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Indra Adnan for Run-Riot: the creativity in communities will drive the changes we need

Image: Indra Adnan, Perspectiva Press

Indra is a psychosocial therapist, journalist and author. Through her work on international relations and soft power she has consulted to the World Economic Forum, Indian and Danish governments, NATO, the Scottish Executive and the Institute of Contemporary Arts amongst others.

In June 2021, Indra's latest book, The Politics of Waking Up: Power and possibility in the fractal age was published by Perspectiva Press. Here she writes for Run-Riot, explaining how The Politics of Waking Up presents a coherent and radical alternative to our current socio-political turbulence. One that is creative and there for the taking.

When were you last inspired? I don’t mean simply by a good story that you quickly moved on from. But given real inspiration - the ability to breathe better in this world, to become active in the face of difficulties.

The past few weeks in the news have made it more and more difficult to think creatively – there seems to be so much push-back, much of it as past actions coming home to roost. Covid, climate breakdown, Afghanistan. Like ducks in a fast flowing stream we’re using every bit of our paddle power just to stay pointing forward, but going nowhere fast.

I’ve taken to severely cutting back on everything old-school: 90% less flying, eating meat and mainstream media. With only one foot in the current that is taking us over the waterfall, I still have one foot and most of my body free to explore new territories. Together with Co-initiator Pat Kane and a team of co-creators we’ve set up a Daily Alternative news stream and immersed ourselves in cosmolocalism: bringing global solutions to a community near you.

Hence I’m inspired almost every day. Sometimes it may be a piece of music, a work of art, a poem that lifts me out of past traumas into the zone of possibility (much work that’s highlighted in Run Riot inspires in this way). More recently it has been the first glimmers of a whole new socio-economic-political system emerging across the planet.

I don’t mean an uprising – like the Arab Spring, Occupy, Extinction Rebellion – but a steadily evolving new relationship between people, in towns and cities, that show similar patterns of self-organising for the future. Some of it focuses on resilience – people growing their own food, generating their own electricity – but more of it tries to give rise to the underlying energy and ingenuity that enables ambition. It’s a desire to live life more fully and regenerate from a deeper place - not just about fixing problems.

Are you resonating with this kind of development? If so, there’s plenty of entry points. I’m pointing at what started as Transition Towns, Ecovillages and Coorporations but more recently have widened into Neighbourhood Democracy, Mutual-Aid Networks at one end of the scale, and Fearless Cities, Participatory Cities, Integral Cities and Civic Square at the other.

These are examples of people coming together across political divides, to generate powerful local solutions with planetary impact while building trust and belonging between them. Because there are so many similar but distinct forms, we’ve given them a generic term – CANs, meaning citizen action networks (or community agency networks). Strikingly, the term itself keeps appearing, without any prompting from us. Both in the UK and in other parts of the world – such as Cape Town CANs or Coalville CAN.

All have a similar pattern of relationships at the core - between civil society actors, entrepreneurs (both cultural and economic), and wellbeing practitioners. And all are designed to get everyone, including the most excluded communities, on board.

At the heart of this revolution is a different concept of a human being. If the 20th century saw us as homo economicus – primarily material beings, needing the means to consume stuff – twenty years of the internet has revolutionised us. Now we humans know we are bio-psycho-social-spiritual-political entities, with a penchant for relationship and performance. Our emotional needs are as strong as our physical ones - indeed they often run riot!

Only now, for the first time in our shared virtual space, we seem able to observe our own behaviour and consider our position vis a vis the multiple crises we are in. If you doubt that, consider Goggle Box: people watching people watching people, rarely lost for words or an idea about what they should do.

It’s a strong political message. If you think of humans simply as mouths to feed and bodies to house, then population – overwhelming numbers - becomes a problem. However, if you think of every human being as creative - as a microsystem of potential energy, capable of initiating and engaging with projects in a wide variety of ways - then people become the biggest resource.

In the process of our modern lives, we are generating data all the time. But we need to think of structures where we own and decide on that data. CANs will flourish in the future because of their ability to create common ownership out of all kinds of capital.

Some of you might say: so what? If hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of CANs sprung up all over the world, what difference would that make? Aren’t governments still calling the shots, still wedded to the old growth economies destroying the planet?

Yet we all know that in a market economy like this one, what the people want counts. Politicians chase votes; business chases customers.

Key to the notion that people, acting independently to express their preferences can make a difference, is the difference between hard and soft power. The first is how money and guns control outcomes. The second is how narrative and story reframe the debate itself, making new distinctions about where to spend money and exert force.

In one month we’re slashing tax rates: with a bold twist of framing, in another we’re setting up Universal Basic Income. Are we invading that small African country, or are we deploying the army to rescue victims of environmental breakdown? What the people want matters to the guys with hard power, who want to stay in power.

Crucially, until now no-one really knows what the people want. A mere 2% of the registered electors are members of political parties. The only time we get to state a preference is once every five years, when the choice is between two parties wedded to the same socio-economic-political system. At the local level, people organising too often get their efforts co-opted by political parties, wanting to capitalise on goodwill.

An alternative to this is people self-organising in CANs, developing new forms of agency – participatory budgeting, a fluid democracy that is more about sensemaking than vote-counting, citizens assemblies, and distributed leadership – all of which could one day lead to a People’s Parliament. A new partnership between old and new power that could shift the entire system.

More on all of this in my new book, The Politics of Waking Up: Power and Possibility in the Fractal Age. I also cofounded a platform - The Alternative UK - which seeks to connect creatives and their networks with this vibrant upsurge of community power. We’d love to hear from you.

But for simple inspiration, a better future comes down to this: trust the people, invest in their creativity and flourishing, save the planet. Breathe.

Indra Adnan is the author of The Politics of Walking Up, out now on Perspectiva Press.

Image: Perspectiva Press

Image: Perspectiva Press

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