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Cassandra

John Papworth

1st February, 2007

Don’t wait for Dave or Tony to give you a hug. If you are dissatisfied with your leaders, take control of your own

What is a ‘Neighbourhoodie’? Answer: a person who is a member of a new political movement, one that has no headquarters, and makes no attempt to create a mass following, but instead is comprised of members of a neighbourhood.

Neighbourhood Democracy Network is a network of local people in different small localities seeking to create a local nucleus that will form a local government to govern local affairs.

These (mostly young) people realise that the way the world is going, they have no future; that a combination of the global arms trade, the high-powered attempts by Brussels-based boardroom capitalism to destroy democracy, the promotion of consumerism as a dominant social goal, the factors of global warming, the rundown of essential resources such as oil, the expansion of supermarkets at the expense of local farmers and of local vitality and identity, to say nothing of the disintegration of local community life, can only result in some sort of social collapse involving mass starvation, mass epidemics and mass conflict. That is, unless we achieve a radical change of direction at many levels.

So their idea is a wholly new political initiative: government from the ground up, not from the top down. Local government by local people to control local affairs. Not government of the people, nor (supposedly) for the people, (we have already had enough of that), but government by the people.

Quite mad, impractical and unrealistic, of course, but in a world where madness reigns, they are a gleam of sanity that may yet change things decisively. How?

Since our problems arise from excessive concentrations of power – economic, political and social, power beyond human control, beyond our control; and since it is this power, often running amok, which is causing wars and ecological devastation, destroying any prospect of a sane civilised future, attempts to check it by forming yet another giant organisation is simply to spread the disease of giantism.

Indeed, giantism is public enemy number one of the human race. The giant global arms trade has made the world one gigantic war zone, giant schools are creating a new class of semi-literate unemployables, a giant health service is closing local hospitals, a giant postal service is closing more and more local post offices, and giant supermarkets are bankrupting our local farmers and driving local family-owned shops out of business.

So why not opt for smallness? A scale within which human identity, instead of being told by a recorded voice which button to press, has significance, meaning and moral consequence? A scale where we can control them, not them us.

So the Neighbourhoodies are pushing for local power. It is uphill work, and the chief obstacle is not only the consumerist values promoted by media power but the spirit of passivity and fatalistic indifference that powerlessness is apt to breed. After all, most people have never known any other form of government, so tend to accept that centralised government and boardroom enterprise should determine everything just as naturally as a goldfish accepts the water in which it swims.

Neighbourhoodies refuse to accept this and the doom-laden destiny it has created; they insist that the many forms of power that today ordain our affairs must be brought under control – mostly local control. Their objectives embrace not only local control of local affairs; they call for Britain to abandon the Brussels boardroom, tax-funded attempts to destroy our sovereignty, and to confine the national government at Westminster to strictly national affairs.

They argue the need for a new language of politics, where the local in local hands has the same prominence and significance as the national. But please note, there is no attempt being made to establish any sort of uniform national plan.

Just as every person is different, so is every neighbourhood; so every neighbourhood should work out its own targets for self-government and strategies for reaching them. They realise that democracy, the noblest concept in human history, is eating its own tail when it tries to be prescriptive.

To be true to itself, democracy must be thought-provoking, with an organic structure in which power is made safe by being dispersed and shared in numerous small communities, whether rural villages or urban wards. These are the blood cells of civilisation, and their re-empowerment can have the collective effect of inspiring people to manage their own local affairs, to live creative, responsible and fulfilling lives; and to restore the old protocols, traditions, customs and dignities of local civic activity so that people can play their full part in truly adult, shared political involvement, and where the baby of freedom is no longer in danger of being drowned in the bathwater of bureaucracy.

For more info, visit www.4WR.org

This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2007

 

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