Impressions after the #ClimateStrike weekend

representation, dissent, plurality, and looking beyond the headlines about a "nice young girl"

Last Monday at 7am, I made my way to the north of Singapore: the Seletar area, where the former Seletar airstrip was. It’s now home to a cluster of aerospace engineering facilities. And a small plot of land where syntropic farming is being practised.

With the morning light just sifting in through the leaves, I followed syntropic farmer Ang EP as she guided me through the space. We stepped into a side garden that had sprung up in the 5 months since I was last there, overflowing with clusters of pumpkin, malabar spinach, ladies fingers, sweet potato vines of purple and green leaflet varieties—a perfect salad stop. 

I have more personal impressions than news bites to share this week. It’s been an introspective two weeks since teaching ended. Haze season has properly hit. The SG Climate Rally this past weekend has generated some buzz online—along with small dissent (more below). It’s a bit of a reckoning of where we are in the sustainability space, and of the state of collaborative culture across people/private, for-profit/not-for-profit worlds.

Decentralising tech and communities

I’ve been revisiting the work of Richard Bartlett again. He writes on decentralised tech for decentralised communities, and ways of making organising with/for one another better. His work shines a light for me in thinking about how sustainable work around wellbeing, food, communities and health can spiral outwards.

(He’s writing a book you can already read—and updates on Patreon!)

One lesson I find especially important in the last months is on finance and value in collaborative spaces.

Collaborative culture

If only this was easier to do. In early 2019, I was working with four other people, plus a network of maybe 20-30 regular people, still working without pay, desiring to get to a point of setting up business ventures to then support and exchange resources with the central, organising group, the heart of the Collective. We stumbled upon Enspiral’s network model while searching for co-operative formats, and began to weave in their learnings in a sensible way for our needs and context. Today, we’re still just over mid-way “there”—we’ve drawn up a working draft of our governance model, and we’ve settled our finances from our first four years of spontaneous work. We’ve got one business venture set up in education (Whoohoo!). But steam is a little low at the moment—we’re taking some space after some money talks. It’s not just because key roles in the group are not being filled because members are working full-time or not physically in place. It’s more—what happens when the energy that goes into visioner and care-giver roles runs out?

As for the challenges then … man! It’s incredibly challenging because for one thing we’re inventing everything from scratch. I mean, we do our research and try and not reinvent the wheel, but the process of bringing, well now it’s 13 people along for the ride of: “Okay what would a good investment structure be or what’s our conflict resolution process going to be?” All that sort of stuff. We have systems to delegate work out to different small working groups, so we don’t have to get full consensus every step of the way. We’re quite fluid and dynamic in that regard. But still it’s a lot of work. You spend a lot of time in communicating and then synthesizing diverse inputs and hopefully in the process coming out with stronger outputs but still the work of synthesizing is complex. It requires emotional intelligence and I’d say probably political nous.

—Richard Bartlett, on Financing your start-up without selling out your values

Emotional intelligence makes a big difference. Stepping back in the last months has given me space to observe our current capacities and to see that I’ve largely worked through two routes: choosing patience and working doggedly through the dynamics, OR choosing to re-strategise. But there is also a third way of holding out a long-term view, while growing and re-working those dynamics.

I want solidarity and mutual growth. Not just a product—however good and strong that is. I am still finding the right way to do this, but I know such solidarity needs to form through a rhythmic practice that combines co-learning with practice, so that we step outside of ourselves and evolve a competence for non-violent communication and collective intelligence.

In any organisation, regardless of the structure, you’ve got those kinds of challenges: How do we structure ourselves? What policy makes sense? What strategic decision? That’s always difficult. But it’s definitely made more difficult because our structure is less common. Consider the ludicrous start-ups in the United States that get funding at the drop of a hat. If you’re willing to structure yourself along traditional corporate lines and fund yourself with traditional venture capital funding, there are doors that open a lot more rapidly than if you choose to do things like: “Well we’re not a charity but we’re not a traditional profit-maximising company either. And, ah yea, by the way, the thing that we’re building: that lives in the commons, and oh yes, we live in New Zealand… Yes, we’ve got a pretty much iron-clad commitment to ethics over everything else.” It really does make it harder than if we were willing to play it by the traditional set of rules.

—Richard Bartlett, on Financing your start-up without selling out your values

SG Climate Rally: representation and dissent

Photos by Belle @grlgds
A really good turnout today at the @sgclimaterally! Placards and signs up on arms all round #sgclimaterally #signs #globalclimatestrike
September 21, 2019

There was a good turnout of young and old at the SG Climate Rally, as well as someone who showed up in a shirt that said “I <3 fossil fuels”, and whom I think might be this same person Robin has on his Instagram -

I don’t agree with this guy, 33 year old Henry Chew, but I respect his right to voice his opinion. Particularly at a climate rally, and in a country not famous for free speech. #climatestrike #sgclimaterally
September 21, 2019

Practicing the freedom to disagree takes time and effort; we need to learn how to engage one another. He’s not the only person for whom the messaging via the Climate Rally and its media counterparts (e.g. Green is the New Black, linked above) falls short of inclusiveness.

I’m not part of the organising team for the Climate Rally, but I have been watching from some close sidelines—and it’s interesting to observe what goes on around the edges. I’ve been asked, “Why is SG Climate Rally not wanting to be identified as ‘Green Dot’? Is it distancing itself from Pink Dot? Why isn’t it associating itself with other international movements like Extinction Rebellion? Why is it trying to assert uniqueness rather than build intersectional coalitions with other groups [e.g. the LGBQT groups, international networks?]”

What underlies these questions, really, is the sense of identification. It IS about “them” and “me/us”. It IS about the thought we might not voice: Do they really understand me?

How do we build solidarity and direction across so many lines?

We know that building solidarity along intersectional lines is important. But we have wounds that we carry, and self-protection runs deep at the most intimate of lines, across the varying forms of privilege we carry.

And words matter. The nuances reflect specific ways we see the world. But words alone don’t allow us to engage the whole-person. How do we do that?

Something to consider: On Saturday, Malika Avani donned the colours of people she has had the honour of walking alongside. In her cloth, manner and bearing, she brought together the experiences and embodied spirit of groups she has lived and worked alongside in the Amazon, and with the Water Protectors against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota (you may have seen news of this through the #NoDAPL hashtag). I asked Malika what she thought about how she dressed and represented on Saturday, and here’s what she said:

I dressed the way I did as a homage to the tribal and indigenous people of the world who are the wisdom keepers of us, remembering again how to be human as an interdependent species inhabiting a living Planet. It is a homage to my lineage as jungle people who have lived displacement and loss. It is to honour the Amazon who have taught me so much about myself and the brave indigenous people, nations of the world, who are defending the waters, our jungles and speaking up for the land.

Every new presentation is a re-presentation of something else. We can’t really “represent” anybody, least of all ourselves (taking a line from Fred Moten and Stefano Harney in The Undercommons). Knowledge is living—constantly transforming, not static—and this is something deeply acknowledged by the oral traditions of song, storytelling and dance in many indigenous practices, as forms of knowledge re-production. If we accept this, can we also properly acknowledge and communicate it in our words and bodily & emotional expressions to one another?

I am not perfectly representing the world you know, but I’m trying to be as open as possible to truly receive what you know, and to be humbled by what I learn, through you.

Which brings me to… the hard and the soft

Greta Thunberg’s address at the UN Climate Summit was contained with a distinct measure of outrage.

It’s best to watch her speak rather than read about it, because more (mis?)representations are appearing—including from Singaporean bloggers. As news outlets start to write about the Climate Summit, headlines are removing nuance and concentrating the force of single statements—Telegraph writing that the French president says her “radical stance” could depress a generation, and The Guardian writing that the Australian PM says the climate change debate is subjecting children to “needless anxiety”.

The Russian Times is also publishing articles about the climate crisis movements—but that’s a whole other ballgame: this op-ed on eco-cultists would be funny if it were satirical, but it’s not. It’s written by someone interpreting dilutions of dilutions of the original intent and message behind various forms of eco-spirituality.

Greta Thunberg is not the only young person who has used the tools at her disposal (a cardboard sign, her superpower focus, and social media networks) to pull together awareness. NoDAPL, and many other movements, have young people’s involvement also. And for good reason—anyone who retains some measure of principled idealism can see that the business and policy worlds are moving at the speed of performative compromise.

Surely, peaking emissions is going to happen through peaking mindsets, and a hard call for action reminds us all of that. Making youth out to be the victims of climate anxiety because of one “nice young girl’s” words is a distraction from the actual issue. Anxiety may be a new thing for an urban middle class bubble that has been able to ignore it so far, but it is merely an extension of what generations who have faced environmental damage feel. If anything, the awareness and urgency that a rising, digitally-connected generation has, creates more shared responsibility and exposure to the conditions that groups of people across the world currently face. This is the sort of education we (all) need.

We can move towards collaborative models of working and building/sharing knowledge, not for ourselves, but for something much larger than us. Nancy Matsumoto writes in a recent story about how farmers, businesses, and civil society via Regeneration International are connecting the dots between soil and plate, in order to drive investments in regenerative agriculture:

This way of working, [Dorn Cox, research director at the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment] explains, also signals a shift from slower-moving, peer-reviewed forms of scientific research to a more active, participatory science of continual improvement. “If we can share knowledge faster, we can capture carbon faster,” he adds.

… Cox points out that pivoting from a highly competitive agricultural marketplace to one that scales through collaboration, sharing, and creativity contains an element of fun. “That’s easy to discount, but it’s a key advantage as to why it works,” he adds.

As a friend, Farhan, pointed out in the 4th Cultivars reading group last week, there isn’t a universal “we”. Within the “we” that can communicate, each of us really sees just a tiny fraction of it. But we humans—and some more than others—are having outsize impact for our outsizedly limited scope of vision. Collective work has long been a challenge for the many “wes”, but it’s a really interesting one we may now have the tools & skills to solve. Why can’t we rise to it?

Some giggles below after all that~

in humility and love, and till soon,