On the eve of a general election which has given unexpected rise for hope, twenty people were greeted in the garden of the abused and much loved Meersbrook Hall, once home to Sheffield's Ruskin Museum. Greeted warmly with grapes, pastries and juice (what better) by @Kate Souper and @Russ Jackson, we borrowed hats, slapped on the sunscreen (slip, slap, slop) and settled into sun and shade.
We started with @Pete Lawrence, who talked about where Campfire came from and gave a beautifully simple overview of the role Guilds, Beacons, Projects and The Bugle fitted in with one another online. He also talked about Trailblazers - Campfire's independent political movement.
The afternoon continued with a talk by Andy Jackson, Heeley Development Trust (HDT), an old comrade who appears not to have aged a day in twenty years. He talked about the Hall's history and the desire of the Trust to link all the derelict buildings of the area into one asset base. Meersbrook Hall had been a civic response to capitalism, providing green space and education as the city encroached on this former rural area.
Discussion was respectful and nuanced from the start; although there is much anger and despair locally about the limitations of Sheffield City Council (not least their tree-felling campaign in this great green city) there was clearly a will to find a new way forward. Pete's opening question, "Should Campfire be political?" had answered itself here within five minutes.
Andy talked about how successive Labour councils held onto the levers of power and seemed to implicitly expect gratitude for any funding or support. Interestingly, he described the work of HDT as "deeply socialist", yet seen as anything but by the political majority, the gatekeepers of traditional socialism locally chewing up community organisations. Questioned, he was emphatic that the blocks faced by HDT were not just about money, but about mindset. HDT, he said, was set up as a response to "state failure" and later he described the extremes of hate and intolerance exhibited by those dysfunctional forces at political loggerheads: Thatcherite national government and socialist local government. Caught in the middle, communities paid the price, leaving no opportunity to have a place-led approach. Funders were interested only in process and local organisations forced to compete with one another. "Money does not trickle down," said Andy, something we are all facing up to nationally. "You need to make it stick locally as much as you can." Economy matters - communities are not just houses. HDT was working hard to become become independent from grant funding, from going cap in hand.
Andy talked about how essential relational work is in community development; HDT being relationally led, with individuals asking, "What are my responsibilities? What do I have to do?" This opened up broader discussions around politics, reclaiming a dialogue of love and compassion; actually using those words in politics (though the point was also made, after Mother Teresa, that rights had a part to play here and you don't have to love someone in order to want to help them).
After a break to chat, catch up with old familiar faces and make new friends, Pete asked if I would start of the second part of the Conversation. I talk about Campfire as a constellation of possibilities, a place where we don't make assumptions about how the world should be and where we have an appreciation of change. What we were trying to do online was to build collective wisdom, to strengthen our many endeavours. I used Salman Rushdie's phrase, saying that Campfire was trying to, "...bring the newness in." The discussion took flight again, at its strongest when people were not trying to coach one another towards solutions, or falling into binaries, or making assumptions about political allegience, but opening up possibilities (when solutions/binaries did begin to dominate, there were plenty of people around to open up the conversation again, I loved that." Lots of nods when it was suggested that, as a society, we had lost the concept of the common good.
An interesting discussion took place about the future of work and about how we have lost intergenerational spaces (Meersbrook Hall having the potential for this work). This also led to some talk about digital innovation: a lot of fear and excitement, with a significant consensus around the need to educate young people and ourselves properly about how to keep ourselves ethical and safe online.
We close with a round of ideas for reimagining politics:
- open political education - PR and compulsory voting - imagining the future of work - basic income - putting the most vulnerable people first - getting offline and meeting one another - reimagining socialism - building things in the real world - building hope - political education for children and young people - reimaginging trade unions and teaching trade union history - taking back control of work - more participatory politics - local/national/global links - need to train more skilled labour to work for good eg energy - carrying on a dialogue, changing the narrative - international direct action - alternatives to party politics - social glue - getting your hands dirty should be an aspiration, try it at school - racism being committed to the politics of our past - reintroducing morality - admitting there is no glorious past - trade unions making themselves relevant - bolder narratives, focused simple messages - tool young people up to take hold of positive mental health - empower ourselves to empower young people - the Positive Money organisation - how we use parks and buildings - political literacy, the legacy of Ruskin - a fairer news media - invest in education, more mature attention to the worl they want - start using more spiritual/visionary language - people to think of what they want and need to be - not just politics for empowerment work - de-party politicise - personal is political - change ourselves we are products of a capitalist system - need to think big - decolonize politics (internationalism) - talk to people in Europe we have something in common with.
What did I get out of the day? I'd been looking for a focus for my thinking and I found it. I'm going away to find constellations of people with whom I can reimagine socialism.
Please tag yourself in if you were there with us last week! Although I got everyone's first names, I didn't get last names always and don't want to pick the wrong tags :-)
Over to you @Andie Brazewell