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That blog post also recognised two major streams that were posing the sort of questions that must be addressed. One was the oppositional stream, epitomised by the Occupy movement, opposition to Big Oil, Big Coal and other environmental destroyers. The second stream is that of the alternatives that are largely local, non-hierarchical and globally connected.
Those working within these streams (and many supporters) understand that the changes that are needed are not going to come from the parliaments, senates and congresses of the world. The changes are going to be made by ordinary people; you and me, our neighbours, cooperatives and those working at a local level, yet understanding the global connections.
So, why do we continue to campaign for political representatives? Why do we continue to work for political parties?
Corporate Representative Democracy
Representative democracy has worked its way into a blind alley and is no longer providing us with the forum within which the decisions that we must collectively take are able be made. Nor is it any longer representative. That is largely because, as Vandana Shiva recently lamented, “the old representative democracy has been hijacked (by) corporates.”1 She is right. Over $3 billion is spent annually in the US by corporate lobbyists – and that’s just the declared, tip-of-the-iceberg, money. Furthermore, a number of corporates fund various PR and other organisations where the intent is to manipulate public opinion and to undermine action on climate change for example.
Transnational corporations also donate to political parties electioneering funds. In the 2102 US Presidential elections around $1.2 billion was raised by the two major contenders. Around 3/4 of this funding came from the corporate sector. Although the amounts are significantly less than those of the US, data from other western representative democracies show high levels of corporate donations to political parties, especially during election years.
The money is only one part of the equation. It has been known for sometime that there is a shuffling of the players between the big transnationals and our political institutions. For example, the former Monsanto vice-president is now a senior adviser to the US Food and Drug Administration. It doesn’t take much searching to discover these links.
A Disquieting Question
If we understand that the real change that we need is not going to come from our political system; if we understand that the changes we want will come from local initiatives, then we are faced with a disquieting question. Why do we continue to put our faith in that system? Why do we continue to participate in a system that is not addressing the issues? Why do we continue to campaign for individual politicians and particular political parties?
It is a question that rarely gets asked. We act as if the present system of representative democracy is going to work, if only we could get the right people elected. So, let's ask the question. Let's then ask the corollary: How do we change that system?
Any system is made up of three things: its parts, the connections between those parts and the purpose of the system. The easiest things to identify and change in a system are the parts. For example, your household water system. If you change all the taps, faucets and pipes you still have a water system.
It is the same in political systems. If you change the parliamentarians, the senators, or the members of congress you still have a political system. So, how do we change a system so that we are affecting not just the parts, but the purpose itself.
Donella Meadows2 has given this some thought. Before she died she was working on identifying the leverage points in any system. She came up with twelve leverage points and ranked them from the least effective to the most effective. At the least effective end were things like numbers, buffers and stocks, delays, structures, and feedback loops. The more effective leverage points were, according to Meadows, around the goals and mind-set of the system itself.
Stop Wasting Time and Energy
We know what the issues are. We know that change will come from the bottom-up. We know that the political system is no longer representative. We know that the political system is no longer responsive. So:
- let’s stop campaigning for individual politicians,
- let’s stop working for particular political parties,
- let’s stop wasting our time,
- let’s stop wasting our energy.
- let’s put our energies into developing economic, social, environmental alternatives so that these alternatives become mainstream (changing the goals),
- let’s put our time into directly confronting the transnationals and corporations that are exploiting the poor and damaging the planet (challenging the mind-set),
- let’s put our energies into having the discussions that are needed in order to co-create a collective decision-making system that truly serves our collective needs and recognises the rights of the Earth.3 (creating a new paradigm)
1. Vandana Shiva, Valuing our planet panel discussion at WOMADelaide, Adelaide, Australia, 7 March 2015. Dr Vandana Shiva is an internationally recognised environmental thinker and campaigner. Time Magazine has called her an environmental hero.
2. Donella Meadows was the lead author of the Limits to Growth (1972), the ground-breaking study that brought to the worlds attention the finiteness of resources and that the continual business-as-usual approach was going to become problematic. She was also one of the world’s most distinguished systems analysts. She died in 2001, as she neared completion of her excellent primer Thinking in Systems; the source of these leverage points.
3. Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth enumerates seven specific rights to which Mother Earth and her constituent life systems, including human communities, are entitled.