Read our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
Want to keep a city participating in Dagenham, or citizens assembling in Paris?
by The Alternative UK
Coronavirus, and its strange distancing, compels us all to rethink how we come together. Our mutual care and sense of collective responsibility is expressed by NOT being physically close, or even proximate to each other.
So counter-intuitive is this – and perhaps especially so, after our recent periods of street activism, whether over environmental or constitutional matters – that it’s no surprise we’ve rushed to our online spaces, especially in their more sociable forms.
And where they’re not sociable enough, we’ve made them more so. People use Instagram for Q&As, or Zoom to conduct large, pulsing conferences, or Facebook to instantly organise their community’s mutual aid.
A/UK’s own Loomio Action Forums were launched in March 1st for our third anniversary – but just in time for this era of real-life lockdown – and much energy and interest is brewing up there (if you’d like to participate in our space, think about signing-up to be a co-creator).
BTW, we’re also doing our own, live online Zoom response. We’re starting a series of discussions with leading “new politics” advocates about what they hope our “next system” will be like, called The Elephant Speaks…
This week we noticed two impressive online-community response to these circumstances – the first in the UK, the second in France:
Using “mighty networks” to keep Dagenham and Barking participating in their city
Participatory City – funded robustly by Bloomberg Cities, and others – has been lauded by figures like George Monbiot as a pathway to a “politics of belonging”, where communities value their own resources and act to empower themselves.
But like almost everyone else, when outdoor space for making and mingling is closed down, their spirit of community needs new kindling. PC’s Dagenham and Barking community project, titled Every One Every Day, is hit hard by the closedown of public meetings and workspaces.
The real-life service has 6000 plus members (from a catchment area of hundreds of thousands), and so far this platform membership is in the low hundreds. But its helpful design and obvious sociability is a great exemplar – of how to match a digital platform to the need for friendly and convivial relationships in communities – and is built to scale up activity. (We’re particularly keen on the smartphone app built into the Mighty Networks platform).
But time will tell if it really takes off. Participatory City’s Tessa Britton, in a blog to launch this, explains why she think it will – which also turns out to be useful advice to anyone trying to build community online in this moment:
I am very familiar with the challenges of starting online network sites. The biggest lesson I learned from my own experiences years ago was the mistake of expecting a website to work on its own. Without real face-to-face interaction working along side it, a stand alone website was an almost hopeless endeavour.
I also learned that it takes a lot of time and effort to create a stimulating online environment, with a positive and supportive culture. You have to pay close attention, be responsive and upbeat at all times, you need to moderate carefully to create trust and confidence to share ideas and thoughts on the site. It also takes a lot of effort to get people to join in the first place.
For all this, we think in our current situation we have a good chance of making it work — and here are some of the reasons why:
1. People want to help each other
This crisis has already clearly shown how much people want to help one another. Finding resources, ideas, information on how to get started, and how to do this safely is wanted and needed. Peer-to-peer support through building trusted relationships has never been more needed and relevant. If the Every One Every Day site includes practical tools to help people to act on their natural motivations to help one another, then it will become both valued and used.
2. People want to connect with hope
The quickest way of connecting to hope is to start planning and creating straight away. Our own team has benefited hugely from having an immediate shift in focus to creating something useful. Other people feel the same. It’s not rocket science, but it will help a lot to keep ourselves productive on positive things like learning, making and sharing.
3. We know people already
The Every One Every Day team has met and worked face to face with over 6,000 people in the borough over the last two or so years. People know and trust the team. Continuing their conversations online is not as big a leap as it would be if we were trying to jump start an online platform without knowing people! Our office is in the middle of a public makerspace — we work out in the open, literally, every day.
4. We have a team
We have an established and expert neighbourhood team of 15 Project and Programme Designers who are now refocusing their time and effort on creating stimulating content, as well as inviting people to become members, encouraging them to post content and connect with people, supporting them to start teams and projects — in the same way as they do when people come through the door of our shops.
This group is also running online sessions to help people learn how to use the site, how to take pictures, write blogs, and generally support people 1–1 through calls and emails — to overcome gaps in digital know-how or confidence.
5. People want to connect and share
The site will enable people to find and connect with people who live nearby, who share their interests, concerns and ideas. We hope that this site will be a magnet for people with positive dispositions, a place for optimistic and constructive idea sharing and developing.
6. Resources for home working and homeschooling
An entirely novel situation of whole families at home 24/7 requires new routines. It also needs to have new ideas and advice on how do this. There are 100s of organisations across the globe generating new practical ideas for learning and re-organising home life. Now people can share any content they find useful with people they know locally.
7. Time on our hands to think about inventing a good future
The platform will include lots of tools for exchanging ideas about how to make our neighbourhoods even more wonderful when this crisis is over. It also gives us time to rethink lots of things we take for granted about our everyday lives, a time to reflect on the kind of world we want to live and how we all have a hand in creating it.
France’s “Convention Citoyenne” on the climate crisis won’t be stopped – it’s moving into Zoomspace
Much hope has been placed in the Citizens Convention on Climate Change in France (see picture above), incepted by President Macron and to which he has pledged to legislatively respond, when they announce their final deliberations.
Like everyone else, they’ve been derailed in their public associations by the virus – but only temporarily. As you can see from the gallery above and the tweets to the side, they’ve figured out how to continue part of their deliberations in the video platform of choice at the moment, Zoom. See this excerpt below from a (Bing-translated) article from Konbini:
The Convention met online last Friday and Saturday to work on “the economic and social consequences” of the coronavirus crisis. This convention, an unprecedented initiative in France, is a response of the executive to the crisis of the “yellow jackets”, reacting against a possible increase in carbon taxes.
The 150 randomly drawn people, of all ages and from all walks of life, worked on the themes of “housing, feeding, moving, consuming, working/producing”. After six months of work, citizens were to present measures to combat global warming with the mandate to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, informed by a consideration of social justice” – measures that can be taken up by the government. This last session was postponed with the outbreak of Covid-19.
But the Citizens’ Convention decided to meet virtually to “discuss the economic and social consequences of the Coronavirus crisis and make progress on its work,” explains an official. Containment measures put in place to combat the Covid-19 epidemic resulted in a loss of economic activity of about 35% in France, according to an estimate made by INSEE on 26 March.
During this online session, citizens will be able to “debate the ins and outs of an exit strategy and what the climate and social issues are in this context” and see “how their work fits into this new context”.
“After this human tragedy we’re experiencing, the time will come to repair its social and economic damage,” commented Laurence Tubiana, co-chair of the Convention’s governance committee and architect of the Paris Agreement. “By working on a civic contribution to the national crisis response effort, the Convention demonstrates the value of opening up a broad collective reflection of our societies on their future,” she adds.
More here. As the XR and Occupy activist Jamie Kelsey-Fry noted on Twitter:
This is absolutely vital. As long as facilitation and digital tech is well organised, this could make #CitizensAssemblies chosen by #sortition even more practical as the way to start to replace a profoundly broken political and economic system https://t.co/RE5ecCJjRR
— Jamie Kelsey Fry (@JamieKelseyFry) April 3, 2020
Finally, here’s some voices from the Convention itself.
This was originally posted on the Alternative UK blog on 5th April 2020.