Movements around systemic alternatives, for systemic change

This writing was originally published in Peruste Lehti, 25.6.2018 (in Finnish)

The European Commons Assembly represents new movement building around the commons. However, rather then to look at this and other movements as standing alone, another perspective points to the actual complementarity of different envisionings for systemic change as the commons, degrowth, and feminism and to the systemic alternatives informed by this complementarity. The last years established FundAction participatory grant making can be seen as supporting such dialogue and alternatives shaping.

Last year saw the start of movement building around the Commons in Europe, with the call of the European Commons assembly wanting to bring together a trans-local coalition of action groups and processes of commoning in different spheres and wanting to point to the potential of the building up of a bottom-up movement to support commons-enforcing policies.

Whilst a movement for the commons might feel as yet another hat worn in an already fragmented movement scene, it can be useful and actually empowering to bring to the forefront a perspective pointing to the complementarity of these envisionings, ‘to the systemic alternatives the dialogue between these visions gives rise to’ in a political process coined as systemic change.

Last year then also saw the start of FundAction, a participatory fund making grants for social transformation, involving activists and funders in Europe, and which wants to fund projects ‘aiming at generating systemic change by addressing the causes of injustice and promoting a better vision of the future’.

The European Commons Assembly

In Spring 2016 a Berlin-based Commonsnetwork, among others, called some 30 practitioners and researchers of commons all over Europe to meet for the first time and to build European-wide cooperation. The meeting took place in May 2016 at the organic farm in Villarceaux, some 40km outside of Paris. Villlarceaux in its current purpose was established by the Charles Leopold foundation, and its facilities are hosting meetings part of processes funded by the foundation and its different progressive funder allies.

The Villarceaux commons meetings issued a Call for the process, which is now hosted on the website of the commons assembly and open for signatures. The call is signed by some 130 entities, and several hundreds of individuals, whilst the mailing list has some 270 subscriptions.

Carrying on with its double edged objective of the assembly facilitating exchange of experiences and policy making, the ECA then met in Brussels in November 2016. The run up to the Brussels meetings included the drafting of policy proposals, a session at the European Parliament (with the European Parliament intergroup on public services and common goods),  an ECA Assembly including dialogues with local experiences as Commons Josephat as well as with a local chapter of Diem25. (See here for a full report on these meetings).

Following Brussles, the ECA next convened in Madrid, in order to draw inspiration from and be in dialogue with different actors in the context of the cities Municipalist experiences, as also to critical appraise its limitations (see also this article on the current municipalist wave in Europe). During the meetings different worksessions took place with an eye on policy building towards the city, a discussion with Madric city actors and the ECA also held an assembly to address its own workings.

After this initial fase, the ECA is currently trying to come to determine its next steps forward and to with it also resolve sofar unresolved issues as for instance governance. So a proposal on the table currently, is to initiate a series of collective actions and projects. As a step in this process a commons camp is proposed, which would be gathering people from different streams – social and solidarity economy, degrowth, municipalism and digital movements working on different issues and in which any actions developed would be in reinforcement of what happening or be new ones.  Governance in this proposal is felt “to be something developed in relation to the action, as is usual in commons and P2P”

Stepping away from the particulars of the ECA process, the question which might then arise is, so does this mean there is now something as a commons movement in Europe? And the question might also be put as is there now also something as a commons movement in Europe (meaning yet another hat/movement in our fragmented being on the other side of the mainstream).  And ofcourse both forms of the question are put then also in relation to the local, since whilst the ECA as any whole can be more than its constituents, they nevertheless constitute the backbone and legitimacy.

I have started to appreciate that this question is perhaps not as crucial nor correct as it seems. Perhaps a process like the European Commons Assembly or Commons.fi is about bringing to the forefront the potential of looking at our realities with the lenses of the commons (the commons as lense so well articulated by Silke Helfrich, Commons Strategies), meaning that everything can be seen as a commons, and putting with this then also to the forefront that in this seeing, commoning is essential (since, as Peter Linebaugh has taught us, there is no commons without commoning).

Systemic complementary alternatives

And perhaps it then also becomes relevant that when trying to answer that question of whether there is with the commons yet another movement only contributing further to fragmentation of movements, to look from a perspective which points to the actual complementarity of different envisionings as the commons, degrowth, self sufficiency, social ecology, and  solidarity economy, and to the systemic alternatives the dialogue between these visions gives rise to, in a political process described as systemic change (a thinking which seems also to be identifiable in the proposal for the above mentioned Commons camp for the European Commons Assembly).

An interesting process doing this is the Systemic Alternatives initiative, which is coordinated by Focus on the Global South-Asia, Attac- France and Fundación Solón-Bolivia (see https://systemicalternatives.org/). As Pablo Salon writes in the last Chapter of a first brought out book ‘Systemic Alternatives’,  “The search for complementarity between Vivir Bien, degrowth, the commons, ecofeminism, the rights of Mother Earth, deglobalisation and other proposals seeks to enrich each of these  approaches by generating increasingly complex interactions that help the process of construction of systemic alternatives. The goal is not to build just one single alternative, but to develop multiple  holistic alternatives that are intertwined and articulated, in order to give answers to the changing diversity of the whole”.

Another effort going into a similar direction is the ” Pluriverse : Post-Development Dictionary”, edited by Edited by Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria and Alberto Acosta, ‘a collection of over 100 essays on transformative alternatives to the currently dominant processes of globalized development’. In the intro it reads that ”What has been missing is a broad transcultural compilation of concrete concepts, worldviews and practices from around the world, challenging the modernist ontology of universalism in favour of a multiplicity of possible worlds. This is what it means to call for a pluriverse.”

And yet another exercise made in the same direction, is the ‘Degrowth in Movement(s)’ project. Here the process is described as : “How is the relation between the degrowth movement and other social movements and perspectives? What can the degrowth movement learn from these other movements? And the other way around, what can other social movements and perspectives learn from each other as well as from degrowth ideas and practices? What common proposals, but also which contradictions, oppositions and tensions exist? What alliances could be possible?”

With Commons.fi our thinking a couple of years ago went into a same direction, when wanting to draw up an “Economy A4”, which would be listing the different but with similar values other economy initiatives people in Finland are gathering under – to also in this manner point to complementarity, whilst the collective A4 would also be strengthening the mentioned initiatives.

FundAction

Also at Villarceaux farm now in April 2018, was the first assembly of FundAction, a process which also started some 1,5 year ago with a first meeting in Seville, Spain.

The participatory grant making fund has been the outcome from a want from different activist and different members of the EDGE funders alliance in Europe that another funding should be possible, and which eventually led to the Open Society Initiative for Europe, European Cultural Foundation, Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation and Guerrilla Foundation to bring funds together for the process.  FundAction describes the projects it wants to fund as “aiming at generating systemic change by addressing the causes of injustice and promoting a better vision of the future.”

The Fund has been operating with a Facilitation group, which is composed of 9 activists and 2 foundation members. So far the FG has been responsible for a lot of the function of the platform, but the idea is for in the future the funds membership to make decisions.

Until now two grant rounds have been held, engaging a group of some 150 activists from very diverse backgrounds.  The Rethink round – which offered grants up to 5000 euros for travel, exchange and capacity building activities, including things like study visits, meetings for collaboration, trainings etc. (Commons.fi participated with a proposal for a seminar on Municipalism in Helsinki), and the Renew round – which offered grants up to 20000 euros for support to projects which are new ideas from organisations who are working towards systemic change (Commons.fi (and its members Oma Maa and Helsinki Timebank) participated with a proposal of a performative implementation of a Basic Income funded partly by a timetax). The next round is Resist, which is to be a small, fast funding opportunity of up to 2000 euros for where there is an immediate direct need.

The FundAction process is such that there is a time to put in applications answering basic questions on the project. After that there follows a time in which members on the platform can be commenting on the proposals, pose questions, and after that follows voting (up to three proposals). With regards to reporting of the project, the applicant will be asked to make a video to share on the experiences, whilst financial reporting will happen to the Edge Funders.

The meetings in Villarceaux brought interesting questions up with regards to the development of the Fund. So for instance on the issue how the fund could really respond  organically based on needs; that voting on projects is still a quite competitive practice and not necessarily the most interesting thing to do; that different types of financing could be developed, and questions as to whether there perhaps could be thematic rounds. Interesting also reflections around the need to change the narrative around activism, around activism and success.  The Fund is currently still prototyping so to speak, and there seems to be the sentiment that now is a time to deepen its working towards fulfilling the objectives it has set itself, rather than opening up to take in more people at this moment. FundAction clearly has a strong community building component to itself, and wants to create synergies in its community beyond the local which of course again throws up important question with regards to what stands core: community and/or Fund building.

With its focus on systemic change, and its participatory grant making process, FundAction has a fascinating possibility to bring the complementarity of different strands to the forefront and to facilitate the dialogue between the systemic alternatives towards systemic change. In this manner potentially also a common denominator of the systemic change alternatives will be brought to the forefront : they are constructive alternatives, alternatives which concentrate on everyday life politics, whilst many of them also demand for a commonising of our institutions, for a Plan C.

Ruby van der Wekken

a member of Oma Maa foodcooperative, Helsinki Timebank and the FundAction facilitationgroup

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