Shared planet – some thoughts

Adam Ramsey of People and Planet invited Puffles (and myself) to the Shared Planet weekender – a weekend of discussion, debate and learning on how people (mainly students) can campaign to help make the world a better place. One of the reasons I like heading to gatherings of people is that the discussions that I inevitably get into ensure that I don’t find myself completely confined to the bubbles that I periodically find myself in – whether a social media bubble, a civil service/Whitehall bubble and the like.

Having a stinking cold really didn’t help with my participation – it actually killed off something I had planned. I was planning on doing some short digital video interviews with some participants to make a short film for my teacher training ‘micro-teach’ assessment coming up in a few weeks. For this assessment I have to run a 30 minute session introducing a subject area of my choice using a variety of different teaching methods and generally showing my competency in both choice and usage. I wanted to use a few of those minutes showing a series of ‘vox pop’ interviews with activists asking them why they had chosen to become politically active. (My theme is going to be introducing Whitehall and Parliament).

Unlike previous gatherings I had been to with big cuddly toy Puffles in tow, only a handful of the 200 or so people there had heard of Puffles. Who was this weirdo walking around this gathering with a big cuddly toy? That meant a huge dose of “I’m not fussed by what people think of my image” medicine throughout the day.

Actually, there was a more serious point to it. I’m still trying to find out where I fit/belong in this crazy world of ours. Given the economic upheaval going on I imagine that there are lots of other people thinking similar – especially those that have just lost their jobs and careers. I blogged about this in my post Treading the three-way tightrope. Heading to Shared Planet was no different to me heading down to the Occupied camp at St Pauls (where Puffles got locked out) or to when I popped my head round the occupation of Senate House by anti-fees protesters at Cambridge University. Ditto when I head down to the conferences and gatherings in London or elsewhere that are of a much more ‘establishment’ nature – such as the Hansard Society events. I’ve spent the past year – & in particular the past couple of months going to lots of events and gatherings with an open mind. In a nutshell, there to learn, debate and discuss.

The big learning point I took away was the realisation of the bubble that is social media – and in particular Twitter. Only a tiny proportion of the people at Shared Planet were tweeting, and I have no idea how many of the rest had their own Twitter accounts, let alone how often they used them. It was a bit like the Occupy St Paul’s camp – I wandered around the camp with a huge cuddly toy dragon fairy in tow and hardly anyone seemed to notice – certainly I didn’t spot anything on social media. This isn’t a “Nobody recognises Puffles so now I am going off to sulk!” moment – rather an acknowledgement that any social media campaign by any individual, organisation or institution will inevitably have a limited and/or biased reach – i.e. only to those who are users of that platform and who are linked into that network of interested parties.

Of the gathering itself, there were a number of excellent speakers – Robin Ince having the audience in stitches at the end. Robin Parker, Ben Bragwyn and Phoebe Cullingworth took a workshop through the challenges of where next for Transition Universities (especially at a time when there is a huge upheaval in how universities are funded) while Bruce Heagerty of the Centre for Alternative Technology gave us the facts in a brilliant presentation on Zero Carbon Britain. His analysis came from ‘leftfield’ – i.e. saying “Here is where the science tells us we need to get to, so let’s work backwards from there to where we are and see what we need to do.” Some stark conclusions in the fields of public transport, housing and agriculture to name but a few.

I guess the only shame about the gathering was that the workshops could not be repeated. The choice of 15 on the first afternoon followed by a couple of sets of 20 meant that not everyone could get to the workshops that they wanted to. For future gatherings a smaller matrix – or perhaps someone working the big multiple clothes line merging some of the sessions that were similar, may work.

The venue itself was grand and lovely – Oxford Town Hall – with more than enough breakout areas for us to use. I noted that some people had problems with wifi access, just as travelling to Oxford from Cambridge is not the most straight-forward of journeys. But these things are outside of the reasonable control of the organisers who I thought did a splendid job – in particular being able to significantly reduce the costs of accommodation for students with the ‘crashover’ setup. (How it actually worked…you’ll have to ask Jess Stanton because she had to stay up all night as a result). Knowing myself to be a particularly bad sleeper, I booked to stay in a small hotel nearby.

In terms of future events, one of the things Adam and friends may want to consider is using these gatherings to reach out to non-student groups, in particular ones in the locality that their events are being held in. For example, are there groups that are linked to Oxford Community and Voluntary Action who have members & supporters who would like to come along to future events? (They may already have developed those working relationships locally). This may also be something that other People and Planet groups may want to consider (if they are not already doing it anyway).

My point being is that the crises that we are all facing are ones that cut across generations, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, cultures and religions. This was something that was put brilliantly by the anti-tar sands campaigners Crystal Lameman-Cardinal and Chance McPherson. When your water is poisoned by heavy industry, it does not discriminate: it poisons the water for everyone. I’ve always found it strange that at a time when we are told that we need to consume fewer fossil fuels, we go ahead with things like tar sands and fracking – and on this occasion I don’t claim those links to be neutral. They are anti-tar sands and anti-fracking links, just so that you’re aware.

Finally it was lovely to meet some of the faces behind Twitter accounts – Adam Ramsay, Jess Stanton (pictured here with Puffles) and Louise Hazan in particular. For those who say social media can close off people to meeting others face to face, as Jon Worth said at the Hansard Society event on campaigning using social media, social media can be and is used by people to facilitate meeting others face to face – in particular those with similar views or interests.


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