Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Another society is not only possible - it is necessary

An open letter to the participants of "Claiming Our Future"

from activists on the CEESA MA

This pioneering gathering of people will be a first in creating a space to explore real change. By beginning this process in overcoming mistrust and engaging in genuine conversations, will demonstrate the power of dialogue, even in the bleakest times can abolish despair and offer hope.

This letter seeks to be one departure point for a conversation amongst those in Ireland who are committed to the ideas, practices and values that underpinned the concepts of social justice, equality and participatory democracy. We welcome the conveners call to “foster a unity across civil society and to power a progressive movement to reshape Ireland’s recovery and claim our social values.” We seek to play a proactive role in the creation and sustaining of such a movement.

How we look forward is shaped by our shared lived experiences and critical perspectives of the historical and structural forces that have lead us to where we are today. We feel that there is a need to state in the clearest possible terms both what values we see at the core of our vision for our future, and the steps we will take to make such transformations plausible and sustainable. We seek to be both proactive and positive, though it would be naïve and counterproductive for us to remain silent about what our experiences and history has taught us so far.

Our understanding of equality, social justice, sustainability and democracy are shaped as much by an understanding of all that negates these possibilities -what doesn’t work - as it is by what we think will work. These values only have meaning in practice, and can only be found in the process of creating them if they are to be more than nice ideas. As such any moments for genuine change are as much movements of organised hope as they are movements against inequality. All things/structures/institutions that inhibit them, regardless of rhetoric, should be seen as historical remnants to be radically reformed or replaced entirely.

We reject the model of social partnership with political and economic elite. Our communities, workplaces, health systems and environment have been ripped asunder and plundered. As programmes and projects collapse through dependency on a political and economic system that does not serve us, it would be a foolish strategy to travel that road again. Partnership served only a few, whilst our voices have been mediated, professionalised, managed and ultimately discarded. We need to draw the lesson from this and never again let our movements become toothless. We need to look at ways of building strategic autonomy into how we do this so that our movements will not become dependent upon the very structures and elites that threaten our futures today

Social justice, equality and democracy cannot be fully realised under capitalism. Indeed, the structures of capitalism are perhaps the single biggest cause of injustice in the world. It has not and never will be a friend of the voiceless. We hear a lot about “economic reality” as if it is the only issue of concern and that its recovery is the solution to all the wrongs. We are now asked to press pause on the need for a genuine democracy so that abstract “markets” can have “confidence”.

We argue that another reality exists. What has been called an "economic” crisis is actually a structural crisis within our societies It is simultaneously a democratic crisis, an ecological crisis and an energy crisis. It is our reality that unelected unaccountable institutions like the IMF, European Central Bank, and World Bank, alongside corporations and servile political systems, have been the instruments of injustice and inequality across the globe. These institutions have no legitimacy in defining the quality of life for the majority of the world, including us here in Ireland. They neither seek to represent us, nor ask us for our consent in making decisions that affect our lives now and future generations. As such our movements should seek to dismantle these institutions and give power back to ordinary people. Whilst changes may take time, we need to be clear that our ultimate aims require the removal of all structures of domination, coercion and exploitation.

Whilst we seek to explore and begin to build towards movements that embody our visions in Ireland, we are mindful of the millions across the globe who are participating in the same project. In finding solutions to the problems we have in Ireland, we understand their global nature, and we should actively seek to learn and link up with those beyond our borders who are doing the same. Rebuilding our lives and helping our global communities will inspire growth in a new generation of real social justice, equality and participatory democracy, and assist in a better understanding our environments and ourselves.

Let us use the opportunity that is being presented to us in this crisis to build connections across sectors. It is an opportunity to build unity through focusing on common goals and putting aside our differences. We need to listen to each other, really listen, in order to understand what is being said, not so that we can defend ourselves, but so that we can really learn from each other’s experiences. We need to relearn to think and act collectively in contradiction to the individualisation that the capitalist regime foisted on us. We need to ensure as we move forward that we do so slowly so that those who are now excluded can be brought in, welcomed and that what they have to say is heard. We need to find a new way to build a new world, one where gender equality is a given and where all oppressed groups equally participate.

Let us act together with courage and not through fear.

Bridie Costelloe (Le Cheile Adult Education, Research and Consultancy)

Sian Crowley (Seomra Spraoi)

Alice McDonnell (Women 2000, CAL - Children and Adults Learning, Le Cheile Adult Education, Research and Consultancy)

Mark Malone (Seomra Spraoi)

Breda Murphy (Waterford Women's Centre)

Simon O Donovan (CEESA student)

Laurence Cox (Grassroots Gatherings, Interface)

and other participants in the "Community Education, Equality and Social Activism" MA

All signatories are in a personal capacity only.