HOW DO WE create the positive change we want to see? How do we defend our permaculture projects from those who would stop them?
This is something permaculture practitioners are going to have to think about if we want to see our design system adopted by more people and more organisations. Permaculture is about change. Creating change means participating in advocacy. That makes it political, though not necessarily in the conventional sense of that word.
A word on advocacy
Before moving on to an interesting proposal by a Permaculture Australia member, let me say that advocacy is the practice of supporting and arguing for something.
If you talk to your friends about permaculture being a good thing, you are advocating it. When we do that with politicians or organisations, it is called ‘lobbying’. Sometimes, advocacy takes the form of lobbying against something by advocating a course of action. It takes different forms including political, educational, direct and indirect action. Essentially, in lobbying for something advocacy is about exerting influence. And to exert that influence implies that our organisations need to be seen as:
- authoritative (they know what they are talking about)
- transparent (making our motivation and sources of support clear)
- credible (what we say is believable).
Permaculture Australia has already dipped its toes into the advocacy waters:
- a few years ago the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network and Permaculture Australia publicly advocated against a public statement by industry body, AUSveg, that community gardens and farmers’ markers were biosecurity risks; AUSveg did not follow-up its allegation
- in April this year, Permaculture Australia advocated against the fumigation of organic vegetable seeds imported into the country that was proposed by the federal government; supported within the organics and permaculture movements by Green Harvest’s Francis Lang and Costa Georgiardis at the 14th Australasian Permaculture Convergence in Canberra, Permaculture Australia made a submission requesting more time and broader representation to resolve the biosecurity issue.
Those are examples of political advocacy. Other times, we advocate within our organisations by lobbying for something to be done. We saw an example of that when Permaculture Australia member, John McKenzie, lobbied at the Canberra convergence for the networking of permaculture organisations.
If permaculture practitioners take David Holmgren’s new book, Retrosuburbia, and set up workshops and courses around the ideas in it, they will indulge in advocacy by educational means because they will by advocating a course of action. Simply by talking to people, by teaching, writing about and arguing for permaculture we become advocates for it. I am advocating in favour of advocacy in Permaculture Australia by writing about it in this piece. Seen this way, advocacy is a key component of the permaculture design system.
Advocates are enormously influential on government. Their lobbying affects the opportunities open to the people and affects our future. Despite our distaste of indulging in politics, especially those involving the mainstream political process and political parties, the need to do is important to create what we would like to see and to defend it from those who do not want to see it. As someone said, if we do not have to bother with politics we must be very privileged people.
You might not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.
Paraphrasing Leon Trotsky’s statement about war.
A fresh approach to developing policies
Guy Stewart is one of those smart, articulate and technologically savvy young people those of us who have been working in permaculture for a long time are all too happy to see emerging as leaders. Guy’s leadership is based on leadership-by-doing. Before joining the Rainbow Power Company and the renewable energy industry in his hometown of Nimbin in northern NSW, some years ago Guy worked on a food localisation project. With Annaliese Horden, another of those smart, savvy young leaders, Guy teaches permaculture at Robyn Francis’ Permaculture College Australia.
Guy’s is an invitation-only initiative. To participate, Permaculture Australia members email Guy for a link to the draft version of the policy.
“Happy for people who want to contribute to email me with the subject ‘PPP’ at email@example.com”, said Guy.
Taking note of the comments and suggestions coming into this participatory process, Guy then produces version two of the policy which is presented to the board. The board votes on endorsing the policy. That successfully done, Permaculture Australia and its members make use of the policy as the basis for meeting with their electoral representatives to lobby them for a better energy policy for Australia and by using the policy in other ways.
Guy’s plan promises to make Permaculture Australia a more effective organisation by giving it a new social role. It would be a step-up for Permaculture Australia and a step into a wider, relevant and timely role in society.
For some time I have thought about how we could develop an advocacy capacity in Permaculture Australia. I kept running into those too-familiar barriers of time and energy. The board is fully committed keeping the organisation’s key roles in Accredited Permaculture Training, the Permafund tax deductible donations and small grants scheme and its networking function going. There has not been time or energy to take on more.
That is why, sitting in the audience at APC14 and hearing Guy talk about his energy policy idea, I was enthused at this new approach to participatory policy formation in Permaculture Australia. The question arose about whether the ‘representative council’ that has been proposed to assist the Permaculture Australia board could have a role not only in Guy’s idea but in advocacy in Permaculture Australia more broadly.
What do you think? Is this a possibility? How would we go about it?