Sunday, 1 March 2009

A space to build a movement?

Yesterday was a long day. I've been on the organising team for 6 Billion Ways and yesterday it happened - all 14 hours of it. But it was also a real success. We don't have a final figure for the number of people who came, but it was getting close to 2,000 over the course of the day. They came to hear a mix of international and UK speakers talk about everything from whether getting climate justice necessitates getting rid of capitalism, to whether overseas aid is a good thing or a bad thing.

One of the original inspirations for the event was 'McPlanet', which various campaigning NGOs hold in Germany every two years, but the feel was very much like that of a mini social forum. That was deliberate on the part of the organisers. While there is nothing new in campaigning NGOs working together on events, what set 6 Billion Ways apart was that it had at the centre of it an idea of building a movement. This was just one event, of course, but it aimed to contribute to something wider, instead of simply seeking to build either the brand of even the particular campaigns of the organisations that put it on.

It was also clear, from both the numbers that turned up and the things they were saying, that the event struck a chord with lots of people who are becoming deeply disillusioned with the global order. I'm sure very few would have failed to be inspired by the day which was very buzzy and featured a photo exhibition, radical bookstore area, campaign stalls, skills workshops, films and a party at the end.

The inclusion of speakers like Tariq Ramadan, and the involvement of City Circle (an organisation of progressive Muslim professionals) as one of the organisers, also meant the event drew a diverse crowd. At the final plenary, speaking last after Susan George, Tariq Ramadan, Bianca Jagger, Trevor Ngwane and Meena Raman, Mark Thomas quipped that he was glad to have been included on the panel as the token white male. He then went on to be as angry and impassioned as I've seen him and gave us a very fitting end to the day.

After worrying about whether people will turn up and all the logistical and programmatical headaches that come with a big event for the last few months, we're now left with a question. Surely we have a responsibility to do something with the enthusiasm we've created for the 6 Billion Ways idea - and if so, what?

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