In his book Out of the Wreckage, George Monbiot describes a vision of ‘a politics of belonging’ that is rooted in active citizenship and participation. Building local community is the best reponse to the alienation of consumer capitalism, he suggests. A local culture of participation can build outwards to bring wider change at the national and global level.
He offers a number of reasons why local community makes sense as the place to start. As a local activist myself, I thought they were well worth sharing.
1 – It’s good in itself. Or in Monbiot’s words, “no part of the process is wasted”. If you’re organising a massive protest and the government doesn’t listen – like the Iraq war marches in 2003 for example – it can feel like all that action was in vain. Local action is good in itself. It brings people together, builds commuinity and a sense of place, boosts the local economy and improves people’s lives – even if it doesn’t add up to wider change.
2 – It’s fun, or at least “most of the steps towards change are pleasant”. In theory at least. I’ve spent many long evenings at community meetings, so I find this one slightly less plausible. But in principle, using local action as the platform for change will involve practical, hands-on activity in the context of community.
3 – Anyone can take part. You don’t have to be a member of a party, or a land owner. You don’t need to be of voting age, nor do you need to work in a particular unionised industry to be a part of the change process. Those are all limitations that have applied to many previous stories of change, and that closed out women, the economically marginalised, the unemployed or the elderly. Local participatory culture excludes no one.
4 – You don’t need permission. There’s no need to wait for an invitation, or the start of some government scheme. “You can start the process in your own street tomorrow” says Monbiot.
I’m still not quite sure if and how community action adds up to national change, though the book makes a good case for ‘big organising’. But these four reasons show why it’s best not to worry too much about it. It will be worthwhile anyway.
If you feel paralysed by the giant issues of climate change, or depressed by the poisonous divisions of Donald Trump or Brexit, then refocus on your own local community. Look for local food groups, community energy schemes, tool libraries, gardening, clean-up days, participatory budgeting programmes, conservation volunteering, local currency initiatives. Connect with others, and see what you can do together. As Monbiot says, “by confronting the politics of alienation with a politics of belonging, we rekindle our imagination and discover our power to act.”