Posts Tagged ‘alternative culture’

[Music by Air: La Femme d’Argent]

Iranian Grafitti

Posted: December 26, 2010 in creativity
Tags: , ,

Some awesome Iranian street art on this Flickr site – makes you wonder how much worse the Mullahs’ attitude is to this kind of street art than the already bad one here in the West …

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An interesting concept: a complementary currency to the Euro trialled in parts of Italy that encourages discount trading in local communities.

SCEC stands for Solidarietà che Cammina – Solidarity that walks. It is a complementary currency that is designed to start its life circulating in parallel to the official currency, the Euro. Adapted to the Italian situation where alternative currencies are looked upon as competition to the official one, SCEC defines itself as a complementary currency. It circulates together with the official currency.

SCEC comes in the form of a discount chit denominated in Euro equivalents (in denominations of 0.50 Euro, 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50 Euro). It is distributed for free and acquires value only when used. Businesses and professionals agree to give a discount to buyers who pay (in part) with SCEC, usually around 20 %, but ranging mostly between 10 and 30 %.

SCEC is putting first emphasis on actually supporting local production and commerce over imports from far away and world wide commerce by multinationals. The currency makes local exchanges more convenient for people who use the system by virtue of getting substantial discounts on the normal price.

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A new mobilisation could revitalise politics in the UK – but only if you get involved.

monbiotFor the first time in my life I resent paying my taxes. Until now I have seen this annual amputation as a civic duty – like giving blood – necessary to sustain the life of a fair society. Suddenly I see it as an imposition. Its purpose has reverted to that of the middle ages: subsidising the excesses of a parasitic class. A high proportion of the taxes I pay will be used to bail out companies which, as the Guardian’s current investigation shows, have used every imaginable ruse to avoid paying any themselves.

I think that for many people this is the final blow: the insult which seals their alienation from the political process. The small Welsh town where I live, many of whose inhabitants are among the very poor, was once a haven of progressive politics, built from nonconformist religious sects and a long tradition of social solidarity. People from these valleys were transported to Van Diemen’s Land for demanding the vote.

Now almost everyone I speak to says the same thing – “what’s the point? They’re all as bad as each other” – and I can find no argument to refute it. Had their forebears been told that, 125 years after the first agricultural workers got the vote (1), the poor would be bailing out the rich and (thanks to the first-past-the-post system) the votes of only a few thousand citizens would count, I doubt they would have bothered.

bail-outWe are trapped in a spiral of political alienation. Politics isn’t working for us, so we leave it to the politicians. The political vacuum is then filled with heartless, soulless, gutless technocrats: under what other circumstances could political ghosts like Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon, Alistair Darling, Hazel Blears, Peter Mandelson or John Hutton remain in office? Unmolested by the public, corporate lobbyists collaborate with this empty political class to turn parliament into a conspiracy against the public. Revolted by these phantoms, seeing nowhere to turn, we withdraw altogether, granting them even richer opportunities to exploit us.

The government talks of re-igniting public enthusiasm for politics, of bringing out the vote, but balks at any measure which might make this happen. The reform of the House of Lords has again been postponed until after the next election, if at all (2). The promise, in Labour’s 1997 manifesto, of a referendum on electoral reform is long-forgotten. It now looks as if nothing will be done to stop MPs from moonlighting, as our representatives argue that they cannot possibly get by on £63,000 a year (plus lavish expenses) (3). I wonder whether they have any idea how that plays in a town like this.

Consultations are rigged. Citizens’ juries are used to lend a sheen of retrospective legitimacy to decisions already taken. The Big Conversation turned into a lecture. LabourList, mercilessly satirised by Catherine Bennett in this week’s Observer (4), seeks to create a grassroots movement where no grassroots exist.

But I doubt that the government could revitalise politics, even if it had the best intentions. If the people of this country are to be mobilised, if new life is to be breathed into politics, we have to do it ourselves. As soon as you acknowledge this, you see the problem: we have lost our base. The affiliated trade unions have turned into the government’s nodding dogs, continuing to fund the Labour Party even as it destroys everything they claim to stand for. The old social democratic and non-conformist movements have gone. All we have left are the NGOs and a series of informal direct action movements. They have proved to be good at raising public awareness, less good at building sustained, multi-faceted campaigns. We require a permanent mobilisation, and it might be just about to begin.

For several years, activists have been proposing a MoveOn campaign for the United Kingdom. MoveOn.org is an web-based coalition in the United States that has mobilised around three million people to demand progressive change. It was launched in 1998 as a petition to Congress “to censure President Clinton and move on”, rather than impeach him (5). Since then, it has been credited with revitalising the Democratic Party and changing the face of American politics. Some of the claims its promoters make are exaggerated, but no one disputes that it has inspired hundreds of thousands of alienated people to re-engage.

moveonAt the beginning of every year, MoveOn polls its members on their political priorities and then mobilises them around those demands (6). It encourages them to bombard their representatives with emails and phone calls, to raise political funds and to propose new legislation. Every year it scores small victories, on issues as diverse as Medicare reform and Facebook privacy (7). It also appears to have contributed to some very large ones: some people claim that neither the candidacy nor the presidency of Barack Obama would have been possible without it. MoveOn has made mistakes – its position on the Iraq war, for example, has been hopeless ( 8) – but it’s obvious that the model works.

There have been campaigns a bit like this in the United Kingdom, but they have tended to concentrate on a single outcome and to disperse or relax when it has been achieved. The Big Ask, run by Friends of the Earth, mobilised 200,000 people to demand a climate change bill – and got it (9). The Local Works coalition drove the Sustainable Communities Bill through parliament (10). The closest relative of MoveOn in the UK so far is Unlock Democracy, which, with far smaller resources than its American cousin, has already changed the way we are governed. Last month, for example, working with groups like enoughsenough.org and mySociety, it managed to stop MPs from hiding their expenses from the public (11).

Today Nick O’Donovan, a British academic working in the US, launches a movement in the United Kingdom built overtly on the MoveOn model. Dosomethingaboutit.org.uk is a rolling petition which seeks to ensure that the people who sign up don’t lose touch with each other. When there’s an important vote in parliament or when the government is threatening to shut down a useful public service or to waste our money on subsidising the rich, it will set up a petition and mobilise its members. Like MoveOn, it will also poll them over the issues they want to champion. At elections it will help people to decide which candidate in their constituency to support, in order to avoid splitting the progressive vote. Its purpose is to strike fear into the hearts of our self-serving technocrats and, it says, to make “the moral high ground electorally viable” (12).

I hope O’Donovan and his colleagues know how much they are taking on. They will be fighting party machines which have refined every dirty trick in politics; the hopelessness that arises from 12 years of broken promises; a labour movement that seems to have abandoned every political aim except driving foreigners out of the workplace; an electorate that has ceased to believe in itself. But none of this is a reason not to try.

Dosomethingaboutit is a bold and wildly ambitious scheme. Can it work? That’s up to you.

www.monbiot.com

References:

  1. The Representation of the People Act 1884. This extended the vote to some rural men, but only if they owned land worth £10 or paid £10 a year in rent.
  2. George Parker, 14th July 2008. Straw seeks to defer Lords reform. Financial Times.
  3. Sam Coates, 2nd February 2009. Peers can carry on lobbying despite payments row. The Times.
  4. Catherine Bennett, 1st February 2009. Does Labour really think John Prescott is the new Obama? The Observer.
  5. http://www.moveon.org/about.html
  6. http://pol.moveon.org/2009/agenda/results/?rc=homepage
  7. http://www.moveon.org/success_stories.html
  8. Norman Solomon, 13th March 2007. The Pragmatism of Prolonged War. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3054 <http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3054>
  9. http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/success_stories/climate_law_world_first_16014.html
  10. http://www.localworks.org/
  11. Unlock Democracy, 21st January 2009. People power forces Government to back down on MPs’ expenses. http://www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/?p=1808
  12. http://dosomethingaboutit.org.uk/dowhat.php
     

Published in the Guardian, 3rd February 2009

[Source: George Monbiot’s ZSpace Page]

thrivingonlessIf this is not an idea for a New Year’s resolution … the author of the upcoming book The Power of Less Leo Babauta offers a companion ebook that’s free to download now. Thriving on Less – Simplifying in a Tough Economy tells you how to do just that.

The 27-page PDF describes advice garnered from Babauta’s own journey from clutter, debt, and scarcity to a simpler, frugal lifestyle that focuses on the essentials and cuts away the extras.

Like Babauta’s popular Zen Habits blog, this book offers calm, peaceful straight talk that makes the super-busy and overwhelmed think “I want to live like that.” Looks like a great preview of what’s to come in his print volume, which gets released this week.

[source: Lifehacker]

This is the final example from Orion’s November/December magazine for how people work towards sustainability in their own communities or in their own lives. Here people are working on getting away from foodbank handouts by growing their produce and establishing urban farming and gardening practices. [image inserted by me]

tuscon

BY KYLE BOELTE, TUCSON, AZ
Published in the November/December 2008 issue of Orion magazine

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Everywhere you go in America, prices are rising: of gas, goods, and especially food. It’s getting tough for many Americans, and even food banks are having a hard time getting by—their prices are rising, too. But at this time of economic downturn, the  Tucson Community Food Bank is demonstrating how long-term thinking can solve food insecurity. The Food Bank believes that gardening isn’t just a pastime for the well-to-do, but that it’s an important adaptation that anyone with access to a little space, water, and sunlight can make.

I recently attended a gardening workshop at the Tucson Community Food Bank. The event took place in a beautiful seven-thousand-square-foot organic demonstration garden next to the Food Bank, in an industrial part of town. The garden was filled with tomatoes, beans, chiles, and other vegetables, proving that good food can be grown anywhere. The chicken coop was bustling with chickens eating garden scraps, and the compost pile stood off to the side, a testament to efficient “waste” management.

The workshop, this one in English but they also offer them in Spanish, taught the basics of how to start your own garden, from picking the best spot in your yard and selecting appropriate plants, to how to water efficiently. We learned how to compost kitchen scraps and how to be more self-sufficient in general. And the program extends its reach beyond the classroom walls. The Food Bank gives away free compost to new gardeners until they can develop their own supply, and even offers free on-site consultations; an expert will come to your house to help you design a garden that works for you. It also holds weekly farmers’ markets where fresh vegetables and eggs can be purchased at affordable prices. The Tucson Community Food Bank isn’t just offering food, it’s offering good food.

The best part of these programs is that they facilitate a shift in thinking from handouts to how-to. By creating your own garden and growing your own food, you learn skills that improve your quality of life while also improving your economic situation. Gardening at home reduces the need for fossil-fuel-derived fertilizer and fuel for transportation. And it builds community too, since many gardeners end up sharing their excess harvest with neighbors.

This is a very interesting example for actively working towards achieving a sustainable society – it’s something I wouldn’t have thought of in a million years: peddling rubbish. [images inserted by me]

peddle-people-2

BY ELISSA ALFORD, NORTHAMPTON, MA
Published in the November/December 2008 issue of Orion magazine

NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS—The Pedal People troll our streets almost every day, bicycling not for play but for work. They tow six- and eight-foot trailers behind their bikes, each stacked with eight plastic containers roughly the size of recycling bins, and collect neighborhood garbage and recycling to haul to the local transfer station. The program is popular enough that on some streets the garbage truck need visit only a single address or two—leaving the rest of trash collection to a bicycle quietly rolling from house to house.

Last year the Pedal People moved beyond individual service and won a contract with the city to collect garbage from downtown waste cans. Stores have begun using them for local deliveries of furniture, and residents can call on the trailers for house moves within town (they can carry up to three hundred pounds). Their website boasts that they’ve moved everything from cats to solar panels.

Six years into the business, the two founders, Ruthy Woodring and Alex Jarrett, have expanded their operation to a cooperative of eleven, and now they’re offering a new service: pickup of compostable material. If you can’t or don’t want to compost yourself, you can leave a bucket of scraps out with the garbage. And for those who prefer the smell of cut grass to mowers and blowers, they do gas-free, chemical-free yard care, with all tools, including human-powered mowers, brought by bicycle. It’s a message in action: look what we can do gas-free.

Since signing up, my own household has become much more conscious of how much we throw out each week. It’s impossible not to be when we see the Pedal People folks sweating in the summer and toiling uphill through slush in the winter, pulling the weight of everyone’s leavings.

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