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Alternatiba: Trusting in Our Collective Capacity for Change

By Ugo Bessière

The IPCC’s scientists say we have ten years left in which to save the climate. Faced for the first time by the finite nature of the planet, we have to confront a climatic, ecological, economic and social crisis which challenges the lifestyles of the so-called developed countries.

While we would have expected proposals to be made without delay to guide this deadly model towards healthier and more lasting practices, our institutions and politicians seem powerless. Twentieth century solutions don’t work anymore and the conservatism of the lobbies puts a brake on the renewal potential of our visions of the world.

But they are not the only ones. The whole of our society finds it difficult to acknowledge the magnitude of the challenges confronting it, which will oblige us to review the production and consumption methods to which we have become so comfortably accustomed. When are we finally going to leave the over-beaten track of productivity worship? Will the last generation capable of changing everything do nothing about it?

The ‘Alternatiba’ Planet B – Where It Feels Good to Be Alive

Well, we’d be wrong to resign ourselves: alternative lifestyles making it possible to live with respect for mankind and nature already exist. Local and complementary currencies, green habitats, relocated activities and short-circuits, a moderated use of energy, renewable energies, organic farming, permaculture, public awareness campaigns, the media-sphere, democratic alternatives. The poet is still right: “Another world does exist, and it is in this one”.

Indirectly, thousands of participants are busily bringing a renewed world of the imagination to life, on a human scale and built to fit our planet. Citizens are innovating to prepare a positive and resilient future. Through their actions, they are bringing community, solidarity, sharing and humility back into fashion.

Above all, these “alternatives” enable us to envisage the emergence of a “Planet B” which will be lasting, reliable and fraternal, a credible alternative to Planet A, ravaged by the consequences of climate change. The latter is the kind of planet we’ll be bequeathing to our children if we don’t take action now.

It is this Planet B which the Alternatiba campaign for responsible citizenship seeks to bring into existence in the public space, as close as possible to people. What is our objective? To show gently that the widespread adoption of such alternatives can resolve the various crises, if each one of us chooses to use them – and even enjoy them – without returning to the Stone Age!

Indirectly, thousands of participants are busily bringing a renewed world of the imagination to life, on a human scale and built to fit our planet. Citizens are innovating to prepare a positive and resilient future.

Reaching A Wider Public – Beyond the Circle of the Converted

The “niche” militancy of the 20th century made it possible to develop unprecedented expertise in responsible citizenship and to win a few isolated battles, but it failed to mobilise society as a whole. We want to go beyond the convinced militants and reach an audience of unaware people who are not much interested in the existing alternatives, or are even hostile to them.

We’d like to engage with everyone, because we believe it is by waking the sleeping that the social and ecological transition will take shape. And the men and women present in the village are the only judges of the alternatives presented there.

Although we think that societal change will be organised from the bottom up, we also know that support from institutions at the top is essential. We also want to stir up our lethargic leaders and invite them to build another model with us. Resilience invites us to explore as many “change tracks” as possible and the more ideas we have “on the go”, the less we’ll risk going wrong. The diversity, intelligence and strength of collective action are what will enable us to rise to this unprecedented challenge.

A New Movement Which Remobilises the Young and Challenges Certainties

Although Alternatiba hopes to remain independent of the traditional political parties, it obviously has a political dimension because what is really at stake is to offer a mechanism for reading the alternative world which we consider capable of providing solutions better suited to the way we live now.

Alternatiba is investing in training a new generation of militants who will disseminate a virtuous collective imagination capable of overcoming the malfunctions of the industrial revolution, overtaking the growth system and at the same time maintaining what we have achieved as regards social justice, while denouncing false solutions and “green disguises”.

These militants, many of them young but some not so young, are eager to overturn the certainties of the last century and count on the creativity of socially responsible people.

Alternatiba’s most important role is to enable citizens to trust in their capacity to change things, to participate here and now in the transitions necessary to transform our methods of production, consumption, transport, territorial development and so on. In short, to “change the system so as not to change the climate”.

So Alternatiba is not just another association fighting in a specific field – there are plenty of those which are doing a really good job – but rather a dynamic, people’s process, designed to connect with what already exists, to unite rather than divide, a process which would rather provide practical solutions than make people feel guilty.

We’d like to engage with everyone, because we believe it is by waking the sleeping that the social and ecological transition will take shape. And the men and women present in the village are the only judges of the alternatives presented there.

And why shouldn’t we meet one another to discuss it at a local bar or concert? Because, above all, Alternatiba is a popular celebration, one which has taken over the public space with the aim of creating a link there between generations, cultures and social classes just like what happens at a public dance in the village square.

A Horizontal and Transparent Working Method

Alternatiba operates with the aim of being independent and transparent, according to the principles of non-violent communication, direct participative democracy and self-management.

A methodological kit has been created to guide those who would like to embark on the adventure. However, each Alternatiba is free to define the tools and methods it considers most suitable, as well as the values underlying the project which are often specified in a local charter.

Most of the time, we are organised into interlinked committees designed to handle the organisation of the event (for example, the thematic content committee and the logistics committee) and into thematic committees each representing a space in the village (for example, the food committee and the energy committee).

Each of these committees is self-governing and has a coordinator who is not a hierarchical superior but is responsible for ensuring communication with the other coordinators. All decisions are made by mutual consent in a general coordination operation, which implies debating until a shared solution is found.

Each Alternatiba local coordination operation forms part of the Alternatiba European coordination meeting which is held every three or four months in a different town.

Alternatives for Everyone, Everywhere!

Bayonne, the founding village, was launched in October 2013, followed by Agen, Gonesse, Nantes, Paris, Lille, Ciboure-Socoa and Bordeaux in September and October 2014: in all, more than 62,000 people have already visited our villages which offer alternatives to climate change.

But that’s not all: nearly 1,700 volunteers took part in preparing and setting up these first eight Alternatiba’s, in addition to the thousands of exhibitors, participants and artists who supported the events. Between 10,000-20,000 people attended their concerts and round table discussions about climate deregulation, the COP21, false solutions, alternatives and social and ecological transition campaigns.

The Alternatiba momentum is building and will continue throughout 2015. In fact, 38 other Alternatiba’s are now at the preparatory stage in France and several other European countries. It is also planned to hold a 5,000 kilometre tandem Tour de France before the COP21 in the summer of 2015 with the aim of linking all these initiatives.

The struggle against the future energy crisis and climate change is not only a constraint, it is also an enormous opportunity to build a more human future together.

A Year Before the COP21 in Paris and Climate Change Is in Our Sights

Alternatiba belongs to the Citizens’ Transition Collective and the Climate 21 coalition. We wanted to fight global warming or, rather, to set up a post-carbon and repositioned societal organisation, the flagship of the alternative-promoting villages.

In fact, once the climate battle has been lost it can never again be won, however often laws promoting it are voted through afterwards. Understanding that means understanding that if the climate crisis spirals out of control, it will become the mother of all crises. The struggle against the future energy crisis and climate change is not only a constraint, it is also an enormous opportunity to build a more human future together.

A year before the COP21 (the important United Nations summit meeting on the climate due to take place in Paris at the end of 2015), the European Alternatiba Coordination organisation calls on the population, and more especially the younger generation, to strengthen this massive drive by the Alternibas.

Let us forget our differences, gather as much strength as we can for the future and overtake our leaders! Let us show them the way to launch the transition! Let’s show them how determined we are.

For ourselves and for our children.

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