The Active Citizenship Toolkit has gone through several phases of growth, stasis and die-back over the last 12 years.
It started life as a “Climate Activist Development Scheme” in the late 2000s, as climate activism peaked and crashed.
A few years later it developed further, and slightly better, as “ASK for the world” – Activist Skills and Knowledge”. That project foundered on…. well, you can’t do these things alone, or even as two people
Then, with COVID upon us in early 2020 I (Marc Hudson) proposed to the Manchester-based group “Climate Emergency Manchester” that we work on the Toolkit while we couldn’t feasibly be doing any collecting of signatures on our petition for a seventh scrutiny committee.
They said yes, and so began the most intense phase of development. We figured out what elements we thought were essential for Climate Emergency Manchester (as well as what was “nice to have” and “not CEM”. But at this stage ,many of the element descriptions and most of the level descriptors had yet to be written. Over the course of months, these descriptors were written. We had discussions about what were our “absolute gaps” and our “single points of failure”, and then set about creating materials. These materials served a dual purpose – they helped us get up to speed on our own short-comings, but also helped other people see what the toolkit was “about” and how it could help them get better at what they are doing.
So, who are we? We’re citizens. We’re people with clean water coming out of our taps, a roof over our heads. We’ve had the privilege of high levels of education, and we have enough time to “do” active citizenship.
We aren’t pushing any particular ideology, we aren’t members of any political party. We believe that there are no magical technological or social innovations that are going to fix the enormous social, political, economic, cultural and environmental challenges facing our species. Most of these challenges have been developing for a long time, have been ignored, pretend-fixed for a long time. We believe the reasons for this are not down to the particular laziness or stupidity of political leaders (though some of these leaders are spectacularly lazy and/or stupid). Rather, we believe that there are a set of structures that help explain why things keep turning out the way they do (and no, not all of this can be boiled down to the label “capitalism”).
We think the ways out, if they exist, will come from collective wisdom (and we’re also well aware of “the tyranny of the mob, the tyranny of structurelessness and some of the other tyrannies. Thanks).
We think that there is a really big problem for social movement organisations – they tend to go up like a rocket and down like a stick, leaving not much in their wake. Or they harden, ossify, and become organisation dedicated to the continuation of themselves.
The Active Citizenship Toolkit is an attempt to make it easier for social movement organisations to persist, to survive the boom-and-bust cycles…
Will it succeed? In some ways, it already has, in that it is sparking important conversations about what skills, knowledge and relationships groups need, how they can nurture their existing and new members, strengthening bonds.
That’s as much as we can realistically hope for, I suspect…