Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Forum for Democratic Renewal

Regular readers will have noticed Landcare's monthly posting here taking a turn to the social side of Landcare. We continue that theme this month, but I'm determined by the end to get back to things green and lovely.

Several of us in Landcare have been supporting Rob Bakes, who lives out Kyneton way, put together the Forum for Democratic Renewal. His idea, and the project now of the band that has gathered around him, is to renew our democratic processes. It's pathetic of us to sit around and wait for someone else, particularly someone in authority, to lead the way. We the citizens need to get off our butts, work out what needs improving and start doing it. Here in the Macedon Ranges.

The relevance to Landcare is of course that the way Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the community environment sector (some 30+ community groups across the Shire) work together affects what we all achieve. The Shire's buy-in here reflects its commitment to generating lively democratic processes. Either we are collectively, a disjointed mish-mash of effort where important things that need attention fall through the cracks, or a sustained, negotiated alignment of collective effort around our sensing of what needs doing and the best way to do it.

My guess is that many of those in Landcare, Sustainability, Transition Town, Friends Of groups, and the food supply networks, would say our collaboration is dangerously close to the "mish-mash" end of that spectrum, despite our each doing many great things in our separate spheres.

Since my return from Montreal, (see "Striking up aConversation"), it's struck me that our notion of the public sphere is not of a shared social context that benefits all of us and that deserves to be cared for by all of us (the best of Montreal), but of an empty and open space within which we each "do our own thing". Our civic ideal is freedom from constraint. You do your thing and I'll do mine and we won't get in each other's way. That's the way we treat the public realm in Australia.

It's a pretty barren space, and it needs warming up. By the time this RR hits the streets, those with an interest will have gathered in Gisborne for the Forum there. We'll have completed one round of the towns of Macedon Ranges, and a collective statement as to what needs more attention within our public governance.

As to where to start improving things, we have these ideas from the Forum in Kyneton (photos above). Participatory budgeting, where citizens decide how the Shire's budget will be spent. Performance indicators that measure the extent of MRSC support for community aspirations. Participatory design of facilities like the possible Arts Hub in Woodend. The strengthening of discussion within our different local communities.

I'm particularly keen on the last one - local, regular, accessible discussion, about what people are doing for the public good, discussion too about contentious issues so we get to hear differing views and understand others even if we don’t agree with them.

Check Riddells Creek Landcare's blog "Nuts About Nature" for an update on these efforts, or google "Forum for Democratic Renewal Macedon Ranges". Join in!

That said and this month's column written, I've cleared the way to wake up tomorrow morning with a clear conscience and walk my favourite walk through Barrm Birrm. We're heading into Spring, and everything is beginning to wake up. I’m going to get out there and breath it in!

Ross Colliver