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Entries Tagged as 'Change Agency'

Occupy Sydney: peaceful, democratic gathering erased by NSW Police in dawn raid

October 23rd, 2011 · 3 Comments

Occupy Sydney 077

Welcome to Occupy Sydney

For the past week, Sydney residents gathered in Martin Place to participate in a 24/7 forum to discuss creating futures that are more inclusive, just and sustainable. In the heart of the city, Martin Place is wide enough to host hundreds of people while accommodating passers by. This patch of Sydney, squeezed between the corporate foyers of the Reserve and Westpac banks, is an otherwise under-utilised resource.

What an atmosphere

Were the people that gathered peaceful and inclusive? Yes, and they were kind and generous, too. Personally, I found the way the space was organised colourful, welcoming and cushy (sleeping bags abound), if untidy… but in a city dotted with deep craters surrounded by trucks, cranes and pollution, a few sleeping bags and hand-made signs was hardly an affront to Sydney’s visual amenity.

Good for the local economy

The proprietors of the local coffee cart couldn’t believe their luck, and started a late night service to feed hungry visitors to the site. An employee of a chocolate shop down the road enthused that visitors have been “stock[ing] up on chocolate and coffee“. Of the five closest food retailers, I’d be surprised if one of them didn’t see an upturn in sales as a result of this dead city space becoming a hive of activity.

Didn’t the #occupy movement start in Wall Street? This isn’t America!

At the time of writing, more than 1500 cities are hosting #occupy gatherings. ‘Wall St’ influence, excesses and gambles are shaping the lives of people in multiple ways. Many of the same questions about fairness, equity and sustainability Americans are asking ought to be addressed here, too. Australians have their own grievances, concerns, hopes and dreams and many would like to advocate, discuss and debate these in an inclusive, open forum.

So who shows up to this stuff?

The Australian #occupy spaces were given far more mainstream media coverage than your average Friday night “Politics in the Pub”… So with a nudge like that, it wasn’t just the ‘usual suspects’ that showed up.

Participants have come from a mix of backgrounds and experiences.  While we didn’t often talk about our backgrounds, in my conversations at #OccupySydney I spoke with carers, lawyers, bankers, wharfies, engineers, homeless, contractors, jobless, university students, teachers, marketers and scientists… People from all walks of life had come for a multitude of reasons.

Politically, there were people who consider themselves swinging voters, others were a-political. There were capitalists, greenies, anarchists, socialists and conspiracy theorists, and each treated the others with respect and humanity.

In our complex world, expecting people to come together with a single grievance or solution is unrealistic. It’s in the coming together, the conversations, the dialogue, that common ground is found.

So why gather at all?

Sydney has plenty of places where you can eat, drink, take drugs to loud music, gamble money on sport or in machines, and buy stuff. There are plenty of places where you can have a picnic, read a book, have a swim or go for a walk. But public spaces where people are welcome to gather with fellow citizens, 24/7 to talk about addressing systemic problems and find ways to organise to build better futures? Well, that hasn’t really happened before.

In a functioning democracy, with shift-workers pulling nights and contractors slogging it out during the days, gathering during a fixed window of time isn’t an inclusive approach. The web has influenced our “’round the clock” world where we connect electronically with whoever’s awake; if anything, this lifestyle shift has given rise to the acceptability and practical necessity of a public space for 24/7 political conversations.

Occupy Sydney in pictures

Every now and then, I snapped a photo to capture my experiences at Occupy Sydney. I worked every day this week, so I was only there for a few hours at a time. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be sharing these photos via the web, but I decided to write this blog post after what happened this morning…

Occupy Sydney - We have the power to begin the world over
“We have the power to begin the world over” – the sleeping bags of a selection of Sydney’s idealists in the foreground as a General Assembly takes place (background).

Occupy Sydney - Monday night General Assembly
A General Assembly (meeting)takes place on Monday night. You can read more about these in my original Occupy Sydney blog post. This one took place on the amphitheatre steps… Because a few of Sydney’s homeless people use these steps to eat their dinner, it was agreed the General Assemblies would happen away from the comfort of the steps to ensure #OccupySydney participants weren’t breaking the homeless peoples’ routine.

Occupy Sydney - a family bring lamingtons in support
“We can’t camp out with you, but we support what you’re doing…” A dad and daughter bring lamingtons to Occupy Sydney. The lamingtons were well received, as were the pizzas, salads, crackers, biscuits… much of the food was donated by people supportive of this democratic process.

Occupy Sydney - 1 in 10 Australians in poverty
“More than 2.2 million Australians live below the poverty line” – one of the many hand-made posters inviting passers-by to consider the world from another point of view. In a city filled with luxury handbag shops and ads for TV shows and yogurt, why not inspire people to reflect, think or act, rather than just consume?

Occupy Sydney - Discussion in progress please join
“Discussion in progress, please join”… One of the many signs that made it clear to all citizens that this space was for everyone. For a city where many bars and clubs will happily exclude people based on age, race, gender or dress, this was refreshingly inclusive. And no cover charge.

Occupy Sydney - Jazz band rocks Martin Place
This band rocked. I asked them who they were and when they were playing their next gig, and they said they’d prefer not to plug their next gig because it was more important that people focused their attention on keeping Martin Place vibrant.

Occupy Sydney - One person's point of view
Another of the many hand made signs. None of the signs could truly capture the sentiment or feelings of the thousands who participated in the first week, but the positivity of, “We Occupy Martin Place because another world is possible!” does a pretty good job.

Occupy Sydney - Everyone is Welcome
“Everyone is welcome” the pink flag to the left (obscured) reads, “What if we were prepared to sacrifice our comfort for change?”. The banner is part of a city-wide art exhibition. The serendipity of its placement reassured many of those sleeping under street lights.

Danny's charm... reminding police they're in the 99%, too.
Throughout the week, the ever-present police were hanging around talking to each other and mostly looking bored.  They had joined the force to catch bad guys, and now they were stuck here watching people discuss massive corporate crimes that were well outside their jurisdiction… Must have been frustrating for them. Occasionally they’d read a poster or engage in a brief conversation about political ideas. I spoke to police every time I visited Occupy Sydney, and not once did they advise me that I was participating in an activity that was “in breach of the city’s camping regulations”.  They sure didn’t manage to warn anyone that because people were sacrificing their comfort for something they believed in, riot police and bomb squad personnel would soon be deployed.

Danny (pictured, above) recognised the ever-present risk of violence, and made himself a billboard to advocate for police pay and conditions. He is a true lover of peace and happiness. Every city could do with a few of him. If you ever see him, say G’day to him, and pat his dog, Smarty.

Occupy Sydney - Week 1 statement agreed by General Assembly
The Occupy Sydney statement that was created through consensus by the participants of Occupy Sydney on Friday. The riot police showed up on the Saturday rally that celebrated one week. The police “kettled” the protest by lining the only two exits out of Occupy Sydney. There had been plans for some participants on Saturday to leave the space and do a tour of Sydney, highlighting some of the misdeeds of various corporations who occupy the city buildings.

Through a democratic process, it was agreed that the police presence meant it would not be appropriate to embark on the tour. Such a tour would have involved the crowd confronting two lines of riot police. A walk would risk violence, and as a peaceful democratic movement, we agreed the tour would instead take place in small groups later in the week.

And so the people stayed. They stayed and played music, talked, shared political ideas, and handed leaflets with cartoons and jokes on them. They stayed and ate sausages on bread rolls. It was a laid-back picnic protest. It wasn’t what a few of the gung-ho activist types would have liked (they rightly argued that the riot police showing up was intimidating and unnecessary, and if citizens had to cross a line of riot police to go for a walk on public streets, than so be it)…But it was a global movement expressed with an Australian flavour… Many of us weren’t rusted on activists… We were simply participating in a democratic action.  The presence of riot police was more bemusing than anything.  We weren’t doing anything that would call for riot police! This isn’t a police state, after all.

Martin Place "returned to citizens" - as long as they're wearing blue

This morning I woke to the news that the riot police moved in at 5am. I’ve read reports that those who were asleep were woken and given 5 minutes to vacate the space. Tired, indignant, sleepy, angry… Some participants decided that their peaceful protest, a statement aimed in part at strengthening democracy, didn’t deserve the riot squad, and chose to stand their ground.

An hour before daybreak, away from the transparency and accountability of sunlight and cameras, the police pounced. They destroyed the signs that quoted statistics about poverty and pollution, and the people were dragged away. A number were arrested. The space was cleared of both character and civility. The area between the Reserve and Westpac banks was made plain, boring and uninviting again.

I felt sick. I felt sorry for the people who were busy keeping the space alive overnight… Holding the space for those of us that showed up during the day. I wondered what happened to the people who I’d talk to. To the gentle souls like Alan, who suggested to me that if everybody shared, nobody would go without:

I was gutted. I tweeted:

"Occupy Love" somehow survived the waterblasting of Martin Place
Pictured: In this exact spot, every hour for a week, conversations about peace took place. Today, storm troopers with guns and tasers instead took pride of place. I wonder what refreshing ideas were discussed here today? NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch explained it was time “to return Martin Place to the community of Sydney.”. The community of Sydney already had the space, thanks Mark. No matter how hard you scrub, the ideas that were discussed here, the connections that were sparked, remain.

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Category: Change Agency · Communication and connection · From the frontlines of the future · Future · Guide to better living · Imagining Australia · Our living planet · Peace between people · The Explorer's Handbook · Things that make you go hmmm · Understanding people

Think Big Forum – quick post-talk notes

September 3rd, 2008 · 1 Comment

What a day! I’ve just arrived home from Sydney’s Think Big Forum at ANZ Stadium…

I was invited to ‘keynote speak’ at the Forum when I was in Beijing and I decided to change my flights to be included on the speaker list. The way it was put to me was simple, “It’s a business forum, but we’re being innovative about it…” it was to be “degustation-inspired”, with the food theme kept throughout. I was invited to be the ‘group dessert’. What a title. How could I say no?

The day opened with Kylie Kwong talking about her business trials and tribulations (key insight – she swears by the original “E-Myth” book) and was followed by a diverse ‘tasting menu’ of speakers who each had twenty minutes to share their knowledge of the topic.

The format meant that the sessions were fast-paced – 20 minutes each – enough time to get a sense of whether you liked the topic; liked the speaker and wanted more. And that’s where it got interesting – after each session, we were invited to attend a “Master Class” with the speaker we’d just seen. If you were prepared to forgo the next scheduled speakers, you could ‘go deeper’ into the topic. What a great conference model!

So in the afternoon it was time for ‘dessert’… Well, here’s how my 40 minutes broke down…

  • Introduced myself and my work as a futurist / innovation expert
  • Talked about futures studies / innovation and the role they play in business – ie. new products and processes… It all starts by asking the key innovator’s question: “Is there a better way?…”.
  • Talked about the rise of BRIC nations (Brasil, Russia, India and China) and specifically about the rise of China… Then, since I’m fresh of the plane, taught some valuable Mandarin to the crowd “CHINA – LET’S GO!”. Seeing 170 people on their feet cheering in butchered Mandarin was one of the most surreal moments of the day and confirmation that this was a fun crowd.
  • Described the trends I’m seeing in business, particularly some highlights of my favourite innovation programs:
  • The Clean Plumber – constantly innovating, the business’ latest move is replacing a utility truck with a motorcycle for many plumbing jobs – it zips around the Sydney streets with ease; saves on fuel and keeps the business’ promise to be on time.
  • Dell’s Ideastorm, which I believe is one of the best examples of open innovation, particularly given that Dell actually takes advice and turns it into improved products.
  • Australia 2020 – inviting an entire country to participate in your innovation program is a brave move for a Prime Minister – if Rudd pulls it off (by implementing good ideas or at least explaining why he’s not using the ideas he doesn’t like), it could be the beginning of a new attitude of innovation from Canberra
  • and Google… I mentioned the 80/20 rule (20% of time dedicated to innovation), but I also would have liked to discuss their use of Google Labs, which is fantastic.
  • Gave ten tips on how to spot a great innovation culture – that was fun because the pens came out and the heads started nodding – I think I was talking to a room of innovators!
  • Dropped in a top tip – innovation programs are a great ‘Gen Y’ retention tool because they give younger employees a voice and demonstrate that all staff opinions are valued – especially if ideas are acted upon!
  • Examined the major shift from closed/R&D-based product development to open/inclusive innovation programs…

And BOOM! It was 40 minutes… Wait, what?! We’re just getting started… Oh man!

I guess that’s the problem with tasting menus – sometimes you just wish you could have a little more of each dish – and I did get twice as much time as most of the other speakers, after all…

I invited feedback from the audience either through email/linkedin or my blog, so it will be interesting to see if people have something to say here on this post.

After my presentation, all sorts of business leaders shared their stories with me – I met heaps of bankers, a bullet maker (REALLY! YIKES!), a guy whose business is hydraulics, a guy that runs a solar-panel installation business, a bunch of innovation people from Telstra and ANZ, a logistics guy (who told me truck stories), a recruiter, a few marketing types, a couple of event managers… It was a good mix, that’s for sure.

It was a great day (a good way to spend my birthday!) and a really warm crowd to welcome me back to Sydney. Can’t wait to see my family, friends and clients and get settled back into Sydney!

Congratulations and thank you to the NSW Business Chamber and to the BigThinkers who made the day such a great start to my Spring in Sydney…

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Category: Change Agency

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

July 24th, 2008 · 2 Comments

[caption id="attachment_348" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Story of Stuff logo"]Story of Stuff logo[/caption]

The Story of Stuff is a simple, effective video that explains the ‘top-line’ messages that everyone ought know about where the ‘stuff’ we buy comes from and ultimately where it ends up.

Produced by Free Range Studios (of ‘The Meatrix‘ fame) the video is a perfect example of using new media in an engaging way to tell an important story.

It takes twenty minutes, but it’s worth it so if you have the time, go and watch it now.

The video features Annie Leonard breaking down the ‘materials economy’ the journey products take from extraction; to production; to distribution; to consumption; and finally disposal.

Annie points out that the system is bumping up against all sorts of limits… limits of resources, ethical limits of how we treat people, animals and the environment and limits to how hard we can push the environment before it pushes back.

Easily one of the best environmental education videos I’ve ever seen and I have Ian Lyons to thank for the link!

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Category: Change Agency

China Internet Censorship Index – Scoring Chinese Internet Freedom

July 23rd, 2008 · 2 Comments

Amnesty International’s campaign for China to set a ‘New Human Rights Record’ is gaining momentum in the run-up to the Olympics.

The NGO is scoring Chinese internet freedom via an index (see below). 100% represents total internet freedom, the current figure is just above 30%. This is from the Amnesty CICI website:

“This chart shows recent changes in the Chinese Internet Censorship Index (CICI) value. Values less than 100% shows that sites are being blocked in China (but not outside of China). Lower values indicate more censorship — we’re aiming to get China 100% censorship-free!

So how is this all measured? Thousands of people visiting China during 2008 are registered to participate in the index testing. They receive an email of secret, anonymous links to an Amnesty-run testing site, which allows Amnesty to see what sites are being blocked. Amnesty assures volunteers that the sites in the tests are “ones which a tourist or journalist would feasibly want to access in China”.

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Category: Change Agency