Thoughts for the Pheonix

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By Serge Marti

On Friday the 19th of September, we were in mourning for the loss of our dream. A progressive independent Scotland. A beacon of hope in a grey world to counter the gathering clouds of hopelessness.

Peoples eyes were cast down. A few of us exchanged glances, more exchanged hugs. The tears flowed, and the anger too. Friends shouted into the void – ‘ Why did you do this! Why did we do this!?’. Most of all there was greyness, silence, bar jackdaws squawking from someplace in the haar. We knew that in the face of the unified onslaught of the mainstream media, the corporate imperial state, and their puppet masters in global finance, we lost.

Yet if we have lost, why do so many of us feel that our determination has grown? If we have lost, why are the ideas already flowing thick and fast from the National Collective, Women for Independence, Labour for Independence, Common Weal and many others?

Here are a few of the thoughts coursing through my mind:

Keep Positive

One of the characteristics of our movement has been hope over fear. With this philosophy we grew and took flight. With our positivity we discussed with our families, chatted with our friends, approached people on the bus, at the school gate, in our local shops, and won over hundreds of thousands of individuals, one by one.

All of us pressed our positive message home. We took on powerful vested interests fearlessly. Obama, the Pope, Barroso, a gaggle of banksters, all came out for No. Pah. Every time another piped up, another thousand friends could see that the Emperor was naked. What would they throw at us next? The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Teletubbies for No?

By the time a rickshaw driver chased 100 Labour MPs in Glasgow playing them the Imperial March, it became clear that we were denying them a lot of their power. The truth is over the last few months many of us have already been free.

With our defeat, those who oppose the power of the people, and the power of a positive message, the fearmongers, are rapidly realigning themselves. They are looking at our weaknesses. They will be ready to exploit our divisions.

The reactions to the result have been strong and include disbelief, anger, despair and grief. Since then there have been tirades of self-loathing and expressions of despondency.

There have been angry comments about all categories of no voters. This is understandable on many levels (see below for one idea of how we can give these emotions space to be expressed and transformed).

Yet if we go down the avenues of resentment, blame and revenge, then they have us where they want us again. Nelson Mandela said: Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. If we succumb to negativity, we fall again, reduced to being once-in-a-parliament voters, consumer statistics, and cannon fodder.

We are reconfiguring, and reimagining what to do next. Whatever we do, let’s not hand the power back. Bertold Brecht (his saying adapted slightly here) famously wrote:

There are those who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are those who struggle for a year and they are better.
There are those who struggle many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who struggle all their lives:
These are the indispensable ones.Let’s all aspire to be the indispensable ones.

Empowerment from Despair

There is a tool we can use for this moment. The Truth Mandala created by Joanna Macy is an exercise in experiencing our sadness and grieving, our anger, our fear and our despair. It is a simple enough exercise, but those who have experienced or hosted it know that it carries immense power, and requires very delicate facilitation.

A word of warning, it is not an easy process. You may find that people are angry, grieving, in despair or terrified for reasons far from the loss of the referendum. This approach should by experienced facilitators. It opens people up, and makes them vulnerable. If this is not part of a process that recognises that we began before this point and continue beyond, then it can be a door to the abyss, in other words only the despair with no empowerment. This is the last thing we want or need.

This is a way of grieving the deep setback of the butterfly rebellion. It is a way of releasing these negative energies deeply, experiencing them rather than suppressing them inside until they become a cancer that contaminates our movement cell by cell, resurfacing collectively in destruction and darkness.

When done right, the flip side of our sadness can become joy, behind our anger we can find passion for change, by taking hold of our fear we become empowered, and releasing our despair we can experience the rebirth of hope.

Don’t knock it. Give it a go. There are many who can lead this type of exercise. Please leave a message if this is something that you feel you need, or if this or another type of exercise is something that you know how to lead.

Reach Out

As Robin McAlpine has called for, we need continued awareness-raising, deepened economic literacy among the wider population, leadership training for young people. This has been nothing less than a huge movement in popular education, and it needs to continue.

We can grow beyond the 45%. Rather than demonise no-voters, we need to particularly reach out to those geographic areas, and those sections of the population that voted predominantly no. We have little hope of convincing hardened unionist positions, and those that particularly benefit from the status quo. However many others can be swayed and brought into the butterfly rebellion. As we have done before, conversation by conversation we need to reflect, discuss and critically analyse together with them.

We need to reach out to the over 55s, and analyse why their demographic voted overwhelmingly no. Is it because they have less access to social media? Did the No campaign target them specifically? To what extent did the Yes movements target them in awareness-raising work? We need to learn how this awareness-raising work is done, how we create spaces for participation that encourage more of this older generation in.

We need to continue to reach out to us new Scots, English Scots, African Scots, Turkish Scots, Polish Scots. Yes there may be those who remain aloof and uninvolved in the nation. But what has become clear over the last two years it is that so many care deeply about this country and want to be ever more closely connected to Scottish society. Reaching out to new Scots is the best way to mutually deepen that journey.

I have always felt at home in Scotland since I moved here 24 years ago as a geographically-challenged (as my friends say) person of Swiss origin, but it is during the last 2 years that I have truly become Scottish, because I have felt so completely embraced by the movement. This movement has deepened the welcome, and given us new Scots full acceptance. As has been discussed widely, this civic rather than ethnic bond is one thing that has set the Yes movement apart, and made it a home to so many of us who do not identify as nationalists.

The commitment to this civic approach deserves deepening. It is a precious gift provided by the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, which opened the vote to all those who live here, and by the framing of the campaign by the SNP and others. This is a way of using belonging and welcome to avoid the rising racism we see elsewhere. This gift needs to the world to be nurtured.

Amin Maalouf (as a Christian, Arab, Lebanese, French man) wrote in his 2000 essay In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong about how the retreat to a single defining identity leads to separation, conflict and even ethnic cleansing, while an embrace of our multiple identities (for instance a Glaswegian Polish woman Labour for Indy trade unionist Scot) supports us to understand our interdependence and feel we belong in this place but are also part of the broader human adventure. We can be proud Scots without retreating to this single identity.

We can also reach out and spread our message and our approach outside of Scotland, in Wales, England and Ireland, and beyond. Whenever we go, in Scotland, with elders, with all of the new Scots and abroad, we the 45 are the ambassadors for the butterfly rebellion.

Do not underestimate them:

The backlash will continue to grow. The global kleptocrat elite, which Westminster is solidly part of, does not like our movement. We have scratched their armour, perhaps opened up a chink. We have challenged TINA, the Thatcherite diktat that ‘There Is No Alternative’ to neoliberal planet-destroying austerity.

As our movement recharges its batteries and strategises, let’s not be naïve. They are watching and listening, and strategising too.

They will try to isolate our leaders. They will try to co-opt and infiltrate our movement. They will try to blame us for anything that goes wrong with their confused and conflicting devo-mini plans.

Our power and resilience will come from our openness, our diversity, and our positivity.

Hard Cash

For all the goodwill in the world, our movement needs cash to keep it going.

We need the individuals behind Common Weal, Bella Caledonia, Women for Independence, and many other groups, to be supported financially so that it frees them, if this is what they choose to do, to continue to manifest and meet, write and organise, and create the spaces that allow us to thrive collectively, rather just fitting this into spare time, next to other work.

We need people-owned new media to allow us to counter 97% of the MSM that supported British Nationalism. We need bandwidth and continued support to core organisations. We need physical spaces to host our debates, our discussions, our schools of methodology and our young leaders trainings. It would be far-sighted to have enduring places to do this work.

We need to support policy research. We need funds for court cases, for advertising, for running polls, to support campaigns.

We need to create the materials to educate this and the next generation. We need books, films, pamphlets. I looked at the Yes materials I have around the house and realised that some, focused of course on the referendum, are now out of date. We need new or adapted materials for this context.

So here is an idea, it’s an idealistic one. Do you think there any idealists among us? The 45 are 1.6 million people. If one in five of us gave £5 per month on a standing order to support part of the movement financially, that would be £1.6 million. If another one in five gave £1 per month, another £320,000. If we did this, we would be paying almost £2 million a month into the movement, £24 million a year, split over dozens of groups.

This would need to be a financial commitment above any charitable commitment we have already. We shouldn’t cancel our standing orders to anti-poverty work or environmental campaigning or cancer research, but dig deeper in our pockets – if we are lucky enough to be able to do so – to support the movement. In part we can fund this by halting our BBC license, suspending our newspaper subscriptions, or any other means that removes a modicum of power from the institutions that have come out against us.

Participate

Participatory democracy has been at the heart of this movement, and it needs to be at the heart of what we do next. Within our butterfly rebellion we have thousands of facilitators who are versed in approaches to participation. We need to identify them, and good facilitators typically shy away from the limelight, creating the conditions for others to shine.

So far we have had the deadline of the 18th of September to lend urgency and excitement. Now we need to sustain the energy. As we meet, plan and enact the next steps, let’s make sure we embed and embody participation. Hundreds of people meeting to listen to great speakers and responding in question and answer sessions is no longer the way to go at this stage. Tools and techniques for participatory leadership and planning like World Café, Open Space Technology and many others can help us to tap into the collective wisdom of all who are participating, even in gathering of hundreds or thousands. We can invest time framing the key questions that we want to answer at any particular point; ensure that the ‘harvest’ of what is discussed is captured; and that concrete plans, generated and owned collectively, can emerge and be followed up on.

One of the discussions to be had is about local democracy. Lesley Riddoch did us all a favour in her book Blossom by pin-pointing our local democratic deficit, showing that we have the largest councils in Europe, the least local tax-raising powers, the lowest number of individuals who stand for public office. We could hold widespread dialogues on decentralisation, learn how to reform the system, learn what we can do under present Holyrood powers, and implement decentralised local representation. This will consolidate independent power-bases, and put to bed the accusation that independence would lead to a highly centralised Scotland. We can campaign to get rid of false and meaningless consultations with premeditated outcomes (one such consultation may come from Westminster in November to look into devo-mini proposals). Establishing participatory budgeting in local and national governments could be a powerful step towards keeping the movement energised and empowering people over the long-term.

Local democracy and participation will also come from local ownership of energy production. We should lobby and legislate for community renewables on a massive scale, in so far as this is possible with a no result.

Unity

One of the truly striking aspects of the Yes campaign for Scottish independence is that we have encompassed so many perspectives, from Tartan Tories to Anarchists who threw aside their active opposition to statehood to cast a Yes vote as a strategic pathway to a better future.

We have been extraordinarily disciplined. Our discipline has been to keep away from infighting, to stop calling names, to stay away for blaming particular groups in society, to keep far from divisive sectarian or ethnic identities, to love our broad movement, to be welcoming to all.

No-one has been asked to blindly follow the words of another; instead we have instinctively looked after this unity of Yes. This has helped us to be resilient and powerful.

Without advocating unity at all costs with those with whom we disagree, we must also work hard to find as many ways as possible of expanding our broad movement with its multiple perspectives and ideologies.

We need to make sure none of us become the Peoples Front of Judea. We also need to become practised at more consensus-based decision-making, moving away from oppositional politics, like the televised debates during the campaign. For so many reasons we are incredibly energised now, but the shouting of the political cut and thrust will otherwise turn people off politics again.

Action, Reflection, Action

We need to learn from our movement, from the ups and the downs.

By way of example Yes organised in labour heartlands and delivered success in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and Dundee. But did we take our eye off the ball with the over 55s who steadily vote, election after election. What can we learn from this?

Learning from our successes and failures is especially important for the leaders of the movement, for the strategists and the organisers, the planners and the plotters, the educators and the facilitators… but of course it is essential to all. What worked and what didn’t? This is how social movements learn, through what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called the action reflection spiral.

In addition to our rapid learning from social media, we should plan and host annual methodology schools, where we learn from what has been done on the ground, get a chance to self-criticise and plan how we are going to tweak or change our approach. We should also get a chance to plan over the mid to long-term, thinking about how we sustain our movement to self-determination and far beyond.

Love to you all. Carpe Diem. Count me in.



Categories: Commentary

28 replies

  1. “One of the discussions to be had is about local democracy. Lesley Riddoch did us all a favour in her book Blossom by pin-pointing our local democratic deficit, showing that we have the largest councils in Europe, the least local tax-raising powers, the lowest number of individuals who stand for public office.”

    We don’t need to wait, the SNP are already the government in/of Scotland. We could:
    – remove the council tax freeze and let local democracies set the tax rates that suit their needs
    – remove the whip from Scottish Parliament committees and let indviduals represent their consituents, and be answerable to them for their decisions, rather than cleaving to a party line.

    I think if politics becomes a normal thing to do, like any other public contribution, rather than a career and professional club, we will have many more people entering (and leaving politics) during their lives.

    • Yes, yes. love this, I’m trying to make politics the norm, started a site called Scotsoutlook.com I hope to eventually use it as a peoples lobbying tool for Scot Gov, we can all have our say, let them come to us for opinion before enacting stuff and get the “ordinary” persons view

  2. I would donate to free press.

  3. I loved this but can we be careful with tagging voters by age? Everyone in my family bar me (51) is over 55 and we all voted YES. My mum-in-law (sadly passed two years ago at the age of 82) would most certainly have voted YES.

  4. Hi guys, I just nicked a bit out of the middle of this and reposted it on Scotsoutlook.com with a bit of my own take on it, I’ve given full credit to Bella and Serge Marti, hope that’s ok ?

  5. Love this idea of 1.6 million funding a new and positive way forward….count me in…Jack

  6. I would 100% be up for donating by standing order to the ‘movement’ – but how would this be administered and distributed?

  7. Thank you Serge, a great piece of writing and reflecting. Count me in.

  8. I thought I should share with you a post that I read on the Dundee Facebook Yes Campaign – I hope they don’t mind me re-posting it here, but it was so inspiration that I think it needs to be shared…

    “Huge numbers of folk signing up for SNP, SSP and the Greens plus the suggestion of a YES Alliance taking in all of the above and more to jointly fight the upcoming Westminster elections. Top of the list is remove all the Labour MPs, get them gone. Thats a good first step.
    Beyond this it has struck me personally that our Movement because thats what it is now, should engage socially in every part of society. If we want a better world we should try to behave as if we are already in one. Support your local Foodbank, feed the hungry. Do volunteer work with the elderly and disenfranchised. Begin the teaching of free information classes, educate the uninformed to make it harder to lie to them. We can build trust, we can give hope and in doing so we will become stronger. We thought this could come easy, we were naive, all throughout history peoples have struggled for freedom for self determination and for justice. It was never easy. So lets roll up our sleeves and get out there. The work has just begun.”

    Wonderful just wonderful.

    • Great article Serge.

      All the elements you describe are crucial, and yes they need to be backed up by two things:

      (1) hard cash so our small amounts used wisely can outfox their millions

      And one of the key things is a morning and evening radio (and if affordable TV) news service. I can’t listen to the BBC any more, can’t read any of the papers, because I am being dis-informed more than I am being informed.

      We need to set this up fast – we need Lesley Riddoch and Derek Bateman, and if they’re willing then Ken Macdonald and Iain MacWirter, and all the new voices, especially Michael Greenwell) And if we’re able then ask Mary Ann Kennedy to re-establish her fantastic Celtic and world music programme, and also football’s wry humour and sideways sharp take on life, politics and the crazyness of sport that is also a welcome escapism into the drama of clubs that are hopefully being brought back into community ownership (another form of democratisation) but at the same time can be dramas that reflect our lives: democratising rather than oligarchy lives, but still crazy ones.

      and

      (2) carry on behaving as if we’ve won and we’ll win

      Not through wishful thinking but through our actions as Donnella Ann’s great quote from Dundee above outlines, or as Donald Howitt said:

      “I’m just going to do everything I was going to do in an independent Scotland”. Feel the grief, the despair, the anger, the fury – but also know the structures of power only have power to the extent that they persuade us we’re powerless. If we refuse that, and insist on taking action and staying creatively connected, their paltry power games ultimately don’t stand a chance. That’s not to say that on the way there is real struggle of a much more profound kind than we (Yes) has yet had to deal with.

      • Yes! I think that’s the best place to start: with a new privately funded media initiative including publicly available streaming video and audio. This can be fairly easily funded by many in the recent Yes campaign if set up fairly soon. As the lead article suggest, shoot for monthly commitments, like 5 pounds a head per month. That media organisation can provide the base for what gradually evolves from there. It is totally doable without any political or bureaucratic changes and absolutely should not involve any government funding or, therefore, control/obligation.

      • I would further suggest that Bella Caladonia, if they have the energy and desire, start this. It can evolve into something separate, but some one person or group, preferably already existing, should get the ball rolling. You could start with weekend streaming content, but then also have an online newspaper in which are not only articles and comments, but also announcements of local and national meetings all over Scotland, reports and analysis about the same and so forth. This is doable provided there is regular, monthly funding. So put together a core leadership group, devise an initial schedule of programming, content, authors etc. along with launch date etc., then solicit funds. Include an indie-go-go outlet for contributions from the Scottish diaspora worldwide, esp. in US, Canada, Australia and NZ. This can be done without any govt funding, which is key to maintain as such.

      • Sorry.. another idea: take out a middle-page spread (one large sheet, folded = 4 pages) in the middle of the Sunday Herald, paid for as advertising but with advantageous rates given it is a long-term commitment and a large amount. So every week there is 4 pages in a national publication which benefits from knowing that the 45% might be inspired to subscribe to the publication. Articles, announcements, even sub-contracted advertisements, coverage of various meetings, classifieds, food bank initiatives, links to related websites and blogs. The spread serves as the physically manifest HQ of the entire movement which has no end of tributary manifestations most of which are independently operated. A start. Using existing infrastructure.

      • Yes, bring back Global Gathering – it was another disgrace that the BBC binned this.

        We won’t take the easy road.

    • Great piece, Bellacaledonia. As new-Scot from Ireland I felt more included in the politics of Scottish independence than I ever felt in the process in jovial, parochial, back-slapping Ireland.

      Yes yes yes to the media that represents the fairer, multi-cultural and progressive Scotland we aspire too. Yes yes yes to optimism and resilience and the commitment to the struggle – Independence won’t be handed over easily as we found out. Yes yes yes to reaching out far and wide, to young and old, to city-dweller and rural voter, to educated and less educated.

      I think there is a truth that we underestimated the No voters. We thought they would be receptive to reason, open to change but they were afraid in the end and many will regret the choice they made last Thursday.

      But there is hope. Hope in people joining the Yes parties. Hope in a call for free media and rejection of BBC and most newspapers. I know my cancelled TV licence fee could be diverted to a good cause.

      Let’s remember the pain of defeat, remember it so that we’ll never have to suffer it again.

  9. I would be happy to contribute £5 a month to help fund the grass roots campaigns. It would be great to be able to donate in one place knowing that it would benefit all the groups.

  10. Ahhhh this is a fantastic article Serge – thank you – I’m really interested in how we enact participatory politics from the ground up within communities – without the headliner speakers. And of course if we all chip in a bit of cash it may be possible to enable and support people and communities to develop themselves in local empowerment tactics, I’d be happy to contribute – financially, as an organiser and a participant.

    I’m also interested in the Joanna Macy work – because I feel a deep sense of grief – not only because we didn’t achieve Scottish Independence – but a much deeper sadness for the way things are – so much that doesn’t work, makes no sense, is unjust, damages people, communities and the planet. When I realised that the vote was going to be no – the gutted feeling was so very deep and difficult – it tapped into the collective guttedness – which is massive, and hundreds of years deep. But we have dared to dream and challenge and work together – so the journey has begun and theres no turning back now…………..

  11. I would be more than happy to donate £5 per month and proud to be part of such a movement.

  12. Great ideas there Serge,

    None of the the great social movements, such as the civil rights movement, or the Landless Workers Movement could have happened without popular education, support between people of like mind, mentoring, sacrifice, strategy and money! Rosie Parks had been well prepared before she sat on the forbidden seat. The Landless Worker Movement land invasions are supported financially and in kind by the land settlements where crops can be grown etc. Central and South America can teach us a lot!

    We need a Highlander Centre in Scotland. (Highlander serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the U.S. South. Through popular education, participatory research, and cultural work, we help to create spaces — at Highlander and in local communities — where people gain knowledge, hope and courage, expanding their ideas of what is possible. – See more at: http://highlandercenter.org/about-us/#sthash.ca0alAV3.dpuf).

    This doesn’t have to be a physical place, although that would be amazing.

    Unity with diversity brings resilience. ‘Common Weal’, ‘Bella Caledonia’, and ‘RIC’ as well as ‘Changing Scotland’ . . . . they are already fundraising . . . . should there be a common platform or something new along the lines Serge suggests?

  13. Hi
    Thanks Serge and all.
    I agree about a Scottish Highlander.
    It could happen – two folks from there visited a few weeks ago courtesy Fred Edwards Trust.
    I am very up for this … Who’d like to meet up to discuss?
    Serge? Justin? Chris? Other responders to this blog?
    And yes Justin I am with you on urgency of need for media channel…
    BTW did you catch the guy from south Africa who did a media analysis of #indyref mainstream papers. Radio Scotland thus am. Clear evidence of framing bias documented. Presenter didn’t sound as if he knew how to handle the interview…
    All is very well!
    Nick

    • Hi Nick – do you see the Scottish Highlander as a place, a centre?

      Local empowerment tactics as Fran says. Borrowing from a superb NGO in Nicaragua (CANTERA), the ‘Scottish Highlander’ could be along these lines:

      The goals could be to empower individuals and to improve their quality of life within their communities, offering free educational and extracurricular programs and acting as a networking agency to address Scotland’s social and economic development:

      Promote reflection on and analysis of the philosophy and practice of Paulo Freire’s popular education model

      Strengthen and support local people, groups, and organizations (with an emphasis on gender equality) to improve their economic, political, and social conditions

      It could offer reflection and training courses and workshops on a wide variety of topics: community organizing for social transformation; gender equity, power, and nonviolence; human ecology; environmental justice, methodology for working with children, adolescents, and their families; methodology of popular education; and cultural and intercultural relations.

  14. Thanks Serge, Caperash, Justin, Fran and all. We do have the energy and desire and will be announcing plans this week – but also co hosting a media conference to work our best collaborations. Details soon.

  15. don’t complain about the media – be the media 🙂

    camcorder guerrillas at document human rights film festival 2014

    Sunday 12th October 12:30 – 2:30
    Screening/ discussion with members of Unity Centre, Scottish CND, Life Mosaic and camcorder guerrillas.

    This is one of (we hope/ expect/) many opportunities to come together to start the discussion around how we make new media and better media. All welcome.

    http://camcorderguerillas.wordpress.com

    http://documentfilmfestival.org/12/
    CCA, Sauchihall Street, Glasgow 10-12 October 2014

  16. Thank you and count me in, I would be proud to be part of your movement! I believe that if we learn from this experience and join together we will succeed!

  17. Look what you have achieved in such a short time and as an expat I would be happy to contribute. And take up these ideas in the land of Oz which is very much in need of resistance to the fast growing right wing agenda of self interest and discrimination. It was so good to be in Scotland and be with such enthusiastic, authentic, decent people with no one pushing for the limelight just genuine engagement at every turn. It will stay with me until the next time I visit. You are legends all of you.

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