Tonight at Partisan Collective in Cheetham Hill there’s a two hour “listening event”, the results of which feed into a hold-hands-and-sing-kumbaya “Summit” in March, which will produce another vapid statement of peace-love-and-understanding.
Fun fact- wildlife numbers have dropped to less than half of the 1970 level. Which is a fun way of saying there probably are not enough wild horses left on the planet to drag me along to these sorts of boss-focussed “listening events” where the products will mostly be fed back into a maw of bureaucratic incompetence and contempt. They will chew it up, spit it out and call it “democracy”, and then continue on their merry way, protesting – in the unlikely event that they are ever actually challenged on their hopelessness- that they have ‘consulted’ with the public.
Maybe groups in Manchester could take if not an outright cynical view (because that would mean that people you know, learnt from history, and didn’t assume that the last lot of people who tried failed for lack of effort or smarts, but because – as they say in the Wire – the. Game. Is. Rigged.) then at least a slightly critical one?
And maybe people could think that by playing this game, they are propping it up? One of the few groups which is holding these ‘listening events’ to come out and ask vaguely adult questions is the “Energy Democracy” lot. Their questions are below.
The blurb follows in italics, the questions in bold. My answers, dashed off because they will be ignored anyway – are below, mostly bullet pointed.
In March 2018, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham is holding a Green Summit for Greater Manchester to inform a new environmental vision for the city region and to draw up an Environment Charter.
Listening events are being held in the run-up to the Summit to bring networks and communities together to discuss, debate and share ideas about what they want from a green, zero carbon city.
Given this develop we thought now would be a good time to bring Energy Democracy Greater Manchester back in to action.
Our listening event seeks to gauge the views of our activists and the wider community on energy democracy issues asking questions including: (see below)
(This two hour workshop will feature presentations and small group discussions.
The results of the workshop will be documented and fed back in to the Environment Charter writing process.
What kind of role should citizen, workers and communities play in the energy transition of Greater Manchester?
- Citizens should inform themselves and each other – not by reliance on the frankly useless mass media but by using Freedom of Information Act requests to find out what is actually going on. Workers in trades unions should come together in the spirit that some workers have done (e.g. the Green Bans in Australia in the early 1970s). ‘The wider community’, whatever that means, needs to build its collaborative, coordinative and absorptive capacities to be able to cope with the inevitable “baffle them with bullshit” strategies that the bosses will use if things get at all hairy.
What role should the Mayor and Greater Manchester authorities play in facilitating citizen, worker and community engagement and control?
Hmm, there’s actually two questions here, within this naïve/too emollient question. What role “should” they play (a normative question, about the correct role, morally, that they should adopt) and a what role WILL they adopt. And the two are a very very long way apart.
What they should do is this
- Be honest about past failings and the underlying reasons (i.e. don’t just “blame the Tories”)
- Be specific about future targets (not just vague motherhood and apple–pie statements
- Sack the idiots in charge for the last 8 years as incompetent
- Explain how to keep tabs on them, and design the system for maximum accountability
- Towards other people
- Create mechanisms by which existing and new groups can become actively and usefully involved in a critical way, beyond being a figleaf/photo-op once a year. Make sure that disparities of finance and informational capacity are minimised (e.g. via simple language, short and accurate summaries of what is going on, on video (many people in Manchester are not literate in English, especially in the grotesque bureaucratese these clowns ‘communicate’ in.
Look, sorry for shouting but: THE LAST THING THEY WANT IS CITIZEN/WORKER/COMMUNITY ‘ENGAGEMENT’, let alone ‘CONTROL’. They want a few groups and individuals around to give the APPEARANCE of these. Not because they are especially evil or cynical, but because this is how the bosses roll. It’s just how they roll.
What they will do, if past form and present capacity is anything to go by, is this
- Bluster and bullshit and vagueness in their targets
- Or make specific targets and then simply ignore them when they are missed
- Blame the Tories for EVERYTHING
- Sort out the sheep and the goats, finding some groups willing to be fig leaves etc
- Ignore the airport (apparently because they are counting the emissions below 1,000 feet, that’s good enough) (I was told this, by a very senior climatocrat. He kept a straight face while he did it. Which is presumably why he’s so well paid.)
How do we ensure that the ownership of this transition is controlled by the many ensuring that class, gender and race inequalities are not replicated?
That, for once, is an excellent question.
- That would involve making sure meetings were genuinely welcoming, designing and facilitating them so they weren’t dominated by the confident/middle-class/university educated types, but also so they don’t get derailed by the randoms. Those are largely invisible – and unvalued- skills in the “activist” “community”. And flipcharts and so-called “open space” are not magical solutions
- Accept that many many people cannot or will not come to meetings, no matter how beautifully designed and facilitated they are, and help people be involved/stay involved in campaigns. All hard, unglamorous and unrewarded-within-the-subculture work that requires a rather odd collection of skills. It won’t be done.
How can civil society, grassroots activists, community energy and workers effectively collaborate with municipal organisations?
That is another excellent question.
- When you sup with the devil, sup with a long spoon. They will be looking to separate sheep and goats, people they can control now, or hope to come to control. They will want to make sure that anyone in the awkward squad is excluded. That’s how they roll. But their soothing blandishments about ‘working together’ are catnip to those with a personal or organisational need to (be seen to) be ‘changing the system from within.
What mechanisms and tools should we use to hold those in power to account?
Good question, especially given the elective dictatorship in Manchester, and the likelihood that a Corbyn victory will at the national level will lead to all sorts of grotesque shenanigans.
- Freedom of Information Act requests, then publicised in blogs, newspaper articles, letters to the editor, podcasts, videos, discussions with OTHER civil society groups.
- If you aren’t holding their feet to the fire, in a systematic, sustained and sustainable way, you may as well sit home and watch netflix. MCFly did some of this for a while, but I can’t be arsed anymore, because frankly, it’s too late to do anything meaningful on climate change. The Age of Consequences is upon us
- Keep beavering away at creating working alternatives, obvs.
Also – what ELSE should we be doing to build our long term power and ability to protect our communities.
- Identify individual skills that people have and figure out how they can easily share them with people who don’t have them
- Identify bottlenecks/single points of failures in groups
- Create and maintain a culture in which individuals are constantly able to learn new skills/increase the level of skills they have, especially around areas where groups are vulnerable to “the guy who does the website left” syndrome
- Be honest about the activist subculture and its invisible barriers and then take MEANINGFUL AND SUSTAINED action to lower the barriers.
- Change the culture of boring and ‘smugosphere’/sage-on-the-stage meetings
- Make sure people who can’t come to meetings are still able to contribute meaningfully
- Think serious about disaster preparedness and get conversations and actions going about this topic
There’s lots lots else, as I’ve written about and intermittently demonstrated over the years… And the more time and attention that goes on meaningless drivel like the Mayor’s green vomit and the Environmental Charter, is less time that can be spent on those. #justsaying