Open Future NZ  

Talk to each other. Build a useful common in your area. A large accessible useful common makes the future more open for many people.

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Community Organization in Tough Times by John S Veitch

I live in New Zealand. I'm a member of many online groups which are dominated by American members. I've learned a great deal from them. I KNOW that in our New Zealand experience there is much we can teach Americans. NZ is a small social laboratory that has had both successes and failures that are both educational. In particular, New Zealand Law and practice recognizes that the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) as a living document and that Maori (first peoples) and Pakeha (new arrivals) have legal and moral obligations to each other that exist today. This has made a huge difference to race relationships in New Zealand, and opened up new ways of "seeing" ourselves.

New Zealand was an early adopter of the free market ideas promoted in the UK by Margaret Thatcher and in the USA by Ronald Reagan. Because NZ is a small country the ideas, promoted by Roger Douglas were implemented quickly and strongly here. We called it "Rogernomics" for obvious reasons. Douglas, from the left of politics, began a series of right wing reforms sometimes called a "blitzkrieg" of change, abolishing subsidies for agriculture and business and reducing social welfare payments. Added value taxes were introduced and the taxation system was simplified. Rogernomics was strongly supported by the Business Roundtable, and by the main opposition party, National. The reforms were continued by the National Party when they came to power. For all the pain, the economic growth promised has not been evident. What we do have though, is a very adaptable economy. That is certainly an economic benefit, we do know how to change.

Against the wishes of both major political parties, by public vote NZ changed from a first past the post (winner takes all) elections to a partial proportional system, called mixed member proportional representation (MMP, 1993). The result has been to inject into the parliament many new people from very diverse backgrounds. Instead of two parties, there are now seven to nine parties represented, and the political process is expanded by a wide range of new ideas that in the previous system would never have been discussed. We face significant challenges and a strong working democracy, like we have in NZ, is our best hope of success.

I'm a strong advocate of open discussion. Your own ideas are developed best when you try to tell other people what you are thinking. In the process you clarify our own thought processes. If other people take up your ideas, both when they support you and when they challenge you. you get a chance to re-evaluate what you said. Over time this is a very productive and educational process. I have applied this principle. I've engaged with many online forums, email lists, Ryze forums, and I'm a founding member of "Canterbury Issues" a local area discussion group.

Develop the Useful Common
Before the agricultural revolution, if people didn't have jobs or property, they could usually survive on the common land. In China today the unemployed from the cities are returning to their villages hoping to find a way to survive on family or community land. We've lost sight of the value of the common in modern cities with well established welfare supports. If we think about developing and extending a useful common in modern cities we would soon find many resources to put in it. There are many things there already, free library services, unemployment benefits, free access to parks and public spaces, free education, and free or almost free public transport. Depending on your community there might be much more. Christian Churches in my community provide free or low cost meals, overnight accommodation, drug rehabilitation programme's, budgetary advice, and clothing and furniture as required. Many clubs if approached will offer free membership on request.

Gary L Heckman offers a long list of things people can do to make their own town or city a better place to live. Essentially he's saying, clean up you own mess, look after your own street, be responsible for your own neighbourhood.

Your own property
Be good parents.
Care for your own animals.
Grow something people can eat.
Improve the maintenance of your own house.
Carry your own load in the community. Be useful.
Neighbourhood Support
Help others protect against crime and graffiti.
Keep your own street frontage clean; help with street beautification.
Be involved with local clubs and associations. Participate - be a coach - do some committee work.
Community gardens are valuable assets to every community.
Assist the Local Council
Street maintenance, refuse collection, water supply and sewerage collection are major costs to local bodies. Help to minimize.
Police, fire and ambulance services are also major costs. Try to minimize the need to call them.
Help with local recycling efforts.
Community Activities and Events
Special events need volunteers if they are to be successful and not cost the local council a fortune.
Care for local parks and sports fields.
Be a leader or mentor in sports groups or clubs, particularly involving young people.

Local Forums - E-Democracy
In a depression, every city or province should try to develop it's own local issues forum. Thanks to the work of E-Democracy.Org, this idea is well tested and there are good tools and a sound record of experience to build on. So all it needs is for 2-3 people in your city to agree that this is a task worth doing. This is a very informative document written by Dan Randow, based on the experience of forming the Canterbury Issues Forum. You can also look at the work of Steven Clift who's been building E-Democracy since 1994 in the USA.

Local Currency
There is strongly documented evidence that LOCAL currencies are very effective in creating LOCAL economic activity. The method of doing this is well developed. but public acceptance is low. This is an informative 32 page, Community Currency Guide by Bernard Lietaer and Gwendolyn Hallsmith, which discusses both LETS and TIME BANK systems.

Local Exchange Trading Systems, (LETS) are now becoming well understood and with the present depression they should flourish at least for the next several years. There will be opposition to the development of a local currency by the banks. Quite likely local government will also be opposed. None of that makes it a bad idea. To get the LETS system working you really need a BIG supporter. In Germany during the 1930's a major employer agreed with their staff the pay the wages due in local currency. The staff expected the local shops to accept it, and they did. But of course this currency can't be banked. So the shops paid their staff with partly local currency, and that was also spent in the town. It's said that this money changed hands eleven times within a month. The local economy started to boom. (Sadly the Nazi's closed the system down.)

Time Banks begin with a slightly different emphasis, how to bring a local community together for social purposes. The key site seems to be American, TimeBanks USA. "With Time Banking, you will be working with a small group of committed individuals who are joined together for a common good. It connects you to the best in people because it creates a system that connects unmet needs with untapped resources." The site provides information about Time Banks around the world and resources for anyone who wants to set one up. One of the leaders of Project Lyttelton, Chris Twemlow, has kept a blog about the creation of the Lyttelton Timebank.

In my local area the LETS scheme has closed, but the Lyttelton Timebank seems to be thriving. Do an online search. There is almost certainly someone in your local district who's knowledgeable about LETS schemes, or TIME Banks. If you can get the support of the local council and 2-3 major employers, you can not only save many jobs but you'll create the opportunity to develop many more employment opportunities.

Street Committees
If you know there are unemployed people in your immediate area, try to help them organize. One valuable strategy is to establish a block or street committee. Members can be connected online. I recommend using Online Groups for that purpose. What can you do to help each other. Regular meetings will soon produce a list of activities. What about training together to improve fitness? Community or group gardens are an obvious possibility. What about taking up a Jamie Oliver idea and having a street party where people share "healthy home cooked food"? Is there scope for home cooking classes on a one to one basis in the district?

Defence Against Community Collapse
In a depression or a war, most communities find ways to come together to reduce the burden on each other. But societies can break into warring tribal groups. Russian born American Dmitry Orlov, tried to tell an American audience what social collapse in the USA might be like, based on his own observations of what happened in the USSR during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The great majority of the audience were disbelieving, they could not imagine widespread social problems in America on the scale Orlov suggested.

Dmitry Orlov, says that post collapse the old ways of doing things don't work anymore. Conventional values, goals and methods become irrelevant. At the same time, immediately, a different set of goals, techniques and measures of success become available. A little mental preparation for that possibility, is useful knowledge to have. So here are some collapse clues from the USSR:

Personal Maintenance
Some people, always MEN he suggests, who had high wealth and status, which is now lost, do things that are deeply irrational and out of character, like destroying something of great value.
Others, confused by a sudden turn of events become very passive and incapable of making decisions. They get very drunk..
Women in contrast are much more adaptable and usually find useful and practical things to do.
Don't be over-invested in retaining what you once had, be adaptable instead. Accept the new values.
Many people will become physically ill as a result of displacement. The demands on the health system will increase.
Some people, again mostly men will commit suicide. Sadly some of them will also kill their whole families.
Food to Eat
Prices for food, fuel and electricity will rise. In the USSR meat and fish were unobtainable, but bread was always available at a price.
Supermarkets may find that it's impossible to supply goods in an ordered way. Many shelves may be bare.
Personal and community gardens added variety to the food supply and ensured that starvation was not a problem even on zero wages.
Gardening became a favorite activity. Surplus produce can be sold or bartered for other things you need.
Carparks make good places for inner city community gardens on raised beds.
Efficient public transport remained operable in the USSR. Very little petrol was available at any price. (Limit 10 Litres)
A good bicycle and walking shoes are essential personal items.
Community Security
The crime rate will increase. Get to know your neighbours, because community support is your first and best defence against criminal activity.
Try to identify people who are at risk of depression or suicide. Keep in touch with people.
Ex-police and military men will be available for hire as security guards, and their skills are likely to prove useful.
Government Propaganda
The official sources talk a lot of nonsense about how the recession will be over "soon". Nothing they try to do works.
The government tries to look like they are in charge, but they don't have any idea how to solve the problem.
Citizens have most of the real answers in their own hands if they will use them.
In the cold people may not be able to heat their houses. Many layers of clothing plus a hot water bottle does wonders.
Lack of funds may force extended family members to live together. This has hidden benefits.
Inner city offices are easier to heat, and may be easily converted into housing. They are not likely to have a business use for some time.
Economic Activity
Barter becomes an important way of getting things you need. Having an inventory of something other people need is the new definition of "rich".
People will lose their jobs, their status and their assets. Savings and retirement funds will be wiped out.
People will continue to work for no wages, if there is a prospect of being paid one day.
Do something useful and helpful, for yourself or someone else.

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