Kirsten was invited with her Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab hat on to be part of a recent panel discussion at the Festival of Ideas in Melbourne (Oct 2 2013). Panelists were asked to respond to and discuss the following question.
‘Imagine it is October 2nd 2033 and we now live in a world in which the transition to a healthy, just, and sustainable post carbon-future is well underway, so there is now real hope that catastrophic climate change will be avoided. How did this happen? What were the key obstacles and how were they overcome? ‘
“Well well well. We are living in interesting times – so many stories. I’ve been asked here today to tell the story of where we were and how we got here. It’s a messy story of creation and resistance, of times of turmoil when cultural and moral boundaries become as murky as the tipping point or trigger of a system’s collapse. But today, as we celebrate the last of the incarcerated walking free, and we dance on the capping of the last coal mines, it seems like it has all been worth it . . and oh what a ride!
There are as many opinions on how this shift happened as there are people, and no doubt they are all true. So many forces weaving together that perhaps it seems like a miracle, and perhaps it is. All I can tell you as how this looked for me, so here’s my view . .
I like to describe what happened as the ‘Enlivenment’ – a joyful, creative unleashing of the power of passionate, connected people who discovered the power was in our own hands.
In the early years of this century, things were unwinding fast. The global financial system was creaking under the weight of accumulated debt that could never be paid in a declining economy, as were the Australian people in their mortgages, credit cards and businesses. Rude shocks just kept appearing, and fading into normality and tensions and fear rose. More and more power kept moving into the hands of the bankers and the treadmill just kept rolling faster. Farmers were leaving the land at a record rate, taking their years and generations of intimate local knowledge with them. The miners, the frackers, the bankers – were having a field day making more and more money off declining and dying ecosystems. The outer suburbs continued to roll, even though no one could really pay for them. The ‘developers’ had the governments in their hands and they seemed unstoppable. Gains from years of advocacy, policy, campaigning seemed to have failed. Pressures of everyday were mounting. Many people were scared, angry and lost.
But in and around Melbourne something special was also happening.
This strange urban petri-dish was breeding a culture that celebrated and nourished fearless, exuberant, radical experimentation and resistance. As the heartland of this ‘Enlivenment’ – Melbourne and the regions around were full of by people who were fully alive, and in love with the world they were dreaming into existence. An identity bloomed around world hacking – playful and creative disruption and redesign, there was nothing left untouched. This identity spread, through the suburbs, mirrored and fueled though ever-stronger connections with the country. It was infectious, people started to identify with it – this hive of creation and positive resistance – and with identity came courage to step outside the box and join the wave.
Once this spark was lit, resistance bred creativity. With our backs against the wall and choices narrowing, Australia unleashed the most incredible, exuberant and beautiful responses to what seemed like overwhelming odds.
Of course I’m biased, because this was where I poured myself – but I reckon it was the farmers and the fooders that really triggered it. We ‘jumped’ first – moving beyond trying to persuade anyone else to do anything, but weaving connections between farmers and eaters, farmers and the land, eaters and the land, listening and learning with Australia’s first people about how we might go forward. There is no stronger tie to a living planet than through food, and no people more strongly tied than those producing it, and we all can. All across Victoria and Australia, a wave of regenerative and transformative agriculture changed the story about what is possible, and what is good, in this country. As this story caught fire in the cities, they came alive with food. The exciting new connections between farmers and eaters dissolved the urban-rural divide. Food was the vanguard of self-determining, self-organising revolution.
The thing about food was six-fold (I started with three): it reconnected people with country and a journey of working with this country in the search for real, meaningful ways to live. It required no permission from government or the corporations that controlled the food supply chain, and the ability of soil to produce food cannot be surpressed. The knowledge was easily spread and the seeds of a culture of openness were already in place. Everyone could easily get involved and there was room for every skill-set – you could leave any job and be useful in this movement (even bureaucrats can be re-homed, with a little work). And it recharged – and enlivened us in the darkest times – seeds, soil, deliciousness, hands, empowerment. We knew – with our feet and our hands, as well as our minds, that working in and with this country the future we want is within our reach. The sixth thing about food was that it dissolved social divides and shifted the norm around the broad need for, and the honor in, physical resistance. It was for food, freedom and country that farmers, rural people and urban people united to say both YES we will do it like this, and NO you cannot do that here.
The second sweep of change was ‘open’. Again, perhaps just my perspective, but I reckon this hit us here first through food. Seed freedom and software freedom – seems obvious now, but until 2020 and the global shift to default GNU and creative commons licensing, people were quite comfortable with the idea that you could ‘own’ or ‘lock up’ an idea! And that it was somehow ethically defensible to do so for profit, even when that idea or technology was needed and could be improved by others now. As the fight against seed patents and loss of biodiversity hotted up, so did the fight against IP and locking up of the ideas and technologies that we were ready and raring to use.
Melbourne was the seed of the open food revolution, mass development and application of technologies to reorganize and redemocratise our production and consumption systems. The embracing of technology and particularly IT to change the way we could self-organise critical supply systems – initially in food – was a breakthrough. Using these tools to enable self-organising, community-driven restructuring unleashed incredible creativity. The commitment to open meant it spread and evolved, fast. We took these tools to our hearts, we trained ourselves, and recruited corporate refugees and put them to work. By 2020, most of us could code, at least a little bit . . and multitudes of skilled developers were liberated from pointless soul-destroying work for companies they didn’t believe in.
From food the hackers moved to everything, guerilla solar and wind – what a boon those smart meters on every house. So much computing capacity able to be unleashed into community-controlled p2p power grids. In the early parts of the century people thought the chinese were good at breaking patents and hacking the technology they wanted, but as you now know it was Australia’s hacker spaces that took to solar, wind, manufacturing, processing, textiles – everything.
As well as creative hacking, we also got the hang of resistance hacking. Anonymous gave way to Synonymous as the hacker movement aligned with needed to stop major destruction. Hackers swarm well, and their ability to shut down destructive companies and systems became legendary. The error screen became every coal, gas and mining CEO’s nightmare: “Error: society has removed your license to operate. Computer says no. Computer makes this decision Synonymously. For further information, see conscience.” Attempted development in the Galilee basin was the first to fall . . not just about shareholders anymore, the risk is they’ll take your whole company down
Hacker swarming – so much fun. There’s a real power with bodies on the line. The occupy, arab spring and European resistance movements were the tip of the iceberg. New generations of mesh networks, encryption and rapid social mobilization, combined with the fearless and preparedness (cultivated in Melbourne’s rich training grounds), we swarmed our way through the darkest years. Strategic, targeted, direct resistance – we learned not to spread ourselves too thin and to really disrupt. To move faster and smarter and to cover our tracks. To apply every tool we had – including technology – to slowing the destruction. It moved from a fringe activity to a social responsibility – for the intelligentsia – are you in or are you out? Talk or action? Slacktivist, hacktivist, activist. Yes people went to jail, many many people.
These actions and swarms were critical to carving new and real relationships. At key sites of resistance, the non-negotiable “over our dead bodies” commitment of indigenous peoples got inside our skin, as well as opening our eyes to what it means to resist for and with our ‘country’. The stories of Jandamarra style-running resistance through country that becomes home are becoming legendary – it’s already unclear what’s actually ‘true’. Song cycles retracing and re-weaving through Prices Point, Galillee, Tarkine and Kakadu – and countless other places where we learned to appear, to disappear and generally cause havoc. Clear calls to key sites at key times overwhelming the corporate-government complex. Technology played its part in our new found swarms, but many who were there swear that are other forces at play too . .
Of course all this required a big OS reboot. It couldn’t have happened without a cameraderie of fearlessness, underpinned by love and passion, fuelled by the realization that the ‘powers that be’ were not going to protect these places or do these things, and we had to do it. And we could.
As more and more people sunk under more and more debt, freedom from the illusion that ever-increasing wealth was either possible or good called strongly. People who did still have jobs questioned why they would spend their lives working for things they didn’t believe in, and started to believe they didn’t have to. In Melbourne, there were so many possibilities and people to guide into new fulfilling livelihoods that it was hard to resist. And with exciting work to do, and reasonable livelihoods being created through social enterprise and community capital – it was intoxicating, corporate refugees fled in droves.
With loosened ties to ‘jobs’ and ‘careers’ and ‘reputation’ – fear of arrest and court-cases lose their sting. The creative disruption and the resistive disruption worked together and empowered each other.
Things really got underway once we worked out how to hack money. Realising that we had enormous wealth and capital within our own communities, we consciously and interdependently reinvested in the essential infrastructure and services and court cases we needed. The superfunds never knew what hit them. Poof, we took it back. We reorganized our finances in our communities and found we had well more than enough.
So I guess really what happened was that we discovered Ourselves. We stopped asking nicely, and waiting, and cajoling. We stopped trying to persuade people, beating ourselves with guilt and fear, and re-directed our energy from endless paralyzing evidence bases of despair. We discovered self -determination, connection, self-organisation, country and swarming.
We connected with those who cared – here and around the world – and we flexed our muscles in every sense of the word. Like adolescents testing the boundaries – sometimes we went too far, but we learned – sometimes painfully – that there is no ‘they’, ‘we’ are the ones who decide our future.
We got smart and embraced technology. We opened it up and worked together to re-wire the world. We resourced ourselves and recreated money. We connected to ourselves, our land, our farmers, our food, the first people of this country, and to each other.
The shadows of this possibility were evident in 2013 – as it seemed like all was lost. But from Melbourne resounded “No”. A bold “hell no”. Ideas and identity are infectious, and attractive. Like attracts like, and creative, courageous people flooding into Melbourne as a strong-hold of resistance. A breeding ground, a seeding ground, a feeding ground. It became respite, re-charge and reconnect and re-inspire, for the generation of warriors whose work and lives we celebrate today.
The world was, is and always will be, a grand tussle of ideas and possibilities – each stretching for light and trying to grab a foothold in history and culture. 20 years ago, any significant and lasting reversal of ecological decline seemed nigh impossible, and an unstable, catastrophically out of control climate seemed inevitable. The chances of this mobilization, this revolution, this recreation seemed remote if not impossible . . but it depends where you looked. Those who could see it, who planted the seeds of it, and who committed their minds, hands and hearts to it, made it so.
Perhaps in time, in 50 years, 100 years, a thousand years or more, the stories of this time will be told as fairy tales, as legends. The stories may become myths and part of our dreamtime, teaching us what we can call upon to create the world. But today, it’s still close enough in time for them to feel like real people – in fact many of them still among us. So let’s just pause and reflect on what it took for them to stand up and make this a reality”.
For more info on the open food revolution