A while back, Australian Progressives President Vinay Orekondy wrote a blog post about a different approach for our party. From where we are now – in amongst the politics of tit for tat, corruption and decades old ideologies – it seems radical, but it is in fact a reconnection with what democracy was intended to be: a real connection between people and power.
This is exciting stuff! A structure for our party that sets our actions, policies and candidates apart from the fruitless manoeuvrings of modern politics. Members and candidates getting on with making real change for their community, regardless of the latest media sound bite or scare campaign.
This approach has the potential to make all other contenders seem self-serving, while we appear compassionate, honest, pro-active and engaged. Not because of how we managed to spin things, not because we have discredited our opponents and not even because we are smarter than anyone else. Here is the radical subversive idea: we will really be compassionate, honest, pro-active and engaged.
Our vision will be expressed through real activities happening with our neighbours, our friends and our families. Community Hubs will bring people together and empower us to articulate our desire for progress, and the Australian Progressives will be our megaphone.
New is scary, but can we really lose?
This is different, and let’s not make any bones about it – that means there will be problems along the way. Getting people to invest of themselves in something uncertain is not easy, but we can already see it is possible. New hubs are being formed at this very minute across the country.
A group of progressive people coming together to take action offers a connection on so many levels. It can be good for our health (mental and physical), it can be good for the environment, it can help those who need it most where you live, it can be fun, it can rattle the cage of the political establishment and even topple it. Hubs will do good in the community just because they can, with no strings attached; there is so much to gain by us getting together, and so little to lose.
But aren’t we supposed to be doing politics?
There are established ways one goes about getting into politics: find candidates, place them in seats, run a campaign, get on the news, make your case, win over hearts and minds. I for one have arrived here amongst the the Progressives because I’m pretty tired of this system and I am deeply underwhelmed by what it can actually deliver.
Sure, I’ve got my cynical pants on here, but the process of slinging points and counterpoints at each other through the media seems to simply allow the majority of voters to reinforce their preconceptions by believing one side while being dismissive of the other. There are, of course, swinging voters out there, but ending up with politics designed to satisfy them results in limp leadership. If it were as simple as making progressive points about the environment, human rights, social security and taxation through the existing structure, then the Greens would be running the country by now.
The ‘community first’ approach may require that we invest time and energy in a broader range of activities, some of which may even seem un-political, but to have successful candidates they must be riding on a wave of community investment that is undeniable. They must come of the community first, and then transition to working for the community if they are going to stand out – if they are going to be immune to the corruption, and bold of ambition. Australia does not need another small party shouting from the sidelines; it needs to refocus politics on the people it represents.
Recent political events, I think, make the change even more important. Our new Prime Minister boasts of being “agile”; to me this reads as ‘the government will adapt any new ideas that gain traction and apply them in a watered down way through the same old corrupt system’. I think we need to have something deeper – a change in how we create our ideas and a support base that is emotionally engaged and invested in how they are applied, so they won’t be fooled by the main parties’ lightweight version. I long for a change in how politics works, what politics is.
Introverts and unlikely leaders
Another aspect to this is that we are looking for a whole new kind of leader. Quite possibly these members will have no ambition to lead, but will be lifted up and encouraged by those working alongside them to improve their community. If the Progressives are serious about empowerment, then it follows that we would be represented by empowered members.
This is the real way to change the nature of those who might represent us, and it becomes quite clear that hunting to discover or meet quotas of candidates by a certain time, especially if there is not an active hub in that location, is not going to be compatible. The way to get the representatives we really need is by investing in the hubs themselves; the support and connection they will provide has the potential to turn ordinary people into inspirational leaders.
What about non-progressive people?
The high school style of debate in our political system is very rarely about changing minds. Focus group testing and rehearsed one liners are the norm; political positions are designed to appeal to a particular demographic’s existing point of view.
Our communities are awash in cynicism about politicians and everything they say; we are corralled into categories and constituencies to suit agendas. You know what? Life just isn’t that simple. Anyone should be free to come along and see what’s happening at a hub. The potential for really changing the way people see politics is that the hub is focussed on doing. Actions within the community that are genuinely about helping each other and those in need, actions that people are invited to be a part of, are how we can communicate the power of progress in a way that no TV sound bite, Facebook meme or rehearsed one liner could ever manage.
In his book The Good Listener, Hugh Mackay says that, “People are more likely to change in response to a combination of new experience and communication than in response to communication alone.” and, “The message in what is said will be interpreted in the light of how, when, where and by whom it is said.” In fact, the ten laws of communication he outlines make for a great overview of how hubs have the potential to effect actual change in how people see politics. You can read them here: http://www.mckenziecoaching.com.au/10-laws-human-communication/
What can hubs do?
So what kinds of things might a hub be doing? Before we discuss specific possibilities, there are a few important factors to consider.
First and most importantly, there are the Progressive values. If a hub is going to be flying the party’s banner, then obviously its actions need to align with the direction of the party itself. The values are effectively a framework for designing hub activities. The smallest of actions can still promote the values; no need to start with saving the world. Small achievable actions can get the ball rolling and it is collectively that our actions will amount to a big political stick.
Context will be a crucial consideration. Empowering your local community is the goal here. Also, there is no point in reinventing the wheel; in some cases it may be a matter of helping out already progressive activities in your community. Creating competition over resources or dividing public awareness of an issue is far from progressive, so there is no point in setting out with an attachment to a specific activity. Hubs need to be the Swiss Army Knives of community action, dynamic and responsive, giving voice to progressives where you live.
These factors together make this all about creativity. The current political system assumes constituents are uncreative – it is a case of ‘the people complain and the government find a way to placate them’. This model is devoid of empowerment. There is no investment by the population. The creative challenge laid down before a hub is not to ask, ‘What can I do to my community?’ But rather, ‘What does my community need?’
So here are some ideas about what hubs might do if they satisfy the criteria above:
- Get connected: There are already so many amazing progressive organisations out there doing amazing things in Australia, there are many examples on our Facebook Page. While they are great, they are dispersed and don’t always come together as a single voice across the community. A Hub can potentially be helping these organisations to grow, connect and proliferate.
- Get together: In some parts of Australia, being progressive can be a pretty isolating experience. The simple act of coming together so we know we are not alone is step one of empowerment. There is no reason I can see why activities can’t be about looking after the hub itself; what you do needs to be sustainable, so it makes sense to invest some energy in the hub’s own health.
- Support Charities: The first community hub in Warringah has already had a successful charity drive, collecting food and clothing for the homeless. A fantastic way to help those in need and demonstrate our commitment to the value of Empathy. https://www.facebook.com/AusProgressive/posts/1078716735486714
- Gardens and Gardening: There are mountains of evidence that gardening is good for our mental and physical health, that it is good for the environment, can have a positive effect on a community and can produce food for those in need. In this age of corporate dominance, simply growing food has become a political act. That progressives would be involved in sustainable, local food production just makes sense.
- Working Bees: Pretty self-explanatory. If someone needs help, the Progressives get stuck in and do something about it. The beauty of this sort of thing is that it is so easily scalable; three people helping an elderly citizen clean out her/his garage or fifty people cleaning up a local park and having a sausage sizzle and anything in between is a win.
- Co-operatives: A bit more ambitious, but hubs have the potential to be involved in all kinds of locally owned and operated ways of managing resources. Local renewable energy systems, CSAs, local food distribution hubs, business incubators, employment networks, commons, and crowdfunding are just some of the ways this might happen. Part of this might be assisting local communities that are trying to fight off corporations who seek to dominate or endanger resources.
- The Simple Act of Giving: Blankets for the homeless, a basket of local produce for a pensioner, or backpacks for immigrant children. The possibilities are endless and there is no reason why, as long as it is safe, hubs can’t take things into their own hands and lend a helping hand directly to someone in need. https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaSaysWelcome?fref=ts
- Health: Organising or promoting community-based health activities can improve life in the community and help to build connections with new people. https://vimeo.com/138158618
Obviously these are just a few of many possibilities, but I think having some examples can make things a little less daunting. It’s fine to start small. How things grow from there is a journey the whole Australian Progressives team can be a part of, if it is helpful. Every journey starts with a first step.
So to finish up, I want you to imagine something for me.
What if your first exposure to a new political party was one of the activities above in action?
Imagine how that would challenge your cynical preconceptions about politics. How would it look compared to the other parties? On the one hand you’d have a bunch of talking heads making the same predictable points, and on the other you’d have a bunch of people willing to put their money where their mouth is. There is no need to be preachy or pushy, it is a simple case of ‘this is who we are, and you can see for yourself what we stand for’.
The potential here is enormous; for me it appears like an open highway (or should that be high speed rail line?) ahead of us. Ultimately it is the only way forward that I can get excited about.
I hope you can too.