Democracy in action in Balcombe

August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

The following comes from this article on the No Dash For Gas website:

‘Aha, Site Office’, comments Matt, approaching a large, green canvas, dank-looking tent with ‘SITE OFFICE’ written on a wooden sign outside. ‘So this is where it all happens eh? This is the HQ’, he eagerly steps in and his eyes adjust to the low light. He peers around perplexed. All he can see are piles of toilet paper, cabbages, sacks of potatoes, bungee cords, bin-bags and wheelbarrows. It’s like a cross between a larder and a small warehouse. ‘No Matt’ I say, pointing back out of the tent behind me to a large 300-capacity Marquee at the heart of the site. ‘This is our HQ, this is where it all happens’.

It’s a strange concept to stomach, particularly coming from a hierarchical workplace background, both in terms of the management he’d regularly negotiate with and the structures he himself would be working within. But it’s true that the decisions on both having the camp and in running the camp day to day have been and are made by large groups of people on a consensus basis. Everyone is a volunteer. And noone can actually be ‘The Leader’ because it’s physically impossible in a horizontal self-managed environment that requires and recognises the voluntary efforts of all involved. The whole operation is transparent and runs on mutual aid and support, consensus and not coercion. Yes there are ‘leaders’ or ‘coordinators’, yes there are hierarchies, created through experience rather than bestowed authority, and yes there is management, but it doesn’t tell, it co-manages and includes, again based on peoples’ experiences and knowledge of the tasks at hand. The result is democracy in action and intergenerational experience shared on the job, with new skills learned and a sense of empowerment through sharing and seeing the direct results of ones labour.

Mine and Matt’s little moment in the Site Tent also showed me that actually, resources are instrumental, and that it is the decisions on how they are used that are political and that hold power. With our camp we had reduced them to having this instrumental role because we’d depoliticised them – they were a commons for all to use – and that it was action, on challenging undemocratic decisions, from Cuadrilla drilling in Balcombe to the UK government’s energy policy, that were the most important and we could engage in dealing with those decisions because our shelter, food, water and warmth had been dealt with and were uncontroversial.

I really like this article’s concise eloquence in distinguishing between the different ways hierarchy and authority can be constructed and how this matters.

On this business of the relationship between resources and political power, see also the A Very Public Sociologist blog on the Syria Commons defeat:

“Credibility” in geopolitics is not about one’s willingness to bomb “rogue states” or even the size of the military, though of course that is important. Politics in the international arena is, as well as at home, concentrated economics.

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