From the Big Chill to Community Action

5 mn read

The staging of our second Campfire Convention event in London is timely. The speed of change around us is accelerating. It’s time to take stock. It’s also the week that I’m celebrating my 60th birthday. I can’t believe how the years have flown by, but I still have the burning passion and sense of mission I discovered in my 30s.

Our idea behind the Convention is to challenge and push for new approaches. Change at all levels, from personal to community, from political to global.

The ethos, values and principles of Campfire are based around cultivating hope and aspiring to be a hub for good. It has to come down to giving people a sense of engagement and empowerment – both individually for each of our members and collectively for our community – and a belief that we can make a difference and that the world can be a better place.

The world’s been in trouble lately and we’ve lost our way in many senses. There is an urgent need to come together to try and reimagine how we might shape our world. Politics is too important to be left to political parties. Political enlightenment begins at home and I’ve come to believe that a far more prominent female energy is needed in the world and Campfire is doing its bit to help bring that about.

I’ve been doing even more dreaming than usual. Being out and about in a motorhome without a UK base since January I’ve learnt to live without luxuries and possessions. It’s not only been a grounding experience but one that has led to a re-evaluation of what is important after talking to many people around the UK at our various Campfire Conversation events and I’m getting a sense that ‘social glue’ or belonging comes pretty high up that list for so many.

Our patron, Brian Eno, admitted that a revolution has unfolded, but it didn’t come from the people most of us expected. Now that it has happened and the course of history has been changed, the rules have been broken, we have a level playing field which means that social and political concepts considered off-piste as recently as two years ago can become acceptable, desirable even. This has both inspirational and sinister potential. We need to come up with the inspirational ideas and get them out there. This is our time.

The end of neoliberalism, even capitalism, is in the air and along with those changes, a shift in the way we live together, work together, interact and do business. Post capitalism needs new models and uniquely we are in a position to seize the narrative, to come up with the concepts. Most good ideas are arguably coming from outside the main political parties, though Jeremy Corbyn has recently shown a fresh level of imagination in his speeches around new economic models.

There is now a focus on sustainable communities as well as sustainable ecology, co-housing and energy consumption, online platforms that work for the good of all. Our Campfire Kudos scheme can work on input / output metrics, rewarding engagement and encouraging a culture of volunteering to get things off the ground. This works hand-in-hand with a growing realisation that by helping each other we help ourselves. No longer is ‘what can I get from this?’ the primary objective. A move from ‘extrinsic’ values – those based around fame, power, wealth and competition, is being superseded by a realisation that ‘intrinsic’ values – universal rights and equality, the natural world and independent thinking – are more important in many ways. In short, the fundamental shift that still needs to happen is not putting ourselves first. A move from ‘I’m alright Jack’ to ‘How does this effect the planet and all those on it?’.

Anomie and alienation have predominated, but now it’s time to move towards community engagement and social cohesion is likely to be the result. Campfire can play its part galvanising at local level via what we’re calling our new ‘Beacons’ initiative.

Campfire is a new community, inspired by my previous project, the now-defunct Big Chill festival, which in its heyday opened my eyes to the power of connections and how they could not only create a feel good factor but also a movement for change. With Campfire the possibilities are ever more exciting. The Big Chill was all about a community built around the idea of partying but it became increasingly about hedonism and commercialism. Campfire is more grounded in discussion and collective co-operation, with essential change at the widest holistic level very much our aim now that it is within our orbit.

Campfire can be many things – an alternative journalistic voice, a means to portfolio our key interests and enthusiasms, a platform for connection and collaboration, an ad-free forum for chat and the shaping of new agendas. Together we can craft something of great value, a resource built on collective wisdom and templates of experience. Members might start a new Project on the future of work and what it looks like, on sustainability, on new approaches to learning, on the politics of food production. Or start a Beacon. Or join one and go to our events in Malvern Hills or Edinburgh.

Our political proposal, Trailblazer politics, has values at its heart. “Values are the bedrock of effective politics” suggests writer George Monbiot. Social networking need not be about marketing spend to boost pages, algorithmic targeted ads, posting what you had for breakfast or swinging a general election. It can have a heart and a soul, a purpose and a real-life element. The Campfire circle is a great leveller.

So why am I doing this? Connecting people and watching the sparks – the buzz of the flow of ideas, the collaborations, not to mention the happy collisions – the friendships, relationships and even the marriages (I know of at least 30 from The Big Chill community).

And of course, seeing others blossom and flourish.

It’s not hard to sense that a change is already occurring at a personal level – health, exercise, nourishment, food choices, mobile and flexible working, jettisoning the stuff that makes us feel stressed and disconnected, less credit and fewer mortgages, freer living, co-ops, joining local community initiatives, exchanging life experience and knowledge. That sense of community belonging can give us an anchor but it can also energise, heal, inform and educate.

I hope to inspire as I’ve been inspired. To challenge my own comfort zone, step up and maybe encourage others to do the same.

Our choice of language shaped by our visions is important – we can build the stories, everyone loves stories. Has anyone noticed the way that words such as ‘love’ and ‘empathy’ have recently appeared in political rhetoric more often lately? Let’s legitimise ‘love’ and ‘empathy’ as political forces in themselves. Let’s turn things upside down.

Our new kind of politics is a holistic politics, sharing from a sense of self, a sense of connection to our chosen communities and a vision for a better world where everyone can have a say and we can all make a difference.

Campfire can connect globally, whilst joining the dots and respecting the differences, welcoming diversity and expanding horizons through initiatives online and offline.

I’ve often started from a utopian viewpoint. On my travels in Greece I reflected on the word utopia, originating as it does from the Greek Ou (not) and Topos (place). It was first used in 1516 by Sir Thomas More in his book ‘Utopia’. “Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”

Politics dies without imagination, people die without nourishment, hope dies without community. More than ever, we need to make a connection between dreams and pragmatism, we need to talk and listen, we need to write and express, to formulate ideas grounded in local communities, to convene in unconventional ways.

That’s how we will make a difference. That’s how we already are making a big difference. Sparks are igniting, beacons are being lit.

We have to believe in ourselves as a force for change. We have to believe in a movement that has the potential to reach out beyond party lines, a message that appeals to as many as possible. I’d like to think that Campfire is here for good.

Campfire Convention 002.UK takes place all day Saturday November 4th at Union Chapel, London N1.

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