Feelings have become so removed from political leadership that I had to double check I'd heard right. And then I felt excitement and hope
Storytelling is a powerful tool. It frames, provokes, consoles, inspires and informs. The problem comes when we believe one story as truth: we cease to imagine other possibilities; we lose sight of vision and we stop believing that a good outcome is achievable.
The Green Party is choosing to reclaim and rewrite the current story. At their party conference in Liverpool over the weekend, co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley offered two very different angles on the events from 2016, but went on to conclude "It's easy to only tell a one-sided story. Cynics want us to think we can't win, and so we give up hope."
But in these days hope, imagination and truth-telling are the urgent antidotes we need to the stories of ‘inevitable doom' that we hear.
Former climate negotiator-turned-activist Yeb Sano declared at the conference "It's a great time to be alive - we get to find the courage and political will to turn things around." But to summon up that courage, we need to feel hope, heart and possibility. And that's why we need a new story.
Sano followed up on Twitter: "If we go beyond point of no return when we stop caring for each other, that is the most dangerous tipping point we must avoid." Caring for each other, and injecting heart into leadership and our global narrative sounds simplistic and idealistic. But I think it's the lack of those things that's driving inequality and consuming our planet. Could our current predicament really be about our inability to care?
Author Ben Okri suggests "the left needs a new story to enchant the age and open up the future."
Effective Political Opposition Needs to Stand for Something
I've recently been enchanted by the romantic age in art and science. The poet Percy Shelley conjures Okri and the Greens when he talked about ‘balloonomania' which spread after the birth of balloon flight in the 1800s: "The balloon has not yet received the perfection of which it is surely capable of...it would seem a mere toy, a feather, in comparison with the splendid anticipations of the philosophical chemist."
That anticipation and philosophical dreaming is what we need. Our global course has not yet been set. It has not become what it is surely capable of. If we had an effective political opposition in the UK, it wouldn't be enough for them to simply oppose government. They would need to stand for something; to present a bold vision of what could be, and then anchor it with policy as a route to get there.
I'm reading Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder, and will stick with the balloon theme for a moment (balloons were also an early symbol of vision and dreaming). Early ballooner Windham Sadler lamented how "England, the seat of science and literature, has remained satisfied with gazing on the casual experiments of foreign aeronauts." He thought England was not adequately demonstrating its usual leadership, courage and discovery in the development of balloon-powered flight.
But what if we also heard that accusation as a call to where we are now? Are we satisfied as we gaze on and watch the casual experiments of distant politicians, or as we feel the planet struggle under ever-increasing growth? What might be possible if we stood up and harnessed that science and literature we have in us, plus the hospitality, entrepreneurship, creativity, compassion, innovation, and multiple other strengths?
New Alliances of Ambitious People
Carole Dieschbourg, Minister for the Environment in Luxembourg, called for "new alliances of ambitious people". She touches on two pieces here that I heard in various ways at the conference, first - the need for collaboration and to build progressive alliances. We need to overcome differences, unite voices and find common ground from which we can reimagine a route to common good. And second - the vacuum that is opening up in the wake of Brexit and Trump. Not long ago, that vacuum was filled with voices of protest and opposition - either literal opposition from political parties, or voices of the people through artists. The vacuum is getting filled with nationalism, but we could choose to fill it with local and global leadership and alliances that channel ambition, anger and energy into vision and voice.
Lucas stressed that the Greens "aren't afraid to occupy difficult ground, or be afraid of how people feel." Feelings are messy and vulnerable. Feelings have become so removed from political leadership that I had to double check I'd heard right. And then I felt excitement and hope. I was listening to a party seeking out the spaces for us to come together, to create a new vision and make it reality. After all, we are "yearning to be drawn together, to belong" said Lucas. Hope thrives when we connect. At the conference, I felt the glue that could help people do just that.
The party conference was running alongside the Global Greens and European Greens congress, and so I heard from other Green movements. I heard first hand the devastation that comes in Peru and Bolivia when politics gets corrupted, when consumerism replaces traditional beliefs, and when young people abandon their ancestral ways for the lure of big companies.
Choosing Hope And Engagement Feels Radical
Metiria Turei, co-leader of the New Zealand Green Party, said: "Whatever culture we Greens come from in the world, we come from a counterculture." This rang true - if the pulse of current culture is fear, protectionism, misinformation, uncertainty, then to go against that culture by choosing hope, engagement, and the non-inevitability of doom feels subversive and radical.
I felt voices, ideas and energy bubbling up at the conference. How do we encourage and direct these? I think we need to be proud about voting with our hearts and vision, rather than tactically with our heads. I think we need to encourage osmosis between politics and all other spheres of human strength and creativity. And I think we need to start small whilst we dream big - to have one conversation at a time, which turn into "a long-term commitment to change" as Lucas says. We can't know how to act now if we don't know where we're going. The Greens are providing the idealism, vision and heart that we're all hungry for.
Elizabeth Wainwright is the Ecologist's Nature Editor. She spends her time between Devon and London, and loves wild spaces which she incorporates into her systems coaching work. She also co-leads the global community development charity CHGN.