainly should be an expression of the positive nationalism of what you term 'ordinary people' and I'd call citizens. So you are wrong to reject nationalism as such…. To claim as you do there is no such thing as good nationalism whether for England or anyone else, and there is "just nationalism" and that this is to be rejected is dangerously wrong, will undermine the NHS and much else… Millions have died, conscripted into national causes. They were not just suffering from 'false consciousness'. We have to understand the grip and nature of these forces as material belief systems.”</p> <p>The exchange goes on: Molloy is willing to back post-colonial nationalism but not English nationalism which for her leaves out most of the salient facts. She concedes that the Tories have to marketise and destroy the NHS in a particularly sneaky way because “of the centrality of healthcare to us”, but is not comfortable with Barnett’s respect for these belief systems, even if millions have died for them. Molloy cannot believe that Barnett doesn’t see the motives and exclusions served by the fiction of a good English nationalism; and Barnett cannot understand that Molloy should have so little respect for the profound shaping impact in our lives of these imagined communities, answering as they do to the deepest economies of desire.</p> <p>So here we have a curious stand-off. Anthony Barnett has devoted so much of his working life as a campaigner and educator, to codifying the uncodified constitution, equipping our nations and nationalisms with the institutions, constitutions, governing principles, not to mention media, they will need. Who knows better the many nefarious purposes that might be concealed within the uncodified variety? Yet despite and indeed perhaps because of this comprehensive work of deconstruction – I am using the word although I know Barnett will hate it – he clearly remains and wishes to remain susceptible to the siren call of a ‘good nationalism’. At the time of the 2012 Olympics, there were plenty of critical voices of&nbsp; ‘Danny Boyle nationalism’ among all the plaudits. One neighbour of mine thought it strangely repugnant that the image of sick children should be so central to it. Others pointed to the absence of any reference to British imperialism in Boyle’s selective history – precisely to the absence of things that divide in Molloy’s account. But here centuries of sacrifice that people have made for their country prevents Barnett from seeing how this imagined community also represses major contradictions in the way we live. More than a contested belief, it is a fiction that glosses over the conflicts that are going on, and that also make us what we are. </p> <p>For her part, Caroline Molloy, openDemocracy’s OurNHS editor over many dedicated years has done more to fight for the survival, nay flourishing, of our national health service than anyone else I know. Yet she turns her back on the elements of this belief system that contain hugely important and still potentially subversive potential for change. After all, if we are to imagine our community in one way or another, surely the “core principle that people got <em>comprehensive</em> healthcare on the basis that they lived here, and needed it, that had endured since 1948” – the image that Molloy tells us May is out to destroy and that unsurprisingly raised Tory qualms when it was first proposed as a centrepiece by Danny Boyle – is as good a self-image to fight for as any. </p> <p>So in this small but heartfelt encounter we have an example of the elusive power of the Monocultural National Us, and its ability to turn us upside down and inside out, even in these febrile times when it is becoming increasingly obvious that on their own, these collective identifications are simply not enough. We cannot live with them or without them? What then do we do with them? </p> <p>There is no accident that the NHS shares with the BBC, that other icon of Britishness, the intention to provide universal and equal access across the huge diversity of a nation. Here is Tony Ageh, former Controller of Archive Development at the BBC and before that of BBC internet, on Auntie’s early promise, “ to Inform, Educate and Entertain EVERYONE, equally and without systemic privilege or favour. No matter who you were, or where you lived, or how rich you were.” Now, both institutions are in crisis. In the case of the BBC, universal relevance has become an etiolated impartiality that is gradually foundering on the rocks of Us and Them. For the NHS, a fundamental economic solidarity is being hived off by privatisation. But doesn’t the principle remain a living challenge to the powers that be, a worthy national aspiration, turned by the times we live in into a subversive if half-submerged vision of what, in all our differences, we still could be together? </p> <p>In this case, admitting much of Caroline Molloy’s case that we could never have built the NHS on our own, and her warning that English nationalism is too often about “forgetting”, can we begin to draw the line? Could we say that a healthy nationalism, if it is to avoid the violence at the beck and call of bad nationalism, must be generous, curious and open to the outside world from which it cannot be detached, while also responsive to the huge diversity, including the contradictions, within its own domain? Might we add that the deceptively innocent manoeuvre of turning away from diversity for the sake of ‘cohesion’ which we saw when multiculturalism was rejected, runs the danger of crossing the line? All of which gets particularly pressing when you are trying to defend, as Zoe Williams is for example, a “bordered civic identity”. </p> <p>In short, we need to be extremely vigilant about cultivating an authoritarian “left patriotism” not very different from that of the right. We should resist the seductions of a “national unity government”, until we can be convinced that this is not just the latest managerial design of the nation state on our emotions, but that it will <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/diane-abbott/national-government-would-be-government-for-rich">genuinely serve our diverse interests</a>. We should cling to the challenge of a unity that can embrace “EVERYONE, equally and without systemic privilege or favour” and face the contradictions and conflicts that this creates for all of us.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 16.35.22.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 16.35.22.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: YouTube. Britain's national healthcare system at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.</span></span></span></p> <p><em>Part 3. Next week, Parts Three and Four.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-one-introduction">Which conflicts strengthen a democracy, and which tear it apart? How Europe is finding out</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-three-two-case-stu">How the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us is at work in Zionism and Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-four-suggestions-for-deeper-democracy">The cure for the abuse of nationalism? More democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/sunny-hundal/england-may-have-lost-but-it-gave-us-sense-of-unity-our-political-leaders-have-faile">England may have lost but it gave us a sense of unity our political leaders have failed to do</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/caroline-molloy/dont-invoke-nhs-to-sell-false-idea-of-good-nationalism">Don&#039;t invoke the NHS to sell a false idea of &#039;good nationalism&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/samir-gandesha/lessons-of-world-cup-for-our-victim-culture">The lessons of the World Cup for our victim culture</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">Populism, Trump, and the future of democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/anthony-barnett/i-am-not-liberal-but-if-i-have-to-get-into-bed-with-them-i-will">Why I am not a Liberal and how we need to fight bin Trump and Brexit</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU UK Rosemary Bechler Wed, 01 Aug 2018 18:27:54 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 119092 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Which conflicts strengthen a democracy, and which tear it apart? How Europe is finding out https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-one-introduction <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Outlining a couple of debates, and the concept of the Monocultural National Us. Why should we be on the look out for its presence in our lives? Pt.1 of 4.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-29888048_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-29888048_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Theresa May meeting Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Washington DC, USA. January 27, 2017. Stefan Rousseau/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This is the first part of a 4-part article exploring the concept of the Monocultural National Us in Europe and beyond. See other parts in Related Articles.</em></p><p>In openDemocracy’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/europe"><em>Can Europe make it</em></a><em>?</em> section, we have been engaged in two debates which are gradually merging together: the latest round of our many discussions on <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/spyros-sofos/turkish-election-as-warning-against-irresistible-charms-of-populism">the nature of populism</a>; and a debate on the rise of the hard right, started by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/edmund-fawcett/hard-right-and-its-threats-to-democratic-liberalism">Edmund Fawcett</a> and taken up by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/anthony-barnett/to-beat-hard-right-we-ll-need-to-change-too-response-to-edmund-fawcett">Anthony Barnett</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/jan-zielonka/how-to-contain-hard-right">Jan Zielonka</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">Michael Sandel</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/europe">others</a> willing to attempt an unblinking look at the political failures of liberal democracy that have led to this profound crisis in the body politic. Michael Sandel unlocked a rich seam in this enquiry when he <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">insisted that</a>: “it is a mistake to see only the bigotry in populist protest, or to view it only as an economic complaint… For those left behind by three decades of market-driven globalization, the problem is not only wage stagnation and the loss of jobs; it is also the loss of social esteem. It is not only about unfairness; it is also about humiliation…”. </p> <p>He goes on to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">explore</a> how ‘liberal neutrality’ by avoiding rather than engaging with our moral disagreements, “flattens questions of meaning, identity, and purpose into questions of fairness. It therefore misses the anger and resentment that animate the populist revolt… the cultural estrangement, even humiliation, that many working class and middle class voters feel; and it ignores the meritocratic hubris of elites.” It is this hollowing out of democratic public discourse and disempowering of ordinary citizens which has paved the way for “a populist backlash that seeks to clothe the naked public square with an intolerant, vengeful nationalism”, he argues, reminding us that “Donald Trump is keenly alive to the politics of humiliation.” And the only way out for our democracies is to better understand “the discontent that is roiling politics in the US and in democracies around the world”, and create a politics that can respond. Above all, “it is necessary to engage in a politics of persuasion”.</p> <p>This struck an immediate chord with several discussants. For <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/francesco-ronchi/liberals-year-zero">Francesco Ronchi</a>, it leads to a two-pronged challenge. We must fundamentally overhaul a depoliticised and technocratised liberal democracy for an age of great global change and “new solitudes”. Citing the extraordinary statistic that “by 2060 in countries like Belgium 60 per cent of families will be made up of only one individual”, Ronchi says that there are no easy answers to the question, “What is the liberals’ vision of community?” But that the answer must be sought if we are to “reinvent new forms of cooperation in societies torn apart by decades of neoliberal individualism.”</p> <p>At the same time, he picks up Sandel’s criticism of ‘liberal neutrality’ and pushes it in a direction which will be familiar to followers of the Laclau and Mouffe ‘left populism’ debate – reminding us of the “importance of conflict in democracy.” For Ronchi, “A dynamic of collusion has replaced the classic competition between right and left”, fostering rather than undermining extreme left and right forces. He concludes, “Polarisation between left and right is on the contrary crucial to save liberalism.”</p> <p>An apparent contradiction at this point in Ronchi’s argument invites some closer attention. Only a sentence or two after calling for new forms of cooperation, and announcing the “implosion of liberal democracy” in societies “torn apart by decades of neoliberalism”, he is urging more “conflict” and “polarisation”. How are we to judge which conflicts serve in the interests of a liberal democracy, and which tear their fabrics apart? What solidarities enhance and which undermine? As Ronchi so pertinently asks: “Is [it] possible for liberals to re-appropriate for themselves the theme of community without giving in to the nationalists, or worse still to the nativists”?</p> <p>Viewed from a media perspective, in a context where incivility, fear and rage seem to have gripped our ‘mature democracies’ as never before, the call for more conflict is a strange one. Admittedly, the structure and dynamics of social media, feeding into polarised and chaotic political scenarios everything from predictive algorithms, to psychometric messaging, to liking, trolling and filter bubbles, are a particularly acute angle on this. But outside social media too the assiduous cultivation of ‘Them’ and ‘Us’, the annihilation of empathy and the erosion of the public sphere, is under way in country after country. </p> <p>Michael Sandel calls for engagement in a politics of persuasion, but who is to persuade whom? Are the despised elites really going to begin to listen and then persuade in a different way, just when no one seems capable any longer of persuading anyone of anything, except the imminent threat of a Hobbesian “war of all against all”?</p> <p>Interestingly Ronchi is not alone in being torn between the need to restore belonging and revive contestation. Our discussions, which have successively reviewed liberalism, democracy, technocracy and populism as candidates for our Achilles heel, are coming up with similarly bifurcated formulations in each. Here is openDemocracy partner <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/spyros-sofos/turkish-election-as-warning-against-irresistible-charms-of-populism">Spyros Sofos</a> on the challenge to theoretical clarity for those involved in the populism debate: “At the end of the day the question is where does ‘the progressive’ lie? – in a unified progressive.. subject, or in a diverse solidaristic ‘coming together’ of movements and other political actors respecting difference and internal dialogue.” Sofos is eager to point out to his colleagues in the field that if there is one feature that can be depended on to characterise populist behaviour more markedly than its discourse-shaping ‘anti-élitism’, it is its “anti-institutional, anti-particularistic aspects… and its inherent ‘aversion’ towards assertions of social diversity.” And here is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/alfred-moore/pre-history-of-post-democracy">Alfred Moore</a> on two different conceptions of what democratic reform can realistically mean today: “On the one hand, revitalizing democracy means demanding sharper and clearer party competition and a concentration of sovereign power such that electoral politics really can make a difference (this is the view held by some left-wing supporters of the UK leaving the EU). On the other hand, it involves the dispersal of power through rights-based empowerments, enhanced transparency, localism and the expansion of opportunities for participation. The real question is whether, and if so how, these different democratic practices might work together.” </p> <p>In my contribution to this discussion, I will argue that our ills begin with the lack of mechanisms, institutions and fora in which citizens can persuade each other. It is this that is driving the multi-valent polarisation currently tearing our societies apart, and creating an anti-politics much more quickly than we can hope to defend existing democracies, let alone create the empowering politics that we know that we need. </p> <p>When I ask myself how a new politics of empowerment could overcome the humiliation and the grievances, let alone the inequality that Sandel has identified, it is the toxic climate for decision-making that is at the forefront of my calculation. How do we prevent the marginalisation of dissent and defend the presence of an open pluralist public square at the centre of our democracies? How do we hang onto the civilisational skills of listening and changing one’s mind that belong to the dying art of conversation? Where indeed do we draw the line between democratic and undemocratic subject formation in the media, in education, in governance, and in law? </p> <p>It is surely no coincidence that this profound challenge to our democracies coincides with the reappearance of a phenomenon that I call the ‘Monocultural National Us.’&nbsp; </p><h2><strong>‘We, we, we”</strong></h2> <p>There are two premises about democracy that we are losing sight of today, even in the most liberal and advanced democracies. The first is the recognition, recently echoed by <a href="https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062802187/fascism-a-warning/">Madeleine Albright</a> in her critique of the Trump presidency, <em>Fascism: A Warning</em>, that the best litmus test for the health of a democracy is the way that its minorities are treated. She writes about Trump's disdain for minorities, and instincts that are "not democratic" ones. But the second premise that concerns us here is a warning levelled at democracy itself – the reminder that "Democracy makes the power of the state especially dangerous" as I shall elaborate below.</p> <p>In Europe, in the decade after 9/11, a gathering chorus of commentators pronounced top down multiculturalism (admittedly a flawed beast) dysfunctional, a view subsequently endorsed by a series of western leaders. In the UK, the ensuing swing towards ‘social cohesion’ was accompanied by the creeping resurgence of an often vague nationalism, invoked in such phrases as “British jobs for British workers”, or “what makes the BBC and we British just that little bit different from everybody else”. This was understood to characterise the majority view in some ill-defined, yet cohering way, while simultaneously reassuring Us about our difference from Them. In various western democracies, for example, questions began to be raised about whether or not their Muslim communities belonged to the 'Us'.</p> <p>A more inclusive approach was still perfectly imagineable. You might go around any room, or community, or society, explaining the very different criteria that makes everyone in that set a precious contributor. Surely this approach would be much closer to serving the general interest? Instead we heard more and more about a unitary ‘national interest’. </p> <p>What is lost in democracies that have ceased to be evaluated according to the treatment that they mete out to their minorities, is this important capacity for inclusion. A democracy should be a society where other points of view are weighed in any process of judgment, where the complicating factors these represent are nevertheless taken into account in the final decision, where people are open to changing their minds about what they once thought was the right or the winning side. But our societies are ones where people are readily convinced that they can only win if someone else loses out, and there we have a building brick for the Monocultural National Us, that can only be reassured about Us, if it has located an inferior Them.</p> <p>We don’t really hear much about people changing their minds as a great, maybe the greatest characteristic of a democratic politics in a complex society. But we should hear much more. Nowadays far too many people are far too certain about what they think, and who the winners and losers are, than can possibly be good for most of us, let alone for a peaceful, thriving, co-creative society. </p> <p>What those governing liberal democracies might stand to gain from such an ‘Us’ is a particular tool for majority reassurance in times of trouble. Reassured that it is at the centre of the ’national interest’ each individual interest identifying with the larger entity is empowered by what we might call an amplifying or hyperbolic effect, one that allows them to feel without having to negotiate anything with anyone, that together they have the upper hand.</p> <p>The Monocultural National Us feeds off many of the building bricks of our liberal democratic societies. A society with a first past the post system of elections – winner take all – is always a candidate for the formation of a Monocultural National Us. A society where bullying is prevalent has a similar capacity to rehearse this outcome, since in a bullying scenario there are always three players – the bully, the victim, and the community that allows the bullying to take place, essentially in its name. The Monocultural National Us is a clubbing together in strength of a great many potential weaknesses. </p> <p>You could argue that more generally, highly competitive systems, where people skill themselves to compete for scarce resources, are also always preparing their contestants to ignore the other, losing point of view, and to defend their privileges on the basis of the efforts they have made to win. The Monocultural National Us succeeds when it can combine enough people in its favour, people who benefit from the existing inequalities, with a substantial number of those who don’t, but who hope to be rewarded for their loyalty, or that their children will be so rewarded, if they side with the winning side. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's much talked about book,&nbsp;<em>The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone</em> (2010), gave us a useful key to understanding the ensuing deterioration in solidarity, by providing the evidence to show that “when the gap between rich and poor increases, so does the tendency to define and value ourselves and others in terms of superiority and inferiority”.(See their latest <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/kate-pickett-richard-wilkinson/enemy-between-us-how-inequality-erodes-our-mental-heal">on openDemocacy here</a>.)</p> <p>This is where the second important premise regarding democracies comes into the equation. It is well summed up by openDemocracy’s early mentor, the sociologist Paul Hirst, who wrote in 2000 that due to the legislative primacy and highly centralised and powerful administration of modern states, “Democracy makes the power of the state especially dangerous” <em>– </em>since its rulers can claim that their policy is derived from the will of the people, and therefore in the general interest. (“<em>J.N.Figgis, Churches and the State”, Political Quarterly, 2000 p.111).</em> </p> <p>We are accustomed to thinking of democracy as the least dangerous of systems, so Hirst’s formulation here is striking. Here again, what is involved is the replacement of a calculation about what different citizens in an internally diverse category might need and might settle for together, along with all the compromises that this must entail, with a slide from those living, breathing negotiations to a winning majority stance which stands in symbolically for the whole, endowing the modern state with a highly deceptive authority in the process. </p> <p>In the decade since the financial crisis, the ‘omnicompetent state’ that concerned Paul Hirst has been struggling for both plausibility and competence. It is all too easy to see how such symbolic identifications and the authority they confer might be increasingly attractive. Defending the ‘sovereignty’ of the people’s will from external and internal threats is a far easier manoeuvre than actually dealing with all the conflicting interests around any given issue which the proper pursuit of the general interest of a complex, diverse society must involve. </p> <p>An aggravated majoritarianism is the result of turning our backs on both these dangers, and it paves the way to a range of scenarios: war-mongering decisions which permit the state to use the ‘will of the people’ to mobilise its coercive powers without just cause; reductive decisions which reduce a complex range of reasons for support to one single ‘will of the people’ prescription; divisive decisions which take a bare majority as the singular, unchanging, ‘will of the people’, neglecting all other points of view or needs; a proliferation of enemy images internally and externally that gradually replaces the élite manufacture of consent; and decisions taken against the background mobilisation of emotions always necessary for the promotion of a Monocultural National Us against Them – particularly those emotions that give people who fear that they might be losers at any given historic moment, a much easier way of joining forces.</p> <p>We have seen all of these in recent years, and the reason for concern is that all are ways of using force that ultimately lead directly or indirectly to violence. There is a rise in aggrieved majoritarianism in Europe and elsewhere, whereby national majorities, seldom even a numerical majority of all the relevant people, are nevertheless encouraged by their political representatives to perceive themselves as a National Us victim to some Other. The most tragic example is how “the frail bodies of a few thousand migrants arriving on European shores” as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/charles-heller/for-open-migration-policy-to-end-deaths-and-crises-in-mediterranea">Charles Heller</a> puts it, “are triggering a major political crisis throughout the EU.” The drive towards closure and the politicisation of migration is so strong after years of tension that a 95 per cent drop in numbers since the peak in 2015 has not registered on the debate. European citizens, sure that their states have lost control, increasingly wish that migrants would simply disappear. Meanwhile, according to the UN migration agency, a thousand have died crossing the Mediterranean so far in 2018. </p><p>Giorgio Agamben, Italian philosopher and radical political theorist, with his study of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Agamben#State_of_Exception_(2005)">state of exception</a> which has become a permanent state of affairs in many countries in Europe and beyond, remains the outstanding theoretician of this aspect of the democratic state. His work elaborates on and engages with Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” as well as the thinking of Carl Schmitt. Indeed it is the state capacity for violence and for endorsing violence which makes it urgent for us to recognise the ways in which we can be coopted as citizens into this kind of identification with the National Us.&nbsp; </p> <p>Take the supposedly ‘lone wolf’ killer who <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler-geir-lippestad/oslo-small-hotels-where-we-meet">attacks multiculturalism</a> as the enemy. He will amplify his power in his own eyes by saying that he alone is setting out to save the nation from itself. Another more normal everyday version familiar to students of populism is the identifiation with a "strong leader" who can fend off our own vulnerability to the Other. Someone who never seems to have to apologise, and who can enforce an outcome we think that we want. One essential feature of the identification is the amplifying or hyperbolic function. A second component is the unitary nature of the identification. For people who like the world to be clear cut and binary, right or wrong – violence is one way of putting paid to a multiculturalism that is a constant source of humiliation. Both types of enlargement of our status – that of the individual who successfully identifies him or herself with the nation, and the sleight of hand in which the majority somehow stands in for the complex nation-as-a-whole, rely on our belief in the unitary nature of the Us that makes us different from Them. </p> <p>But is this really credible in either case? The unitary nature of a nationalist identification can only exist at the level of a fiction, wilfully adhered to by those with most to gain from the exercise. It must disappear the minute a concrete interest is spelled out, because inevitably there is so much divergence in such large categories. One of the few ways to experience ourselves as united is to concentrate in binary terms on what and who we are not. So a third identifiable feature is the unitary nature of the projected enemy image, turned into a notoriously homogeneous, undifferentiated Other. Anything beyond the binary is an undermining presence, and openness to the other an early victim to this compulsion.</p> <p>As we watch the seemingly inexorable rise of the Monocultural National Us in countries including but not at all confined to Europe and the United States, it is a clear and present danger that the capture, model and preempt cycle of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/dan-mcquillan/manifesto-on-algorithmic-humanitarianism">machine learning</a> will amplify this tendency. We can be aware of the signs, but maybe we need to cultivate a much deeper critical acumen, comparable to decolonial or feminist standpoint approaches to assertions of objectivity, neutrality and universality.</p><p>Part two follows: <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national"><em>Why it is so difficult to differentiate between good and bad nationalisms, and why the World Cup might help.</em></a></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-two-good-nationalism-and-bad-national">Our nationalist stories about ourselves can be benign or dangerous – how can we tell the difference? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-three-two-case-stu">How the lethal logic of the Monocultural National Us is at work in Zionism and Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/lethal-logic-of-monocultural-national-us-part-four-suggestions-for-deeper-democracy">The cure for the abuse of nationalism? More democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/michael-j-sandel/populism-trump-and-future-of-democracy">Populism, Trump, and the future of democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/francesco-ronchi/liberals-year-zero">Liberals, Year Zero</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/spyros-sofos/turkish-election-as-warning-against-irresistible-charms-of-populism">The Turkish election as a warning against the irresistible charms of populism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/charles-heller/for-open-migration-policy-to-end-deaths-and-crises-in-mediterranea">For an open migration policy to end the deaths and crises in the Mediterranean</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kate-pickett-richard-wilkinson/enemy-between-us-how-inequality-erodes-our-mental-heal">The enemy between us: how inequality erodes our mental health</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rosemary Bechler Tue, 31 Jul 2018 19:28:47 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 119080 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In memory of Razan al Najjar: Steve Bell's cartoon https://www.opendemocracy.net/in-memory-of-razan-al-najjar-steve-bells-cartoon <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An Israeli army sniper&nbsp;shot the 21-year-old nurse while she was trying to care for injured protestors in Gaza. This is Steve Bell's tribute to her.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564976/BELLTOONTHURSDAY070618adj.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564976/BELLTOONTHURSDAY070618adj.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Steve Bell revised this cartoon to avoid causing unintended offence; <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/guardian-cartoonist-steve-bell-denies-anti-semitism-claims-after-drawing-spiked-by-editor_uk_5b19054ce4b09578259f5b4a">more information here</a>. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Razan al Najjar was a 21-year-old Palestinian nurse volunteering with the medical crews attending protesters hit by Israel Defense Forces' sniper fire during the ten-week protests at the Gaza border. </p><p>Called by the organisers the "<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/stephen-mccloskey/gaza-s-great-march-of-return-is-international-rallying-call">Great March of Return</a>", ("مسیرة العودة الكبري"‎), the protests were demanding that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to what is now Israel. They were also protesting about the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the moving of the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. </p><p>After giving an interview earlier that day, in which she said she took pride in the aid she was providing to the wounded, Najjar and her team of paramedics approached the border in white coats and with their hands in the air. She was fatally shot in the chest.</p><p><em>The New York Times</em> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/02/world/middleeast/gaza-paramedic-killed.html">reports</a> that in an interview at a Gaza protest camp last month, Najjar said: “Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too.”</p><p>According to&nbsp;<em>The New York Times</em>, on 1 June, "she ran forward to aid a demonstrator for the last time. Israeli soldiers fired two or three bullets from across the fence, according to a witness, hitting Ms. Najjar in the upper body. She was pronounced dead soon after….&nbsp; On Saturday, a group of United Nations agencies issued a <a href="https://www.ochaopt.org/content/un-agencies-deeply-concerned-over-killing-health-volunteer-gaza">statement</a> expressing outrage over the killing of 'a clearly identified medical staffer,' calling it 'particularly reprehensible.'"</p><p>Violence during the protests has resulted in the deadliest days of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza War. The Israeli military say that the investigation into al Najjar's killing will continue, and accuse Hamas of putting civilians in danger.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564976/Razan al-Najjar Facebook profile pic.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564976/Razan al-Najjar Facebook profile pic.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Razan al Najjar (Image: Facebook)</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/isabella-bellezza-smull/from-land-day-to-70th-anniversary-of-nakba-palestinia">From Land Day to the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Palestinians have plenty to protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/stephen-mccloskey/gaza-s-great-march-of-return-is-international-rallying-call">Gaza’s “Great March of Return”: an international rallying call for peace and justice</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Palestine </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Gaza </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? North-Africa West-Asia uk Gaza Palestine Conflict Israel Rosemary Bechler Fri, 08 Jun 2018 09:56:42 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 118305 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The ordinary virtues of cities https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler-phil-wood/ordinary-virtues-of-cities <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Talking to Phil Wood, co-founder of the intercultural cities model, <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/interculturalcities/-/join-the-intercultural-cities-2017-milestone-event">last November,</a> about love of cities, intercultural city planning, innovative local government, human rights and ‘ordinary virtues’. Interview.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4558.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4558.jpg" alt="lead lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Rosemary Bechler (RB): Please first introduce yourself to openDemocracy readers</em>.</p> <p><strong>Phil Wood (PW)</strong>: I’m Phil Wood and I am an urban therapist: (I think I am <em>the</em> urban therapist – there are no others I know of.) I come from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, where I live, where I was born and will die. I am one of the co-founders of the intercultural cities model which underpins this event and <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/interculturalcities">the Council of Europe programme</a>.</p> <p><em>RB: How did you put yourself in the position of being able to kick off this whole new vocabulary for our times?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> I worked in local government and left in 2000 to work with a small think tank, <a href="https://www.comedia.org.uk/">Comedia</a>, set up by Charles Landry. </p> <p><em>RB: Ah! <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ken-worpole">Ken Worpole</a> is a great friend of openDemocracy's.</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Ken Worpole – exactly! Ken had moved on by the time I joined but I feel part of the same lineage. I guess we tried to offer an alternative kind of consultancy – though we didn’t really like the word ‘consultants’, since these are usually hired guns who will come in and say whatever you want if the money is right. And we liked to think we offered something a bit deeper and more critical, and would say things that cities didn’t necessarily want to hear, which didn’t make us the most commercially successful group. But I think it produced <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comedia_(consultancy)">a body of work</a> which I still feel proud of. </p> <p>It is important for me to tell you this because that’s where we come from. We come from the innards of cities. We love cities and want to know what makes cities work in a very organic sense, not in an intellectual or a politically pragmatic sense of ‘getting things done’. We asked, what are these beasts? </p> <p>We come from a very different place from the kind of people who usually populate this field: the ‘diversity specialists’, you know the people who in Britain established ‘multiculturalism’ – they have a very different sense of themselves; or people who are in organisational management; or people who are involved in democracy and politics. To that extent we were outsiders.</p> <p><em>RB: That’s really why I was asking how you have managed to do it!&nbsp; </em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Well, we put a proposal to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who I suppose are among the few foundations with the courage and the imagination to take us on. We wanted to do something very international, which is normally not what they would do. They usually focus on British social issues. It took a combination of people prepared to take a flier with us. They knew we were going to produce something voluminous and multi-stranded that couldn’t be boiled down to three bullet points that a politician could memorise! </p> <p>And we produced that report, and it grew out of my experience of being in a diverse local authority and being frustrated to see how ‘multiculturalism’, which was my creed, wasn’t working. The balance of it was still right, but as it was practised in the nitty gritty of getting things done, it was actually starting to be distorted and potentially part of the problem, because it was reinforcing power structures and creating community leaders who were mediating between their ethnic blocs and the politicians, and it was forcing people into identifying themselves according to their ethnicity or religion in order to be recognised and acknowledged by the local state. In order for you and your group to get that grant, or that community centre, you had to emphasise your ethnic or religious identity.</p> <p><em>RB: Essentialising that one descriptive!</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Yes! People who didn’t necessarily see themselves like that, were almost obliged to become that in order to be picked up on the radar of the local state. And I thought, this is wrong!&nbsp; Where this is leading us is not where ‘multiculturalism’ set out to take us!</p> <p><em>RB: So did you welcome Trevor Phillips’ intervention, opposing ‘multiculturalism’ in the Blair years and subsequently in the Commission for Racial Equality? </em></p> <p><strong>PW: </strong>No I didn’t, because I don’t think it was coming out of the kind of debate that we were trying to have at the time. He was too implicated, I think, in a very narrow world, and was only talking to a few people, actually. </p> <p>We were doing our research at that time, and we had things we wanted to say. So we wrote to him and tried to go and see him, but we were completely shut out. Who were we? We had no ‘street cred’ in his world at all, so he wasn’t going to listen to us.</p> <p>Our report came out, and Charles Landry and I followed it up <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Intercultural-City-Planning-Diversity-Advantage/dp/1844074366">with a book in 2007</a>. But we were feeling a bit dispirited because nobody in England was picking up on it at all. It drew an utter blank really. They didn’t even give us the credibility of arguing against us, you know. Britain just completely blanked us.</p> <p>Fortunately we had always had links with the Council of Europe, and at the time, the head of department, Robert Palmer, knew us well and he valued us. He said, “Come over to Strasbourg and talk to us.” Amazingly, he said, “We are going through a very similar thought process to you, along parallel lines. We have each got something that the other needs. Your approach is full of ideas, it’s fresh, alive and full of examples that we can work with. But you need credibility, and we can give you that institutional credibility. We need to reach out to cities in ways that we have never done before. We want to talk to people who are actually on the ground, and you have given us a new language with which to talk to them!”</p> <p>So that was a great moment and it happened just ten years ago.</p> <p><em>RB:&nbsp; Somebody in this morning’s plenary pointed out that the ten years of this interculturalism project has coincided with ten years of austerity policy in our societies. Now, we are discovering that in terms of social cohesion, austerity certainly doesn’t work. But I remember Trevor Phillips’ announcement that ‘multiculturalism didn’t work’, being taken up enthusiastically by European prime minister after political leader… it wasn’t just Britain was it?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> That’s true. The irony was that when Mutti Merkel said it hadn’t worked in Germany, they hadn’t even given it a try! The Dutch turned heavily against multiculturalism and that was a powerful rebuff. </p> <p><em>R: And there were others, like Aznar, who gave Giovanni Sartori a prestigious award in 2005.</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> In Spain, yes.</p> <p><em>RB: That was quite a big setback, wasn’t it – just when you and the Council of Europe were getting going? And in Britain, you are saying, that desire ‘not to know’ has remained the case to this day?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Yes. Coming from a local government background, I have certainly got some bees in my bonnet about this. At the time we celebrated the arrival of the Blair/Brown administration, but actually they eviscerated local government. I was formed in one of Britain’s most innovative local authorities. The leader of my Council, John Harman, who became head of the Environment Agency, was knighted for what he managed to do in Kirklees. Maybe that spoilt me: I assumed all local councils were like that. </p> <p>But Gordon Brown and Tony Blair looked down in dismay at British local government and just saw a group of third-rate losers who had to be told what to do. So they imposed a top-down model. It might have been good stuff, but it just disempowered local government and took away any sense of initiative. It put the good ones down, and elevated the bad ones. My local government now wouldn’t be able to do anything that we once did. Blair and Brown said, no, you have to do it our way. And I just saw the self-confidence of local government ebbing away through those years.</p> <p><em>RB: Today, we have heard a lot about how it is the local level, not just the city level, but the village and the local community, that really can make the difference, and the need to support people becoming fully engaged citizens, able to sort things out for themselves. </em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Absolutely. One thing was that the economy was strong until 2008. So it was possible to finance all kinds of programmes in British local government, including things that we might call ‘intercultural’. But sadly, because they were all just top-down initiatives, and all the finance was coming from central government, as soon as the tap was turned off, they all went. Because they weren’t embedded in those communities: they hadn’t come from below. Moreover a lot of them were linked to the UK’s toxic ‘<a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/97976/prevent-strategy-review.pdf">Prevent programme’</a>, “designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities”. </p> <p>Then you had the Tories coming in and they are not going to keep any of the intercultural stuff going, but they held onto the more authoritarian aspects of <a href="https://fullfact.org/law/what-prevent-strategy/">Prevent.</a> </p> <p><em>RB: So what was the most important message coming out of today’s discussion, for you?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> l liked the call, by Tom Huddleston, who did what he was asked to do, which is to throw down a challenge, and he said, “Local government, even the best of you, don’t rest on your laurels. You are disorganised, you are too short termist, you are too willing to roll over and have your tummy tickled or be fearful of national governments. You must start operating as an effective lobby and you can probably learn something from civil society on that score.” I was glad of that message. </p> <p>It is different, however, in every country: as somebody said of local government in Italy, “It is like talking to jelly!” and it is similar in Britain now, there is such a laissez-faire culture of government. We have gone from the total Stalinism of Gordon Brown to the “do what the fuck you like but you are not getting any money for anything…”. And every variation along that spectrum can be found across Europe now, so it is not easy to take up one single message to be replicated across the board.</p> <p><em>RB: Yet your own presentation was very much a general overview of progress and challenges. Can you give our readers a brief summary of that overview?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Well, intercultural cities arise first and foremost from the viewpoint of the city. Those of us involved believe that the city is an absolutely essential aspect of our lives, and that we need to care for and nurture the city and not simply use it as some kind of vehicle or tool for achieving other policy aims.</p> <p>The city is the only place where everything else comes together, whether it is school, or refuse, or transport, through increasingly, to such international issues as ‘terrorism’ or foreign policy, or science and innovation. They all come together in the city. That’s why I love them because they are so complex, and life is complex. Cities create problems because of their complexity, but they are also the best places to solve problems. I am really suspicious of single issue people who say, “Get this right and everything else will fall into place. Spend money on this and it will be fine.” No, we don’t want to go down that road. By nurturing the city – and that is why I call myself an urban therapist – nurture the city and the city will nurture you. </p> <p>That respect for a complex system is where we start from. We acknowledge that things like diversity and migration and forced migration are some of the big challenges facing the contemporary city. So we have to deal with them, but deal with them in the context of everything else. </p> <p>Having said that, we have looked at the human rights perspective on this from the beginning. As someone said today, “Human rights is the language in which states talk to states, nations to nations.” So initially, that wasn’t too helpful to us. But in the new paradigm that I have been talking about today, we have said, “Human rights are very much there, but not in the abstract.” They have to be brought down to earth and made meaningful on the city streets. We can’t have a situation in which ordinary people feel that human rights is a stick that an élite is using to beat them with! That’s a travesty!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4572.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4572.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Phil making his presentation, at the Intercultural Cities Milestone Event, Lisbon, Portugal.</span></span></span><em>RB: It was also pointed out that human rights were particularly important to the dispossessed. But perhaps you are saying that it is everyone else who needs convincing of their value to them too?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> As I said, “Human rights are for everybody!” and the loss of a single human right around the world is our loss too. Our new paradigm is based upon three pillars: equality, diversity and interactivity and universal human rights pervade this. It is our job to translate all of that human rights language into the city level and to become a mediator between the local and global. The failure of some institutions to acknowledge this need in the past has contributed to the populist backlash against universal human rights that we now face.</p> <p><em>RB: It gives a certain opportunity, doesn’t it for people like David Goodhart, in his <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/jon-bloomfield/dangerous-road-to-divisive-places">recent book</a>, to talk about the divide between people from ‘somewhere’ and the metropolitan </em><em>élite; and for Theresa May to say that cosmopolitans don’t belong “anywhere”.</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> That was a dagger to my heart, that she could say that and thought she could get away with it! After all, I am living proof of someone who is a global citizen but who is profoundly rooted in the place that I was born in. And I’m not alone! But yes, those attitudes have allowed people like Goodhart to exploit that cleavage, and we have to remove that cleavage. </p> <p><em>RB: One of the ways you want to do this you talked about in terms of ‘ordinary virtues’ and ‘universal values’. Could you tell me more about ‘ordinary virtues’?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Yes, I acknowledge <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674976276">the recent work of Michael Ignatieff</a> here. He says that whilst, over the last 70 years, universal human rights have made the world a much better place, they do not build communities. Yet it is the disintegration of communities in the face of neoliberalism which which makes our current social fabric feel so dangerously unstable. So while rights empower individuals and constrain the powerful, Ignatieff says we need something else as the social glue of a diverse community, and he calls this the ‘ordinary virtues’ </p> <p>He didn’t just speak to Europeans, but to people on five continents about what mattered to them, what made the world go around for them, what made your family, your street, your neighbourhood, your workplace, tick – other than being managed in an authoritarian way from above. How do you as just a group of people, get along without shooting each other. </p> <p>Unless they are a psychopath, people have kindness and empathy, for example. The vast majority of the human race enjoy being good to other people in the belief that there will be reciprocal goodness coming their way. People are prepared to go through bad times together in the hope of good times together. People will reach out to someone in need if they recognise it. </p> <p>But it sometimes seems that when it comes to crisis points like the Syrian conflict and the resulting displacement of people, people are not trusted in some way to show empathy, warmth, hospitality, to a fellow human in need, and it is thought that they have to be told of their obligations under universal human rights, because that is the only way in which these people will understand what they have to do.</p> <p>Resentment had been simmering for many years&nbsp; but it reached a terrible apogee when, for example, the Hungarian border was closed down. What Ignatieff is saying is that we can’t just keep shouting, with a larger and larger megaphone, “You must show hospitality because the human rights legislation says you have to!” You know, the devil always has the best tunes, and people like Viktor Orban will always be able to exploit people’s feelings of grievance or not being listened to.</p> <p>So secondly, we have to go back and find a new way of acknowledging people’s sense of themselves as human beings, find a way of marrying all the great things about human rights which have lifted so many people out of poverty and oppression over the last seventy years. We have to hold onto all of those, and find a different language in which to say that this is not a zero-sum game. One person achieving&nbsp; freedom from oppression for being black or gay doesn’t deny a white family in Hungary their freedoms in any sense. Everybody’s boat has been going up. </p> <p>The Council of Europe is as guilty as the Democratic Party and all of the liberal élite in America and elsewhere, of being complacent and failing to get on the streets and talk about that.</p> <p>The third important way forward we can see is interaction and dialogue. This is what we have found the established bodies and the cultural diversity experts of ten years ago were not talking about. And that’s where we came in, with that third strand. </p> <p><em>RB: Tell me about the human library?</em></p> <p>Phil: Well it is one of many examples, and they are all fairly simple. The idea of human libraries was born in Copenhagan in Denmark. It was the idea first of all that a library is a good thing, hopefully a neutral space offering something to everybody historically, a place of sanctuary where people can leave behind certain preconceptions. But in a human library you come in not to borrow a book but 30 minutes of someone else’s life. We draw up a catalogue of people from all walks of life who would be willing to meet and talk with a stranger and then they offer themselves for loan to people who would like to meet them. For example, what if I hear lots of bad things about a particular group in my city…</p> <p><em>RB: Like ‘Polish plumbers’?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> I’ve never met a Polish plumber, but can I come into this library and start talking to a Polish plumber and see what life looks like through his eyes? </p> <p><em>RB: How important to that idea is internationalism, or Europeanism, or anything beyond the nation state? We rely so much on this monocultural ‘National Us’, the ‘national interest’ to amplify our sense of self – and yet it often distorts the reality, including the national reality? </em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Yes, one would have hoped that with the financial crisis, people might have focused upon the deeper underlying causes of inequality or the relative decline in income growth of the working classes in Europe and North America. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 16.51.02_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 16.51.02_0.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>One slide from Phil Wood's presentation in Lisbon, November, 2017.</span></span></span>The sad thing was that it offered a simplistic and undeserved revival for the nation state. Because at that point in 2008, the nation state was really the only institution that could get us out of the hole. It was Gordon Brown’s model really, wasn’t it: getting a grip on the central bank and the national finances? At that point people realised that this was still the best hope we had got, in choppy waters and uncertain times. “The nation state may not be ideal, but it’s the best we’ve got!” </p><p><em>RB: Do you think that fed back into the Brexit “Take back control”?</em></p> <p><strong>PW:</strong> Certainly, I think it did. It fed into that in different ways in different countries. You can’t compare somebody like Geert Wilders and his Dutch-specific&nbsp; approach: likewise Orban in Hungary. But it did revive a belief in the strength of the nation state for a lot of wrong reasons. </p> <p>Because the nation state had proved itself to be asleep on the job in many ways, by allowing the global economy to be controlled by forces beyond democratic scrutiny. Nation states got too much praise that they didn’t deserve for ‘saving the day’. It took our eyes off the ball and the deeper reasons. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler-geir-lippestad/oslo-small-hotels-where-we-meet">Breivik lawyer: how to avoid the Trump trap</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU UK Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rosemary Bechler Phil Wood Mon, 05 Mar 2018 08:55:18 +0000 Phil Wood and Rosemary Bechler 116453 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Breivik lawyer: how to avoid the Trump trap https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler-geir-lippestad/oslo-small-hotels-where-we-meet <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Geir Lippestad defended Norway's biggest mass murderer. Now the former Vice-Mayor of Oslo talks about what's he's learned about how to combat hatred and create a 'win-win' for intercultural cities. Interview.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 16.09.06.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 16.09.06.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="217" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot of Anders Behring Breivik's Trial, Day One. Geir Lippestad, his defence counsel is on the left. Youtube.</span></span></span></p><p><em>Rosemary Bechler (RB): Do tell us why you are here in Lisbon, at a Council of Europe conference for Intercultural Cities? </em></p> <p><strong>Geir Lippestad (GL):</strong> I am the Vice-Mayor of Oslo, responsible for public ownership, diversity and business. I am here to learn more about diversity in our societies and also to tell people how we work in Oslo on the diversity front.</p> <p><em>RB: Can I take you back to a dark chapter in Oslo’s history and the shock, apart from the horror of that shooting spree, at Anders Breivik’s explicit targeting of ‘multiculturalism’ as the enemy. Was it a shock for your society, or had this kind of pathology been anticipated?</em></p> <p><strong>GL: </strong>No, it was a shock of course. This rightwing extremist was born in Oslo, raised in Oslo, went to our schools and apparently there was nothing especially weird about him. But he became a rightwing extremist and as you say inflicted the worst attack on civil society in Norway since the second world war. So that in itself was a shock. </p> <p>But it was also a shock that as a rightwing extremist he attacked the Labour Party, and not only its politicians, but the children of those politicians. So he wanted to wound them as much as possible and he explicitly stated that he wanted to hurt them because their fathers and mothers had ‘ruined this country’ and therefore the right for ‘my children to grow up in a rightwing extremist society’. </p> <p>So it was horrible and a shock for Norway. But on the other hand if we look at the history of Norway, there have been around 15 terrorist attacks in the last thirty years – all of them by rightwing extremists: none of them from Muslim extremists. <span class="mag-quote-center">There have been around 15 terrorist attacks in Norway in the last thirty years – all of them by rightwing extremists: none of them from Muslim extremists. </span></p> <p><em>RB: Since you were closely involved in that trial, did you feel you learned something about this hatred of ‘multiculturalism’?</em></p><p><em> </em></p><p><strong>GL:</strong> Yes, yes, I learned a lot as a lawyer in that case but also in previous cases. Almost twenty years ago now, I had a case where two young Nazis knifed a young black guy to death just because he was black. I spent three, almost four years on that case, and I was able to dig into what happened to these three young people living in Oslo, who seemed to have enough to live on, a place to go to school, everything. So why had this taken place? I asked myself the same question in the Breivik case and I don’t know if I have the complete answer. </p> <p>But of course, we politicians have a great responsibility. When politicians talk about ‘other people’, when we talk about ‘multiculturalism’ – of course no-one ever suggests that anyone should go and kill people, but we know that people are asking themselves, is it a trap, or is it something good? &nbsp;Then, in America today, for example, everyone who listens to Donald Trump thinks that ‘multiculturalism’ is a trap they don’t want to fall into. And this triggers something in just a few people, which is very dangerous – people who see themselves as crusaders who save the country from itself. They go into action. </p> <p>Of course it is not the responsibility of leading politicians that people kill, but we must pay much more attention to how we speak and why we speak, and that is why this conference is so important. Because we also have to speak out about the many advantages that come from ‘multiculturalism’. And that is why I am here, to learn and to talk more about what I am also learning about those advantages. </p> <p><em>RB: You said that these few rightwing extremists are also animated by the desire to save their country. Could we see a link between this and larger scale effects, for example, the Brexit call in my country to ‘take back control’? These were the saviours of our national ‘sovereignty’ demanding a country which would once again be more about them than about the ‘others’. I can see that tackling this is a huge challenge for politicians, because it is precisely now in the era of globalisation, when they feel they have to convince us that they too are working to secure the nation. I don’t know if you remember the moment in the UK when Gordon Brown, for example, chose to start talking about “British jobs for British workers.” So much of the paraphernalia of what we might call ‘majority reassurance’ is vested in this monocultural ‘National Us’ whether in sport, celebrating our monarchy, or memorializing our roles in twentieth century world wars. So when do politicians get to talk meaningfully about diversity?</em></p> <p><strong>GL: </strong>It’s a very important question. Take Norway for example. There is only one big city in Norway, and that is Oslo with 700,000 people. One third are from parts of the world other than Norway and it is the only city that is like that. And people in Oslo are not afraid of diversity. In our recent elections, they voted for the Labour Party, the socialist left, the Green Party. But people in the countryside, people who live in places where they have almost no diversity and don’t see people from other parts of the world, are afraid. I tried to find out: “what is this?” What happened to these small communities?&nbsp; </p> <p>The young people move out of these small communities: they want to live in the city and they move to Oslo with its blooming multicultures, and the university which is a huge cultural scene in itself. You can meet people from all over the world. The rest of those communities stay behind, and of course they feel that they are the losers. And they are losing. But the enemy is not diversity. On the contrary: what they don’t see is that diversity is the answer and that it is what is making Oslo such a popular city! </p> <p>What I am trying to say is that it is extremely important that all cities engaged with diversity, should try to have a plan, a form of organization, and to underline the good things about diversity. What are they? It can create jobs if you are doing the right things, and new cultures if you can stay open and new people come to your little town – people can learn a lot. So it is so important to have a plan, and to communicate this plan very effectively. <span class="mag-quote-center">It is so important to have a plan, and to communicate this plan very effectively.</span></p> <p>We saw when we had the refugee crisis, how small villages in Norway who set up refugee camps reacted when they started closing down because there were no more refugees. Many of them started saying, “Give us back the refugees!” Because they had become friends with the refugees! If you don’t meet a man or woman from Syria, you may be afraid of the hijab, or of the men. But if you meet them, maybe in another village, then you can start a dialogue.</p> <p>So yes, this is the question and we have not found all the answers of course. But we must talk, not only about what is costs to have a refugee policy, or a diversity policy, but that it is completely essential to create jobs and to have a prosperous country. Of course we have to do the research on that and how to frame our recommendations on that, and then we have to produce the results!</p> <p><em>RB: Earlier today, the point was made that this is also about being able to talk about the inequalities in our societies.&nbsp; Do the people who feel themselves to be the losers actually get included in enjoying those multicultural festivals which we have been hearing about?</em></p> <p><strong>GL:</strong> I think that they must be. But maybe we are not good enough on that front. You were talking about Breivik. When I talked to him about those things and asked him, “Why do you hate people of a different skin colour from yourself?”, he has lots of answers. But I can see from an old photo when Breivik was in his second year at school that he was together with a boy who was totally black. I asked him,” Did you like him?” He said, “Yes, of course, he was my best friend!” “How can you become best friends with this guy?” Breivik said, “He’s not like the rest of them!” And when I talked to the young Nazis, they said the same thing. ”I hate them, but he’s not like that”, because they know him. So it is very important, as we said, that when we have big festivals, it must be a festival for everybody!&nbsp; And as I was saying earlier today, our diversity campaigns must not be narrow – they must be much wider, not just concentrating on students or on certain people in certain departments ­– and that it is the ways we meet that are most important. </p> <p><em>RB: We’ve just come out of a session in which you were asked how in Oslo you set about achieving an ‘interculturalism’ or ‘diversity advantage’? Can you tell me a bit more about this?</em></p> <p><strong>GL:</strong> In Oslo now we are trying to take traffic out of the city centre, and we have begun to talk about what we should put into this city centre when cars are gone. Of course people. Oslo like many other capitals is a divided city: there is an east part of the city and a west part. But we are working very hard to find ways in which people from the east part of the city can be tempted into the centre with people from the west parts of the city.&nbsp; So that people from all over the city can meet up and talk and eat, and go to poetry festivals and everything else that you can offer in a city. <span class="mag-quote-center">But we are working very hard to find ways in which people from the east part of the city can be tempted into the centre with people from the west parts of the city.</span></p><p><em>RB: Earlier you were talking about a marvellous hotel in Oslo which is used as a training opportunity for all sorts of skills and services. I wanted to ask you if that was only used for training recently-arrived migrants? </em></p> <p><strong>GL:</strong> No, at the hotel, everyone get the opportunity from people with Downs syndrome to people with psychiatric and social problems and all the rest. In Oslo there are different kinds of small businesses that offer this kind of apprenticeship, but among them this small hotel in the centre of Oslo, owned by the municipality jointly with a private sector business partner. It is important that it is small because we have a scheme we call ‘place and train’. There are forty rooms when there is a full house, and there is a ground staff who are professionals who know everything about running a small hotel and also about managing their staff and human nature. </p> <p>People who come and stay at the hotel will not know if the people who attend to them have psychiatric problems or if I am a refugee, though they may recognize if I have Downs syndrome. But they just see in reception, in the kitchen, in the cleaning and upkeep, marketing and everything to do with hotels, a smooth-running establishment. What is important is that people have a normal job of work to do. This small hotel is working in cooperation with a group of big hotels just across the road, so that when people have been trained up, they are guaranteed work in a real hotel with a normal salary just the same as other workers. So our hotel is the guarantee to others in the business that they have the necessary skills. </p> <p>We have another example in the health sector where people with psychiatric problems are learning how to become skilled up for working in welfare centres. When they have the skills they go and work there, not as helpers but as workers.</p> <p>What has happened is that people who go into these programmes see that work is waiting for them. So their motivation is very high. There are other programmes where people just sit in a classroom and learn Norwegian and something about Norwegian culture and don’t have the work waiting for them, and they don’t have the motivation. Maybe they have six kids, or are from poorer families and they need a lot of help. But it is also important that people from Oslo see that when people are trained to work in the hotel, they then seize the first opportunity to work and to pay tax, and contribute something to the society.&nbsp; So it is a win-win situation for all concerned. <span class="mag-quote-center">This has become one of the most popular hotels in Norway, because the atmosphere is so special. You should go there!</span></p> <p><em>RB: And do you think this hotel also demonstrates the ‘diversity advantage’?</em></p> <p><strong>GL:</strong> This has become one of the most popular hotels in Norway, because the atmosphere is so special. You should go there! It’s in the centre of Oslo and people don’t know that it is different in any way. But they may see someone with Downs Syndrome giving people a hug when they come. They might come across staff there who are highly motivated to learn Norwegian. And then they see the professionals at work, and taste the food – and it’s very good. They might be asked if they would like a special Syrian dish this evening? Why not? And then they begin to think, “Wow, what kind of hotel is this?” </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/32475871593_514098c83f_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/32475871593_514098c83f_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oslo streets, 2017. Flickr/ Tydence Davies. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler-phil-wood/ordinary-virtues-of-cities">The ordinary virtues of cities</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Norway </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU Norway Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics International politics Rosemary Bechler Geir Lippestad Mon, 05 Mar 2018 08:52:22 +0000 Geir Lippestad and Rosemary Bechler 116451 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fireworks nights https://www.opendemocracy.net/rhiannon-white-rosemary-bechler/fireworks-nights <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“There feels like a massive push towards ‘diversifying’ the arts. It makes me feel uncomfortable when at the centre of that push we find mainly white, middle class people.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/artisjust_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/artisjust_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Art is just a word. Common Wealth. Jon Poutney. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Rosemary Bechler (R): Rhiannon, we are catching up with participants in our Team Syntegrity ‘non-hierarchical conference’ in Barcelona last June, to see what impact it had. It's great to be back in touch. Could we start with some background on your work and what kind of process of change most interests you?&nbsp; </em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon White (Rhiannon): </strong>I grew up on a housing estate in Cardiff and we didn’t have a theatre near where I lived. When I was a kid I loved making theatre, telling stories and bringing people together. When I did eventually go into the theatre, it felt pretty alien, judgmental and a bit bourgeois! Not a place where kids from a council estate should be! I made it my mission in life to shake it up a bit, and create theatre where people could feel like it belonged to them. Along with Evie Manning I set up <a href="http://commonwealththeatre.co.uk/">Common Wealth.</a> There were loads of empty buildings in Bristol where we lived and we would squat those empty buildings and make massive shows in them. We took theatre outside of ‘the theatre’. </p> <p>We made a show about domestic abuse and we made it on a street full of people, <a href="https://witness.theguardian.com/assignment/51e01e41e4b019f8d7037ae0/428179">inside a house</a>. The house where we held the performance had neighbours either side. That show showed us that people have a real appetite for theatre regardless of where they come from. One woman in her fifties came to our show four times, and she had never previously been to the theatre. When we heard about that, we realised that was what we felt like when we came together because we wanted to make theatre. We wanted to share that experience, but on a massive scale. </p> <p>So basically we set ourselves up as a theatre company and decided that we wanted to make works for people who might think theatre is not for them. Our work isn’t just theatre: it includes visual arts, and music and is multidisciplinary.</p> <p>We started by thinking about the buildings that people might go to at the heart of any community. Places where you have that infrastructure around you, your audiences around you, and people can pop in and see what rehearsals are going on. Being close to people means that they can help inform the piece, which is essential, because our work is all about people and place and you have to get that context right otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. It has to be rooted in the truth of that place.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 20.19.47.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 20.19.47.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Rhiannon debriefing on a Team Syntegrity session on Safe Spaces. Cameron Thibos, videographer.</span></span></span>So far, we have worked in houses; warehouses; we have worked in hospitals; boxing gyms; City Hall. The last show, ‘We’re still here’, was inside an old industrial warehouse over a hundred metres long that used to be an old tinworks, so we had that industrial history already implicit in the production. </p><p>We started work on ‘<a href="https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/were-still-here">We’re Still Here’</a> two years ago in Merthyr Tydfil in the south Wales valleys. We began with the idea of working class leaders. Who are they? Where have they gone? Why aren’t they here? When are they coming back? Merthyr was the first place not just in the UK but apparently in the world where the red flag was raised! And it has this incredible socialist history of working class martyrs and uprisings. Keir Hardy was MP there. Down the road, Aneurin Bevan who created the NHS. The Chartists were really close by. So it has this whole public radical history that all the kids know about, it’s in their bones. </p> <p>The process was really important. We started there but it felt like something of the past, not something for the future, and our work is always situated in the present and about how we can push the present forward. So at the time we were working on it in Merthyr, the Port Talbot steelworks kicked off and we both thought, ”Wow, that’s where we should be. Because that’s where our working class leaders are and if Hardy was alive today I’m sure he’d be standing with them! “ </p> <p>So we went down there and met the branch chair of the <a href="https://community-tu.org/">Community Union</a>, Gary Keogh, and I’ve never met anyone like him in my life, someone who is a true, selfless socialist. The way he speaks about the world! We were talking about the gap between rich and poor and he said, “ I wouldn’t want to live like them and they couldn’t live like us.” So he is a poet and a political poet at that. </p> <p>He was massively involved in the campaign and when we met him he was exhausted. He’d been to Mumbai, and watched the pensions disappear. He was so generous with his time and told us from a very personal perspective what impact it had on him and his family and how he felt, and how he wanted it to be different for the boys and all the complexities of that came through from Gary. We didn’t just meet Gary: we met loads of steelworkers, people who worked for Tata Steel, workers’ wives, I met Gary’s son, we talked to children, all the people involved in the campaign or on the fringes of the campaign. So we built up a picture of Port Talbot, and the playwright took all the material away and devised a play based on this real-life testimony.</p> <p>The way we always operate is that through our initial process we invite people to visit us. Our doors are open: so steelworkers would come in in their break, or Gary would bring a group of union guys, and they would sit there and we’d show them a little bit and they’d say, “No it didn’t happen like that. That’s a little bit wrong” or point out that someone who didn’t come from Port Talbot would have to have that explained. So we’d rewrite. </p> <p>We had a community cast of around 14 people who had never performed before. A lot of them had worked directly for Tata Steel, and some had lost their jobs through all the upheaval that was going on. They would come in in the evening and we would just give them a couple of scenes. They would say, “Someone from Port Talbot wouldn’t say that: they’d say this…” and rewrite it for us. So they all became script consultants. There was one hunting scene for example, called ‘To Kill an Animal’, a symbolic scene asking the question, who is being hunted and who is the hunter? When one steel worker who went hunting came in, he criticised that piece of the text, “No, that’s not how you kill an animal.” So he worked with the actor, step by step, explaining how you gut and skin an animal. The play becomes more and more precise.</p> <p><em>R: That’s very Brechtian, if I may say so!</em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon:</strong> I hope so, I hope he’s watching over me! The main thing about this kind of theatre is how many local people came. I met someone the other day whose dad came along to see it, but was very dubious beforehand and ended up coming three times. That’s who we are doing it for, because in Port Talbot there isn’t really a theatre – apart from the odd panto – so for the people involved this is a moment in time where they come together and feel really powerful, because they are sharing their experience directly and people are listening. That’s powerful in itself, because when does that ever happen!? </p> <p>For the audience, it is cathartic. I always feel that theatre should be like those fireworks nights when you are all together in a big crowd and you don’t know anyone but you are all from different places and watching something beautiful. It should be like that coming together, and I think there is a lot of power when people are together experiencing something, especially something political, that is full of complexity and that somehow disrupts things. I think art should be disruptive.</p> <p><em>R: Is it also, as you say, obliged to be beautiful in its own way?</em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon:</strong> Not always beautiful. But I do want it to be visually stunning. Something that stays with you. So in ‘We’re still here’, we created a world that was a little bit like the film set in Tarkovsky’s <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB7jVTut3-g">‘Stalker’</a> – do you know it? – there is a lot of water and plants growing in industrial ground like they do. So we created a set with a tree inside our warehouse, water in the background, and a rock where the real steelworker sat to talk about losing his job. We wanted that to be a longlasting image. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Artisforboris_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Artisforboris_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Artisforboris. Common Wealth/Jon Poutney. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>R: Has that run now finished? Don’t you want to do it in other places?</em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon:</strong> It finished at the end of October. Yes – the problem is that it was a really massive show, with an overall cast of 30 and a stage management team of around 20, so it’s a massive undertaking to get it up again. But interestingly, what has happened since is that we had a film made by Film Cymru, about the involvement of the local people.&nbsp; So we had a screening of that and we all came together, even the thirteen year olds who were involved – everyone is still in touch! Whenever something happens, especially if it is a political development, like the leak in the steel factory that happened yesterday, I’m in the loop and know immediately what is going on on the ground. Also we had quite a lot of high profile people attending the show, from Michael Sheen, who wanted to chat to us afterwards about Port Talbot and the future of art there, to Stephen Kinnock and Leanne Wood who cried for half an hour afterwards! That was brilliant – it felt like there was a bit of a momentum kicking off. You can catch a glimpse here on the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2szZD8UIPs">audience feedback link</a>. </p><p><em>R: Did you talk about this experience at The World Transformed session on <a href="https://theworldtransformed.org/sessions/political-artists-in-the-age-of-the-social-movement/">The Role of the Political Artist </a>you were involved in, in the series organised by Ash Ghadiali? I tried to get in, but it was packed out!</em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon: </strong>Yes, it was an intense time for me, because I came to the Labour Party conference in Brighton by train straight from Port Talbot, and the day after was our press night<span>.</span> It was crazy being on the stage next to Low Key and Ken Loach – Ken Loach has been a mega inspiration for me, so to be on stage with him was so surreal and an absolute privilege. My absolute hero! </p> <p>Lowkey and Barby Asante talked about Grenfell – Lowkey talked about ‘the grenfellisation of people’ and how after they died, we need to remember more about them than the last minutes of their lives. I think you can apply that to all situations and all lives. Me and Ken brought an outside London perspective into the room: it worked well. The room felt quite charged: it was a powerful panel. That’s what we need. We need to get the kind of people I’m working with into these rooms, and the sorts of energies that are there when they get together.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0249_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0249_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rhiannon in the 'difficult discussion.' Cameron Thibos. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>R: That reminds me of what you said last June after an entire day when you and Emma didn’t really say anything in the ‘Transforming the Left’ discussion in the Team Syntegrity in Barcelona. Joe Truss was facilitating and I think he had the good idea of going round the table to ask people what they were really invested in, in that discussion…</em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon:</strong> I felt out of my depth in that group, particularly the type of language being used: I couldn’t communicate. The reason why I have always been attracted to the left is because I have always imagined it to be an inclusive space where people can open up freely and talk about their own experiences. In that group, that wasn’t the case for the first two days. But when the power relations going on around that table were identified, and someone noticed that and said what they felt – we were freed up. It made me feel like it wasn’t just me.</p><p>And then instead of trying to join in the very academic debate going on between the three guys at the level of what seemed to me to be an abstract overview, Emma and I were able to talk from a more personal perspective. I learned a lot from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/emma-avil-s/intercommunication-past-and-future">Emma</a>. </p><p><em>R: So Rhiannon – what happens next for Common Wealth?</em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon:</strong> I have been writing <a href="https://www.cultureisordinary.co.uk/">a report on art and social class</a> for the Arts, Humanities and Research Council, with <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJy8qIFbcww">a video</a>. </p> <p>Being working class and working within the arts has always been a bit of a tension for me. I see few people who share my background and that’s problematic when you think of the stories that artists are sharing and who gets to tell them. I wanted to write something that captured the feeling in the arts world amongst other working class artists, the struggle, the frustration and the anger that can come from mis-representation or to be honest no representation at all. </p> <p>At present there feels like a massive push towards ‘diversifying’ the arts. It makes me feel uncomfortable when at the centre of that push we find mainly white, middle class people. I’m interested in art as a form of expression – and how we continue to encourage working class voices into it is a minefield especially as the pathways are limited. </p> <p>As part of the report we created a show that we staged at Chapter as part of Cardiff University’s social science festival. It was called ‘Class, the elephant in the room.’ </p> <p>I worked with four very talented working class actors. We used the research as a starting point and created a performance that shared experience of how working class people feel within the arts world. <a href="http://www.creativecase.org.uk/heads-up-hassan-Mahamdallie">Hassan Mahamdallie</a> hosted a debate after the show. </p> <p>It was provocative: we had a good debate with Hassan Mahamdallie.&nbsp; The question of representation in the arts and who gets to make art is a big debate at the moment – we should all be talking about it. </p> <p><em>R: Any last thoughts on the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">Team Syntegrity</a>?</em></p> <p><strong>Rhiannon:</strong> I was writing this morning before we spoke, and actually that time we spent in Barcelona was genuinely one of the best things that happened in 2017. Just thinking on that level opened my mind so much to those bigger questions and conversations. Meeting so many brilliant people who I am still in touch with, like <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines">Ash</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/aya-haidar-rosemary-bechler/safe-spaces-bagpipes-and-houmous">Aya,</a> made it a really special time. </p> <p>So thank you for that. That’s the first thing.</p> <p>I just want to be involved in any way I can be to support you guys and the ongoing conversation. Whatever you need from me. I really enjoyed the learning. That hard time I had around that discussion table was probably my deepest learning. And it’s great that I recognise that and can take that with me. It was like a year’s worth of development in three bloody days! More of that would be great!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0204_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0204_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Market place of ideas, Team Syntegrity 2017. Cameron Thibos. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Team Syntegrity 2017</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity"><strong>Meet the participants</strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results"><strong>Some results </strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process"><strong>Process in their own words</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rhiannon-white/future-of-civil-society-is-dependent-on-space">The future of civil society is dependent on space</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines">While the sun shines</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/emma-avil-s/intercommunication-past-and-future">Intercommunication in Barcelona, past and future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/aya-haidar-rosemary-bechler/safe-spaces-bagpipes-and-houmous">Safe spaces, bagpipes and houmous </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rosemary-bechler-luthfur-ullah/meeting-lofa">Meeting Lofa</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/armine-ishkanian/team-syntegrity-2017-edging-towards-more-liveable-world">Team Syntegrity 2017: edging towards a more liveable world</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/joan-pedro-cara-ana/team-syntegrity-comprehensive-method-of-hope">Team Syntegrity, a comprehensive method of hope</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/deirdre-o-neill-mike-wayne/putting-class-back-onto-uks-equality-agenda">Putting class back onto the UK&#039;s equality agenda</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/dermot-feenan/is-bbc-hideously-middle-class">Is the BBC hideously middle class?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/lydia-graystone/radio-4-and-social-class-exclusive-ourbeeb-report">Radio 4 and social class: exclusive ourBeeb report</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Rhiannon White Wed, 17 Jan 2018 18:49:08 +0000 Rhiannon White and Rosemary Bechler 115700 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fighting in the left corner https://www.opendemocracy.net/michael-chessum-rosemary-bechler/fighting-in-left-corner <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“We are an organization with one staff member, and a limited amount of energy because nobody in the political and activist left wants to talk about Brexit! “</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0082_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0082_preview.jpeg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>MIchael in thought in the market place for ideas, Team Syntegrity 2017, Barcelona.</span></span></span>Rosemary Bechler (R): We are keeping track of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process">Team Syntegrity process</a> and its impact, and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">participants </a>seem quite happy to do this. In your case, Michael, I have an added reason for a catch-up, because I felt guilty as your host as well as a facilitator of the event – not something that one normally combines! – that I didn’t register the algorithm preventing you from participating in the ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/luis-mart-n-noam-titelman-emma-avil-s-andreas-karitzis-rhiannon-white/transform-and-rebuild-left">transforming and rebuilding the left’</a> discussion – which is where so much of your expertise in various fields lies.</em></p> <p><em>I should have done something about the fact that you weren’t really able to contribute as you would have wished. </em></p> <p><em>So, well, why don’t we give you the opportunity to talk through what you were thinking about, and update us on that as we approach the end of 2017. We can just feed it back into the post-event stream of consciousness that we are tracking! Does that make sense?</em></p> <p><strong>Michael Chessum (M):&nbsp; </strong>Sure! It wasn’t that big a deal. I had a great time!&nbsp; I don’t normally think of myself as a leftist dogmatist but surrounded by pirate people, I found myself fighting in the left corner pretty well throughout. </p> <p>So what have I been up to? Well, I still work in ‘<a href="https://en-gb.facebook.com/AnotherEuropeIsPossible/">Another Europe is possible</a>’.&nbsp; Since the days of the radical Remain campaign, we have been grant-funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and I am fully-funded, working in Global Justice Now, just around the corner. </p> <p>For the last year our main priority has been the Progressive Deal for Europe, based on our six progressive reasons for EU membership which gives you a series of flashpoints to fight over: workers’ rights, environmental protection, free movement, human rights, science and research funding and Erasmus. </p> <p>Free movement and migration is the main controversy that engages us. But what we are doing now is pivoting towards the democratic process as such. So our remit is these six elements, plus democracy and the process. This is because of the Withdrawal Bill, but also because of the need to review strategy around a possible call for a new referendum on the terms of any final deal, including an option to remain. </p> <p>The question is how we do that? How do we communicate such options in a way that isn’t totally toxic.</p> <p><em>R: Why did the <a href="https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/europeanunionwithdrawal.html">Withdrawal Bill</a> elicit this change of tack?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> Well, the Bill as currently constituted is the biggest power grab by the political executive in modern British political history.&nbsp; It takes hundreds of EU laws, claiming merely to be doing the admin for the Brexit transfer, but in the process in fact gives important powers to the executive to strip out major rights and protections, without going through a vote in parliament. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Bill as currently constituted is the biggest power grab by the political executive in modern British political history.</span></p> <p><em>R: Do we have a list now of what they are keenest to strip out?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> Sort of. A lot of them are very up front. What came up this week, for instance, was the Fundamental Charter of Human Rights, which they very forthrightly insist is ‘coming out’. We lost the vote on that one, including all the material on digital rights and privacy for example, in an extraordinary moment of spinelessness on the part of the Tory rebels. </p> <p>Labour forwarded an amendment to keep the Fundamental Charter on the books. Dominic Grieve, Tory backbencher, leading his band of rebels, puts forward an identical amendment.&nbsp; The Tory Minister gets up and says, “ Well I have heard Dominic Grieve’s position and would like to assure him that I am producing a report on this and will be looking into this again”… &nbsp;and so Grieve withdraws his amendment and then leads his Tory rebels to vote against Labour’s amendment which was lost by ten votes ! So Grieve took the whip. You have to hope there has been some sort of backstage deal because together we could have won on the Charter. </p> <p>It was one of those moments when as a leftist you can only rely on the House of Lords, like the civil rights campaigns of the Blair years, where the Lords were again the only recourse. &nbsp;Because that’s where it all goes next. They will then kick it back. The thing that they will do is put the Charter back in, and the Government could give way then in that ping pong period. But what is not happening is any kind of ‘cross-party alliance’. Ken Clarke <em>is</em> the cross-party alliance. He is the only Tory who is consistent in voting with the opposition. The rest of them are totally solid. </p> <p>The Opposition is on the whole solidly united on this terrain, except for the bigger issues in the second and third readings when Frank Field and Kate Hoey, who are pro-Brexit, come out in favour of the Government, which makes things more difficult. <span class="mag-quote-center">Ken Clarke <em>is</em> the cross-party alliance.</span></p> <p>So we are forced to think about democratic process under these circumstances because this is the most important and dangerous piece of legislation that has faced the country in a long, long time. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0081_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0081_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The political left, moreover, isn’t mobilized around this at all. This has been a huge missed opportunity for them. Because if we had managed to popularize this democratic cause against the power-grab, even with one of those boring old traditional rallies and marches in Central London, we could have brought popular pressure to bear and at least made the Government think twice about a lot of these things. Especially given the very weak parliamentary position the Government is in. </p><p>We have missed a trick on this precisely because it is about process, and the left has never known how to talk about democratic process very well at all. This is why even in Corbyn’s platform and movement, despite it being very radical and popular, there is nothing in there about federalism, democratic electoral reform, the crisis of the British state as such. None of that is in there. For the same reason, the political left is not focused on this seminal power challenge. <span class="mag-quote-center">The left has never known how to talk about democratic process very well at all.</span></p> <p><em>R. Has Momentum and its very creative <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuOT5RGdD5g">World Transformed festival</a> which accompanies Labour party conferences nowadays made no difference in this area – because surely wherever ordinary people are invited to have a voice, that is where democratic process begins to matter!? I was disappointed to see Momentum close itself to non-members of the Labour party, for example. Doesn’t that constrain Momentum’s true potential? </em></p> <p><strong>M.</strong> I don’t think Momentum has missed its chance. What you had in Momentum when I ended up ceasing to be on its steering committee in January this year, was two competing functions. There is the social movement, facing society, and engaged in community activism, and the disciplined party faction. The first function is quasi-democratic, but it is a very messy process and can be very unpleasant too. On the other hand, you have this very disciplined party machinery which is essentially top down. </p> <p>So that dual life played out in the initial leadership campaign for Corbyn which produced Momentum. Momentum changed into the second leadership campaign, and then changed back into being Momentum, and that dual life has always been there. But Jon Lansman’s understanding of the need for a very well run, top down effective campaign – very effective at what they do, winning the internal elections, mobilizing for general elections – has essentially won out for now.&nbsp; What it isn’t any more is a pluralistic, bottom-up, grass roots organization. The local groups have no official say. </p> <p>Some people think that was what Momentum always should have been. For others, their position is determined by factional politics. So announcing that Momentum would henceforth be Labour members only was ensuring that whoever was expelled from the Labour party – at the time it was the organized far left who were internal opponents of Lansman and the current leadership&nbsp; grouping who were getting expelled – would be prevented from taking it over. Moreover, Momentum at the time was also deciding to ‘seek affiliation to the Labour Party’, which was easier if you went down that road of ‘Labour members only’. </p> <p>But I agree, I do think the decision to exclude non-members was a mistake, because effectively it takes us backwards by several steps. The British Left has been through a collapse of British Labour Party membership, the near death of the official labour movement under Thatcher and then the hollowing out of what’s left of the Labour Party under Blair. </p> <p>Suddenly, almost from the outside, but relying on party activists who had been around for a long time – people like Lansman who did good work, together with Corbyn and McDonnell – formed a base from which the left on the outside could spring to life inside a transforming party. Unfortunately that is not the narrative which Momentum’s current leadership has of its own history. For them, this is labour values proving themselves and coming true again. So we are moving back, historically, in terms of where this surge has come from. </p> <p><em>R. But if Momentum can’t reach outwards, how will it build its movement? Isn’t this frustratingly self-defeating?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> It will begin to reach outwards more again. If you think about it, so far there has been the leadership campaign, setting up Momentum, and then from early 2016, in short order, waves of rebellion, the referendum, another leadership election, internal warfare, 2017 and the e-mail coup in which all the structures were abolished, and then an election called in May. So there has been no room to breathe thus far. </p> <p>But they are recruiting staff as I understand it, to campaign around issues, not just around elections. Even at the grassroots of the Labour left, though, people are more party oriented than they were a year ago, and a lot of that has to do with what they learned from the polarising second leadership election, which hardened everybody against the Parliamentary Labour Party and against the Labour right. Everybody knew who the enemy was all of a sudden and was going to make sure they beat them in their local CLP. That was it. <span class="mag-quote-center">Everybody knew who the enemy was all of a sudden and was going to make sure they beat them in their local CLP.</span></p> <p>But one way or another, those Momentum outreach campaigns are going to become essential. Either there will be a bit of let up, now, and we have to face all those cuts on a local level which are still under way, so we have to become active around that defence. Or there will be another general election… and Momentum will become crucial for reaching out.</p> <p>The big problem is that the strategy of that disciplined party faction is always going to be vesting control in the party leadership: ”what we need to do is get behind the party leadership and make sure we get a Labour Government.” There is very little intellectual engagement in that strategy – maybe taking a long hard look at Greece or Chile, or any example we have of a serious leftwing government&nbsp; gaining power under contemporary global conditions, and what happens to them, either in terms of being forced out, or in terms of self-destructive compromises. So there are a lot of dangers in gathering all your agency at the top of these party mechanisms. <span class="mag-quote-center">There are a lot of dangers in gathering all your agency at the top of these party mechanisms.</span></p> <p><em>R: Very interesting. Do you mind my asking how you came to quit the steering group of Momentum last January?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> I didn’t quit. The steering group was abolished. A democratic conference was being planned for a few months after, which would have had delegates from all over the country. Lansman wrote an e-mail proposing a new constitution to the 12 people then on the steering group, which didn’t have a steering committee in it. People in the majority had already been lined up to agree. In my group, three refused to participate and one said no. But in an hour and a half, all of the democratic structures which had been evolved within Momentum were simply swept out. So was I, and I haven’t been back in the office since. </p> <p>There was a question about us setting up some new kind of process – a grassroots Momentum&nbsp;– since we totally agreed that what had happened, which we refer to as ‘the coup’, had no democratic legitimacy. But after that, there were a lot of disagreements: the debate was split between ‘delegates-based movements’ and one member one vote – I didn’t like either much and was looking for a compromise position. </p> <p>Then there were differences over whether we should split from Momentum or leave Momentum, or stay inside, and I was saying let’s fight on.&nbsp; All the different opposition elements failed to get on with each other, and what with the disagreements and no funding, it wasn’t going to go anywhere very fast.</p> <p><em>R:&nbsp; So where next for fighting for a better leftwing understanding of democratic process?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> I’m friends with a lot of the people involved in Momentum still. I just haven’t been actively involved or in the office. Lansman and I had a friendly but slightly tense conversation at party conference. But yes, I come from a background in the student movement and the labour movement and I do understand both democratic traditions. What I see inside Westminster and inside the Labour Party, is that these are systems where you do whatever you can get away with. <span class="mag-quote-center">Inside Westminster and inside the Labour Party, these are systems where you do whatever you can get away with. </span></p> <p>This isn’t just about opportunism. It is about the basic norms of our democracy. It strikes me as absurd, for example, and I only learned this recently. But there are four hundred amendments tabled to this incredibly important bit of legislation we were talking about. Who gets to choose which ones get selected for debate? The Deputy Speaker of the House, with no rights of appeal.&nbsp; When are the chosen amendments announced? On the day of each amendment debate. So you don’t know what’s coming up until the day of the decision, so – how do you run a public campaign? </p> <p>You don’t. Parliament is not about running public debates. There may be scrutinizing committees, calling for submissions of evidence that then get circulated. We have a legal expert who has written a lot of these amendments, working on these. But this is not at all the same as a public information campaign. <span class="mag-quote-center">Parliament is not about running public debates.</span></p> <p>There is then one account of what happened in Momentum which is a single story running from that totally unaccountable feature of Westminster politics, into ripple effects on all surrounding processes. You have a Westminster elite that with processes and procedures like this is deliberately walling itself off from the outside world. In that system, MPs and your parliamentary representatives have the supra-rights that accrue to parliamentary sovereignty. That infects the Labour Party via the PLP. Because what MP’s essentially have is a sense of entitlement on the basis that they have been elected by the people, and as such have the right to tell the membership of the Labour Party to ‘sod off’. </p> <p>That means that the basic norms of democracy – that you should be able to select your candidates – that you should be able to give them a steer in close consultation – that the MPs are the voice of the Labour movement in parliament rather than being some kind of professional detached entity with their own rights – that is where all the trouble starts. That infects the whole culture of the Labour party, including, subconsciously, the old Labour left, who basically have an attitude which isn’t rigorously, procedurally democratic. They too are out to win, at any cost, and by the shortest route. Things will happen at local and national level to do with conferences which are basically about people who don’t technically have the right, somehow taking it upon themselves to throw their weight around because they can get away with it. </p> <p>It goes broader than the thinness of our representative democracy: it is about the lack of process. Ultimately, it is about a lack of respect for members and a lack of respect for their collective wisdom. Whereas, in a world which had a rational approach to movement-building, I like to think that we would put that argument for the organization that I want to see to the members as a whole and trust them to know what’s best. <span class="mag-quote-center">It goes broader than the thinness of our representative democracy: it is about the lack of process.</span></p> <p><em>R. So here are two issues that I think did come up in the Team Syntegrity in Barcelona. One was ‘rational approaches’ as such: and the question of what happens to these in the emotional times in which we seem to be living – your generation seems to know much more about this than say, mine did. </em></p> <p><em>The other question is about ‘collective wisdom’.&nbsp; Under the individualizing pressures of neoliberalism, can one really rely on collective wisdom in the same ways we once did? I’m thinking of the proliferation of enemy images which is the way the right increasingly wield power. Don’t we need rich pluralist political cultures to overcome this – a commitment to much more empowering forms of self-organisation, and conscious, willed collaboration with others – not just a rubber-stamping chorus of approval ?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> Absolutely, but the need for pluralism doesn’t only correspond to the need to involve individual voices. Pluralism is the only force that enables a movement to redefine itself, adapt, to be an effective collective. Yes, people want agency and I think that getting people to think about their agency collectively is almost the first step in political consciousness, where a subculture becomes a politics. This challenge is not at all confined to working under neoliberal conditions. A sub-culture, ‘Corbynism’ for example, means that being into Labour politics suddenly becomes ‘cool’, with ‘grime nights for Corbyn’ and whatever. And this is the start. </p> <p>The leaders of ‘the Momentum coup’, by the way, are always talking about ‘the dynamism of the Sanders movement’. But ironically the Democratic Socialists, the Momentum-like movement in the US, are a delegate-based movement who run socialist education meetings, which actually I think may be a good idea. It’s really missing from Momentum and the Labour left, reading things and talking about politics and ideas…. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0030_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0030_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Yes political movements need pluralism more than ever I suppose, but I also remember the 2007 student movement with people coming out onto the streets who almost wanted agency just for themselves. And it was drawing them into that collective that made them political. &nbsp;<span class="mag-quote-center">It was drawing them into that collective that made them political.&nbsp; </span></p> <p><em>R. So in the absence of this basic democratic and democratizing culture, how will Another Europe is Possible make that pivot towards democracy? </em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> &nbsp;The ‘referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal with an option to remain’ has always been our policy, but it’s hugely difficult! We refer to this as ‘the Rotdwor’ problem, which is an unpronounceable acronym using the first letters of that phrase to sum up rather well the communications challenge involved! </p> <p>Especially if it is accompanied by what we refer to as ‘the blue problem’ – that many people campaigning for Remain seem to think that waving EU flags and singing Ode to Joy at random passers by is enough to win over the swing voters – not true. (I couldn’t help thinking that if all the people marching on the March for Europe had thought to do this before the referendum, that might have been more useful!) </p> <p>And then there is the Establishment problem that Alistair Campbell believes he is a good face for the movement – also not true.</p> <p>So this is probably our main demand and how do we articulate it? <span class="mag-quote-center">Then there is the Establishment problem that Alistair Campbell believes he is a good face for the movement – also not true.</span></p> <p>‘Free movement’ is the other big issue campaign, but that is very much a principled argument to be had within the labour movement and amongst progressives about migration and what we think about it.</p> <p>On the referendum, it is making a very reasonable democratic case to say, the British people decided by a small majority that they wanted to exit Europe. They didn’t know at the time what that meant. Now it means this. They should be allowed to decide whether that corresponds to what they wanted.</p> <p>That’s very rational: but you can’t just say that. I’m straw-manning one strand inside the Remain movement – but one strand of thinking is undoubtedly of the opinion that people were misled and stupid and therefore should vote again. We can’t give any traction in any way to that sort of idea. </p> <p>They are right that what would make the difference this time is that it would be a vote on a particular deal, and they are also right, in my opinion, to believe that we might win that vote overwhelmingly, and not just because the demographics would be more in our favour with those too young to vote last time coming of age and some of the older generation dying off. </p> <p>Even so, what we need is a narrative that can also bring in a more resurgent, anti-Establishment case. When people experience the downturn in the economy that’s going to result from Brexit, they won’t be saying, “Oh that’s bloody Brexit!” For most people it will just be the next chapter in a series of betrayals by the political elites. And so to have a narrative that opposes Brexit on the basis that it will cause yet more of what afflicts us, has to be an anti-Establishment argument. <span class="mag-quote-center">To have a narrative that opposes Brexit on the basis that it will cause yet more of what afflicts us, has to be an anti-Establishment argument. </span></p> <p><em>R. The right led by the far right will manage to make that case very well if we leave a vacuum there.</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> Exactly. </p> <p><em>R. Isn’t that why we need a much more profound debate about what future we want for the UK?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> We do need some kind of nationwide deliberative process, to be sure, and one basic reason for calling for a referendum is that it is not democracy if you can’t change your mind. We don’t have just one election and then that’s it for all time !&nbsp; </p> <p>The flaw with a referendum however is precisely the lack of deliberation, and so the question arises, how could we inject some of that deliberative democracy into a debate leading up to the referendum? </p> <p>From the position we are in, at the end of the day, and I hesitate to call it a single movement – but this is the problem of the Remain people in general – the considerable resources are all in the wrong places. We, for example, are an organization with one staff member, and a limited amount of energy because nobody in the political and activist left wants to talk about Brexit! </p> <p><em>R: Really?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> Well, the decision not to have a Brexit debate at Labour Party conference was the result of the Momentum leadership not wanting to put the Labour leadership in a difficult position. Something similar is going on with the free movement issue, though most CLP’s would like to talk about free movement. But the Left doesn’t want to talk about Brexit because the orthodox position is, “Why do you want to talk about this. We need to get a Labour Government in and once we do that, then we can talk about what we want for our society and all this. Let’s just get behind the leadership and push it through.” </p> <p>That’s what I was referring to when I commented on the notion of investing all of your power in the leadership – the lack of ideas, the lack of a sense of history and what has happened to governments in the past… the lack of discussion.</p> <p>So that lack of energy and of resources makes it very difficult for us to turn our minds to how best to prompt a national debate. Instead, we have got to go into the Labour Party and the progressive spectrum of parties in the UK and try and persuade people who have some influence. I was at a Lib Dem conference running a fringe event, also the SNP conference and the Greens. We need to persuade these people across the broad left any way that we can, by just doing the basic nuts and bolts of a very basic politics, that this referendum idea is the right, progressive and democratic way to go.</p> <p><em>R: Aren’t you worried about the false binarism involved in another referendum, once again forcing apart what I see as natural allies: those who wish to stay in Europe to have a broad democratic alliance that can change it fundamentally in the interests of all the European peoples, and those who want to leave in the hope that they will have more democratic control over their lives and their prosperity as a result? Hasn’t the Labour Party been rather clever at not alienating either of those two important constituencies? What I’d like to see is a richer opportunity for debate between them… don’t you agree?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> It will be important the way the new referendum is framed: of course that’s true. It needs to be drawn up along very different lines. The good thing is that the Tories are making that possible. Because they are busy making themselves ‘the party of Brexit’, and that makes it much easier to talk about Brexit as a Conservative cause. </p> <p>At ‘Another Europe’ we talk about a ‘fresh’ rather than a ‘second’ referendum, precisely because this will be a discussion about a bad deal that is on the table. Taking it down will be relatively easy. But getting the opportunity in the first place is what is going to be very difficult, the critical thing. And that is why the national conversation is not our priority.</p> <p><em>R: But isn’t it the same issue that’s at stake? Don’t you need people leaping up all over the place and saying – you’re not pushing that through without giving me a chance to ask questions and say what I think! And doesn’t that come down to the expectation at least, if not the experience, of a deeper democracy in the UK, as well as across Europe? Isn’t this what we have to push for in the next two years of&nbsp; ‘transition period’ – or longer maybe if Yanis Varoufakis is right about how long these transitions actually take?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> It is about mobilization. A lot of people are talking and thinking about this. But we need to know how we can put pressure on our political leaders to that end. Not another academic debate in the abstract about what we need. Do they want one? – that’s what we need to establish.</p> <p><em>R: So aren’t you getting pushed back into top down politics, because of the lack of time and capacity?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> Absolutely. Yes.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0058_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0058_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Team Syntegrity, June 2017. Cameron Thibos, photographer. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>R: One of your six demands is on ‘free movement’. How did you bring about that Labour campaign, seemingly overnight?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> I and others thought that we needed <a href="https://www.labourfreemovement.org/">an organization</a> that is specifically dedicated to intervening on this issue in the Labour Party. We set it up, wrote a statement, got a few MP’s on it and a few trade union leaders. I was surprised how well it went and we got a load of press coverage. So immediately it shot out of the cannon, around three thousand people signed up. </p> <p>We went to conference and Young Labour submitted a ‘contemporary motion’ which didn’t get debated because Brexit wasn’t debated, so you had this bizarre position where the ‘Single Market’ motion, predominantly from Labour’s rightwing, and our ‘Free Movement’ motion would have ended up being composited together, which would have been strange. But it was never prioritized. </p> <p>Now we have a few irons in the fire. We need to start building up constituency-level pressure and sending speakers all over the country. I’ve been talking this over today. We particularly want to start talking about migrant workers’ struggles, European and non-European, McDonalds and the like, so that we can start to kick back against a growing tendency on the Labour left to compromise with the right on ‘free movement’ while attempting to make it look as if you are taking a leftwing position.&nbsp; </p> <p>The totally disingenuous position we come across a lot is, “No, I’ll vote against your motion to defend ‘free movement’, because why can’t we have free movement globally?” Our motion always has talked about us defending and extending free movement. But let’s defend what we have got! That’s our argument. While these guys are really covering themselves as they resort to the age-old proud tradition of throwing migrants under the bus for reasons of electoral credibility! </p> <p>The UK labour movement has a long history of this: the TUC after all lobbied for the Aliens Act, didn’t it! What you find now is people who have come out of Bennism and also around the old Communist Party who can convince themselves that free movement is just a tool to drive down wages. <span class="mag-quote-center">What you find now is people… who can convince themselves that free movement is just a tool to drive down wages.</span></p> <p>So we are going to try and kick back against all of that. We would like to get Momentum on board, because it has a huge base of young people who are internationalists. It’s not going to be easy, thanks to that new constitution, but if we can get 10% of all Momentum signatures and a referendum call and win that vote, they will be bound to help us at the next Labour party conference. </p> <p>Once again, however, we have to be careful to balance reaching out to our metropolitan, millennial choir on the one hand, and at the same time trying to reach out to a much broader layer of people, for whom migration is not an exchange of advantages but something that happens to them, without it being at all obvious that this guarantees their rights as well – people who would never consider living, studying or working in Europe, for example.</p> <p><em>R: I wonder if you felt at the Team Syntegrity in Barcelona that there was only a limited understanding among European progressives of those sorts of profound political challenges in Brexit Britain today?</em></p> <p><strong>M:</strong> There definitely is. I was at the European Alternatives meeting, the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/joan-pedro-cara-ana/re-thinking-strategies-for-social-change-in-transeuropa">Transeuropa festival </a>in Madrid, and it was a very good conference. But although Britain is often referred to by leftwing Europeans as the great hope for Europe – there is not a profound understanding of Brexit or Brexit Britain, and the different deepseated ways in which neoliberalism and the Thatcher period have affected our political culture in the UK. </p> <p>And at the same time, many of them will cheer on the European Commission in the negotiations… So there is a lot to talk through!</p> <p><em>R: Well, thank you so much for this conversation, Michael, and very good luck! </em></p><p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3966_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3966_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="613" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Team Syntegrity 2017</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity"><strong>Meet the participants</strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results"><strong>Some results </strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process"><strong>Process in their own words</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines">While the sun shines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joan-pedro-cara-ana/re-thinking-strategies-for-social-change-in-transeuropa">Re-thinking strategies for social change in Transeuropa</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/andreas-karitzis/let-s-not-politicise-let-s-skill">Let’s not ‘politicise’: let’s skill</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wiebke-hansen-rosemary-bechler/change-in-consensual-way">Change in a consensual way</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/agnieszka-wi-niewska/from-civil-society-to-political-society">From civil society to political society</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/noam-titelman/politics-of-feelings">The politics of feelings</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rosemary-bechler-luthfur-ullah/meeting-lofa">Meeting Lofa</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/emma-avil-s/intercommunication-past-and-future">Intercommunication in Barcelona, past and future</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? uk EU UK Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Brexit Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Michael Chessum Tue, 16 Jan 2018 16:38:33 +0000 Michael Chessum and Rosemary Bechler 115679 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Intercommunication in Barcelona, past and future https://www.opendemocracy.net/emma-avil-s/intercommunication-past-and-future <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><ins datetime="2018-01-13T12:10" cite="mailto:Rosemary%20Bechler"></ins><ins datetime="2018-01-13T12:10" cite="mailto:Rosemary%20Bechler"></ins>"Instead of talking about the Greek debt and its creditors and the European Central Bank, we decided that a people-to-people message could be much more effective to lift up their spirits."</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0258_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0258_preview.jpeg" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Emma Aviles, second from left, in Team Syntegrity discussion, Barcelona, June 2017. Cameron Thibos. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Rosemary Bechler (R.): Hi Emma, we are hoping to talk to you about a combination of themes discussed at the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">Team Syntegrity</a> last June in Barcelona; on media and communications and on reinventing politics. I think for you, these two go pretty well hand in hand?</em></p> <p><strong>Emma Aviles (E)</strong>: Since June, I have been in contact with Ash and Richard, and also with Cecilia Milesi, your independent evaluator, but not with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">the others</a> most closely involved in those two discussions. We all have quite crazy agendas, I think, and it was good work just to get us all together there! </p> <p><em>R: I don’t know if you remember how I first encountered your work – but it was via a video interview that you did on <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/plan-c/radical-municipalism-demanding-future">Radical Municipalism</a> with Sunny Hundal at ‘Fearless Cities’ when you were describing the people-to-people communications that had taken place during the EU crisis over Greece. You talked a lot about ‘We’ in describing that act of solidarity and I wanted to find out more about what exactly that category is for you?</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> I come from the Spanish 15M movement. I am a new generation activist who feels deeply embedded into what Manuel Castells called ‘the networked society’. When I speak about a ‘we’ it is a much wider ‘we’ that I identify with, it is a ‘we’ in society that shares some common practices and exchanges ideas knowledge, and ways of mobilising.</p> <p>To be more specific this ‘we’ during the crisis would have been the 15M movement in Spain, which I lived through in Barcelona, and more specifically the <a href="http://auditoriaciudadana.net/">Citizen Debt Audit Platform (PACD)</a> which was set up as a citizen-led platform that actually extended throughout the whole country from 2012. The communication-solidarity moment you are talking about was a video we made to send a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPOUGIYzoj8">message</a> to the Greek people to show them how well we understood the situation they found themselves in, and that we knew that what was happening was not because they were ‘lazy Greeks’, but rather a scam imposed upon them by political and economic powers. We wanted to deliver a powerful and empowering message via that vehicle called ‘the emotions’ which we sometimes forget is more often the basis for politics than ‘facts’. <span class="mag-quote-center">We wanted to deliver a powerful and empowering message via that vehicle called ‘the emotions’ which we sometimes forget is more often the basis for politics than ‘facts’.</span></p> <p>Instead of talking about the Greek debt and its creditors and the European Central Bank, we just decided that a people-to-people message could be much more effective to lift up their spirits in those years of struggle. The video was made using our communications knowledge, strategy and dynamics, and it actually went hugely viral in Greece and all over the place, with newspapers calling us up and so forth!&nbsp; </p> <p>It really worked very well at the international level. We understood only too well that Europe is a terrain on which it is necessary to interact, but at the same time it is not easy to communicate across different languages and cultures. Emotional empowerment, we were right to think, is one of the better ways of doing this.</p> <p>But with regard to our home turf and the Spanish state, the whole of 15M was a big communications success, which of course in turn didn’t come out of the blue, but was rooted in past struggles. It was a very unique techno-political experience that has definitely changed how Spanish politics work – and its actors – and how people here understand the possibilities of a renewed democratic intervention.</p> <p><em>R: Was the rather sophisticated communication strategy around the independence referendum in Catalonia part of this newfound democratic literacy?</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong>&nbsp; Yes. Definitely all these experiences are cumulative. Though what was different about the Catalan referendum process was that it also included strongly rural areas, and here we have a particular mixture of experiences that come from a long Catalan history of struggle and grass roots organising, and the tools used by 15M which you could see appearing in similar patterns of coordination and communication.&nbsp; The Catalan grassroots movements (CDRs) are just another example, if you like, of a distributed movement, which people who belong to an empowered and networked society have the ability to organise.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/redes.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/redes.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>I don’t know how much detail got through on this internationally, but we had many different political actors mobilising their people in different ways. We had the big civil society groupings like Òmnium Cultural and La Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) which organised their people as well. But then you also had the CDR’s – the committees in defence of the republic – which were self-organising groups of people in different locations who weren’t at all ‘commandeered’ by the political parties or the civil society groups. This was a big success, and the CDR’s in particular pushed the others on to do more than they otherwise would have done. Some people believe that Puigdemont left for Brussels because he realised that people were going to do whatever it took to defend their institutions and that this was completely out of their control. No-one could actually say don’t do this or that, because it was self-organised with people deciding themselves what they wanted to do. When the Catalan leadership realised this – they feared violence, and not wanting blood on their hands, they exited the stage. </p><p>This distributed organising we describe as ‘a beehive’ movement, when emerging systems and collective intelligence decide what happens without an actual top down or centralised coordination node. The Queen Bee doesn’t decide what happens: it is the bees who decide how many eggs she lays…</p> <p><em>R: Your emphasis on emotional literacy is very intriguing, since I know that you know a great deal about the facts around both debt, for example, and technopolitics.</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> There are lots of organisations of course around the world working on debt. In Europe, the emphasis was traditionally on the Global South. But since the economic crisis, there has been a shift to studying debt in the Global North – and especially the European periphery – and how we are living through phases similar in many ways to what Latin America suffered in the 1980’s. The International Citizens Audit Network (<a href="http://www.citizen-audit.net/">ICAN</a>) wanted to bring all these groups across Europe and campaign together. But the situations in each country are very specific and different, and after some years, and the pretence of ‘back to normality’, this collaboration has dropped in intensity.</p> <p>I used to be more of an environmental activist until I participated in the 15M movement, where I ended up learning all about the internet. 15M was a space where we learned a lot about everything. And that is also when I became very interested in debt. Our citizen movement against this scam they called a ‘crisis’ thought we must do something to intervene in the debtocracy mechanism, at a time when the big Bankia private bank (which used to be a public bank) collapsed due to the <a href="https://15mparato.wordpress.com/citizens-against-corruption/">criminal interventions of our politicians</a>, while we received in exchange a European bail-out accompanied by austerity measures, losing our universal healthcare, cuts in education and so on. &nbsp;This generation of activists believes that the mastering of tools and practices, and ‘getting things done’ is fundamental, to push us further forward than what is achieved just by resistance or with advocacy. <span class="mag-quote-center">This generation of activists believes that the mastering of tools and practices, and ‘getting things done’ is fundamental.</span> </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Municipal-Recipes.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Municipal-Recipes.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>So the result of that thinking was the launch of an initiative around a citizens’ debt audit. We had to demand a transparency of public data so that we could figure out for ourselves what they had done with our money, and collectively decide what part of the debt, while being legal, was nevertheless illegitimate. How we define ‘illegitimate debt’ is at the end of the day to be decided by us, the people, in a sovereign act of deliberation and consultation, as it is our money! </p> <p>Some of our people from this big, ongoing, collective process of the ‘citizens’ debt audit’ platform have gone into the key institutions and municipalities. One colleague is Deputy in the Spanish Parliament. In Madrid, the number two, Carlos Sanchez Mato, is a member of the platform and they are already starting up citizens’ audits in the various districts of Madrid: they are also auditing big private-public partnership construction initiatives like the ringroad around Madrid. Here in Barcelona there are lots of people in the city council from the platform as well, and they are going to publish all the economic data even though the city council of Barcelona is not indebted in the same way. Making this information transparent to the people is a very important step.</p> <p>All this was done in parallel with a strong communications strategy. We believe that is at the core for building many of these citizen tools, like <a href="https://twitter.com/15MpaRato">@15MpaRato</a> which I’m sure you and Alex know about, led by Xnet.</p> <p>These are all examples of how it is in our hands to make change happen, and that there are so many things we can do which can so empower people. The narratives that we build around these mechanisms of participation are vitally important because we are saying, “ It is we who have the solutions in our hands.” <span class="mag-quote-center">The narratives that we build around these mechanisms of participation are vitally important because we are saying, “ It is we who have the solutions in our hands.”</span></p> <p>As for techno-politics, my path was via Xnet’s project 15MpaRato. I got involved from the moment it launched and that was when I really got to know how it all worked in a much more detailed, in-depth way. For many years now I have been participating in Xnet, who are hard to beat in Spain and probably across Europe for their understanding of techno-politics, and how to communicate to build citizen power and collective action.</p> <p><em>R: So given your experience in this field, and all your points of comparison, what was your personal experience of the Team Syntegrity three-and-a-half-day event in Barcelona? </em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> It was quite unique. Yes, we are used to events with facilitation, although the participative methodology we use in Spain is closer to those evolved in Latin America and those work well for us.</p> <p><em>R. <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/cecilia-milesi/lessons-observations-team-syntegrity-barcelona-2017">Cecilia Milesi</a>, our independent evaluator, also recommended the Latin American approach, saying that she felt the need for a more focused, shared context, situating a specific change process within a sharply-defined socio-political or organisational ecosystem. <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">Team Syntegrity</a>, by contrast begins with a ludicrously open, blue skies question, and a deliberate range of people …</em></p> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0147_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0147_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></em><strong>E.</strong> The part where we decided what themes we would spend our time on was interesting. They were of course gathered from our own concerns, but I felt more guidance could have been helpful in ensuring that we chose subjects more relevant for more of the people there. It was an interesting decision-making process though, how we arrived at those 12 themes. </p><p>At the time, the algorithm used to allocate which themes people were responsible for as discussants or critics seemed to me totally arbitrary, although of course it was working with our top preferences. And that was a real novelty. You really are leaving people to use their collective intelligence and figure things out for themselves. But some of the discussion-tables had such different points of view that they had to try and reconcile – I suppose the ‘<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/david-stefanoski-felix-weth-joan-pedro-cara-ana-simona-levi-ana-segovia/internet">internet discussion’</a> was one of those! Maybe a preparatory exchange could have paved the way for a more efficient encounter between those people. </p> <p>Having said that, for me one of the most interesting aspects of the Team Syntegrity dynamic was the way that ideas were transferred from person to person and group to group. We got to hear about things and participate in discussions that are not the usual focus in our lives, and that is a very enriching experience, not least because it helps you shape ideas about your own line of work in a different way. </p> <p>In many cases I believe this opened us up to creativity. When I saw how feminist issues travelled from one table to another and ended up creating this amazing experience in the ‘<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/michael-weatherhead-richard-bartlett-ashish-ghadiali-david-mallery-rui-tavares/parenting-planet">parenting the planet</a>’ all-male discussion group, that seemed hugely valuable. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0271_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0271_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>All-male discussion group on feminism/anti-patriarchy, Team Syntegrity, Barcelona 2017. </span></span></span>The 15M itself was an amazing experience in just this way – bringing many non-experts together, and many non-politicised people out of the blue, who then learned so much from others much more knowledgeable. If we don’t allow this kind of listening to happen, things are not going to move forward. When I participated in the <a href="https://nuitdebout.fr/">Nuit Debout</a> movement in France, one of the reasons why it collapsed was because the traditional ‘expert’ activists just didn’t have the patience to slow down and walk at the same pace as the less experienced participants. I have been in many situations where I know much more about one thing, but much less than them about many other scenarios. </p><p><em>R: It is asking a lot I know. But for the experts too, it is important, isn’t it, to learn how to convey your message effectively to people who think very differently from you… and to have some curiosity about the result.</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> We all have to find a balance between giving and taking! But there are situations where you just have to get up and leave if you feel you can’t afford the time, and one of the tensions that I saw in the internet group was a familiar clash of cultures that has become too time-consuming, between the new internet activists as I have been describing them, and traditional activists who are moving into the digital world, but without fully understanding it. </p> <p>By contrast, our discussion on media and communications was efficient and very comfortable and there was a real flow to the discussion between the other colleagues and myself. The work <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/phil-england/rebuilding-democracy-in-iceland-interview-with-birgitta-jonsdottir">Birgitta</a> has done of course, has been very much connected to the sort of work we have done in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/xnet">Xnet</a> and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_Party">X-Party</a>. I didn’t know her personally, but we have been following her work and I know she knows other people in my team. So that was an easy one because we knew we were on the same wavelength. With Agnieszka, who is more of a journalist, it was really interesting to hear her points of view and discover the many synergies between us despite our different backgrounds. But we were ready to listen to each other and suck up each others’ proposals, so it was quite a collaborative table, rather than a confrontational one. </p> <p>One of the reasons it was so easy for us for example to put together our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/emma-avil-s-agnieszka-wi-niewska-birgitta-j-nsd-ttir-kate-farrell-wiebke-hansen/team-syntegrity-comm">slideshow of best practise</a> in media and communications at the Team Syntegrity, was because this was part of the existing knowledge arising from practises that everyone in our networked society generation is familiar with. For us it is something similar to the revolutionary technology of the era of the printing press. <span class="mag-quote-center">There is now a big divide between new wave digital activists and the older generation of the more traditional left in this regard. They see the internet as something to be used in a very basic way.</span></p> <p>And I do feel that there is now a big divide between new wave digital activists and the older generation of the more traditional left in this regard. They see the internet as something to be used in a very basic way. My experience in France in the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/geoffrey-pleyers/nuit-debout-citizens-are-back-in-squares-in-paris">Nuit Debout</a> movement was that the traditional left regarded the internet as menacing or at best something of a liability. The new generation shares so many practises because we have been developing our struggles and communicate on this terrain and even if we don’t know each other when we come together to try and do something, it doesn’t take long for results to pop up! </p> <p><em>R: Is this because the traditional left assumes that the main direction of communication is going to remain, for example, one-to-many?</em></p> <p>E: Yes, the unidirectional way of communicating is part of this. But it is also the use of language and the fear of sharing our emotions because we might be mistaken for populists! – you know? So it goes much further than this. The preoccupation with unity of message and ‘staying on brand’ is also an issue. We have seen this with a lot of NGO’s. There is a study that has been recently published that has looked at movements and social organisations in the United States, and it seemed to me that they put their finger on the problem. Here it is, ‘<a href="https://sustainabilitynetwork.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/NetChange-NetworkedChange-2016-1.pdf">Networked change: how progressive campaigns are won in the 21st century</a>.’</p> <p>But I’ll give you an example. #15MpaRato was a project launched by Xnet. But Xnet didn’t have their brand on it, because they wanted this device to be anonymous so that the people could appropriate it much more easily.&nbsp; If you want to mobilise, to make the best of the collective intelligence you can bring together, and encourage self-organising in a facilitated down-up environment, having your brand on it will probably be a barrier to success. </p> <p>Yet this is what we see both in political parties and traditional NGO’s: both cling to their branding. That makes it much more difficult to have a broader and more varied user-base than your immediate circle of supporters. You will always be setting up systems that say, ”this is me: that is you”. But if you create an environment that is not branded, it is much easier to unleash the dynamics where people actually step up to the plate, and make use of what is on offer for themselves, that is – appropriate it in some way. </p> <p><em>R: You mentioned meeting up with Richard Bartlett, one of the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/richard-bartlett/more-mouthy-male-feminists-please">key participants</a> in that ‘Parenting the planet’ group – how did that happen?</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> We were invited to a meeting in Canada of about eighty activists from around North America, including coloured people, white people and natives. An Irish colleague working in techno-politics was organising an event, the ‘Web of Change’ and called me up to ask if I could recommend a list of international participants. I thought it would be interesting for him to invite Richard. It was, of course, fantastic to catch up with him again. And at that event, we did have the feeling that we continued working on the feminist/anti-patriarchal challenges we had begun to explore at the Team Syntegrity last June. What was generated around that discussion-table is part of a wider process that I know from Spanish social movements, but that Richard is also involved in, and one that made us accomplices in the Canadian event, where we managed to inject it once again into the proceedings! So this was a transformative experience.</p> <p>Ash Ghadiali, meanwhile, has been interested in the new communications strategies arising out of the 15M movement. I had told him about how important psychologists, sociologists, communicators and other experts were in helping us build our strategies, and he wanted to understand how this was orchestrated in more detail. Unfortunately, then the Catalan situation blew up, and I was sucked into that furore, so I couldn’t continue that exchange as I would have liked. </p> <p>It has been an absolute tsunami here!</p> <p><em>R: Well let’s talk about how communications for change work under such tsunami conditions. You spoke a lot in the Team Syntegrity about being able to talk to people from your heart and your guts, if you want to involve and engage them. This seems so different from the way that psychometric messaging, algorithms and filter bubbles work – all those tools that billionaires deploy who want to manipulate us via social media. So what is the alternative direction we need to go in? </em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> It is really amazing, for those of us who were active in 15M, just to observe how the mega-rich and powerful are deploying the same practises and tools &nbsp;– the bubbles and the messaging – that we have been evolving since 2011. But of course the message they want to convey is completely different. Moreover they have been buying with a lot of money clickfarms and bots to do this work for them, whereas our bots are real people, and lots of them! </p> <p>It’s really interesting though, because there are some strong parallels in the way they are working. In particular, they also are communicating from their guts!&nbsp; That is why it works so well for them! Why then, aren’t the left using the same successful techniques? Take memes: we use these as the doors or windows with which to enter people’s consciousness, in order then to be able to develop a more complex and differentiated message. But we need those entry points, to touch down on people’s culture and their emotions. So we must ask ourselves, how can we use our language and build our messages in order to reach people, as well as of course mastering the tools and practises, and at the same time acquire the numbers of people it will take to viralise, or to break down algorithms.</p> <p>Of course the digital world is just another layer of reality. The physical world also exists and what those who really want to bring about transformative change can add to the memes and the messaging, which are the sparks that light the touch paper, is all the different ways in which collective intelligence can apply itself to doing things together: everything from meeting up for a collective social catharsis which celebrates not being alone, to formulating proposals for action. These things must work hand in hand.</p> <p>For example, in France some fellow activists called us up and invited us to come and help them build a communication device, for many of us could sense that something was about to happen. So we arrived in Paris three weeks before March 31, to help them prepare. The original call came from the coalition ‘Convergence des Luttes’ – the coming together of struggles! And the slogan to accompany this was, “We will frighten the powers that be!”, supposedly with this “convergence”… We had to say that this wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t appeal to citizens who weren’t already politically involved, and it was a priority to build a stronger movement around the small number of people involved at that stage.</p> <p>So we built the communication around one of their slogans: ’Nuit Debout’ – “night standing” – which had no recognisable political connotation at all, and its narrative was built from hope, from the emotions, not from confrontation, telling people simply to come out on the streets, so that they could find themselves and realise that they were not alone. And that worked. Because the analysis was spot on. Here we had a society which was going through the shock-doctrine having lived through the state of emergency, all the state repression and arrests during Cop21, and everything else they had been through. People were feeling isolated and not at all connected with each other. So the objective, through our strategy, <em>was</em> to bring them physically together in a space where they could start seeing each other, talking with each other and learning from each other and start building together from there. </p> <p><em>R: I take your point. And how important was it to the effectiveness of what was achieved, that it was rather different kinds of people who were brought together…?</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> The big problem was that once all those people had answered that call and were ‘there’, the traditional activists who had initiated the action started to get very impatient with what they referred to as “these politically immature people”! They were finding the assemblies that gathered for discussion boring, and they started wanting to take control over them. There were people out there on the square from many different worlds. But the <a href="https://paris-luttes.info/reponse-du-mouvement-du-15m-a-la-6197?lang=fr">sad thing</a> was that when <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/simona-levi/open-letter-to-nuitdebout-from-indignados-districts-of-internet">the collision came</a>, it was between all those worlds and the traditional left ‘leaders’. </p> <p><em>R: Having come out under their own steam and for their own reasons, they didn’t like being pushed around. That's important isn’t it?</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> Yes, that was it. And it was a very sad moment, because if an exchange of knowledge had been allowed to take its course in all that diversity, maybe something quite different would have emerged. I had learned that lesson not so long ago here in <em>Plaça</em><em> </em><em>Catalunya</em> in Barcelona!</p> <p><em>R: You mean in 15M – tell me more. &nbsp;&nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> One of the things that happened was that it took just two people, people who are known to the existing anarchist liberatarian movements, to convince the others that they should be there in the square with all the new people who were suddenly involved. The first knee-jerk reaction of the seasoned activists in Barcelona was, “Don’t go there. Let’s not get involved. We don’t know who these people are. There could be all sorts of infiltrations, given how immature these people are…” and so on. But these two held their ground and said, “ No, our historical role is to be there with the people and share ideas with them!” And many did it in a way which was not top-down and not manipulative, so it really produced results. <span class="mag-quote-center">But these two held their ground and said, “ No, our historical role is to be there with the people and share ideas with them!”</span></p> <p>A similar process which really worked well for the whole country, was that there was this network of facilitators who were already online sharing their practises and work issues. When the squares filled up, one of the girls who belonged sent an e-mail to the entire network all over the country, saying, “ It’s our duty to be out there helping in the facilitation of the people in the squares.” So we had hundreds of people disembarking into these squares packed with people from all over, trying to deal with assemblies of thousands of people, and actually achieving this! So you see what can happen if you have close coordination between these two layers, the digital and the physical space. We were able to connect up what was going on in the different squares, and that was how we were able to arrive at the experience of being the 15M. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/plaza-catalunya.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/plaza-catalunya.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>15M in Plaza Catalunya.</span></span></span><em>R: Now we have yet another stand-off between the Catalan independentists and the Spanish state, with seemingly no opportunity to talk across the divides, and no help at all from the supra-national level of the European Union – do you think citizens can use any of these communication processes to break down this polarisation?</em></p> <p>E: First of all, it is very important to say that there are many many different layers of independentism in Catalonia. There is the conservative élite. There are the organised associations of civil society – ANC and <em>Òmnium</em> Cultural – which will have nothing to do with anyone linked to the CUP, for example. Beyond this there is a complex constellation of political actors who sometimes combine and sometimes confront each other. <a href="http://cup.cat/">La CUP</a> [the Popular Unity Candidacy (<a title="Catalan language" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_language">Catalan</a>: <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_Unity_Candidacy">Candidatura d'Unitat Popular</a>, CUP</em>), for example, is confronted by many political parties who also stand for independence. <span class="mag-quote-center">There are many many different layers of independentism in Catalonia…&nbsp; Beyond this there is a complex constellation of political actors who sometimes combine and sometimes confront each other.</span></p> <p>Then you find many who feel in the middle between people who don’t want independence and those who do. These people want neither black nor white, neither yes nor no. The palette of colours here is wide and completely invisibilised! </p> <p>For example, the independentists I am closest to are not committed to independence as a neat solution to all our problems, per se. No, but they see it as an important point of rupture with the political status quo. The truth is that the old Spain who won the civil war is still there in this Spanish Government. And we, the ones who lost, are still under their rule 40 years later. So how will we break free from this? It is probably not through the kind of negotiations that happened throughout the transition period. This just extended the problem for all those decades. But, for them, this is where rupture comes in: this could be one of the things that jolts us into revising our entire political system and democratic processes, enabling people to rewrite our constitution, and to rethink and rebuild whatever it is we want to design together. We would have a chance to decide what that should be. </p> <p>Meanwhile, the political experience of the invisibilised middle ground is completely unfair. For them, there is no political representation and no media coverage. It is true that Catalunya en Comu does try to represent this middle position, but the path of ‘equidistance’ doesn’t offer a political rupture point either. So a lot of people in the middle ground find themselves moving towards the independence position, since they too are searching for a way of exposing the nature of the Spanish state as they have experienced it to wider public scrutiny, and they are also seeking change.</p> <p>October 1 was amazing. I participated in a project instigated by various movements in the city, under the heading of <a href="https://agenciauo.org/">AgencyUO</a>. One hundred communications activists who work in various collectives came together to create a media centre that could cover the events of October 1 by our own means and using our own narratives.</p> <p>I was doing the morning shift and my job was to monitor what was happening on twitter, to pick out important developments to focus on and send our people there, because we were broadcasting on various channels: we had radio, tv, a web, social networks, streamers and Telegram groups. </p> <p>October 1 was organised in such a way that older people and young people were encouraged to go and vote in the morning, because if violence occurred, it was expected later on in the day. But the police decided to crack down at 10.30 in the morning, when the old people were voting, and when we saw this, this actually launched many of the people who were caught in the middle out to vote ‘yes’ in the afternoon.</p> <p>So here we have it: this complex situation in which as citizens we find ourselves in the middle of battles between polarised political interests. I did vote ‘yes’ but I am not an independentist. At the same time I have no trouble interacting with them. We have different ideas, but I have no problem with that. We belong to the same community. At the same time of course you have the nationalists and fascists who want independence, and we keep our distance from them, for sure. But the majority of the people who are in the middle and are voting ‘yes’ went into those schools to vote, voting different ways and thinking different things, but happy to be in this together and to be making this possible. </p> <p>Because, October 1 was only made possible by the people.&nbsp; There was a very precise moment when the government lost control over what was happening once the violence started, and it was the people who throughout that whole day, held the electoral process and the gathering of votes together. After finishing my shift in the media centre, I went to vote in a working class area nearby, and when I walked into the school what did I see? Older people, young people, people looking after the ballot boxes but also playing dominoes, providing food or childcare and play activities for the kids, a policeman who had been given flowers – it was civil society that was holding the ring. We saw what people were able to do together on that day. That is one of the most important factors, helping people to believe there is as a way forward. <span class="mag-quote-center">We saw what people were able to do together on that day. That is one of the most important factors, helping people to believe there is a way forward.</span></p> <p>Then at night, I went back to my village about 40 kilometres outside Barcelona, when the counting of the votes was happening at the end of the day. I found farmers with their trucks and other vehicles out blocking the roads, because the police were expected to arrive and take the ballot boxes away from us. The people were guarding the city council where the counting was going on. This was a transformative experience for many millions of people in Catalonia, 2.2 million of whom voted on that day.</p> <p>Now people are feeling a little blue about things, because with Article 155 imposing direct rule on Catalonia, it seems as if the Spanish Government has ‘won’ yet again. But we are in a standby situation in these days running up to the elections of December 21, and we will see what the outcome is. The citizens’ assemblies are still going on, and people keep organising. We have no idea. But people do know that they can believe in each other, and that they have each other, and they have seen the power of what we can do together, and the synapses between the different groups and movements allow us to quickly intercommunicate and organise. So, who knows…? <span class="mag-quote-center">The synapses between the different groups and movements allow us to quickly intercommunicate and organise. So, who knows…?</span></p> <p><em>R: This must also impact on your sense of priorities as a media activist?</em></p> <p><strong>E:</strong> It’s interesting. We have been helping activist groups in the city and around Spain to improve their knowhow, especially in creating a decent security environment for them to work in, because we know that there has been surveillance and also interference at different levels. We expect, following the December 21 elections, that there will be a legal crackdown on people who were active on October 1. They are using legality as their execution block.</p> <p>I know Barcelona en Comu are preparing tools for ‘citizen participation’, and that they are working on different ways of opening up governance for the people, so that people can be the ones who put forward their proposals and demand new laws. Of course, this is what we wanted them to go into parliamentary politics for – to open the institutions up to the people, so that their processes became transparent and the politicians themselves were seen not as rulers, but as public workers. But I understand the constraints and contradictions. Walking into that machinery of power must be difficult, and making real deep change quite a considerable challenge. </p> <p>Many of my activist colleagues are feeling quite let down by all the things that haven’t been happening, and we aren't very happy with the latest coalition with the left and the greens here in Catalonia, because they act as a big power bloc internally and coopt “Los Comunes” in an ‘old politics’ sort of way. There is a lot of internal tension. They know how to play the political game, top down, using the old techniques, so the new proposals for ‘Catalonia en Comu’ evoke a certain weariness. </p> <p>As an activist with experience in working in different countries, I think it is very important to have this wider debate and information around municipalism and its networks in different countries across Europe and beyond. But one thing that is missing from this debate so far, is an understanding of why radical municipalism and people power has caught on here in Spain in a way which has been so powerful. For me, what we need to understand is the movement-building and what active citizens were able to create – in short, what came before. It was the creation of a mass of politicised citizens that was the essential phase, previous to launching a set of municipal initiatives. And this should be one of the first aspects of this new politics that we should discuss in depth. And then build.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/15m-mutaciones.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/15m-mutaciones.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>15M network.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Team Syntegrity 2017</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity"><strong>Meet the participants</strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results"><strong>Some results </strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process"><strong>Process in their own words</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Fearless cities: how municipal governments are challenging right-wing governments, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjOFgTbvXXs">15 min.video</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/plan-c/radical-municipalism-demanding-future">Radical municipalism: demanding the future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/digitaliberties/xnet/repression-and-digital-resistance-in-catalanreferendum">Repression and digital resistance in the #CATALANREFERENDUM</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/digitaliberties/xnet/how-to-preserve-fundamental-rights-on-internet-guide">How to preserve fundamental rights on the internet: a guide</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/simona-levi/catalonian-lessons-civil-society-has-something-to-offer-on-gaming-tab">Catalonian lessons: civil society has something to offer on the gaming tables of governance</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/simona-levi/open-letter-to-nuitdebout-from-indignados-districts-of-internet">An open letter to #NuitDebout from the Indignados’ districts of the internet </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/emeka-forbes/how-technology-powered-catalan-referendum">How technology powered the Catalan referendum </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kate-shea-baird/new-international-municipalist-movement-is-on-rise-from-small-vic">A new international municipalist movement is on the rise – from small victories to global alternatives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/kate-shea-baird/how-to-build-movement-party-lessons-from-rosario-s-future-city">How to build a movement-party: lessons from Rosario’s Future City</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ada-colau/first-we-take-barcelona">First we take Barcelona...</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/andreas-karitzis/let-s-not-politicise-let-s-skill">Let’s not ‘politicise’: let’s skill</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines">While the sun shines</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> digitaLiberties Can Europe make it? Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Emma Avilés Sat, 13 Jan 2018 14:17:29 +0000 Emma Avilés and Rosemary Bechler 115632 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meeting Lofa https://www.opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler-luthfur-ullah/meeting-lofa <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“In the Kenyan camp there are second generation and third generation refugees,” I said, “Can you imagine somebody being in there on a permanently temporary basis? It’s hopeless.” It opened their eyes a bit I hope.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4483.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4483.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lofa's office in EYST, Swansea, Wales, 2017.</span></span></span>Rosemary (R.) Lofa – so great to see you here in Swansea. We have a small window of opportunity, both for you to talk about yourself and your line of work which is so special, and then to tell us a bit about what impact, if any, the Team Syntegrity had on your life. But tell me, originally, you are from Bangladesh?</em></p> <p><strong>Luthfur Ullah (Lofa):</strong> My family is from Bangladesh. I was born here. But my grandparents came over to Leeds during the war because there was a shortage of labour. They settled in Leeds and Bradford originally.&nbsp; My grandparents worked in the factories: my father did the same. But when I was one year old, my family moved to Swansea. They had a friend here and this is a really lovely part of the world ­ – they really liked it. Thirty-seven years later, here we still are!</p> <p>But I am very busy nevertheless: I have five children – 20, 18, 10, six, five – and two partners – though not at once! So it’s all a bit hectic.</p> <p><em>R: You don’t have to explain…</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> My oldest son is in Cardiff University studying finance and marketing and it’s hard work with them all but I wouldn’t have it any other way. They take me for a mug of course and my daughters have me wrapped around their little fingers.</p> <p>My name is actually a particularly patriotic Bangladeshi name, meaning ‘the kindest’ – but it was so difficult to pronounce, by the age of five or six, even my sisters called me Lofa – and everyone calls me that. I’m comfortable with it.</p> <p><em>R: You were saying that since the Team Syntegrity event in Barcelona last June you have been incredibly busy…</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> There was so much backlog, I didn’t realise how much my project, the family link work – has exploded. Family Link is helping families within Swansea County engage with services, welfare advice, whatever support they need. It may be on mental health, domestic violence, honour-based violence – all of these things with a BME focus. We are the lead body now on ‘race ‘ in Wales. So we enforce policy, conduct research into the engagement of BME communities with social services and education, integration into the community, how they feel after Brexit and all that cohesion stuff. </p> <p>This is my new office which we have built and my colleague Shahab and myself are based here now. This week, for example, we have six emergency cases that we are dealing with. It has been like that for months. Tomorrow I am delivering an immigration package to Clearsprings which is a housing provider specifically contracted to provide housing for asylum seekers. They need to be educated now into what to expect and what cultural practises they need to understand. There have been situations where support workers or housing caseworkers would be going into the home and not appreciating certain etiquettes – it could be something small like expecting women to answer the door. Not knowing how to engage. I have been doing a lot of immigration and asylum training recently – three courses in schools since Barcelona.</p> <p>You would think that schools would be more aware than most: but they are not. I had a primary school recently and a couple of Syrian refugee families had moved into the area. The teachers didn’t know the difference between an immigrant and an emigrant or how to speak to them at all. But once the training starts we have a relationship with that school and they often bring us back to do refresher sessions. And of course we talk to the pupils. We follow up to see how the families are settling in and in this case they are getting on well, and it’s all fine. We have a couple of comprehensive schools where we go in once every two or three weeks to speak to different classes.</p> <p>At two o’clock, we have four young people coming in. They attend the Rathbone&nbsp; Work-based Learning Programme and we deliver immigration and asylum training, racism and Islamophobia training as part of that. They do 16 hours a week apprenticeships preparing them for work.&nbsp; They are young people who haven’t done terribly well at school. They might have issues at home. Some of them have gone through horrific stuff. They aren’t going onto college and they have fallen through the net. These programmes are designed to give them skills like customer service. Some go on to further education. Hopefully we might have changed some views there. In the beginning they were rather ignorant about the current situation. You’ll meet them and find out for yourselves.</p> <p>They may hold negative views about other communities. You can understand where the anger is coming from. And when the media carry the sorts of headlines we so often see, they don’t think to question those hostile narratives.&nbsp; But they are lovely kids! I’ve been talking to them about how Germany has taken so many immigrants and asylum seekers and Britain has taken so few in comparison. </p> <p>That didn’t hit home until I showed them a video called ‘Let me in’ – Alicia Keys. I love her. She’s a singer and she made this video which portrayed a reverse situation, where Americans were suffering under war conditions and many flee to Mexico to seek refuge and the Mexicans let them in! Then that got them thinking. In the news it is always people of colour and people less well off suffering like this and somehow that helps them become desensitised to the situations we are talking about. So I showed them that, and you could have heard a pin drop. Some of them were crying. Now, to get that reaction… when they see it could be us, perceptions change. </p> <p>Before that they were saying, “No they can’t come here, they should go somewhere else.”&nbsp; So you say, ”Where would you like them to go?” They say, “Why can’t they stay in the refugee camps?” You say, “Well a lot of them do.&nbsp; The largest camp was until recently in Kenya and now it’s in Bangladesh, my home country… because of the Rohingyas – 800 thousand of them, that has shot up in a few months!&nbsp; But in the Kenyan camp there are second generation and third generation refugees.” I said, “Can you imagine somebody being in there on a permanently temporary basis? It’s hopeless.” It opened their eyes a bit I hope.</p> <p>So you’ll meet Andrew Penhale, who is their tutor. He’s a lovely guy. We work together quite often.</p> <p><em>R. Great. Thank you so much for setting that up! Can I just ask you, when you work with Syrian families isn’t there a massive language problem?</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> Yes, of course. I don’t speak Arabic. I have a few phrases for a low level conversation, and because I’m at home with those, my few phrases are enough to make them immediately comfortable. But you met Moossa here just now who is one of my young people, and he speaks Arabic. I have a couple of these volunteers – lovely boys, Qatab, Hassan – they come in to sit with me and the Syrian families to help translate. Qatab is a young person on my Progression Project, my second project, which is all about getting young people trained and educated into volunteering, work or further education. I will facilitate that by getting them work placements or volunteering opportunities. I have a couple of Employment Champions now - someone who has gone into volunteering or work and who is in a position to give something back to help their peers. Qatab is a young man who came here from Iraq just over two years ago.&nbsp; When he came he had very little English, but now he is doing level one in Youth Work and goes to college in Llanelli. He speaks fluent English, but he comes back to me as an Employment Champion on our Progression Project, and also goes to help the Syrian asylum workers with translating for their families. It’s rather amazing.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0235_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0235_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lofa as one of five critics in a Team Syntegrity discussion, June 2017.</span></span></span><em>R. Now we have a better idea, perhaps you could tell me a little more about your experience of working with the other participants in the Team Syntegrity non-hierarchical conference for three and a half days...&nbsp; </em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> Well the first thing to say is that I came back from Barcelona inspired. I thought, no, I want to educate myself. I’ve always been on about personal development, but since I came back, Shahab, my colleague and myself have both signed up now for a Masters in youth and community work. After work here every Monday, we go to Cardiff, study until 9.30pm and then back home. My first two assignments, 6,000 words, have to be in at more or less the same time! </p> <p><em>R. Well gosh. If I can help – I’ll do a bit of editing any time! How interesting. Are you enjoying it?</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> It’s really good. You know what. It is making me question my own practises at work. I’ve never really thought about the theory behind what I do before. It just comes naturally. But now I’m thinking about it and there is one whole section on developing relationships and reflexive practise which has really got me thinking. I had one client who said something to me that I didn’t really like, and now I find myself replaying all our conversations in my mind and asking myself how we got to the situation where he would say that to me… now I can apply a theory to it. And I think, my God! I’m really enjoying it and it’s all your fault! </p> <p><em>R: Did you feel you had a chance to share your experience with the other Team Syntegrity participants in Barcelona?</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> I made some fabulous friends, Vanessa, Rebecca – we were joined at the hip, Joan Pedro, Dafydd – Joan Pedro and me ended up talking all night, so yes they got to know me and quite a lot about my perceptions and my work. Definitely. I wondered if some of the participants who were academics found it more difficult to gather what someone who was not so academic was on about.&nbsp; I’m grass roots and I do think sometimes that people in academia live in some sort of bubble.</p> <p><em>R. Joan Pedro was quite articulate about the need to break down those class barriers wasn’t he? I think that was one of his chief learnings from the event: or perhaps he has always thought that way and our three-day event just confirmed it?</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong>&nbsp; Yes, that’s right. I didn’t feel uncomfortable.&nbsp; But at times, I felt a bit of a dunce – and asked myself what I was doing there? I was aware that – wow – some of these people were so intelligent that you could have built spaceships in there if you’d wanted to! But actually they made me feel so welcome. And if you asked questions, they would explain. It’s just the way it is – people come from totally different backgrounds and those differences have to be negotiated.&nbsp; </p> <p><em>R: And it doesn’t seem to have put you off academe…</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> No, I wanted to learn more.&nbsp; This is what I’m reading now: I’ve always been interested in politics…</p> <p><em>R: “Britain and France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East“…</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa:</strong> And here’s another of my favourites, Noam Chomsky. You know, I’ve always had a passion for reading but never had the time. And now I am taking a bit more time for my education. </p> <p><em>R. You were in two Team Syntegrity discussions as a discussant responsible for the outcomes – &nbsp;was one on global citizenship and one on the rise of the far right?</em></p> <p><strong>Lofa</strong>: That’s right. On that last one, I did get to see a different viewpoint. What I experience of the far right in my work is quite negative. The far right has a bit of a stronghold of activism here in Swansea, so our projects are all about challenging it, alongside challenging Islamic extremism and challenging exploitation. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0288_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0288_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The far right discussion at Team Syntegrity, Barcelona, June 2017.</span></span></span>But in that discussion, as well as sharing my views and perspectives, I got to thinking that the far right are not that way just because it is the way they are. Maybe their environment contributes to the choices they make. It was Wiebke from Hamburg who made some really good arguments on this. I was really impressed by her. But to be honest, if you ask me – they were <em>all </em>amazing – my fellow participants – they were all amazing!&nbsp; She broadened my view on the whole issue of how we might set about eliminating racism. I don’t know if we will ever manage it, because it isn’t confined to any one grouping, of white people, for example. There are plenty of people of colour, take India, plenty who think they are superior to others because they have lighter coloured skins… so it’s a very widespread phenomenon all over the world. But she has got me thinking about the many different reasons why people start thinking that way. </p><p>Global citizenship – that was such a hard topic, because it’s on such a scale. I am a member of the Welsh Alliance for Global Education and Citizenship, although I’ve missed the last two meetings just because of being too busy. We deliver global citizenship education in the schools here as part of ‘personal and social education’ (PSE), and it is not taken very seriously. </p> <p>I know they are trying to embed it as part of the national curriculum here – and the Donaldson Report highlighted the need for mainstreaming aspects of global citizenship into every subject. They are looking to do that, but it’s not easy to do. &nbsp;My fellow-participant in that discussion, Markha – another lovely woman – wanted to put her ideas over and I wanted to do the same. But we weren’t connecting. &nbsp;She is brilliant though and I do like her grand vision!&nbsp; I like her plans. But I felt her programme in world scholarships was far too ambitious and that we need to start with baby steps, something that anybody could do and be a part of and feel a part of ! </p> <p>So since I have come back, I took a particular interest in the youth exchange that we had arranged with quite a mixed group of 25 people from Molenbeek in Belgium, the community that acquired notoriety recently in connection with terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. They came for a week, and it was very interesting! Here, they met Iraqi and Syrian asylum seekers, kids from the Bangladeshi community and from the white mainstream. Unfortunately the kids with more rightwing views don’t access our shelter as much as we’d like them to… I don’t know why. If they came more often, I think they’d be blown away by some of these things that are going on here. </p> <p>When they get together they actually get along – we have had football matches and so on! These are the small steps – just getting people together to do anything, football every Thursday, beauty parlours for the girls-only drop-in centre attended by Asian, Muslim, Syrian and Welsh girls. That is what most interests me. And on a global level, I wouldn’t try and get them to study because everyone everywhere is on very different educational levels – but if we could just meet! Take people from the north and south of India! Just hang out and chill out and talk to each other. Never mind bringing the Europeans over at this stage. &nbsp;Just meeting would be a good start!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0094_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0094_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Market-place of ideas, Team Syntegrity, June 2017.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Team Syntegrity 2017</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity"><strong>Meet the participants</strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results"><strong>Some results </strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process"><strong>Process in their own words</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wiebke-hansen-rosemary-bechler/change-in-consensual-way">Change in a consensual way</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/aya-haidar-rosemary-bechler/safe-spaces-bagpipes-and-houmous">Safe spaces, bagpipes and houmous </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joan-pedro-cara-ana/re-thinking-strategies-for-social-change-in-transeuropa">Re-thinking strategies for social change in Transeuropa</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/joan-pedro-cara-ana/team-syntegrity-comprehensive-method-of-hope">Team Syntegrity, a comprehensive method of hope</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Wales </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Spain Wales Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Luthfur Ullah Wed, 10 Jan 2018 17:41:34 +0000 Luthfur Ullah and Rosemary Bechler 115598 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Let’s not ‘politicise’: let’s skill https://www.opendemocracy.net/andreas-karitzis/let-s-not-politicise-let-s-skill <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>"We are very aware, when it comes to the whole Greek experience, that one of the problems the political left faces is … what it means to be able to implement your own ideas."</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0116_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0116_preview.jpeg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andreas in the market place of ideas, Team Syntegrity, Barcelona, June, 2017.</span></span></span>Rosemary(R): As someone based in Greece and practised in international debates around ‘</em><a href="https://www.tni.org/files/publication-downloads/new_politics_workshop_report-1.pdf"><em>new politics</em></a><em>’, what did you make of our Team Syntegrity process in Barcelona last June: did it add something to the toolbox?</em></p> <p><strong>Andreas (AK): </strong>The interesting thing about this three-day event was the fact that people with very different interests and expertise came together. We weren’t exactly focused and working together on the tools or methodologies that would achieve progressive change: we were more diverse than that. </p> <p>But every now and then it seems that it is important for all of us to check out the relevance of what we are doing in our respective fields, by becoming more aware of what is happening to the people around us working in totally different areas, and by having access to their perspectives on what is going on. I saw how people these days are approaching what is happening, and how they think they should address it. And I have kept in touch with the Greek participants and also with Ashish Ghadiali. </p> <p>I saw and heard a lot about areas of activity<span> </span>which are not priorities for me, but which appeared to me nevertheless quite crucial to bear in mind. I’m thinking of three of these: the need to find a good way to bring emotions into our calculations of social organisation and political change; secondly, the complexity that different religious backgrounds bring to the table of anyone fantasising about a global identity; and the fascinating things going on in agriculture, of which I know very little, but which turn out to be utterly relevant to the urban challenges with which I wrestle. Pavlos has given me a lot of tips in this regard, despite both of us being so busy.</p> <p>It was also good to encounter people who simply have different positions in the global division of labour. That was also nice. I have a sense of urgency; I met people who had an even greater sense of urgency; but also people who had considerably less of that sense. We are all part more or less of a global movement for progressive change that we would like to see coordinated; but it became very clear that people do not have the same experiences, the same feelings about what is going on, let alone the same commitment to how to tackle it. That is important to take into consideration.</p> <p><em>R: Those were all things you learned from your fellow participants. What about your own ability to share your concerns and priorities with the others? – sowing seeds and seeing them germinate was one of the favourite metaphors of the event.</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>On that front, I have a dual response. The first is rather negative. I felt that sometimes the point I was trying to make was not well understood by my fellow-participants. I realise that this means that I have to take into greater consideration, as I said, the different vantage points of my interlocutors. You have to find a way to communicate it better. But I came to the conclusion that this was also more profoundly about my diagnosis regarding the way politics functions or rather does not function in liberal democracies today, based on my experience in Greece. Politics no longer works. It doesn’t deliver; and at the same time, it doesn’t allow a space for people to talk convivially about their institutional experience in this regard. </p> <p>But of course, the extent of the decline is not the same in all liberal democracies. So if you are discussing with people from countries where the institutional framework does not appear so obsolete, it is understandable that talking like this may seem rather bizarre. It must have seemed as if I was trying to warn them of an imminent setback, as opposed to helping them articulate their existing experience of the options before them. So I probably needed a different way of speaking. When I referred to the political functioning of liberal democracies I described it in such a way that made it sound as if it was no longer powerful enough institutionally to allow the prospect of any real political advance. But this is not an adequate description of what is going on in their countries, where it seems to people that, with whatever difficulty, they are indeed able to advance their democratic cause. So I need to find a new frame for the same sort of reasoning that I am engaged in.</p> <p>Many times, however, even if people didn’t share my perspective, I thought they did glimpse the fertility of the ideas behind what I was trying to elaborate. </p> <p><em>R: Were discussions about the UK Labour Party and Momentum’s role that I know you had with one or two of the participants an example of this sort of misunderstanding?</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>I am very happy that there are people who understand the need to change our priorities and our methodology in working for progressive change. I had exactly the same convictions myself in the years leading up to 2015, when the realities in Greece became so clear. A few years back, I would have argued for the same things, based on the assessments I was making then about what sorts of prospects we faced and how things could evolve. But after 2015, this was no longer an assessment. We had the facts, the reality. </p> <p>So this has convinced me to be bolder in arguing for a different methodology, one which concentrates much more on the creation of social capital to better prepare ourselves for the forthcoming challenge in various countries. And I find people from other countries are beginning to listen to this. </p> <p>The Labour Party path seems a fruitful one. I am not a pessimist in this regard. But the UK faces very difficult problems and it will be a hard fight. I don’t have any problem with failure either. I don’t mind that, because I believe that whatever we do during a period of time is not a permanent solution to any problem: it is always an attempt to cope with the challenges that will provide valuable lessons for the future. And it’s my role to learn.</p> <p><em>R: I wasn’t trying to engage you in that sort of dreary speculation over who the winners and the losers are likely to be, which goes on ad nauseam. I suppose I was hoping to focus on your thoughts on the function of a leftwing movement in rather reactionary countries nowadays. What should they aspire to, what should they look like? This I take it was the main topic of the ‘Transforming the left’ discussion you were involved in last June.</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>What you are asking for is <em>the</em> core problem we need to address: how are we going to organise socially and politically the majority of the people in order to become powerful enough to influence the course of our societies? This is the question. What we have now, if you ask my opinion, is a pretty good diagnosis in itself of what is not working. We may have the requirements, the specifications of what we need. But we have to fill in these specs with content, with various experiences and with actual processes. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0190_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0190_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Team Syntegrity, June, 2017.</span></span></span>Maybe there are interesting things going on in Britain that I am not aware of. But here in Greece, I can tell you about a similar path that is under way. We are trying to build networks that draw people into activity, while maximising the decision-making opportunities that are appropriate to what people know how to do. These will be organisations constructed around a variety of autonomous and semi-autonomous groupings, which allow people to choose where they are best placed to learn and to contribute. We don’t have to take all the decisions together. We will take qualified decisions while maintaining a basic democratic functioning within the parts and good coordination between the parts. </p><p>So if you ask me the new model of organisation that I am describing is not a top down organisation, where people transfer the crucial decisions to those above them: but it will be a network of autonomous entities engaged in their own projects, but cooperating and coordinating together to achieve more complex tasks. That is what we are trying to do now in <a href="http://komvoshub.org/2/about.html">Komvos</a> – in its experimental phase, based on commons principles and those of a solidarity economy. </p> <p>The pilot is not a huge network, but we are using it to find out what kinds of qualities the organisers must have, what kinds of digital tools you could use to have this kind of coordination, and the kinds of institutions we need in order to support such networks on a larger scale. If you think about it, for example we need institutions that can scale up the parts of the network that are working well; mature projects for implementation – you may have a good idea and not have a clue about how to translate it into an implementation plan, and there are people who are experts and can do this for others; and we also need a strong funding component, instead of having to create small funding units within each of the cells, that can provide this service to any cell or cluster of cells that needs it. This funding component might include facilities for crowdfunding, donors, foundations, banking and investment skills, everything. It is a new institution. We also need a cultural institution. These are the features of the ‘content’ needed to fill the frame that I was referring to.</p> <p>Komvos in this sense is a facilitator of this network. We don’t want it to become the organisation itself, but rather to act as a cell that enables a group of other cells to emerge, by mediating between different parts of the network to consolidate better communications overall, and by supplying different processes that enable different cells which are autonomous and up and running already, to work out what they can do best together. These are if you like ‘second order cells’ of a network that are not themselves in the field, but that support all the cells working in the field. This is what I am thinking about and what we are working on.</p> <p><em>R: To what extent is it necessary that the members of these cell clusters, or networks, consciously espouse a shared political purpose?</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>That’s a tricky question, because the people involved in setting up Komvos with me are strongly politically oriented. But we are very aware, when it comes to the whole Greek experience, that one of the problems the political left faces is the underestimation of technical aspects of social capacity, what it means to be able to implement your own ideas. This is because we tend to think that the major problems are political, and a matter of political will. This is right to a certain extent. But if that means that you become totally impotent in terms of your operational capacities, then that creates, as you can imagine, a serious problem. </p> <p>So in this phase of our actions and operations, we do not want to connect this kind of activity to any explicit political commitment. We know that if we flourish at this level, our skills will be completely essential to any emancipatory politics in the broadest sense of the term, but we don’t want to burden those involved today with political controversy and cat-fights – those are happening of their own accord quite enough anyway – but we don’t want to promote this. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to see and are not working for an indication in a few years’ time that innovative and transformed political platforms are emerging at a municipal and regional level – and why not at a national level too? But they will have been informed about what it means to become involved in politics through the activities in the network that they have been engaged in, and that I have been describing to you.</p> <p><em>R: &nbsp;That’s very interesting, because it tells me that your primary purpose is not to find a new and more productive function for the left in any given society, in this case Greece, but that your primary purpose is to build up nodes of social capacity. You may have your own political motivations for committing to the formation of a certain kind of resilience in the face of the future challenges you anticipate, but that’s it. Those motivations are not the driver for the whole, and theoretically, the skills you seek to form could and perhaps should be nurtured in many different parts of our diverse societies? In our reactionary liberal democracies there are people throughout society who have everything from entrepreneurial and technological skills to caring and ethical skills, which we shall need to bring together in any decent future fight on behalf of democracy and people power.</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>Yes, that’s it. But let me add to this way of describing what I’m saying. After 2015 here in Greece, I do not have a left organisation that is a point of reference for me. It would be quite different, and I would say more or less the same things but in a rather different modality, if a vibrant left party could have emerged alive and kicking from what happened in 2015. Had that happened, then today we would have an organisational tool that maybe needed improvement and modifications, but which could help in the creation of the network that I was talking about, bringing people from different origins, with different priorities and different political identities together, and this left party could be one crucial factor in its success. We don’t have that. So I cannot say, “First I will rebuild and revive the left and then the new left will do this.” It’s not going to work like that. And so if you ask my opinion, you have to go straight to the people, to the many different people, among which leftwingers constitute only one constituency, who are going to prove useful to this project. I strongly recommend this strategy to my leftist friends, and amongst the leftist organisations, I read in their publications quite a lot of similar ideas and methodological echoes. But I would not choose to work within the left at this period of time. I’m not underestimating those ideas. I did work within those methodologies for twenty years! But I don’t think I have to begin from there to reach the many parts of the people in struggle that surround me. That seems more productive.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0248_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0248_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Team Syntegrity discussions, June 2017.</span></span></span><em>R: Your vision reminds me of many very different organisational opportunities, from the Greater London Enterprise Board before Margaret Thatcher crushed it, to the exciting municipal experiments in the Fearless Cities network launched in Barcelona. Where, internationally, do you take your inspiration from?</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>The interesting things happening now in Barcelona and Madrid and other areas in Spain are indeed a major source of inspiration and relevant ideas. Moreover, there we are talking about another European country, which means a similar political context and indeed a shared history. We witness the expansion of similar efforts in other countries. Thanks to Magda at the Team Syntegrity, I recently discovered some of the great work being undertaken by Razem, the new leftwing party in Poland, something similar to what Podemos are doing. And there are similar initiatives in Romania and also in Croatia at the municipal level. It is all at a very early stage, this way of addressing our organisational and methodological problems, but it is happening and will give us new insights. </p> <p>What is happening in Rojava and the Kurdish areas of Syria is also inspiring. The major argument that comes from there is that democracy and the decentralisation of decision-making and the coordination of equals are not luxuries that we can only aspire to after we have put paid to our enemies, but that they are crucial and essential tools if you want to survive because they are the only way to liberate in full the capacities of the people. That is an absolutely key argument. And a major breakthrough in experience that is going on there, and I use it a lot.</p> <p>Another source of inspiration comes from the enemy camp, so to speak! I admire the determination, the political conviction and the coordination of neoliberal political formations in every country. They are very dedicated, and very ready to give away their power if that is good for their cause. Take the example of neoliberal politicians who privatise. Privatisation takes away power from the political level, from <em>your</em> level if you are a neoliberal politician, and gives it to major corporations. But these corporations are the proper entities according to neoliberal ideology that should take these kinds of decisions. From our perspective, how often do you see leftwing political leaders come to power who readily give away decision-making to the social entities that their ideology seems to promote? I admire that: I like it. That’s another source of inspiration. Their determination and devotion and being ready to do things that seem to curtail their own influence to promote the wider ideological goals.&nbsp; </p> <p>Another inspiring model is the very successful, I should say, social movement, the Islamist Gulen movement in Turkey – Gulen was the former friend and now deadly enemy of Erdogan – which used to work mainly at the social level, organising various basic social functions in Turkey, cornering education and other crucial areas of society, to preserve both the ideas and activities of the people that they favoured at a very profound level. I believe, when I talk about power at the social level, that we need to be thinking about functions like that and on that sort of scale. You literally have to organise vital functions of society in a way that is autonomous, or semi-autonomous, and with several interfaces<span> </span>with the state. Hezbollah is attempting a similar process of becoming the true organisers of life at a neighbourhood level, and combining that with political power, using that leverage to empower themselves at a social level. </p> <p>That too is a very interesting reversal of priorities if you think about it. In the traditional left we want to produce social power in order to have political power, because we believe that is very crucial and no doubt it is. But in Lebanon, Hezbollah cannot take over the government even if they had the majority: war would break out the following day. So they know their political limits. And they have used the political power that they have in order to acquire a veritable social power, attained through empowering people in various areas in Lebanon. </p> <p>These are interesting versions of how you can reconfigure and combine political and social power and what kind of priorities you formulate. <span></span></p> <p><em>R: I wonder, for example, what you would make of that moment in the development of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt when there seemed to be the opportunity to develop a vibrant, pluralist youth movement, but this was never allowed to come to fruition.</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>They were also operating in a very toxic political environment, and are forced to be active at the social level of influence, as a consequence. But their fight is for other values, not for our concept of emancipation, and so that is bound to set limits. The funny thing is that all too often the left have similar self-imposed limitations even though we say to ourselves that we fight for emancipation, and this is what we promote. If you have a pluralist youth movement around you, you must not be afraid of it. You must see it in a positive light. I can see why the Muslim Brotherhood might find that impossible. But it’s more strange when leftist parties can’t deal with that.</p> <p><em>R. There is a big debate in leftist circles about ‘left populism’, and the sort of move that Jean-Luc M</em><em><span class="st"><em>é</em></span>lenchon has made to construct a monocultural French National Us, for example, from the ‘common sense of the social majority’, beyond class, race and gender differences. This again seems designed to bypass the pluralist energies which empower self-organising formations in our diverse societies? Do you see this as a major trap for progressives? &nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>I agree about the dangers of ‘left populism’. But we can find a solution to this simply by broadening our viewpoint. At this moment in time, this is not at all a problem confined to progressive movements or the left. This relates to a problem human society has encountered since the first permanent human settlement of the Sumerians. Since then, the best way that we have figured out how to take decisions in complex societies is by cutting off the majority of the population from that decision-making. In the broadest sense, this is a description of our civilizational status. Despite exceptional and brilliant moments in history, we have not solved the problem. But I strongly believe that we are living in a period over the last two centuries and increasingly, in which continuing in this manner visibly harms our societies on a huge scale.</p> <p>So we are about to take an evolutionary step, and emancipation, progressive values, I see these as the ingredients of this evolutionary step. We have to solve this sort of problem within the political left, which is the question you were putting to me, but in order to do this, we have to see the challenge as an instance of a much broader phenomenon that societies are facing. Usually the left don’t do that. We think that it is our problem, and that if we manage to solve it, we will then go on to liberate society. </p> <p>I have watched this general decline of the default position we have at hand, which is cutting other people off from the decision-making, in order to be able to control and manage complex societies. I see this in various areas of human activity, whether you are looking at surveillance or left factional in-fighting. </p> <p>But to solve this – we need a broader perspective. The core question is, how is it possible to do mass politics without leaders, leaders not in the sense of those who decide, because as I have already suggested, that is the part that won’t work, but leaders as the symbolic consolidation of values, social trends and commitments. Maybe we don’t need a symbolic consolidation, a person, a face, in order to do mass politics. But up until now we do seem to have connected differently to faces, in a way that we do not to ideas. A person can commit him or herself to ‘solidarity’ as an abstract principle, but someone who is seen to enact this will move people’s admiration in a much more direct, emotional way. This particular woman, with her eyes, and her persona – can have an enormous effect on a public, and we cannot be indifferent to this.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0282_preview.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0282_preview.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Team Syntegrity,June 2017.</span></span></span><em>R: You mentioned the centrality of the emotions, perhaps particularly to the younger participants in the Team Syntegrity. This may be a generational development, linked to the digital rise of peer group communication. Emotional literacy and the pursuit of happiness is surely a profound cultural, social and political gain, but it coincides with an era only now barely emerging from the sense that ‘there is no alternative’ to austerity. People tend to look for reassurances that they are not going to be losers before they are willing to try anything. Is that your experience in trying to organise change in Greece?</em></p> <p><strong>AK: </strong>&nbsp;What stimulated me on the subject of emotionality in Barcelona was my growing conviction that people will be able to make huge sacrifices and take on huge risks for change if they are emotionally attached to other people. That this is the crucial factor. </p> <p>I have met twenty year olds who are ultra-nationalists. But if they have the opportunity to really get to know someone from another country, and this goes well, these friends may in no time be willing to give their lives for each other. Something is happening in this area of social relations. And I don’t think we have grasped this development or have a serious assessment of what is going on. I am not talking about psychological explanations – these we do have. But I am talking about a serious political understanding of the impact of these developments. The rise of the right in so many countries has to do with this kind of emotional transference among groups of people, and we have not paid proper attention to this.</p> <p>When it comes to what motivates people to become active, for the next few decades we will probably have to cope with generations of people who implicitly assume that change can be both easy and quick, once they decide on something. Go to a few demonstrations, go and vote, participate in a few meetings, and things must change. But this is not the case. It’s not easy to tell people that they are going to have to ‘try harder’ if they want to live in a decent society. And I wouldn’t exactly want to say that anyway. It’s more a case of them being more ambitious for themselves about what they want to see and to do. People must be more engaged in ways based on their own interests. And for sure, as societies we have to try harder to find these ways.</p> <p>The ‘end of history’ mentality is so rooted in our minds, which says to us, either there are no serious challenges, or if they do exist, I will deal with these in a way that suits my lifestyle. I may look like a militant activist, but actually, my commitment is two or three hours a day maximum. This approach will not produce results, because the difficult times coming will require a different order of commitment. I’m not just talking about the hours this will take, but the nature and quality of the commitment including my own sense of my identity and interests. We will have around us as you said anxious people who want quick results. We must vote against Trump and mobilise for his impeachment and a change of president; and if we invest in our society in this way and are successful, it must change because we have been willing to do this! But this is not true. A lot of people have to do all sorts of things at all sorts of levels of society, large and small, before a society begins to change and we win the privilege of being able to say, not that we are changing, but that indeed we are influencing our societies in a better direction.</p> <p>Influencing society is a very hard job. The neoliberals poured a huge amount of effort and money into institutions, foundations, colleges and universities, working for decades to secure the changes that we witness around us. We cannot expect that demonstrating for three days out in the streets, or voting for a political change, will be enough to change the nature and direction of our societies. So this is the false expectation that we should also be thinking about more, and finding ways to overcome it.</p> <p><em>R: Thank you, Andreas. <br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Team Syntegrity 2017</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity"><strong>Meet the participants</strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results"><strong>Some results </strong></a></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process"><strong>Process in their own words</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines">While the sun shines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/noam-titelman/politics-of-feelings">The politics of feelings</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/agnieszka-wi-niewska/from-civil-society-to-political-society">From civil society to political society</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Greece </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Poland </div> <div class="field-item even"> Croatia </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> <div class="field-item even"> Egypt </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> <div class="field-item even"> Turkey </div> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> UK Turkey Syria Egypt Lebanon Croatia Poland Spain Greece Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Andreas Karitzis Wed, 10 Jan 2018 16:46:10 +0000 Andreas Karitzis and Rosemary Bechler 115597 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Safe spaces, bagpipes and houmous https://www.opendemocracy.net/aya-haidar-rosemary-bechler/safe-spaces-bagpipes-and-houmous <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“This is the safe space I was talking about… a totally open space people can feel safe in, because stories are shared, barriers are broken and everyone is welcome.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0008.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0008.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aya Haidar</span></span></span>Aya Haidar </em><em>was one of 30 participants from Europe and beyond who took part in the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">Team Syntegrity</a> – or non-hierarchical conference – held in Barcelona on 18-22 June 2017. This is part of a series of follow-up conversations on that event's themes, recommendations and relationships.</em></p><p><strong>Aya Haidar (Aya): </strong>I’m sorry about the delayed start. I’m in Scotland in this tiny town on an arts residency and I was getting ready to speak to you guys when I get a call from one of the ladies who works in our office. She went to the train station to drop someone off and saw these two Arab-looking men wandering around lost. (This is an incredibly white part of the world.) The older one looked unwell and partially disabled, the other just lost. No-one speaks Arabic so she took them back home and rang me up to ask me to translate. Anyway they come from another town maybe an hour and a half away, because they found an advert for a mobility scooter for sale on Facebook. They came on the offchance, but they only have a postcode and they are lost. It’s freezing, it’s raining and they only have these crappy, flimsy little jackets.&nbsp; </p> <p>I tried to understand. The guy said, “Look my Dad is unwell. He has heart problems, and we have to be back where we live at 5pm for a doctor’s appointment. My mum is having an operation…”–&nbsp;they haven’t eaten, the list is endless! The scooter is for his father because he can’t walk, yet he has been traipsing over here in the rain to get it and is clearly on his last legs. It costs £600, which is literally all the money they have and turns out to be in another town one hour away and the trains are so infrequent. But this amazing woman in our office has a van and says, “Take my van. I’ll walk home. Just get them there.” The van is perfect because fitted out for a wheelchair. And we find someone to take them to pick up the scooter and get them home. &nbsp;So that’s why I was late.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/aya.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/aya.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The motor scooter!</span></span></span><span><em>Rosemary Bechler (RB): Does that sort of thing happen every day, Aya?</em></span></p> <p><strong>Aya: </strong>Pretty much. One hundred Syrian refugees have come into this area, but there are very few resources for them. No-one speaks Arabic. I am the first Arab-speaker that they have encountered here, and it is just a fluke that I took on this project! </p> <h2><strong>Level playing fields</strong></h2> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0013.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0013.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>RB: Well actually that dovetails rather well into what we were hoping to talk to you about, Aya, which was the Safe Spaces discussion you took part in last June in Barcelona. &nbsp;</em></p> <p><em>More specifically, the distinction that arose in your group between safe spaces which seek to reassure one cultural grouping, like a US student sorority house for example, and safe spaces bringing people together from different backgrounds to resolve their differences and negotiate a better way of living together? Has that proved to be an important distinction in your work as an artist?</em></p> <p><strong>Aya: </strong>It was Sunny Hundal I think who made that really good point that you can be trying to create a safe space by targeting one group and preserving the culture within it, but the danger is just excluding everyone else – so what is safe about that? But where I was coming from in that discussion was how important it is nowadays in our societies to create a space where people with a common interest can come together and anything can be voiced and anything can be shared. </p> <p>As an artist, what prompted that thought was my sense that, like a lot of artists, there is a lot I don’t know about how to make a living out of this career in the arts. That is not something that you are taught at art school. Creating a space where information can be shared and opportunities are transparent could be very useful. A network of artists is really important, for example, especially for community projects where you are trying to tap into different needs and skill sets.</p> <p>Having lived in places like Saudi Arabia where I worked for two years, where open dialogue is non-existent, and if you are outed as gay your life is immediately at risk, seeing that there are other people in the same boat as you allows you to breed strength in numbers, and movement can happen. LGBT rights, mixing of gender in one communal space, certain forms of artistic expression or even freedom of written expression in some countries – these things are taboo in some parts of the Middle East. If you are gay, or a woman or a minority fighting for labour rights – whatever it is –and you have an underground movement like that, where people can talk about how they feel, in a space you have created where you are socially accepted, then something is born, a seed is planted. And I believe that this is a really strong way forward for any kind of change to happen in society.</p> <p>In our discussion, I insisted that these movements have to be completely separate from the state. They rely on people in society rather than any kind of facilitator ‘from above’.</p> <p><em>RB: So was it important for you that the Team Syntegrity process also centrally relies on the self-organisation of groups of people?</em></p> <p><strong>Aya: </strong>Absolutely, and what I found really interesting was how every single person in that whole group was different from the others. You had a group of artists, sure, but representing very different realms of the creative industries – experts in the spoken word, or theatre, or painting, or weaving. But then you also had people who worked in finance, scientists, politicians, including some people who I felt were part of the problem, all advocating from different vantage-points in society, really multilateral, top down, bottom up. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0158_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0158_0.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aya at Team Syntegrity 2017. openDemocracy/Cameron Thibos.</span></span></span>So there was lots of intense discussion and I really liked the fact that none of it was ‘facilitated’ by anyone – it was us and very much owned by the people taking part in that discussion, who themselves flipped or jumped between the different roles of ‘critic’, the people talking and the people who were just listening. You wore different hats and you had your own input, even in subjects that had been chosen seemingly out of the blue, where initially I thought, “I’m in no position to say anything on this.” But as the process unfolded, I began to feel that actually my position on this was just as valid as the people whose whole career had probably been spent working on that. There was a very level playing field for everyone in a way, and I thought that was really, really important. </p><h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0014_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0014_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><strong>Jeddah</strong></h2> <p><em>RB: When you </em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/aya-haidar/letter-from-recovering-team-syntegrity-2017-participant"><em>wrote to us</em></a><em> after the event, you said that you had, “</em><em>3 international exhibitions coming up and all have a basis around what was discussed during the forum.”&nbsp;Tell us more!</em></p> <p><strong>Aya</strong>: One just finished at the <a href="http://www.ayahaidar.com/page4.htm">Athr gallery</a> in November in the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, and I have two coming up in February. One of them is in Saudi Arabia, curated by the assistant curator of Tate Modern, Vassilis Oikonomopoulos: and the other by an amazing curator, <a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/may_el_khalil_making_peace_is_a_marathon">Maya El-Khalil</a>, again in Jeddah. All of these I would say are very political shows in parts of the world where they are not allowed to be political.</p> <p><em>RB: So these too are safe, creative spaces in a way, and maybe places where art can do things that politics couldn’t?</em></p> <p><strong>Aya: </strong>Absolutely. For me, in these exhibitions, it is not as if you are allowed to say whatever you want, but, for example, for Vassilis and the Jeddah artweek, 21.39, I’m making a work around labour rights in Saudi Arabia. There are so many issues I would love to explore in Saudi Arabia, women’s rights for sure, border politics and the wide geopolitics of the region. But something that struck me so forcibly when I was living there was the lack of minority rights and lack of voice – for Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Filipino people living in that country. And then there is the pecking order based on ethnicity. </p> <p>I am interested in the value that we put on art, and also the value that we put on labour. So I am collaborating very closely with a Pakistani embroiderer who works locally in Saudi Arabia. And I have developed a work contract with him where he sets the terms. And these are very humane terms. For example, “ Can you please refer to me by my own name which is Alamdar and not Sadiq”, a racist generic term often applied to people of Pakistani or Indian origin. We negotiated his salary and that is in the contract. Having 24-hour access to electricity to maintain an air-conditioned working space, in contrast to the incredibly inhumane conditions of so many sweatshops there. Being able to attend the VIP preview of the exhibition – the people who do the labour are never ever seen. They are always behind closed doors! So this is a set of clauses in a written contract that we have signed, and it will be translated into urdu – his native language – and his job then is to hand embroider this actual contract in black thread onto white cotton. Next, I am designing the pattern for the border around it, so that this embroidered tapestry of the social contract between me and this migrant labourer, will constitute our exhibit.&nbsp; </p> <p>It speaks directly to the value of art, since if he is earning x amount, and I am selling it for y amount – then why is it that the value of the artist is so much higher than the labourer? Or why is it that you are OK buying the work for three times that amount because I have got my name on it? The piece humanises this person who is otherwise completely dehumanised, and it is a really interesting negotiation in a country where contracts don’t really exist between migrant labourers and their employers! Also it subverts the usual hierarchy: it is very much him putting down his list of demands – something you’d never normally see. So it challenges quite a lot of everyday assumptions.</p> <p><em>RB: Isn’t something rather extraordinary happening here with gender and class roles?</em></p> <p><strong>Aya: </strong>The men of course generally do have the upper hand in that society. But yes, obviously in this case it broke a lot of rules, in that I was in close confines with him, meeting him, sitting, talking to him, documenting what he said and trying to understand him and learn more about his family background and so forth. At first, he was obviously thinking, “What the hell is this?” But once I broke down the barriers, conversation flowed and I learned a lot about him having this little chat. But legally in that country I would not be able to be in that room alone with a man not related/married to me. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0021.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0021.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>RB: So you really had to create a safe space, through your art, to be able to do that.</em></p> <p><strong>Aya:</strong><em> </em>Yes. With this art work we had to create that safe space where it was allowed, to take that control back to ourselves.</p> <p>Maya El-Khalil, meanwhile, is looking at society in the region, and how the narratives of politics and the media, the ‘news’, affect our daily lives and futures. Did you see <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/gvmbny/wolfgang-tillmans-on-why-brexit-is-the-most-monumental-event-in-modern-history">Wolfgang Tillmans</a>’ summer exhibition in the Tate Modern… where there was one particularly fascinating table installation, the ‘Truth Study Centre’, covered with the images and debris of all sides of the Brexit propaganda. They showed how easily pulled and swayed we are by these stories that surround us in society. She is interested in that: in story-telling that shifts the narrative in societies.</p> <p>One of the works I am putting forward for that is specific to Saudi Arabia, where a ‘family tax’ was introduced by the government in July, which charges non-Saudis 100 riyal extra per dependent every month. Next year this will double and the year after triple. </p> <p>The aim is to get rid of migrants and ‘return jobs and healthcare to native Saudis’. This ‘Saudisation process’ has some obvious flaws, not least since all the people doing the hard labour in that society are non-Saudi. They are to be driven ‘back home’ but many of them are second or third generation Saudis who haven’t been able to become Saudi nationals. But they know nothing about Sudan, say. They don’t speak the language. Home is Saudi. One commentator called this “financial ethnic cleansing.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0004.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0004.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>I have been collecting their narratives about the human cost of all this, hearing from men who say that their family is all that they have but they have had to send them away; or that their family is now reduced to eating only five days a week! These stories are not in the mainstream at all, but the mainstream is quite split over this. If you are queuing up for something and there are a lot of non-Saudis getting ahead of you in the line at school or whatever, that can be annoying. And of course non-Saudis should make a contribution to their society. But the general consensus I think is that the way that tax was brought in was not right, because it should have been done incrementally an as a proportion of someone’s wage, whereas now a road-sweeper is getting taxed exactly the same as someone who is earning millions at the head of a corporation. It’s unfair. So although I don’t feel it is my responsibility to offer a platform for the voiceless, I do think it is a massive injustice, and these voices are being completely stifled. Maybe no-one wants to know really. </p><p>So I will print excerpts from these stories on small little rubber stamps screwed to the wall, and visitors to the gallery will have an opportunity to press these stamps carrying these extremely powerful one-liners that mean something because they came from people who are directly affected by what the human cost of this is, onto their own bank notes. So it reintroduces that human cost back into the financial system. A tiny act of infiltration and dissemination – seeing how far it can go.</p> <p>But I really believe in participatory work: that for people to have any ownership over some sort of change they need to participate in it. It’s illegal to deface bank notes so they don’t have to. Or they can stamp their hands, or a book, or the wall, or photograph them or do nothing at all. The messages will be in Arabic in tiny fonts, so very subtle on the banknotes. But it is up to them if they want to take that risk. Making that mark, that physical stamp though, creates the space for a bit of rebellion maybe, and people will be able to choose between five or six different stamps which quote they relate to most. Not just to glimpse this injustice, but to do something about it by diffusing an otherwise silenced voice.</p><h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0020.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0020.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><strong>Huntly</strong></h2> <p>But the third and biggest piece of work that I’m doing for this show is heavily informed by this current arts residency I am working on, with the incredible Deveron Arts up in Huntly in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. They received funding for a community arts project with the hundred Syrian refugees who have been introduced into five or six towns across Aberdeenshire. We are to develop a project that engages the marginalised members of the community, including these Syrian refugees and I am the only Arab speaker in the place.</p> <p>The Syrians are incredibly grateful for the way they have been taken care of: they are well-housed and receiving benefits. But although there are measures in place to help them learn English over time, it will take a lot of time. They were people chosen to come here because of the trauma they have undergone, and may be suffering physically and mentally. But there is no translation for counselling, and anyway, how can you feel part of a place if you are silenced indirectly in this way and can’t even talk to people? </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0006.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0006.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>So I am creating a massive body of embroidery work by collecting the old, torn, battered shoes that they came here in when they fled from Syria in the clothes they were standing up in, and I will tell their stories that they <em>can</em> tell me and bring them into the light of day, by embroidering them on the soles of those shoes. Again, no-one it seems wants to hear these personal stories: we hear the number of people who died coming over by boat, or the number of migrants in our country. But actually, these people have names, and have lost something and they have their own fears and this is about humanising them, telling these stories that people don’t know, and will never fully know. But giving them a small glimpse into what has happened to them, and who they are. </p><p>And this brings me to the residency itself. We have decided to focus this residency on a food programme, because it is such an amazing way to bring a community together, sharing a table, and in a way making an offering. You can learn a lot about culture, about heritage through food, and about identity, giving and generosity. Arabs show their love through their food and it says a lot about them. You can say so much without the verbal exchange which is such a challenge.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0016.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0016.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>RB: This reminds me of </em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=364&amp;v=YM3HJHPGJNY"><em>the poem</em></a><em> about sharing ‘free food’ that Vanessa Kisuule wrote and performed for us in Barcelona. (4.22 – 6.00 mins.). &nbsp;&nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>Aya: </strong>It was indeed a very powerful poem. And you see, for me as a Muslim Arab woman, I am so tired of people identifying with where I am from only in terms of bombs, and wars and terrorist threats. I feel a deep pride in the integrity of our culture, the incredibly rich food culture of where I am from, the music, the architecture, literature, the language, the landscapes, all of it. And this is a feeling echoed by the communities we work with here. They say, “ Look, we don’t want pity from our host communities. We want them to see that we come from an incredibly diverse and rich part of the world.” But they can’t prove that except with their food. Because this they can make with their own hands, and really take it and place it in someone’s heart.</p> <p>Moreover, the fact is that when we talk about marginalised members of society here, the local Scottish community have a very poor relationship with food: it is all processed food, fast food, high sugar, high fat, high salt.&nbsp; There is a very high level of obesity. Whereas the local Syrian community, although they don’t have much, their food is very diverse and very healthy, and they cook everything from scratch. Nothing is bought pre-made.</p> <p>So we thought this would be such a good way to bring these two communities together, so that they could also share in the learning. Our Scottish community wouldn’t be the only people showing people the ropes, and maybe not getting that much back for themselves in the process. Instead it would be a two-way engagement. All the local people who have eaten this Syrian food have been completely amazed by it – floored by the sheer abundance of it and by the generosity involved. &nbsp;So food is really central to this project, I believe.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/aya2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/aya2.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Inverurie church</span></span></span>But let me tell you about the church in Iverurie, a town a little larger than Huntly where there are maybe five or six Syrian families. There is only one mosque in Aberdeen which is over an hour away, and the expense of all the coming and going is too much for them. A lot of them volunteer in the church in Iverurie, with the washing up and the cleaning, or work in charity shops like Christian Aid. It is rather humbling. But the local church has been the same. The Church has opened up a permanent space within it for these Muslim Syrians to worship and hold their own meetings, as well as the facilities Muslims need to wash themselves before they worship. All those who can’t travel meet up every week for Friday prayer and that brings them all together. They are so grateful. They say, “They have welcomed us into their home, into their church, into their community.” They are full of praise, especially for the acceptance and for the trust. For them, it reinforces what is written in the Quran about all people in the world being brothers and sisters under one God. And a lot of them feel terrible about being on benefits. They say, “We are able-bodied but we can’t work because we don’t speak the language” and they are trying hard to learn English so that they can make a contribution in return.</p> <p>So you can see that in Iverurie, there is such a beautiful brotherhood of friendship in that community, which is so very different from what I read about in the news.&nbsp; There reality isn’t that, but instead such an open door mentality where Syrians have been welcomed. They tell me neighbours will knock on the door to make sure they are OK when they first arrive, and then the Syrians bring them food, and they wave and say hello and are very patient with these new arrivals they don’t understand as well, and there is this sense of warmth and acceptance. Acceptance I think is the big thing for them. </p> <p>A lot of this will inform my artwork for the foreseeable future, well beyond the exhibitions. There is a lot here and I am constantly documenting what is happening, trying to sit with it and make sense of it all. I’m on this residency on my own with my two young kids, so it is pretty manic till 7pm when thy go to bed. At night is when I can really work. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0003.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0003.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>RB: I am wondering how all of you on this project will get all these marvellous stories out into the wider Scottish community…</em></p> <p><strong>Aya: &nbsp;</strong>We have been thinking that we would like writers to come and maybe help us make up a little book where these stories could be told firsthand or maybe make up a newspaper – they do need to be told and shared.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0009.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0009.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>RB: When we contacted you it was prompted by your tweet on the safe space opened up by Inverurie church – we thought that was a perfect image for our follow-up. But in fact, as we now learn, as an activist and an artist, your work has also been creating a series of safe spaces, and maybe you have saved one of your very favourite examples to talk about last?</em></p> <p><strong>Aya:</strong> Yes, the main aim of this project is the space that we have hired. It is called Number 11, as it is located at Number 11 Gordon Street in Huntly! It is a multifaceted space&nbsp; – our office, a café, a community center, an indoor garden, a classroom… <span>.</span>What it is in fact is an amazing, multifaceted space which contains the office we will be working from, but also a language class, a performance space and a café, with the help of our Syrian friends, that serves food and coffee to people at all times, to encourage members of the local community to come and share. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0017.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0017.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>When I say local members of marginalised communities, I don’t just mean refugees or poor people, but I also include mothers – Scottish mothers with young kids, and Syrian mothers who can’t go out to work and would otherwise be keeping their kids indoors. We have a little box of toys for the kids, so that these mothers can get together in this space. We can, for example, close the shop and have a breast-feeding session where Syrian mothers can sit and talk to Scottish mothers who are also having problems breast-feeding. </p><p>We feel we are changing some of the models of ‘integration’ with our work. For example, it is great that the Council put on language courses for the Syrians, but those courses are not that good for putting language into practise. What we do is run ‘language in the wild ‘ sessions, where we take our Syrians on trips to the pharmacy or the supermarket, introducing them into the contexts most relevant to them.</p> <p>It is also a space where local people can come and share their grievances and they might say, “Well why are these people here?” And we say, “Well this is why they are here. You know what, the coffee that you are drinking was made by Hayat over there who also has three children, and who made this journey…” And this puts a face to the name and can break down any barriers that are bound to be there, say with the older members of a community for whom this is an encroachment into their town. We are all leftwing maybe in Deveron arts, but we asked ourselves – what about the others? </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0019.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0019.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>So why don’t we literally invite them into our shop, and say, “Come and have a cup of tea and a baklava and share this culture first hand.” Especially after going out on my field research and listening to what all these communities want, I’m really excited about it. I believe that is what this amazing space is going to be able to do. </p><p>Last night we had this huge event called ‘Practices of Peace’ put on by Deveron in this space. I posted something on Instagram, because the Syrians cooked Arabic food, which was delicious, and the local Scottish people were there and we had this ceilidh. So there was music and dancing and the bagpipes, as they were all tucking into houmous! It was just beautiful to see these two very disparate communities and cultures coming together in this space.</p> <p>In the daytime, we all sit at this large round table: with local writers who have dropped in, or local mums wanting to send a quick email, sitting with us who are trying to develop this project and Syrians who want to practise their English, with children playing around, old people, alcoholics, the homeless. All sharing at the same table. It is all donation-based, so if a homeless person round the corner wants a cup of tea and can only afford ten pence or nothing, she or he can have that. If someone wants to donate a tenner, he can. It is all about inclusion. We are not barring anyone based on gender, colour, race, religion, money – anything. </p> <p>So it is just this open space which doesn’t exist anywhere else in this Tory stronghold where people are set in their ways and everything closes at 4pm and opens at 10 am, and everyone is white and they like their routine. We are open from 9am to 10pm every day including the week-ends. </p> <p>The first thing we did when we moved in here was to strip the disgusting wallpaper, and paint the whole of one wall in this amazing space black. So we are all occupied at this massive chalk board: I’m up there doing the planning for the week, and my two sons are sitting a bit lower down drawing with the chalk, and you have Syrians trying to translate something elsewhere on the board. So everyone is using the huge chalkboard, and it is just incredibly engaging and fun. </p> <p>I can’t rate it highly enough. For me this is the safe space I was talking about. It is a totally open space that people can feel safe in, because stories are shared, discussion is encouraged, barriers are broken and everyone is welcome. That inclusion is key!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0012.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG-20171121-WA0012.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><em>Apart from Team Syntegrity 2017, all the photographs are of Aya's Huntly arts residency.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rhiannon-white/future-of-civil-society-is-dependent-on-space">The future of civil society is dependent on space</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wiebke-hansen-rosemary-bechler/change-in-consensual-way">Change in a consensual way</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/richard-bartlett/4-things-that-struck-me-after-visiting-political-spaces-in-14-us-cities">4 things that struck me after visiting political spaces in 14 US cities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/noam-titelman/politics-of-feelings">The politics of feelings</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines">While the sun shines</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Scotland </div> <div class="field-item even"> Saudi Arabia </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Germany UK Syria Saudi Arabia Scotland Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Aya Haidar Mon, 04 Dec 2017 13:13:25 +0000 Aya Haidar and Rosemary Bechler 115024 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Change in a consensual way https://www.opendemocracy.net/wiebke-hansen-rosemary-bechler/change-in-consensual-way <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“Because often when it comes to politics, I am sort of a leader. But here I was a follower: and it was a <em>good</em> experience.” An interview on thoughts arising from Team Syntegrity 2017.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0208.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0208.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Team Syntegrity 2017</span></span></span></em><em>Wiebke Hansen was one of 30 participants from Europe and beyond who took part in the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">Team Syntegrity</a> – or non-hierarchical conference – held in Barcelona on 18-22 June 2017. This is part of a series of follow-up conversations on that event's themes, recommendations and relationships.</em></p><p><br /><em>Rosemary Bechler (RB<strong>):</strong></em><strong> </strong><em>We were wondering how you got involved in Srecko Horvat’s documentary film, </em><a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2017/02/business-colonisation-170219113145085.html"><em>Europe’s Forbidden Colony</em></a><em>?</em></p> <p><strong>Wiebke Hansen (Wiebke):</strong> I helped initiate a referendum process, not from the top down but from the bottom, the grass roots. We won the referendum in the end, which was on the remunicipalisation of the energy grids in Hamburg to bring them under public ownership – with a very slim majority, but we won it. And there was a lot of international interest in this story. Srecko was by no means the first to ask us to tell our story, but he was the first to come after us with such a big film crew! They were looking for footage on the crisis in Europe, but also for solutions to that crisis, and they saw our initiative as one such possible solution, mainly I think because this was direct democracy in which everyone was involved in the decision-making – everyone was asked. And also because this remunicipalisation addresses the need that everyone has to be supplied with public services, so it directly addressed the issue that his documentary was exploring. He had contacts in various European countries who looked for interesting examples. For me being filmed that afternoon was like stepping back into a former life, because it was the first time I had been away from the baby since he was born.&nbsp; That interview was a great afternoon: it was exciting. It was for me the beginning of being once again interested in everything that was happening outside this little home of mine.</p> <p>The referendum was my first experience of democratic ideas and concepts as they were being deployed in the energy revolution. I came across lots of people who were deeply committed to democratic ideas, as is my partner, by the way. So this was very influential in moving me in this direction too. Mine is a very personal story in many ways.</p> <p>I had never thought much about democracy before this referendum: it was just a method by which people organise themselves in society, and there could be better and worse ways, but generally-speaking this was a pretty dry topic to be skirted around. Now, when I had to use this instrument of democratic control, it suddenly came to life for me. My role was an interesting one: I was the campaign leader and was right in the middle of everything and connected to everybody since we had nearly 1,000 activists who were working for us during the years and I also&nbsp; was part of the strategic group, running things. I also got very good advice from a group of very experienced people in Hamburg, More Democracy, who had succeeded in getting Hamburg’s government to buy into some great rules on how to run referenda democratically. It was thanks to their advice and the rules they enforced that we were able to pull off the initiative we were working on; how to plan the schedule, how to collect the signatures, and so on.&nbsp; We also got on well together! So when I had my baby, I worked a bit from home for them and wrote some articles for them. So we stayed involved. It is all about these personal contacts… <span class="mag-quote-center">My role was an interesting one: I was the campaign leader and was right in the middle of everything... since we had nearly 1,000 activists who were working for us during the years and I also was part of the strategic group, running things. </span></p> <p>As an activist I started out working on Germany’s ‘energy revolution’ at various stages in its evolution.&nbsp; I think I learned the ‘green heart’ and responsibility from my parents, and in my mid-twenties, like many others, I turned to Greenpeace as an opportunity to make a contribution.&nbsp; As climate change became more of a concern to the environmental movement we worked on this and the ‘energy revolution’ – very much a citizen-led initiative in Germany over two, nearly three decades. I was very interested in the relationship of the economy to the environment. I also worked in an anti-nuclear organisation, and that was how I met my partner, standing in front of a nuclear power plant demonstrating for its closure after a nuclear accident at the plant. I remember thinking, “What a nice guy!”&nbsp; </p> <p><em>RB:&nbsp; You said in expressing your hopes for Team Syntegrity 2017 that “at best”, you hoped to emerge from it, “part of an international movement for democracy”. What form do you hope that movement will take?</em></p> <p><em>You mentioned Srecko’s interest in the direct democracy of your campaign. DiEM25, however, has just decided, while remaining a movement for the democratisation of Europe, to develop an ‘electoral wing’ to enable it also to participate as a pan-European party in the European elections in 2019.</em></p> <p><strong>Wiebke: </strong>&nbsp;I heard something about the organisation for democratising Europe that Srecko is involved in, DiEM25, much later – actually at the Team Syntegrity. It was Agnieszka Wiśniewska from Poland who told me about this and also Emma Aviles from Spain – she was interested in it as well. Some weeks after our Barcelona encounter, there was the G20 summit in Hamburg and I met DiEM25 people at the alternative conference I attended there, some of whom knew me from the referendum campaign. I also met Srecko again, probably on the same day that his <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPFAhhEtl-Q">DiEM25 meeting</a> was almost sabotaged by someone setting off a fire alarm. There was some idea about doing something together with the Hamburg people, but so far there has been no further contact between us. I’m still interested. I have some doubts about the success of an ‘electoral wing’. I have some experience of a small political party with very similar ideas for Europe as DiEM25, and they tried to have some impact in the German national elections in September. It was a very hard time for little new parties. Unfortunately they even failed to cross the threshold for state support. </p> <p>Of course, a political party has advantages because it is a familiar format. If you are successful you can achieve a lot. But it also may exclude a lot of people who do not feel comfortable in parties and who do not have a high regard for how people behave in parties. A movement without these encumbrances seems more open to everybody, although of course there might be other people who feel better in parties!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0054.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0054.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>In the past I was mainly involved in non-parliamentary democracy where I feel at home, but it also seems very interesting to me to have responsability in a parliament. </p><p><em>RB:&nbsp; The sudden rise of the AfD convinced many of us that it was vital to be visible with a European alternative politics in 2019. At the very least the interface between parties and movements needs to be explored in much more breadth and depth – would you agree?</em><strong></strong></p> <p><strong>Wiebke: </strong>You know for a month I worked for the Democracy in Motion Party, and I had the chance to see a lot. I saw people with a huge commitment, fighting and striving to do some really important things. They achieved a culture of communication which was a pleasure to see. But directly in proportion to the extent that people fear the AfD, they do not see any point in electing a small party that has little chance of traction in the elections. That has not much past and is little known. They would maybe prefer the Green Party, simply because its place in the parliament is assured, and they will at least be able to reduce the number of AfD candidates who come through, even if that means losing this small new voice in their parliament. </p> <p>So I see the point of an electoral wing, but if there is not a real movement underpinning these new entrants to the field, then they will have little chance to succeed I think. It was the same with my party. They were founded by a few people who mainly are engaged in online petitions. Many people in Germany take part in these online petitions. So maybe this gave them hope for more &nbsp;support than they were likely to be able to muster.&nbsp; But this was not a movement where many people got together for a special reason, and had been demonstrating in the streets together and then decided, together, that many of them should establish something which would allow them to have more of an impact in the future.&nbsp; It was instead a foundation hoping to acquire a movement. And I think that could be the same problem for DiEM25. In Germany, only a few people belong to DiEM25 and will be building a party. It is an idea in the head of a few people who hope to build a movement in the process. This is hard. Especially if you start by aiming for national or international elections rather than local elections. <span class="mag-quote-center">In Germany, only a few people belong to DiEM25 and will be building a party. It is an idea in the head of a few people who hope to build a movement in the process. This is hard...</span></p> <p><em>RB: Your feeling is that there is no short cut to a genuine grass roots movement – its commitment, enthusiasm and learning from self-organisation?</em><strong></strong></p> <p><strong>Wiebke: </strong>This sounds a bit harsh. There have been short cuts in very special circumstances, the right idea at the right time, so one could try. But you also need the plan to take it one step at a time without the short cut. Take Podemos in Spain. People met each other and there were huge demonstrations throughout Spain that contributed directly to the formation of this party. These people share a common challenge. Maybe, in the UK, Brexit will in time constitute just such a common problem for the people. And then this might be the basis for a bigger movement for something new. But in Germany, this fear of the AfD leads people to Die Linke or to the Green Party, although indeed this reaction against the AfD among progressives was not as extensive as I had hoped. </p> <p><em>RB: So who else did you meet at Team Syntegrity 2017 who interested you?</em><strong></strong></p> <p><strong>Wiebke:</strong> I loved the way that Pavlos Georgiadis talked about the way he works: with a lot of courage, and a willingness to try something new in agriculture, to roll it out and scale it up at the same time as monitoring the results scientifically. That was really something! And that at the same time he also thought about how the farmer felt embarking on such a process of experimentation: what his or her experience would be. </p> <p>At the beginning of the year, I had attended a seminar over several weeks in order to help me find out what I wanted to do in terms of work over the next few years.&nbsp; As an unemployed person, these seminars are designed to help people to be self-employed. This made me take a rather good look at myself, as well as my motives for a change of direction. I remembered an older idea that really touched me: that I would like to foster and strengthen the dissemination of certain species of fast-growing trees. These can be cultivated in special ways that allow them to solve a range of major problems in one go. Pavlos’ way is exactly the kind of approach I had been thinking about for these fast-growing trees.</p> <p>I am a campaigner by profession, and so up till now when I have worked in organisations where &nbsp;the goal was set by others . I am very good at organising these campaigns and I like it, but it also seems very attractive to me to be my own boss and be driven by my own vision. </p> <p>For now I want to work half time to spend time at home with my little boy, but in a few years, when he is a little older, why not work on this? I love putting my hands in the earth: this is in my genes somehow. Yes, I love this idea, but I am not ready for it yet and have done nothing so far to make it a reality. For now I just love visiting my sister on the family farm every month or so and watching my son running around with the pigs and the hens and so forth. It is a little glimpse of paradise. But when I do make this step to start working on this idea, I will surely contact Pavlos!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0204.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0204.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Several of our fellow participants inspired me in the way they think about the lives we lead now. When David Mallory talked about men and women and the relations between them, I was very impressed. I felt that he was talking about what was happening inside me, and I was impressed by his empathy for women. With other people, I just had so much fun – Lofa and I ( we called him Swansea!) got on like a house on fire and we talked for hours and hours with Joan Pedro – very charming-, propping up the bar. Kate Farrell had a sensitivity that touched me. Richard has such a big heart: his topic was talking about feelings, which he did really well. I liked Marley, the way that he organised his ideas. Then there was Birgitta – such a special person with a lot of power and self-confidence.&nbsp; I thought: OK I can learn from her. What Democracy in Motion had wanted to achieve – she had already achieved, founding her parties from scratch. Her idea of a party was so similar to theirs and I learned a lot from her, thinking OK – I could be a bit like her! This could happen for me in another time! </p><p>That was what was so interesting about this Team Syntegrity. In other circumstances I am often the capable strong person who knows how to talk and how to lead, that other people look to. In this circumstance with 30 such powerful people, I felt rather different – a little vulnerable, because in these five days I got in touch with a lot of things inside myself. It also is a question of language, as I am not a native speaker and sometimes had a difficult time trying to understand or express myself, an experience I exchanged with some other participants I talked to about it. On the last day, I almost felt a palpable pain at all the things that I could do and wanted to do to be effective in my society and in the environment – but given my situation in my daily life, that I am not ready to do yet for a while. I have to put my home first. That’s just it.</p> <p><em>RB: This Team Syntegrity was particularly full of people who for three and half days seemed to be able to bare themselves to the choices they had made in their lives…</em><strong></strong></p> <p><strong>Wiebke: </strong>Yes, and that was painful, because I was realising what was not possible for me. Since June I have been even more aware of this gap in my life. But I have my son and my first duty is to be there for my son while he is small. </p> <p>But I am very glad that I had this experience. It was so strange going home to Germany, because it was like stepping back into real life! I had a stopover in Brussels and had to wait for some hours surrounded by businessmen, with a view, a wonderful view, of a nuclear power plant from the windows!! Oh God! I really appreciated my fellow Team Syntegrity participants then even more! I thought, sometimes it is easier to meet people from other countries whose heart beats for the same thing, than to dwell among people in your home city. </p> <p>It was great to meet so many people who thought so carefully about the humanity and social consequences of how we live now and what it would take for things to change, and also the responsibility for initiating change. It’s great to talk to people who have this idea of “I am a changer!”&nbsp; It's not so usual! Sometimes it was hard for me to realise in those moments that I was not quite comfortable in this group because of the constraints in my life. But by the end, I thought “What a great experience!” Because often when it comes to politics, I am sort of a leader. But here I was a follower: and it was a <em>good</em> experience.</p> <p><iframe width="460" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U0QEOUMpzQw" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p><em>RB: I don’t know if you remember saying that one other outcome you hoped for from this event was a message to take back to people engaged in the social change activities that matter most to you. Was your idea of a ‘little home’ for everyone that message?</em><strong></strong></p> <p><strong>Wiebke:</strong> Since Barcelona, I have often thought back to the idea I had of this ‘little home’. This idea came to me when I was listening to Richard telling us about how his house burned down when he was six years old. I had just come from one of the sessions discussing the far right, and there we were talking a lot about how the people who are driven to join the far right are often lacking something in their lives, like secure prospects of future welfare, for example. It is too easy to treat them like bad people. But if you could talk to them as normal people, not as enemies, and their needs, and what could fulfil them and make for a more balanced life for them in society – then that connection came to me, simply the idea of a little home that everyone deserves. When I say to you that I have a duty to look after my son, I am thinking to myself, this is the ‘little home’ of my son, and it is up to me to take care of it. That’s my life. </p> <p>But when I talk to people in my country now about current problems like finding homes for refugees, or homes for homeless people, I do use this picture of a ‘little home’. And by this I do not only mean the building. I mean food and water and a bit of love, and security and education, not as a luxury but as the basic needs that should be fulfilled for everybody. </p><p>Another message I carry with me now, which may or may not stem from those few days of discussion, is the feeling that I am under less and less pressure to find the one way in which things will be successful, one way for organisations or people in which things should be done. I am more open to the fact that people will do it in the way that they think is right; and that there might very likely be a good result! Even if it is not the way I would do it.&nbsp; <span class="mag-quote-center">I am under less and less pressure to find the one way in which things will be successful, one way for organisations or people in which things should be done. I am more open to the fact that people will do it in the way that they think is right...</span></p> <p>I am more open to this, and maybe it has to do with seeing all those people there doing their thing and seeing that this leads to good results. This helps me very much to live more in peace with myself ! (Laughs).</p> <p>I am still looking in the meantime for an answer to the question of what I can do now. It’s not so easy. It is like a blank sheet of paper, my professional future, and this feels not very comfortable. But from everything I have learned to date – both as a result of that first referendum campaign, and from this Team Syntegrity in June, I have a certain idea of how to initiate changes in a consensual way.&nbsp; </p> <p>Before launching into a campaign I would talk to many different kinds of people about whether my concept was a really watertight one. I would elaborate my idea much more concretely and in detail with their help, and also talk with those who should be putting it into practise later on, and including those who are currently against that idea. I would do all that before I launched a referendum, because for me the referendum should be the last step.</p> <p>I am so alienated now from the pathway that simply blasts ahead creating enemies that I know it is not right for me. I talked a lot in the Team Syntegrity about how we should not turn those counterposed to us one way or another into an enemy image. And I really believe this.&nbsp; </p> <p>The AfD rely on this polarising rhetoric all the time. But after the first excitement over any issue, there should be time to calm down and reconsider. Then you can talk normally. In the first stage, when everything seems black and white, all is extreme and there is no chance to investigate each others’ ideas. Not saying, “You are bad and that’s why you think that.” That just forces people to dig themselves in even further into their position. </p> <p>I have been in Barcelona again, for a conference on solidarity economies, linked to this remunicipalisation idea, and I got to know this very nice woman from an initiative interested in applying these ideas to the energy grids in Catalonia too. But now they have to wait and see what on earth is going to happen to them! This was again interesting, to talk to people about the referendum and independence. There too it is the same All of a sudden a referendum: yes or no in very polarised circumstances! It is very difficult there.</p> <p>So I want to thank you very much for the Team Syntegrity and for inviting me and all the others for this great time together. We all need less fear. We need to talk to each other. We should be more open. I really enjoy thinking about that event, so thank you for asking me to talk about it. I hope to stay in touch with you all.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0289.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0289.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>See Team Syntegity 2017: &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">Meet the participants</a> –&nbsp;&nbsp; <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results">Results so far &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; –</a>&nbsp;&nbsp; <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process">The process in their own words.</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines">While the sun shines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/rhiannon-white/future-of-civil-society-is-dependent-on-space">The future of civil society is dependent on space</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/aya-haidar-rosemary-bechler/safe-spaces-bagpipes-and-houmous">Safe spaces, bagpipes and houmous </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> Germany </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Germany EU Civil society Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Science Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Wiebke Hansen Mon, 04 Dec 2017 12:03:17 +0000 Wiebke Hansen and Rosemary Bechler 115023 at https://www.opendemocracy.net From Fake to Fact – and then? https://www.opendemocracy.net/georgios-kolliarakis-rosemary-bechler/from-fake-to-fact-and-then <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Do all of us need to move outside our ‘comfort zones’ and self-imposed ‘echo chambers’, both &nbsp;to come up with better diagnoses of the populist challenge, and to define constructive political action collectively ?&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/639px-Loc-plato-highsmith.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/639px-Loc-plato-highsmith.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="346" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Portrait statue of Plato along the balustrade of main reading room. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Wikicommons/ Carol M. Highsmith archive. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This online exchange put together by Rosemary Bechler and myself has mobilised a great number of engaged and passionate articles (<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler/introducing-this-weeks-theme-strasbourgs-world-forum-for-democracy-2017-looks-at-me">see here</a>). The trigger for that endeavour here and also in the related ‘live’ <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/2017-panel-discussions">roundtable discussion</a> in the Council of Europe’s World Forum for Democracy 2017 in Strasbourg, 8-10 November, has been the frustrating observation that currently facts do not matter as much as they should, either in public discourse addressing burning problems, or in the design of policies.</p> <p>Behind that diagnosis, lies, however, a much older clash: the clash between different ways of accessing trustworthy knowledge, particularly when it comes to issues of great moment and consequence for our everyday lives as citizens, such as those concerning social policy, education and employment, security, or collective identity. To be sure, this clash is scarcely visible most of the time: many of us are continuing to maintain the same beliefs and opinions, while regularly ignoring how and why others have diverging beliefs and opinions. Yet, this results in us living in different, and not shared realities.&nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>Theocracy, democracy, technocracy</strong></h2> <p>If we look at the venerable forms of knowledge we rely upon to identify the true ‘facts’, then we can roughly distinguish at least three types of knowledge: <em>religious knowledge, political knowledge, and scientific knowledge</em>. The paths leading there are distinct – although they often intersect – and I would describe them as <em>belief-driven, power- and interest-driven, </em>and<em> methodology-driven,</em> respectively. The first one is also the oldest in the history of humankind, drawing its legitimacy from an externalised, metaphysical entity; the second, political knowledge, started to differentiate itself from the first via deliberations about collective decision-making within a given community around 2,500-3,000 years ago; last, ‘scientific’, methodology-based knowledge about patterns and mechanisms in physical and social phenomena also began to develop at that time. But it really took off, in terms of influence, some 300 years ago in the western world. </p> <p>The multiple tensions among – let us dub those three ways of making sense of reality, <em>Theocracy, Democracy</em>, and <em>Technocracy</em> – still define peoples’ lives all around the world, albeit to different degrees and in different mixtures in various nation state contexts. Since we consciously want to avoid narrowing down the discussion only to fake news in social media, we will focus in this commentary upon the interplay between those ‘knowledge’ kinds and their interplay with decision-making, particularly within contentious public policy domains, such as those on refugees, security, extremism, and radicalisation, that have been stirring major controversies. In the following, we will briefly sketch out the general context, and single out three dimensions of the debate conducted so far: </p> <p><em>First</em>, the current mismatch between the supply and the demand sides for evidence and facts. These are shaped by self-inflicted echo chambers in a polarised landscape, and they result in a lose-lose game for all sides. &nbsp;</p> <p><em>Second</em>, the widespread conflation of concepts such as ‘data’, ‘information’, ‘evidence’, ‘facts’, and (actionable) ‘knowledge’. All these impact differently on meaning-giving and decision-making processes of different individuals, social groups, or institutions.</p> <p><em>Third</em>, the dilemma of how to regain trust by engaging with fake, distortive, manipulative acts, and those responsible for diffusing them, given the slow processes that fact-finding and democratic deliberation involve. </p> <h2><strong>The current context: ‘post-fact’ politics in controversial fields of public policy</strong></h2> <p>‘Post-fact’ politics are prevalent particularly in contested fields of public policy, such as social and minority rights, external relations and migration/refugee affairs, and, extremism and radicalisation. The relatively high level of uncertainty, of complexity, and above all of value divergences in those fields has proved very vulnerable to manipulation and distortion in public discourse. Such discourses promote simplistic, slick, and for that reason, catchy narratives, which blend out uncomfortable facts, disqualify opposing views, and polarise public opinion, in order to advance more restrictive legislation, and more centralised control of opinion.</p> <p>Recent and ongoing efforts in that direction in states such as the US, Turkey, Poland, or Hungary, among many others, pay sad testimony to that. The intensity of aggressive ‘hate’ rhetoric towards social and ethnic groups, and the ‘scapegoating’ of political elites, governments, media and international bodies, such as the European Union, has reached unprecedented levels. What is more, democratic values and civil liberties, the rule of law and the tripartite checks-and-balances among the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicative, have been increasingly undermined in a number of cases. Diversity, pluralism and fundamental rights seem currently to be under serious attack in a worrying number of democratic states.&nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>The supply/demand discrepancy in the market for facts</strong></h2> <p>Cherry-picking, distortion, or silencing of evidence in such partisan ‘information wars’ is nothing new. However, <em>the relationship between science, policy-making, and society has entered a new and salient phase</em>: given the proliferation of fake news via social media, and the spread and ‘normalisation’ of uncivil behaviours in the public sphere, the need for evidence-based resistance has become urgent as seldom before.</p> <p>The <em>demand</em>, however, is not always there. Political opportunism, along with ideological conformity to party politics, obstructs a culture of evidence-informed policy committed to the benefit of society. On the supply side, knowledge production sites, such as universities, are often unsurprisingly reluctant to mix with practitioners in order to define and address societal challenges together. </p> <p>Whenever relevant, robust, and timely research has been available to inform future policy-making, or to warn against risky trends, e.g. the political repercussions of socio-economic inequalities, or the unintended negative consequences of counter-terrorism policies, such uncomfortable evidence, critical to dominant political agendas, has often found itself up against a brick wall.</p> <p>This results in a <em>lose-lose game</em>, since both researchers, particularly from the socio-economic sciences and humanities, are often discredited for not foreseeing ‘crises’, or for not delivering relevant insights and remedies. But policy makers too miss the chance to design effective and sustainable policies to benefit their constituents and vindicate their own careers in positions of trust. Both <em>capacity</em> and <em>will </em>to engage are necessary functions if we are to argue with facts incompatible with long-held beliefs, and mainstream master narratives. </p> <p>Particularly in polarised public policy arenas, dealing with social welfare, the inclusion and integration of migrants, counter-terrorism and civic liberties, the whole range of societal stakeholders involved, whether they are from policymaking, civil society, the media, or academia – tend to talk to their peers, but not so much to each other. They generate, in a non-intended and non-anticipated manner ‘<em>echo-chambers’</em> for themselves, without always being conscious that this is taking place. </p> <p>This effect highlights the need for all of us to move outside our ‘comfort zones’, to enable us to come up with a valid diagnosis of the problem, let alone define desirable solutions, and appropriate actions to get us there.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>Conflation of ‘data’, ‘information’, ‘evidence’, ‘facts’, and ‘knowledge’ </strong></h2> <p>We live in an age not so much reconciled to the ‘end of history’, as contemplating all meta-narratives with incredulity. In such an era of extreme divergences in opinions and perspectives, including a variety of voices hitherto subdued or concealed, we cannot expect any of the above knowledge categories to have an easy passage. The question arises whether we are equipped as societies to cope with the resulting complexity – for example, how to deal with all those religious, political, or scientific sources of knowledge validation? Should citizens be encouraged, as a starting point, to acknowledge that facts are, also, socially fabricated? And that knowledge can never claim an objective vantage point, since it is always institutionally sanctioned, and can also within democracies, at times, be controlled, suppressed, and even destroyed? &nbsp;</p> <p>What, more often than not, gets blurred in any debate among politicians, civil society representatives, journalists, and scholars are the specific ways in which ‘data’, ‘information’, ‘evidence’, ‘facts’, and ‘knowledge’ are distinct from each other. These are epistemic artefacts with different scientific, political, or legal pedigrees. Each one is associated with very different conditions (and risks) for making sense of, and making use of what we call ‘reality’.</p> <p><em>Data</em> are for many the ‘raw givens’, which, e.g. in the current hype about Big Data Analytics, are expected to deliver reliable hints about peoples’ behaviour and even prognosticate trends. In contrast to that, <em>information</em>, differentiates itself according to selected criteria from all the rest (e.g. ‘noise’), by linking certain data with meaning, and furnishing them with intelligible contours and content, so that eventually they ‘in-form’.</p> <p>Scientific research is aiming at more: <em>Evidence</em>, as the result of methodological analysis and synthesis of data and information, entails patterns and mechanisms that render visible the dynamics of a phenomenon, physical or social. To give an example, there has been evidence about the correlation of tobacco with cancer since the end of the 1950s: yet it was not until after decades that this validated evidence gained political traction and got legally codified into a range of bans. This turn in political attitude is what it took to <em>embed the concrete evidence into a cultural, institutional, and organisational context, and ultimately transform it into a societal fact</em>.</p> <p>The issue with what we call ‘<em>knowledge</em>’ may be a little more complicated. On the one hand, it is strongly linked with experience, it is a ‘lived’ fact, while on the other, community-held beliefs, or peer pressure, or trusted persons or institutions may strongly influence what we ‘know’. In an environment where there is a naïve attachment to the empirical ‘facts’, this can well be why evidence and facts can after all appear to many as not being credible or reliable. People are alarmed and even disillusioned when ‘facts’ contradict their own long held beliefs. But how do we equip our pluralist democracies with the skills citizens need to make sense of this sheer complexity? </p> <p>We should resist blanket claims that ‘facts do not matter’. At different times to different audiences, facts <em>can matter in many different ways</em>. At their most systematically contested state, as in science, facts can be highly creative! But in highly politicized issues, such as global warming, or the linkage of refugees and terrorism, or that between neo-liberal policies and anti-EU populism, polarisation and enemy images have all too often <em>replaced </em>and<em> displaced</em> the nuanced pursuit of facts. Civilised democracy should not only tolerate, but, moreover, provide the space for contestation. Robbed of conversation, we are left with little but power or ideological conflicts, dressed in whatever garb comes to hand.</p> <h2><strong>How to engage with populists without undermining trust? </strong></h2> <p>Research often produces insights with an expiry date, until new, more valid and reliable knowledge challenges the old nostrums. Despite this lack of a lasting certainty, inherent in the scientific knowledge production process, research seems still to be indispensable in providing alternative diagnoses and paths for action, in questioning the goals and objectives of political endeavours, and not least, in resisting ideological truisms, or distortion of facts through vested particular interests.</p> <p>Assuming responsibility and rebuilding trust in the interface between politics, research, and society is key. Yet, <em>fact-finding and democratic deliberation, those two weapons against arbitrariness, are</em> <em>awfully slow</em> compared to the speed with which intentionally fake information travels and gets itself endorsed in the public sphere. In the absence of better alternatives, we should nevertheless, invest and foster spaces for exchange and confrontation among holders of opposing ‘truths’ within a democratic setting. This would be a step toward breaking out of the many echo chambers we occupy in the current landscape, even if our hands get a little dirty in the process.</p> <p>Politics in open democracies is bound to remain a controversial arena, yet, the struggle to defend pluralism, diversity, and the resolve to counter racist, sexist, homophobic, and fascist doctrines is a necessary component of the equation. This online exchange here, but also the debates in the context of the Council of Europe’s World Forum for Democracy, are somehow reminiscent of the dilemma identified quite some time ago by Plato (primarily in his dialogues <em>Politeia, Protagoras, </em>and<em> Kriton</em>). Should good governance be entrusted to the decisions of the Knowledgeable, of the Many, or of the Powerful? The negotiation process of informing policies serving the public good <em>is and will remain, for the foreseeable future, bumpy and long</em>. &nbsp;</p> <p>The self-defence capacities of democracy depend upon free, yet accountable expression of diverse views, but, crucially, also upon providing evidence and justifying values to support those views. Populism of the extremist kind that attacks the body politic resembles, in this respect, an <em>auto-immune, self-destroying disease</em> of democracy. Instead of resorting to suppression, we should perhaps be strengthening other immune reflexes, such as those related to better fact circulation, and to more inclusive deliberation. This, to be sure, would not eliminate controversies, but it could help many more of us to navigate better in the stormy seas to come.</p> <p>All the above notwithstanding, facts need to get <em>contextualized in experienced realities and linked to peoples’ concerns and needs</em>, if they are to speak to their hearts and minds. Only then will they become a <em>trusted ground for taking action</em>, and <em>for making a positive difference to peoples’ lives</em>. </p> <p><iframe width="460" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sp7-s73ja9E" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <div class="content-inset-more">At WFD 2017, Georgios Kolliarakis is moderating <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/2017-panel-discussions">the panel discussion</a>, <em>From Fake to Fact: how to strengthen ties between research, policy, and society to counter populism</em>, 9 November 2017 - 9.00-10.30 - Palais de l'Europe, Room 6. Anna Krasteva and Rosemary Bechler are two of the discussants.</div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-anoth-sidebox"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy will be at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the impact of populism on our media, political parties and democracy (see the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/programme-2017">programme</a> for more details).</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rosemary-bechler/introducing-this-weeks-theme-strasbourgs-world-forum-for-democracy-2017-looks-at-me">Introducing this week&#039;s theme: Strasbourg&#039;s World Forum for Democracy 2017 looks at &#039;media, parties and populism&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/anna-krasteva/facts-will-not-save-youth-from-fake-citizenship-will">Facts will not save (the youth) from Fake. Citizenship will</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Internet Science World Forum for Democracy 2017 Rosemary Bechler Georgios Kolliarakis Mon, 04 Dec 2017 11:19:06 +0000 Georgios Kolliarakis and Rosemary Bechler 114487 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Wherever people meet https://www.opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler/wherever-people-meet <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>"Are people right to trust themselves and others to build a better and more equal society? I came to the Forum to see how." Report-back from the World Forum for Democracy 2017.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Kiehumispiste_press_material_2-600x338.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Kiehumispiste_press_material_2-600x338.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Boiling Point: an important conversation. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>openDemocracy is a media partner of the <a href="http://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/home">World Forum for Democracy 2017</a>: the subject this year is 'populism'. In the run-up to that event in early November, we asked what kind of media and politics we need "to re-connect to citizens, make informed choices and function optimally in 21st century democracy." Rosemary Bechler, one of three rapporteurs summing up the debate in the event's closing session, focused on citizen involvement and participatory democracy.<br /></em></p><p>Listening to Richard Wike’s illuminating contribution to the Forum’s <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/deferred-transmission-2017">first session</a> – ‘Time for Facts’ – talking about the deep frustration of increasing numbers of people in a pessimistic Europe and US with representative democracy, at one point he said: “They feel like the well-connected and wealthy have benefited, and they have been left out.” Of course the Pew Research Centre researches how people view democracy and this is a research fact. It is not the researcher’s job to comment on this. But I wanted to shout out, “Yes, they <em>do</em> feel like this, and the already wealthy <em>have</em> benefited, and they <em>have</em> been left out!” They are quite right. </p> <p>Tempting as it might be for someone who works in the media in Brexit Britain to look to fact-checking as a much-needed new business model, the challenge for the media and for all of us goes much deeper. As the Observer columnist, Suzanne Moore said recently of the UK, “ There is no will of the people, just different people who refuse to acknowledge each other’s reality.” But the problem here is not post-truth, fake news, or the dissemination of political falsehoods. Rather it is a growing and unacceptable inequality which together we have to be able to do something about.</p> <p>How do we begin to empower the people in my country or yours who want to ‘take back control’, in such a way that they don’t need a strong leader, let alone the military, to do it for them? How can we give them and their children a confident future in the highly diverse, pluralist, multi-layered societies in which we live? British media at least has long relished the myriad ways in which, day in day out, it can expose how untrustworthy we all are to our ever-fevered and prurient gaze. So it is to say the least a challenge to contemplate turning this around 360 degrees, to persuade people that they are right to trust themselves and others to build a better and more equal society for all. I came to the Forum to see how it could help in this.</p> <p>An early concept note for this year’s gathering posed the bold question, “Do we need then or can we do without élites altogether?” In this spirit of intrepid enquiry, my first mention must go to <a href="http://etienne.chouard.free.fr/Europe/">Etienne Chouard</a> whose answer to this question is a passionate, “Yes we can!” His initiative, Plan C, aims to show that ordinary citizens can perfectly well redesign their constitutions through a constituent assembly drawn by lot, or sortition, and that this would constitute a tremendous advance – on the very good grounds that it is not for those who are powerful to write the rules for power.</p> <p>Here indeed is the ‘taking back control’ that I am looking for, and my particular gratitude to him is that, like all the best Forum initiatives, this one goes hand in hand with a positive reappraisal of the power and capacity of the people on their own behalves. As Mr.Chouard said to us: “ People being capable and legitimate is the whole point of constituent assemblies. You write the constitution: write new articles, correct old ones, several times a day if possible. It is a form of political hygiene. It transforms you from a child voter into an autonomous adult citizen. This transformation can occur very quickly!” Well, quick transformation is clearly what we need. </p> <p>On this theme, I’m sorry not to have had an opportunity to talk to those who opted into the Forum’s own Participants’ Assembly yesterday, which between the hours of 2.30 and 6pm offered us the chance to directly experience deliberative democracy by debating and voting for a key recommendation. And what better choice of subject than the role of citizens’ bodies in our democracies: how far should their power extend, how should they be elected? Intensive deliberation arose around five proposals designed by a panel of experts who laid out the pros and cons. There was a particular concern with the question of how the citizens’ body might fit into existing institutions, and the expert team went away and drafted 3 proposals taking all the feedback into account, with the result that all three passed but the highest majority of votes went to the proposal that such an assembly should play a role in proposing legislation in Parliament.</p> <p>As I say, I do hope we hear from those who participated, whether they felt empowered by this process. For it is a central contention by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/oliver-norgrove/interesting-brexit-experiment-worthy-of-analysis">those who advocate for such bodies</a> as citizens’ juries that people leap at the chance to participate, that ‘ordinary people’ – not that there is any such thing – have an acute sense of the enormity of a political question and the need for compromise. That, in short, we are starved and our political systems are starved of true ‘<a href="https://theconversation.com/the-proposed-senate-voting-change-will-hurt-australian-democracy-55297">democratic deliberation</a>’. Do they agree?</p> <p>The relationship between sortition and representation is another interface – like that between vertical and horizontal decision-making, that I feel is destined to preoccupy us for many years. So it is very interesting to have the latest from the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2DgyetL9aUTMry_F9B9yUw">Citizens Assembly of Ireland</a> which, in its first iteration I understand consisted of 66 randomly selected citizens chosen to be broadly representative of society according to the Census, plus 40 politicians, who were actually persuaded in the course of the deliberations to change their minds. After that minor miracle, Sharon Finegan was able to update us on how, this time around, with 99 citizens, though without the politicians&nbsp; – they managed to do more to hold a decent debate on abortion in Ireland than anyone would have thought possible.</p> <p>I suspect that this issue of how citizens’ bodies fit alongside existing institutions will be greatly influenced by how open those institutions are to citizen initiatives. So my next congratulations go to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/mohamed-shaltoot-stefanos-loukopoulos/its-sense-of-adventure-how-vouliwatch-is-re">Vouliwatch</a> for their 4 members of staff and 3 interns, who are somehow succeeding in getting citizens’ voices raised in Greece’s Parliament. The parties are not at all open to the people’s voice. Yet Vouliwatch manages to combine parliamentary monitoring with data analysis and visualisation <em>and</em> civic engagement and interaction. Greek citizens are helped to question MPs on their party policies, their finances, send them policy recommendations and exact a response. They have worked for transparency in the TTIP negotiations and are spreading their wings to Cyprus, Macedonia and into public schools in Greece.</p> <p>I don’t want my newly empowered citizens to be too horrid to political parties. So, let us also mention the Net Party in Argentina – but truly a party with a difference. <a href="http://partidodelared.org/">The Net Party</a> was founded 4 years ago but without an agenda – with the sole aim of setting out to represent citizens. They insisted on noticing when initially their support was largely confined to middle class males, and since then they have evolved online software (<a href="http://democracyos.org/">Democracy OS</a>) to broaden their online participation. Their elected deputies vote according to the decisions taken by the online participants – so here again, people challenge each others’ minds, come to joint decisions and mutual understanding. It is a mutual learning process, and like Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly, deliberation is the cornerstone. </p> <p>I should stress that all these experiments using random selection, whether they ultimately replace or complement representative bodies, are designed over a period of time to pass sovereignty over to the citizens.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>The last challenge I want to mention is the one outlined by the intrepid <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/anna-krasteva/facts-will-not-save-youth-from-fake-citizenship-will">Anna Krasteva</a> in Giorgos Kolliarakis’ <a href="https://youtu.be/sp7-s73ja9E">round table</a> ‘From Fake to Fact’. Every February in Sofia, she told us, crowds of young people gather with flares and theatre, to commemorate their fascist hero. She and her allies – academics, activists and artists – have formed a coalition and set themselves the task of&nbsp; creating an alternative vision to this ‘populist imaginary’ – the heroised bodies of young men ( mainly) as the self-appointed soldier-guardians of the nation. But how can they create an alternative vision of meaningful citizenship, one that is as enthralling a bodily experience for young people?</p> <p>For this we surely have to turn to the arts. There is something of the physical embodiment of our counter-values capturing our imaginaries, in the Agora for 21st century Democracy which over some hours, tried to picture what kind of space a truly participatory, decision-making democracy would make its own (with the help of two urban architects). Again, we found ourselves asking the question, “Should this be an entirely new customized space, or build on existing spaces and practises?”</p> <p>But truly to tap into the populist imaginaries of our time and make them anew, we have to turn to the two Artivist initiatives. Stephen Duncombe’s ‘school for creative activism’ keeps on the move to new locations, where it hopes to master the popular culture in his 4-day training programmes for 20 activists: soap operas in Turkey; comic books in the Balkans; statues in Macedonia. On the fourth day, having acquired a sufficient local vocabulary, they must design and implement their own intervention. (I’m sure they could help out in Sofia!)</p> <p>Finally, a salute to <a href="https://finland.fi/arts-culture/finnish-documentary-builds-dialogue-not-division/">Boiling Point </a>– a film and a campaign. Elina Hirvonen’s team of artivists have used local knowledge, thorough research and some good ideas to carefully surround the True Finns with constructive dialogue that might have a chance to move us away from enemy images. They have reached into private homes and public spaces with 800 screenings in Finland and 20 other countries, ‘to be watched together wherever people meet’ – another courageous, imaginative and far-reaching effort to empower ‘we the people’ and help us to overcome our divides.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/andries-du-toit/beyond-fact-checking-media-populism-and-post-truth-politics">Beyond fact-checking: the media, populism and post-truth politics </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/fernando-casal-b-rtoa/representative-politics-in-era-of-everyday-mobilisation">Representative politics in an era of everyday mobilisation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/anna-krasteva/facts-will-not-save-youth-from-fake-citizenship-will">Facts will not save (the youth) from Fake. Citizenship will</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/mohamed-shaltoot-stefanos-loukopoulos/its-sense-of-adventure-how-vouliwatch-is-re">&#039;It&#039;s a sense of adventure&#039; - How Vouliwatch is reinventing politics in Greece</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/oliver-norgrove/interesting-brexit-experiment-worthy-of-analysis">An interesting Brexit experiment worthy of analysis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/robin-wilson/many-seeds-are-brought-here-hands-up-for-participation">‘Many seeds are brought here’: hands up for participation?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> World Forum for Democracy 2017 Rosemary Bechler Fri, 01 Dec 2017 17:49:12 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 115013 at https://www.opendemocracy.net While the sun shines https://www.opendemocracy.net/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/while-sun-shines <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Body">A conversation with Ashish Ghadiali, film-maker, party activist, autonomous individual, about reinventing politics through culture and democracy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body"><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0769.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0769.JPG" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ashish Ghadiali, Barby Asante, Ken Loach, Lowkey and Rhiannon White in The World Transformed ( TWT) session on the role of the political artist in September, 2017. TWT. </span></span></span>Ashish Ghadiali, first <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler-ashish-ghadiali/portrait-of-artist-and-confession-part-one">interviewed </a>on openDemocracy in 2016 during the launch tour of his film, </em>The Confession<em>, was one of 30 participants from Europe and beyond who took part in the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">Team Syntegrity</a> – or non-hierarchical conference – held in Barcelona on 18-22 June 2017. This is one of a series of follow-up conversations on that event's themes, recommendations and relationships.<br /></em></p><p class="Body"><strong>Ash:</strong> I’m living right on the coast in Devon at the moment. I have a view of the sea out of all my windows and I get out for a swim a few times a week. I have only been here for a couple of weeks. I’ve just had a new baby, a daughter. There’s so much work I need to get done, but I’m still just trying to ease into the flow of it all… </p> <p class="Body"><em>Rosemary: So what are you working on now?</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash:</strong>&nbsp; A lot of screenwriting mainly. I’ve been part of a team of writers developing an eight-part drama with Riz Ahmed for the BBC. It’s about a British-Pakistani family from the late 70s to the present day. Riz has been working on it for years, and he’s put together an amazing team of emerging British Asian writers to support him. It’s amazing to be part of that team. </p> <p class="Body"><em>R:&nbsp; So you are back at work with the BBC?</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash: </strong>Yes. To my surprise. Making <em>The Confession, </em>in 2016, about <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/moazzam-begg-and-confession-part-two">Moazzam Begg</a> was a risk for the BBC, and it wasn’t the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler-ashish-ghadiali/portrait-of-artist-and-confession-part-one">easiest ride</a> for me personally. The diversity agenda and the role of being a minority artist or storyteller in Britain or anywhere is a complicated thing to navigate. But I thought it was important to make that film with the BBC, to bring that conversation into the mainstream.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">In terms of diversity – and I’m not the biggest fan of that word, but it’s the word they use – in the media, there has been a lot of movement in the past couple of years. I don’t know if <em>The Confession</em> came about because of that movement – but we certainly got funding at various stages because the film made a strong case for the points of view we were representing.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">In that interview that you and I did for openDemocracy, and in other interviews I did at the time on <em>The Confession, </em>we discussed how my own intervention was consciously in response to the bludgeoning of multiculturalism as a concept, first towards the end of the New Labour era then even more so under David Cameron. Interestingly, at the same time, I was aware that people like Riz Ahmed were making very similar interventions on exactly the same point.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">Work I have been commissioned to do by the BBC in the last year has derived largely from a couple of speeches in the House of Commons, one by Idris Elba and one by Riz Ahmed, both facilitated by Oona King. Respectively, they both put forward the case for diversity in broadcasting and in culture more generally, as a key space for the representation of all experiences. Both those speeches were picked up by the BBC, who then gave Idris and Riz opportunities to do something that wouldn’t ordinarily get done. Idris was given a week to curate BBC3. Riz is embarking on this very ambitious drama series. Both of these initiatives are out of the ordinary. I’ve been fortunate to be invited to participate in both. </p> <p class="Body">So there is a shift going on, and these are new opportunities that I am experiencing as a beneficiary. But the diversity agenda is a cyclical business, I know that. I’m 38, and have been engaged in the media in one way or another since 2003 and I would say that this is the third cycle of interest I have seen. When that happens there is work. When it loses its currency, there isn’t. The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is to make hay while the sun shines…</p> <p class="Body"><em>R: Let’s go back to your experience of the Team Syntegrity week in Barcelona last June.</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash:</strong> Sure. For me what was striking about the group of people you and Alex had brought together [to address the role of civil society in a time of global crisis] was how many of them were very aware of not knowing why they were there. </p> <p class="Body">Some of course did know why. They knew they belonged among the invited. But others didn’t and knowing you a little bit, I imagine that you made a conscious decision to bring a group of artists into that conversation.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">I suppose I saw myself as allied to both sides of that divide if I can call it that, in that I am an associate of Compass, an editor of Red Pepper, I do have a more obviously political role, but I am also an artist, a film-maker.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">I remember at the end of Day One just being overwhelmed by all the incredible ideas, the dynamism, the people in the room, and the authority with which they talked about food politics, the inalienable rights of the planet, conversations around the feminisation of politics, digital democracy, the military industrial complex. All these things were extremely interesting to me, but in a very cerebral way. I remember filling a notebook and by the end of the day just having a headache, and thinking, “I’m overwhelmed.”&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">So that was my experience of it, but looking around the room, that same experience led other people to feel intimidated, wondering even more why they were there, what it had to do with them, and what they could contribute. Because if you could be very fast and very fluent with the ideas, you might be able to keep up with it. But everyone was going to be pushed to their limit and beyond it. </p> <p class="Body">What I then noticed was that the process of requiring people to come back to the same table and the same conversation meant that each time you came back, each day you came back, you were forced to forget about the ideas that seemed so important in your head and actually find ways to keep the conversation running amongst the people there. </p> <p class="Body">Even more important was the presence in the room of people who would say, “Well you know, I’m no expert in this, but until it is meaningful for me, I won’t really be participating in that conversation.” Artists do that. The way an artist thinks is just very different from the way a policy-maker thinks. An artist tends to think with their whole being, I believe, and until they’ve “got it”, they can’t do anything with it.&nbsp; So there were different synergies with different people.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body"><em>R: Did you talk to Marley at the event, who is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, for example?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash: </strong>We were on the plane together coming back and I gave him a lift to London actually. The conversation we ended up having was a more local one about the UK Labour Party. He’s been a member for a lot longer than I have and for people like Marley, who positions himself, as far as I understand, as a centrist, this moment of Corbyn can seem incompetent and threatening. But then we meet on a personal level and talk. He’s a bit younger than me. I believe it’s our generation that is speaking right now, so when we talk, the connection between us turns out to be a clarifying one on both sides.</p> <p class="Body"><em>R: We recorded one interview with you and Aya after the opening sessions of “Parenting the Planet” and you were quite clear there about the need to “unite the head and the heart” if we really wanted to move things forward. Would it be fair to say that?</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash: </strong>I asked Aya to come with me for that video conversation so that it could be a continuation of what had been quite a sparky process going on in those opening sessions of “Parenting the Planet”. </p> <p class="Body">On Day One, Richard had come through with what I now see, though I’d never met him before, was probably a pure Richard Bartlett move. We were in Barcelona and I was very interested in learning more about the whole area of “the feminisation of politics”, inspired by Ada Colau’s leadership in that city. But there was a second theme that had been combined with the first in the evolution of this group, around the military industrial complex, and I think it was me who proposed putting these together. That seemed like fertile territory. I was thinking about the Hillary Clinton campaign and the idea of the glass ceiling; but also the hawkishness of Clinton’s politics and the impossibility, as far as I was concerned, of seeing any kind of feminist emancipation in the bombing of Libya. </p> <p class="Body">That was where I thought the conversation was heading and then Richard stopped the conversation dead and started talking about his blue finger nails and how he wanted everyone in the group to start sharing their feelings. He wanted to know how we as individual men had encountered patriarchy in our own lives. At the time I didn’t really know what he wanted and was left a bit perplexed, but curious. In that first meeting, I encouraged him to tell us more, so that we could respond. But at the same time, there was this voice from observers in the room commenting that it was ridiculous from the outset that the group was made up of four men, chosen by the computer programme, to have this conversation about feminism.</p> <p class="Body">In the second session, Richard’s heartfelt account of his own experience of the difficulties he had in forming meaningful male relationships, were met by responses from Aya and Kate Farrell that were not, I felt, really from their own experience. Their responses were expert-driven. They brought up issues like women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. I found their interventions frustrating. I expressed that frustration.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">Because if you take gender out of the equation, what had occurred was that someone had spoken honestly, from their heart, and wanted to get things into a space that was less heady and more felt, and the response from people who wanted to express their opinions, had been to railroad them. It seemed to me at the time that this is in many ways what we are struggling against.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body"><em>R: Moving from your individual experience there, to what conclusions you drew about the way you would like to see politics reinvented, at the end of that video, in discussion with Aya, you say and she agrees, “I’m really only interested in a politics that comes from the heart.”</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash: </strong>I find it very difficult to divide or compartmentalise myself. I think that’s probably the reason why I do the kinds of things that I do. That was one reason why it used to be impossible for me to engage in mainstream politics. At university, that whole thing about joining a political party and having to then step into a game whose rules I didn’t want to learn, was off-putting.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">I haven’t really worked my way up through any industry or hierarchy. I’ve never really given time to learning someone else’s rules. The politics I have developed has been developed with the idea of an autonomous individual as a given. What is interesting about the present moment is that space seems to be opening up for people like me, so that I find myself able to go to political meetings and feel quite comfortable because there are many people who seem to have similar inabilities to take on conventions as their own, to divide themselves. Probably, that’s where most people in my generation live, actually.</p> <p class="Body">In our first interview we talked about the politics of what I was doing as a film-maker. There was politics in my choosing to live in Jenin refugee camp and set up a film unit there. There was politics in deciding not to work in TV and go instead to live in India or Palestine. </p> <p class="Body">The question now is over structures, inclusive structures. Certainly for the UK Labour Party, the crisis of our times is over inclusion, right? That was the great flaw in New Labour. They could win election after election, but they could only do that whilst presiding over a massive decrease in voter turnout. </p> <p class="Body">It was only when that turned into – “Well now you have lost Scotland, and now you are losing your support base in the north of England” – that this system of exclusion was exposed as not a winning formula after all, but something deeply destructive. </p> <p class="Body">The political response to neoliberalism has to find a way of including those diverse constituencies: those who have lost touch with the political structures. I think people naturally want to be autonomous. I think the political structures that properly reflect this have yet to be invented.</p> <p class="Body"><em>R: What was your experience in organising sessions for “<a href="https://theworldtransformed.org/">The World Transformed”</a> (TWT), the festival of ideas and debate accompanying the UK Labour Party conference in September in Brighton? And how was it influenced by this Team Syntegrity?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash: </strong>I spoke a lot with Emma, with Birgitta, with Richard, during that Team Syntegrity week in June, and during the same week I was getting e-mails asking if I would be interested in organising some sessions on culture and cultural policy for TWT. That was definitely an interesting confluence. </p> <p class="Body">When you and I first talked, last year, I was just getting on with my film-making. While I was on tour with <em>The Confession</em>, I was meeting Momentum groups with a view to developing something cultural. But I only really got more engaged around the time of Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership campaign. </p> <p class="Body">So dipping my toe in this kind of party-based politics is, for me, as it is for many people at the present time, very new. When we went out to Barcelona I had just done my first issue of <em>Red Pepper</em> as its Race Editor, which I had been since January. June, post-election, though, was a moment when I felt like I was being invited to make a certain kind of new political commitment.</p> <p class="Body">I was chatting to Birgitta about how they were doing crowdsourced policy-making in Iceland’s Pirate Party. And so I wrote up notes on that, that week, as the beginning of a methodology. I was thinking that we might start up something similar through a series of consultations. At the same time I was talking to Emma a lot about the experience of 15M, the social movement, the influence of these movements and their relationship with Barcelona en Comu. They coalesced in my mind as something I could take straight back to a discussion about process within TWT.</p> <p class="Body">TWT’s process at that time was also a work-in-progress. There were thoughts about how it should perhaps be more focused on arts and culture than the year before; or that policy and the manifesto were something we might begin to take on. So the document I drafted came in useful at those meetings where we were trying to start a conversation around a participatory cultural policy event.&nbsp; </p><p class="Body">Over that summer, what was driving us was the idea that there was an inherited notion of arts and culture which might as well go back to the feudal court, where the artist is patronised by the court and civilises us from the top down. That really needs to be pulled apart. </p> <p class="Body">In its stead, what we were looking for was a notion of culture that took in but went beyond Jenny Lee and the Arts Council tradition that has defined Labour Party policy since the Second World War. The logic of that tradition, it seems to me, is art for everyone, admittedly, but the art it’s talking about is still that received idea of art from above – high culture. </p> <p class="Body">What I kept hearing, as I talked to more and more people over the summer – was the possibility of a more radical definition of culture, rooted in the writing of Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall and other thinkers of the New Left.</p> <p class="Body">That idea is that culture is something we all do. We all create. Only a policy built to reflect that fact can challenge the systemic inequality of the funding systems that we now have. </p> <p class="Body">What we were trying to engage with in the session you attended at TWT was how we begin to shift that received idea of culture away from one that is the first thing to be cut when times are hard, because it is a non-essential luxury, to one that understands that culture is the thing we all do all the time everywhere in order to make our lives meaningful. </p> <p class="Body">How can we begin to facilitate <em>that </em>conversation?</p><p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0752.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0752.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The World Transformed: Drawing on the traditions of Jennie Lee, Raymond Williams, those who see culture as a basic human aspiration, this session re-launched Arts For Labour as a participatory rethink of what culture is. TWT.</span></span></span></p> <p class="Body"><em>R. Let’s linger on that very vibrant TWT session for a moment – thanks for inviting me! – because it seemed to me that there were two things going on and maybe a paradox in the format. We had a series of good speakers, policy experts who were tracing the history of the Labour Party’s arts policy and its evolving impact and its values. Then there was a gulf in time represented by the rise of Thatcher and neoliberalism and its grip on both policy and values. Meanwhile your audience came from either side of this gulf. There were the older people like myself who could remember the histories and some who had been involved in them, and the younger people who had never lived under that system. </em></p> <p class="Body"><em>The second thing that you were doing, also very interestingly, was to say, “Let’s all organise into small groups so that we can talk to each other and hear from everybody because we all have things to say, because we all do culture and we all care about it, and our voices should be heard.” </em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><em>Inevitably, there was a judder between these two things – apart from anything else there simply wasn’t time for both. But there always is a judder in this transitional period we are now living in. You could say it is between the vertical and the horizontal. The minute you set up a panel of speakers, a top table so to speak, you have a “we” who are doing the right thing on behalf of everyone else, and the everyone else who they are trying to get to do the right thing for themselves. </em><em></em></p> <p><em>I think one compelling aspect of Team Syntegrity is that radical equality of very 'unequal ' people in the format which, as you will remember, is quite rigid including, if you like, equality between the people who know why they are there and those who don’t.&nbsp; </em><em><br /></em></p> <p class="Body"><em>I just wondered if that experience had entered in any way into your calculations over this whole question you were wrestling with: the premise of culture being a central aspect of meaningfulness for all people – and how we bring that principle into our political formats?</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash:</strong>&nbsp; I agree with your point about the judder. We wanted to move away from the standard curated panel discussion in a static room with a Fordist block of an audience. We discussed doing away with the speakers altogether and asked ourselves if they performed a useful function. In the end we had a lot of speakers and they served a very useful purpose when you organise an event like that in the programme, because that list of names is all the audience has to go on when they decide to make the effort to attend… The room was packed.</p> <p class="Body">Also, if we are going to try to engage in discussions around policy, you do have to bring stakeholders into the mix, and you are curating politically to serve a wider purpose. The point you are making is that everyone is a stakeholder in the process we are trying to achieve. That’s true and we will have to get there. But we made a beginning. </p> <p class="Body">The plan we laid out initially, interestingly, would have been a lot more anarchic and chaotic.&nbsp; Facilitators posted at four corners of the room, where anyone could go and write things down and speakers would have to compete for attention with some of these. At the same time, you have a room full of people who are actually being encouraged just to meet one another for one minute, three minutes, five minute slots. I probably was influenced by that first market place of ideas session at the Team Syntegrity. Maybe I didn’t communicate the idea I hoped for well enough. </p> <p class="Body">What happened in the end is that our two facilitators came into the conversation quite late on, and they both had a lot more experience of Occupy-style organising, and were not convinced about the chaotic approach we were proposing. So then we moved to the circles of eight, where in the event I was worried that one or two people were doing most of the talking…</p> <p class="Body">It’s part of where we’re at, in this process of democratisation, that a lot of different kinds of people are interested in different models, with different ideas of what would be a disaster and what could work. It’s going to be an ongoing process for most of our lives isn’t it?</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4393.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4393.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>TWT session in a packed room from where Rosemary was sitting.</span></span></span><em>R: Yes – and a fascinating one to grapple with. Do you think the Labour Party is in a good place to advance these experiments about how to enable everybody and anybody to be more themselves in the process of change? </em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash: </strong>I don’t see why not. I can see that what we are trying to do is a part of that conversation. I understand that there is a lot at stake, so there will be a lot of resistance. The question is how does it happen? Was it yesterday or today that we saw the launch of the Party Democracy Review? </p> <p class="Body">Labour party meetings are frustrating things to go to. There is a form and a format which channels conversations and processes in a certain way. But that is being thought through, and I have met people sitting in the strategic comms office or the digital organising office and have interviewed front bench shadow ministers who are not wedded to the problem, but looking for the solutions. I find myself more frustrated by the people who sit outside and say, “Oh, the Labour Party is never going to change!”</p> <p class="Body">There is a generational effect going on. The new voice coming into politics from a lot of people under 40 like myself, shared a great antipathy towards New Labour but were solidly anti-Tory, didn’t agree with the war in Iraq, are anti-austerity and didn’t agree with the decades of privatisation of public services. That constituency has been voting tactically since 2001, and would probably have identified strongly with the green surge in 2015, but would be first and foremost committed to removing the Tories from government. The 2017 Labour Manifesto did reflect a lot of that politics. That wasn’t the case of the Labour Party in 2015. </p> <p class="Body"><em>R: So where do you stand on the idea of a Progressive Alliance?</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash:</strong> I joined Compass at exactly the same time as I joined the Labour party and voted for Corbyn. The idea of a progressive alliance, a tactical coalition designed to end Tory rule for the foreseeable future, is basic common sense to me. But this election campaign was interesting. A kind of internal contest played out between the Corbyn leadership and the likes of Compass who were pushing the progressive alliance (which the Liberal Democrats also rejected). The Labour leadership won that contest. That was a surprise to me, but a happy surprise. If a Corbyn-led Labour party can form a government without the support of the Liberal Democrats then so much the better. </p> <p class="Body">But long term there is a bigger issue and one always needs to be open to the best way of reversing austerity, or nationalism, or xenophobia, or militarism or whatever it is, at any given time. In order to create the kind of society that we want to create in the 21st century, pluralism, I believe, sits at the heart of that. </p> <p class="Body">Democratic reform is an essential. The party democracy review is about internal democratic structures, but we are not going to change the way Britain functions until we take local democracy seriously and devolve power in a considered way to the regions. We urgently need to change our voting system. Once those shifts take place, the Labour Party is obviously going to have to learn how to work well with other parties.</p> <p class="Body">I have just moved from Hackney North to Totnes CLP where I recently attended my first meeting. It’s a really interesting seat – a safe Tory seat where Sarah Wollaston won comfortably in 2017, but Labour surprised everyone by taking second place for the first time in 47 years. The importance of the rural marginal is something Jeremy Corbyn makes interesting noises about. Totnes is the home of the decidedly non-partisan <a href="https://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/">transition movement</a>. It’s an interesting question whether the political energy of something like the transition movement can find any common ground with a local Labour Party? Should it? How do people best organise themselves to overturn a Toryism which has this country by the throat and has done for as long as I have been alive? That’s the question isn’t it?</p> <p class="Body"><em>R: Is it essentially the same question – one of inclusive, pluralist political organisation?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash:</strong> The event you attended was one of a series of three I put on as part of a team at TWT. The first, which we’ve talked about, was about shifting the broader debate on the nature of culture in a participatory format. The third one picked up on a lot of that discussion in a smaller room, with forty people, flipcharts, marker pens, a hothouse of ideas that are catalogued and will contribute towards a draft policy that reflects what came out of those TWT sessions. </p> <p class="Body">The <a href="https://theworldtransformed.org/sessions/political-artists-in-the-age-of-the-social-movement/">middle session</a> did something a bit different. It presented a more traditional panel of speakers. In many ways it broke all the rules we’ve been discussing. It put the artists on a pedestal. It harnessed the power of celebrity – with names like Ken Loach and Low-Key getting the audience queuing around the building. It played as less of a participatory experience than as a show to an audience that was seated and static. To paraphrase Hilary Wainwright, not participatory democracy exactly but a populist form which of course we’re seeing emerge all over the world on the left and the right. </p> <p class="Body">What I want to say about this is that there is nothing progressive about the populist form in itself. There is no guarantee that it will lead to anything more democratic…</p> <p class="Body"><em>R: So why do it?</em><em></em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ash: </strong>Participation is a complicated idea. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is driving a lot of participation, a lot of active interest in the possibility of change. This year’s party conference was a real reflection of this. As part of what Jeremy Gilbert has called the age of ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/jeremy-gilbert/epochal-election-welcome-to-era-of-platform-politics">platform politics</a>’, hopefully the coming years will see the emergence of this idea, of a movement-party, where high profile figures, commanding a lot of media space, can in turn help to bring people in and drive the movement forward and inspire new forms of participation. </p> <p class="Body">The idea of the social movement is inextricably linked with social media, isn’t it? It’s about profile and network, right? Ken Loach and Lowkey drew people in, sharing their power to help build a space where they and other artists were talking and sharing stories of political voice and that, in turn, moves through the audience and inspires participation which feeds back and creates new kinds of possibility.</p> <p class="Body">It was great to bring artists into the mix who are doing work that is political in really interesting ways but who the audience members might not have known about already – artists like the Director of Common Wealth, Rhiannon White, who I also met at Team Syntegrity. I managed to see Rhiannon’s play – <a href="https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/were-still-here">We’re Still Here</a> – which she put on in Port Talbot. It’s an amazing piece of theatre. </p> <p class="Body">The next day, at TWT, I met someone who had been at the event and it was Rhiannon she was asking about. She had come to see Ken Loach, and Ken was great, as were all the other speakers, but for that one woman it was Rhiannon she had taken away with her and whose political creativity she said would soon be reflected in her own work. Rhiannon, on the other hand, was talking to me about Ken Loach, and Barby Asante, and Low-Key, and then throwing herself into the mix at the Monday morning manifesto-writing session before making her way back up to Port Talbot to share the love and get back to her show. </p> <p class="Body">How can I put it? Participation seems to me like a kind of pyramid and it doesn’t really happen until the energy is moving around it and through it in all directions. What I found myself trying to do this summer, as an artist and a citizen, as an autonomous individual working with others who think the same way was, for a moment, to try to activate that whole pyramid, from the base to the apex, from the apex to the base and back again.</p><p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0784.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0784.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The World Transformed.September 2017.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/rosemary-bechler-ashish-ghadiali/portrait-of-artist-and-confession-part-one">Portrait of the artist and The Confession, Part One</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-rosemary-bechler/moazzam-begg-and-confession-part-two">Moazzam Begg and The Confession, Part Two.</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ashish-ghadiali-birgitta-j-nsd-ttir/system-is-reflection-of-who-we-are-interview-with-birgitta-j-nsd">‘The system is a reflection of who we are’: an interview with Birgitta Jónsdóttir</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Ashish Ghadiali Wed, 22 Nov 2017 10:32:40 +0000 Ashish Ghadiali and Rosemary Bechler 114825 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Introducing this week's theme: Strasbourg's World Forum for Democracy 2017 looks at 'media, parties and populism' https://www.opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler/introducing-this-weeks-theme-strasbourgs-world-forum-for-democracy-2017-looks-at-me <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy is partnering with the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/home">World Forum for Democracy 2017</a>. This week we ask: what media, what political parties, what politicians do we need to re-connect with citizens? Is the problem fake news or fake democracy? </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 18.58.09.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 18.58.09.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>The objective of the World Forum for Democracy 2017 is to review novel initiatives and approaches which can enhance democratic practices and help political parties and the media, but also other political actors, to re-connect to citizens, make informed choices and function optimally in 21st century democracy.</p><p>Our hosts invite us to consider "a growing disconnect between citizens and political elites and dramatic changes in the media ecosystem [that] are a challenge for democracy as we know it." After WW2, party pluralism was enshrined in democratic constitutions as the vehicle for political pluralism and a barrier against authoritarian regimes in Europe. Political parties represented mostly class interests, built political capital within their membership base, and communicated via like-minded media. Public service broadcasters were entrusted with ensuring multiple perspectives and the overall independence and diversity of media were seen as a guarantee of free and pluralist debate. However, something is happening with political parties and with the media.</p><p>Traditional political parties are losing their popular base, legitimacy and membership. They are criticised for lack of long-term vision and responsibility, the inability to engage younger generations, as well as a failure to offer convincing alternatives beyond mainstream paradigms. Opinion polls also show that political institutions are largely perceived as lacking integrity. Many are trying to reinvent themselves. Populist parties/leaders emerge to occupy the vacuum, exploiting the fear of globalisation and the increased insecurity perceived by many. New social movements also emerge. But are these movements opening up new democratic opportunities for those who feel excluded from politics?</p><p>Meanwhile, media concentration and restrictions on media freedom, while austerity measures weaken public service broadcasters and therefore limit the scope of independent reporting, are a concern in Europe and worldwide. Online media and social media through direct access to users are creating a totally new game. This vastly increases the opportunity for citizens’ democratic expression. At the same time, anonymity online and filter bubbles encourage political extremism and hate speech. Social media are all too often about speaking up, not speaking with. </p><p>In this period of transition from representative to post-representative democracy, how can we encourage online media and communities that foster pluralism and deliberation rather than extremism and polarisation? Can emerging online media evolve user-based rather than advertisement-based business models? To counter the wrong sorts of populism – and what are these? – should we look to a further decentralisation of governance to bring power closer to the people?</p><p>This week, in the run-up to the World Forum for Democracy 2017 in Strasbourg from November 8 - 10, openDemocracy explores the joint challenge posed by this 'disconnect' to our media and our democracies – encompassing many of our ongoing core concerns. Brexit provides a thought-provoking enough context for any reconsideration of the media and 'objectivity', as we discovered <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/content/sunday-october-22-2017">this week-end. </a>But we properly begin with the global context of democracy at a crossroads.</p><p><strong>Monday - dark money, deep data<br /></strong></p><p>There has been a sharp rise in nationalism and populism around the world. From Trump’s America to Brexit Britain, from Modi’s India to Xi’s China, from Erdogan’s Turkey to Duterte’s Philippines, national leaders are winning by promising to “take back control” and (re)assert their national power. In their latest book, Thomas Hale and David Held argue that these nationalist leaders are not isolated cases, but in part products of a systemic trend they call "self-reinforcing gridlock". Today <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/david-held/global-politics-at-crossroads">David Held explains</a> some of the global factors behind the resurgence of "authoritarianism" we are witnessing as it places democracy at risk and fractures the "politics of accommodation". Drawing on the many parallels between the 1930's and the 2010's, he asks if knowing this will help us choose a different route.</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/natalie-fenton-des-freedman/media-and-twenty-first-century-fake-democracy">Natalie Fenton and Des Freedman</a> bring us back to the liberal democracies of the west, but not with any sense of comfort. Here where a "complex normative paraphernalia has emerged " to describe the key responsibilities placed on media in the emergence and sustenance of democracy, instead we find complicity in <span>consumer, rather than popular sovereignty; and </span><span>failure to ensure free expression, political participation and democratic renewal. One direct consequence has been the sharp decline in the media's authority and legitimacy. Another, the profound "distance" betwen our parliamentary democracy and the lives of ordinary people. These have proved to be the necessary conditions for a series of 'political earthquakes'.</span></p><p><span>Those political earthquakes were the subject of a fascinating panel debate that took place this September in the UK's Byline festival. Hosted by Tim Dawson and Peter Jukes – to whom thanks for permission to publish this 45-minute podcast – four journalists share their pioneering investigations into the shadowy world of billionaires, using targeted social media ads to undermine our democracies in the US elections, the UK's Brexit referendum and beyond. Here, openDemocracy's Editor in Chief, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/mary-fitzgerald-peter-york-carole-cadwalladr-james-patrick/dark-money-deep-data-voicing-dissent">Mary Fitzgerald</a> introduces some of our investigative work, and fellow pannelists, Carole Cadwalladr, whose pathbreaking forays in The Observer first brought this world to public attention, Peter York and James Patrick.</span></p><p><span>We also take a closer look at political parties today, this time travelling to Moscow to explore, in the company of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-rebrov/yulia-galyamina">Yulia Galyamina,</a> newly elected municipal councillor, the all-important interface for any new politics between the vertical and the horizontal. Yulia tells Dmitry Rebrov that "Party politics has exhausted itself."</span></p><p><span>Lastly, we begin a series of replies to the question: what does a democratic media look like today? According to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/emeka-forbes/how-technology-powered-catalan-referendum">Emeka Forbes</a>, like the social media that powered the Catalan referendum.</span></p><p><strong>Tuesday - human stories among the algorithms<br /></strong></p> <p>When we first named a new feature on our digitaLiberties page, ‘Human stories among the algorithms’, openDemocracy was not fully aware of the extent to which this was an oxymoron.</p> <p>But today, we continue the thread begun in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/mary-fitzgerald-peter-york-carole-cadwalladr-james-patrick/dark-money-deep-data-voicing-dissent">Dark Money Deep Data</a>, with a closer look at the unknown and silent rules that govern our perceptions, conversations, relationships and “where you stand in the world”.</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/claudio-agosti/could-populism-be-side-effect-of-personalized-algorithm">Claudio Agosti</a> patiently explains how the latter relate to the immense political power of the Personalized Algorithm. It is urgent that we “re-possess the data, own our gold, keep it under our control and thank only those who display openly how social media works, why they manipulate our perceptions, and how they do it.” Not only this, but since the fightback has been left to civic activism, he offers us one tangible way to begin, tools that “empower critical judgment” rather than extending the polarizing influence of the algorithm or its capacity for surveillance. </p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/james-bridle/algorithmic-citizenship-and-digital-statelessness-are-digital-non-citizens-status-quo">James Bridle</a> also has a visionary project, “Citizen Ex”. Its starting point is the assignation of citizenship – the ‘right to have rights’ to which Hannah Arendt first alerted us – which he argues is coming under greatest stress online. ‘Jus algorithmi’ – the right of the algorithm – is taking over as our rights and protections are increasingly assigned not to our corporeal bodies but, moment by moment, to our digital selves. Citizen Ex affords us a new literacy about the accumulations of information that stand as proxies for us in our relationships to states, banks and corporations. Find out too about Estonia’s amazing “e-residency” programme.</p> <p>We have the full version of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/cathy-oneil-leo-hollis/weapons-of-maths-destruction">the interview with Cathy O’Neil</a>, former Wall St. analyst, who in the financial crash decided that she wanted to use her mathematic skills “to clarify not to lie”, and found herself ever since up against all those who would much rather <em>not know</em> the truth. She too patiently explains how ‘hiring algorithms’ can quickly become ridiculously discriminatory because every algorithm is “exactly as biased as the information you feed into it”; how Facebook is a propaganda machine that can swing elections, without even attempting to; and why the real problem is “that almost no algorithm has a human being who is responsible for it.”</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/ben-hayes-ravi-naik/why-does-uk-data-protection-bill-exempt-risk-profiling-industry">Ben Hayes and Ravi Naik</a>, ask why, under cover of Brexit, the UK is intent on leaving “entire industries dedicated to vetting, profiling and blacklisting private individuals”, especially in the financial sector, exempt from the reach of the EU laws currently being transferred over that govern the way states and corporations can collect and use information about us. Why are they protecting the likes of World-Check? Meanwhile, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/nadim-nashif-marwa-fatafta/israeli-algorithm-criminalizing-palestinians-for-o">Nadim Nashif and Marwa Fatafta</a> fill us in on the predictive policing system – another algorithm – developed by Israeli intelligence, that analyzes social media posts to identify Palestinian “suspects.”</p> <p>But there is cheering news from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/timothy-karr/breaking-ideological-gridlock-from-bottom-up">Timothy Karr</a> and the US-based Strategy for Free Press, where the campaign for net neutrality has grasped that an open internet is as fundamental to functioning democracies as protecting free speech rights. They have been working out how best to create an international, popular movement for internet freedom. It involves one of our favourite things on openDemocracy – unlikely bedfellows.</p><p><strong>Wednesday - responding to migration in an aggrieved age<br /></strong></p> <p>The populism we witness in Europe today does not tend to place the poverty being reinforced by austerity alongside refugee and migrant worker movements, curbing xenophobia and racism. Nor does the establishment response to it open the doors to admit the entirety of the population into the political mainstream, setting an agenda in which collaboration and cooperation across borders can re-emerge as the best way to live our lives, in the hope of a better future in the twenty-first century.</p> <p>On the contrary, as the Panel 2 WFD2017 discussion on November 9 frames its question, “<em>In recent years, populist and right-wing discourse has taken on an increasingly aggressive anti-refugee and anti-immigrant dimension, imposing this subject rather successfully on the political agenda in European countries. As a consequence, excessively restrictive measures adopted in many European countries are increasingly jeopardising fundamental values of our societies and the human rights of migrants and refugees. What approaches and strategies can be drawn upon to develop a counter-narrative to this anti-immigrant rhetoric?</em>”</p> <p>How, they go on to ask, can the reactions of politicians, civic leaders and media professionals, be reconfigured and recombined to build more effective policies and better and more inclusive democracies? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/tom-jungwirth/never-forget-politics">Tomáš Jungwirth</a> kicks off our ‘migration debate’ today, by warning a civil society under increasing pressure “never to forget politics” – never to become “substantially detached from the prevailing public discourse” and thereby ”excluded from political decision-making.” In his view, the notion of “no borders” can have no conceivable traction if “not even the most progressive of European politicians” will contemplate such an approach. </p> <p>But others, often activists, ask what happens to the transformative agendas of NGOs when they become involved in the delivery of services, or otherwise dependent on governments who require them to “stick to their knitting” and avoid playing politics. Indeed, more broadly, what is the purpose or role of NGO’s: to fill in the gap of the receding state and to provide a residual safety net to vulnerable members of society, or to challenge and transform the structures that perpetuate poverty, inequality, and social exclusion? (see for example, Armine Ishkanian <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/armine-ishkanian/time-for-reckoning-ngos-public-trust-and-democracy">here</a>).</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/susi-meret-sergio-goffredo/solidarity-under-attack">Susi Meret and Sergio Goffredo</a> give us an overview of a Europe in which migrant activism and solidarity with migrants are criminalised and made a scapegoat for failed EU migration politics. Thus, NGO’s operating in the Mediterranean to save lives have been accused of “acting as a ‘taxi service to Europe’ and facilitating smugglers’ activities.” These accusations coincide with the increasingly violent enforcement of new laws such as Italy’s new immigration bill, and yet another downward spiral in civility.</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/anna-triandafyllidou/case-of-emergency-relocation-quotas">Anna Triandafyllidou</a> poses a key question in all this: what forces actually most influence European policy making decisions in the field? In the case of the ‘emergency relocation quotas’, it is an interesting combination of ideas from evidence-based research circulated by civil society, which might never have seen the light of day had it not been for an emergency, crucially combined with the nod from the “German political leadership… the moment was ripe and the political will was there.” However, the adverse reaction of the Central Eastern European member states brings this tale to a cautionary end.</p> <p>So how can hearts and minds be changed on the scale required? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teresa-buczkowska/in-ongoing-war-between-fake-news-and-evidence-based-information-facts-do-not-matte">Teresa Buczkowska</a> says that we have to break the cycle and start again. And in this, it is time for us to grasp the fact that “facts don’t matter.” For all the talk of “fake news’ and “populist narratives”, it is not facts <em>per se</em> that are going to win the “ongoing war” to establish who are the goodies and who are the baddies, but subjective counter-narratives that can address our hopes, fears and self-hatreds. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/milena-santerini/comparing-perception-with-fact-in-aggrieved-age">Milena Santerini</a> is more sanguine about the virtues of fact-checking but also aware that the mere availability of knowledge will not counter the conspiracy cravings of today’s cultures. For her too, skill in interpretation is key, and what must accompany facts is “serious debate that grapples with issues… that advocates critical and divergent thinking, that inspires discernment and discrimination”. </p> <p>Today we close with another overview of forces determining both the facts and the fear on the ground far more than we might like to think. In this case we are talking about the “European security-industrial complex” and what <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/reinhard-kreissl/predicaments-of-policy-oriented-security-researc">Reinhard Kreissl</a> can tell us about the problems of techno-solutionism when they are combined with a failure to analyse the threat. Instead: “Threat levels have to be kept high to maintain the role of the security professionals and boost further investment in security technology.” Moreover, “To keep this business model alive, the convenient security problems have to be well advertised.” For Kreissl, when it comes to migrants and citizens alike, a critical choice will be made between “either a change of the root cause conditions or a broadening of the surveillant gaze.” He also agrees with Milena, “Offering slots of less than 90 seconds to explain world events as breaking news, runs counter to any thorough deliberation of contemporary security problems.”</p><p><strong>Thursday - new journalism, democratic media<br /></strong></p> <p>On Thursday we return to the challenge of the thorough deliberation of contemporary problems that can change hearts and minds, by taking a look at new media and new approaches to the media. Given that, “Mother Jones recently reported that in 2015 there were 40% fewer journalists working in newsrooms in the US than in 2007”, it’s a surprisingly hopeful section of this journey.&nbsp; </p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/keren-flavell/sweet-spot-where-media-citizens-and-government-intersect">Keren Flavell</a>, founder of Poll Town, believes that “professional news media could play a larger, and more active role in the ecosystem of representative democracy, and get paid for it.” How? By helping governments and citizens to access The Sweet Spot in which “people are brought together, to openly share opinions and grow awareness of opposing viewpoints and considerations.” (Those attending WFD2017 will have their chance to “exercise their civic muscle” on “an issue of global importance” in the Participants’ Assembly on November 9, 14.30 – 18.00 in the Council of Europe Hemicycle.)</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/jonathan-heawood/in-global-game-of-thrones-we-need-new-rules">Jonathan Heawood</a>, CEO of Impress, the independent monitor for the UK press, shares Keren’s distaste for the “creepy” aspects of the social media listening tools that amplify the “most outspoken”. But he sees a range of abuses that could threaten this promising new public space at birth: from fake news, junk science and hate speech, to the unwitting pawns we become in what he calls the “global game of thrones” we explored in our Monday podcast. As voters, citizens and individuals we need and deserve a new regulatory settlement to protect our public space. And, he says, the tide is turning.</p> <p>For Alon Aviram and Adam Cantwell-Corn, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/alon-aviram-adam-cantwell-corn/new-media-must-throw-old-ideas-overboard">founders of BristolCable</a>, the UK’s only citywide media cooperative, it is important to recognize what went wrong if you want to restore trust and viability to the media. “Impartiality in journalism has always been a problematic concept” and now it is the “fallout from the closeness between press and politics” that “has presented a political and commercial opportunity for new media publishers to fill.” Their dynamic democratic co-op model with “ordinary folk the proprietors” is their answer to the question: how can we “create a media which tackles the issues of representation while holding power to account?”</p> <p>For <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/peggy-holman/whither-journalism-0">Peggy Holman</a> too, co-founder and director of Journalism That Matters, the starting point is legacy journalism’s disappearing audiences in the United States. Here too, it is community-centred approaches that convince her of journalism’s “tremendous potential for positive societal change”, and it is adding “to support communities to thrive” to the classic definition of journalism that alone will renew its purpose. This involves a move from detached to engaged which will give many journalists of the old school pause for thought, and the reason is a recognition that <em>“people need experiences, connections and relationships, not just information.” </em>&nbsp;In short, dialogue.</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/sarah-van-gelder/peopleshub">Sarah Ven Gelder</a>, the YES! columnist, tells us about the PeoplesHub initiative which arose out of her 12,000-mile journey around America in pursuit of uplifting stories for <em>The Revolution Where You Live. </em>She believes that deep change happens most powerfully when local groups can learn from each other. What she wants to make happen next is that dialogue between communities.</p> <p>Perhaps the most moving optimism you will find on this front page is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/syria-uprising-and-media-scene">Joseph Daher’s</a> detailed account of the rise and fall of the democratic media since Syria’s uprising in 2011. As we journey from the years of censorship to the “crony capitalist media tycoons” who tried their hand at running Assad’s mass rallies and public relations campaigns, and plot the first stirrings of the website promoting women’s and children’s rights, the blogger imprisoned for five years accused of spying for a foreign country because she wrote poems about Palestinian suffering, or the pro-regime critics who the author thinks show some promise of a “a more open culture” –&nbsp;we begin to see the point of this loving detail. Unlike in the unrecorded 70’s and the 80’s, Joseph says, this time thanks to “democratic media”, the memories remain as a foundation for future resistance. </p><p><strong>Friday - bridging the divides?</strong></p> <p>Last <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/content/sunday-october-22-2017">Sunday</a> we took a look at the way the media has served the British people in the Brexit process, and more particularly what a middle class father and son thought they could do to compensate for the inadequacies of the pro-remain media as they saw them. They were calling for a better debate, as was Tom Mills, but this time directed at the BBC for not being able to facilitate ‘a free, open and broad debate about the issues confronting the country’, so skewed is its worldview towards an élite that is also in considerable disarray. </p> <p>On Monday, openDemocracy’s Adam Ramsay and Peter Geoghan published another finding from their investigation into Brexit funding, which revealed that a deluge of accusations of the BBC for pro-remain bias, repeated uncritically by many newspapers, came from and were ultimately funded by one source.</p> <p>Under these for the most part incalculable, yet generally polarizing conditions, we ask what it is in our societies that can bridge the divides? Today we return to the Brexit chasm, but this time to see how ‘ordinary British people’ fare, compared to their political and media counterparts, in an exercise in sortition provided with expertise and the all too rare opportunity to directly engage with and listen to your fellow citizens across the divide<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/oliver-norgrove/interesting-brexit-experiment-worthy-of-analysis">. Oliver Norgrove</a> is clearly taken with the ‘maturity’ of those involved quite apart from the outcome – something one doesn’t often hear said of either of the other institutions.</p> <p>Why aren’t there more opportunities for us citizens to talk and really listen to each other? Answering this question at the end of this week, we can’t escape the sense of exacerbated polarization and division on all sides and at all levels, whether it is the resurgence of "authoritarianism" that fractures the "politics of accommodation" described by David Held on Monday; the fearmongering implicit in Reinhard Kreissl’s techno-solutionism; the “global game of thrones” alongside “fake news”, “junk science” and “hate speech” that Jonathan Heawood lists as threats to our new online public sphere; or Claudio Agosti’s troubling account of the&nbsp;isolating effect of the prioritizing Personalized Algorithm. </p> <p>We look in more detail at hate speech today, beginning with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/cherian-george/hate-speech-dilemma-for-journalists-world-over">Cherian George’s</a> advice to journalists in the recently-published Ethical Journalism Network Report. Covering a great deal of difficult ground that is always wary of censorship and bias, George points out that “hate speech is a constantly evolving phenomenon”. So it is good to encounter new inroads into its complexities, and new approaches to dealing with it, such as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/brian-martin/combating-online-abuse-with-principles-of-nonviolent-resistance">Brian Martin’s</a> in-depth argument for applying the principles of nonviolent resistance to this online human scourge. Today also, we look at <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/dani-de-torres/antirumours-strategy">Dani de Torres</a>’ long-term exploration of social change which is the Anti-Rumours Strategy of the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities programme, “challenging the negative narratives around diversity”; explore the pros and cons of banning “anti-systemic parties” under the guidance of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/fernando-casal-b-rtoa-angela-bourne/to-ban-or-not-to-ban-that-is-question">Fernando Casal Bértoa and Angela Bourne</a>; and with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/john-blewitt/nothing-new-about-fake-news">John Blewitt</a> track the ways that fake news in the Anglosphere has undermined the freedom of it citizens for over two hundred years, only recently entering its most sinister stage.</p> <p>It sometimes feels as if we are locked into a race between civility and incivility, love and fear, for which only one side has declared, and that the clock is ticking. But the good news this week has been a remarkable agreement by people coming from different fields and different places about the ingredients for an emerging fightback. </p> <p>The Wikimedia family have been busy working out their future till 2030, and like many of this week's contributors, as reported here by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/anne-kierkegaard/wikimedia-2030-fair-wind-for-free-knowledge">Anne Kierkegaard</a> seem to be agreeing on the need to “<em>focus our efforts on the knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege</em>”, to, “<em>welcome people from every background to build strong and diverse communities” </em>in order to<em> “break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge.</em>” Like Peggy Holman, who offered us her useful distinction between polarizing debate and dialogue, the Wikimedia strategy is in pursuit of ‘open and democratic dialogue’.</p> <p>Holman cites one manifesto of engaged journalism as saying,<em>“</em>We offer our own vulnerability and are willing to step out first into difficult conversations and situations” and dialogue between people, different people and diverse communities, that mysterious process that can change minds if it is predicated on a minimum of mutual vulnerability<em> </em>– is a skill and a cultural standard mentioned again and again as something that our societies need to rediscover, if we seek to bridge the distance between democracy and ordinary lives. Crucially, we are back to the terrain of Tim Karr's "unlikely bedfellows".</p> <p>Summing up many of the thoughts this week on how to respond to the “wearily familiar” and unfounded “charge sheet against immigrants”, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/philippe-legrain/even-when-they-re-wrong-they-re-right">Philippe Legrain</a> agrees that “personal interaction makes a huge difference”. He too urges the movement beyond facts to “compelling human stories” and “an attempt to reach out to those with different values and to speak their language.”</p> <p>But we must go further, “Persuading people on migration is not just about narrative and framing. It also has to be about policies. Politicians need to put forward bold solutions to the many problems... that are often blamed on immigrants.” Again, this is not the first time that we have heard this message. On Monday, it is Natalie Fenton and Des Freedman who point unflinchingly to fake democracy as the root of our travails, “A democratic facade that promises much but delivers little.” For Yulia Galyamina, the “party politics that has exhausted itself” is a con. For Cathy O’Neil on Tuesday, the fight against Silicon Valley is over whether “technology is better than and will replace politics”: she wants accountability, to us, to win out. For BristolCable, too, power must be held to account. </p><p>So perhaps this week’s most provocative bridge over a divide is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/jimmy-tidey/what-china-can-teach-west-about-digital-democracy">Jimmy Tidey’</a>s rejection of Google’s fate in China, as “a backward-looking authoritarian state rejecting innovation and strangling freedom of expression.” Tidey argues that it is at least unclear whether China was right to kick Google out. But moreover, China has many lessons to teach us about managing a digital democracy in the system of surveillance they are putting in its place, including deliberative democracy to counter the polarizing effect of the filter bubble. This is a subject discussed in some detail in an important book for our debate that is causing a stir, Rachel Botsman’s “<em>Who can you trust? How technology brought us together – and why it could drive us apart</em> ” (Penguin, Random House, 2017). Tidey’s own conclusion however, is that the similar management problems the west and China face might bridge some unnecessary divides.</p> <p>It all depends on whom you can trust, which brings us finally, to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/philippe-marli-re/jean-luc-m-lenchon-s-populist-gamble">Philippe Marlière’s</a> fascinating account of one man’s populism – the ‘left-wing populism’ professed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the rise of France Insoumise (Unbowed France, FI). Populism is the World Forum’s overarching theme in 2017, and we very much hope that our special week will help you approach this complicated man with new eyes and many ideas. Philippe Legrain contends today that patriotism is far too persuasive an argument to leave to reactionary nationalists and xenophobes. Mélenchon seems to have taken similar advice. Whether the results are more likely to militate towards an enabling unity or a debilitating division, we leave you to assess, and look forward to further discussions in Strasbourg.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy will be at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the impact of populism on our media, political parties and democracy (see the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/programme-2017">programme</a> for more details).</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>At WFD 2017, Georgios Kolliarakis is moderating <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/2017-panel-discussions">the panel discussion</a>, <em>From Fake to Fact: how to strengthen ties between research, policy, and society to counter populism</em>, 9 November 2017 - 9.00-10.30 - Palais de l'Europe, Room 6. </p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-held/global-politics-at-crossroads">Global politics at a crossroads</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/natalie-fenton-des-freedman/media-and-twenty-first-century-fake-democracy">Media and twenty first century fake democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/mary-fitzgerald-peter-york-carole-cadwalladr-james-patrick/dark-money-deep-data-voicing-dissent">Dark Money Deep Data</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-rebrov/yulia-galyamina">Yulia Galyamina: “Party politics has exhausted itself”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/emeka-forbes/how-technology-powered-catalan-referendum">How technology powered the Catalan referendum </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/digitaliberties/james-bridle/algorithmic-citizenship-and-digital-statelessness-are-digital-non-citizens-status-quo">How online citizenship is unsettling rights and identities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/digitaliberties/claudio-agosti/could-populism-be-side-effect-of-personalized-algorithm">Could populism be a side effect of the Personalized Algorithm? 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Citizenship will</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/joan-subirats/catalonia-now-what">Catalonia: now what? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/miguel-syjuco/is-populism-problem-story-for-world-forum-for-democracy-2017">“Is Populism a Problem”? – a story for the World Forum for Democracy 2017</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/georgios-kolliarakis-rosemary-bechler/from-fake-to-fact-and-then">From Fake to Fact – and then? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> World Forum for Democracy 2017 Rosemary Bechler Georgios Kolliarakis Fri, 27 Oct 2017 23:35:14 +0000 Georgios Kolliarakis and Rosemary Bechler 114136 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On DiEM25’s electoral wing: reply from a CC member to thoughts on ‘a historic moment’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/on-diem25-s-electoral-wing-reply-from-cc-member-to-thoughts-on-historic-moment <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>&nbsp;A transnational movement-party, a hotbed of grassroots democracy capable of supranational solutions – why that matters to me.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/pic4-e1505244438688.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/pic4-e1505244438688.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Framework for a discussion: DiEM25's first World Cafe, opposite Bozar, September 9, 2017, Brussels. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Dear Shawn,</p><p>First of all I wanted to thank you. When I tapped you on the shoulder in the mall opposite the Bozar after the morning session of DiEM25’s first World Café, and asked if you’d consider reporting back on your deliberations on the future and purpose of DiEM25 for openDemocracy, I’m not sure what I was expecting. But it was not <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/shawn-buckles/diem25-historic-moment-for-international-progressive-movement">this vivid encapsulation</a> of a ‘historic moment’. </p><p>I have been mulling over your thoughts on the tension between the ‘doers’ and the ‘idealists’, and the need to move beyond ego while taking one’s own ambitions seriously, ever since publishing your piece. </p> <p>And it has helped me work out what I think about an electoral wing for DiEM25, so I’m writing back to you, to continue this line of exploration.</p> <h2>a) A <em>movement-party</em> (a hybrid, that is neither an issues-based movement nor a power-seeking bureaucratic party)</h2> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/diem25/diem25-detailed-proposal-on-creating-electoral-wing">Not Just Another Political Party</a> not only takes up your point that we need a ‘dual approach’, but outlines a version of the dual mechanism you suggest, a movement-party (a hybrid that is neither an issues-based movement nor a power-seeking bureaucratic party) which can perform both functions. We have seen some exciting organisational experiments broadly attempting to reconcile the horizontal and the vertical in European progressive politics over the recent period. The most successful are those that don’t back off from the transformative energies of people self-organising, for the sake of some filter or gatekeeping function often prematurely designed to capture power. </p> <p>Our introduction to Not Just Another Political Party poses the – for me – crucial question: how can we be involved in elections, national or pan-European, without losing our ‘movement character’ and our capacity to converse with and influence existing parties through dialogue and collaboration? </p> <p>I think with this proposal we have turned that make-or-break question into a realistic prospect, an ongoing democratic process at the heart of the DiEM25 movement. Faced with any given electoral opportunity, the movement as a whole, in its pan-European form, in national debates and as individual members of that movement will decide together which strategic approach is best. Pan-European votes will decide each electoral strategy, but only after we have learned much about the democratic depth of our movement, the impact of different cultures, all inspired by a common European vision. What criteria will members use? I hope the one mentioned in the quote from the Manifesto. Members will be trying to decide which form of political intervention will best connect ‘our common agenda… with local communities and at the regional and national level.’</p> <p>Coming from a UK plunged into the Brexit debate for the foreseeable future, I warmly welcome a chance to access an in-depth pan-European discussion and analysis about our common future, but I cannot imagine DiEM25 ‘going electoral’ soon in a general election in the UK. In terms of the connection we seek, I can’t at present imagine a better opportunity than the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, where middle class people who care about others can connect with working class people in a way that our media, beginning with the Reithian BBC, has tried its best to render impossible for so many years. In national elections, I do have an interest in the potential for seeking consensus in progressive alliances against a Ukipised Conservative party, as long as they are bottom up alliances, and I do believe that DiEM25UK could make itself useful as an arena for those sorts of conversation.&nbsp; </p><p>But if DiEM25 in its collective wisdom decided to ‘go electoral’ in the UK, as an individual member of DiEM25 the movement, but not as a registered party member, I would still be able to choose to argue for and indeed pursue my goals as sketched above. </p> <h2>b) A <em>transnational</em> movement-party, with a common programme across all European states</h2> <p>Before ever getting to this stage, we would have taken the time for the relevant National Committee (NC) to empower its members to assess their capacity and the optimum impact out of a wide range of options, from the ones DIEM25 has already trialled – asking candidates to sign a charter committing them to DiEM25 policies; endorsing candidates, parties or coalitions; working for a progressive alliance; otherwise raising the profile of the <a href="https://diem25.org/end/">European New Deal</a> in the election debate, or some option we haven’t yet imagined – through to forging a more permanent partnership with a local party that would act as its ‘electoral wing’ in that state – (a movement setting out to attract parties, rather than the other way around, has a truly innovative twist to it, doesn't it?) – or launching a new party that has a fully-fledged DiEM25 political programme.&nbsp;</p><p>They would make a recommendation, or put a set of options, to DiEM25 as a whole to decide. In the unlikely event of a rift between the NC and the rest of DiEM25, some agreed process would have to resolve the conflict. Crucially, in all cases everyone would learn.</p> <p>What is liberating about the hybrid opportunity we are proposing is that this is truly bottom-up decision-making of an ambitious kind. Each member has to decide both collectively what the best scenario is for DiEM25, and individually where they in all conscience can best allot their own time and effort. I care about this rich process of decision-making, not only because of the way I may be disposed to vote. As you say, “we want to present people with a vision for Europe <em>and themselves</em> that’s truly radical” [my italics]. This to my mind precisely requires DiEM25 to become a prefigurative movement, a longterm investment in a democratic and democratising process, which will be informed and enabled by the pan-European experience of DiEM25 as a whole.</p> <p>This is essential not only for fully liberating the transformative energies of the members, but also for keeping properly open, open at every pore, the relationship between the political organism and its outside world – the place it wishes to move into and to transform, on the scale and with the speed that we need this to be done. </p> <p>Not being sucked into the disciplinarian straitjackets of internal democracy, but using its smart processes as an opportunity to gestate the debates and the very diverse relationships that we need to cultivate in our wider societies… enables each one of us to turn outwards to where the real challenge lies. In between elections, we need not be afraid of conflicting priorities. In fact if we have enough members, I hope our movement will test out rival approaches to see which works better to build DiEM25, rather than waste too much time in deliberation. </p> <p>At the same time – and here we come back to your doers – self-organising is hard and can be demoralising work, if there is no clear sign of focused impact and progress. The aim to bring our European New Deal policy framework to a ‘ballot box near you’ in the 2019 European elections, provides a marvellous focal point for sharing ideas, best practise, contrasting evidence, our hopes and fears, while testing our capacities for galvanising our efforts together – in short for transnational decision-making. </p> <h2>c) A hotbed of&nbsp;grassroots democracy - more so than the elitist/bureaucratic national parties of the left</h2> <p>As you say, our pan-European movement, “has the opportunity to solidify around a set of radical values, transcending traditional classification, which encourages people with different political backgrounds either to join or join forces with us.” But, you ask, “how does one influence policy without participating in the system?” </p><p>The tension here is between a pluralist seed-bed of ideas and commitments and a streamlined machine for external political intervention. The only answer is to place both functions where they are best served, while ensuring that the other function is least jeopardised in the process. We already have a policy-formation process that has allowed us to intervene in a timely and constructive way in a wide range of European developments, large and small. At present, it could benefit hugely from the imminent formation of thematic ‘democratic spontaneous collectives’ (DSC’s), but only if it is allowed to pick and choose what it finds useful for our particular school of diplomacy. Otherwise the entire movement will spend its time amending policy, rather than transforming the conditions of business-as-usual that surround us, first and foremost by building our own DiEMer ranks. </p> <p>This is why I believe that it is crucial that we define our operating principles clearly when it comes to the primary tasks of National Committees and DSC’s. The national bodies must be coordinating collectives with the widest and deepest brief for growing our movement and helping to deliver (or not) its electoral strategy. They should spend their time facilitating communication in all directions, internal and external, not turn into executive decision-makers and gatekeepers of a narrowing kind. And in my view too, thematic DSC’s should have as their primary function not the formation of policy, but the creation of compelling and productive open debates that draw thinking people into our movement. Which is why the pluralist nature of our movement, uniting people from different parties and movements within one country let alone across the nations of Europe, gives our transnational hybrid formation such a crucial head start over more unreconstructed top-down organisations.</p> <p>In our proposal, we have differentiated ourselves markedly from what we have referred to as the ‘democratic centralist’ tendencies of conventional political parties. We may need to be forgiven for deploying historic hyperbole here. 'Democratic centralism' was the concept invented by Lenin to describe something rather more authoritarian than simply 'the idea that members must become subordinate to the party and the majority'.&nbsp; Lenin used it&nbsp;to assert&nbsp;that members should be subordinate to the 'leadership' (the executive committee) – a little like Tony Blair, only without Blair having the excuse that in the throes of revolution&nbsp;internal party democracy is a time-consuming luxury.&nbsp;Of course Lenin argued that after the revolution is over, democratic centralism should be abandoned. But this did not happen during his lifetime.&nbsp;As a result, the concept has become a term of abuse with sarcastic&nbsp;connotations, implying that a party is completely dominated by the leadership, whilst pretending to be&nbsp;democratic.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the idea is in the same family – and what we now propose indicates both how far and how little politics has moved on. The important distinction for our purposes is the contrast between an elitist, top-down and heavily stage-managed exercise and DiEM’s commitment to a grassroots, participatory or bottom-up democracy. Some may fear they are trapped in another drama of the former kind. This is not surprising, since in the recent period, too many of us have been damaged by well-meaning experiments that have nevertheless plummeted down this disrespectful path. But, I hope as it seems you do, Shawn, that most of us are more optimistically ready and willing to do what it takes to be the demos that Europe needs. </p> <p>I can also say that my experience of CC discussions over the last six months is that despite and because of the considerable talent that we have in our leadership, we know that it is essential that we succeed in designing together precisely this process of mutual empowerment.&nbsp; We need to strike the internal bargains that liberate if we wish to have any advantage over our powerful competitors, given the distributed networking world in which we live. Steven Weber articulated the point well in <em>The Success of Open Source</em> (Harvard UP, 2004), comparing open source to modern religious communities. He said: “ It is the leaders who are dependent on the followers more than the other way around… the primary route to failure for them is to be unresponsive to their followers.” And the reason why this is so important is, precisely as you say, because of the central importance for our times of the self-organising conversation which produces civility and vision out of our many discreet conditions, in particular across traditional barriers whether of identity, language or culture: “Here we find people trying to understand one another, to develop constructive debate, to take into consideration the full scope of modern politics.” </p> <p>It is this conversation above all, this ‘rich dissensus’, that is DiEM25’s ultimate resource for the European transformation we all seek.&nbsp; </p> <h2>d) Finally, a supranational&nbsp;platform that seeks 'European solutions to national problems'</h2> <p>This is surely where decisiveness and vision – to use your terms – come together. And here we find that far from being idealistic, this is simply what the “full scope of modern politics” demands – that as a movement we help Europe find ways to tackle the toxicity of the Nationalist International and its neoliberal accomplices, further up river towards its authoritarian source, so that we can defend all the gains we have made in all these places, large and small, where we proliferate and conduct our liberation struggle. Carpe DiEM !</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/diem25/diem25-detailed-proposal-on-creating-electoral-wing">DiEM25: a detailed proposal on creating an electoral wing</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/shawn-buckles/diem25-historic-moment-for-international-progressive-movement">DiEM25: A historic moment for the international progressive movement?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/importance-of-europeans-sticking-together-to-achieve-progressive">The importance of Europeans sticking together to achieve a progressive Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/sam-hufton/treatise-on-european-government-international">A Treatise on European Government: on the international and the problems of the treaties</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/sam-hufton/treatise-on-european-government-constitution">A Treatise on European Government: on a constitution and the transnational </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/commons-sense-you-either-see-it-or-you-don-t-0">&#039;Commons sense’: you either see it or you don’t</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/rosemary-bechler/dangers-of-illiberalism-call-for-pluralist-state">The dangers of illiberalism call for a pluralist state</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? UK EU Civil society Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rosemary Bechler DiEM25 Tue, 03 Oct 2017 14:50:49 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 113710 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The importance of Europeans sticking together to achieve a progressive Europe https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/rosemary-bechler/importance-of-europeans-sticking-together-to-achieve-progressive <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Thoughts arising from Brexit for the DiEM25 September event in the Bozar in Brussels on the ‘Real State of the European Union’. (<em>speech</em>)</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 08.27.54.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 08.27.54.png" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, Saturday, September 9.</span></span></span>You don’t need me to tell you BREXIT is a dangerous mess. Ever since Theresa May ­­– in that common sense tone which is a sure sign of ideology in Britain – uttered the fateful words “BREXIT means BREXIT!” – we have been trapped on a roller-coaster of unknowing. Grim rumours that the UK might become “the tax haven of Europe” or the “hostile environment” apparently preferred by the Home Office, come and go and come again like flashes of lightning over our benighted landscape. The process hitherto seems designed to show us and everyone else just how deeply polarized but also poorly represented we are as a people, and how broken our democratic system. </p> <p>On the eve of the EU referendum, I happened to<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/opencitydocs/rosemary-bechler/democracy-call-to-arms"> find myself in a showing</a> in London of David Bernet’s quintessentially European film, ‘<em>Democracy</em>’, about the heroic struggle within the European Parliament to secure key digital laws protecting citizens and consumers from big data mining. Katarzyna from whom we heard earlier, stars in this epic tale, alongside the heroic German Greens Jan Philipp Albrecht and Ralph Bendrath and Joe McNamee, Director of European Digital Rights. This David and Goliath story is actually a rare, gripping account in all its multilayered complexity, of a triumphant democratic law-making process. </p> <p>Remember that Dr. Schauble mantra from the Eurogroup meeting that Yanis quotes – that “elections cannot be allowed to change an economic programme of a nation state”? Well for those who haven’t seen the film, Albrecht’s mission as rapporteur is the direct opposite. He argues, “99% of the lobbying in Brussels is by companies…&nbsp; but millions of citizens have their interests too… No one has the right to claim their interests are worth more than that of the citizens.” </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/03_jan_philipp_albrecht_und_sein_mitarbeiter_ralf_bendrath_c_indi_film_-_marcus_winterbauer.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/03_jan_philipp_albrecht_und_sein_mitarbeiter_ralf_bendrath_c_indi_film_-_marcus_winterbauer.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Democracy", David Bernet, 2015. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Asked to raise our hands at the end if this film gave us more confidence or less in the EU that night, a large majority of that London audience said yes. I wanted everyone I knew and didn’t know to see it. Indeed there could be no better introduction to what is worth fighting for as Europeans. Not because, for Brits reared on tabloid anti-EU propaganda, it was brilliant counter-propaganda. Let’s be clear – the picture it paints is of a democratic process in deep jeopardy from giant vested interests. Yet exactly because it was such an unflinching record of the odds we are up against and the space for a political alternative that really exists – here was everything that was missing from our BREXIT debate, and everything that we Europeans must be doing over the next two years, leading into the 2019 elections and beyond. </p><p>Why the urgency? Because all over Europe there are people like the British majority who voted for BREXIT, who need to know what is possible in politics and that they can do something about it, people who associate the threat to their jobs, security and daily lives with the European institutions, simply because, for far too long, we have been told over and over again what is not possible, due to the out-of control forces that we are encouraged to believe are all the more irresistible at the transnational level.&nbsp; </p> <p>“Take back control” was the message of the 2016 Brexit referendum, seized on at the first opportunity, to express how fed up people were at the lack of accountable agency, the lack of empathy, the technocratic disavowal of responsibility before the socio-economic forces of austerity. As if on cue, only days after Theresa May lost her majority, in June, Grenfell Tower in the country’s richest borough of Kensington and Chelsea, went up in flames ­– its blackening hulk an instant monument to the gulf between the authorities’ shameless neoliberal negligeance, and a disenfranchised global working class who could get no-one to listen to or do anything for them.</p> <p>This rejection of impotence that was BREXIT, might have remained at the level of a finger towards a world where all is said to be inevitable, had it not been for the snap elections in June. Here, not only did the Labour party come up with one of the most progressive social democratic manifestos in living memory, but their new cohorts of activists launched a process of large-scale engagement with local publics, complemented by a wave of party and non-party grassroots supporters of an emerging progressive alliance politics. Ordinary people stopping other ordinary voters in the street to talk about politics is not something many have seen before in much of the UK. But now we too had a glimpse of the energies unleashed in the Scottish independence referendum, or emerging out of the 2011 social movements into frontline innovative politics in Ada Colau’s international network of fearless cities. Watching the Grenfell Tower survivors organise their fightback for political and existential recognition was another lesson in dignity and democracy for us all.</p> <p>Labour and their progressive allies, using their initiative to salvage a recognisable, bottom up ‘politics’, have given Britain a chance to pose a supremely political question: what is the room for manoeuvre for advancing social justice, turning the tide against the worst effects of the financial crash and its extractive neoliberal aftermath? </p> <p>One key factor in this room for manoeuvre we are beginning to understand better has only emerged in recent months. <a href="http://billmoyers.com/story/future-democracy-read-media-bias-report/">Research</a> on both sides of the Atlantic shows <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy">how susceptible</a> our mainstream press has been to an alliance of big data, billionaire friends of Donald Trump and <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/dup-dark-money">the disparate forces</a> of the Leave campaign in both the US elections and the BREXIT referendum, and how fear-mongering over immigration and Islam, targeting different parts of the population with their radical right messaging, was successfully fomented on a major scale by some of the most sophisticated communicators of our era. </p> <p>What are these people up to we might ask? As has been pointed out, among others by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/alan-finlayson">Alan Finlayson</a> in a <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n10/alan-finlayson/brexitism">groundbreaking essay</a> in the London Review of Books, much of the political content of Brexit demands – ethnicised nationalism, economic protection – is in flat contradiction to their political outlook. They are globalists through and through. Take Arron Banks, the insurance millionaire who funded Leave.EU, who describes his as a “very simple agenda: to destroy the professional politician”. The politics of continuing referendums and recalls they advocate aims at stalling action by elected politicians and public service professionals alike, “draining the swamp” to leave the way clear for a new kind of nihilistic governmentality, where the ebb and flow of mood and opinion in big data can be surfed and any useful wave amplified and capitalized upon. In this <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/andries-du-toit/hyper-political-anti-politics">hyper-political anti-politics</a>, politics reduces to perpetual theatre. </p> <p>For them, Brexit will make it easier to remove legal and political obstacles to the establishment of this new regime, through an increase in the power to win support of those who own the data. (Can we be sure that a Ukipised Tory Government <a href="https://theconversation.com/yanis-varoufakis-a-progressive-brexit-transition-can-be-built-on-both-sides-of-the-channel-83469">intent on hijacking</a> the Brexit binary referendum choice for a ‘hard Brexit’, will scruple to misuse the inordinate powers they have given themselves to amend EU laws as they are converted into UK law, for example, on the retention, processing and sale of our personal data? Will we see those <em>Democracy </em>digital rights agreed in 2016, coming into effect across Europe in 2018, in full force in the UK? This vulnerability of 40 years’ worth of lawmaking is at the centre of <a href="https://repealbill.org/">this week’s key battle over parliamentary scrutiny</a> of the ‘Repeal Bill’.)</p> <p>My point is this. The anti-politics I’m talking about is predicated on one key assumption about the relationship between people and knowledge. That in this digitalised world, the people do not need to know and understand about their own conditions of existence, as they are the thing to be known about and manipulated accordingly! </p> <p>If this is the enemy, then a politics dedicated to what people as agents of their own fate can make possible together, overcoming the barriers of fearmongering and hatred, is what I believe DiEM25, ably led by that generator of political alternatives, Yanis Varoufakis, wishes to serve. So I am here to ask, can the BREXIT rebuff to the mainstream political agenda in Britain and Europe be turned into an opening for the transformation that we all so urgently need?</p> <p>We in DiEM25 are glad that recommendations for a substantial transitional post-Brexit referendum period, backed by our movement’s entire membership from London to Warsaw, have been embraced by key players in Britain’s political class, starting with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. </p> <p>Can’t we take this new opportunity for adequate democratic process and scrutiny far further in generating European alternatives and the experience of democracy in action? The UK must play a key role in the open-sourced, democratic, transparent and radical transformation that Europe needs.</p> <p>Will we succeed? I'm not sure. But I am sure that what is possible, including a referendum on a transformed UK rejoining a transformed democratic EU, will only come about if we are in this fight together.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://repealbill.org/">Fix the Bill</a> on the UK's Repeal Bill</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>DiEM25's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTpoiuNLKRA">Real State of the Union event</a>. (<em> three hour video </em>)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-anoth-sidebox"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/brexit2016">Brexit2017</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/andries-du-toit/hyper-political-anti-politics">Hyper-political anti-politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opencitydocs/rosemary-bechler/democracy-call-to-arms">Democracy – a call to arms</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/yanis-varoufakis-rosemary-bechler-alex-sakalis-anthony-barnet/democratising-europ">Democratising Europe – a transnational project?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/sol-trumbo-vila/bail-out-industry-finds-its-new-crisis-opportunity-brexit">The bail out industry finds its new crisis opportunity: Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/sam-hufton/treatise-on-european-government-constitution">A Treatise on European Government: on a constitution and the transnational </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/sam-hufton/treatise-on-european-government-international">A Treatise on European Government: on the international and the problems of the treaties</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kate-shea-baird/new-international-municipalist-movement-is-on-rise-from-small-vic">A new international municipalist movement is on the rise – from small victories to global alternatives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/nick-mahony/no-seat-is-unwinnable-how-labour-activists-set-out-to-reclaim-tory-strongholds-and-defi">No seat is unwinnable: how Labour activists set out to reclaim Tory strongholds and defy predictions</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU UK Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics International politics Internet Rosemary Bechler DiEM25 Mon, 11 Sep 2017 07:55:28 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 113280 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Diary of an organiser: Team Syntegrity 2017 https://www.opendemocracy.net/rosemary-bechler/diary-of-organiser-team-syntegrity-2017 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>I have been a qualified facilitator for more than two decades, but had almost forgotten what this extraordinary three-and-a-half day process was like. Would it be different in the twenty-first century?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3961.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3961.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Barcelona Town Hall, June, 2017</span></span></span><strong>Day one, Sunday</strong>: It is great to be back in Barcelona. Last week-end I bumped into a group of residents protesting that they wanted more refugees in their city and calling on the state to lift their dishonourable blockade! </p><p>But the heat is a disincentive for any extra sightseeing – everyone assures us that we have arrived during the year’s hottest spell so far. Besides, I’m still digesting my last visit, to “the incredible Fearless Cities” conference as Jamie Kelsey-Fry christened it in the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjOFgTbvXXs">little video</a> Sunny Hundal put together for me to accompany a fine essay by Oscar Reyes’ sometime collaborator, Bertie Russell and Plan C on ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/plan-c/radical-municipalism-demanding-future">Radical municipalism’</a>. I have invited <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/oscar-reyes-bertie-russell/eight-lessons-from-barcelona-en-com-on-how-to-take-bac">Oscar Reyes</a> to come and watch some of our proceedings in Artchimboldi – our beautiful conference venue. I hope he makes it.</p><p>That was only last Friday, but now, already, it is time to move on. Our twenty-nine guest participants of Team Syntegrity 2017 – the self-organising procotol for non-hierarchical conferencing invented by the cybernetician, Stafford Beer – are heading towards the Hotel Astoria and my editorial colleague, co-organiser and fellow-facilitator, Alex Sakalis and myself, will have our first glimpse of the participants we have been wooing and awaiting for what feels like months on end! Those of us who are Syntegrity veterans only know marginally more than they do what to expect, and they know very little indeed…</p><p>I have decided I will pinch Ada Colau’s quote for my welcoming speech. The Mayor of Barcelona’s tone has just the right sense of imaginative urgency, encouragement and opportunity, and you never know – it might trigger off a topic on the aforementioned ‘radical municipalism’, one of my current obsessions. She says: “ We are living in extraordinary times that demand brave and creative solutions. If we’re able to imagine a different city, we’ll have the power to transform it.” </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3903.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3903.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ada Colau on screen at the Fearless Cities launch in Barcelona.</span></span></span>We have twenty-nine and not thirty participants despite Alex’ and my every effort to replace the people who inevitably pull out at a late stage, either because very busy people have only just managed to look at the draconian length of the three working days at a Team Syntegrity, and we have not been able to reassure them that this is worth the effort, or because something – a health check-up, a sick child, a failed visa application, has gone wrong. </p><p>We are particularly sorry to have lost two interesting conservative voices who potentially were going to make things much more alert, and a South African trade unionist, maybe the sole representative among us of a movement that is surely an important stakeholder in the democratic transformation we are seeking, not to mention a country that has raised and dashed more hopes than most in our lifetime. </p><p> However, thanks to our partners pointing out the omission, we now have a marvellous participant for whom religious commitment is a central driver in her life; and our delivery team have miraculously come up with two last minute recruits who happen also to be complexity theorists. That should be interesting: I’m glad that they too seem excited to get the chance. Someone has tweeted openDemocracy to say that seeing Team Syntegrity back on the radar “proves that good ideas don’t die”. That makes me feel better about my twenty years of hanging in here…</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 20.44.43.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 20.44.43.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="605" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Infoset plus some of the delivery and evaluation team.</span></span></span>Mid-afternoon we manage to get together with the whole delivery team, including with Eva Lange, our Operations expert from Malik Management.&nbsp; Everyone is interested in the different ways the protocol has been developing over the intervening years: we will have sophisticated new name badges for all participants that give them their own complicated schedule on the reverse side – the discussions they will be responsible for, the ones in which they are critics and the ones they may observe if they don’t want to take a break in the busy summer streets of Barcelona. So we can all relax a little on the timing front.</p> <p><strong>Sunday evening: </strong>Thank goodness (and the quietly supportive Diana Guererro and her team) – we have not been obliged to have a formal, three-course sit-down dinner this evening. The Hotel Astoria has rallied itself and provided the most delicious buffet bar, our participants are trickling in and out sociably, as we wished. </p> <p>One or two of them are gleefully reunited with people they know – I now remember that Ashish Ghadiali interviewed Birgitta Jonsdottir for us last year – but others are cautiously getting their bearings in the hubbub. So it is a good thing that we have taken over the restaurant, and can proceed to make our icosahedrons out of wine gums and cocktail sticks. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3966.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3966.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="511" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>I should explain. There is no doubt about it that if you wish to venture into Stafford Beer’s viable systems model, there are highly intellectual adventures to be taken in many different disciplines: but the man himself was alert to all sorts of intelligences, and very early on those who were to be initiated into his Team Syntegrity, were duly enrolled in the physical ritual of putting together the beautiful three-dimensional shape which underpins the protocol, using 30 struts for the participants whose overlapping participation in 12 nodal themes, guarantee a high degree of shared knowledge. </p> <p>It is no accident that the minute before you stick the last cocktail stick into the last wine gum, you have a messy, flailing jumble of ill-suited ingredients. The moment it comes together, it is a solid and elegant little universe that can be thrown across a crowded bar, and land in someone else’s grip, intact. </p> <p>Vanessa Kisuule exercises a small victory dance at this moment, and is not alone. David Stefanoski turns out to be very good at this. Leonie Solomons has to remind me how it is done – she has a two-hat theory which, at least initially, she is sure is a short cut. Joe Truss, our geometrician extraordinaire is very helpful. We all get there in the end. Very pleased with the convivial evening, like everyone else, I imagine, I’m glad to turn in.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3963.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3963.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="613" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p><strong>Day Two Monday </strong></p> <p>‘Raring to go’ is the phrase that kept coming to mind this morning. Artchimboldi is a thing of beauty when empty and curls itself gloriously around everyone as they settle in, with nooks and crannies, balconies and sofas as well as the three main discussion rooms and operations hub. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3975.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_3975.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Once I work out the quickest way back to the main plenary room from the office where Eva is installing her software (it takes a few goes – and some surprise at where the entrance is, as more of our participants stroll in), we discover that we don’t have the essential musical instrument for ringing when it’s time to begin. Someone is dispatched for a bell, and wisely returns with two – Sunny Hundal is put in charge of time-keeping. Over the three days he will begin to resemble a figure out of a medieval morality play, or Bergman’s Seventh Seal. But he starts off with an endearing air of concentration. People are quick to assemble themselves and this is where we first sense that they are raring to go.&nbsp; </p> <p>Allenna dives into the introductory details. A few explanations are given, enough to set things in motion, but not too much to absorb. She is an intelligent and calming presence from the off, deft about what has to be done and entirely unfussy about what is not essential. </p> <p>You have to be very careful about what you say at the beginning of these processes because the ‘infoset’ – our marvellous twenty-nine guest participants – are all super alert to any indications of what they are meant to be doing. </p> <p>A new element probably for all of us facilitators is having the representatives of three foundations who have supported us in making this event possible also eager to say a few words about why they are involved. In different ways they perceive a crisis in our democracies that people can only address by coming together in unusual and unusually receptive combinations. Thomas Maettig, for example, is interesting on the realisation that any assumptions that social democratic Europe was somehow exempt from the main threats to democracy had been well and truly peeled away in recent years. Very different people in the room feel as if they are somewhere on the same page. That’s the right feeling for this type of event. So let’s begin. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0078_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0078_0.JPG" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The first stage proliferates pastel-shade post-it notes all over the walls: significant short statements that address the blue skies opening question in a way that someone else might quarrel with… in the three and a half days given to us, there is no time for motherhood and apple pie sentiment. </p> <p>And we do have a lot to get through today, the market place of ideas in which participants take clusters of statements to elaborate longer themes for discussion and persuade four of their fellow participants to support their chosen debate; the ‘hexadic reduction’ which wrestles around 20 of these into the magic twelve topics, having included what we can of all successful candidate themes, and resolved to kick out others. We have allotted a long time on the schedule for this, because our participants on the whole don’t know each other. It’s not so easy under those circumstances to agree what will be useful to discuss together, and it is noticeable that one or two topics are vehemently rejected by one or two people without thought that they might be in a minority, but without others feeling able to defend them. I may be imagining it, but generally-speaking this group of participants seems to me less used to collective decision-making, simply more individualistic and less mutually deferential, than the infosets of yester-year – we are talking about the last century after all! I tell myself it is a little too early to tell. </p> <p>But the impression consolidates over the afternoon and the first ‘iteration’ of our twelve topics. The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results">twelve topics</a> are good ones. I suspect we could have done with more time, not on the ‘hexadic reduction’, carried out to general satisfaction after a few heated exchanges that are par for the course. No, but in the market place of ideas, I noticed that participants were eagerly signing up to single-word titles rather than elaborated statements. We had five signatures for ‘revolution’ without any elaboration at all and had to check that there was some kind of qualifying sentence or two to inform the choices of the next stage. It still sailed through regardless… and in its first ‘iteration’ this afternoon has already proved a headbanger of a subject for its five discussants to define. </p> <p>Getting people used to the hard work of formulating a subject for discussion is a useful precursor to the skills involved in formulating their conclusions at each subsequent stage – a source of frustration in the whole process which can also be the pearl in its oyster. So I worry that we haven’t managed this quite as well as early on as we might have done today.&nbsp; I feel I can detect the results in the sliding scales of topic themes in two or three clusters&nbsp; – ‘reinventing politics’, ‘ rebuilding and transforming the left’, ‘revolution’; ‘reinventing politics’, ‘communication and media’, ‘the internet’…. Perhaps if we’d dwelt on these a little longer we could have either differentiated them more clearly or combined them to leave space for completely new topics. But our Lead Facilitator is much more sanguine about trusting the process… so we shall see.</p> <p>Well, this afternoon, we have had our first run through all the topics in parallel session in our two discussion rooms – only 45 minutes each. It will be 75 minutes, thank goodness, for the next two days. 45 minutes is not enough time to do more than introduce one’s-self to the topic and each other. This is compounded by the fact that we have clearly not ‘got through’ on the subject of the role of the critics. It is a crucial role, but crucially different from the discussants. The discussants should be facing each other, working together, taking on the responsibility for the outcome together, and very glad to turn to the critics at a convenient point in their deliberations to ask for an outside view on their progress.</p> <p>Our discussants are ignoring each other and addressing the critics’ panel as if they were judges in The X-factor. Individual discussants are locked in conversation with individual critics – despite our mentioning that there should not be ‘to and fro’ of this kind. Perhaps we only mentioned this to each other as facilitators – I can’t remember. And after all this is a bit schematic since actually this too is OK, once the different roles and essential dynamic has been set up. But the critics are meant to go down the row with concise comments – “You seem to be going round in circles on that point – why don’t you pick up your earlier suggestion…”, or, “one of you has said nothing, why can’t they get a word in?”, before handing the task back to the discussants. Especially in such a short session, shouldn’t they notice that they are taking up far too much of the discussants’ time? Apparently not. Our ‘critics’ leap in at the deep end with gusto and whole new theories about how to interpret the topic for discussion. In forty-five minutes this adds up, it seems to me, to more complexity than some of the groups will ever be able to deal with. I must remember to mention this to Allenna… </p> <p>At the facilitators debrief this evening, Allenna raises the very same issue. I suggest that we should repeat the ‘critic role’ definition, but perhaps give examples like the ones above. Allenna counsels against this, precisely because the facilitating process can be so suggestive and drive people in directions they themselves don’t actually need to go in.&nbsp; She’s right. I can see the need to strengthen this message through facilitating but without adding in extraneous criteria. It’s a delicate balancing act. </p><p>I recollect my ambivalent feelings this morning, when a brief anecdote I told in my opening welcome about pleasure in politics instantaneously proliferated into several pink and yellow post-it notes all over the walls… Well, tomorrow is another day. Tonight – we are going off to have our first supper all together.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0064.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0064.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p><strong>Day Three – Tuesday</strong></p> <p>It’s only this morning that I discover that we have driven away our first participant! After her first discussion on Monday she had approached me with a sense of urgency which I didn’t fully rise to, thinking, quite wrongly, that we had time! Soon afterwards, she’d made a personal statement in the religion and secularism discussion. She announced that she felt it to be true that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’, but that she had nothing further to say, and then left the building, never to return. </p> <p>In the computer programme which sorts out people’s preferences to distribute the specific role they will play, each participant is given two topics they are responsible for as discussants, two in which they are critics, and two options for observing if they wish. Her point to me had been two-fold and, she believed, unarguable. Her immediate distress had been prompted by the discovery that one group in which she had cutting edge expertise contained others whose ideas she felt she had wrestled to the ground some years previously; while she claimed to know nothing about the second topic allotted by the algorithm, and was adamant that those who did know and care about religion should not have to put up with her! </p> <p>This participant had flagged up from the beginning that what she hoped to take away from the Team Syntegrity was, “organised groups for direct non-violent action on the parliamentarian and judicial level”. But it is only now that I hear what she was saying about her hopes for a high degree of consensus from the outset. </p> <p>But this of course was not at all what we had planned: if anything the reverse. </p> <p>Would I have been able to persuade her to stay if we had exchanged her strut for one with two topics more germane to her ? Had I not been facilitating as well as organising, would I have leapt into action and complained to the delivery team on her behalf, instead of hoping that she would change her mind after a fruitful discussion, a process that has often overcome initial reservations in the past? I don’t think so. The basic Team Syntegrity “dynamic” as she referred to it, of listening and persuading, that makes the renewal of democracy such an appropriate target for its debates, was one that she immediately knew was not for her at this juncture in her life, as she later explained, adding that she admired my ”patience”. </p> <p>One other person is clearly disappointed with the topic selection, having championed a successful topic in the market place of ideas, only to be locked into two aligned but significantly different topics by the algorithm and relegated to observer status in ‘Rebuilding the left’. He is noticeably frustrated by this exclusion and can’t help trying to recreate the missed opportunity in the two other groups where for various reasons, unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. In retrospect, we should have swapped him over early on. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0232.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0232.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Allenna Leonard, facilitator, transcribing for the group on Biosphere politics. </span></span></span>I’m facilitating the following topics, all of which are grappling with questions of scale and what level they should concentrate on: <em>Education of global citizens </em>where, at a time of lowering nationalisms, there are committed people for whom this discussion is a real chance to articulate new forms of internationalism they have yearned for for years, sitting alongside a different generation that is one way or another highly sceptical about major prospects for change; <em>Reinventing politics – </em>strung between the tensions of form and content, on a subject towards which all the other topics tend, where the group is gradually groping its way towards a wiki for the entire infoset – to reinvent politics for and through each other; and <em>Money and funding civil society – </em>where everyone seems rather amused to find themselves sitting around a table together. This is a mood that will survive the difficulties of defining civil society or deciding about a basic income, to produce the one great comic performance of the final presentations. Once they have worked out that, “The key resource for civil society is people’s time. How do you free up people’s time?” – there is a real conversation in the room. </p><p> In all three arenas in different ways mini-dramas are in progress, and I don’t feel I can help them much at all. The biggest problem is arriving at a common statement when they barely know each other… They don’t use the notes I am transcribing so far as I can see. The only thing I can do when they hit a rough point is suggest that we bring the critics in, and here the situation has improved. The critics are supportive but not intrusive. They know from their own experience as discussants that ultimately these are the people in the hot seat who need to work through it for themselves.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0235.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0235.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Biosphere politics critics.</span></span></span>I hear afterwards that the ‘religion’ group has been galvanised by the early departure of a team member: it rather confirms their suspicion that feelings run very deep about their topic, a force for division, but what else?</p> <p>Tonight at dinner, I am still buoyed by the levels of passionate commitment in these rooms, and am taken aback when one of the participants I have been keenest to have in Barcelona confides in me that he has taken a decision not to talk about the extraordinary transnational movement that he personally has been so instrumental in empowering. He doesn’t want to offer this experience up for public consumption, a life choice and a commitment intimately tied to his hopes for the future. </p> <p>“You have to share what you care about,” I urge him, “nothing else makes sense of the effort and time for all concerned, for yourself first and foremost.” But he has made up his mind, and suddenly I remember how often he asked Alex and myself in the run-up to the event, whether we were sure that he was the right person to participate in our Team Syntegrity. Once again, I seem to have missed the obvious thing – it wasn’t our non-existent reservations he was talking about, but his own, and it is these he now wants me to understand.</p> <p><strong>Day Four – Wednesday</strong></p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0281.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0281.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></strong>The most important thing to say about this last full day is that it is very hard work for all – the last discussion in each topic, the last formulation of a recommendation, a statement, what they want to share, and a brief 30 minutes for each team to talk about how to present their findings to their fellow participants.</p> <p>The pressure on the enthusiasts and the skeptics considering <em>global citizenship</em> comes to a head. There is the dreadful moment when both sides with differing amounts of regret realise that no amount of sheer enthusiasm however well argued is going to carry the day. And it is at this point, the nadir, that interesting things begin to happen – one-on-one conversations away from the table, last minute ultimatums from critics that get roundly ignored in a way that I can’t help feeling is healthy at this juncture. What emerges, miraculously, from this feverish midwifery is a fully-costed pilot proposal for a global social service for 100 apprentice global citizens with ways of involving local decision-making and a lottery to ensure that privilege will have no advantage, plus sources of funding in mind as well as a fully scaleable programme which takes into account its ecological footprint. </p> <p>Even better, the enthusiasts have worked out who they could go to to make this happen. A new project enters the world, maybe screaming and kicking, but with lungfuls of air and the will to flourish! It may be less than the enthusiasts wanted, but it has sufficient moral high ground, through all this travail, to make everyone listen afresh to its guiding principle, as enunciated by Rui Tavares, who is the first to concede that this proposal has been generated not despite but through hefty criticism, <em>“</em><em>And the core is the idea that ‘global citizenship’ is a bit of a pleonasm, in the sense that being a citizen is having certain inherent rights that should not be interrupted just because you cross a border, or that should already be there even if you are born in an unlucky place that is at war… So citizenship should immediately be understood as global citizenship and the qualifier should more and more be when we talk about ‘national citizenship’ in fact – a local qualifier.”</em></p> <p><em>Funding civil society</em>, meanwhile is going through its own bad patch, with Magda apparently almost ready to throw in the towel. The critics have been sympathetic and helpful.&nbsp; But the discussants know they are running out of time, and ironically have just realised that time is not the only resource they should be discussing – “it is of course <em>one </em>of the key resources…”. As the clock ticks, I keep taking notes, but frankly I can’t quite see where they go from here either. And then I notice something that maybe they don’t. Later one of them comments that one begins on Monday with everyone making speeches, which by Wednesday gradually turn into “genuine conversations”. But in each case it takes such unexpected forms. What happens here, now in the last five minutes, is that the smallest breakthrough by one participant has them all responding, like the sudden blooming of a floribunda rose in a spray of buds and blooms. </p> <p>In no time at all, they have come up with seven types of funding and ordered them by the criterion all agree is vital, independence, with membership fees serving as "a gold standard that is still not enough". Sunny Hundal comes and goes unnoticed as in a split second, a second floral display is produced on all the other components essential for civil society flourishing – what people care about, political freedoms, the space to protest, right-wing civil society, cultural blindness to civil society as in more family-oriented cultures… I am still finishing off the notes when they have left the room, jovial enough but hardly sanguine about what they have achieved. None of us at this point anticipates the triumph that is to come…</p> <p>And then there is <em>Reinventing Politics</em>. Here, they still are wrestling with issues of scale and at what level to focus their intervention.&nbsp; The critics keep asking: “Which citizens most interest you, and what sort of democratic decision-making, on what and at which level – local? state?&nbsp; Decide this and then the strategy will surely follow…”, “Your discussion has a problem of scale and I think you should go for the local/global commons approach…”. As for the discussants, it seems to me they are curiously blasé about the obligation to focus. At the beginning of this ‘third iteration’, instead of returning to a promising discussion around the emotional commitment in our societies to democratic practise, they decide to go around the table summarising all the other Team Syntegrity discussions they are involved in which are directly relevant to the task in hand. Do they really have to do this? This leads to further conversation on, variously, the relevance of a call for global oversight of the <em>internet</em> by an elected body; expanding the idea of sanctuary cities as prompted by the <em>safe spaces</em> discussion; open source inclusive spaces to engage communities in prefigurative politics; the choice of which language and which words to use in <em>internet </em>communication; how the <em>far right</em> have been combated successfully by a politics that empowers by really listening; not demonising all politicians as corrupt; and the inspiring joint female and male mayors of Rojava. </p> <p>They are currently revisiting the global right to vote where you live or work (prompted by one of the discussants complaining that the right to vote is surely a very limited version of rights to democratic participation). Aren’t we further away from shore than ever? At the nth hour, in the last contribution, for anyone still closely following the process, Birgitta casually brings the entire strand together and answers all the questions about what their deliberations are about and who for, with her proposal for a wiki: “In the first instance this wiki is for us – and is designed to embrace the whole infoset so that we can investigate further better ways to involve people”… Mysteriously, everyone seems to agree. That could be so neat!…</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0229.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0229.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>With all this going on, I realise that I have not spent nearly as much time as I had hoped in the discussions that I am not facilitating, as they approach their conclusions. I venture into the white group on ‘Transforming and rebuilding the left’ to find another group buzzing with energy. It transpires that this had not been the case on the previous day, when the two women participants had had less and less to say for themselves, amid the more cerebral exchanges of three veteran progressive activists from Chile, Greece and Spain, including my friend from the transnational movement. </p> <p>What had changed that dynamic was the combustion of a young theatre director who finally managed to complain, bitterly, that she simply couldn’t connect with anything that was being said. The facilitator had enabled a change of pace and focus by inviting everyone around the table to respond to this cri-de-coeur by sharing something of their own commitment. And this had taken off, or at least that is what the critics seemed to think when they were invited to comment. The final critic began by congratulating them on this renewal of the conversation, with the exception of my friend. For some reason, he said, this discussant had resisted and was still resisting the chance to share his experience and what he cared about, while others had generously responded, enabling a freshly inclusive exploration to go forwards. I was amazed that the previous night’s conversation had so quickly returned to haunt the process, and sorry for my dinner companion. Trusting the process, as Allenna recommends, can be pretty merciless at times. Through its non-hierarchical dynamics, it leaves few places for people to hide. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0226.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0226.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><strong>Final Day – Thursday</strong></p> <p>This morning, several people have to leave us before midday which is a shame, because this is really our first and last opportunity to have an overview on what everyone has achieved together. I’m glad Cameron has his tripod here and is filming proceedings. The delivery team is looking reasonably fresh for once, which is more than can be said for the ‘infoset’, most of whom seem to have been up till 3am and ‘on the town’ for the last three nights. This is one of the elements that sets apart the facilitators, though not all, from the ‘infoset’. This is not due to an overzealous concern for ‘process’ on our part. Occasionally indeed one hears one’s-self adopting an authoritarian maiden aunt role responding to rumours of a ‘latenight roof party’ by requesting people not to fall off the roof. But this is just part of the ‘fun’: we encourage every liberation that we can.</p> <p>No. It’s just a fact that the socialising of Team Syntegrity participants, driven by a different order of compulsion from the rest of us, is a vital contribution to the whole experience completely outside our control. On Day 4, this reverses our relationship to the infoset, who now know considerably more than we do about what is about to happen.&nbsp; So, I find myself wondering quite how these slightly ragged teams are going to fare through 12 presentations – each with ten minutes on the clock and Sunny Hundal on alert! </p> <p>I need not have worried. Vanessa Kisuule has written two beautiful poems for the first two teams, <em>Religion and secularism</em> and <em>Biosphere politics</em>. A preponderance of artistic temperament in the first group fills it with communicative power, and the audience is now urged to, “listen carefully to words chosen very carefully”, which indeed they are: “We as organized citizens, can host carefully designed spaces where we encounter difference in a way that shifts our attitudes... When I hear you tell your own story, in your own voice… &nbsp;<em>then</em> I am invited to empathize.&nbsp;I and they become ‘we’.” </p> <p>Vanessa’s second poem, too, has a refrain which sums up for me so much of what we have been discovering together, “Put that one in the soil, let it grow…”. &nbsp;Throughout this feedback session, whether we are talking about the dialectical organisational space that needs to be created between parties and movements, or the tension between needing ‘people like us’ and ‘difference’ in safe spaces, the very form and characteristic features of the Team Syntegrity process often seem embedded in the content.</p> <p>When Pavlos, who on Monday had given the distinct impression that he already knew everything, picks up the Olympic torch for the red team, I resign myself that his is to be the dominant voice. But, not for the first time this week, I am completely wrong. The emphasis in his report-back is on “balance”, the values of the “commons”, on the importance of “respect for far cultures” as he throws the presentation open to the rest of his team to supply any key terms that he may have forgotten. When they as amiably concur, there is one biosphere goal in particular he turns out to be waiting for, the location of: “Minimum viable consensus.” </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 14.56.35.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 14.56.35.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Sybil Society and the consummate narrator.</span></span></span>Now it’s the turn of <em>funding civil society. </em>I facilitate this group but have not a clue what they will come up with as Michael and Magda and Marley disappear behind the beautiful double doors of the Artchimboldi plenary room having coopted Alex, armed with a large lamp, into helping them stage an entire shadow-play, starring Magda as the passionate and eventually triumphant Sybil Society, Marley as a speedily banished Mr.Corporate and government inspector before his heroic turn as “Matthew Ember, Mr. M.Ember” – with Michael as our consummate narrator…“And Sybil was happy…”. </p> <p>How this came together, I still have no idea. It is one of many small miracles to take place this morning. Later, there will be time to consider the central notion, this “new form of community shareholding model that ranks shareholder influence not in terms of how many shares are owned, but by what type of stakeholder they are, so the biggest payer isn’t necessarily the most influential… .” Later as well, the full irony of Magda’s starring role in dumb show will take on fresh significance when it emerges just how much this eloquent Polish contributor has had to struggle with language problems in our process. But for now there is no time, since Marley is back up, with Noam and Wiebke before us on the subject of the structural foundations of the <em>far right</em>: “ the almost poorest people having to compete with the poorest people”. Wiebke’s insistence on the need for “everyone to have the little we really need, safe and for the longterm” seems pretty unanswerable and her conviction that many people would agree that this was only right, even more so.</p> <p>I could go on through the next eight topics, but will leave this to other voices (and you can <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results">check them out</a> for yourselves), just adding how glad I am that Barcelona gets a good mention in <em>Reinventing politics: “ One thing we have is a very interesting example in this city, the city of Barcelona. And so we came to the conclusion that we have all these examples but we just don’t know about them because they are so ‘not newsworthy’ – because it is about cooperation and collaboration and stuff like that that is not really dramatic enough.”</em></p> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4102.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_4102.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span> </em>It feels as if we are moving from strength to strength, and in a last round where participants share their ‘most significant moments’ there is an accumulated sense of collective pride and personal satisfaction. There is also a lot of mutual trust in the room and a lot of emotion, which comes as a surprise to many, including some of those most affected. These are most productive perhaps in the <em>safe spaces</em> and <em>politics of patriarchy</em> outcomes, but are pretty universally present. There has been much thinking, including in some unlikely quarters and with some challenging criticisms of the process itself, about the relationship of body to mind, writing to communicating more generally, and rationality to emotion. </p><p>Here again, I am impressed by the dreamlike but thorough way the process notices things. It is not just that seeds once planted will grow in this series of overlapping exchanges, but as I put it later in my follow-up message to everyone:</p> <p>“<em>the process itself, like a large ocean, seems to throw up at some stage or another everything that has gone into it. The character of the participants can reappear as a theme, themes can start happening to participants, conversations at supper morph into lines that are drawn or stoppages that are unblocked, the next day. ( I wonder if it is an accident that Aya brought her baby, and that the Purple group suddenly started addressing 'the working woman', albeit in Poland, and the centrality of having time for one’s-self as the central challenge for civil society. Maybe, but maybe not! ) Nothing ever seems quite accidental in a TS process, or even if it is – it can reappear as integral to some other process twenty minutes later</em>…” </p> <p>Nothing is quite lost. For example, Nikos left early, but his influence was scarcely dimmed. I hope someone has pointed out to him that there was a special moment “in his honour” in the <em>Reinventing politics </em>presentation, where Felix and Birgitta return to the floor to emphasise that if there was one thing we should all go away and do, it is to circulate a petition looking for one million signatures to demand voting rights for people who live and work in our supposedly democratic societies – rights they are too often shamefully denied.</p> <p>I won’t pretend that everything is happy ever after. There are huge frustrations and constraints involved in these encounters that surface in some exit interviews, some of them as participants pointed out, fully intended in the protocol; many arising from its very successes; and no doubt more from perfectly remediable mistakes. The frustration that strikes me most forcefully today is the inequality caused by the predominance of English in a room of many different native languages. More than one facilitator has noted that the participants most alert to class, race or gender inequality can simply ride roughshod over the extra time and care it takes to properly include non-native English speakers. Birgitta, who is a superb English speaker, has the confidence to spell this out in most detail, including the inevitable impact on the emphasis on written statements that the organisers should have taken into account from the beginning, a part of the process about which she is scathing.</p> <p>Well, it is challenging, but we must look into this, and many more constructive criticisms. For now, I want to wrap up by returning to one of the questions that I brought into the process with me. How different is Team Syntegrity in the twenty-first century? </p> <p>Of course one event is no basis for generalisation. But I took away two very revised conclusions with me that Thursday. They both had their foundation in my early suspicion that this infoset was more individualistic, less mutually deferential and less used to a collective than its twentieth century variant. What I hadn’t anticipated is the sheer energy and delight with which so many of these slightly isolated individuals for precisely this reason, leapt into connection, seizing every available opportunity to bond and to exchange, to make friends and to work together. In one fell swoop many of them seem to have noted their deprivations and overcome them before you could say – Team Syntegrity. </p> <p>My second conclusion falls into the same pattern. Every one of these events I have been involved in has accomplished something of this effect of the rise of a solid icosahedron of connectivity up through the middle and into the space between the participants, linking them and their themes all together. But I don’t think I can remember a group of participants who were so sensitive to that development and so glad not only to see it happen, but to help make it happen. </p> <p>Of course the people conversant with complexity theory are always aware of this process. But this was a much more widespread effect, as if people have become more alert to their need for rapid and comprehensive meaning formation, but much less sure that it is possible, and correspondingly more delighted to welcome every bit of evidence to the contrary, and moreover to celebrate their own contribution to this effect. Participants expressed this in many different ways and in all of the exit interviews there are some <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process">really exciting and eloquent formulations</a> of this. </p> <p>But Birgitta just happened to unite my two conclusions in her account of witnessing: “ how things have just been connecting together, and the more we connected these ideas, and thoughts and passions, the more trust we started to experience that had its climax here in the circles. That method of experiencing that even in such very diverse groups we are all driven by the same – it’s difficult to find the right word for it – but we are all driven by the same currents…” &nbsp;To experience this, articulate it and have others nodding in recognition of their own, different experiences, in three and half days, is a stupendous achievement. As we step back out into the sun of Barcelona, I take my hat off to them all! </p><p><em>Stills by Cameron Thibos and the author.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/teamsyntegrity">The participants</a></p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-results">Results so far,</a> + 3 presentation videos</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/team-syntegrity-process">The process in the participants' own words</a> - exit interviews, discoveries, frustrations</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Team Syntegrity Rosemary Bechler Mon, 31 Jul 2017 11:35:15 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 112609 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Exploring two Alternatives https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/indra-adnan-pat-kane-adam-ramsay-rosemary-bechler-uffe-elbaek-rasmus-nordqvist/in <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy meets up with Denmark’s fastest-growing political party, <a href="http://murmur.dk/denmark-is-rich-enough/">Alternativet</a>, and <a href="https://www.thealternative.org.uk">The Alternative UK</a>, who inspired by them, have just launched their own ‘friendly revolution’. Interview.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/C56TvF3WcAQffpA.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/C56TvF3WcAQffpA.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Left to right: Pat, Indra, Uffe and Rasmus, March 2, 2017.</span></span></span>Rosemary Bechler (RB): Party-movements interest us a lot in </em>Can Europe make it?<em> , but hitherto we haven’t come across a party in one country with a movement in another – so what is going on?</em></p> <p><strong>Uffe Elbaek (UE)</strong>: It’s important to underline that The Alternative is much more than a political party. When it comes to our self-image and self-understanding, the way we describe it in Denmark is that first of all we are a political platform.&nbsp; On this platform you can have all sorts of stuff happening. You can have a political party, which we are. We have ten members in the Danish Parliament now. But we are also a movement, and we are also start ups, and we are also education, and we are also cultural alternatives. Everything can happen on this platform as long as it accords with our six values and is going in the right direction in terms of the direction in which we want society to move. </p> <p>So, for us it is not strange that right now we are sitting here as MP’s alongside Indra and Pat who are activists and movement entrepreneurs, because it all fits into the tendencies we are all of us developing as a political platform. <span class="mag-quote-center">The Alternative is much more than a political party. </span></p><p><em>RB: Why does that seem necessary nowadays?</em></p> <p><strong>Rasmus Nordqvist (RN)</strong>: Because political change is not just taking place in the old political systems. The change we want to work on but also the change we are seeing now in the world, both in Europe but also globally, is happening in so many different directions! </p> <p>We see private companies beginning to play a totally new role, good and bad. We see culture also playing a part, good and bad. So when we want to make political change, we can’t achieve that from within a political system, we need to work on political change all in the round.</p> <p>That is why when we started in Denmark, we said, “This change needs to happen whether we are represented within the parliamentary spectrum or not.”</p> <p><em>RB: Isn’t it the case that your starting point also contained a criticism of political parties as currently constructed?</em></p> <p><strong>Indra Adnan (IA)</strong>: In the UK, only 2% of people from the available electorate are in political parties. That is astounding and we have to grapple with it! People don’t believe in politics: maybe they would like to. But they are not giving their time or money to the political parties as they exist now. And the crises in political parties are many: crises in leadership, in culture, of structure. They are not delivering to people. </p> <p>This is not just a matter of agency – which many people are yearning for. There is none of the feeling for or attraction in this way of life which politics should have if a democracy is truly going to flourish.</p> <p><strong>RN:</strong> But also if we look at political parties when they first started, they were very different from how they are today. They have become very conservative, but before they <em>were</em> part of people’s lives. </p> <p>They were cultural, educational, people were going on a journey with their political parties, and this was integral to society at large. Whereas today, this career has become very professionalised. </p> <p>It was the same when we started up in Denmark. I think it is 3.6% of the Danes who are involved. 3.6% are actually electing the people you can vote for, developing our politics. When we started, we were asking ourselves, “Where is political innovation today? How can we work on a broader basis, get a lot more different kinds of people into the political room, and also open it up?” <span class="mag-quote-center">“How can we work on a broader basis, get a lot more different kinds of people into the political room, and also open it up?”</span></p> <h2><strong>Creating political space</strong></h2> <p><strong>UE:</strong> Can we take one step back? Because I think the overall ambition for what the Alternative Party in Denmark is doing and what you are doing in the UK with your newly-launched Alternative movement, is not so much about being the alternative ‘new thing’, but much more about how can we create a space in which citizens can take back their democratic authority. </p> <p>Of course I like the fact that we are growing in Denmark, that we have 10 MPs, and hope that we will have 20 after the next election, but that’s not really what motivates me. </p> <p>What motivates me is that we can start to see ordinary citizens talking and asking, how can we have a voice in the way we are building our society? So for me this mobilization of people who start to feel their own power and to understand that they can make a difference, small or big, depending on what is meaningful for them – is much more important for me.</p> <p>I would also like to say that there is a big difference between our reality in Denmark and your reality in the UK when it comes to the electoral system. If we had started up The Alternative in the UK, we would have done it the way Pat and Indra are doing it, because it is nearly impossible to start up a new political party and get it voted into the British parliament, so the structure in Denmark, and Scandinavia and in the UK is really very different. </p> <p>But when all is said and done, and this is coming back to you Rasmus, what we do see in Denmark as well as the UK, is that the mistrust between voters and elected politicians is just widening and widening and widening. We had a survey coming out a month ago, and the business that people most distrust was politics, and on top of that was used car salesmen, and on top of that there were journalists! <span class="mag-quote-center">What we do see in Denmark as well as the UK, is that the mistrust between voters and elected politicians is just widening and widening and widening. </span></p><p>So one thing is certain, there is a growing gap of mistrust between citizens and elected politicians, on the national level at least – I have to add that qualification because it is a different game when it concerns local politicians.</p> <p>Rasmus, you were talking about the 3.6% involved in political parties in Denmark (Pat said 2% in the UK) – so we see that less and less do people want to be part of a political party. That’s one effect. Then, of the people who are members of a political party, less and less of them wants to be elected to public office. And as that decreases, the people who do want to be elected, these people look more and more the same across party lines, which means that they have the same educational background, the same social and cultural perspectives, they interact in the same kinds of networks and have their own bubble.</p> <p>So what we see is a growing gap of mistrust on the one hand and then the creation of a political class in itself and for itself. And that is super super dangerous when we want a lively, engaged democracy. <span class="mag-quote-center">So what we see is a growing gap of mistrust on the one hand and then the creation of a political class in itself and for itself.</span></p> <h2><strong>Take back control</strong></h2><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 01.41.51_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 01.41.51_0.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pat Kane and Indra Adnan, 2015.</span></span></span></strong></p><p><strong>Pat Kane (PK)</strong>: This is part of the terrain that we face in the UK. &nbsp;We had this amazingly divisive, polarising vote over Brexit, and it left 52% disrupting the political order as we know it. </p> <p>So you can see that as a moment of chaos, meltdown, entropy, disaster. But actually, the phrase that underlay that disruption – take back control – in our opinion, looking at it culturally and philosophically, even spiritually, is one of the most profound things that you can say about one’s life as a citizen. ‘Take back control of what, from whom, to do what ?’– these are the most fundamental questions underlying politics.</p> <p>So, one can bemoan and remoan the results of the Brexit referendum, but actually it is an enormous opportunity to revivify what we think of as citizenship. Now, how do you do that? There are a lot of people moving into that space. The new right characters like Arron Banks are thinking that they can copy what other network-centric parties in Europe are doing and move in and redefine the terrain. They are actually saying,” Let’s redefine direct democracy!” </p> <p>There has to be a force countering that, but if it is still on the same battleground terrain as the political parties – “My manifesto is better than your manifesto!” – “My list of facts is better than your list of facts!” – it won’t work.&nbsp; </p> <p>So what we think is that there has to be a cultural option. You have to construct spaces that are culturally driven. And not just culture as in arts and culture, but cultures of the locality, for example. </p> <p>You have to get down to the basic level of saying who you are and what you dream about and aspire to in your society. That requires unconventional techniques. </p> <p>We tried some of those last night at the launch by mixing together advertisers and policy people and futurists and reformers, and we wanted to give all the input that came into these rooms the same status. Someone with a degree in PPP from Oxford could come into the room but have no more status or impact than a singer or a local activist or a fashion designer, people from the 98% who are making their lives purposeful and meaningful. Now there is a politics in that 98% and we have to find it. But it will not be in the usual ways, with the usual tools and the usual vocabulary. That is the task we have set ourselves, given how broken the representative political system is in the UK. <span class="mag-quote-center">‘Take back control of what, from whom, to do what ?’– these are the most fundamental questions underlying politics.</span></p> <p><strong>IA:</strong> What people are experiencing at the moment is profound. The way that politics is occurring is at many different levels. What 2016 showed us and what Trump is showing us at the moment is that the way that traditional politics conceives of the human being is very very limited. </p> <p>Traditional politics thinks of the human being as <em>homo economicus </em>– someone who needs a certain amount of money and a roof over their head. That’s the unit that we are dealing with. Donald Trump shows us on a daily basis that the human being is a rather emotional creature who can be reached through the emotions. In fact, has always been reached in this way! So what is needed is emotional literacy around our politics. </p> <p>What makes you feel out of control? And how <em>can</em> you reclaim that control? That means taking back control of your mind, as well as your body, and of yourself as a citizen. That’s the space that I think we are opening up, and that’s why I think the arts are so very important.</p> <p><strong>PK:</strong> We have a very clear adversary in all this. Cambridge Analytica, the company that believes it won both Brexit and Trump’s election for its clients, they believe that they can look at the Big Data derived from use of social media, stick that to a very limited psychological model, and then manipulate the masses with their messages accordingly. </p> <p>But there is just so much research that says that this is a very limited way of thinking about the ways that human beings respond to challenges. They respond with joy, humility – all the values that Alternative talk about at their core. That is a whole other emotional vocabulary, not one confined to just fear, anger and insecurity. So we must find other ways to get to those places, and our tactic, here, short of a proportional representation system, is basically cultural politics.</p> <p><em>RB: You mention a touring company…</em></p> <p><strong>PK:</strong> Essentially a touring company, that’s right. One that doesn’t just leave people with that enchanted experience and come back in two years’ time, but one that feeds that experience into a network, then generates tools and feeds them into another experience. So it is really a culture-building exercise. André Gorz talked about the necessary move from a work-based society to a culture-based society – but you can cut that bit out if you like… </p> <h2><strong>New hybrid models</strong></h2> <p><em>Adam Ramsay (AR): Not at all, you are talking to openDemocracy here! We’re very happy with that. It’s all great, and cultural politics is very important, and particularly in England I am always astonished by the lack of shared cultural politics! In Scotland, the idea that what progressive people should do is follow the writings of Gramsci and go into folk and culture and art is always very widely understood, and I’m always amazed that this is not more the case here.</em></p> <p><em>However, I was at your launch last night – and there were a few things that did trouble me a bit more. You talked about being neither left nor right, and today, you are talking about radical democracy, empowering people and taking power away from elites. Clearly historically these are leftwing ideas and people would associate them with the left. So how do you square that circle?</em></p> <p><em>On the other hand, when I look at your values, I could interpret nearly all of them in ways that are quite worrying and right wing. For example, when you say, openness – that could be open markets for people to plunder other people’s lives. I don’t think that is what you mean by it. But don’t you have to spell this out? </em></p> <p><em>So I was left with this slight sense, Pat, that you weren’t really saying exactly what you really thought… and that you have a lot more politics, Uffe, than you are letting on?</em></p> <p><strong>UE:</strong> If you look at the founding team of the Alternative in Denmark, most of us have had a long history on the left! Oh, maybe not you Rasmus? Yes you are an old squatter!</p> <p><strong>RN:</strong> I’ve been an anarchist and a conservative…</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/698px-Rasmus_Nordqvist,_udendørs,_2015-11-08.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/698px-Rasmus_Nordqvist,_udendørs,_2015-11-08.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rasmus Nordqvist, 2015. Wikicommons/FInn Årup Nielsen. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p><strong>UE:</strong> Yeah yeah. Well, I’ve had a long history, including on the far left when I was young and was part of the squatting movement in Denmark. If I have a political role model it would be Emma Goldman, so when we are talking about values, of course we have our history with us. </p> <p>But what we also have to say is that if you look at our economic policies, we think equal societies are good societies. And if you look at our finance policies, our proposals as a party to Parliament are really far left. But at the same time, we have this feeling that to solve the issues we are facing, we need a much more creative, entrepreneurial society. Normally, as a political journalist, I might then conclude, “ OK – then you are really liberal.”</p> <p>In economic terms, you will see that we are standing up for a totally new economic model based on three important lines: there should be black figures on the economic bottom line, on the social bottom line and on the environmental bottom line. We are really trying to figure out what the new economic model must look like: how can we change the old understanding of the GNP.</p> <p>At the same time, my old colleagues on the left have this picture that if the public sector just grew and grew, then everything would be fine. Our understanding is that the market itself can’t solve the problems we are facing, but that the public sector in itself can’t solve it either, and that neither can civil society solve it on its own. So the complexity and cross-border element of these challenges are calling for new hybrid models and solutions. <span class="mag-quote-center">The complexity and cross-border element of these challenges are calling for new hybrid models and solutions.</span></p> <p>Historically, I you look at it from a Danish point of view and ask, have you seen some of these problems, and discussions and proposed models before, then the answer is yes, we have, one hundred and fifty years ago in Denmark.&nbsp; </p> <p>We saw the rise of the co-op movement, what we call the <a href="http://www.danishfolkhighschools.com/about">folk high school system</a> for public enlightenment, we saw the emergence of totally new media, new artistic movements, a new democratic movement and a labour movement. So we saw new solutions which didn’t exist before they were put on the table. That’s where we see the need to have another ‘take ‘on it, besides that of the traditional left.</p> <p><strong>RN:</strong> You question this formulation – we say we are neither left nor right – but we say this because we don’t have an understanding of politics which is two dimensional. If you are not left, not right, it doesn’t mean you are in the middle. It also means that when we changed from being a culturally-based society to an industrial society, many things changed, not only on two dimensions but on three or four dimensions, and this is the same scale of changes that we are seeing right now in society. <span class="mag-quote-center">If you are not left, not right, it doesn’t mean you are in the middle.</span></p> <p>We have to understand politics as something else apart from left and right. This does not mean that we don’t want to take a position, that we are hiding something, but that we seek a new paradigm and that it is necessary to be undogmatic if you want to find solutions for this new paradigm.</p> <p><em>AR: It was Mussolini who first denied the difference between left and right…&nbsp; I don’t mean that you are fascist, but what does it mean to say that? I balk against it when people say that.</em></p> <p><em>RB: But Adam, you aren’t the only person in the world. How does a leftwinger work with and persuade other people, this is the issue, isn’t it?</em></p> <p><strong>IA:</strong> Let me follow up on this. My starting point, and this is something that we share, is that we are really in a very urgent situation. The planet is burning. We face multiple crises and we look at societies that are in thrall to the people who are in charge now, including that new administration in the United States. So we have to find a way to harness the 98%. We have to ask how can <em>they</em> hear us. If we can only offer them the trap of the binary option that you are articulating, we won’t reach them. We have to find ways of reaching them, and Alternative has begun to find a way. <span class="mag-quote-center">Alternative has begun to find a way. </span></p> <p><em>AR:&nbsp; Desmond Tutu said that in a situation of dispossession if you don’t take sides, then you are siding with the powerful. And, it seems to me, traditional left politics is the organisation of the dispossessed. </em></p> <p><em>There have always been discussions about what that means. Does that mean going with the state or cooperatives, towards anarchism or more centralised, whatever. But when people say, “I’m not left or right” – what I hear from that (of course I absolutely understand that other people hear different things) is that we are refusing to take sides in a struggle with those in power.</em></p> <p><strong>UE:</strong> If you hear that then I haven’t been good enough at explaining what we are all about. But I understand your question and it is an ongoing dilemma that we also have in our daily work. We are part of the opposition, and at the moment we are partisan with the social democratic party and the social liberal party, so we are part of the opposition bloc against the present liberal conservative rightwing government. That is the political landscape we have to navigate in. </p> <p>But we know that there is something that is not dynamic enough about simply operating in that loop. It doesn’t really work. We can’t create the conversation we need with the people we need to talk to in the right way unless we get out of that loop. </p> <p>So I understand your question and I also have to say that we are totally aware that there are economic forces and very powerful political forces that don’t want us to succeed. If you just look at the priorities of our programme, our priorities will go up against some very powerful vested interests in our society. Just take the fossil industry: they hate what we are doing. The traditional farming industry: they hate what we are saying. And so we know exactly what sort of interests we have to deal with. <span class="mag-quote-center">We are totally aware that there are economic forces and very powerful political forces that don’t want us to succeed.</span></p> <p>But we just want to get out of this loop that we are continuing to discuss in, to allow ourselves to occupy a new place. You are totally right, Rasmus, that being neither left nor right does not mean you are in the middle. I don’t want to raise the spectre of Tony Blair, but we do actually want to talk from a third position, if we can figure out what that is. And maybe from a fourth and a fifth position…</p> <p><strong>PK:</strong> This is the point. One of the most interesting discussions on what you might call ‘the left’ is : “What does a post-capitalist society – not an anti-capitalist, socialist or even a social democratic society – but post-capitalist look like?” </p> <p>We ask this because where we are now is at a very complex point. Networks can be as powerful as markets. And networks are at one and the same time the complete liberation of people’s self-expression and the complete surveillance of people’s self-expression. They can be the most anarchistic things and the most surveillant thing. </p> <p>Is it helpful to approach that from a classic left/right binary? You can be a constitutionalist, and say, ”Well in a network society, we need to devise more capacious and enabling structures.” But that just indicates how complex the question is about where power is and who exerts it. If you corral everything into a ‘left test’, and I have as strong a ‘left test’ compulsion as anyone does, you may shut down many ways in which people can exert and express their own power as mothers, artists, people who make food well, as people who live rich, unboxed lives, self-defined and with a lot of awareness in them that allows them to re-story themselves… </p> <p>If you don’t find a language that can tap into the general sense that people have quite a lot of expressive power in twenty first century society, then they will be deaf to you. We have to find a language of empowerment that communicates with people in the complex spaces that they are in. I think that is what we have to explore with the Alternative in the UK. <span class="mag-quote-center">We have to find a language of empowerment that communicates with people in the complex spaces that they are in.</span></p> <p>It’s difficult for natural leftists to abandon the sense that they must always be tilting against the hardest sources and core of power, and attend instead to the powers that people already have, that are surprising, unusual, unpredictable and creative – it requires me to shift my gaze to some degree. I support a left party being a party of labour – yes go and do it. But there are other problems in terms of mobilising people that are not covered by a traditional left/right binary.</p> <h2><strong>Universal basic income and possible alliances</strong></h2> <p><em>AR: Last night you seemed to me to be going back to an old debate with the talk of, ’not left not right, but forwards’. In the greens we decided some time back that it must be ‘ Left and…’ – so, of course.&nbsp; But when it comes to key struggles in people’s lives, I want to know what side you are on. I feel I do know from other things that you say, and that you are on the same side as me. But then why do you pretend, why say you’re ‘not left’?</em></p> <p><strong>PK:</strong> We discussed a universal basic income last night – a policy supported by the glitziest moguls and the most determined anti-poverty campaigners…</p> <p><strong>RN:</strong> But not by the traditional left…</p> <p><strong>PK:</strong> Now, if you are not alive to the possibility of an alliance that could profoundly shift political support in favour of this way of dealing with fundamental questions of security for people, if you don’t capture that moment and that wide range of energies, wouldn’t that be foolish? To be discussed.</p> <p><em>RB: I have some sympathy with Adam here, because the key issue is the nature of the alliance isn’t it, and of course what it is really up against at any one time? It is one thing to exhort the left to take on the rich challenge of liberal individualism in their forms of political organisation. But look at the populist challenge: when advocating a form of ‘Gramscian hegemony’ can so easily tip into a dangerous rightwing nationalist stance, given the pull of the monocultural National Us in our societies… don’t we have to be very careful indeed about where we think ‘the people’ and their energies are? </em></p> <p><em>Or take the issue you raised of networks. Maybe big data is there to empower us. But if ‘five eyes’ surveillance can track how people in resistance are organising themselves almost before they think of it… this is not an opportunity to get everyone into one big alliance is it? &nbsp;Instead, we may be staring at an immobilising defeat. So what kind of political movement will capture creative end confident energies, but also ask those questions?</em></p> <p><strong>PK:</strong> That’s what we are trying to do. This is why we responded to Alternative. Denmark, thanks to those folk high schools and that national moment, is a much more egalitarian society than here in the UK, so you can appeal to people’s creativity and aspirations.</p> <p>I’m scared that if there are no optimistic processes and we don’t generate resources for hope, to use Raymond Williams’ phrase, in British politics – maybe Scotland is another case – but acutely in crisis conditions in England and in Wales – the routes to despair are obvious. Either riots or drugs, or numbness, or disengagement or anger, and that is already out there happening in the small towns and the big cities of Britain. Literally something has to be started at the bottom of the curve that just presumes that we can access people’s creativity.</p> <p><strong>IA:</strong> It is not us starting something. We are revealing what is going on. It is our sense that there <em>is </em>so much going on, but that it is all siloed. And because people are disillusioned with politics and they don’t want to be members of political parties, there is no political representation. <span class="mag-quote-center">It is our sense that there <em>is </em>so much going on, but that it is all siloed.</span></p> <p>But we have been in this revolution, the revolution of connectivity I call it, for ten years. People can mobilise, people can work together and these new networks are springing up throughout the country in many different ways. People feel that they have the tools now to do their own thing. Flatpack democracy gets patronised by official politics, but we think that this desire, this need and this capacity are being echoed all over, and it is a slow movement in which people treasure the slow development of new relationships and bringing these together with new tools in their local politics. </p> <p>They are loving what they are doing. And what we want to do is to connect the dots on all those things, and say, there is already a countermovement under way to what we read in the newspapers.&nbsp; The libertarian invitation to tick the boxes and we’ll represent you has to be countered by something that is slower, more deliberative, that shines a spotlight on something that is really happening in society. We want to platform the many ways that people are responding at this moment in time to the crisis that we sense. <span class="mag-quote-center">There is already a countermovement under way to what we read in the newspapers.&nbsp; </span></p> <p>It is very important that we don’t fall too much into the left/right way of categorising people. Because many of those people who voted for Leave, for example, are caricatured as rightwing. But what use is that when they are with us? They want the same things that we want. They want control, devolved power, power in their own hands. Why make these artificial boundaries? At this point we want to open a space which says, “We are not going to pre-categorise you. We are going to welcome this very real flowering, this awakening.”</p> <h2><strong>Meaningful community</strong></h2> <p><strong>UE:</strong> One more statement, but this is interesting. For me, I will always stand on the side of the marginalised, the powerless, and the voiceless. There is no question about it… that’s where I am speaking from.</p> <p><strong>IA:</strong> We all are.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/17098571_1480813391952873_1962008944338126709_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/17098571_1480813391952873_1962008944338126709_n.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Uffe Elbaek, Alternativet. </span></span></span></p> <p><strong>UE</strong>: Just to make that clear, if it makes anything clear..&nbsp; The other thing to say is that from Denmark, we look to what you are trying to do with the Alternative in the UK, to inspire us in turn. </p> <p>Because, for good or for ill, we are living in a very homogenous society in Denmark – all the conflicts going on now with refugees and immigrants just emphasise that point. But suddenly, we have a return echo from something you are saying which frames things in another way for us, something that we have been talking about. </p> <p>You put it differently because you have other social, cultural and economic realities. So for us, I just wanted to say that it is really inspiring to have a conversation partner in our deliberations from here in the UK, who see the world from a different position but on the basis of the same values and understanding.</p> <p>For us in Denmark, it was hard a few months ago when we took stock of what was happening in Denmark.&nbsp; All Danes have the feeling that we have created this really solid welfare state. It took us one hundred and fifty years to do it. But we have the feeling now that we are standing on the crest of the wave and looking down, and “Wow!” everyone is panicking, “How can we reorganise? How can we be more efficient? How can we make sure we only spend the money on the right stuff?” </p> <p>So everyone is standing, looking down, and then we start asking, “Well what does it actually take to start the next great welfare wave? Was it a big master plan that kick-started it last time?”&nbsp; No, actually not. The history we saw in Denmark was that the country literally went bankrupt in 1813. It was a huge trauma that shocked the whole of society: we couldn’t pay the wages of our public sector employees. But what is even more important is what happened a year afterwards in 1814.&nbsp; </p> <p>In 1814, we created a public school system so that everyone would have seven years of school education for free. This was the year after! We decided to invest in the public good. Out of that started all kinds of different, new initiatives: the golden age of Danish culture was from 1800 – 1850; the democratic movement inspired by philosophers leading to new constitutions in Norway and Denmark; the co-op movement, the folk schools, new media and workers’ movement a few years later: and there was no big masterplan. <span class="mag-quote-center">“Well, what does it actually take to start the next great welfare wave? Was it a big master plan that kick-started it last time?”&nbsp; No, actually not.</span></p> <p>But what was common between all these initiatives was that people came together to discuss these important public questions and issues in a meaningful community. So there were a lot of different, meaningful communities created around important issues. That is why we are so keen on these laboratories, and on creating spaces where people can talk about important public issues and questions. It is a critical mass of all this that maybe <em>can</em> kickstart the next welfare state model in Denmark. </p> <p>This is the Danish reality. Maybe it has nothing to do with where you are at in the UK. But just to say that rather than cling to fixed models, we are open for experimentation, and open for something to come forward which we hadn’t expected. It is the sum of all these experiments, and political laboratories, and discussions and dialogues, that maybe, in our opinion, something can kickstart again.</p> <p><strong>RB:</strong> From fear to hope. Let’s finish there. Thank you very much. </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> Denmark </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU Denmark UK Civil society Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rosemary Bechler Rasmus Nordqvist Adam Ramsay Indra Adnan Pat Kane Uffe Elbaek Tue, 28 Mar 2017 23:51:03 +0000 Uffe Elbaek, Rasmus Nordqvist, Indra Adnan, Pat Kane, Adam Ramsay and Rosemary Bechler 109741 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Human nature as victim in Colombia https://www.opendemocracy.net/lyda-fernanda-forero-rosemary-bechler/human-nature-as-victim-in-colombia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>"We are part of nature – human and non-human. The relationship between both and in permanent interaction creates ‘the territory’." Interview.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements"><img width="460px" alt="open Movements" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" /></a><br /><strong>The <i><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements">openMovements</a></i> series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.</strong></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/colomb.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/colomb.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Army barricade protecting mines in Colombia.</span></span></span></p><p><strong><i>Rosemary Bechler (RB):</i></strong><i>; So Lyda, please introduce yourself…</i></p> <p><strong>Lyda Fernanda Forero (LFF): </strong>&nbsp;I am originally from Colombia and I am at the Transnational Institute which is an organisation based in Amsterdam. I am <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:10"></ins><ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:10"></ins>part of the ‘Economic Justice and Corporate Power’ programme. We work on different topics, including environmental justice, agrarian justice, but also how those are affected by corporate power and trade and investment agreements. Being from Colombia<ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:10">,</ins> often in Colombia and working with Colombian organisations, I follow the political process closely and specifically, trade agreements between Colombia and the European Union and how they impact on that society. It is Colombian newspapers that I turn to first in the morning…</p> <p><strong><i>RB:</i></strong><i> Greetings from one shocked referendum survivor to another, Lyda. In Colombia, post-referendum, President Santos has just received the Nobel peace prize. How do you view this?</i></p> <p><strong>LFF:</strong> When we look at the awarding of this prize, we understand it as a way for the international community to support the negotiation process going on in our country, the so-called ‘peace process’.&nbsp; It came at a moment when all hopes were dashed by the results of the plebiscite, so in this context the supportive signal that is being given here is understandable. </p> <p>However it is too concentrated in the person of President Santos, and even though it is important to acknowledge that he too is making an effort to move forward in these negotiations on behalf of the Colombian elite – he is not the only one who has significantly contributed to this process.<ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:14"></ins> And he is certainly not the party that has suffered most in the conflict over the last sixty years. Some of the representatives of the victims were also candidates for the Nobel peace prize, and it is also the case that both negotiation teams, those of the government and of FARC, could have been acknowledged. </p> <p>But if the idea is building peace and moving towards a new moment in the country – that support should be given to all the parties involved and it could have been a very good way to do this, to acknowledge all the victims involved by giving the prize to them. On the one hand it is good to feel that the international community wants to support and help us find some space for moving forward, but at the same time, it is an affront not to acknowledge the full scale of what is involved in this national debate. There are many actors, and those most affected , who historically have been silenced, continue to be silenced.</p> <p><strong><i>RB: </i></strong><i>Of course this is not the first time that the Nobel peace prize has run into some criticism, to say the least…</i></p> <p><strong>LFF: </strong>Yes and when you look at the role the president has himself played in the conflict, even though he is now making a big effort, you have to recollect that previously he was the Minister for Defence.</p> <p><strong><i>RB: </i></strong><i>So tell me, you have been writing about the Pax Neoliberal that Santos is working on now – can you explain what this is?</i></p> <p><strong>LFF: </strong>This is a Colombian twist on the Pax Romana that several organisations find useful to describe a winner-take-all approach to the termination of the negotiations. From the perspective of Santos’ Government this also means to pursue results that accord with the development and expansion of neoliberal policies instead of trying to discuss the real causes of the armed conflict which were related to the social, political and environmental conflicts in the country. </p> <p>When we look at the different ‘post-conflict policies’, they are a part of a corporate attempt to take over this so-called ‘peace’. One of these proposals concerns the naturally conserved or ‘protected areas’ which are the perfect scenario for setting carbon conserving or biodiversity targets. But as we have seen, these kinds of projects can also at the same time require communities to be pushed outside their territories. It is just a different way of doing that. The ‘green economy’ is presented as the environmental section of the post-conflict latest set of proposals, and in reality it is an exclusionary project aimed at displacing people and a takeover of the land. But we want to emphasise a different environmental truth that involves other actors, who are not included in these plans.</p> <p>If we look at the specifics of this sixty-year-old history, it comes out of conflicts over access to land and property inequalities that were not properlysolved <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:19"></ins>in the&nbsp; negotiations. There is a longer history of oppression and exclusion<ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:20"> </ins>that goes back to the beginning of the republic let alone the colony. But with these actors, the conflict between FARC and the Colombian Government goes back sixty years and access to <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:22"></ins>land has been <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:21"></ins>the main <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:22"></ins>issue. For example, t<ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:25"></ins>he ‘Zidres law project’ is providing subsidies and a structure for giving big landowners access to ‘empty or uncultivated lands’ (baldíos). Legally they can have access to this land with protection and subsidies, and this was happening at exactly the same time as the agreement on rural development <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:25"></ins>was being negotiated in Havana. So while farmers are expecting to have access to land and a final breakthrough in this historic problem of land claims, the Government is pursuing this legal outcome that goes in the opposite direction.<ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:26"></ins> It is contradictory viewed from a certain perspective, but in another way the Government is only continuing to preserve the ownership of the land for the big landowners.</p> <p><strong><i>RB: </i></strong><i>Of those who voted ‘no’ in the referendum, were many of them doing so because of this obvious contradiction in Santos’ aims?</i></p> <p><strong>LFF: </strong>&nbsp;There were many strands and influences in this No vote. The majority of the population didn’t vote – it was the lowest turnout in twenty-two years. There has always been abstention, but this was the highest in two decades. The tradition of voting as a way of exercising democracy is not established in Colombian politics, and in that sense this abstention does amount to a protest in so far as people don’t seem themselves as empowered by the vote, but in this specific case this was not a feature of what happened.&nbsp; </p> <p>A small section of those who voted no were aware of this contradiction, but the social movements and organisations that acknowledged this most clearly actively campaigned for support of the agreement and voted in favour. Land conflicts, mining and energy and territorial conflicts, will remain, but what these people feel is that the agreement is an opportunity to solve the problem in a new way, not through the use of weapons. That is what could <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:31"></ins>make the difference.&nbsp; </p> <p>So people were aware of Santos’ contradictory stance, but it was not a reason to oppose the agreement.</p> <p><strong><i>RB:</i></strong><i> So who voted no?</i></p> <p><strong>LFF:</strong> Many people were influenced by the manipulation and lies of right wing and even extreme right wing propaganda put out by Alvaro Uribe's party,<ins cite="mailto:Rosemary%20Bechler" datetime="2017-03-04T15:30"></ins><ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:31"></ins> the former president and Alejandro Ordonez the former attorney, while another group was heavily influenced by the Protestant churches who raised a furore over gender inclusion and rights for lesbians and gays. There was a small group of progressives, but the majority were right wing, whose political leaders brazenly admitted afterwards that they had used lies to get their votes. </p> <p><strong><i>RB: </i></strong><i>&nbsp;But you say nevertheless that a major gain from this process is how it has allowed new versions of the truth to come to the surface ?</i></p> <p><strong>LFF: </strong>When you look at how our official history is taught, the situation of the victims and the role of the bigger landowners in this violence has not been touched on. There are so many things that have happened in our history that haven't been officlally acknowledged.<ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:35"></ins><ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:37"></ins><ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:35"></ins><ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:36"> </ins></p> <p>The massacre of the <i>Unión Patriótica</i><i> </i>party is another such emblematic moment – a previous attempt on the part of the FARC to demobilise and enter a peace process, on this occasion 5,000 people were murdered, as some organisations in Colombia have documented. This is only one moment out of so many in our history which remain unaccounted for. <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T11:37"></ins></p> <p>There are many more such moments, and getting to know what happened is so important. This is why we need a Truth and Memory Process.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong><i>RB: </i></strong><i>Is this the Environmental Truth Commission that you are talking about?</i></p><p><strong>LFF:</strong> We need a process of environmental memory to clarify the truth of the armed conflict in the country. One official Truth Commission is already taking place and they have published a series of interesting reports. But for the environmental memory, the narrative is still lacking. The process starts by asking whether we should consider nature as a victim as well, not distinct from the human beings that it supports, but in connection with communities – human nature if you like. We don’t want to see nature as something disconnected from us, because that just leads down a conservationist path where all you want to do is to take humans out of the picture. We are part of nature – human and non-human. The relationship between both and in permanent interaction creates ‘the territory’, and it is in the territory that we develop our history. </p> <p>This is central to any investigation of how that territory has been affected by war, and we need to go into this in real depth so that we can arrive at a process of environmental memory. In this sense, nature has been scenario and victim of the conflict. &nbsp;</p><p><strong><i>RB:</i></strong><i> So have you been following the Standing Rock protests? They seem to have something in common with your vision?</i></p> <p><strong>LFF: </strong>Yes, it is really good what they have been able to do so far… The idea of this relationship with the territory is common to both these cases and with many more around the world. In this moment of globalisation when everyone seems to be on the move we may be tempted to think that this connection has disappeared. But it has not. This linkage with our territory and with our roots is made even deeper by these changes, and you can see this in what is happening in Dakota.</p> <p>People have been suffering all around <ins cite="mailto:sebastian" datetime="2017-03-01T14:21"></ins>from the extractive mining and big dam projects for a long time. But what is more visible now is that when these conflicts can be divorced from the armed conflict that takes place in the same territory, these causes can become more visible to anyone observing. For those others, they will have noticed in these last months is that people, activists, who are defending territories are being murdered even though we have a ceasefire in place. The number of murders is over eighty in recent months. So we have a contradiction, zero deaths arising from armed conflict over the last year, thanks to the bilateral &nbsp;ceasefire; but more than eighty deaths of activists and people defending their land rights. So it is not so much that it is more or less visible to those involved – but now what is going on over land has become evident, if you see the distinction. This is the challenge of our post-conflict scenario!</p> <p><strong><i>RB:</i></strong><i> I certainly see what you are saying. </i></p> <p><i>Last December, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), in cooperation with openDemocracy and Armine Ishkanian from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and co-editors of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements">openMovements platform</a>, hosted a small symposium on “World Protests and Political Economy” in their Berlin office. The aim is to create a space to exchange research results, maintaining a focus on the inter-connectedness between economics and politics, and carry them into organizations that work on global democracy. The FES is a German non-profit organization committed to supporting Social Democracy through more than 100 country offices. </i></p> <div class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox" style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;"> <div class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox-inner" style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;"><strong>How to cite:</strong></span><br /> Fernanda Forero, L. (2017) Human nature as victim in Colombia, Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 4 March.https://opendemocracy.net/lyda-fernanda-forero-rosemary-bechler/human-nature-as-victim-in-colombia</div><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" style="width: 460px;" /></a></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner-small_1.jpg" /></a></p><p>More from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements">openMovements</a> partnership.</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Colombia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Colombia Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics International politics openmovements Rosemary Bechler Lyda Fernanda Forero Sat, 04 Mar 2017 16:36:45 +0000 Lyda Fernanda Forero and Rosemary Bechler 109220 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Introducing this week's theme: World Forum for Democracy on "Democracy and Equality: Does Education Matter ?" https://www.opendemocracy.net/wfd/rosemary-bechler-en-khong/introducing-this-weeks-theme-world-forum-for-democracy-on-democracy-and-eq <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Since November's <a href="http://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/home">World Forum for Democracy 2016</a>, openDemocracy has been exploring how education can rebuild democracy in a world of deepening inequalities. This week, we brought our latest evidence together.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd"><img width="460px" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/bannerforarticle.png" alt="wfd" /></a></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 15.42.01.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 15.42.01.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journey to discover the history of voting rights in an east London School. Rosie Goodhart and Florence Pennant. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This week we explore democracy in crisis, not just in Turkey, Russia, India or Egypt, but in its heartlands. So for Part 2, "Democracy and Education", we have a different theme every day this week, to try to embrace some of the larger implications of the 'seismic quakes and perpetual uncertainty' that have followed Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016, and the election of Donald Trump as US president in November. Our last special week on "<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/rosemary-bechler-alex-sakalis-en-khong-jo-tyabji/introducing-this-weeks-theme-strasbourgs-world-foru">Education and Democracy</a>" began with the educational dilemmas of Brexit Britain, and we return to that theme with a new sense of urgency, as the prognosis on the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/uk/anna-louise-van-der-merwe/fighting-inequality-in-uk-has-to-start-young">UK's deepening inequality</a> remains bleak. This week-end we have been <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/alex-nunn/imf-on-inequality-beyond-organised-hypocrisy">reminded of the huge differences</a> between talking the talk and walking the walk on inequality, the challenge of bridging the divide between <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/sol-trumbo-vila/bail-out-industry-finds-its-new-crisis-opportunity-brexit">the winners and the losers</a>, and the importance of finding <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/xnet/whistleblowing-platform-against-corruption-for-city-council-of-barcelona">new forms of democratic scrutiny</a> to help make this transition. This coincides with new messages from across the Atlantic about a politics of polarisation and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/cherian-george/hidden-agenda-in-trump-s-muslim-ban">manufactured paranoia </a>designed to set back the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/kaushik-sunder-rajan/some-initial-thoughts-before-trump-presidency">pluralization and democratization</a> of America, in which the political class and the media seem ever-more complicit. </p><p>We chart our course with the help of <a href="https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016806c8b0f">the conclusions </a>of the World Forum for Democracy 2016 in Strasbourg: conclusions about tolerance and respect for pluralism; about focusing on creating knowledge together, collaborating not competing; the importance of a global education and the sustainable development goals; the centrality and urgency of a participatory education for a participatory democracy. We do this in the company of many new friends who are committed to finding new ways to overcome some very old social and economic inequalities, plus many cultural new ones.</p><p><strong>Monday, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/content/monday-27-february-2017-front-page">Democracy in crisis</a></strong></p><p>In top slot today,<strong> </strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/stephen-mccloskey/in-age-of-brexit-and-trump-we-need-development-education-more-than-ever">Stephen McCloskey</a> argues that the social and economic inequalities that have fed the growing popular disconnect with mainstream politics manifested by Brexit and Trump, demand more from education. He suggests a wider adoption of the radical, participative, empowering and action-oriented educational approach of Paulo Freire. Critical educator <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/sara-carpenter/learning-in-movement-moment">Sara Carpenter </a>unravels this relationship between learning and political participation. For the movements she is investigating, it is not just a question of broadening people's participation, but deepening their thinking is urgent. From Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter through to global anti-Trump protests, we are living in a ‘movement moment’ which is a precious resource.<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/graham-brown-martin/our-crisis-of-democracy-is-crisis-of-education"> Graham Martin, </a>in 'Our crisis of democracy is a crisis in education' picks up the themes of the world to be gained if we prize collaboration over 'instructionism' in the first part of his openDemocracy interview.</p><p>In four snap shots of education in a polarised Brexit Britain, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/melissa-benn/is-politics-and-policy-too-toxic-for-dewey">Melissa Benn </a>draws another key related distinction between the kind of socially functional education that John Dewey inspired, one that grounded the whole community, and the 'Gove-ian academy' that promises to lift people up and out of a milieu that can only hold them back. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/callum-gurr/i-went-to-state-grammar-school-but-no-they-are-not-answer">Callum Gurr</a> knows all about this conundrum, and isn't convinced that bringing back grammar schools will help; while <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/uk/ted-cantle/in-world-of-hate-fear-and-alternative-facts-education-really-does-matter">Ted Cantle</a> shows us how this links to the 'parallel lives' which are increasingly exacerbating the segregation of our communities. It remains for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/rosie-goodhart-florence-pennant/teaching-schoolchildren-to-discover-their-political-voice">Rosie Goodhart and Florence Pennant t</a>o give us a glimpse of what it is like today to teach pupils about democracy in an east London school and make them care! History comes in useful.</p><p>Two more pieces turn to the future, and ask us to consider the impact of crisis in western democracies on China. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/stein-ringen/china-and-embarrassment-of-western-democracy">Stein Ringen</a> warns that thanks to democracies like those of the US and Britain neglecting the imperative of constant reform, "income and wealth has been redistributed to the rich and ultra-rich, leaving the middle class, not to mention the poor, behind in neglect and humiliation'.<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/stein-ringen/china-and-embarrassment-of-western-democracy"> </a>As a result,&nbsp; "Chinese dictators have been given a godsend of democratic weakness".<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/stein-ringen/china-and-embarrassment-of-western-democracy"> </a><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/francesco-grillo-annalisa-cappellini-giulia-lamoratta/back-to-future-rebirth-of-classical-approach-t">Francesco Grillo and his colleagues</a> are looking closely at the impact of these seismic shifts on education, and a fascinating story begins to emerge. Could it be that liberal democracy can no longer renew the contract between states and citizens in the technological revolution that is under way, and that China (and Singapore too) have begun to grasp a much more profound universal challenge, how to best harvest human capital in all our societies? </p><p><strong>Tuesday, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/content/tuesday-28-february-2017-fp">Dialogue to mend and build democracy</a></strong></p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/rosemary-bechler-siamak-ahmadi-hassan-asfour/dialog-macht-schule-taking-dialogue-into-schools">Siamak Ahmadi and Hassan Asfour</a> tell us about Dialogue in Schools, the support system which they founded to address urgent contemporary challenges: the need to reach out to disadvantaged youth, 90% of whom in Germany have a migrant background, and to help them ‘regain self-efficacy’; to help people understand the other person from another country, and their mutual interdependence; to combat extremist ideologies. They use dialogue to do this, but with an educational philosophy derived from a very particular historic lesson from Germany’s past, “a tough lesson – that the opposite to war <i>is </i>dialogue.”</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/robin-wilson/towards-dialogue-in-northern-ireland">Robin Wilson</a>, coming from Belfast, knows all about this. In 2006 he wrote a chapter on dialogue in <a href="http://www.robinwilson.eu/sites/default/files/R19.pdf"><i>What Works for Reconciliation</i></a> – dialogue as potentially the most powerful solvent of lethal stereotypes and enemy images, and what the enabling conditions for success might be. This was when a ‘safe space’ was the process in which enemies met the Other face to face, and tried to find a different way forward. As power-sharing falls apart in Stormont, Robin looks at the absence of enabling education in the broadest sense, and what lessons we can draw. Bosnia's 'two schools under one roof' provides a stark example of the underlying logic: <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/can-europe-make-it/tea-hadziristic/two-schools-under-one-roof-lesson-in-ethnic-unmixing-from-bosnia-">Tea Hadžiristić </a>takes us on a visit to schools where pupils "enter in different entrances or must use different stairwells, or risk disciplinary action – by teachers or other students."</p><p>But there are key aspects of this condition which are general in the most advanced democracies. “One of my frustrations with the current political system is that most people are alienated from deliberation, they don’t ever have a chance to practice deliberation. We don’t do it in school, we don’t do it in the workplace, and we don’t do it in our political system”, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/marco-deseriis-richard-bartlett/loomio-and-problem-of-deliberation">Richard Bartlett tells Marco Deseriis</a> in the first of a series of interviews exploring participatory forms of decision-making software. Bartlett’s Loomio and a flexible Adhocracy as introduced to us here by managing director <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaLiberties/marco-deseriis/adhocracy-helps-create-future-of-political-engagement">Rouven Brües</a>, are changing our politics.</p> <p>Then there is the opposite of dialogue. It is surely no accident that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/peter-emerson/brexit-wrecks-it-theory-of-collective-decision-making">Peter Emerson</a>, who explains to us how the Brexit referendum only told us that the British people profoundly disagreed, is also based in a Belfast still full of walls. Meanwhile in Wales, instead of being a treasured fruit of diversity, the Welsh ‘language world’ is seen by some as a threat to the consolidation of a monocultural National Us. We are reminded of Siamak Ahmadi's conviction that the key feature of an extremist ideology is its determination not to be "open to criticism, up for another opinion, for another perspective", in contrast to any living science. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/huw-williams/mind-your-language">Huw L Williams</a> looks at the arguments, party politics, historic legacies and inequalities that have brought his political culture to this point. Lastly, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/lynda-stone/silent-lunches-how-do-we-get-to-educational-reform-in-us">Lynda Stone</a>, addressing a conference commemorating one hundred years since John Dewey’s ‘Democracy and Education’ was published, talks about school practices in the States, the need for reform and the problems of getting there – problems which have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/lynda-stone/democracy-education-under-siege-and-now-trump">only multiplied since Trump’s election</a>. She introduces us to the ‘silent lunch’ widely deployed in American elementary schools: “In some schools you get ten minutes of ‘silent lunch’: in others the entire lunch period is silent. Can you imagine engendering a feeling of community and democracy when kids can’t even talk to one another? It’s just disgusting.”</p><p><strong>Wednesday, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/content/wednesday-march-1-2017">Universities and contested knowledge</a></strong></p> <p>From the US to South Africa and the UK, a global student movement has emerged around the demand to ‘decolonise’ higher education. This has extended from campaigning to remove statues and plaques commemorating university sponsors from an age of colonial brutality, to interrogating curriculum content itself. Within the debate in South Africa, terms like <i>decolonise </i>and <i>transform</i>, and <i>syllabus</i> and <i>curriculum</i> have been used interchangeably. We need to define what we mean first, says <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/emmanuel-mgqwashu/in-south-africa-what-are-we-supposed-to-do-away-with-when">Emmanuel Mgqwashu</a>, a professor at Rhodes University. Whose responsibility is it to decolonise, and for what purpose? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/joanna-williams/decolonise-curriculum-movement-re-racialises-knowledge">Joanna Williams</a> takes a much sharper view. The process of contesting what is important for students to know is one of the most fruitful debates to be had, she acknowledges. But, she argues, the ‘decolonise the curriculum’ movement re-racialises knowledge – and the university – in a most regressive way.</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/ahdaf-soueif-nick-buxton/our-common-ground-salute-to-young-global-collective">Ahdaf Soueif</a>, writer and activist, reminds us that “the Young Global Collective” who are so much more aware of the interconnectedness of the world, in both its problems and solutions, are up against a power system that “has its ideas, arguments, discourse and justifications in place. And embedded within it are the power structures with which it protects and continuously justifies and consolidates itself: the governments, the intelligence, police, security and military establishments, the legal and financial systems that underpin them – and the media.” The Arab uprisings were a profound shock to this system, and the Turkish regime has been involved ever since in a turn towards authoritarianism which has set out to remove all trace of the academic and intellectual renaissance for which it was partly responsible. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/burcu-degirmen-alperen-atik/turkey-authoritarianism-and-academic-closure">Burcu Degirmen and Alperen Atik</a> chronicle this repressive record of academic closure to date, while&nbsp;Antonio Marchesi, president of Amnesty International in Italy,&nbsp;explores&nbsp;the tragedy of&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/antonio-marchesi/search-for-truth-over-what-happened-to-giulio-regeni">Giulio Regeni’s murder</a>,&nbsp;which casts such a shadow not just over Egypt.</p> <p>The impact of recent and not so recent MENA history on Middle Eastern studies in the US raises many questions for the discipline, but also for the role of academics at a time when "'watchlists’ have been surfacing,… targeting several ‘leftist’ and Middle Eastern studies experts and students", as compiled by ‘ultra-right’ Trump supporters. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/arab-awakening/tarek-ghanem/current-challenges-and-future-of-middle-eastern-studies">Tarek Ghanem</a> explores the implications. Lastly Mona Abaza commences a series of in-depth interviews with social scientists attempting to pursue research in the Middle East. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/arab-awakening/mona-abaza-benjamin-geer/surviving-sociology-in-egypt-and-elsewhere">Benjamin Geer</a> shares with Mona a memorable account of his equally unwelcome attempts to research ‘nationalism’ within the region, and outside it. </p><p><strong>Thursday, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/content/thursday-2-march-2017-fp">Global inequalities</a></strong></p> <p>When you hear about the hurdles separating 24-yr.old Ehab from further education, beginning with his flight to avoid Syrian army call-up, you can see why he calls Kiron an “amazing life-line”. You can also see how <a href="The%2520concept%2520of%2520%25E2%2580%2598global%2520citizenship%2520education%25E2%2580%2599%2520is%2520a%2520complex%2520undertaking,%2520that%2520encompasses%2520everything%2520from%2520IT-literacy%2520to%2520the%2520promotion%2520of%2520peace%2520and%2520diversity.%2520Alexandra%2520Stenbock-Fermor%2520reports%2520from%2520a%2520UNESCO%2520conference%2520in%2520Bangkok,%2520exploring%2520how%2520GCED%2520suggests%2520a%2520deep%2520overhaul%2520of%2520our%2520modes%2520of%2520thought,%2520teaching%2520and%2520outlook%2520on%2520the%2520world,%2520all%2520necessary%2520for%2520a%2520sustainable%2520future.">Markus Kressler</a>, Kiron co-founder, justifies the ambition to give a hand-up to refugees wanting to study, one day on a global basis, on the grounds that they “deserve it after all the things they have been through”. But at every level, the Kiron family, working together, creates a ‘positive outlook’ that as Markus confides, is not so easy to explain. </p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/ana-martiningui-salvatore-nigro/jobs-above-all-else">Ana Martiningui and Salvatore Nigro</a>, in their devastating overview of the lack of educational and employment opportunities throughout the Middle East, the region whose population is “one of the youngest worldwide”, offer us another perspective on the “massive increase in the number of refugees ” that brought Kiron into being. The sheer numbers of those in flight, displaced, the high percentages of unemployed – “a staggering 64.8% in the case of young females” in Egypt, are an ongoing reproach to the world that looked on fascinated as the Arab uprisings rolled across the region. </p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/eleanor-salter/no-birthdays-here">Eleanor Salter</a> shows us one glimpse of the human fallout in her account of those who attempt to look after the refugee children who arrive on the small Greek island of Chios. Shamefully for Europe, one of their hardest tasks is to shield the children who may have escaped torture and forced labour as child soldiers, from “vicious attacks from local gangs of fascists”.</p> <p>Something has to be done, but <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/alex-nunn/imf-on-inequality-beyond-organised-hypocrisy">Alex Nunn</a> gives us very little assurance that a body like the IMF will contribute anything substantial any time soon to this gargantuan systemic task of combatting inequality: ( see also today: <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/kate-donald/tackling-inequality-potential-of-sustainable-development-goals">Tackling inequality.</a>) On the contrary, it seems that the very world of education is hostage to the bureaucratic and profiteering machinations of the ‘instructionists’, who may have a part to play in our affairs, but should never be entrusted with our education. In part two of his openDemocracy interview, ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/graham-brown-martin/uberfication-of-teaching">The Uberfication of education</a>’, Graham Brown-Martin explains why not, concluding his <i>tour de horizon</i> of this world which is also a <i>tour de force</i>, by inviting us to, “Imagine a corporation which owns the entire programming of young people from nursery school to university!”</p> <p>What is the alternative? The concept of ‘global citizenship education’(GCED) is a complex undertaking, that encompasses everything from IT-literacy to the promotion of peace and diversity. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/alexandra-stenbock-fermor/children-need-to-be-ready-for-twenty-first-century-but-what-does-that-mean">Alexandra Stenbock-Fermor </a>reports from a UNESCO conference in Bangkok, exploring how GCED, inspired as is Kiron by the Sustainable Development Goals, suggests a deep overhaul of our modes of thought, teaching and outlook on the world, all necessary for a sustainable future.</p> <p>We move to Mexico, next, to sites of struggle where alternative education has become, as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/sergio-tamayo-guadalupe-olivier/liberation-pedagogy-in-mexico-s-social-movements">Guadalupe Olivier and Sergio Tamayo</a> tell us, in itself an act of <i>resistance in education</i>: “The first two have arisen from local teachers’ struggles, based on dissident sectors of the national teachers’ union... The last two result from community struggles mostly waged by indigenous populations.” <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/manuel-garza-zepeda/popular-movement-of-oaxaca-ten-years-later">Manuel Garza Zepeda</a> picks up the thread, ten years after Oaxaca’s famous popular revolt with its origins in the teachers’ struggle, and finds teachers still backed by popular support and looking for “others ways of doing" .</p> <p>But we finish our look at global inequalities back in the developed west, with its prison populations. Haven Distribution, since 1996, have been making a simple but significant contribution to UK prison education: buying and sending books to prisoners. Here <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/luke-billingham/sending-books-to-prisons-uk">Luke Billingham</a> explains their commitment to prisoner self-education, despite all the barriers. And why they too,’just want to help’.</p><p><strong>Friday, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/content/friday-3-march-2017-fp">Post-truth looking forward</a></strong></p><p> We began the week with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/uk/ted-cantle/in-world-of-hate-fear-and-alternative-facts-education-really-does-matter">Ted Cantle</a> arguing that “In a world of hate, fear and ‘alternative facts’, education really does matte<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/uk/ted-cantle/in-world-of-hate-fear-and-alternative-facts-education-really-does-matter" title="2351 words, 0 comments">r</a>”. But is the truth easy to find when many of the old certainties are disappearing fast, in our democracies, online, in the media and in academe? Many people still cling to a world where the centre holds, ‘facts’ reside in the middle ground, and extremisms spread away to right and to left. But now, everyone is accusing everyone else of being responsible for the delusions which so sway our lives. Didier Eribon in his <i>Confessions</i> for our times, <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/returning-reims"><i>Returning to Reims</i></a>, surely a candidate for book of the month in the run-up to the French presidential elections, describes how instead of an aggregation of individual voices to express the ‘general will’, “a class war is carried out at the ballot box, a practice of confrontation is produced election after election” in which one group considers another “an adversary who is defending its own interests in opposition to one’s own.” </p><p>How then to find the truth for ourselves and our societies? In such circumstances, the last thing any of us needs is to be offered informational escape by filter bubbles from inconvenient contradictions, or, as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/zahir-janmohamed/modi-and-trump-voting-strongmen-voting-hate">Zahir Janmohamed</a> warned last December, to be united in our convictions behind some strong man. Instead, with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/arab-awakening/mona-abaza-benjamin-geer/surviving-sociology-in-egypt-and-elsewhere">Benjamin Greer</a>, be alert to the dengerous imaginary of the "unreal nation"; as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/rosemary-bechler-siamak-ahmadi-hassan-asfour/dialog-macht-schule-taking-dialogue-into-schools">Siamak Ahmadi</a> urges, seek dialogue not war, learn to analyse discussion and discourse, “be open to criticism, up for another opinion, for another perspective”; or, as Richard Bartlett <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/marco-deseriis-richard-bartlett/loomio-and-problem-of-deliberation">argues</a>, admit that most of us have never practised democracy – “never practiced making a compromise, making a negotiation, coming to a ’good enough’ consensus between disparate parties” – &nbsp;shun walls and silent lunches, and start now, in its deepest and broadest sense to cultivate ‘civility’. </p><p>On the last day of this taking stock of ‘Democracy and education’, we search for different ways to ‘take back control’ of the truth. If we are increasingly trapped in ‘filter bubbles’ – the personalisation tools from companies like Facebook and Google that isolate us into separate realities – how do we break out? Some designers have created software to combat this – but have they gone far enough in their critical enquiry? How they interpret democracy, argues <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/engin-bozdag/how-do-we-break-filter-bubble-and-design-for-democracy">Engin Bozdag</a>, limits these tools. </p><p> <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/daniel-mccarthy-matthew-fluck/leaky-politics">Daniel R. McCarthy and Matthew Fluck</a> pursue filter bubble logic, warning that a normalizing of extreme polarity can’t be countered just by clinging to the facts, but requires the political empowerment of citizens. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/david-ridley/john-dewey-s-intelligent-populism-beyond-brexit-trump-and-post-truth">David Ridley</a> agrees, again returning to the work of John Dewey, to argue that what is needed, “is a new form of co-operative inquiry that both reconstructs democracy from within and re-creates the public in the process. What is needed is an ‘intelligent populism’.” For Dewey, he reminds us,“humanising technology was the most pressing task of modern society.” By contrast, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/justin-schlosberg/media-technology-military-industrial-complex">Justin Schlosberg</a> echoes the conviction of another US sociologist, C Wright Mills, that “concentrated power in late capitalist democracies was invisible, and no longer to be found in the observable decision-making and conflicts of day-to-day partisan politics.” In a world of so-called fake news and post-truth politics, he maintains that the influence of largely invisible qualities of concentrated power over media, public and policy agendas, warrants renewed and urgent scrutiny.</p><p> Meanwhile, the Hungarian philosopher of post-Fascism, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/can-europe-make-it/g-m-tam-s/mystery-of-populism-finally-unveiled">Gaspar Miklos Tamás</a>, has been infuriated by the debate raging over the nature of populism, and is drawing the line at the erasure of "any difference between oppression and emancipation”. While it is understandable that we might be wrong-footed by the current “uprising of the élite against The People, and not vice versa”, Left betrayal is less forgiveable – we should remember 1914.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd"><img style="padding-top: 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u548777/edu2.png" /></a>openDemocracy was at the World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between inequality, education and democracy. </p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/stephen-mccloskey/in-age-of-brexit-and-trump-we-need-development-education-more-than-ever">In the age of Brexit and Trump, we need ‘development education’ more than ever</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/sara-carpenter/learning-in-movement-moment">Learning in a &#039;movement moment&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/graham-brown-martin/our-crisis-of-democracy-is-crisis-of-education">Our crisis of democracy is a crisis of education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/melissa-benn/is-politics-and-policy-too-toxic-for-dewey">Melissa Benn: Is politics and policy too toxic for Dewey?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/uk/ted-cantle/in-world-of-hate-fear-and-alternative-facts-education-really-does-matter">In a world of hate, fear and ‘alternative facts’, education really does matter</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/callum-gurr/i-went-to-state-grammar-school-but-no-they-are-not-answer">I went to a state grammar school but no they are not the answer</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/rosie-goodhart-florence-pennant/teaching-schoolchildren-to-discover-their-political-voice">Teaching schoolchildren in east London to discover their political voice</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/stein-ringen/china-and-embarrassment-of-western-democracy">China and the embarrassment of western democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/francesco-grillo-annalisa-cappellini-giulia-lamoratta/back-to-future-rebirth-of-classical-approach-t">Back to the future: the rebirth of a classical approach to democracy and education in a post-modern society</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/rosemary-bechler-siamak-ahmadi-hassan-asfour/dialog-macht-schule-taking-dialogue-into-schools">Dialog macht Schule: taking dialogue into schools</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/digitaliberties/marco-deseriis-richard-bartlett/loomio-and-problem-of-deliberation">Loomio and the problem of deliberation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/digitaLiberties/marco-deseriis/adhocracy-helps-create-future-of-political-engagement">Adhocracy helps create a future of political engagement</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/peter-emerson/brexit-wrecks-it-theory-of-collective-decision-making">Brexit wrecks it: the theory of collective decision making</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/robin-wilson/towards-dialogue-in-northern-ireland">Towards dialogue in Northern Ireland</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/huw-williams/mind-your-language">Mind your language</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/lynda-stone/silent-lunches-how-do-we-get-to-educational-reform-in-us">Silent lunches: how do we get to educational reform in the US?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/lynda-stone/democracy-education-under-siege-and-now-trump">Democracy education under siege and now Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a 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href="/wfd/david-ridley/john-dewey-s-intelligent-populism-beyond-brexit-trump-and-post-truth">John Dewey’s ‘intelligent populism’: beyond Brexit, Trump and post-truth</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/can-europe-make-it/tea-hadziristic/two-schools-under-one-roof-lesson-in-ethnic-unmixing-from-bosnia-">Two schools under one roof: a lesson in ethnic unmixing from Bosnia’s segregated school system</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> World Forum for Democracy 2016 En Liang Khong Rosemary Bechler Fri, 03 Mar 2017 08:53:55 +0000 Rosemary Bechler and En Liang Khong 109096 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Kiron family https://www.opendemocracy.net/wfd/rosemary-bechler-ehab-martin-kressler/kiron-family <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We revisit the social start-up that gives refugees access to higher education, meeting a 24 yr.old Syrian beneficiary and a Kiron co-founder, both of whom’s future plans build on this ingenious scheme. Interview.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd"><img alt="wfd" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/bannerforarticle.png" width="460px" /></a></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/founders.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Markus Kressler and Kiron co-founders."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/founders.jpg" alt="lead " title="Markus Kressler and Kiron co-founders." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Markus Kressler and Kiron co-founders.</span></span></span></p><blockquote><p>The Social Start-up Kiron Open Higher Education was founded in 2015 by Vincent Zimmer and Markus Kressler. Kiron is the world’s first online learning platform, that enables refugees to have unbureaucratic access to higher education and successful learning through digital solutions. The blended learning model 2.0 of Kiron consists of an online study phase of average two years followed by approx. two years at a partner university of Kiron to finish with a fully accredited bachelor degree. Refugees can start studying immediately and regardless of their asylum status, language skills and free of charge. Kiron aims at fostering an economic as well as social integration in host countries and empowers refugees to step back into a self-determined life through studying. Therefore, the program is embedded in an ecosystem of support services, centered around the student’s needs.</p></blockquote> <p><b><i>Rosemary Bechler</i></b><i> (RB): Ehab, you were studying mechanical engineering and had finished your diploma in Syria when the war began. What happened to you then?</i></p><p><i><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_20161018_084545_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_20161018_084545_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ehab - part of the Kiron family.</span></span></span></i><b>Ehab:</b> When I finished my studies, the government called me up for army service. I decided instead to find work abroad: I didn’t want to be in the army. But there were so many Syrians looking for work abroad, and the education systems were very different. I went to Africa, to the Ivory Coast, working as an engineer for one year. But I had also taken an interest in volunteering work to help the children in the local communities to an education. That interest had started back in Homs, in 2013, when I was a team leader for UN volunteers in my city. I began to see what you could do in this international organisation. In Africa I got more interested in the UN work to support people with food, with education. I started to read more about politics, diplomacy, international relations. Then I got ill with malaria, and I had to move to Istanbul. </p><p>There I did any work I could find, as an engineer working on alarm systems, using my Arabic and English and French language skills which I first learned at school in Syria, to help the company to export those systems. Again, I searched for opportunities to work with the United Nations, and offered to help out with a youth conference for one week in Qatar which was part of the UN humanitarian summit. That was interesting. I began to realise that I could be much more successful for whatever society I was living in when I was active in the political sector and could be part of the decision-making process. Then, a month later, the UN asked me back, this time to Geneva, and they made me a youth representative speaking on their behalf around the world. This was a huge leap forward for me as you can imagine, as a refugee in Istanbul.</p> <p>But it was the same for me as for anyone human, when I began to really think about how I might build a future for myself, I knew I needed further education. The problem was that I had built up quite a lot of experience, but in the United Nations, if you have no relevant academic qualifications, then that prevents you from advancing. So I was always afraid I was going to lose any opportunities that came my way. My goal was to get the academic qualifications that would support my work experience in the UN. </p> <p>From Switzerland, where I was by now involved in working with the United Nations in a peace camp, I made my way to Germany and I began to think about humanitarian work, and search on the internet for opportunities that would allow me to make more of a contribution in this field. Life as a refugee was so full of problems. We couldn’t study if we didn’t speak German and that would take two years; we were constantly asked for documents that were back in Syria; and so I could see a lot of doors that were open for others, in the university in Bielefeld, that were all closed to me. </p> <p>That was when I came across Kiron on the internet, and immediately it felt like the most amazing life-line – a line of hope. Someone was saying to me – come, you can move forward from where you are now. I started to read more about the scheme offered by Kiron, what it enabled me to do. </p> <p><i>RB: What was it that was so enabling ?</i></p> <p><b>Ehab:</b> The first thing was the opportunity to study the social sciences: all the volunteering work and especially my working experience with UNHCR had made me see the world in a different light. But this ambition also went back to my experience of war in Syria, watching, over three years, how the paramedics worked and the disaster experts and what helped them to be effective. As a team leader of UN volunteers, I began to see how I was capable of helping a lot of people to take decisions, how I was able to relate to young people around me in local youth ngo’s in Syria, and it made me want to change my study track. The moment the war started in 2011, it made us all larger than we had been as ordinary everyday people.</p> <p>My family are always surprised to see what I do now. My mother always says, “You're a young man. Don’t try and do more than a young man has to do in this life.” But I can’t go back now to what I was before. I meet a lot of young people and when we speak together, they seem consumed by video games, cars and sport. They don’t have this driving curiosity in German policy, in the conversation going on in Geneva now – but my mind can’t go back to those preoccupations any more.</p> <p>Kiron allowed us to think about what young refugees could do in the longer term to help Syria when we go back there: it will have so many problems. We will have to rebuild our country after this stupid war. So we shouldn’t just be thinking about getting an education. We should be working out the kind of work we really want to do. And Kiron helped us break through all the bureaucracy in Germany which prevents young refugees from thinking about anything – so this was invaluable.</p> <p>Kiron always talks about how we have to make the move from refugee to student. This is a real life change. Because also when you arrive here, and the community treats you as a refugee – it’s very hard. You are poor, fleeing a needless war and incapable of doing anything useful in life because you don’t have any experience, any education. But when you become a student, it is also a good thing for the community. You are someone who is trying to improve yourself, and to make a contribution.</p> <p>So then I realised that with Kiron I could study in English. I didn’t need to learn German and lose two years from my life before I could do anything. No, from 2016 I could start studying the political sciences in English and during those two years I would have the time to learn German and attend a German university.</p> <p><i>RB: So what kind of support did you get to make this quite radical shift from one type of learning to another?</i></p> <p><b>Ehab: </b>Well, the first thing is the Massive Open Online Courses themselves (MOOCs) which we have access to on some very well-respected websites such as Coursera or edX. In these courses, you have a lot of video and pdf's, student comments and question and answer sessions. The course organisers help you with their commentary. </p> <p>You can contact Kiron’s Direct Academics and join one of their classes. But Kiron has other forms of support to offer you too: we have student mentors who can understand our experience, advisers who can help us with various problems; and Kiron forums online and offline where we can have really productive conversations with other students. </p> <p>We have a lot of support from partner universities. In Bielefeld, I am in contact with political and social scientists and also students of both at the university. If there is something on the internet I don’t understand, I can meet up with them and they will explain what’s going on. At the same time I am asked to sit in on German classes of political science, so that I have an opportunity to grasp the specialist vocabulary. This also helps us to prepare ourselves for the first year at university, because we have a chance to see university life.</p> <p><i>RB: I believe you are already putting your education to good use by setting up in cooperation with the United Nations a project called, ‘Syrian youth for peace’? Tell me more?</i></p> <p><b>Ehab: </b>Actually, Kiron has helped me in this also. Every time I come across a problem with this project, thanks to them I am in touch with so many people who can help me find a solution. This has really helped me a lot! I can always turn to my Doctor at Bielefeld University and also the Kiron Direct Academics – who are interested in this project too. <a href="http://www.unoy.org/syc/?page_id=5&amp;lang=en">Syrian Youth for Peace</a> now has a website, and we have decided what our goals are and what we need to achieve them. There are four founder members with different mindsets, from different communities, people living in Germany, UK and elsewhere and we have come together to support Syrian youth to help them to education too. It really goes back to my first point. Nothing is more important than education, to build our human communities, to enable young people to play a role in bringing about peace and empowering women and children through education. Without education we cannot do anything for our common future. I will send you a userlink and you can understand more about Syrian Youth for Peace. </p><p>I’d like to finish with this sentence. You can say that now Kiron is my community. There are a lot of students like me who are of the same mind. Kiron has been the best thing that ever happened to me, supporting me in building my future. Syrian youth in a ruined country have no concept of the future. But we can help them build a new country. When we talk about a Kiron family, that’s not just a phrase: it is a reality.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/kiron-Markus.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Markus, Kiron co-founder."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/kiron-Markus.jpg" alt="" title="Markus, Kiron co-founder." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Markus, Kiron co-founder.</span></span></span></p> <h2><b>Meet Markus</b></h2> <p><b><i>Rosemary Bechler (RB)</i></b><i>: Let’s go back to Strasbourg at the World Forum for Democracy 2016, where you received the Council of Europe’s Democracy Innovation Award. Since you started up in 2015, you have received several awards, which must help you to establish your reputation in the world. Is that right?</i></p> <p><b>Markus Kressler (Markus): </b>Of course it’s always nice to have our work appreciated by receiving awards, we are really thankful for everyone who believes in our mission. </p> <p>But yes, at the end of 2015, we were not really being listened to, despite the fact that we were pretty convinced that we had found a solution that would enable displaced people, refugees to access higher education. But for the bigger foundations it was just too much of a risk in the beginning, too much of an innovation for smaller ones, who maybe didn’t really have the financial means to help us out.</p> <p>So we decided to do a big crowd-funding campaign then and there, which turned out to be a really big and successful social crowdfunding campaign, and that was really the starting point. We would have cancelled the project otherwise at the end of the year. We had been working about a year on it on a voluntary basis, but even without paying people, we had been able to attract around 35 really highly motivated volunteers who shared this vision.</p> <p>So after the <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-20/preparing-syria-s-future-leaders-one-college-course-at-a-time">first foundation</a> stepped forward, slowly we also started to produce results, and then the appreciation began to come in. I’m just back from Paris now, having received the UNESCO ICT award from the Director General at a great event where we got to know a whole lot of new and inspiring people. </p> <p><i>RB: Congratulations! So was it the crowdfunding breakthrough that induced political decision-makers, people from business and science to take you seriously would you say? </i></p> <p><b>Markus:</b> <b>&nbsp;</b>Basically, we just knew that once we began taking students on, on our platform, we had a certain obligation to fulfil their expectations and this required some basic financial means to enable them to complete the two-year programme. This was the major reason for the crowdfunding campaign. We couldn’t have done this on a voluntary basis any more: we needed to have at least a basic income to ensure the quality of our results. So, after the crowdfunding there were 300 articles in the press within 60 days, which was when we got the democratic thumbs up for our project. </p> <p>Suddenly this made other people who maybe didn’t want to work with us before rethink their decision. We went into talks with some foundations first, and once we had convinced them to support our mission, we met with the public institutions and other partners. The Schöpflin Foundation gave us our first substantial funding for a long period of time. Since September, the BMBF (Ministry for education and research) is also supporting us financially. That was really when we knew that OK, this was going to work, and we could scale up in terms of numbers.</p> <p><i>RB: Just how important is the invention of Massive Open Online Courses, (MOOCs)?</i></p> <p><b>Markus: </b>That’s the core of everything. Without <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course">these MOOC’s</a> we couldn’t do what we are doing. This is a movement in open educational resources which is still pretty new to Europe actually. In the US they were a little bit ahead of us. I think the first time the US Senate talked about them was in 2008: in Germany it was only last year that they really put it on the political agenda. So this was a resource that not many people knew about when we started Kiron, but we knew about it, and we also knew how educational systems or curricula work. </p> <p>Basically, if you can ensure through MOOCs, which are local forums of university-level content, that people can achieve certain outcomes, and we can really scientifically prove this, there is no reason for universities, or educational institutions, not to work with open educational resources as well. That is what we are still trying to prove on a scientific basis, but the results so far look pretty promising.</p> <p><i>RB: How significant is that development for education, for democracy, for combatting inequality, for social cohesion?</i></p> <p><b>Markus: </b>It’s extremely important I think. Just last year with the Sustainable Development Goals – number four on high quality education, number seventeen on achieving goals through partnerships, and also goals for diminishing inequalities in our world – these are the goals that the UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR and also major governments have been committed to achieving since 2013. MOOCs are one of the first developments in education that take us in this direction, and I’m pretty sure there will be something after MOOCs, or complementing their work that exactly taps into those goals because they are free from location constraints, they don’t really have a capacity problem, there is no time limit – you can study according to your own time schedule, and these are all elements that I also have personally experienced are very very important especially for refugees, since it is hard for them to stick to a fixed schedule, study the language of the host communities, and also study wherever they currently are. When the recent big wave of Syrians came to Europe, they spent years waiting – often between 4-7 years and some people were in camps for ten years – more than enough time in which to do a whole bachelor and master programme!</p> <p><i>RB: Would you say that the refugees who find Kiron are necessarily a self-selecting group? How far can you reach out to the disadvantaged? </i></p> <p><b>Markus: </b>There is definitely a certain self-selection on the part of our students. We also try to create, in comparison to conventional or MOOC providers, a certain degree of up-front restriction. What that means is that we always have the core value that we don’t want to create any barriers for people to access our system, but we need to ensure that someone at least understands a basic level of English so that this person can study our MOOCs. </p> <p>Once simultaneous translation becomes available we will definitely be rethinking that, but for now, at the end of the day we are an educational institution, and that’s why people give us money, and so they look out for the numbers of those students who go successfully through our system, and of course we have to invest resources in every student who enters our platform. We have already had the experience that some of them really like our social events and our online language courses, but pretty much sign up for these features without studying, and as long as we have limited resources, unfortunately, we can’t really cater for that. </p> <p>So, to return to your original question, so far we are not reaching out to great numbers of students – currently over 2000 students have access to the courses on the platform – because we are not rolling it out to thousands of people until we can really be sure that all of the systems work, and that’s what we are trying to prove at the moment with each of these programmes, especially the student support programmes that we have set up, with our academic programmes and also with our platforms and MOOCs in general and access to them. </p> <p>Most of the students come through already existing programmes, such as language courses or guest lecturing programmes in partner universities. It was actually really great to see that universities rather appreciated what we were doing, because they were searching for opportunities to help tackle the refugee crisis, but at the same time they are bound by certain restrictions – they have to request passports, proof of language skills, a high school diploma and so on. That always takes time and sometimes it can mean two or three years for a person waiting for those documents. Especially during a transition period when someone has left his or her country but before they have entered another educational system – that is what our platform is for. Therefore, Kiron sees itself as a bridge builder. In this process the universities are our strong partners. Without them the whole learning-model wouldn’t be possible.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/kiron_Markusandstudents.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Markus and Kiron students."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/kiron_Markusandstudents.jpg" alt="" title="Markus and Kiron students." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Markus and Kiron students.</span></span></span></p><p><i>RB: So this is a continuous learning process on what will be effective. I have understood that by 2018 you ‘intend to successfully implement your model beyond Germany in France, Jordan and Turkey’. Isn't that pretty ambitious?</i></p> <p><b>Markus: </b>I always envisaged a five-step plan, whereby in 2015 we simply had an idea of a solution. In 2016 we created an educational model that would work, bundling MOOCs for the first time into real curricula that have learning outcomes in the back-end of our database, so that is actually where the real magic happens, because the universities for the first time can work with this, which wasn’t possible with MOOCs before. </p><p>This year is all about study success: so we want to implement gamification, student communities, we are going to test out female-only study groups, and we are currently implementing different sorts of study centres and so on. Then next year will be the first year for the big transfer cohorts. We expect that a first smaller group of students will transfer by the end of this year. But next year there will probably be significant numbers. And we will continue to roll this out in two European countries and two countries in the Middle East, because we have the ambition to be a global solution to a global problem, and for us this is really the proof of concept that we are looking for, a model that doesn’t just work in Germany, but in a second European country and also in another educational system.</p> <p><i>RB: Has it been interesting working with other educational systems in different political landscapes. Do they look to your model for different things? </i></p> <p><b>Markus: </b>&nbsp;Yes, because they are different, but actually not so different. Our first approach was one that was already centred in internationalisation, simply the idea of matching curricula individually with online courses. So pretty much like when you go for an Erasmus semester and every student sits down for hours and hours with the people from the international offices to see which courses you can get recognised as qualified for in the university in Spain you might want to attend. That’s what we did in the beginning and this is also what we are currently doing internationally. </p> <p>But at the same time, there is also a growing acceptance of the European <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECTS_grading_scale">ECTS grading scale</a> which is already comparable to the American model and some universities in Lebanon are already using this model for example. In Jordan they are using the American model, so we already have a match there. In Turkey it is a little tricky, but they also understand the benefits of identifying clear learning outcomes in their own curricula. With our German partner universities, for example, we usually match the Moocs on our platform with their curricular and define the learning outcomes. So we could just carry on and do the same with our international partners and create two systems that can work with each other. This much we know.&nbsp; </p> <p>For those countries that have taken in a high number of refugees, their interest in us is mainly a matter of living up to their promises in education. In Jordan and Turkey, where unemployment rates among university graduates are already high within their own population, it is hard to argue that you should invest a lot of money in universities to create places for refugees. You might be able to sell it as a temporary problem rather than a longterm problem. But your own citizens realise that they will probably be staying around. So it is a political interest they have in us, mixed up with a financial interest, as well as a genuine interest which is – just to help.</p> <p><i>RB: Thinking of the kind of considerable generosity we see in Lebanon, for example, I can’t help wondering, speaking as I do from Brexit Britain, whether you frequently get asked by people why you are putting such efforts into helping refugees when further educational opportunities are also not there for many of your own native citizens? </i></p> <p><b>Markus: </b>&nbsp;We used to be asked this much more frequently in the beginning. There were individual e-mails that asked exactly this question: “Why do you provide this opportunity only to refugees when I as a normal German citizen couldn’t get such chances by studying with Kiron?”</p> <p>The answer is: Kiron is offering a solution for those who for various specific reasons do not have access to higher education, who are refugees. What we are doing is supporting the refugees who need that support and also deserve it after all the things that they have been through. They just need a small break to help kick things off. More and more people are beginning to understand that it is not so much a matter of us solving all their problems, as Angela Merkel used to say, but it is more about creating tools for them to solve their own problems. That’s probably all we need to do. Once we have created those tools, in the end they will become contributing members to our society.</p> <p>Every economics institute in this world, including the Adam Smith Institute, which has one of the best studies on this by <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkdd1lik69U">Executive Director Sam Bowman</a>, agrees that even the worst refugee is an economic zero. They will only become an economic minus if they take to a life of crime or become a burden on the healthcare system. At the worst, they create one supply and one demand and the local economy has to be able to absorb that. The minute someone is educated and can contribute to society, they raise the GDP, the taxes that pay for everyone living in that society, and that is also a plus for the locals already living there since it is worth hundreds of euros. People are beginning to understand that logic. </p> <p><i>RB: The flexibility of the modularised model you have, with this combination of offline and online, and a variety of types of support seems to me to offer an important educational formula which might have all sorts of applications for the future? Would you agree?</i></p> <p><b>Markus: </b>I remember when we first started sketching some ideas of what our platform could look like, and to develop the first pitch, I took a trend map of a research institution and tried to identify what kind of ideas we were tapping into with our initial idea. Pretty much all of the major top twenty trends of our century were ones that had something going for us, and there was not one trend which was against what we were doing.</p> <p>Education in general is tending to move away from formal degrees and towards individual achievements. If you look at computer science, a lot of good students never finish their degree and quit before because companies like Google and Facebook are actively searching for these weird geniuses who soon notice that they can earn a ton of money after just two years’ experience in coding! So that is one trend that we refer to as ‘unbundling our education’. Smaller chunks of education already have a certain value. You won’t become a business professor, but you may become an accountant and be able to read a balance sheet and set up some financial planning for an organisation. </p> <p>But as you said, the meaningful combination of online and offline is so important. For me, the worst case scenario is clear. I attended two universities: at one I was studying psychology and at the other, the arts. For me in the arts, the very worst thing would have been not to have any human interaction any more because everything had suddenly become digital! That is the picture that people sometimes get of Kiron – Ooh they are putting refugees in dark basements to study and become little health care machines for the future because that is a flourishing industry, but without any interaction any more!&nbsp; </p> <p>Actually it is exactly the opposite. To better respond to our student needs, we created personalised teaching and interactive learning opportunities and launched several student support programmes. Our learning model is based on a concept called "Blended Learning 2.0": our study tracks combine asynchronous open online courses (MOOCs) with synchronous and complementary live online tutorials provided by Kiron Direct Academics. This means that we will provide tutorials and exercise courses that accompany the MOOCs and support our students to achieve their academic goals. </p><p>In addition we offer supplementary student services such as the counseling or the Buddy Program in which the student's needs are addressed as far as possible. For example in our Buddy Program, Kiron students are matched with local students who can support them in their studies, share experiences, have fun together and learn each other's languages. </p><p><i>RB: Do you get the impression that your Kiron students do contribute something important to the diversity and liveliness of your partner universities?</i></p> <p><b>Markus: &nbsp;</b>Yes, that is true in several ways. There is this tendency that with every major crisis in our world, we tend not to see the big revolutions that often accompany those upheavals at the time. I think mankind often comes out of crises stronger than we were going in. In Germany that is true of everything digital, for example. We first discussed an electronic ID card twenty years ago, and now because it was the only way to keep track of all the people suddenly entering our country – they have finally done this thanks to the refugees. </p><p>But that is also true for universities who have been thinking for quite some time about how they can use the opportunities held out by digitalization for their own teaching. The acceptance of online curricula would never have been as ready or as open-minded, had we not been doing it urgently for a socially disadvantaged group.</p> <p>And of course besides this it is obviously a real added value to have people who come from such different backgrounds and cultures. There are also loads of things that are hard to explain, but sometimes when you talk with some of our students, they bring with them such an incredible sense of affirmation and hopefulness and determination about the future, that I am jealous of them. Where they get that positive outlook, I just don’t know. But it is really something to learn from on a human level.</p> <p><i>RB: So this talk about the Kiron family extends to you as well. </i></p> <p><b>Markus</b>: Yes, exactly.</p> <p><i>RB: I’m glad to hear that…&nbsp; well thank you very much!&nbsp;</i></p><p><i><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/kiron-students.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Kiron students."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549501/kiron-students.jpg" alt="" title="Kiron students." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kiron students.</span></span></span><br /></i></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd"><img style="padding-top: 10px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u548777/edu2.png" /></a>openDemocracy was at the World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between inequality, education and democracy. </p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/florian-rampelt/kiron-provides-refugees-with-opportunities-to-study">Kiron provides refugees with opportunities to study</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/ana-martiningui-salvatore-nigro/jobs-above-all-else">Jobs above all else</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/rosemary-bechler-siamak-ahmadi-hassan-asfour/dialog-macht-schule-taking-dialogue-into-schools">Dialog macht Schule: taking dialogue into schools</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/ozlem-eskiocak/making-global-citizenship-education-possible-for-refugees">Making global citizenship education possible for refugees</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/francesco-grillo-annalisa-cappellini-giulia-lamoratta/back-to-future-rebirth-of-classical-approach-t">Back to the future: the rebirth of a classical approach to democracy and education in a post-modern society</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openglobalrights/kate-donald/tackling-inequality-potential-of-sustainable-development-goals">Tackling inequality: the potential of the Sustainable Development Goals</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/hassan-akkad/exodus-from-syria">Hassan Akkad: exodus from Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Jordan </div> <div class="field-item even"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Turkey Jordan France Germany Civil society Economics Equality Ideas International politics Internet Science World Forum for Democracy 2016 Rosemary Bechler Markus Kressler Ehab Thu, 02 Mar 2017 08:34:55 +0000 Ehab, Markus Kressler and Rosemary Bechler 109160 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Dialog macht Schule: taking dialogue into schools https://www.opendemocracy.net/wfd/rosemary-bechler-siamak-ahmadi-hassan-asfour/dialog-macht-schule-taking-dialogue-into-schools <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A highly innovative German school programme uses dialogue to move beyond the us versus them of our polarised societies. We find out how well this works. Interview.<ins datetime="2017-02-22T13:37" cite="mailto:Rosemary%20Bechler"></ins></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/bannerforarticle.png" alt="wfd" width="460px" /></a></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/K_9621.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/K_9621.jpeg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Founders and CEOs of Dialog macht Schule, Hassan Asfour and Siamak Ahmadi. Picture by tagesspiegel(TSP). All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><i>Rosemary Bechler: Greetings! I’m sorry I missed you in the World Forum for Democracy 2016 last October in Strasbourg. Did you have a good time at this summit on education, inequality and democracy?</i></p> <p><b>Siamak Ahmadi</b> (SA): Very interesting – the only forum I had been involved in before was <a href="http://www.bpb.de/veranstaltungen/netzwerke/nece/227277/nece-conference-2016-zagreb">the NECE conference</a> here in Europe, initiated by the Federal Agency for Civic Education in Germany – so going to Strasbourg and seeing how many interesting projects there are all over the world was really interesting.</p> <p><i>RB: We are in the middle of Brexit: we are just trying to grapple with the impact and significance of Donald Trump's election, with more distrustful, bitterly fought elections in the pipeline. For the many democratic societies that are undergoing this kind of rapid polarisation of views and value systems, I suppose the first thing I wanted to do was to ask you to help me situate the importance of dialogue as such. How central is this to your work?</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> Definitely and at many different levels.</p> <p><i>RB: OK – so where to start? Maybe you could tell me something about the history behind Dialogue in School? </i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> Hassan Asfour and I used to work for the <a href="http://www.bpb.de/die-bpb/138852/federal-agency-for-civic-education">Federal Agency for Civic Education</a> in a pilot project which had as its aim the creation of new formats of civic education for disadvantaged groups. We worked in schools mostly, schools which had a high percentage of young girls and boys who came from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is the case in Germany and I think many other countries as well, that many of them – in our case 90% – also had a migration background. So they were very diverse school cohorts and the aim was to reach out to those supposedly ‘hard to reach’ students.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Hassan Asfour (HA): </b>We worked in the seventh and eighth grade, with 13 – 15 years old, and experimented with how best to interest them in democracy and issues of political topicality. A pilot project has a beginning and an end, but it was a success because we realised that what was needed in such schools was in fact a longterm approach, not just a workshop approach. You need to go and become an integrated part of the school system as an external. So to scale up the pilot project, the idea was born to establish our own NGO, and call it ‘Dialog macht Schule – Dialogue at school’. You can read more about this in our book,&nbsp; “<a href="http://www.bpb.de/shop/buecher/schriftenreihe/236777/beyond-us-versus-them">Beyond us vs. them</a>”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/dialogmachtschule-01.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/dialogmachtschule-01.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The chaircircle - an essential element of the dialogsessions. Picture by Dialog macht Schule.</span></span></span><b>SA:</b> So now I can begin to answer you with regards to dialogue. We realised that this doesn’t work on a ‘deductive basis’, which means to say, in a school you have topics: ‘ Politics, biology, mathematics’, and within those topics there are targets that have to be reached, and aims that students have to adhere to. </p> <p>But our approach was on a different, dialogical basis and our aim was to get in touch with the students to build a relationship with them. For us, dialogue is very much based on a relationship that enables you to find out what really interests them. We realised that you don’t find out what really interests students if you just ask them, “What would you like to work on?” If you ask them this, many don’t actually know. So instead, you have to start with their narratives – How do they like to spend their time? What movies do they watch? Gradually, you find out what is specifically of interest to this group, maybe a dominant topic. And then we deepen this topic: and we find a way to connect this everyday issue to a political issue. </p> <p>For example, we had a group that were talking about the movie <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1099212/"><i>Twilight (2008)</i></a>, and they spoke about how they really fancied the actor,&nbsp;Pattinson, but didn’t like the movie. We asked the boys if they had a dream girl, and we worked on&nbsp;this topic until we could start talking about gender equality. Most of these students had a Muslim background, so we asked them how much of a problem it would be getting together with someone not from a Muslim background. There was a lot of discussion, but they decided that if he was as handsome as Pattinson, that would be OK! Then you can say, what if you had a child together, which religion would you raise the child in? The girls argued that since they bore the child, they should decide which religion it was raised in, while the boys said no, they were ‘the men’ and they should decide. So then, we explored how to get a consensus, and this ‘win-win’ skill is of course very much part of the dialogic approach. One girl said: “They should grow up with both religions and then they can decide.” Not everyone was happy with this result, but there were no better arguments in the room, and so this was an important result of their dialogue.</p> <p><i>RB: And did this go on every week?</i></p> <p><span style="color: #008000;"></span><b>HA: </b>Yes. This scaling-up involves us in training university students to become dialogue moderators.&nbsp;They divide a regular class into two ‘dialogue groups’ with a maximum of 13 – 15 students, and each group is supported or supervised by two dialogue facilitators. They work with the kids on a weekly basis for a period of two years. </p> <p>In the beginning they have to build trust as I said before, try to establish the topics of interest to the students and try to deepen those topics until they become projects, maybe some oral history work, or they go and do street surveys, or an anti-racism campaign within the school, or they make their own short movies. We always want to motivate the students to do project work, since ‘regaining self-efficacy’ is one of our underlying aims.</p> <p><i>RB: How do you cope with a range of languages? </i></p> <p><b>HA:</b> It is a huge challenge, particular after the refugee waves that we had in Germany last year. There are students who don’t really understand German, but we soon realised that when we have such a diverse group of students, there are always those students who just naturally become interpreters for the others. </p> <p>Most of the students we work with have a migration background, but were born here. So they can speak German. Nevertheless, we still work on their language skills, and this is another level of dialogue that is important, not only on the formal level. If you make contact with the students, we can also transfer language competencies because dialogue is the essence and language is the tool we need to get at the topics and interests of the students. They ask for this help.</p> <p><i>RB: But are there instances when languages other than German become a real resource?</i></p> <p><b>HA:</b> German is the main language in our dialogue groups. Other languages such as English have become more important, but it is not our main task to teach them that – that’s what their teachers do. What we also do in this regard is to make them understand that we live in an interdependent world. A lot of the kids from diverse disadvantaged backgrounds are quite nationalistic in their thinking, and to help them understand that nations are now very much mutually dependent is something else that we try to bring to the surface in these dialogue groups. It is necessary for all of us to understand the other person from another country as well.</p> <p><i>RB: How are so many dialogue facilitators funded and managed? And how much leeway do you give them over these conversations? </i></p> <p><b>HA:</b>&nbsp; First of all the funding. We are funded by the Ministry for the Family in Germany, by the Federal Agency for Civic Education which is a unique German institution, and we have a social franchise concept which means that each region in Germany which does Dialogue in School also develops a regional funding network.&nbsp;</p><p>Finally, the good thing about having a longterm engagement with the school system means that we can gain a lot of understanding about the processes involved in reaching out to the ‘hard to reach’, such that this equips us to run workshops on these findings for all sorts of other kinds of pedagogical initiatives, on a commercial basis. So we have many funding pillars, including public, private, foundation funding and also by our own efforts in running specialist workshops.</p> <p><i>RB: So it is a fantastic learning opportunity for you and more broadly for any society?</i></p> <p><b>HA:</b>&nbsp; Most definitely. This is also true for our dialogue facilitators. After two years, they gain a lot of experience in a skill that they can also make available by doing workshops etc. This could become a new kind of informal professional skill, since we can see the demand for it is really increasing rapidly. Sometimes the demand is so high, we can’t cover it. So we don’t know what the future will bring, but it could be very interesting for university graduates with a 9 – 5 job who realise that they would like to do something to contribute. They could say, “Why not go once a week to share what I have learned and give my competencies more meaning?” In the non-formal area I think it has a lot of potential. How it could become a profession, I’m not so sure, because professionals also need economic security.</p> <p><b>HA:</b> We work with the teachers also to give them new dialogic skills. As part of their teacher training, they can come and work with Dialogue in School for six months. By sharing with them not exactly our ‘method’ but let’s say our way of doing things, we want to have a longterm impact on the educational system. So if you ask our dialogue facilitators if they see themselves as professional, they do not. But many of them are becoming teachers, and so they are able to take the experience with them into their chosen profession.</p> <p><b>SA:</b> Each year we train 100 dialogue facilitators, and we have expanded now into six German cities so that we reach out into more than 35<span style="color: #008000;"></span> schools and two<span style="color: #008000;"></span> thousand students. We have a network at the moment of 170 active<span style="color: #008000;"></span> dialogue facilitators. </p> <p>How do we train them? We train them first in an academy. We select university students from it doesn’t matter which academic subject. For us what is important is that we have a very diverse group, with regard to gender and cultural background. We look for a diversity of students facilitators that reflects the diversity of the schools in which they will work and the target group.&nbsp;Our academy trains them for six days in the first instance, and here they learn psychological approaches, our dialogical approaches, and the most recent methods in civic education and education in democracy. </p> <p>Straight after that they go into the schools, but in this initial period they are supported by experienced dialogue facilitators – we call them ‘school coaches’. They observe their classes and give them feedback sessions to improve their work. One ‘school coach’ will support around ten dialogue groups, which means they support around fifteen dialogue facilitators. Four dialogue facilitators will sit together with one ‘school coach’ to get their feedback on a regular basis. After one year, the second, ‘deepening academy’ takes place over four<span style="color: #008000;"> </span>days. This increases their skills in how to run projects, learn new methods,<span style="color: #008000;"> </span>how to reflect on their work and the motivation of students, and so on. After the second year, they qualify as dialogue facilitators and receive a certificate from us. We are looking into being certified as an organisation, but meanwhile the bodies that fund us are labels of quality, and over the three years we have gained quite a good reputation in Germany and Dialog Macht Schule dialogue facilitators have acquired a name for themselves as well. We of course are eager to increase the value of that name by promoting the function as such.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/DMS AUSSTELLUNG-6.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/DMS AUSSTELLUNG-6.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Celebrating achievements together - opening Vernisage of the Mein Kiez-Exibit at Kreuzbergmuseum made by pupils of a dialogue group. Picture Christian Plähn. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><i>RB: From the school coaches you must also get a lot of information about what is happening in these schools and how to make advances in this area.</i> </p><p><b>HA:&nbsp;</b> Exactly. This is why we call ourselves a network. We are in six cities and whatever happens in the other cities, we&nbsp;try to gather this data, the report-backs, the topics, what interests the students, the best practise approaches, and we try to evaluate them in Berlin to improve our approach and make those improvements available for everyone in the network. Since 2009, also counting in our pilot, we have four generations of our dialogue programme to learn from. </p><p><i>RB: How unique is this scheme? Do you see yourselves as part of a more general advance of civic educational and democratic initiatives?</i></p> <p><b>HA: </b>Both I would say. We did quite a lot of research to see if anyone else worked on anything like our two-year programmes. But most similar initiatives were based on a few workshops. They might do project weeks and work online. But this two-year commitment on a weekly basis within the regular school schedule – this is pretty unique. Moreover, once the two-year cycle is over, another team is trained to take over in the same school. So it is a very continuous approach.</p> <p>What is also important is that we work in small groups, so that there is very intensive work done on an inductive level – with the facilitators listening very hard for what interests the students. What we might call the psychotherapeutic aspects, trying to understand what really drives the students on their favourite topics, what motivates them and what does not motivate them – that combines with the civic educational aspects: How do I take a stand? How do I formulate an argument? These needs are well addressed in theory, but rarely in practice, because they need this long term commitment to work. A systemic approach that works with relationships at many different levels.</p> <p><i>RB: There must have been so much politics involved in initiating this? Can you tell me about that?</i></p> <p><b>HA: </b>It developed organically in one way, but then it’s also true that we had a rather worked out strategy from the start. I’ve mentioned the Federal Agency for Civic Education before. It is a quite unique body set up after the second world war by the United States actually to de-Nazify the German population. By now, they are a very well-known and respected body that receives a rather substantial budget, millions of euros actually, to promote democracy in Germany. </p> <p><i>RB: Wonderful! </i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> Yes it is really wonderful and quite a privilege to be associated with it. I mentioned the pilot where Hassan and I started thinking about our Dialog project. Well, once we had this partner on our side, it gave our approach a legitimacy, and at the same time, it made the project political from the start. But in Germany, educational politics is highly regionalised thanks to the federal system: the educational system in Berlin is quite different from that in Bavaria. So when we began, we first approached political bodies in Berlin and in Stuttgart, to trial somewhere north and south. </p> <p>When we first introduced the project to them, we knew that because of the increase in students with migration backgrounds, the teachers in these two regions felt quite overwhelmed and daunted by the rising challenge to reach out to all these students. We took advantage of these feelings at the time on the one hand, and on the other, convinced a lot of the politicians to promote our work on a regional level. We asked the politicians to invite the school heads to a presentation of our project, and let’s say out of ten heads, two wanted to try the scheme out.&nbsp; We asked these two heads to allow us to present our work to their teachers, so that they could follow the project from the start. Out of ten teachers, again, maybe two wanted to try it out with their classes. And gradually, over time, they realised that rather than being an extra effort or completely different, it was quite a considerable support to what they were doing. </p> <p>So by word of mouth, Dialog <ins cite="mailto:Rosemary%20Bechler" datetime="2017-02-22T13:57">m</ins>acht Schule became rather famous among the school heads and politicians. The school heads in a city will talk to each other and say: “Now we have this great programme we don’t have to set up the administration to run workshops, it’s much easier – they work longterm, also do project weeks, and help us to institute democratic instruments within our school system.” So now we don't have to persuade so much any more, and they come and ask us. It took off by word of mouth because it was built up gradually.</p> <p><i>RB: And has a regional or national reputation would you say?</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> It now has both.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/Chancengerechtigkeit ist, wenn man mir auch Gehîr schenkt.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/Chancengerechtigkeit ist, wenn man mir auch Gehîr schenkt.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Building trust - the dialogmoderators take their pupils and their stories seriously. Picture by Christian Plähn. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><i>RB: Tell me more about the psychotherapeutic aspect of this way of promoting democracy.</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> We don’t do psychotherapy per se, but there are core elements of it in our approach. If the core element is building of relationships, then it inevitably has a psychotherapeutic aspect to it. Because in psychotherapy change happens through relationships and not primarily through the methods. And this is very important to us because it emphasises what the famous New Zealand professor, <a href="https://visible-learning.org/john-hattie/">John Hattie’s meta-study</a> confirmed, that the relationship between the teacher and the students is the most important factor in teaching. In therapy, it is the same. Our dialogue facilitators are young role models who are perceived differently from teachers. By asking questions in a non-judgmental way they go on a journey of reflecting a person’s needs, interests, boundaries and finding out their relationship to the world they live in. This is in some way a therapeutic process.</p> <p><i>RB: I have been listening to </i><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQhHlpvgXFw"><i>Lynda Stone</i></a><i> about what she sees as the horrible practise of ‘silent lunches ‘ in US schools, and I wondered whether different national cultures are more or less conducive to taking dialogue seriously as a key educational and political approach.</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> It’s a good question. I think because of its past, Germany had to learn quite a tough lesson – that the opposite to war <i>is</i> dialogue. There is no other way if you want peace, and democratic thinking is thinking about how to resolve conflicts peacefully. Germany, I think, has made a lot of advances in this – because of its history, yes – but also in two specific ways.</p> <p>Particularly when we look at the schools, you see that on the one hand there is a desire to construct safe classrooms for dialogue, but on the other hand, if you look at how the system works, it is often not possible. The will is there, but it is not possible to find the free space for dialogue. This goes back to the idea of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment">PISA</a> on the one hand – the need to improve the competencies of the students with an emphasis on cognitive skills: for example, writing at a high standard to equip the students for finding employment later on, reading and so on. This is a very functional stream within the education system, which aims to get students into the job market.</p> <p>On the other hand, there is a traditional humanistic approach in German education which goes back to <a href="http://schillerinstitute.org/fid_91-96/962_humboldt_education.html">Humboldt</a>, and which tries not to confine itself to this level of functionality.&nbsp; You go into action with the students to find out, not how to fill an empty cup with water, but how to give them as vessels the ability to fill themselves, in a sense. The former function-based system takes the information, makes the input and hopes for a good output. The latter humanistic stream is very dialogue-based, and Dialog macht Schule belongs here. We have a very open process and we don’t know where the educational process is going to end.</p> <p>The question of silence in schooling takes us back to these two approaches. If you think there is a set of knowledges that you have to transfer, it can be quite irritating if there is something else coming from the students in the shape of a question for example. You cannot interact because you have to keep your eye on the time and complete your exam syllabus as quickly as possible and so forth. But if you pursue the humanistic approach, it is rather a great thing if students ask you a question, or even say something very irritating!</p> <p>I can give you an example. In one of our dialogue groups, where we always start off with a check-in including a different question when we begin the class – it’s a ritual – we happened to ask what you would do if you had at your disposal millions of dollars? Students gave us various answers, and there was one student who said, “ If I had so many dollars or euros I would buy as many weapons as I could get my hands on, to destroy Zionism.” So of course, immediately our dialogue facilitators were pretty shocked and struggled. Taking Germany’s past into account this is a very sensitive issue, and in particular for the teachers as well. After such a comment it can be very difficult to continue the conversation at this point: comments like “This is something that you should not say!” – you know? </p><p>This response may close doors to further dialogue. From the perspective of the boy one might even ask: Who is hard to reach here? Perhaps the boy wanted to reach out to talk with someone about something he has been dealing with for a long time and finally saw the opportunity to test the waters on this quite controversial issue. For the dialogue facilitators it is key to get into a curious question mode to really understand what is going on here – to reach out. There are many very interesting questions to be asked. Why did he pick out ‘Zionism’ and not ‘Jews’? What does he mean by ‘Zionism’? Is he out to shock or is he serious? What kind of emotions accompany this comment? How can we work with this? And what do the other students think of this? If you silenced him, it would not be worked on and might never reappear. </p><p>Here again is the therapeutic aspect. It could be quite emotional, because this was a young boy with a Palestinian background. You don’t know the family history, what has happened and whether anger has been transmitted to him. Where is the space within the school system to really take this boy seriously, beginning with the emotions? And then if you discover that this really was anti-Semitic in intention, you need to take a pause and develop a proper intervention with your fellow dialogue facilitator to work with the whole group. The great thing is that you would have a basis or topic to start off working on principles of human dignity and rights. We can also explore experiences by inviting experts to help us find more perspectives with which to look at it. If young people can get a space in which to be taken seriously – also their feelings and emotions – then you can really do good civic education!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/Dialogmoderatoren_HarmsFranquesa_28.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/Dialogmoderatoren_HarmsFranquesa_28.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dialogmoderators in action - empowering pupils to form their own opinion and voice them. Picture by Franquesa Harms.All rights reserved.</span></span></span><i>RB: At the same time you are giving an opportunity to other youngsters in the class to have an exchange with somebody who expresses those views, which is also important for them isn’t it? Across Europe we have a rapid spread of ‘hate speech legislation’, and professionals being encouraged to be on high alert and report any potential extremist statements to the authorities and so on. <ins cite="mailto:Rosemary%20Bechler" datetime="2017-02-22T14:14"></ins></i></p> <p><i>This involvement in exploratory dialogue which takes feelings into account and gives the dialogue leaders a protocol, and the confidence to deal with it directly, seems like a very different approach. But these trends must also be affecting the German educational space?</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> There are different kinds of schools as I was saying and different approaches circulating. Generally in Germany too, we are at a very experimental stage with these questions and a rather alarmist one, I would say. Because a lot of teachers and civic educators are feeling insecure at the moment and fearing doing something wrong.&nbsp; So there is this sense of alarm: “Oh my god, he said something and he could be a radical!” – when maybe the pupil is just out to provoke a response.</p> <p>But it must be important to find a way to really understand and this is where dialogue is crucial, what lies behind the statement of the student. Is it really ‘radical’ – or does the student simply want to have your attention or find out where the permissible borders are. These are pedagogical questions that cannot be answered if we fall into a state of alarm. </p> <p>Words like ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalism’ are now being debated within the civic education field – questions like, is it different being ‘radical left’ from being ‘radical right’ for example. Or, if we are passionate supporters and promoters say of human rights – are we too ‘radicals’? These questions help us to reflect. But within our project, I would use radical to denote an idea that has become so polarised that the person involved is blinded and finds it impossible to see other perspectives.&nbsp; The point of reference that we use to orient ourselves on this question is the human level within the promotion of human rights. Something we can all agree on is that we are of the species, <i>homo sapiens</i>, and we have to look out for different perspectives because we do not have the truth. Radicalism begins when people think they have a certain kind of truth and that there is no other truth. </p> <p>So, there is a lot of discussion but there are also a lot of points that we can agree on.</p> <p><i>RB: So the project is really grounded in a humanist, pluralist endeavour at the heart of education?</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> The example I just put forward is important with regard to the dialogue facilitators who work with the emotions of the students and try to avoid silencing within the classroom. It is always a dilemma, because if we hear something like that, “ I want to kill Zionism” – we really try to work on it, but we also have to inform the teachers. We have to let them know that there is a student who may think in this way. But we say, let us find a way <i>together </i>to work on it. </p> <p>It’s important that I stress that, because we can only be successful within the school system if we work together with the teachers and with the social workers within the school as well. We keep them informed at the same time that we try to calm them down, so that they don’t get nervous. It is a huge problem that we don’t have ‘teacher teams’ in our schools. Teachers are loners within the school system and they have so much responsibility, and anxiety as well – alone with all those highly political topics. We try to give them a feeling that they are not alone, and that there are others who also work on those same problems. That can ease their tension and help us to avoid alarmism.</p> <p><i>RB: You are giving them tools, not just a legal responsibility without any way forward.</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> Exactly, that’s very important too.</p> <p><i>RB: How does an event like the Cologne attacks and its aftermath in terms of public opinion impact on your dialogue facilitators, and how do they rise to this challenge? </i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> There are again different dimensions to this. It makes a big difference that we are really interested in what our students think about something like this. We follow the news and read around it – students’ taste in topics doesn’t confine itself to football and watching movie<span style="color: #008000;">s.</span>&nbsp;‘Hard to reach’ students are also very interested in the latest news. They may pick up on an item here or there without much sense of nuance. But it really does seem to resonate with these students if we speak about recent events. So it is always a great opportunity for us. </p> <p>It sounds rather ironic, but we might say, “Oh this is something really awful that has happened on the one hand: but on the other, we can take it into the dialogue groups, try and find out what the students think about it and try to get them to take up positions so that we can get a debate going, for example, around what “freedom” means. What does it mean to <ins cite="mailto:Rosemary%20Bechler" datetime="2017-02-22T14:16"></ins><i>you</i>: and what about “gender equality” – why is it important for<i> you</i> ? We try to “elementarise” complex issues, as we say, that is to break it down on a personal level and make it really relevant to the students.</p> <p>What we know is that many of the students that we work with come from conservative Muslim families with a very traditional world view. Also on gender roles. So we have girls who at a very early age have to take care of their younger sisters, have to be in a sense second mothers, or at least prepared for their role as mothers. Most of them on the other hand also have an aspiration to have a job one day, and to be independent as well. But these two different kinds of narratives – a western narrative of individualisation and quite a conservative narrative of collectivism and gender roles – are often in conflict.</p> <p>We can use those really extreme events to speak about these very personal aspects that move our students as well. So what happened in Cologne was a very important topic for us. But at the same time we were very careful not to take sensational readings of those events into the groups and inadvertently label our students. It would be a very dangerous, counter-productive way of opening a debate to say: “ You know we have to talk to you about these events because we have to avoid your becoming like that.”&nbsp; Our approach is much more of a curious one: “What do you think about it?” And if the students want to continue talking about it, we continue down that path. But if they do not want to talk about it, we do not push them.</p> <p><i>RB: What about the parents – do they sometimes want to draw the line?</i></p> <p><b>HA:&nbsp;</b> We are often asked this, and interestingly enough, until now, we haven’t had one intervention from the parents in our dialogue groups over something they didn’t want us to talk about. </p> <p>There was one occasion when there was a huge discussion in a school we were working in. The parents of one girl didn’t want her to attend a classroom with boys, and then many other girls weren’t permitted either. So there was a huge discussion between the parents and the headmaster and the teachers. We were asked to intervene to moderate the discussion. It was really quite a challenge to get a consensus – what to do? We found agreement in the plan that the girls could go, but one of the mothers would also attend just so that they could feel reassured. </p> <p>But it was helpful that we could mediate, because we realised that a lot of the parents, particularly those with a Turkish or an Arabic background, do not intervene so much within the school system.&nbsp; There is the belief that once the student is in school the teacher is responsible, and they don’t take it upon themselves to interfere. German parents without a migration background act quite differently: they feel they also have a responsibility for their sons’ and daughters’ education. And they intervene quite a lot – sometimes too much.&nbsp;It is a different kind of mind set on what it means to educate your children.</p> <p><i>RB: You are saying you’d like to have more intervention from your parents maybe?</i></p> <p><b>HA: </b>Yes – of course that would be great. It would be great to speak more with the parents, and indeed it is one of our aims, if we can extend Dialog Macht Schule – we would like to extend on a level which allows us to reach out to parents. But that needs time. We are still consolidating what we do now.</p> <p><i>RB: One last question. There is a simmering debate currently about fake stories and post-truth eras. Do you discuss the media with your students? Does it come up in their discussions?</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> Oh yes. It is one of the dominant themes and topics in our dialogue sessions – media and of course new media, and particularly Facebook and YouTube etc. It’s a very important question that you ask because in my opinion, this is one of the biggest challenges to education and particularly civic education that we have, and we still have to work on this much more. </p> <p>A lot of students and I would say even a lot of our dialogue facilitators, sometimes do not know the difference between an opinion and a theory, or an article of faith. These are things that really have to be differentiated, because otherwise everything becomes true and everything becomes relative. And so, if you do not stand for anything, in a sense you can also fall for anything. So it is very important for us to try and train our dialogue facilitators in what the difference is between these discourses. Particularly when it comes to the media. Take for example the conspiracy theories that are all over the place. Students will tell you so many different stories – like Israel implemented ISIS, or the twin towers were destroyed by Americans themselves – there are so many conspiracy theories. </p> <p>There is a huge discussion now about what is the best approach for dealing with conspiracy theories, and one of the most important ways in which we deal with it is in a participative and constructive fashion. We encourage students to develop their own conspiracy theories themselves, and then invite them to try to spread them. They can see how easy it is to develop a conspiracy theory, and how easy it is to make others believe them. Then they work on how easy it is to put together a blog along these lines, and we make them think about what legitimate knowledge is. For us this again is going back to a humanistic approach and this is very important. Evidence-based thinking or scientific literacy in a sense, I think, is not only important for the natural sciences, but it is also important for the social sciences – to take evidence seriously here as well, and to discuss topics and themes based on different evidence-based approaches. </p> <p>Applied to our work, what is discussed critically on a scientific level should also be discussed critically on a dialogue group level. It is also very important for us within the group interaction to demonstrate the difference between an opinion, an argument and what is basically a fact or a theory. Evolution is another example. If a lot of students think, oh it’s just another opinion, then they have failed to understand what a theory is – theory, in this case Darwinism, is based on falsification. Now of course it is very difficult to teach young students that there is a theory that is more than one hundred and fifty years’ old, and that it is still standing. It is not just an opinion. A lot of work has gone into it. But this is one of the biggest challenges that we have to face within civic education today, to break down these complex aspects of epistemology so that we can really explain what it is that we can know. This is a struggle for us to work on.</p> <p><i>RB: It is a challenge. At one level we have to be able to pin down and define the difference between scientific discourse, let's say, and tabloid discourse. But on another level, we dwell in the era of Wikipedia-type authority, where what you do is to encourage more or less informed opinions to pile on side by side and arrive at a provisional working definition that people are willing to live with. The business of entering into a pluralist debate and learning how to listen to other people and maybe change one’s own mind – is also tremendously important, isn’t it?</i></p> <p><b>SA:</b> Oh yes, but these are not opposites – this is not in contradiction with a scientific approach. Look at whatever scientific discipline you choose, and what you will find is a pluralist discourse: some who say this theory is true, and others who say this is not true. And either through experimentation or analysis they will try and arrive at an understanding. I think this is a very modest way of thinking about ‘what we know’. In the end we realise we can’t really know the ultimate truth, but that there are methods, there are ways that we have developed that help us. It is very sad that nowadays science is depicted as itself just another ideology. But rather, science is a method of arriving at an understanding of something. </p> <p>It is very difficult to teach the school students we work with this. But it is very important for our dialogue facilitators that they have an awareness that only with discussion and discourse analysis can we be sure that we are not dealing with an ideology. Only ideology asserts itself with certitude as truth, and here we are back again to our definition of radicalism. Any theory not open to criticism, up for another opinion, for another perspective, is an ideology in the end. </p> <p><i>RB: Thank you very much: that’s a very good place for us to wrap up.</i></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd"><img style="padding-top: 10px;" src="