With our recent planning weekend, I’ve been thinking about the role of Transition Newcastle in relation to social change. At times, like when we watched The Economics of Happiness and its critique of aspects of globalisation, I feel as if we are skating around the edges of the real challenges we face. Rather than focusing on how Newcastle can become more sustainable and less reliant on fossil fuels, maybe we should be tackling issues like an economic system that fails to value the environment, the growth fetish, multinationals or some of the big issues that make our addiction to oil and coal difficult to break.
Should we be joining the blockades of the largest coal port in the world? Should we be tackling head on climate deniers? Should we become a more “radical” organisation?
At the moment we are positioning ourselves as creating a positive vision of a sustainable Newcastle. We are not positioning ourselves as a protest group.
I find Bill Moyer’s four roles of social activism useful in considering our role. In his book Doing democracy: The MAP model for organizing social movements he suggests four potential roles:
||The Change Agent
Each of these roles plays an important function. We need people who are challenging power structures, who are at the cutting edge of social change. We also need people who make it easy for “ordinary” people to join the movement for change. I see Transition Newcastle fitting into the role of “Citizen”. I certainly see us as being part of a broader social movement. But our focus is creating a vision of what we want, not just saying what we don’t want. We want to attract people who may not be interested in radical social change, but might be willing to consider how we can build a resilient community able to respond to the challenges of climate change and peak oil.
Hopefully through this process they will also consider some of the reasons we face the environmental challenges and may become more conscious of some of the limitations of our current economic, political and social systems.
We need the rebels who put issues on the political agenda by dramatically bringing them to the public’s attention. We need the change agents who encourage society to embrace social change. We need the reformers who work in the legal and political arenas. And we need the citizens who make change socially acceptable and who provide an entry point for ordinary people.
It may not be the most glamorous part of social change, but it is still important. Fortunately we are not alone and there are many other individuals and groups playing other important roles.
Reference: Moyer, Bill (ed.) 2001, Doing democracy: The MAP model for organizing social movements, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island.
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