About 18 months ago PWF posted an article about democracy – NOT politics – at work in Nowra. Graeme Gibson, the convenor of that forum has now written and self-published a book, Beyond Fear And Loathing‘on local politics and community activism.
Beyond Fear and Loathing: local politics at work is available as a print book for $29.95 (including postage) or an eBook for $9.95 from his website: www.beyondfearandloathing.com.
You can contact Graeme by email: email@example.com or by phone: 02 4441 8885; 0408 676 550
“This is a story of local politics and community activism. It’s a true story, as objective as I can make it from my personal point of view, and I do have a point of view on the state of local democracy and the role of citizens in the decisions that affect them. More than just the local Council, it’s about a community and conflict fostered within a ruling mentality of divide and
The story is one of disillusionment, disregard for fairness and civility, and the struggle for change. The story is specific to a location but it is universal. It is of a certain time-frame but it is timeless. Without doubt the events described – the absurd, the comic and the tragic – take place to a greater or lesser extent within the 560 Councils around the country. Self-interest, deal making and Machiavellian scheming are the high dramas of small town everyday life. A positive case for change in the way we do local democracy is presented, with community and Council working together in partnership. A practical foundation for that change is outlined.
“No place like home” sets the context and location of the story, before observations on local government in “Unlovely and unloved”. Although, ironically, the level of government closest to the people, few people understand the role of local government or the impact it has on their daily lives. Few would be able to name their elected Councillors, let alone make a judgement about their ability to manage a job far more complex and demanding than is commonly understood.
The following chapter, “The local storm in a teacup”, unpacks complex relationships in a small town with a lot at stake. As a new group struggles for legitimacy and influence, in an age where people are less likely to participate in society, existing power brokers exert pressure. Punishment, vilification and deception are the defining characteristics of the ensuing rancorous conflict. A deliberate will to ignorance – the avoidance of inconvenient truths – is at play, well supported by a local government approach to community relations based on divide and conquer.
“Building” and then “Peaking” are the following chapters outlining the successes of the community response to Council’s development plans. That planning takes place within a political environment is made clear. The sale of public land through confidential processes where scrutiny is avoided, then ignored, is highlighted. Tokenistic, cynical approaches to community consultation are made explicit.
This is followed by “Falling”, an outline of the decline of the community effort, as the fait-accompli response sets in and Council is rewarded for persistence. In the meantime a new politically motivated group forms with the aim of changing the Council.
“And we mean to go on and on and on and on” relates Councillors crude and careless manipulation of information and people, disregard for professional opinion and egotistical self-confidence. This characterised the dominant group of elected Councillors as they swatted away at annoyances and impediments.
But it all starts to unravel, “It all ends in tears”, as time and again master plans come unstuck and appalling behaviour is regularly highlighted in the media. The enormity of building a public case for change in a community long dominated by powerful interests is laid out.
“Making it up as you go along”, based on chaos theory or the Nike approach – just do it – aptly describes the approach. “And so to the campaign” looks at the lies and the fears, the despair and the hope in an intensely fought local battle. The dominant group of Councillors suffer mishap after mishap as the contract of trust with the community is broken.
“Love and respect” re-positions this story of local politics within a broader view of our system of representative democracy, suffering through widespread ignorance and apathy. These responses – effectively the mass turning of a blind eye – support personal and political ambitions at the expense of the public interest. As citizens tune out further the condition becomes self-sustaining, a non-virtuous cycle. But the local level provides practical opportunities to break the cycle. Engaging citizens at the early stages of policy development, through deliberative democracy, will strengthen active citizenship and start to rebuild civil society.”
Good on you for speaking out Graeme