Where does hope spring from? A progressive form of hope comes from a belief that things can be different, in contrast to the conservative form of hope, which is a vague trust that the existing institutions of our society will fix our problems. As I wrote in my last post – Australia is experiencing the death of this conservative hope but we are still awaiting the birth of a new hope. What I would like to put forward after a few weeks of discussion with many people is a proposal to nurture the growth of a belief in change in the Australian people.
So how do we build a belief in the idea that things can be different? My starting point is that hope doesn’t come from tinkering at the margins. It arrives when the margins come to occupy the centre. People are generally smart – they sense the limits that the political class and the system places on their voice and their ability to exercise solidarity – it’s why we are between hopes. People in their guts understand that neither a new political party getting a few percentage points of the vote or an unreformed Labor Party exhaustingly falling into government promising the business elite to take the Australian people on a journey of reform will achieve the transformation they seek.
Ambition and audacity cuts through. Many sniggered at Clive Palmer when he stated his ambition to become Prime Minister. His audacity, however, has attracted many votes. Earlier this year I remember speaking with a casual warehouse worker from Queensland. He told me that he was traditionally a Labor man but that now he was supporting Palmer because he had the guts to take on Murdoch. It was Palmer’s ambition and audacity that won the support of this insecure working class voter (and many others in Queensland). There is no hope without the ambition and the audacity of a big ask.
There is a place for realism in politics but it should not limit our values or our ambition to realise those values in our society. A proper realism is to start with the lived experiences of people and tease out an agenda for social transformation that accords with what they see, feel and sense around them. A proper realism is to work out a plan that builds on this – a plan that allows people to take action for this social transformation and to decide what action they want to take to further this social transformation. Continually telling people the limits of what they can achieve and expecting their ongoing support is about as realistic as asking for #fullcommunism now.
The first part of the plan is to consciously ignore existing political parties. We must work outside the existing political system. We must ignore the limits the system places on our solidarity. We go to the margins because what we need to change is the mode in which politics is conducted. This is about changing the script and the narrative not replacing the cast on the stage. For me the actors and what roles they take in this new structure is a second order issue. When you’re stuck in the middle of a Michael Bay production whether it stars Shia LeBeouf or not probably isn’t the most pertinent question. Can an existing party step up or will a new one emerge? I don’t know and for now I don’t care. To achieve a social transformation we need a new social movement.
To change the script we need to change the script. The language of this social movement needs to be simple and direct – perhaps sometimes even bordering on the crude. It needs to be language that people actually use. The political class has occupied the language of emancipation. They will only be forced from this ground once we have gathered together the language of daily life. We need to have a language that is not the language of the left – we need to speak like people actually speak with each other. No declarations, no manifestos, no proletarians, and no mass parties. Besides, our political language has already been sold off to the highest bidder any way and every time we use the same language we’re really paying rent to and strengthening the existing power structure.
There are are two reasons I want to post this plan to shift the anti-Abbott #bustthebudget campaign to a campaign unashamedly in support of a concrete vision for a different Australia here on this blog. Firstly, I have confidence in it. I want to outline the steps here in full public view because I believe that if this gathers momentum there will be no stopping it. I have full confidence this will work and it doesn’t matter whether a spook or a Murdoch mouthpiece finds out now. I want to nail this plan to the proverbial church door without giving a shit what high priest of orthodoxy finds out. Secondly, not many people will read it here anyway.
We Count! is a statement of universal agency. The “We” is you and me and everyone. It is about ignoring the demographics – the way our community has been sliced and diced into different segments and electorates to be played off each other like chumps. In the last federal budget, Hockey and Abbott stole ten Tim Tams and left us with 1 – now they’re trying to get us to argue about how we slice it up. Well f#%t that for a joke. And everyone already knows it’s a joke. We Count! is about starting a new conversation – we already know Canberra is #shit, let’s start to talk about the #shitweneed. We, the people, are going to decide whether something is #shitweneed or just #shit. And we are going to impose our will.
This a movement that goes beyond the limits the system puts on us to control us. The starting point in this movement is us talking to each other and connecting in a new way – beyond parties, beyond town and country, beyond identities. Because people feel the limits of the system – they will see when there are gaps and weaknesses where we can break through.
We Count! starts not with the answers but with the questions. You don’t get a big ask without the right questions. The problem with the left today is we have too many answers to questions that people aren’t actually asking. It is the answers of the people that will form the list of #shitweneed (as an aside if perhaps I’m being too provocative here we could also go with #whatweneed). Then together we take action for what we need. We impose our agenda on Canberra instead of them imposing their agenda on us. In union language, this is a log of claims for the whole country. This is ambitious. This is audacious. It is key, however, that we do not start with a pre-existing list or agenda. We need to start with a set of open-ended questions, which in plain English, go to people’s everyday experiences and how that does or doesn’t get connect with our political and economic system. It is these questions which people can answer online, at home with close friends or family, or in community/town hall meetings around the country that forms the foundation for the next stage. In terms of resources, we need three things for this stage – an online space where people can answer the questions, resources for people to go off and run their own meetings of whatever scale they want to shoot for, and volunteers/software to gather the answers and draw together the key common themes and experiences.
From there we have We Count!‘s second stage – the first formation of the list of #shitweneed and where we start to talk about what action we want to take. It is at this stage where geographically and sector-based groups are beginning to form. People are gathered to talk about and rank their priorities. This is about direct democracy. Online democratic software complements people sitting down and talking face to face.
The third stage is the end of the beginning of a great transformation in our society. What we should have is an initial draft of the list of #shitweneed and real feedback on concrete actions we are prepared to take. It should be open for everyone to consider. The threshing out of this should be done in a collectively edited document – groups can gather to consider drafts or elements of the list with a final round of meetings throughout the country to pledge support to the one or two page list of #shitweneed. Then things get really interesting. Hopefully action is already starting to take place but with the final list of #shitweneed it really steps up.
What might the list look like – I don’t know but it would probably have a few key themes with more specific claims contained therein – here’s a purely conjectural draft of headings (based on the 15-M and Podemos process in Spain):
1. Recovering the economy so it works for all of us
2. Recovering equality and freedom
3. Recovering our sovereignty
4. Recovering our land
Who runs We Count!? We do. Everyone and no one. Any person or group could get involved. If you want in, let me know.
What happens next? I don’t know. My guess is as good as yours. Without you we don’t count though. So have a vote on what you think the list should be called and tell me what you think the key questions are we should be asking people.