So I pose the question to all reading this - between us, can we facilitate a modest chain of Beacons across the world, each coming up with its own Call/s to Action? Does 100 sound realistic as a target total?
As we settle into 2018, there has to be a sense of hope. The Guardian's editorial recently, reflecting on the appointment of the first Minster for Loneliness, concluded overwhelmingly that "it is time to base the economy on a more rounded view of human nature than that one that just considers individuals as selfish calculators of utility", citing the appointment of a new Minister of Loneliness as evidence of just how dislocated our society has become. For loneliness, feel free to liberally substitute ill health, mental illness, depression or homelessness, all symptoms of our riven, out-of-balance society.
"This economic model needs to be recast. The neoclassical economic theory of “homo economicus” – that we are essentially selfish, that we only know our own wishes and act rationally to maximise our own utility – describes only one part of our nature. From a biological perspective, we evolved to be social creatures with relationships built on trust and cooperation. It is this side of humanity, built on empathy and compassion, that we need to encourage. Business can make money while supporting social goals, but to do so such enterprises must adhere to a set of ethical and democratic principles. To revitalise an economy without putting profits above people, Britain needs to jettison its infatuation with firms which end up a repository for risk that others must bear.”
In short, capitalism might just have run its course and it's high time we worked together to put some new models into practice.
Our Beacons started the process of bringing people together last summer for Campfire Conversations and you can now view them on a map on the Campfire site and set up or join a local Beacon (or join one in a place you visit regularly). Half these Beacon events were conceived and hosted by people I had not met at that stage. It was a glorious inspired outpouring of trust, hope and a wish to gather to find strength in numbers.
A few months on as we prepare for another season of Campfire activity, we offer up our Beacons as a potential way of joining ideas, activists and intentions. Might we dare to light a Beacon chain that links people us globally, combining forms of technology that are able to shrink the world with the direct immediacy afforded by face-to-face communing to create sparks with potential to create some radical smoke signals beyond our locality?
The key will be to keep these gatherings simple and easy to organise. So than anyone can gather together a few friends and like-minded souls and feel that they can easily make a difference.
So how can we make a difference?
What Beacons shouldn't do is tread on others' toes. At a recent Brighton meeting the point was made that the town already has all shades of activism, all doing important work, mostly efficiently. In Frome, the town I have just moved to, I am well aware that there are already groups doing important work. Campfire isn't here to reinvent the wheel nor to offer itself up as an umbrella for the various activist groups. But in our case, we may just have an important role to play in collecting resources, in making connections and suggestions and plugging it all into something that is developing a global mindset and a healthy appetite for change.
Change doesn't always come easily on a plate. Each Beacon will have wildly differing circumstances, varying styles of events and initiatives around it and of course, the human characters that gather around it and make it unique.
The Beacon might want to set out quite different aims or pledges before it starts - what its objectives are, how much it wants to get engaged in micro issues, how much it wants to participate in changing the structure politically (if that is intention, what are its big picture visions?) as three examples.
Bournemouth Beacon founder @Kimm Fearnley tells what originally inspired the women in her group in the south coast Beacon's call to arms report:
"Before diving into our first meeting the three of us had decided we wanted our Beacon to always have the following:
1 A speaker from the local community - preferably one that was engaged in doing something positive that we could either support or be inspired by.
2 A plant-based supper - Cate and Clare are passionate about the positives of vegan food.
3. A call to action - to try and take all the well-meaning discussions from just talking into some kind of action without making members feel obliged or guilty if they can’t or don’t want be involved.
4. A fire."
The resulting calls to action - and the ensuing conversations and dialogue on Campfire will be the most important immediate result of the meetings. It is a statement of intent that will mould the experiences around which the Campfire community should aim to build what I have been referring to as 'templates of experience' based on what has already happened. These might range from ideas on event format - ie how to mix conversation with art and entertainments, suggestions as to debating topics, whether to include food which is always a good social addition and theming and devising a concept based on one word or short event descriptions - 'wellbeing' 'relationship' 'stepping up' 'reimagining our world' or 'social glue' are examples already used with some success.
What I think Campfire can offer is to link local Beacons into what many are describing as a global movement. There isn't yet a name for this movement though we have referred to it, for want of a better word, as trailblazing.
The concept of acknowledging the rhythm-seasons of the year through ceremony is obviously not new - far from it. Talking to Campfire member @stewart boyle, his view is that "Campfire's vision is, I think, new and exciting in that it combines this spiritual practice and ritual with a social-political gathering and discourse and a focus on Calls to Action."
In arriving at any 20/20 Vision for Beacons from here, it's worth assessing the impact and lessons learned from quite a few Campfire Conversations staged last year which paved the way for the Beacons concept. Campfire is already bringing people together and what is most important is the follow-through - to harness the energy created by the physical meet ups and develop and sustain that momentum.
The suggestion is to do the key Beacon meet ups in a variety of locations on such well defined days of the year - winter and summer solstices, spring and autumn equinoxes. Days when Global Beacons can come together and look at mapping new ideas and directions via calls to action.
There is an obviously an awareness of the long tradition of rhythm-seasons and ceremony but I started from the viewpoint that these key days where fundamental change is happening in nature and seasons should naturally chime with social change too, and in particular when focused on Calls to Action. I'm feeling a sense that politics is already taking on board a more human and spiritual dimension that is more weighted towards balance and the good of planet and less about career politics, and thinking more laterally outside the capitalism and neoliberal economic paradigm. Lazy journalists and cynics might try to to align this type of thinking with hippie philosophy but the burgeoning realisation that the sort of countercultural tremors we're feeling as we approach 2020 have broadened out hugely to encompass a more holistic-positive worldview despite recent blips that have been manifested by the likes of Trump, Brexit and concerns about the increasing fragility of democracy.
We need to unite rather divide and would surely want as broad and bubble-free a reach as possible so it's important to be able to find the language and statement of intent that's as inclusive as possible so that humanists can co-exist in harmony with spiritualists on a joint quest to find ways for hope to thrive over cynicism.
Whilst our gatherings may be about celebrating life on earth, this may not sit easily with those feeling embittered, downtrodden or suffering, so its important for Beacons to remain rooted in pragmatism as well as developing an understanding of the big picture vision needed for others to join the journey. It often comes back to pre-conceptions - who is talking, what language they are using, how they dress, where they’re based and some misconceptions too (one Campfire member left because we were doing too many Conversations in “nice rural south western locations and not enough in Hartlepool or Coventry”) We have to believe that the right people will find us. Campfire's important role in this all is to link people and to inspire.
Marking events around key calendar days also makes us familiar with and mindful of our collective intent. As Stewart muses:"this could be a strong way to anchor the group in the moment, to highlight our connection with nature and set the tone to take us beyond the day-to-day before we move into open dialogue on social and political issues that concern us."
Looked at in a local context, this could take many different forms and it’s important not to step on toes or reinvent the wheel - new have exactly these sorts of discussions at @Mads Ryle's place in Brighton, where it was said that already Brighton has pretty much every shade of activist. Even Hay on Wye (population under 2000) has many but as I found out when we did the April Conversation there, we were bringing people into same room in some instances for the first time and they were grateful to have met, having heard of each other’s activities. Perhaps I can draw a rather oblique analogy with what I did at The Big Chill in a musical and art sense, brining together techno fans, ambient heads, folk followers, hip-hop street kids, jazz heads, comedy buffs, film fanatics and theatre pioneers in the same fields. The heady melting pot it created had some surprising results, not least an acknowledgement that the festival ‘movement’ its created was diverse and potent enough to really be inclusive and make a difference.
Do we simply come together for an event, open our hearts and minds and then take that increased awareness back to out other work-activities? Or we looking to have regular group meetings, membership, rules and so on?
We can all continue to dip into our local activist-based missions on a regular basis, perhaps with renewed sense of purpose after these meetings, but the opening of hearts and minds is the fundamental shift that could make all the difference - as well as the added awareness of what is possible. The idea, for instance that if you look in the distance over to the next hill, there’s also a fire sparking, and then another one that can seen from there (and it’s nothing to do with royal jubilees!) We're not alone, we have others all around, in all directions, on other continents, on the other side of the world, also lighting fires for change.
The realisation - not be underestimated - there are probably like-minds in Birkenhead, Lisbon, St Petersburg, Osaka and Auckland and beyond talking about similar issues, hopes and dreams.
The sort of guidelines we should consider building might include:
- Values and principles to underpin promoting promote community wealth and civic responsibility. Campfire Convention is already developing these
- New models for business - enterprises must adhere to a set of ethical and democratic principles. Community interest companies, rewarding input.
- Structures for local organising such as those outlined by Flatpack Democracy or Trailblazer politics.
- Creating resources as an online hub for local groups, activists, events, venues, services.
- Using the arts for impact in social change
One collective dream might be that others who we can hold the space for will come out of these gatherings feeling energised, empowered, connected and motivated to get down and make the world a better place.
Check list for Beacons:
- What is inspiring you? Politics? Social change? Poetry? Music? Vegan cooking? Helping a local cause?
- Who is the core organising team? Share the burden, share the vision, job share
- Where will you stage meetings and events? Local farm, park, garden, pub, hall, gallery, church?
- What sort of events? How long?
- Identify local movers and shakers, who would be interested? (It only takes a handful of people to start a movement...)
- Read Campfire guidelines and organiser templates
- Decide to go ahead...
- Create a to do list
- Set up the Beacon - stick a pin a map
- Submit to Campfire central what you'd like to do
- Create Campfire event via your Beacon page
- Publicise via social media and local press, radio