Subverting the system

Dave – the editor

We face a number threats to our goal of building the world we want to live in and our work as activists in trying to achieve that. There’s the Coronavirus Act 2020 which as we’ve seen, has been deployed by the authorities to shut down or severely restrict any protests and actions they deem to be ‘inconvenient’. Then there’s the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which was passed in Parliament on Tuesday March 16. This still has to go through a number of stages for scrutiny and revision before being enacted. In the long term, there’s the threat of ever more invasive technologies being deployed to control pretty much every aspect of our lives.

Let’s touch on these ever more invasive technologies. Some of them have been and will be brought in to ostensibly deal with the coronavirus. The ever growing threat of vaccine ‘passports’ is one of them. The move towards a cashless society which during the coronavirus has been accelerated by people’s fears of using physical cash is another. With the technology supporting a cashless society and the possibility of some kind of Universal Basic Income (UBI), all it would take is a flick of the metaphorical switch from the authorities who deem your conduct to be ‘unacceptable’ and you are well and truly stuffed.

In China with their social credit system, this kind of future is already here, as detailed in this piece from Wired: The complicated truth about China’s social credit system – Nicole Kobie | Wired | June 7, 2019

China’s social credit system has been compared to Black Mirror, Big Brother and every other dystopian future sci-fi writers can think up. The reality is more complicated — and in some ways, worse. The idea for social credit came about back in 2007, with projects announced by the government as an opt-in system in 2014. But there’s a difference between the official government system and private, corporate versions, though the latter’s scoring system that includes shopping habits and friendships is often conflated with the former.

Do you want to live in a high tech dystopia where every interaction you have is monitored, tracked and commodified? Where you have no real privacy? Where you feel obliged to self censor and conform for fear of losing social ‘credits’ and finding yourself shut out from the system and struggling to survive? We sure as heck don’t and will do whatever is necessary to resist such a future.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has just been passed in Parliament. After this has been through a further number of stages and is eventually brought into law, it will place further restrictions and constraints on what protesters can do. Bear in mind this is coming in on top of the restrictions that have already been imposed upon us by the Coronavirus Act 2020. Here’s a brief explainer: MPs vote through the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Government ministers openly admit that it was drawn up with Extinction Rebellion (XR) in mind. Sure, XR might have been allowed to be a bit disruptive in the past but the overwhelming vibe they give off is of well meaning fluffiness. Also, when you think about XR’s sometimes dubious track record in having previously co-operated with the police, it’s actually pretty bloody alarming that even they’re being targetted by this legislation.

Basically, this bill gives the cops even more carte blanche to crack down on protests and hassle activists. It also gives the courts more powers to impose harsher sentences. It will make street actions and protests even riskier. It will also make it tougher to occupy sites in order to protect them from the ravages of developers, road and rail construction.

Obviously, a fair few activists will do what they can to get around these restrictions, albeit knowing they will be taking more of a risk than ever before. However, it’s inevitable that a number of activists will, for various but understandable reasons, be deterred from going out on the streets or occupying a site. Being on the wrong side of 65 myself, I have to weigh up the risks of going on a major protest that could go pear shaped with the prospect of facing police violence and/or being arrested and having to spend hours sitting on a police commandeered bus while waiting to be processed at the nick. That has prompted me to start thinking about other ways of subverting/sabotaging the system and bringing about change.

If the government think that keeping us off the streets will eliminate any threat to a system that’s increasingly dysfunctional, they’re very much mistaken. A lot can be done in the here and now to start building the kind of world we want to bring about. The social, economic and political system we find ourselves having to endure relies on us mere plebs to carry on consuming and staying plugged into their communications networks in order for it to survive. There are ways of doing this where we can stay under the radar for the time being at least. These involve setting up our own solidarity networks and projects that meet our needs while starting to unplug ourselves from the system.

The consumer treadmill is one place where we can make a start. Rather than constantly upgrading, disposing and renewing, how about repairing and making instead? Do you really need to upgrade the smartphone? Given the growing possibility of digital vaccine passports and eventually digital ID, will you even want a smartphone that will keep you plugged into a system of increasingly ubiquitous surveillance? Would a so called ‘dumbphone’ or ‘burner’ phone be a better and safer option?

Rather than be a slave to the latest in computer technology, why not forget about the latest shiny iMac and opt for a second hand desktop or laptop where’s it’s possible to repair it yourself? Heck, why not get a typewriter and go back to analogue? If as an activist, you want security of communications, typed missives are a lot safer than hackable computers! There is a growing repair movement where people meet up, bring along the items and appliances they want fixed and are either shown how to repair them or matched with someone who has the skill and expertise to fix them. Not only does this extend the life of your items, it’s social and a way of forming a collective of like minded people.

Assessing your real needs and cutting down on unnecessary consumption is a way of undermining an economic system that’s dependent on you staying plugged in and buying. What can the government of the day do about it? At the moment, absolutely nothing!

Alongside of this, if the push towards a cashless society accelerates, those of us who refuse to have our every purchase and transaction monitored and tracked are going to have to consider alternatives to the current monetary system. One of those options is a Local Exchange Trading System (LETS). In a nutshell, it’s a way for a community to exchange goods and services outside of the conventional monetary system. This is a pretty good guide as to how they can be made to work: Local Exchange Trading System (LETS).

We’ve written about this before but it bears repeating – the more control you can gain over your food supply, the less reliant you are on the system. Previously, we’ve drawn attention to increased food self sufficiency offering protection against the consequences of the finely balanced ‘just in time’ food supply chain we have being disrupted. What’s equally, if not more important, is the independence it gives you from the government.

Through your own efforts, individually or much better collectively, you can start to provide more of you’re own food. Should a future government move towards a system of Universal Basic Income (UBI) that’s tied in with a social credit system in a cashless society, at the flick of a switch if they deem you haven’t been a model ‘citizen’, they can cut you off from the means to buy food. If you think that’s conspiracy theory, just take a step back and think about what has already been done to us over the last year, and what’s in the pipeline in the coming months and years, just to ‘contain the virus’. Frightening isn’t it?

This kind of food growing can range from a few window boxes on a balcony topped up with micro-greens indoors, through to re-thinking what you really want from a back garden and onto getting an allotment or even guerilla gardening. When you start to look closely at many neighbourhoods, the amount of land that could potentially be brought into cultivation is staggering. Obviously at this level, it’s something that would have to be done collectively.

As soon as we move away from plots we own or where we have permission to garden into guerilla gardening, we enter the territory where confrontation with the system becomes a possibility along with the risks that entails. Long time squatters will know about the risks involved in taking over and re-purposing empty buildings. That may well start to apply to guerilla gardeners should the authorities take note, understand what we’re trying to achieve and want to stymie our efforts at achieving a degree of independence from their system. At that point, how you resist any attempts to force you off the land you’re cultivating depends on who’s involved in the project and what level of risk they’re prepared to accept.

Longer term security can also be secured not just from growing your own food but also from saving and nurturing seeds for the following seasons. This is how a wider variety of crops can be ensured. This can be enhanced by collectively starting up a seed bank with like minded people. This is not just to save and conserve seeds but also to exchange expertise and to learn. These are a few thoughts about this we posted up on our sister blog, Alternative Estuary: Seed banks – gaining control…

Apart from the LETS which are collective endeavours, a lot of this could be done at an individual level. If enough individuals do what’s suggested above, sure, it would start to dent a consumption based economy and the tax base. It would satisfy some of the shallow life-stylers we’ve met at vegan fairs in the past. Would it be enough to challenge the system? No it wouldn’t. System change is what we’re about so we have to go beyond mere alterations to lifestyles to something a lot more substantial if we’re going to achieve this.

What would not just be a threat to the system but also offer the glimmer of what a new world could look like is if we organise collectively. Basically, we’re talking about putting the principles of mutual aid and solidarity into practice. Granted, this will not be easy after a few years when the divide and rule merchants have done their best to split our communities firstly over Brexit and now, over lockdowns, masking and vaccines.

Once you recognise that the government benefits from us being at each others throats over these issues, it’s easier to see the game that’s being played, take a few steps back from it and realise that we lose if we carry on this way. They want us atomised and fearful of each other because that way, we’re easier to control. Once we start to work collectively at the neighbourhood level to meet our needs, the government and the dysfunctional economic system it props up start to lose and we start to win. What’s not to like about that?

To conclude, we’re facing some massive obstacles and challenges to building the world we want and organising to achieve that. There’s no single way of resisting these and getting the result we want. All that can be said is that the more strands and options we have, the more chance there is of succeeding. It’s not for me to tell people what is and isn’t the right way to go about resisting what we face and fighting for change. It’s for each and every group of activists to work out what’s best for them, based on what skills and experience they can muster along with what level of risk they’re prepared to take.

As ever, all I’m doing with this piece is throwing out a few ideas in a bid to inspire people. If you’re involved in an initiative that’s achieving a degree of collective independence from the system and the government, we’d love to hear from you. The whole point about our Alternative Estuary project is to link these points of light and build a network of not just resistance but also of bringing about the world we want.

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