Shocks to the system – response to the riots

Like many people living in cities across the UK,  I was deeply upset by the riots last week  – but not entirely surprised. And like other people, the social problems I’m used to seeing within the city came one step closer to me.

What happened last week showcased two things – social breakdown and collective solidarity. I’m already involved in an existing movement, Transition, which is all about building community and solidarity on a local scale.

What I saw and heard last week offered a scary foretaste of the social upheaval predicted by numerous economists, artists and social commentators, many of them featured in films and talks utilised by people within and without the Transition and permaculture movement – Chris Martenson’s Crash Course, A Crude Awakening, Paul Gilding’s The Great Upheaval, the Dark Mountain project.

Balanced against this, I also saw last week how swiftly and beautifully the community mobilised in response – the creativity, the courage, the generosity, the dignity – through the riot clean up initiative, the websites set up to channel support and funds to individuals and businesses affected, the passionate street debate between citizens, the dignified wisdom of the bereaved father Tariq Jahan.

Social upheaval is the often unspoken context of Transition – strengthening community so we are better protected against these predicted shocks – but when my local Transition does outreach, we don’t want to focus too much on scary, doom-laden scenarios. We’ve all heard how too much fear causes paralysis and apathy, especially as we’re getting apocalypse rained down on us from all sides in the media. It’s easier to concentrate on food, on ways we can all grow it and exchange it more locally.

But last week I realised that the predicted social upheaval is already here. Where does that leave me when I talk to people in my community about Transition?

Reskilling workshops are part of the Transition model – helping equip people with the basic tools of resilience they may need in an oil-scarce world – things like making and repairing things, growing and storing your own food, creating your own energy supply. These are popular and necessary. But perhaps we need to join with others to start offering other less ‘hippy’ things likely to be useful in times of transition – things like basic healthcare, dealing with broken arms and injuries, self-defence and conflict resolution techniques? These would all have been useful last week!

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3 Responses to Shocks to the system – response to the riots

  1. Maybe the Transition movement can learn something from the activists of previous decades. I have a book called the ‘Resource Manual for A Living Revolution’, first published in 1977. It’s an amazing book that I used to think had far more information than I’d ever need. Looks like I was way too optimistic! See more: http://books.google.com/books/about/Resource_manual_for_a_living_revolution.html?id=Sz1HAAAAMAAJ

  2. n says:

    I see where you are coming from but I don’t think solidarity and resilience are enough. You need a transformation, not just a transition.
    you need real economic and political democracy and you urgently need to challenge what use to be called ‘managerial prerogative’ – the right of the owners and directors of firms – a tiny minority – to impose their will on the vast majority.
    Noam Chomsky expressed it the democratic transformation needed as well as I could, in an interview on the Real News, in 2009

    JAY: So if you’re looking at the financial system now and you take this principle, the representing the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, what would that look like in terms of policy?
    CHOMSKY: First of all, to begin with, it would mean that the government would not just bail out the banks, pour capital into them, but would exercise control. And control begins with inspection. So we find out what they’re doing. And then you keep the viable parts. And if they’re viable, they might just vote it into public control. I mean, the government could probably have, you know, bought AIG or Citigroup for far less than what they’re paying them now. I mean, in a democratic society, the government would meet the public, and then there should be direct public engagement in what these institutions ought to do and how they ought to distribute their money, what the terms ought to be, and so on. I mean, they could be democratically run by the workforce, by the community.
    JAY: But doesn’t it—whether you use the word or not, requires a kind of nationalization. I mean, does the bank then become a publicly owned institution?
    CHOMSKY: They become publicly owned institutions which serve the public and where decisions are made by the public. That’s a long way off. You have to approach that in steps. When you think of nationalization, you know, the doctrinal system, with historical reasons, associates nationalization with, you know, some Big Brother taking it over, and the public follows orders. But that’s not necessarily the way it’s done. There are many nationalized institutions that are run quite efficiently. In fact, take, say, Chile, which is supposed to be the poster child for, you know, Thatcherite/Reaganite free-market economics. A large part of the economy’s based on a nationalized, very efficient copper producer, Codelco, which was nationalized by Allende, but was so effective that during the Pinochet years it was never dismantled. Actually, it’s being sort of chipped away at now, but it still provides the—I think it’s still the biggest copper producer in the world, provides most of the government income. And elsewhere too there are highly successful nationalized firms. But nationalization is only one step towards democratization. The question is who manages them, who makes the decisions, who controls them. Now, in the case of nationalized institutions, it’s still top-down, but it doesn’t have to be. I mean, again, it’s not a law of nature that institutions can’t be democratically run.
    JAY: What would it look like?
    CHOMSKY: What would they look like?
    JAY: Mm.
    CHOMSKY: The participation by workers councils, by community organizations at meetings, discussions in which policies are made—that’s how democracy’s supposed to work. I mean, we’re very far from that, I mean, even in the political system. Just take, say, primaries. Okay, the way our system works, candidates running for office, his campaign managers go to some town in New Hampshire and they set up a meeting, and the candidate comes in and says, “Here’s what a nice guy I am. Vote for me.” You know. And people either believe him or not and go home. Suppose we had a democratic system that worked the other way around. The people in the town of New Hampshire would get together at conferences, meetings, public organizations, and so on, and they would work out the policies that they would like to see. And then, if somebody’s running for office, he can come; if they want, they could invite him, and he would listen to them. They would say, look, here’s the policies we want you to implement; if you can do this, we’ll allow you to represent us, but we’ll recall you if you’re not doing it.

  3. Thanks both of you – some good points. And yes, I agree we need transformation as well as transition.

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