It wasn’t the apologia for Shell. It wasn’t even the bland “we need economic growth.” (Though I can see why so many friends and acquaintances were disheartened by these aspects of Charles Secrett’s little opener at the “Economy for the 99%” event held in late June in Chorlton.)
And it wasn’t even the trotting out of buzz-phrases-empty-of-meaning (“perfect storm,” “scale of the opportunities,” “we have all the technologies.” )
It was … his unwillingness share the limited resources around equitably. By not keeping to the time schedule that the organisers had created, he was, intentionally or not, showing a demoralising lack of respect for the fact that other people have views that are equally/more worth hearing as his own.
He was sat there when the organisers pleaded with everyone be punctual in making it to their workshops. And he knew he was supposed to stop at 2pm. But instead, he kept on going for a further 10 endless minutes, having swatted aside a “5 minutes” notification from the chair with a smile and a wave of his hand.
I am not sure if he started when he was supposed to, but it’s not as if he was about to run out of time to cast his pearls of wisdom in front of the swinish multitude. He had, after all, been appointed two workshop slots and also the final word in the final plenary.
What is to be done?, or how to allay the Dwarf Star Alloy.
Organisers of events could think long and hard about what exact value “big names” add to events. The main argument is that, apparently, they get more people through the door. You have to ask yourself though, if these people who wouldn’t otherwise have come should have top priority. If they are only coming because some “star” is speaking at the event, then how likely is it that you will be able to convince them to give up an hour or two a week to actually start DOING stuff? And the “big name” does not come for free, you see. Because it shapes the event, meaning that you have to have a set-piece opening session where rows of people act as ego-fodder, and you end up having workshops attended by loads of people who want to butt heads with the… star. And you have to have a closing plenary.
And the “big name” is – almost by definition – not a local, and so doesn’t have anything to say about specific local problems (e.g. in Manchester we are about to become a thoroughly one-party state, and we have a “good” climate plan that is being ignored by both the powerful and the powerless.)
So you end up with bromides and bullshit bingo phrases, and people debating abstractions. Great.
On the specific point, of how you stop anyone from going over their allotted time, well, how’s about this; As the chair you say something like “Right, we have amazing speaker x from organisation y. He/she has assured me that he/she will only talk for x minutes. I will give him/her a one minute warning, and at the end of that minute, I will start to applaud, and I want all of you to applaud with me. Let’s do a dry run…” The chair applauds, everyone applauds, and as soon as they stop the chair turns to the speaker and says “over to you.”
PS Yep, this is all sour grapes. I ran a workshop at the event and it had four, count ’em, four attendees. These four were very cool people, interesting and hopefully long-term allies. But I got one tenth of the punters that Mr Secrett did, so you can simply disregard everything I’ve said above as the bitter resentment of a failed activist. So it goes.