EDWISE  - EDITOR AND EDUCATION CONSULTANT
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Eye of the Optimist-Invisible Revolutions for a Better Way

I just watched a very cool English language documentary by  French film maker Philippe Borrel and published by ZED, Paris, which was aired on Deutsche Welle TV, the English language German global TV channel. (L'Urgence de Ralentir distributed by TV France Internationale/ Invisible Revolutions/Schluss mit schnell, 2014-52 minutes, which is also available on Youtube.) It appears that there are a few English language documentaries of the same English title. One is on Anti-Racist Action, and one by EuropaBio (2012) about developments in biotechnology and  National Geographic film on nanotechnology (2014). Another is on the life and work of Doug Engelbart ("a web documentary on Doug Engelbart, the man who invented much of the information environment we live in today - the computer mouse, word processing, email, hypertext and so on. In short: Interactive computing.") All these sound like interesting worthwhile views, which I'll try to watch later. Today I'd like to sketch this French one, for it sums up a lot of community initiatives and inventions that have been happening around the world over the past few decades or just in recent years and calculates that together they are gradually making significant changes that can carry enough influence and momentum to swell into a serious global challenge to monopoly capitalism.

IT goes faster and faster transferring more and more information, which governments cannot track, so that financial transactions fire back and forth by the hundreds per second, and mainly among those who are already rich. It's a numbers game and the aim of many players is to maintain the order, the status quo, far from changing or development human society.

I guess the word "invisible" is used for the title because there is not much fanfare and publicity about these positive developments, and because they begin as small scale local projects taking the best of local traditions and modern technology and honing it meet immediate local needs and suit local preferences and interests. I say many start out small, but many have grown into substantial non-profit enterprises employing and benefiting a lot of people and solving many problems. That is to say they have a high impact though no capital investment, promotions or large scale fundraising has been done to accomplish what they have accomplished, and generally go under-reported in the corporate media. The ones that have grown have accumulated a lot of local power to motorize social change from the grassroots up, and they educate followers to adopt a new way of life on principles including environmentalism, fair trade, self-reliance, cooperation, sharing, people first, anti-materialism, anti-profiteering, local socioeconomic development, discussion and peace. Though invisible in mainstream consciousness, they affect many people and have become bulwarks in their communities.

Take the Barefoot College that serves illiterate women from laboring poor communities in many poor countries to teach them engineering skills for local energy development (www.barefootcollege.org). It also teaches about sanitation and environmental conservation. Classified as a social work and research center and run by volunteers, it is based in India and many branches exist in several locations. Communities select and send qualifying individuals for up to six months of training. They learn circuitry design and assembly and more. Picture books and sign language are used, and a practice of learning by doing and consulting is followed. The Colleges themselves use solar panels and parabolic cooking to model ways of mastering and implementing energy at the local level with cheap and common materials, and minimize the institute's costs. The students share the daily chores, too.

Another project featured in this film is the Transitions Network (www.transitionsnetwork.org). It began in the UK in 2006 and has grown to over 1,000 "citizens' initiatives" in 43 countries. With branches connected to this global network in several countries, education about social change and how to do it the grassroots way is carried out through annual conferences, the website and local discussions. From an ecology perspective, the network shares success stories about inventing techniques for local production, maximizing the potential of local resources while conserving the environment, creating local culture and economies, and so on. It started by raising concerns about dependency on fossil fuels and the need to create balanced sustainable economies that serve the people, not profits. With an orientation of "reconomizing", its website promotes models for bakeries, food-growing groups, transition street projects, community-owned breweries and community-owned energy. Also, the website contains information on how to start, nurture and assess community groups. The Transitions Network invites people to join and start their own local projects, offering advice and citing examples.

This eye-opening film cites many kinds of projects and initiatives. The film begins by exposing how many local militant protests have stopped mega-projects and anti-social and anti-environment  large scale "development".It says that many towns have been using their own currency to encourage and assist local businesses. Organic farming and cuisines have taken root, changing habits here and there. Harvesting and use of local natural materials have been found. It talks about community-wide recycling and reusing energy reduced systems, such as in Bristol, UK. There are food cooperatives and credit unions going as far back as the 1960s in places such as New York City that have lasted and expanded to employ lots of people, create more community spirit, assist local businesses and solve problems like micro-loans and affordable healthy food. The film also underscored the successes of initiatives and policies in Latin America, such as those of Ecuador and Bolivia, where indigenous values and ways are governing the local development of technology and economic exchanges.

The film comes to the conclusion that the long term aim of these kinds of "small rebellions"  is living well through collective discussion and action, rather than accumulation and individual gain. We can slow down, consume and suffer less and enjoy life more. Furthermore, I note that the film insinuates that protesting is not enough; rather, self-reliant community action and negotiation can have a greater and more enduring beneficial impact on working people where they live and society as a whole. It is possible to change.



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