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Dear Editor

NOTE: This is a letter to the editor at Australian newspaper the The Age in response to this this editorial piece asking for Julia Gillard to step aside so that Australians can discuss policy issues again. Nothing to do with the media right.  It is printed below without permission, but its great, so read it. 

Dear editor,

The hypocrisy and arrogance of this masthead in calling for the resignation of Julia Gillard “so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again” is absolutely breathtaking. I don’t even feel that it’s necessary to talk in detail about my reasons for such a reaction, as you need only look to your own implicit and complicit involvement in the tear-down of this government on a basis that has nothing to do with “policy” and “democracy”, via an endless and frequently baseless obsession with the leadership issue. I am disgusted to hear this view espoused by a newspaper that I once considered reflective of liberal democratic Australian views. Your official editorial stance at this late hour will prove to most Australians of a reasonable intellect the exact nature of your betrayal of the very principles that you claim to stand for. This is nothing but a cynical attempt to distance yourselves from your own role in crushing any ability of this government to talk about policy, as it has actually been doing for the last 3 years, despite every news outlet’s claim to the contrary.

I am an intelligent, educated, rational and considered individual with complex views on the full range of policy addressed by this current administration. I have very good reason to disagree with a lot of decisions and details about policies and legislation that this government has endorsed, but almost never have I formed the opinion that Julia Gillard has not been selling her policies and explaining her position. I resent and refute your claim to represent the views of Australians that this government has ”struggled to explain and justify its policies to voters, and to remind them of its achievements”. I am intricately aware of their achievements, in spite of The Age’s lack of ability to report on them in any level of detail. They may not be achievements that enjoy a majority poll favour, but since when has poll favour determined policy achievement? You insult my intelligence over and over again. It is for these reasons that Australians like me feel that it is not political leadership for which we are underrepresented, but indeed journalistic leadership that is found grossly wanting in this current era of Australian politics. We may be a minority, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t count, and we are the kind of minority that looks to your newspaper for leadership in these matters.

Australians are now finding alternative ways of informing themselves about the actual meaning of policy decisions as they relate to our lives, and are in fact more and more disillusioned as to the Australian mainstream media’s ability to investigate such meaning. Your newspaper, by virtue of this very editorial article has a duty to Australians to engage our politicians in policy debate and in so doing, strengthen our democracy. Your call for Julia Gillard to stand aside in light of her failure to maintain the strength of our democracy proves to me your own abject failure in this regard, and as a long time reader, I feel deeply ashamed and betrayed. Average Australians do not have the privilege of a microphone to put in front of our leaders, and are not therefore able to hold them to account. You should treat that privilege as what it is, a privilege, and not a right to repeat the current narratives of the press gallery and other media outlets. I would ask that you resume your own self-professed duties in this regard, and prove that you have editorial integrity when claiming to be interested in the strength of the Australian democracy.

Regards,
Matthew Ellis

 

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I am Bradley Manning

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Grow Shelter Dos

In Freerange Vol.2: Gardening and Violence we featured a lovely project by New York based design firm XLXS. They are now embarking on a bold and exciting project with a Navajo Community.  The text below is a message from them. Please have a read and spread this message. It’s a great project.

 

CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW & UNIQUE NAVAJO HOGAN RAISES HOPE FOR CONSERVATION OF ARTISAN DWELLINGS

Native-Americans  and Visitors Aim to Celebrate the Arts While Exchanging Cultures and Ideas

Looking for a way to pay homage to his Navajo roots, Thomas Isaac, an artist, in collaboration with Brooklyn-based design collaborative, XLXS, has decided to build a shelter that responds to the traditional Navajo architecture of the Hogan .  He intends to make a domicile for local artists to share and collaborate and visitors to appreciate.  Having grown up on the Navajo Nation, Isaac believes that this type of unique dwelling for the community is exactly what they need to conserve and celebrate the local artists and cultural beauty the people have to offer.  Currently,  accommodations for visitors in the Shonto area are austere.  With the construction of the artist center, a focal point will be made whereby visiting artists may stay and collaborate with the local community.The idea for this artist shelter goes beyond the appreciation of the arts.  Isaac plans to make this shelter sustainable to add value to the nearby Navajo National Monument and in keeping with the cultural beliefs associated with the hogan.  Julia Molloy, co-founder of XLXS says,” We are excited to work on a project that lends itself to the people and their authentic way of life.”  In addition to the sustainability, collaboration between the visiting artists and local community is paramount.  Isaac believes that the cultural exchange and collaborative art projects enhanced by the artist center’s unique design will build bridges between the Navajo people and the outside world.Completion of this all-volunteer project is dependent on funding.  XLXS generously has devoted their time and expertise to translate and create Isaac’s vision, and your help can make it a reality.  Get involved in this mission to transform the way artists and visitors collaborate to appreciate the history and richness of the Navajo Nation.To learn more about this project and how to donate please visit….

Contact: Julia Molloy
Cell Phone: 917.613.7113
Email: juliaannmolloy@gmail.com
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Freerange collaborations

Here are a few projects we’ve been working with or supporting lately.

Songs for Christchurch

We’ve been working closely with artists around the world, including 2 grammy award winning artists, for around 18 months on this project. Launching later this year, we’ve just started a fundraising project to raise some funds to support the release.  Pledgeme site. 

The Children of Parihaka

In 2009, a group of Taranaki children were taken on a bus trip to visit the places their ancestors, passive resistors from Parihaka in the 1880s, were imprisoned and forced to labour in. Places like Addington Jail in Christchurch and various buildings and roads they worked on in Dunedin. Along the way, they were welcomed at local marae by descendants of local Maori who supported the prisoners at the time. It was an emotional journey, documented by Joseph’s camera and the children themselves. The narration is by the children, from their writing, poetry, song and art, expressed in a workshop after the journey.

 

Lurujarri Dreaming

This collaborative documentary will be a vehicle for the Goolarabooloo people to share their culture, history and vision for reconciliation with a wide national and international audience via broadcast, film festivals and online platforms. The Goolarabooloo are currently threatened by the prospect of a massive LNG refinery on their land, which threatens their sacred Songline, the Lurujarri Heritage Trail and there ability to carry out traditional cultural practices. The soundtrack will be composed by the renowned Deadly Award winning Broome indigenous musicians- the Pigram Brothers.

Lurujarri Dreaming Trailer from Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman on Vimeo.

 

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Dear New Zealand: This is on you too.

Dear Rest of New Zealand, our caring family, friends, school mates, colleagues, and lost loves.  Those of you who experience Christchurch through the newspapers and the TVs.

It is now two years since the strangeness descended on Christchurch.   The first shake that set of the rolling maul of mixed emotions that continues now: senses of luck, despair, abandonment, love, hope, hopelessness, excitement, of people lost and communities gained.

Remember in hours and days after the February earthquake, staring at the television, with tears streaming down your eyes feeling powerless in the face of such violence and randomness.

Remember in the days and weeks after February trying to keep in touch with friends, loved ones, and old acquaintances. Not really knowing how to help, but offering none the less.

Remember in the weeks and months, when your focus returned to your own lives, to your own financial crisis, and your own family tragedies.   The events became something remembered in anniversaries and progressed measured through small items on the news.

The rubble maybe slowly disappearing into deep holes, but believe us when we say the city is still on fire. There are thousands of individual battles occurring across the city, it’s a massive slow moving urban bush fire that’s been raging now for 2 years. It’s hard to see the form of the future when you are fighting for your own house, securing your own city.

Whule your tears may have dried, people here are still crying, and these tears aren’t enough to put out the fires raging in our lives.   People are tired, tired from two years of stress and fighting fires.  Grey is the new colour of Christchurch, and it isn’t the sky and empty building sites.  Those photos you see of elderly people getting angry at insurance companies haven’t even had their mid-life crisis yet.

The urban surgeons and political gamblers can see a new city.  It’s not even an act of imagination for them, it’s so real it’s almost tangible.   They have such confidence in the strength of it’s vision, it’s power, its uniqueness. IT’S INNOVATIVE.  It’s best practice.   It’ll be cutting edge. It’s going to be an ICONIC CITY MOVING FORWARD.   It’s so new and exciting it can’t really be explained in language we understand.   We say “great, but who is paying for it?”  They say “Oh, you are of course, but we can’t tell you how much it will cost.”

It’s the paternal nature of the political approach that is so unsettling, experts telling  us how we want to live in our own city.    We have become so marginalized in our own city that the idea that we might have something constructive to add is considered radical.  Everything is backwards, upside down.  We fear that by the time we work it all out we will be living in someone else’s city.

It’s like ignoring the quiet terror of domestic violence. The victim is too tired to complain, too exhausted to think that there might be another type of relationship. The violence is not so much to the body as to the imagination.   The abuser is drunk on power, forcing her to sell of her grandmother’s jewellery to pay for his grandiose visions.  “But you said you like nice things” he whispers at night.

Or perhaps its the patient and the expert doctor about to undertake another round of emergency operations, they’ve almost lost her so many times, and now her family has to keep working so aren’t there to support her.  She was sick before the accident, so the doctors have decided to try some new techniques.   Trust us the doctor says we are the experts, we are doing everything to get you back to health.  She feels tired, exhausted.  The endless pain killers and aesthetic are effecting her memory, she sometimes forgets what life was like before the accident. Sometimes she gets confused and angry, “What are you doing to my body?” The doctors don’t like seeing their patients get up set, so they’ve largely stopped explaining the complex operations they are doing to her, instead politely returning questions with questions “You want to walk again don’t you?”

What’s this all about you say?  Stop talking in metaphors!  It’s hard because we are still in the fog of war, buildings demolished, news announcements made, plans launched. It’s all a confusing blur.    But there are a few simple and startling truths to start with.

We don’t actually know who is governing us.  Think about what that means.  The Canterbury Earthquake Reconstruction act means we don’t know who has authority over the big decisions in our lives.  The Christchurch City Council seems bewildered by situation, CERA tries to be friendly but is secretive to its core.

The government is in the process of the biggest government buy out of private land in our small nations history.  They claim it is voluntary but it is founded on the thuggish threat that if you don’t sell the government will cut off your power and water, and you won’t be able to insure your house.

The recent government blue print was created with no input from citizens of the city.   Doctors aren’t allowed to do this our bodies, teachers aren’t allowed to do this to our children, so why is this process (which despite their claims goes against contemporary international best practice) allowed in our city?

The government, with our tacit permission, is failing those that we owe most to, our elderly.  It is humiliating and shameful that our elders, our kuia and kaumatua are been left alone to deal with the violent bureaucracy of EQC, insurance companies, and CERA.    If society is measured by how it treats its young and elderly, then we are failing.  It is well known the elderly are strong and resolute in crisis, they understand what it means to put others ahead of themselves, to sacrifice.  But it is also well known that this sacrifice is often too much for an aged body to bear, and it is often the case that many die quickly after the initial strength and resilience.   Plans for the future are nice to things to have, but we shouldn’t forget the reality around us, even if it is hidden behind closed doors.

But this isn’t just about us.  If other ways aren’t articulated, aren’t argued for clear and loud, then this process becomes normal, inevitable.  Then politics has won over people, and your city will be next.   Even now the extraordinary legislation being used in Christchurch that enables cabinet to make executive decisions without the normal checks and balances such as the Resource Management Act has been used as a precedent in the War Memorial Project in Wellington.  Watchout New Zealand, the NZ cabinet urban design team is coming to a city near you!

The stresses of our lives, the focus on holding our own ground in difficult times is making us forget our collective powers.  We only have what we have because at various points in the past others have stood up for our rights, our rights as citizens, as parents, as children, as Maori, as women, as disabled, and even just our right to be human.

Right now there are many groups in New Zealand really fundamentally struggling to live a just life:  the young and poor, the forgotten elderly, and many many burnout and tired people in Christchurch.

Come for a visit, have a walk around and think about what your home town would look like if this happened to you, and think about how others would be able to help you. German Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote a famous poem in the late 30s.

 

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

 

Dear New Zealand,

This is on you too.

 

Yours,

The Freerange Team in Christchurch.

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The Social Life

Once upon a time I made my living by writing copy for advertising.  Until I fled from it, screaming. I was in my early twenties then, and worked for an international agency whose Australasian offices were on the frontier of an empire of crap. We were like the French foreign legion of crap. I was just a tiny cog in a vast crap-making machine.  It was a terrible time in my life. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was fourteen, and this job scared me away from ever writing for money. However, I’m an okay writer when I can make myself interested in the work, and there’s a pleasure in doing anything you’re good at that can make up for the silliness of what you’re doing. Especially if you’re being paid. So I’ve recently returned to it in a very small way. But this time without the creative lectures from professional motivators, or the lunchtime corporate volleyball, or the art directors who shoot paint balls at me. (Because being shot in the back is obviously going to make me into more of a team player.) * Once upon a more recent time I purchased a number of one-dollar ski-lift passes from a website called “Living Social”. I wasn’t meant to purchase these bargain-basement lift passes. The website is for Australians, and I’m a New Zealander living only a few hours from Mount Ruapehu, whose snowy flanks they were auctioning off for peanuts. But no-one seemed to care. In the end I gave every lift pass away and never even visited the mountain. But because of that purchase Living Social now sends me a daily email, each email resplendant with a brand new offer, each offer a newer and shinier solution for living. For living some sort of life anyway. I can’t even imagine the socialite whose social life is rapacious enough to need to take full advantage of the bizaare whirlwind of crap that they clog my inbox with : Home Surveillence System; Lip Plumper; Ultrasonic Slimming; Ezy Pest Control; Four Super-Dry Hair Towels; Sydney Harbour Jetboat Ride! It goes on and on and on and I get filled with a kind of wonder at how the world can fit so many useless things. * I also wonder about the poor shlub or shlubbette sitting in some cubicle in some open-plan office somewhere in the light-industrial part of some Australian city writing all this inbox-clogging crap. Because I’ve been that schlub, and amongst the offers that Living Social sends there’s the odd inspired attempt to make pointless things sound wonderful. And then there are these sort of desperate gems that someone in the gray depths of commercial despair must have slipped past their editor:   “So how do you differentiate yourself from the masses? You have two choices. You can program your ringtone to sound like a screaming child, which is unlikely to make you friends, or you can create a customised, one-of-a-kind…” You used to be an upright citizen, but long days stooped over the office desk have left you bent out of shape. Straighten up with this deal from…” The journey of a thousand miles is said to begin with a single step. But when you’re chained to your office cubicle you probably can’t remember the last time you stepped out anywhere…”   I suspect that there’s a person writing this stuff who is on the point of snapping. The avalanche of nothing that they’re required to be incisive and inspirational about has become too much, and a brutal cynicism has begun to develop. * I know how this works. A close friend of mine completed his masters in English recently (the exact same qualification that I have) and discovered (just as I did) that he’d been rendered unemployable for anything but teaching and commercial writing. So after years of studying Nabokov and Joyce, he’s now gainfully employed as consumer reports editor for a mystery shopping company. He drinks a lot, his laugh has developed a sick edge, and I’ve heard him describe what he does as “Taking badly spelt bullshit and correcting the spelling”. His cynicism is so robust and fierce that sometimes I want to bathe in it. Or drink it neat. So it’s not because I’m hungry for bargains that I’ve kept reading the emails from Living Social. It’s for the little whipcrack ways that some of their bargains are, in their copy, expressing a sort of deep bipolar outrage at their own pointlessness. I love this. I love a world where tiny pieces of commercial crap fight against their own brief in the sort of way that conscripted soldiers in the Spanish civil war used to fire over the heads of their opponents. The people who design crap and market crap are, for the most part, aware that it’s crap. You don’t often get a job selling things with words or images unless you can at least pretend to be clever, and if you’re half-way clever you’ll know that what you’re doing is crap. It is, by definition, an empty life. * So the time I find that I go deepest into Living Social is after a day of commercial writing. My copy deadlines tend to be at five, so by five-fifteen everyone in the office is sitting round looking at the mistakes we’ve all made and wondering what we can do about them overnight. By five-thirty someone from our studio has wandered along the street to buy beer (usually crap beer, but that fits with our theme) and then we sit around drinking and checking our emails for the final time and wondering how all the creativity we had at fourteen has faded into this gutless commercial whimsy. I tend to drink one beer while just not thinking of anything, as Hemingway would say. By my second beer I’ll be clearing out my spam folder, doing the electronic equivalent of unblocking the shower drain. And there amidst all the other bits of gunk I’d rather not see are those Living Social offers. And now each offer I’ve received begins to seem more rich, more full, more interesting, and more bespeaking of the better life that I should be living. I quickly forget I’m meant to be hunting for guerilla copy hidden within the commercial whole and just begin to bask in all these luxury bargains. This state reaches it’s glassiest around the third beer, when weird products that belong in a life I can’t even imagine achieve their own kind of poetry. It’s somewhere after this I can lose myself completely within the hypnotic nothing of the Social Life. My senses float unachored in pale regions of commercial stupor. My (implied) partner and I are infiltrating the Seven Course Japanese Banquet disguised by Two Full Body Shaper Suits and the Complete Hair Makeover Package. We board the Scenic Helicopter Flight incognito. I slip into the cockpit and incapacitate the pilot with the One Day Introduction to Massage Course while my (implied) partner dominates the other passengers using her One-Hour Hypnosis or NLP Session training. We bring the helicopter down on the Island Getaway! and I use Three Sessions of Hydroxi Body Shaping on the CEO until he breaks and gives me the secrets of the Online Writing Course, which I store safely on the Magnet Heart-Shaped Crystal 2GB USB Flash Drive. Hah! I laugh, slipping it into my (implied) cleavage. They’ll never suspect that. The CEO’s bodyguard is already incapacitated thanks to the 90-minute Wine-Tasting Session For Six, so we wreck the helicopter completely with the Revlon Romantic Makeup Pack, unfold our Three Folding Water Bottles, and then my (implied) partner and I escape the island on the 90-minute Paddleboarding Course For Two, dissappearing into the untraceable chaos of the Two-Hour Floristry Course and Flower Market Tour. * Whilst writing this I’ve been reclining in the Gold Coast Jaccuzzi Special wearing my Crystal Birthstone with Swaroski Elements and considering seeing Icehouse LIVE in the Barrossa Valley because their Great Southern Land was actually my favorite song when I was fourteen and foolish enough to want to write for a living.   Marcus McShane.   http://www.livingsocial.com/cities/848-sydney-inner-west http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mkidP2OUCk

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Proposals for a Resilient City: Christchurch Design Ideas Competition

Design ideas are sought for Christchurch, that address any or all of the following concerns:

Regeneration:
Activating regeneration of the built and social fabric of the city, building social capital, encouraging economic activity.

Memory:
Recognising the earthquake sequence and its effects as a part of Christchurch’s future history and identity. Proposals for Christchurch’s future may different to a business-as-usual approach, due to the unique situation of the post-earthquake environment and the collective experience of its people.

Resilience :
Enhanced resilience of buildings, urban fabric, and communities. Resilience against future natural disasters, providing social benefit through resilient communities; and as a leading example for other cities in NZ and around the world to follow.

The designs may be addressed from the perspective of a range of disciplines, including but not limited to: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Engineering, Social science, and Event and Performance Design. They may be at any scale, and the site(s) must be in Christchurch City or its suburbs.

Documentation of real world projects under way are also acceptable as entries.

Entry requirements and conditions:

1. Entries are required to be single A1 landscape format. Digital and paper versions are required. Digital versions can be pdf or jpeg, sent by email or file transfer. 10MB max file size. 150dpi maximum recommended resolution.
2. Entries should be predominantly visual, and contain no more than 150 words of paragraph text.
3. Entries due by 4pm Wednesday 11th April 2012.
4. Open entry, group entries accepted.
5. Winner and runner up determined by a panel of four expert judges. Entries will be judged anonymously, and will subsequently be displayed with entrants name, location and affiliation.
6. Prize money $1000 winner, $500 runner-up. Special honorary commendations may also be made.
7. Entries will be judged according to how the proposal convincingly addresses one or all of the stated concerns of Regeneration, Memory, and Resilience.
8. Entries will be displayed at the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering Conference, Canterbury University, Christchurch. 13-15th April 2012; and published online. Entries may also be displayed at other additional locations following the conference.
9. Paper entries are unable to be returned.
10. Copyright remains with the author of the work, and the organiser has the right to display and publish the entries, crediting the named authors of the work.

To register contact luke.allen@gmx.com providing your name(s) and email address, location (town), and any affiliation you would like to state. You will be assigned an entry number to be displayed on the work, and given the address to send paper entries to.

This information is also contained in the competition website http://conference.nzsee.org.nz/designcomp.htm

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Online Organising – Harnessing People Power

Anyone who occasionally glances at a computer or even a news report these days will no doubt have come into contact with the phenomenon called “online organising”.  The term is a relatively crude one which encapsulates everything from a facebook petition campaign started by a 13 year old to see their favourite band play in their town to an efficiently organised multi-national advocacy campaign targeting the United Nations by international groups such as ‘Avaaz’.  Like it or not ‘online organising’ is fast becoming a vital piece of democratic infrastructure for the 21st century.    A new wave of organisations has emerged in over last decade in an attempt to harness and co-ordinate this power for real change offered by new technology.  However, the community behind such movements are their real source of power and the more such organisations can do to engage communities, the more effective they are in achieving their goals.

The fact that there is a proliferation of such online organisation worldwide really indicates a strong desire among citizens to increase their engagement with traditional democratic structures.  We find ourselves in 2012 in a moment of political turmoil, across the world citizens have challenged entrenched power, inequality and the erosion of their standards of living. These events have inspired a hunger for more meaningful opportunities for citizen engagement and a thirst for open, dynamic, and truly progressive politics in 2012.  Effective online organising has helped Barak Obama to the US presidency in 2008 and assisted with the organisation of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements in 2011.  The widespread sympathy to the many online movements around the world indicates that there is at present a serious disconnection between the will of the masses and the actions of the Government and corporations.   Such a disconnection suggests an endemic lack of citizen involvement in decision making which effects us – a key tenet of the concept of democracy as originally conceived.

We as responsible citizens of democratic nations must use all the tools available to us to ensure that our collective voice is heard and this connection between our desires and the actions of our leaders is re-established. The traditional tools with which progressive individuals and movements have attempted to impact society in the past have been political parties, trade unions and NGOs.  However, political parties’ are losing members and relevance at alarming rates – for example in Australia online organisation Getup.org claims over 500’000 members which makes it a larger political force than either of the major political parties while Avaaz with over 10 million members is the largest NGO in the world.  Trade Unions in Western nations have been in crisis for years after the affects of globalisation and competitiveness have to weakened labour laws and decreased their power.  Most traditional NGO’s are issue specific and generally use a large chunk of their budget (often sourced from Government or corporations) on maintaining the organisation and justifying its relevance.  Some notable exceptions are emerging with Greenpeace and 350.org effectively using online organising tools to mobilise the masses and source funding for actions in their areas of interest.

In contrast to most traditional organisations tools, the key aspects of the new generation of online organisations are that they are multi-issue based, nimble, flexible, people powered and most importantly independent.   These organisations allow activists and ordinary people to come together and share knowledge and to assist to directly decide and fund the operations of the organisation.  The best online organisations and movements are essentially acting as a rallying point for citizens who aspire to a society which values social justice, economic fairness and environmental sustainability. They are Independent and democratic, and co-ordinate both ‘online’ and ‘offline’ action to hold governments and business to account. The fact that such organisations are decentralised and independent of Government and political funding means that they are highly independent and responsive to their members’ collective voices rather than those of external funders or governments.

These organisations effectively enable tens or hundreds of of thousands of citizens to pool their efforts to create progressive change in politics, business and society by providing honest information and strategic leadership.  The underlying assumption is that the majority of citizens wish to be more engaged in democracy, but face three major constraints: With busy work and family lives, they don’t have much time to give, with so many problems, they don’t know where to begin, with so many different interest groups and points of view, they don’t know who to trust.  The benefits of online organizing is that is can provide citizens with a way to effect change that will require only a small time commitment, focus energy by targeting the worst problems in the with effective ways to impact them at moments of great opportunity and can earn the trust of its members by not being manipulative or only presenting one side of the story.

Successful online organisations

Arguably, the most successful organisations so far have been those following the ‘New Organizing model’ which started in 1998 with MoveOn in the USA and soon spread to Australia with GetUp! Launching in 2005.  In 2006 the first truly Global online organisation ‘Avaaz’ launched  internationally and now has over 10 million members.  In 2009 38 Degrees launched in the UK    and there are currently well advanced plans underway for launching such organisations in NZ, India, Canada, France and Ireland.

MoveOn www.moveon.org

Since its founding in 1998, MoveOn has mobilised more than 12 million people to affect political change. Over 10 years MoveOn volunteers have organised more than 100,000 local events and contributed over US$200,000,000 to fund various progressive campaigns. In 2008, MoveOn members endorsed Barack Obama in the Democratic Primary, raised over $58,000,000 for his campaign, recruited over 933,000 volunteers, and registered over 225,000 voters to help secure his historic nomination and ultimate victory.

GetUp www.getup.org.au

In 2005, the MoveOn model spread to Australia. GetUp launched at a time when the conservative party of Prime Minister John Howard had gained control of both houses of Parliament for the first time in decades. Within two years, GetUp had grown to over 230,000 members. It ran the largest independent electoral campaign in Australian history, helping return balance to the Senate and sweeping a progressive government into power in Canberra for the first time in a generation. Since the 2007 elections, GetUp members have successfully pushed Australia’s largest bank to drop financing for an environmentally disastrous new pulp mill, put serious reconciliation with the indigenous population at the centre of national debate, and developed a ‘People’s Agenda’ to hold the government accountable to progressive priorities.

38degrees 38degrees.org.uk

38 Degrees launched in the UK in 2009 and now has over 800,000 members working together for change. 38 Degrees members use a variety of different tactics to bring about change, like signing petitions, emailing and phoning MPs and donating to fund newspaper ads about campaigns. Among other achievements, 38 Degrees has helped to stop the government’s plans to privatise ancient national forests, and encouraged the government to sign up to the EU Directive on Human Trafficking

Avaaz www.avaaz.org

Avaaz launched in 2006 with the aim of using the new online model to empower people across the world as global citizens. Since launching, Avaaz has grown by an average of over 20,000 new members a week, with over 10 million members now spanning all 192 countries. When the Burmese Junta launched a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy monks protesting in Rangoon, Avaaz members leapt into action. Massive global pressure squeezed the Junta’s few viable international relationships and forced them to scale back the violence. Avaaz raised over $2.4 million online to help Burma rebuild the democracy movement, and to support monk-led aid efforts to help victims of the cyclone that devastated the Irrawaddy Delta.

Criticisms

Online orgainsing have not been immune to criticism with many commentators simply writing them off as promoting ‘clictivism’ or ‘slacktivism’, meaning that they do not really engage people but simply detract from real action.  In its simplest form this is true, as simple online petitions as run on facebook and many online petition sites arguable have very little effect outside of awareness raising.  Such approaches are more of an online communications tool than real organising tool.  In his article Engagement Ladders: Building Supporter Power, Steve Andersen describes this core difference between online communications and online organising as moving a supporter toward bigger goals and ideally toward unlocking their greater potential.

Probably the most coherent criticism of online organising has come from Malcolm Gladwell in the article Small Change – Why the revolution will not be tweeted which poses interesting questions for the future direction of such organising.  In examining the grassroots tactics that have historically triggered major political change, Gladwell concludes that online organizing has no role in facilitating comparable activism today. He argues, all Internet-enabled activism only “makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.”

However Ben Brandzel of Citizen Engagement Lab (CEL), offers an excellent deconstruction of Gladwell’s arguments in the article “What Malcolm Gladwell Missed About Online Organizing and Creating Big Change”  Brandzel points out that Gladwell suffers a serious misunderstanding of how people actually use online tools and confusion about the theory of change behind the historical tactics as well as their modern equivalents. According to Brandzel this article misses the facts that social media tools allow people to communicate and collaborate with entire networks of close friends much faster than ever before.  He also states that by making it possible for just about anyone to receive and broadcast information about personal choices, social media makes our personal networks a far more focused and powerful source of power and courage than ever before.

The future of online Organising

Brandzel does agree that the phenomenon Gladwell and Anderson describe is a real, growing and serious problem and that while the Internet is great at enabling action through information-sharing, it is quite poor at pushing people to do anything they do not want to do.  Brandzel states that a ‘service’ oriented approach to such organising, can greatly increase member buy-in and enable leaders to engage in far more ambitious planning than would otherwise be possible.  In this approach, campaign guidance emerges from membership through carefully measured response metrics and formal input channels.  Taj James and Marilen Manilov also state in their article Movement Building and Deep Change: A Call to Mobilize Strong and Weak Ties that while social media platforms offer new ways of engaging and sharing organisational, national or global stories, they are no substitute for face-to-face engagement and community building.

A growing number of motivated organisations and individuals are starting to treat engagement as a science and really getting serious about finding ways to engage citizens both online and offline. For example groups like the New Organizing Institute (NOI) and Citizen Engagement Laboratory (CEL) now offer a range of excellent trainings, evolving curricula and project incubation resources. NOI, for instance, convenes an annual “Roots Camp” where practitioners honestly share results and refine strategy.

People all over the world are realising that the democratic systems we have inherited are not necessarily built to solve our problems and that change will have to come from either a dramatic reform of this system or from outside the system altogether.  The reason these fundamental flaws in our democratic systems are unlikely to be corrected in the short term is that our elected officials are reluctant to legislate to essentially limit their control and relevance in the modern political sphere.  By decentralising power over everyday decision making, we as citizens would gain more democracy but the traditional political complex would lose all relevance and is naturally doing everything in its power to prevent such decentralisation.  However, withstanding a complete global technological meltdown or serious limitation of online freedoms, online organizing appears to be set to play a huge part in the re-growth of citizen involvement in politics and society.  The key matter to be kept in mind as we move forward is that the technology enabling such movements is simply a tool or a means to an end and that the real power behind such movements is the people themselves.

Further reading on online organising available here:

http://www.echoditto.com/blog/looking-what-works-best-online-organizing-reads-2010

 

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The Frisson of Monocle Magazine

It’s those jaunty, perky, banal headlines that usually set me off. “Be Friendly: We all want a bit more warmth” “Smile: A small gesture transforms transactions and makes them matter.” These are the cover of Monocle magazine’s tips for “Charm, the next offensive: Why businesses, brands and nations need a new buzzword for 2012 and beyond.”  There’s a hideous moment where I stop and stand there, slackjawed, in the magazine aisle of the airport WH Smith, and think about to  which kind of smarmy preppy-wannabe creep these trite tidbits might appeal, which hyper-mobile, faux-aesthete might be the least bit interested in “Locking up your money in Milan, a Stockholm ‘hood and an Austrian culinary classic.” And somehow in that timeless moment something snaps in the reptillian quarters of my brain and I see my hand reaching out and prising the exquisitely typeset black cover off its rack between Newsweek and TIME. I place it under my arm and the next thing I know I’ve bought the damn thing and a snack size pack of pringles and I’m on my way.

So goes my ongoing relationship with Monocle magazine, Tyler Brule’s astonishingly successful foray into the world of luxury lifestyle publishing. For those unfamiliar, Monocle has recently celebrated its 5th year of monthly publication – no mean feat considering the perilous state of all things print – and has begun to extend its M-branded tentacles into television and radio (or whatever it is you call radio piped through the internet).

A quick disclaimer: Despite my previous evisceration of who I imagine to be the prototypical ‘Monocle reader,’ I, too, am also exactly the type of person you could also comfortably imagine reading the magazine. I am a 29 year old communications designer, living in London and working for a global design firm. I have quote-unquote ironic facial hair (not my quotes, btw). I have black framed spectacles. I am not unknown to wear a plaid shirt every now and then (top button done up, no tie), and I ride to work on a bicycle that although has 15 gears has often been mistaken for a fixie. I own several Apple devices. Oh, the shame of my teetering tower of lifestyle cliches. But that’s the way it is and I’m in no way apologising for my wearing the colors of my tribe.

So when Monocle makes it’s conspicuous appeals for my attention, my antenna vibrates reflexively. I am interested in politics, design, food, culture, travel. I’m a modern urban human and these are spheres that I regularly interact with. So amid the swamp of printed detritus at your airport WH Smith, which ranges from a bafflingly large number of magazines concerned exclusively with a single gadget or application (iPhone tricks and tips or 101 word processing applications for your PC! ) to gossipy pap, to the tired, culturally withered dad-like music magazines reliving every golden era except for the present one, I’m increasingly drawn to what’s broadly called the Business & World Affairs section. Here you’ll find the general interest American big names still coasting off their reputations (TIME, Newsweek), The Economist (essentially, in paper form, a drunken old Tory who talks at great length about anything that seems to cross his mind, and is by turns startlingly interesting and so dull you’d sooner impale a sherry glass through your eye). There’s the heavy breathing of the CEO-fellating triumvirate: FastCompany, Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg Businessweek, and the rather quaint, shrivelled presence of National Geographic. Wired is the occasional interloper in this heady, capital ‘I’ important section of the newsagency, but its presence seems slightly like an embarrassed teenager in a hoody turning up at his dad’s work during school holidays. Amid all this, without fail, is Monocle. And partly its the astounding greyness of it’s competitors that makes it stand out. Wow! I can read about being charming rather than how China is going to take over the world and enslave us and feed us only on our own ground-up consumer electronics – mixed with shit. I’ll take the magazine about Charm please!

There are a number of things that Monocle has going for it. It has a startling,  unique, editorial voice – a kind of suave, cocksure authority that in these relativistic times seems quaint and almost colonial. No other magazine, quite frankly, has the balls to sum up a country’s entire public transport agenda in a snarky aside. The strength and clarity of this voice is, my opinion, the magazine’s most endearing feature. It’s clean-cut, tightly gridded, neo-modern layout and design is beautiful, and has been massively influential both in the magazine industry and beyond, and its crisp, understated lines have become as much a signifier of luxury as they content that they carry. Add to that a liberal smattering of cheery (yet stylistically on point) illustrations, a hearty splash of photography and you’ve got the best looking mainstream magazine by a fair margin.

Which is handy, because beyond the aesthetic sheen, the actual written content of the magazine is … well, it troubles me. It’s vision is not my vision, and yet it’s ‘Now’ is so undeniably, totally, certifiably ‘Now’ that I tremble at the thought that the future will be more and more like the values espoused between its pages.

It is shallowness that is packaged up as an ideal, and it’s designed to appeal to our shallowness, our portentous need to feel informed, even when we aren’t.

Who is it, for instance, gives a shit about the metro system in Jakarta a small bakery in Melbourne? One of my most tiresome irks is how Monocle strains ever so hard to present local issues as having international relevance. Their rationale is, I presume, that this reveals a global sense of interconnectedness, a 21st century ‘It’s a small world after all.”  The answer of course, is no one cares about one city’s local metro system and another’s bakery. But the other answer is that we would all like to appear to be the kind of person that does care. So Monocle’s prescription for this mild quiver of cultural dissonance is to wave it’s Burberry-sheathed, Starke-designed wand, give you a sentence or two about said metro system and bakery and say, “There, there, poppet, now you know.” And the aesthetic quality of worldliness is thus bestowed.

Monocle doesn’t really present news: its articles read more like succession of facts, free floating, lacking sustenance and connective tissue. It presents these fact in brief. In teeny, tiny little pieces. Like tasting samples that are gone down your gullet before you’ve really gotten any sense of their actual flavour. For example:

While the rest of Europe chases austerity, oil-rich Norway has no such worries. The government can spend up to 4% of the country’s sovereign wealth “oil fund”, valued about $500 billion.

Okkaaay. Thanks Monocle for that stringy, tasteless fleck of knowledge. So there are a number of questions I’d like answered. Why only 4%? Why not 5%? What does Norway like to spend its money on? Why is this being published now? Why is this being published at all? Outside of those who keep themselves up to date with Norway’s relative riches, who would actually care? And for those who do care about Norway’s oil wealth – well, don’t they already know this? It’s just a fact. Banal. Mundane. And stripped of any meaningful context as it is, it’s a fact that is utterly useless. To me, at least, the problem with Monocle’s entire 100-odd page ‘briefing’ section is this: it’s fact after meaningless fact, and all it adds up to is an affected form of middlebrow channel surfing, a mindless skimming of random irrelevancies.

The trouble with having such a strong editorial voice is the single mindedness that it by definition requires, and the blindspots it produces. There is a vary particular bias at the heart of the Monocle Way that seems to not only revere commerce as an end in itself (not an uncommon fallacy, that one), but seeks to elevate commerce as the ultimate expression of creativity. Now I don’t want to get bogged down in some kind of anti-capitalist rant – I like stuff. I like buying stuff. I don’t have a problem with people wanting to sell stuff. Our relative worth is defined through our economic value – that’s an unpleasant fact that bombards us every day – but do we need to be so damn sycophantic about it? Shouldn’t our heroes be those who do things with the promise of no reward rather than those for whom reward is the reward? Monocle reveres stuff – and the producers of said stuff are treated with sanctity of Mother Mary’s birth canal. Monocle is a commercial entity first and foremost, which means its loyalties lie to its advertisers first, and its audience second. I get this. But it’s the near invisible line between advertising and editorial – the profiles patter with in the same taut, chipper PR-friendly language as the cleverly integrated advertorials – that leads me to the thought that in the world of Monocle, what is PR and what is news is interchangable. Worse, that they’re actually one and the same.

There’s a strange thing that you won’t find in Monocle. Every news and current affairs outlet thrives on it but you’ll hardly find a dash of it between Monocle’s 300 pages. It’s doubt. Mistrust. Cynicism. Monocle has no edge. It’s a spoon. It’s a giant ladle designed to feed. Spoon-ready, without the knife, without an edge, it’s all too easy to gorge on shoes, destinations,leatherbound notebooks, frequent flyer programs, architecture, et cetera, without stopping to ask questions, to debate, to disagree, to be heretical, to fight. This is what scares me about Monocle – its total acquiescence to the status quo. It’s utter prostration to the God of Consumerism. It’s shallowness in the face of depth. It’s beaming orthodontically-perfected smile in the face of it all.

Maybe it’s some kind of moral outrage that made me write this, or maybe it’s just what the reading of aspirational magazines is simply designed to provoke: envy.

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Kinfolk: a Melbourne social enterprise cafe

Kinfolk Café, Bourke St, Melbourne. Established in 2010. Social enterprise: a business which invests its value, either monetary or in kind, to reach social outcomes.

Kinfolk is based on the premise that the customer can choose where the profit from their coffee sale goes: to one of four community organisations in Melbourne, Palm Island, Ghana and Rwanda. The idea is empowerment via the ability to create change from at home.

Kinfolk is conscious of using sustainable food practices: all items from the menu are either organic, local or freerange, and always seasonal. Plates are created with the intent of giving the customers something to talk about.

Kinfolk also ‘gives back’ to those who work there: the café is run by 6 full time staff, and 30-odd volunteers at a time. Jarrod, one of Kinfolk’s founders, estimates that over the past two or so years, Kinfolk has had 200 volunteers lend their time, from age 15 to 72. People volunteer for all sorts of reasons, and Kinfolk aims to provide whatever opportunities people are reaching for.

”Some have come back from injury trying to get on the workforce, some from illness, some wanna do something fun on the side, some wanna make friends, some want an outlet to speak to people, whatever, just basically about helping that core team, and also create that atmosphere that it’s home. You know, you walk in, you’re not just walking in to any old café”.

What a perfect place to start this interview from: not just any old café. What is it that has attracted so many people to Kinfolk?

I meet Jarrod at the café for the interview. A few years ago I was involved with some of the more conceptual elements of Kinfolk, however I hadn’t been back since. It was so lovely to actually be there and see what had become of the vision and idealism that it was founded upon, and its realization into such a vibrant, warm and successful café.

I’m very interested in hearing about the reality of running a social enterprise. How do you balance the business sense with the social outcomes? Is there a compromise somewhere along the way?

Jarrod remains adamant that the good business sense needs to come first, before the social outcomes. “We’re a café first and foremost,” he says, “we want to be judged on the quality of the café” – a fact which I really respect. There’s obviously a lot of love in this café, a lot of community minded people who really do give a shit. But the business nous has not been lost amidst all this drive.

“If you think of a normal café, you’ve got a shareholder and at the end of the day he’s thinking of his pocket, his bottom line and all that. The way this place runs, there is no shareholder; if there’s any shareholder, it’s the projects [Jarrod’s referring to the community groups which receive profits from sales] but they’re not here running the place day to day. So it’s the people who are in here, running the place, it has to be run in a way that benefits them.”

Jarrod veers off talking about the business model to focus on the importance of the staff.

“If they’re not getting what they need personally out of the experience, if they don’t have the opportunities for growth, all those sort of things, it doesn’t work… If these guys have got the nurturing they need, the place does run.

“I think the volunteer aspect can be quite confusing for some people; they think, oh you know you don’t pay wages so it must be really easy to run a business like that, but it’s expensive as well because you’re investing a lot of time in the volunteers. So, more than just having a couple of staff on who know what their job is, instead you have more staff on so they can nurture the volunteers, their experience and all that, and that’s probably our biggest social outcome, really… the social outcome that we’ve actually helped influence with the volunteers that have been involved, far outweighs that $40,000 financial value, you know, that we’ve been able to distribute.”

I am really impressed: $40,00 has already been distributed, from a start up organisation, after only two years of operation! That’s a lot! I am very tempted to jump straight to talking about the logistics of that profit distribution, but I don’t want to interrupt Jarrod’s flow. So we continue to talk about the business elements of running the café.

“You might remember, back at the start when we were talking about it, we never wanted this social outcome, social cause stuff to be in your face – we wanted it to be judged as a café, first and foremost. And coz we do that, we’re able to maintain a really good level of quality, consistency, and you know that sort of stuff.

“Any social enterprise struggles to achieve that if they don’t focus on their commercial offering first, so we never compromised on that, you know, we’ve got really good people working here, we pay them the wage they need to be paid, you know, provide them the opportunities they need, and we just try to make sure that what we offer is consistent from day to day.”

Of course from this point the obvious question to ask is about that ‘commercial offering’. There was a lot of debate about the menu when I was involved with the café, so I’m interested to know what kind of decisions were reached – what does the café offer to the Melbourne CBD clientele?

“The menu changes every day here, so it’s quite challenging in that sense. We started off the café with Ravi, a really good chef with a lot of experience, worked in some of the finest restaurants in Melbourne – and I worked under Ravi for the first seven months or so as assistant chef – just to make sure I could do it if he wasn’t there. So, we designed a menu that was fresh, healthy where possible, and always seasonal, local and organic, as much as possible.

“We also try with that menu to have ingredients on there that will inspire and create conversation around the food – so we source things people haven’t heard of before. Just encouraging our customers to try different foods, and it also provides more in terms of that volunteer aspect as well… It just makes that whole training aspect of what they’re doing at a higher level, more sophisticated than just reading off menus.”

When we were starting to talk about the menu, way back in 2009, there was a lot of debate about whether to make it vegetarian, given the ethical implications. I ask Jarrod about that now, “why was the decision made in the end to have meat?”

“I think it really comes down to a business decision, and what he people of this are want. We always try to cater for something for the vegetarian, the gluten free, the vegan… but yeah I ‘spose it comes down to they way I think social enterprise should be looking at it.

“It’s a business offering that I’m gonna provide, and is it going to be sustainable or is it not. The vegetarian thing could have worked here, but not in the same format, like café-fare food… it just surprises me all the time. You know, we could have a beautiful, beautiful vegetarian toasted sandwich in the cabinet, and then have something not so fancy that’s got ham and cheese on it, and the ham and cheese one will go out the door and the vegetarian one, you know, later on in the day you sell a few… but it really comes down to business viability and all that sort of stuff.“

“So”, I say, with super excitement, “let’s talk about the projects! How’s that all been going?”

“Yeah, it’s been going great! Um, we distributed $40,000 at the end of 2010, after six months, but we didn’t get a chance to distribute last year. Any money we did have at the end of 2011 we invested back into this renovation, which has increased our capacity by about 25%, and increased our take away capacity by probably, I don’t know, 100%, 150%. So in terms of being able to provide the sort of financial support to those projects, we’re in a much better position now to offer some serious money over the next few years.“

The idea of consumer-driven charity in Kinfolk means that the customer gets to choose here the profits from their sale goes. This is done through the pictorial representation of a coffee bean in one of four jars, each allocated to a ‘project’. The customer drops a coffee bean into which ever jar that represents the charity they want to support. The team then distribute the profits according to this ration.

“Everyone’s got their own reasons why they connect with a certain project… you know, everyone’s an individual, they’ve all got their different thing that sort of pulls their heartstrings.”

The four organisations include a soup kitchen in Melbourne, called Credo Café, a project to support education for indigenous children, called the Cathy Freeman Foundation, a NGO which combats child trafficking in Ghana, and an community-developer based in Rwanda.

The café hopes to get to the stage where they can distribute the profits quarterly, but the reality is that they’ve got to make sure the café is sustainable and successful in its first few years, in order to ensure its longevity.

“So yeah, last year was a very big turning point in terms of small business, what you need to do in terms to survive, to invest your money in and all the rest of it. But sales are still growing, and they haven’t really stopped growing since day one. And I’ve learnt to think of it as well in terms of the social outcomes we achieve day by day for the people that are in here.”

“So do you feel, then, that they’ll be a deliberate shifting in focus away from just these four larger projects that were initially decided upon to fund, or is there a chance for it all to happen?” I ask.

“Um, you can’t really have one without the other. So, we’ve got a holistic approach in the way we run: we’ve got the projects that receive the profits, we’ve got the staff and volunteers and everything… I don’t think any of them’s exclusive to themselves – it’s a network, it’s a family of all these things – and I don’t think you could have one without the other. If we didn’t provide the profits to those four projects, people wouldn’t come in here and volunteer, if they didn’t volunteer you wouldn’t have all the social things that go with that, So yeah, they’re all entwined, and all support one another; it’s a good system.

“Day to day, there’s a lot of extra stuff that can go on in this space, you know, now that it’s running as a functioning café, you can support some of these community projects.”

Jarrod gives me a ton of examples of things that go on in the café, from meditation to stretching classes, to fundraisers to keynote dinners…

“It’s all around the conversations you have around food, and all the rest of it, and having inspiring people who are there. I don’t like to think of it as a keynote speakers, but sort of, someone who’s been invited, who’s got an interesting story… no one has an ordinary life, you know, so lets hear a bit about theirs.”

“You just must have such good access to really inspiring, wonderful, interesting people,” I say.

“Oh, there’s heaps of wonderful people,” Jarrod responds, “everyone’s wonderful if they’ve got the chance to show it, you know.”

It’s that line which pretty much makes the interview, and blows me away by its generosity and simplicity (that, and the delicious coffee which I’ve had over the course of the interview, and the prospect of a baguette with avocado, celeriac, poached chicken remoulade and fresh horseradish).

If you’re interested in checking out Kinfolk, head to:

673 Bourke St, Melbourne or www.kinfolk.org.au

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