Claiming Our Future was ‘waked’ on 10th December in Tailors Hall in Dublin. There was a good attendance, some sadness, and, as ever, a bit of deliberation. It was felt the deceased had had a good life and that longevity was never the appropriate ambition for such a creation. It had a potential that was never fully realised but made a contribution that was worth celebrating, a contribution that should be built on in the future.
Claiming Our Future emphasised the need for crosssectoral civil society action for change. Fragmentation between the different parts of civil society has increased as a result of austerity. There is a lack of networking and collaboration between sectors of civil society, more specifically the trade union, community, cultural, global-justice, environmental and cultural sectors. Each finds it difficult to move beyond its own agendas.
Cross-sectoral initiatives led by Claiming Our Future included: online campaigns on the minimum wage, gender quotas in politics, and a wealth tax; the creation of an economic equality steering group involving organisations in each sector working on the annual Budget; and a campaign for the introduction of a Financial Transaction Tax. Developing cross-sectoral approaches was not easy. There remain challenges to provide leadership and to sustain commitment, to collaboration.
Claiming Our Future brought values centre stage. It was founded in a crowded Industries Hall in the RDS in 2010 with equality, environmental sustainability, accountability, participation, and solidarity identified as its core values. At first values were seen as the link to draw together the different parts of civil society and to enable them to work together, more coherently and more powerfully, for social change. Then these values became the lens through which Claiming Our Future assessed issues and developed positions. Alignment with these values was the test of any key decision.
However, it took time before the full importance of values became clear. Values are the motor of social change. They motivate people in the perspectives they hold and the choices they make. Change will come about by finding ways to convince a wider public to give priority to the values of Claiming Our Future. Lobbying the increasingly unresponsive powerful and hoping the mainstream media will carry our ideas are no longer effective enough, for change.
We are up against powerful forces in a cultural battle as we seek to have these values prioritised. The individual, the consumer, the market, and wealth get prioritised as values. The advertising industry, the media, the education system and even political discourse provide the skills and the resources that sustain this. Civil society must gear up to compete so that a different set of values gets prioritised.
Claiming Our Future promoted deliberation and the creation of public spaces for deliberation. Deliberation events were hosted on ‘an economy for society’, ‘income equality’, ‘political reform’, ‘international development goals’, ‘local resilience’, ‘new forms of energy production, distribution, and consumption’, and our ‘broken politics’. Deliberation was based on an open invitation to participate in developing a position and plan of action on these themes. Participants worked on tables of ten people to debate and build consensus on a position and how to advance that position. A form of consensus voting, developed by the de Borda Institute, was used to find the consensus across all the tables in the hall.
This was a powerful means of exploring alternatives to current models of development. Civil society had been found wanting for convincing alternatives when the economic crisis first hit. A tradition of deliberation had to be rebuilt and needs sustaining and further development if alternatives are to be devised and put forward as the crisis changes and evolves.
Claiming Our Future worked to bring the activist and the artist together. Dialogues between activists and artists were organised, creative expression was a centrepiece at all deliberation events, and a summer school on the ‘Art of Campaigning’ was organised. This recognised the central role for creativity in action for social change and in convincing people to prioritise different values.
Art has the power to move people, to capture their imagination and attention, and to draw them into seeing new perspectives. It enables people to express themselves and to articulate different futures. Activists are challenged to learn to recognise and draw upon their creative talents. Artists are challenged to contribute their skills to issues they care about and to bring a new focus and meaning to their work.
It remains to be seen where these different ideas that have been developed and tested by Claiming Our Future will be taken up. The ‘wake’ will, we hope, be the start of something new and ambitious for civil society as it strives, creatively and cross-sectorally, for change.
Niall Crowley was convenor of Claming Our Future