When I worked with Sue Bradford and the Auckland Unemployed Workers’ Rights Movement in the in 1990s on a play which told the story of the Rogernomics era from the point of view of the unemployed, we called the piece, Telling the Other Story. The concept of telling alternative narratives has become, since then, increasingly potent.
As the COP25 climate conference threatens to become bogged down at the official level, important stories are emerging: the corporate takeover via sponsorship, the farce of the carbon market, the holding onto power by the north (including Australia), the refusal to consider climate justice at the economic level thus condemning developing countries to becoming survival economies, the anger and creativity of the young climate activists and the prescient voice of Greta Thunberg and the growing centrality of the indigenous voice. Revolutionary change hovers.
Within this is the yet-to-be-forged narrative of a just transition. Here on the Coast it is beginning to happen and it feels vital in order to avoid the urban-regional political split characteristic of the US. Faced with two fundamentalist viewpoints: the extractivist who wants business as usual and the conservationist wanting to preserve at all cost, it is necessary to historicise both viewpoints; to explode the myth of a golden extractivist age on the one hand, but also to introduce the historical trajectory of the conservation come environmental come environmental justice movements on the other. To these have to be added iwi history and process. From this the narrative of a just transition begins to be spoken, then written. Unsurprisingly, the iwi story, focusing on sustainable use of the earth for purposes of survival, begins to be central.
There has been considerable debate via opinion columns in the local newspaper, pieces which have challenged populist tendencies, critiqued generalist government policies, taken a closer look at market ‘planning’ and finding it obtuse and clumsy, identifying some remaining colonialist structures, unpacked the social construct of ‘wilderness’ by separating the strands of biodiversity, recreation and the aesthetic so that arguments are not conflated, questioned the power and influence of national, urban-based lobby groups and unpacked the class element of tourism. It’s not an easy process, with inevitable falling outs.
Above all, from these narratives, there comes to be a new questioning of capitalism, whether the problems we’re facing either globally or locally, can be solved within free market structures. There is an interesting movement in Europe calling itself the people2people movement, which rejects both the market and the state as frameworks.
The problem in forging this new narrative is the constraint of time, for it has to be written within a couple of decades. Meanwhile, yesterday, I was a member of a community choir singing Christmas carols at the dementia unit. It was both touching and curiously resonant.