Exploring New Ways of Living

By Tim Hardy

Activism without political education and ideological education is just “good works”. We mustn’t lose ourselves in good works. We should use the good works also as a way of advancing consciousness.

How many wake-up calls do we need before we stop waiting for our successive governments to do something and start doing something for ourselves?

In the UK, more and more people are getting involved in activism in horror at the assault on the welfare state being carried out by a privileged elite with no democratic mandate for radical change. What starts with a gut feeling of revulsion that the most vulnerable in society are being blamed for the consequences of the unpunished criminal negligence of the most rich, slowly grows into a broader consciousness that these are not isolated incidents but symptoms of a far more profound sickness in our politics. Suddenly the solutions being offered by the professional political class seem like different tints of the same colour from a very narrow section of the spectrum. As ideas re-emerge that were long considered to have been consigned to a historical footnote, such as anarchism as a viable political philosophy, so too do other ideas often lampooned as marginal or eccentric become more and more compelling.

Over the last year, Matt Anderson, Natalia Leite, David Black, Paul Park and Michael Gerner travelled 15,000 miles across the United States to witness a landscape and culture in crisis and to interview a number of activists and thinkers who are responding by creating innovative, sustainable methods of living. The footage is being used to make a documentary, Fall and Winter.

Among the many inspiring individuals interviewed are Michael Reynolds, creator of the Earthship, an off-grid, carbon-zero home built largely from natural and recycled materials found at local landfills. Earthships are self-sustaining structures that make maximum use of renewable resources — sun, wind, rain and snow — for heat, cooling, light, collecting and pumping water, treating sewage, even growing food in indoor greenhouses. They require little or no energy to construct and produce no greenhouse gases.

It remains to be seen how a culture obsessed with turning shelter into an investment opportunity that further entrenches the wealth of the richest will cope with the idea of sustainable homes for living rather than opportunities to do something up and flip it for a quick profit.

Another inspiring individual featured in the documentary is Detroit activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs, co-author of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, and a thinker who has spent a lifetime looking at ways in which we can rebuild our communities from the ground up. As other artists have noted, Detroit itself is a particularly eye-catching vision of post-industrial America and a promise of what is to come. Those living in parts of the UK destroyed by Thatcherism know only too well the despair that comes when a once thriving community is reduced to poverty following the destruction of local industry.

Nobody could doubt that we need stronger grass-roots organising in a world where our leaders seem only concerned in filling their own pockets and already vulnerable communities are being destroyed and left to struggle alone. Change is not going to come from those that profit from unsustainable lifestyles or who are comfortably insulated from the harm their policies are causing. The ideas are going to come from the margins and support for them needs to grow from the ground up since it will not come from a media that is too cosy with the rich.

From what I have seen of it, this film seems like a beautifully shot, well researched and much-needed project to share the solutions discovered by visionaries living on the edge of society and whose work as a result is insufficiently well known. I am often suspicious of the rhetorical strategies used by documentaries to advance arguments but I cannot deny that they are a powerful and necessary way of raising awareness. As our government embarks on a program of disaster capitalism where the financial and ecological destruction resulting from their own policies is used as an excuse to inflect even more of their toxic ideology on us, this film seems particularly timely.

The film crew hope that by sharing ways in which individuals are taking control of their own lives that their film will give hope and help grow a community around the world. At the moment, they are raising funds using kickstarter to complete a rough cut of the film: with only days to go, they are tantalisingly close to their goal.

If you can help, even by pledging just a dollar, please do so. If you cannot, then please just share the word so more can hear about this inspiring project to educate us all in alternative ways of living that lie outside the narrow solutions offered by contemporary parliamentary politics.

As the right-wing struggle to return us to levels of inequality not seen since the Victorian age and gladly forge alliances with dictators, arms dealers and remorseless corporations, we desperately need to explore new ways of living so that the language of capitalist realism can no longer be used to force us to accept the destruction of our communities and our planet in the name of profit.