Article by Ruby Van der Wekken, Commons-Fi, Finland and Jason Nardi, Ripess Europe

The Planet Local Summit in Bristol (September 29th – 1st of October 2023) has been a rich and diverse gathering of people representing local communities working on localisation, transition and regeneration from all over the world, with participants from 50 countries. The summit was organised by Local Futures, an organisation led by Helena Norberg-Hodge “helping to build a movement for fundamental economic change: away from today’s global, high-tech consumer culture towards strong local economies rooted in deep interdependence with community and Nature”. The slogan of Local Futures is “the economics of happiness” and “promoting localisation globally”.

Many different networks and organisations were represented, allowing for many exchanges and connections to take place: from La Via Campesina, to Emergence Network, Schumacher College, Transition Network, Extinction Rebellion, Postgrowth Institute, Permaculture networks, Global Tapestry of Alternatives, GEN Europe, Gaia Education, ECOLISE and RIPESS of course – and some people from India, Australia, Mexico and the US, plus naturally from Ladakh, a region administered by India as a union territory (in the east Kashmir region) with a strong indigenous population, which was were Local Futures started.

The programme of the event was very dense, with many plenary sessions (streamed online) and a series of workshops, offering a variety of perspectives also across the political spectrum. There are certainly many ways to interpret what “localisation” means and how re-localising the economy can be different depending on the approach. But altogether, there was certainly a post-capitalist and truly regenerative approach, which is reflected in the 5 “Rs” of that Local Futures promotes: Reconnect (personal and planetary healing), Rethink (question assumptions on progress, wealth, happiness and human nature), Resist (no to the global economy), Renew (rebuild foundation of community), Rejoice (rediscover the joys of a participatory culture). Music and dance as well as spirituality and respect of indigenous cultures were quite audible and visible throughout the event.

Many theoretical and policy models were illustrated and discussed, especially examples from the UK, from the Preston model of community wellbeing to the Lenis district model on housing and of course the example of Transition Towns like Totnes – with Rob Hopkins and Jay Tompt. Debates on the role of the State (centralisation versus horizontal subsidiarity) and bioregional economies need to be further developed in order to promote the narrative of a radical re-imagination of our societies and communities, in stark contrast to a future looming with disasters both natural and humanitarian and a sense of helpless, hopeless tomorrow. Some spoke of collapse as an opportunity – but the time for it is always shorter. The contradiction of acceleration and quick change on the one side and deep need for slowing down and connecting on the other was very present.

A rise of municipal power, with public-community ownership, was also advocated. As well as the investment and development of community finance and local economies – which even “localisers” don’t do, if not marginally – while continuing to support the globalised financial systems.

One of the speakers, Charles Eisenstein, underlined how “localisation is the rebuilding of our connections which have been atomised making us feel lonely. Local relational institutions need a new story.” Examples from the consequences of the recent pandemic crisis and the freezing and polarising of an open conversation on health care sovereignty, with a separation and decline of the public space also due to the migration of life on the virtual – bubble space of internet, influencing in particular the young generations. “Covid gave us a snapshot of the future”, said Eisenstein.

To go beyond all of this, we need to get out of cultural patterns with other forms of intelligence, that require other archetypical myths different from the hero’s journey (Campbell and Jung), a paradigm of radical trusting instead of the “good an evil”. As another bright speaker, Bayo Akomolafe put it, “the way isn’t forward, the Way is Akward”.

In the morning session on Saturday, Jason Nardi spoke in the plenary to present the Solidarity Economy and its connection to community building and localisation. He gave several examples and stressed about the organisational framework of building inter-dependent, inter-sectoral and well networked solidarity economy circuits, as practices of collective liberation through economic activities that meet our material needs.

Together with Ecolise (Juan del Rio and Laura Kaestelle), RIPESS Europe (Ruby van der Wekken and Jason Nardi) held a break out session entitled “Transformative community-led movements are essential to foster systemic change”: Learn from ECOLISE and RIPESS metanetworks on community climate action and social and solidarity economy, and explore how local actions and social innovations are catalysing a just and regenerative future.

It was quite successful, with more than 70 people attending and we had a great feedback. The session’s invitation put to the forefront two aspects that for RIPESS were relevant to contribute to the meeting. The first concerns an encouragement for the localisation movement to become more explicit in bringing to the forefront why local peoples initiatives matter. Changing our basic needs systems, meaning how we produce, consume and distribute our food, energy, transport, housing, etc, can lead to the development of pathways towards healthier, more fair and cooperative communities – and through this society – only IF and WHEN these processes of change are in the hands of people, meaning are governed and reproduced as a commons ecosystems. Because profit seeking markets have time and time again shown how they fail to deliver in terms of the social and ecological values which are fundamentally important to us.

This being said, the invitation secondly put forward that as we all feel, today’s accelerated world of multiple crises requires urgent action, and building of communities that want to have an impact both at their local level and at a larger scale – which has become even more challenging. While localising our economies and building our food and energy sovereignty, it is also fundamental to keep a glocal perspective and be aware of the interdependence with other transformative communities to build a larger movement that can tackle global issues such as the climate and ecological ones.

For those who are interested, here is the Planet Local website and the sessions that were registered.