New Internationalist

The New Putney Debates


Alice Walker said that the most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they do not have any. But in a genuine democracy all political power is inherent in the people. The task for progressive movements is to organize and keep coming up with creative ways to highlight the democratic deficit and offer solutions.

Power cannot stand sustained pressure, that’s why the Occupy movement won’t go away. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to draw in the general public, inform ourselves of the problems, and collectively reclaim democracy for the people, and for the planet itself. It’s no insignificant task; this is a long-term game.

Occupy London’s latest project is a series of free public debates focused the democratic deficit, inspired by the Putney Debates of 1647. Many of the will take place in the same venue in Putney, southwest London: St Mary’s Church.

The issues discussed at the original Putney Debates are just as relevant today as they were 365 years ago – more so, given the global nature of ecological, social and economic challenges we face. Progressives in Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army wanted greater democracy and a new constitution for England. They wanted power to be shared more equitably. The Levellers in the Army were more radical: in the Agreement of the People they set out their vision for a more democratic constitution and demanded their ‘native rights’.

Back then, it was the wealthy property owning class that oppressed the people. Today, it’s multinational companies that have acquired vast wealth, rights and power. It is time to assert the rights of our communities and nature above corporate rights. It’s an illegitimate use of state power to push policies that are against the public interest – as this neoliberal coalition is doing. It’s illegitimate and unjust, even when the law allows it.

Another world is possible. Just as what happened in Putney all those years ago helped pave the way for future rights-based movements, we hope this series of 2012 debates will shift the political discourse, pave the way for progressive reforms and perhaps, compassionate revolution, that will result in better lives for all.

The New Putney Debates begin on 27 October at 1pm at the Oasis Centre, London. The full programme can be found at the website.

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