#220 Growing a Public Chorus for Change: reshaping democracy with Alex Lockwood of the Humanity Project
Democracy is broken. We keep electing the people least suited to governance when what we need is a way to empower those with the most wisdom and bring wisdom to those with power. So what can we do? The Humanity Project is exploring exciting, living, vibrant answers, right at the emergent edge of inter-becoming.
We don’t have a democracy, we have a kleptocracy that elevates to positions of power those amongst us who are most comfortable with leaning into their inner Dark Triad of Psychopathy, Narcissism and basic low cunning. Then, when they get there, we’re surprised that they go on to wreak havoc with all that we believe to be good and right and beautiful.
Doing the same thing time after time is the very definition of insanity – clearly we need a new way of connecting, of communicating, of articulating our needs and wants that give us a sense of connection, agency and sufficiency, that bring out the best of us, not our own inner dark triads. We need a new means of governance that works from the ground up and works for a thriving future for the human and more-than human world.
This week’s guest is absolutely immersed in the questions of how we transform our governance. More than this, he is immersed in actually making it happen. Alex Lockwood was a Senior Lecturer in Professional and Creative Writing at Sunderland University and he practiced what he taught – because he’s also the author of a novel, The Chernobyl Privileges and a non-fiction memoir, The Pig in Thin Air.
More recently, he was actively involved in Animal Rebellion, a kindred organisation to Extinction Rebellion and then that evolved into becoming a founder member of The Humanity Project, an astonishing, life-affirming, inspiring collective movement for change. At the times when the news about climactic tipping points and the loss of sulphur particles and the impact of el Nino combines with the horrors of political destruction around the world, it’s really good to remember there are highly motivated, highly intelligent people getting together to create visions for change that will work and to which we will all look forward. This podcast rekindled my belief in a future that can work. I hope it does the same for you.
Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your guide and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility. And as I’m sure is obvious by now, I am absolutely of the opinion that democracy is broken in the Western world. We don’t have a democracy. We have a kleptocracy that elevates the people who are most comfortable with leaning into the dark triad of their personalities, where psychopathy, narcissism and basic low cunning come together so that when they are elevated to positions of power, they can go about destroying all that we believe to be good and right and beautiful, and tell themselves that what they’re doing is wise. And given this, we need new ways of connecting, of communicating, of articulating our individual and collective needs and wants in ways that give us a sense of connection and agency and sufficiency. To bring out the best of us, not our own inner dark triads. We need new means of governance that work from the ground up and work for a thriving future for a human and more than human world.
Alex: And this week’s guest is absolutely immersed in the questions of how we transform our governance for the better. More than this, he is actually immersed in making it happen. Alex Lockwood was a senior lecturer in professional and creative writing, teaching journalism and writing fiction at Sunderland University, and he practised what he taught. He is also the author of two novels: The Chernobyl Privileges and The Pig In Thin Air. And then more recently, he was actively involved in Animal Rebellion, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion. And then that evolved into his becoming a founder member of the Humanity Project, which is an astonishing, life affirming, inspiring collective movement for change. At the times when the news about climactic tipping points and the loss of sulphur particles and the impact of El Nino combines with the absolute horror of political destruction around the world, it is really good to remember that there are highly motivated, highly intelligent people getting together to create visions for change that will work and to which we will all look forward. This conversation rekindled my belief in a future that can work, and I really hope it does the same for you. So people of the podcast, please welcome Alex Lockwood of the Humanity Project.
Manda: Alex, welcome to Accidenta Gods. How are you and where are you this stormy morning? We had big wind last night, it was quite exciting.
Alex: Thank you Manda. Actually, I’m living on a boat at the moment. I’m not actually in the boat right now, I’m in a lovely podcast booth in the offices of a agency called Accept and Proceed in East London, who do some really good work. They’re very much friends of the movement and have offered us whatever help they can. So I’m in their lovely booth at the moment, but I was trying to sleep last night on a boat on the canal in Hackney and the storm. You don’t sleep really on a boat in the storm, you know. But that’s okay. You have to learn to roll with it, you know what I mean?
Manda: I can imagine. So you’re a trifle sleepless this morning. We will endeavour not to scramble your brains too much.
Alex: No. You’re fine. One of the wonderful things about actually living on a boat is you are much closer to the weather. You’re much closer to the water you use, the energy you use, the weather around you, the nature around you. And you either accept it or you don’t. So actually, when the storm comes in, you go, right, it’s going to be a fun night. And that’s okay.
Manda: Yeah, we’re going to ride the storm. Yeah. Which is just very exciting. Excellent. Thank you. Okay, so we will put a link to Accept and Provide in the show notes so that people know who they are, because they sound good people and they are supporters of the movement. Tell us about the Humanity Project movement, what it is, how you became involved in it, how and why and where it’s going. Over to you.
Alex: I mean, the Humanity Project is essentially about building bottom up democracy. It’s about sort of looking at the state of our politics and systems, saying they’re not good enough, they’re not working for ordinary people. They’re broken. They need replacement. And obviously, you have a whole spectrum of sort of political reform and revolution from people who just want to see proportional representation as a first step to something. There are people like the Sortition Foundation campaigning for a house of citizens to replace the House of Lords. And then you’ve got people working in local communities, you know, from the bottom up, real sort of local work in terms of having community conversations or things called assemblies, where people can come together to debate what’s important to them. And the Humanity Project came out of the next phase of the environmental climate movement. So it was very much brought together by people such as, very importantly, Roger Hallam, founder of XR, and Just Stop Oil. Also, Claire Farrell one of the co-founders of XR.
Alex: I was there because actually I was one of the co-founders of Animal Rebellion back in 2019. So I’ve been involved in the movement from the animal agriculture side. But also in the room in that first meeting, which was the 1st of September 2022, also in offices of friends of ours, friends of the movement, people who were like, we really want to support you from the angles that we’re coming from. There was Lee Jasper, who’s the first black deputy mayor of London who works in the Black and Asian communities, and people from the Cost of Living Alliance and their communities, to think about the people with the mandate from their communities who are speaking to the needs to build alliances and move further and do work together, to essentially look at how we can replace the political system that we’ve got with something that’s going to be an awful lot better. So that’s sort of where it came from and what its sort of mandate or ambition is.
Manda: Okay. Thank you. And even that as a starting point is huge, because it does seem to me that still, in the business as usual outer mainstream world, they still maintain that we live in a democracy, when quite clearly we don’t. They maintain that it’s working, that if people have been elected who are so obviously unfit to have any hand in any kind of governance, and the procedures for electing them are basically, can you get enough money behind you and can you kiss enough babies and are you able to lie through your teeth? I am just beginning to read Rory Stewart’s book on his experience in Parliament, and he quite clearly hated it. It was destroying his soul. And I don’t hold a particular light for his politics, but he’s at least, you know, an observable human being. And otherwise we just have created a system for electing psychopaths who are then going to do what they can to enrich themselves and destroy everything else. You’ve spoken a little bit about how you gathered this coalition, so people who were already in the movement. Just on a logistical level, how did you get to know each other? Do you have big WhatsApp groups or did you did you sit in a circle around a fire somewhere or gather on a boat? How did you get to know these people and bring them all under one umbrella?
Alex: Yeah, I’m hoping some of the people that I’m going to be talking about, will be okay with the fact of how honest I’m going to be here now about the story. Because actually, what we’ve come to recognise and what we all recognised anyway, is actually taking taking time to build relationships takes whatever time it takes, do you know what I mean?
Manda: Change moves at the speed of trust was one of the foundational theories.
Alex: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, absolutely. And trust comes towards you very slowly, creeps towards you, and it runs away at a gallop. So you have to build that trust really slowly. So from those first meetings, what happened was like a narrative and framing and creative group went away and did some work and had 5 or 6 meetings where we just met and talked. And so that was people like Claire Farrell, the theologian Carmody Grey, some people who were involved in Occupy, a guy called Jamie Kelsey who was one of the Occupy movement co-founders. Charlie Waterhouse, who did a lot of the design and narrative and framing for Extinction Rebellion, and myself. And I’m a creative writer. So we went away and had lots of conversations to do that, and sat in a room together physically and came to know each other and came up with that. But what also happened, and I do hope, I’m sure he’ll forgive me for saying this, that Roger Hallam, co-founder of XR, founder of JSO and Insulate Britain, he moves at quite a fast pace. And what happened very soon after he convened this meeting was that actually he got sent to prison for four months. He got held on remand for simply giving a talk and being set up by a Daily Express journalist, about sort of the need for this kind of revolution of spirit, of democracy, of love, of communion.
Manda: Hang on, The Express deliberately framed him? Were they trying to get him?
Alex: Oh Yeah, it was a sting. It was a sting. They worked with the police to say, look, we’re going to go and film this and get it in the paper etc.. and they put him in remand for four months while they were going to figure out what to do.
Manda: On what basis?
Alex: On the basis of conspiracy to cause public nuisance.
Manda: Dear Lord.
Alex: Exactly. I mean, this is the kind of state that we’re living in, which is which is evidence enough for most people that we need a different kind of political system. I mean, we have political prisoners in this. I know we’re, sorry, going off on a tangent already, but…
Manda: No,no! Let’s go. Because I genuinely, I mean, the express is not on my radar and I hadn’t realised that this was a thing. So this was back in September ’22?
Alex: October ’22. Yeah. But I mean, we have political prisoners in this country, you know, Morgan and Marcus who were JSO activists who essentially shut down a road for 45 minutes by climbing up on the gantries of the M25 at the Dartford Tunnel; sent to prison for two years. You know, they are political prisoners because what they’re trying to do is raise awareness of the fact that our political system is not making the decisions it needs to make on the crises that we’re facing. But anyway, getting back to your question. Roger, I love him, bless him. He works at a very fast pace. But because he was in remand for a few months, the rest of us bumbled along trying to build relationships and bring that alliance together. And actually, that’s what we did. So Claire Farrell and myself, we convened a group of people, including democracy experts, other activists, Lee Jasper who I’ve mentioned before and we essentially spent about 4 or 5 months getting to know each other.
Manda: Tell me a little bit more about democracy experts, because we’ve spoken in the past to Neal Lawson of Compass and his ideas that PR is the very thin end of a wedge that creates change, and he’s working within the system as it exists. And in my reading around this, there seem to be two classes of people. There are people who think the existing system can be reformed and I have to say I’m deeply sceptical of that. But let them have a try, it’s the system we’ve got. And there are the ones who are imagining alternative systems. I am assuming you’re going for the second lot. How did you find them? And can you tell us a little bit about the nature of the conversation around that? How radical are we being? How much are we saying, just get rid of the existing system and start afresh? And how much are we saying we could take the existing system and we could reconfigure it in a way that might actually work?
Alex: Yeah. I think we’ve definitely got to a point where it’s a both and conversation. So we absolutely need to work with organisations like Operation Black Vote, who are trying to re-enfranchise a million black people to get onto the electoral register in terms of voting in this election. And we also need to hold in our hands, in our minds, the view of a new political system.
Manda: So we’re already at another fork. So definitely I want to look at the second point, but let’s have a look at re-enfranchising the black vote. Because the existing government has admitted. Jacob Rees-Mogg said they were trying to commit voter suppression and they might succeed. It seems to me a huge number of people are now not allowed to vote because you have to turn up with your ID. And it may be that they manage to disenfranchise a lot of elderly people who would otherwise vote Tory, which would be a bit of an own goal. But what they’re trying to do is stop anyone who’s not old and white from voting. How are you managing? How well are the groups that are trying to re-enfranchise black people obviously, presumably there are people trying to re-enfranchise young people, everybody that’s being excluded. In what way are they working and how is it succeeding?
Alex: Honestly, that isn’t central to the Humanity Project team.
Manda: Okay, fine.
Alex: So what you’ve got there is Lee Jasper, who was one of the core members of the Humanity Project group, is also embedded with Operation Black Vote, so it’s not something that actually I know a huge amount about.
Manda: I’ll inquire elsewhere. Let’s go then. You were saying it’s a both-and. We’ve got the people trying to make the existing system work. And then let’s look at what else you were looking at.
Alex: So we have worked with people who are not core members, not core team members of the Humanity Project itself, but there are some incredibly wonderful people that we’ve built relationships with. Again, people like Claire Melia and Rich Wilson of the organisation Is Way, and they were both involved as co-founders and co organisers of the Global Assembly, which was a snapshot of the human family that was launched and run alongside Cop 26. To have that proper snapshot demographically representative of humanity feeding into that process. And we’ve also worked with someone called Professor Graham Smith, who’s I think from Westminster University, who’s written a lot of books around this subject matter. And they are very much at the point, you know, I wouldn’t want to speak for them, but paraphrase. But what they’ve shared with us and do share publicly is this sense of the the co-option of these processes of bringing people together, by the current elite powers. Because they recognise it’s a threat and so if they don’t co-opt it, they’re going to be threatened by it and they may lose their power. We’ve recognised that we therefore need to work differently with other people, other communities. The democracy organisations, probably I think are recognising now that they need to work with people who can build movements.
Alex: So Rich Wilson actually wrote an article that came out just before the Democracy Network event in London earlier in January, saying, how do we build a mass movement for democratic change? And actually that democratic change isn’t just about the reform. Revolution is a scary word for a lot of people, to be honest. It’s quite a scary word for me in terms of being a person who is involved in framing and communicating and writing that to a more wide stream audience, who might get very turned off by that. Essentially what we’re trying to do is a transformation of the political system, that works for ordinary people. And the democracy people we’ve been working with recognise that, and I don’t think they all do. I don’t think everyone does. You know, a lot of people do think we can change the system from the inside. We can we can reform it, proportional representation, all of these things. But what we’re looking at is that’s not how the world has been working for the last 300 years. What we really have to overturn is a system that’s probably been working for 10,000 years around patriarchy and autarky. Yeah.
Manda: Okay. Let’s go for the narratives of transformation, because you’re right. Rebellion…any of the words around that feel to me, inherently violent. And I am absolutely, deeply of the opinion that we have to work peacefully because violence just takes us in another loop around the existing system. Whoever comes out on top of a violent interaction is not necessarily the people that you want to be transforming a world that is currently in poly crisis. They’re unlikely to have the vision and the scope to create the generative Conscious Evolution that we need to move forward. So that would be my baseline, and I’m guessing potentially that it would be your baseline. But if not, please say so. So how are you as a writer? I’m really interested in the concept of you as a creative writer. I’ve just finished, I’m in the proofs of a book that’s coming out in May where we’re exactly looking at how do we build a mass movement? And I have an idea in the book, a particular event sparks it, and and it becomes a global movement because we have the capacity now to create global movements overnight almost. If we can create a sense of engagement and possibility and direction, then we can spread that around the world very, very fast. It’s creating the sense of engagement and direction is the issue. So talk me through transformation and how the narrative of transformation works in your world.
Alex: Yeah. So two clarifying things for the conversation. Certainly I agree and everyone I work with would agree with you, that actually violence cannot and is not a way to transform. All of the movements I’ve worked in and all of the people I work with are stringently non-violent, and we practice non-violence. But non-violence isn’t passivity. Non-violence can be a very assertive, powerful means of change, and that’s very much embedded in the humanity project. In the way that it was embedded in Extinction Rebellion and Animal rebellion still is. So we are certainly coming from that point of view of non-violence. And actually, my favourite non-violent quote isn’t Martin Luther King or Gandhi, it’s John Lennon who said, you know, the only thing the enemy can’t deal with are humour and non-violence. Everything else they know how to deal with but that they don’t. Which is actually part of the reason why the novel that I’ve just finished, that’s hopefully going into publication soon, is a comedy. It’s British climate psychedelic fiction written in a very comic way.
Manda: When’s it coming out Alex?
Alex: I don’t know, I’m waiting for a publisher to come back and talk about that.
Manda: Yes. Right. Okay. Well, when it does, you’re back on here and we’re talking about your novel. For sure.
Alex: So that’s the first clarification. The second clarification I think is, just going back to the humanity project is that one of the methods that is absolutely at the heart of it in terms of transformation, is that it’s culturally led. It’s a political project, but it’s culturally led. Because unless we speak to and inform and get essentially the majority of the people in this country to look at what we’re doing and go, ‘oh, yeah, that’s safe and it’s reliable and it’s better than what we’ve got’, then they won’t vote for it. They won’t support it. So it has to be a conversation that they’re going to have down the pub. It’s got to be something that their sport stars get behind. You know, their sport heroes. And it’s got to be something that we can communicate through TV and comedy and radio. So as part of the transformation narrative, it’s not just the language, but it’s got to be also the form. And that format is across popular culture. So that’s part of why the cultural wave is launching itself at an event at Manchester Aviva Studios on the 22nd of February, called Hard Art Presents The Fête of Britain. Because it is like the fate is in our hands, but we’re trying to communicate that language through art and film and culture and music and comedy and just getting together for a conversation and a chat. So that is a large part of it. And so just to come back to the third question about sort of language of revolution or transformation, myself as a creative writer and using those skills not only to write novels or books, but also to do public engagement work, as you do with this podcast, for example. My work and the work that I’ve been doing with other people in this movement has been about what are the big frames of language that people can sort of really identify with to understand that we need to do things differently.
Alex: So we have these big themes of care and freedom to replace production and consumption. And that’s the work that comes from David Graeber, very much informed by David Graeber’s thinking. And we really have translated that into this overarching frame for us, about the work that we need to do and a re-evaluation of what it means to work and why you work. You work for the love of your community. You work for your family. You work for nature. You do this other stuff that isn’t about production and consumption. It’s about community building and and love making, really. In a sort of non non-sexual way, in a creative way and an eros way. You know, the true meaning of Eros. Getting back to those ideas of how we love one another and how therefore we work for one another to create community. That’s really at the heart of what we’re trying to do, communiacte.
Manda: Yes, and get off our dopamine addictions and back into our serotonin mesh. That throughout 300,000 years of human evolution has been the glue that bound us together. And then we abandon it because Twitter gives us another little microliter of dopamine. Nate Hagens talks about our current culture converting millions of barrels of oil into microliters of dopamine per day. And that’s what it’s doing. And it’s this is not useful. This is what’s destroying us. So. In this narrative of transformation and taking David Graeber’s concepts of care and freedom; first of all, I would like a link to the event that’s happening in Manchester because we need to tell everybody about that. What does it look like in an ideal world? If the events at Manchester were to spark a mass movement, I accept that’s asking a lot. Where do we go from there? What’s the practical logistics of this?
Alex: The event in Manchester is very much led by this group called Hard Art that has formed around sort of a group of artists, musicians, faith leaders, activists, economists, etc., who’ve been meeting, again and building the relationships for over 15 months, to get to the point where actually we’re we’re glued together in the serotonin mesh, as you talk about it. To stand together and have each other’s backs, to put our heads above the parapet and say, as artists, as musicians, as writers, as comedians, we’re here for this. So that’s really, really important. But if it’s just a four day festival and it goes nowhere, then there’s no point. It has to be linked into something, it has to be a stepping stone. If when we look back in seven years time and go, oh my goodness, we’ve actually changed our 300 year old political system and now we have a constitution based on citizens assemblies and people power. You know, people not politicians. Then Manchester would have been one of the stepping stones towards it.
Alex: But what it steps towards and what it should be already enmeshed with and integrated with, is the movement and the wave of people coming together through assembly at the local level. But that is always, always meshed into a national conversation. Because for me, and I’m sure you know the great Silent Spring from Rachel Carson in the 1960s. But one of the things I did as an academic before I quit to do more of this movement work, was study the most effective templates of literary writing, of books that gave us the template for what we need to do and what Rachel Carson does in this book. And what we’re trying to do in this work, is bring together all of the private concerns and worries and conversations into a national public chorus for change. That’s the model. But you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have the national event without the local assembly. People assembling and voicing their their their concerns and worries and fears and hopes together. So that’s the model.
Manda: Brilliant. And it’s a beautiful and inspiring model. How do we convene these local assemblies? Let’s suppose we’re looking back from seven years hence. And we’ve got them. And we don’t know the exact timescale through which they will arise. And obviously I hear you, they’re arising from local level, but there is presumably a degree of conceptual structure, even a local assembly as a conceptual structure. And in the work that I’ve looked at with Eva Schoenfeld and Justin Kendrick, they distinguish between people’s assemblies, which are self-selected, and citizens assemblies which are more randomly selected. And I’ve had a very interesting discussion with Grace Rahmani, who will be coming back on soon, I hope, as to whether it’s wise to select citizens assemblies on a pro-rata basis of this percentage women, this percentage people of colour. Because if you do that, you end up with individuals who feel they are representing a particular slice of society, and that they have to speak for that slice, and they’re not just speaking in an emergent way in the room from what moves them. I was thinking, remembering my childhood and quite sectarian in retrospect, little village in Scotland and you could throw a few stones and you would have got straight white orangemen, really. And I wouldn’t want them speaking for me. I would have wanted a representative sample that let some women in and people who weren’t sectarian. That would have been good. And what is the thinking at the moment of finding people who are willing and able to engage in this process and are going to bring the most generative potential to it?
Alex: You know, it’s fascinating because actually someone like myself, who’s actually come new to this and has learnt an awful lot from great people in the last 15 months, you know, we’ve had these kinds of conversations as well. And people within the citizen assembly space particularly, and the citizens assembly, is that very specifically representative model. So if you’ve got 100 people representing the UK, it would be demographically representative. It would be 35% working class, it would be 51% women. It would be all of those things. And that is, just for your listeners who may not know, the People’s Assembly is self-selecting. Hey, there’s a group right now in Hull called a Cooperation Hull.
Manda: We’re going to be speaking to them very soon.
Alex: Oh, brilliant. Yeah. Because they’re wonderful people. A lot of them come out of the climate movement, really courageous people, and they’ve gone there to set up this place and this work in Hull and they’ve done it postcode by postcode, which is holding a people’s assembly in each of the postcodes. And it’s like they’ve gone out on the streets, they’ve done door knocking, but the people who turn up will be self-selecting. That’s okay, because it’s the people who want to come along and have a say.
Manda: They’re likely to stay because they chose to be there.
Alex: And they’re likely to do it again, Yeah. And a citizen’s assembly is the representative thing where it’s democratic lottery, sortition, you know, it’s done by chance to dissolve corruption. But I think the important thing to say is that both of those systems, and particularly those two systems working together, are a hell of a lot better than what we’ve got now. Even if they’re not perfect, they’re a hell of a lot better. And what the job is, I think, over the next seven years, is to work out really good constitutional work around how you make the system as good as it can be. Because no system will be perfect. Because, as you said, there are are criticisms from all angles about the current model of a citizen’s assembly, while there are so many wonderful things about it as well. And one of those criticisms, as you said, is like that person might be representing their slice rather than what they say emergently or organically. And also, and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, but Lee Jasper from the black community has looked at it and has rewritten a proposal for how it might work better for black people.
Alex: Because to be honest, if you put 15 black people in a room of 100 people, the white people will still probably dominate because of all of the centuries of privilege and expectation and rights. So when you speak to someone like Graham Smith from Westminster, he’s like, oh yeah, well, you can have maybe a supermajority of black people to make it representative for what actually they need. Or you can have separate black assemblies feeding into an overall assembly. And those black people from those assemblies can come as representatives and witnesses and experts to speak to the representative sortition based assembly. So there is all of this work going on and thinking going on as these issues break out of the Democratic space, you know the democratic academic space and the space where it’s happened, into more everyday areas of life. So as people like Lee, who has a mandate from the black community because he’s been in it, working for it for 50 years, then he has a right to say it doesn’t really work for us as it is like that, but this is how it could work better for everyone.
Manda: Yes, and that’s the point, I think. And provided everybody comes in good faith and our intention is that it works better for everyone human and more than human, then we will accept that we’re going to make mistakes along the way. And exactly as you said, anything that we do along these lines within this container is better than the system we have just now, where the straight white blokes who were trained at Eton and did PPE at Oxford, get to envision their crazy world and impose it on the rest of us. So it can’t do any worse. How do you envision the distributed democracy of multiple citizens assemblies or people’s assemblies or whatever kind of assemblies we end up curating, Leading towards national governance? Or do you not see them leading towards national governance?
Alex: I mean, some do, some don’t. So one of the people that we’ve certainly had a lot of conversations with and has been a great adviser, has been Peter Mcfadgen down in Frome, who wrote Flatpack Democracy. And again, I’m sure this is in the public domain, Peter said to us, you know, he doesn’t see it leading to national governments. It’s a separate, parallel system of power that will be around when the old one fades away. I personally, having come to this, and again I’m not a democracy expert and actually there’s great people I’ve learnt from, so in terms of citizens assemblies, there are people who are advocating for ways that would probably be able to answer some of these criticisms much better than I can, because they’ve been involved for much longer. People like Jamie Kelsey, who was involved in the Global Assembly, the Occupy movement. Who was in that room when we talked about the original sort of like narrative and framing. But I personally and The Humanity Project do see it leading to national governance. And to say that out loud is quite a risk, I think. Because when the political elites hear, oh, there’s people who are trying to take away our power, if they don’t think we’re very serious, they’ll laugh us off and won’t pay attention.
Alex: But the minute they think we’re serious, we’re in trouble. You know, they will come for us. And that’s what they’re probably thinking about now. But we do think it’s going to lead to national governance. So for me, what we do is we build an alternative system that’s visible. You’re going to get a great communications plan around it. It is made up of ordinary people. It is probably based on a sortition, citizen assembly model, for the credibility and all of the goods that it comes with. Even if there are, you know, criticisms and critiques to work it and make it better. But then what you do over the next five years, the next election cycle, is that you have in the same way that the alternative Sage model looked at the Sage group in terms of Covid, and they went, well, actually, the government’s Sage group is saying this, but we think this and we’re building up their credibility to analyse it in a different way. You have an alternative house, house of the people, whatever you might call it, looking at what the new government after the general election does. And says well, that new government is limited by what they think is politically practicable, but we’re not.
Alex: We just want the best for our families. And this is actually what’s best for our families. And over the next five years, everyone looks at that and goes, oh yeah, that’s better, isn’t it? They’re not corrupt. They’re not on the take. They’re not trying to think about their second jobs. They’re not only thinking about what’s politically possible, they’re thinking about what we need, and they’re coming out with common sense answers. So you get to the next election and everyone goes, well, can we have that instead of this? And then all of a sudden you get people running as independents in the next general election in 2029, who will go this will be the last election that we ever stand in, because as soon as we get voted in, we’re going to dissolve this and replace it with this new, better thing that everyone’s seen work for the last five years. And that’s the really important thing. You’ve got to point to it and go, this is not a threat to your family. It’s not a threat to your lifestyle. It’s not a threat to your livelihood. It’s not a threat to everything you hold dear. It’s actually the better thing. And when people see that and feel unthreatened by it, they will go, oh, you know what? That is better. We can go for that.
Manda: I am sitting here cheering silently because this is exactly what I’ve written in the book that’s coming out in May. That forking of the government, like they did in Taiwan. You let the old government do its thing and meanwhile you show how your way of electing, I have a number of different rules for election. We let younger people have a vote than they currently have. I didn’t realise until I started doing the work for the book that in Scotland and Wales 16 and up can vote. UK elections 18 and up only. And there’s no upper limit. In the book I slam in an upper limit. I think you get to a certain age and I’m sorry you got us here, we don’t need your opinion. And you’re not going to be around. You know, my dad could have voted in Brexit and he died six weeks later. And we’re in the mess we’re in and a lot you know, the demographic churn is the demographic churn.
Alex: My family bless them, I love them very much, My auntie and uncle, my older family, you know, the means by which they absorb media narratives these days is only through TV and press, which are extremely right wing compared to the other ways that younger people consume messaging and communication. So David Runciman has obviously come out with quite a few good ideas, like you should get the amount of votes for the average age. So when you’re born, you get 84 votes, and when you’re 84, you get one vote. You know, and after 84 you don’t get a vote.
Manda: Oh does he say this? You see, I just made that up. I need to be reading this.
Alex: Yeah it’s brilliant. Or we could have six year old votes because actually, I know some of them have better cognitive abilities than an 89 year old. I don’t want to be ageist, but it’s like, who needs to decide for the future?
Manda: Who’s going to get the impact? Exactly. Who’s going to live through the results of the decisions that you make, because you read and absorb exactly the mainstream media, which is there to support business as usual. It exists to maintain the narrative that there is no alternative and that you are here to pay bills until you die and that’s what you’re for. We haven’t got a huge amount of time, because you’re going to be speaking to somebody much bigger than us in the national media quite soon. So let me have a think. Just for the book, I want to know where this goes to. But leaving that aside so that I’m not just publicly doing research for the book, how do you structure the links between citizens assemblies? So let’s assume Manchester then has lots and lots of smaller citizens assemblies, and they might be constructed to look at particular issues, or they might just be bring your local issues and tell us what really matters. I have a theory that you send delegates up, but you always have oversight and total recall capacity so that if the delegate who moves up to the next layer…So Manchester has 500 citizens assemblies, and then we create wards, of which there are five and 100 feed into five. And then there’s five feed into one for Manchester, who feeds into one for northern England, who feeds into one for England itself, who feeds into one, perhaps for the UK. But I’m assuming, actually, that Scotland and Wales get independence of governance quite fast under this system. At each level up, the people who elected this person as their speaker can deselect them and recall them because they’re not representing the views of the assembly and they can replace them. And in the end, you get a national governance structure that is there not to make decisions, but to find the best way of implementing the decisions that are being made at local level. Is that a thing? Or have you got a better way?
Alex: I mean, it is a thing. I know, like certainly in Zapatista Mexico, that the federated system was a large part of that. And actually when it when it stopped being federated, when they stopped representing the local decisions, then there had to be a readjustment of that. And I obviously know in Rojava as well, it’s very much a federated system as well. I don’t know the answer, actually. And I don’t think at the Humanity Project, we’ve got an answer for that yet, because actually, maybe it’s not for us to answer that question. Maybe it’s for us to sort of help facilitate all of the local groups having their voice. And the most important thing, I think is, at the moment the measure of success is the people who come along to an assembly. Do they want to do it again? And if they do want to do it again, that’s the success. Because actually what you’re building there is the community with the tools to make decisions for their agency over their local communities. And what we’re also obviously doing is building that saying, you know, we want to turn this into a public chorus for change, because that’s how you get heard. That’s where decisions are made that affect us as a nation or as a collection of nations and what will that look like? And actually, the first gathering might be a people’s assembly, not a citizen’s assembly, where it is federated from whoever’s done it and you build the community, and then that community comes together and works around sort of the ideas of what the Constitution might look like. So I don’t know if you know this, but a group of PhD students and academics, I think it’s at Yale, could be Harvard
Manda: Harvard. The Constitution for Mars.
Alex: Yeah. And you look at that and go, mm, that’s pretty good for our planet as well, isn’t it? So there’s all of this work going on out there of ways to do this, and I think we’re at the beginning of that. One of the things that I’ve really learned from working with, particularly Lee Jasper, is we’ve got to get rid of this need for certainty. That’s a very Western capitalist industrial methodology for objectifying everything and running businesses and business as usual. Let’s get away from that. We don’t know everything. It’s okay not to know everything. And in fact, it’s probably really important to admit that we don’t know it and then we can progress.
Manda: Okay. Yes. And Indy Johar as well, he talks about the edge of inter becoming, where you take yourself to the edge and you engage with whatever happens. Because the point is that we don’t know. You’re right. If we could predict it all, it’s going to be the same system. Yeah.
Alex: And as a novelist, you know, as creative people like you don’t really know. I mean, even if you’re a plotter rather than a pantser, you know, like that very common thing in the novel writing world of do you plot it all before or do you go by the seat of your pants? Even then, the third draft of plotting it is going to look massively different from the first draft that you wrote a year ago. So it’s really important that it is a creative and culturally led process that gets us to the point, because that is the more organic process. You know, political, business, like they all have their places. But if we’re going to do this properly and actually change culture in this country, we have to be led by cultural change.
Manda: Right. And actually, that feels a really beautiful place to end. If we’re going to change culture in this country, we have to go with cultural change and listen to it and explore it and see what actually matters to people, I love that. And it’s probably not a bad time to stop. Is there anything else that you feel we haven’t touched on that would be important and that you’d like to bring out at the moment?
Alex: Only that the event that’s happening in Manchester, 22nd to 25th of February, is a big festival of democracy. It’s an arts led, cultural led thing with loads of deliberation. So if anyone is around and this podcast goes out before then, brilliant. But also for the Humanity Project, what’s really important for the Humanity Project is for local people to get involved in running what we call pops, local assemblies, to work out what’s important to people in their community. So if anyone wants to get involved with that, you just go to Humanity Project UK and get involved and talk about what you want to do in your community.
Manda: Fantastic. And we will definitely put links in the show notes to the Manchester event, because this will go out in time and to the Humanity Project, and also to various of the other things that you’ve mentioned on the way through. Alex, this was so inspiring. I am so grateful to you and the groups, the multiple people for what you’re doing and for the hope that it brings. Because our politics is so broken. Everywhere in the Western world, politics is quite clearly broken. And if we can create, exactly as you said, this groundswell of change, this course from the ground up, it is the way that we might get through. So thank you. Thank you for coming here and thank you for what you’re doing. And when your book is coming out, I would like to talk to you again about your book for sure. Thank you.
Alex: That’s great Manda thank you. Thank you for your time and all the work you’re doing, and very much good luck with your book. And I’m very much looking forward to reading it.
Manda: Thank you. I’ll send you a copy.
Manda: Well, there we go. Wasn’t that inspiring? We have absolutely put links to the Humanity Project and The Fête of Britain. I hadn’t realised until I looked it up that that’s ‘fête’ not ‘fate’ of Britain, which is happening in Manchester 22nd to 24th of February. I’ve put links to those in the show notes. Anything else that I think is useful I will dig out and put there. And absolutely, if you have time in your life to create a Humanity Project pod in your local community, to begin to work with what local governence looks and feels like, to begin to play as well as you can with the ideas of how we can come together differently so that we don’t have to trudge through a world where everything else is telling us there is no alternative, or we can begin to build these alternatives in real time. Please do this. I get emails periodically from people who listen to the podcast and want to know, how can I make this happen in my world? What can I do to have agency? What can I do to make a difference? This. This you can do. The link to the Humanity project is there. Click on it. Go and read the stuff. Join in one of the calls and then see who you can bring together in a pod.
Manda: Anyone locally who listens to this, who could be interested. And if there’s nobody in your local geography, then make use of the fact that we can connect together. Find people that you can link with half a dozen where you can create a non-local, a coordi-nation citizens assembly. It doesn’t even have to be limited geographically to the islands of Britain. Spread it around the world. See what happens. This is the time for experimentation. This is the time for transformation. So go for it. And that apart, we will be back next week with another conversation.
Manda: In the meantime, huge thanks to Caro C for the music at the Head and Foot. To Alan Lowles of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts. To Faith Tilleray for the website and the tech and all the conversations that keep us going forward. And as always, to you for listening. And if you know of anybody else who thinks that our current political system is not quite working and wants to know how it could be different, and we could all make something that would work better, then please do send them this link. Okay people, that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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