Consensus for Change Workshop

(Note: The Consensus Decision Making Workshop was cancelled due to COVID complications. It’s still worth learning about so I'm keeping the post!)

Hi folks! I recently posted this two part project: Telas of Paoyhan x Consensus for Change.

Well, hm. Supporting an indigenous community in the Amazon…and learning about Consensus Decision Making, a collaborative governance model. What does one of these things have to do with the other?

The Amazon on Fire. Photo: News9

Were you watching in horror as half the Amazon burned down this August, wondering: how could anyone light a forest on fire on purpose? And why isn’t someone stopping it?

Slash and burn agriculture has been practiced sustainably since Neolithic times, but in the Amazon today the scale of industrial land needs and massive population increase prevent the rainforest from regenerating after fire. Climate change has intensified the drought season, and national leaders are pushing for expanded natural resource exploitation like psychopaths with a death wish. Despite many preservation initiatives, this is more or less the case in all countries across the Amazon region.

Jair Bolsonaro - a racist, misogynist, militant megalomaniac - was democratically elected in Brazil on a platform of ending government corruption and “creating economic opportunity”. This meant removing state protections for environment and indigenous lands so industry could operate freely. Brazil has for years had an increasing crime rate and decreasing economic health. Much of the population lives in poverty. People were tired of their government doing nothing while stuffing their pockets, so a majority voted for the guy who appeared to offer an explanation and promised to help. Education degraded by years of government defunding has damaged people’s ability to think critically about what’s really causing their collective distress. Scapegoating a cultural group (the Indigenous) allowed Bolsonaro to rally scared, angry voters around a “they” who are keeping “us” from our deserved wealth, which continues to excuse all manner of abuses against them and the ecosystem they (and we all) depend on.

People had their thoughts on what to do about the fires. Donating to organizations on the ground: yes, it’s a start. Reducing carbon emissions: necessary, but far from the whole story. Boycotting rainforest beef: definitely we should, but also missing the point. Not buying jungle beef or ethanol or endangered hardwoods doesn’t fix the fact that people need paying jobs to survive. If it’s not beef it’ll be something else, until sustainable solutions for basic needs are provided for. In this, the current system is failing miserably. It’s much better at keeping people poor, afraid, and easily manipulated so the rich can get richer, than it is at adapting to support people and planet.

This story echoes through the human experience, past to present. Trump’s USA, to note, is a clear mirror.

We become increasingly more vulnerable as the environment collapses, stuck with antagonistic governments insisting that MORE destruction is the answer. We feel we have few options. How many of us have worked morally suspicious jobs that we’ve justified in some way, shrugged and said “what else can I do?” or told ourselves “it’s not forever” because rent isn’t going to pay itself? Probably everyone. Some never even have the space to question. This is what’s happening in Brazil, and across the world, too: long-term concerns about how mining and ranching affect the environment naturally take a backseat to being able to feed your kids this week.

Extinction Rebellion Demonstration in London. Photo: Times UK

Once upon a time, at the dawn of this decade, I was a student at a small grad school offering a cluster of international conflict and development-related masters degrees. That year was the Arab Spring, and the mood on campus was celebratory. Revolution! Dictators deposed, democracy on the way, who could have thought it could happen there? I remember feeling a sense of unease and asking around: “So, what now? What’s the plan, to build something better?” No one wanted to talk about it, and I felt like a total buzzkill for even bringing it up.

Countries that had stronger civil institutions and an educated middle class with ideas for change and power to influence negotiations fared better than others. Some democratic reforms were enacted, or at least outright war was avoided for the time being. As for Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, we’re all still fielding the consequences of revolution that these countries were unprepared for. Violence has exploded across the already troubled region in the years since. There’s been a crackdown on civil liberties, radicalization across ideologies and a political shift towards conservatism everywhere. A refugee crisis has destabilized the world. A combination of economic panic and sub-surface racism has birthed a litter of global neo-Hitlers.

When no one has a plan, things get worse.

Human desperation is at the root of it all, so let’s consider some basics: food, water, shelter, (clean) energy. For that, we’ve got regenerative agriculture. Urban and/or forest gardening. Rainwater collection. Sustainable, affordable, natural building. Solar power, wind power, electric cars. And so much more! Lots of people have been working on this stuff for lots of years, not to mention the world’s indigenous and traditional cultures whose surviving knowledge offers time tested answers.

Progress in creating a sustainable world has been slower than it could be. Why? Here’s one reason: our politicians consistently make decisions that block the widespread adoption of solutions that already exist, both out of ignorance and because industry with interests in keeping things the same demands it, and they write the checks.

What would it be like if every person had real power to influence the decisions that affect them? If people could collaborate to make policy that would ensure everyone’s access to food, water, shelter, medicine and all else we can’t live without? Would the Arab Spring need have happened at all? Would Bolsonaro, Trump, Erdoğan, Johnson or any of them ever have risen from the muck? Would companies be allowed to trash the Amazon and blanket the planet in poison? Would fast food and supermarket chains be permitted to sell rainforest beef and other products gleaned through mass destruction of our collective home? Would we have created a world where we’re all pitted against one another in constant survival mode?

The sociopolitical structures keeping us locked in consumption and competition emanate from the Western World, designed by and for people who view most of Earth’s beings as either an exploitable resource or an annoyance to be mowed down at will. The good news is, human-made structures can be modified, torn down and rebuilt. In that, governance in which people have the agency to make decisions that value all life on Earth and allow us to thrive as a global community cannot be neglected.

Consensus Decision Making is one tool among many that opens a gateway to this reality.

Real change is usually slow and takes long-term commitment. It’s right to be inspired by the events of the moment: school strikes, Extinction Rebellion, kicked off by none other than a 16 year old girl. Amazing. Who could have thought it could happen here? But as the saying goes: the real work begins after the ceremony ends, and this is only the beginning. After the protests, when ground is hopefully gained to create something new, what happens next? And what do we need to know to make that vision real?

Yeah, I liked Greta’s speech too. But instead of “How Dare You?”, imagine the day when we can all say: “You’re fired. And, you’ve already been replaced.”

Viva la revolución, come on out to this workshop and pick up a hammer and nails to build the future with. $100 USD secures your spot, plus you get a sweet jungle tapestry and the chance to help some people who need it now. What’s not to like?

Advance orders of telas are still very helpful! And possible until November 9.

Consensus Decision Making Process Graphic. Source