Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Visions for Change 2012

On Saturday 28th April, 23 different groups dedicated to working and campaigning for a better world converged on the Friends' Meeting House in Bath for the Visions for Change event, organised by Bath People's Assembly.

Since its beginnings, as an idea that originated in the Occupy Bath camp, Bath People's Assembly has taken on a life of its own and is now a clearly distinct "organisation" from the Occupy Movement, although inspired by the direct democracy popularised by the movement. Many former Occupiers still attend, but the twice-monthly meetings have attracted a much wider variety of people with more diverse opinions. Many people who regularly attend Bath People's Assembly are also involved with other groups, and it was apparent very early on that throughout Bath is a wide range of groups working or campaigning in some way for a better world. Visions for Change brought them all together.

Twenty-three groups attended the event and to set up stalls and to give talks. A well organised kitchen area was also set up with hot drinks and homemade cakes. Occupy Bath decided to take a different approach to the stall, with a child's play tent occupying half of our allocated space.

Occupy Bath at Visions for Change

Other groups in attendance included: Bath Stop the War Coalition, Greenpeace, Bath Against Cuts, Amnesty, Bath Animal Action, Friends of the Earth, Stop Hinkley, Transition Bath, South West Against Nuclear, Green Vision, Energy Efficient Widcombe, Friends of Longacre Hall, 38 Degrees and more.

Highlights of the talks in the cafe area included Occupy Bath (with the speaker dressed as a bank manager), an excellent talk on improving your home by Energy Efficient Widcombe, an impassioned talk by Transition Bath on a post-oil world, a well-rehearsed and enacted trio of young speakers from Green Vision and a scientist from the Stop Hinkley campaign on the dangers of nuclear waste.

The event was packed out with people wanting to learn more about these campaigns (unfortunately the noise of all the people talking to the stallholders drowned out some of the speakers and there was no microphone - but at least people turned up and hopefully learned something!).

After the public event, all of the groups took part in a structured networking session, with everyone divided into groups and finding common ground. Many found this incredibly useful and found many connections. At the end of the day, many of the groups expressed a desire to do this event again sometime, and for all of the group to keep in contact with each other. It was, by all means, a successful day.

Today (2nd May 2012), Bath and North East Somerset Council held the first "Bath City Conference". The concept was similar to Visions for Change, but with less campaigns and more of a flashy and corporate feel to the event, with prolonged speeches from the council about how they are going to listen to peoples' ideas. They asked people to fill out forms with their ideas for Bath, claiming that they wanted to generate 100 ideas. Although it remains to be seen if they will follow through on these ideas, it is good to see how the recent show of support for parcipitory democracy has influenced our local government. Several people I spoke to at the council event commented that Visions for Change had much more of an air of authenticity to it, with some arguing that it was good that council were doing this, while others were less impressed.

For me, the highlight of the conference was during a question and answer session. The very first question came from a member of Bath Stop the War Coalition, calling for forthcoming drones conference (military go free) at the Bath Assembly Rooms to be stopped. The councillors pleaded ignorance (despite letters having appeared in the Bath Chronicle every issue for weeks now) and swiftly moved on, but not before a round of applause for the questioner erupted in the room.

So, all in all, an exciting week in Bath, and hopefully Visions for Change will continue in some form beyond the one event. Visions for Change has already spread, with a similar event run in Norwich yesterday.

(As always, all opinions above are my own etc.)

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