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King's College London

150 Stamford St



United Kingdom

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Creating Bottom up Political Participation

9-10th April 2016

This conference brings together academics, political activists and community organisers to contribute to the working out of a question central to the current political climate: ‘how can we create progressive and effective political participation?’ From citizen engagement to radical collective action, the focus of the event is how ‘ordinary’ people can come together to collectively act upon and change their environment.

We are living in a time where conventional political processes are losing credibility and traction, as access to social justice is blocked by the capturing of the state by neoliberal forces. There are substantial academic and mainstream literatures on how states, governments and corporate organisations can act upon their citizens for their own ends. Yet there is a big gap in the knowledge of citizens on how to mobilise popular cultural and political participation.

The challenge is to create determined and conscious collective action, which can be effective, shared and scaled up. Left-wing alternatives are frequently discussed but these ideas often quickly stall as pragmatic processes remain under explored and are never fully envisaged. Too often well-intentioned thoughts fail to translate into action.

This event seeks to generate and share concrete knowledge of how bottom up radical political participation can succeed. It aims to reach out beyond the academy to bring people together to strategise, network and celebrate our collective potential to create a better world. It will bring together disparate knowledge to identify best practice. This will be done through a collective and deliberative process; identifying effective sequences and combinations of campaigning tactics and mechanisms, and a practical programme of radical political social change to move towards a truly democratic culture. The event seeks to challenge the established political class and provide a pre-figurative inspiration of popular deliberation to show that another world is possible.

Relevant topics will include:
• Participatory education
• Practice: the stories of actual existing politicised groups and communities
• Encouraging participation through accessible political language
• Participation through radical art and culture
• Opportunities and challenges of participatory organisation in the global city
• Political strategies and tactics for participatory mobilisation
• Radical media organisations and strategies
• Models of participatory organisation and political decision-making

In the spirit of creative innovation that characterises the content of the conference, the format of the event seeks to put into practice some of the models and procedures which will be discussed and advocated by its participants. For example, we will not have established academic keynote speakers in order to challenge the traditional hierarchy of conventional conferences. Panels will be comprised of academics, political activists and community organisers with an emphasis on diversity (geographical, ethnicity, gender and class etc). Panels will be followed by small discussion groups of 6-8 participants, with panel members joining in with the groups. Discussions will we raise the ideas and issues people found most interesting and relevant. Everybody will have the opportunity to speak and be heard, leading to more meaningful and participatory discussion. Notes will be taken from these discussion groups, so that ideas can be recorded and published online, and key points from discussion groups will be fed back to the wider group.

Here are a few ideas for how the conference could be organised. These will be pursued, developed and refined as the event moves forward and takes shape:

  • The conference will begin with various versions of speed networking as individuals or groups. This means that individual attendees meet and connect with other participants quickly and establish common areas of interest.
  • There will be an emphasis on breaks and informal sessions. The ‘bits in between’ will be foregrounded as being just as important as the panel sessions. There are numerous ways to do this. For example, the conference will have both online and offline spaces for accommodating spontaneous and unscheduled workshops and ‘open space’ discussions. There will be time and physical space allocated at the conference for these fringe events. Anyone can organise a workshop/event with space and times taken on a first come first served basis. Again, these will be led by ideas, rather than a pre-determined format.
  • Participants will be asked to contribute to independent media to share their experiences of the day and perspectives on the issues discussed in order to create some lasting record of the event.
  • Participants will be encouraged to keep in contact and share contact details, there will also be reunion gatherings following on from the event to develop a community and maintain links.

Again, due to the focus and content of the event, we will also adopt alternative approaches to the organisation. Importantly, this is not an event that is being held to generate income and so there will be no charge for participation.

Instead of having a small group holding all the power and responsibility by making all of the decisions, a website will be created and anyone can take ownership of organising a panel or workshop on a relevant theme. As mentioned above, there are various spaces and an open timetable with time slots allocated on a first come first served basis. The locations may not all be at Kings but spread around different London university sites or free spaces in London (although the logistics of this will need to be considered).

There will be facilitators present at all of the discussions and a document of normative procedures will ensure equal participation (this could also be devised collectively beforehand). Facilitators will be given a group briefing on these norms and how to effectively moderate/facilitate in order to ensure equality of participation. Working groups with a contact person will be posted online and those interested in organising an aspect of the conference can link up. The key contact people will be in contact with each other and will meet for the purposes of coordination.

The conference will extend beyond King’s to establish links with other institutions. This will enable us to pull together expertise and to access networks across a range of university departments, disciplines and fields such as CMCI at Kings, Anthropology at LSE, and Politics and Sociology at Goldsmiths. We will reach out beyond the traditional London academies to political and community organisations such as the Free University of London, Open Book, London Citizens, Radical Assemblies etc, so that the event genuinely belongs to the wider political communities of the capital and has impact beyond the HE sector.

The conference will be combined with cultural events and evening entertainment. – such as group games, dances, cabaret, comedy, music – or yoga, walks etc. The purpose of the conference is as much about having fun as sharing ideas and building networks. Again, this will be organised collectively by the individuals and groups involved.

A book and online blog/website will be created afterwards with all the contributions – both formal papers and personal reflections on the conference. This will be open to participants and will involve discussions forums so that conversations can continue as we move towards action.

Part of the conference will be to bring the collective knowledge, experience and intelligence of the participants together to create short but detailed manuals on how to do things better in the various areas addressed at the event. These collectively created texts will go be put online after the conference and constitute first drafts of online manuals on effective participatory cultural and political practice.

The event then will be part academic conference, part prefigurative political organisation and part festival. Rather than the sterile separation of the cultural, educational and political, this event brings these together to create a whole that is bigger than the parts. The aim is to hit the sweet spot between conservative inertia/path dependency and being overwhelmed by the new (or strange). Participants may be pushed outside of their comfort zone in this innovative and new political and educational space. However, the effective mixing of different people and purposes in a framework of equality and respect is an empowering and exciting proposition that we are keen to explore.

This is an “open source” event – anyone can contribute and get involved. If you or your organisation with like to contrbute a workshop or panel or get involved in helping to promote and run the event please get in touch.”

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