New Internationalist

Slow Activism

Issue 343

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Speed-Up / SLOW DOWN

Slow activism

Today there exist the beginnings of a movement to slow down. It concentrates on 'slower/better' rather than 'faster/cheaper', as the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco puts it. Some parts of that movement focus on the basics of life - food, work, nature - while others challenge the dominant ideology of turbo-capitalism.

 

[image, unknown] Zed Nelson / Panos Pictures

The slow food movement
[image, unknown] This movement to defend endangered local foods has its roots in Italy but has since grown to 65,000 members in 42 countries. It is headquartered in the Piedmontese market town of Bra. It is opposed to the fast-food monoculture that is associated with franchise food outlets and the growth of supermarkets. Slow Food champions local cheeses and salamis, varieties of slower-growing grains and types of endangered livestock, like the Paduan hen and the Piedmontese cow. According to the movement’s founder, Carlos Petrini: ‘A hundred years ago people ate between 100 and 120 different species of food. Now our diet is made up of at most ten or twelve species.’

The movement has received a boost recently because of European scandals over food safety, including the plagues of mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease. Public revulsion against genetically modified food has also helped to cement support. For Carlos Petrini the slow-food movement is a bet on quality against cheap industrial food. To this end the movement publishes Italy’s best guide to wine, restaurants and foodstores, Gambero Rosso, which evolved out of the food supplement in the Left-wing paper Il Manifesto. The movement has now embraced organic methods of agriculture to produce safer food more slowly that costs a bit more. It is counting on a bit of wiggle-room in household budgets to challenge the industrial diet. Petrini sees Slow Food as ‘not merely a gastronomical organization but one that deals with the problems of the environment and world hunger without renouncing the right to pleasure’.

Contacts: A beautifully designed website: www.slowfood.com

Main Office:
Via Menicita 8,
12042 Bra(CN), Italy;
tel: +39 172 419 611;
fax: +39 172 421 293;
e-mail: international@slowfood.com

US Office:
PO Box 1737, New York, New York 10012;
tel: +1 212 988 5146;
fax: +1 212 639 9605;
e-mail: info@slowfoodusa.com

UK Contact:
Toll Free 0800 917 1232.

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The Slow Cities Movement
The Slow City movement creeps along - Italy now has 32 slow cities and towns. Inspired by the Slow Food movement, 32 Italian cities and towns have committed themselves to preserve their unique character by creating ‘slow cities’. According to the Mayor of the Tuscan town of Greve: ‘The American urban model has invaded our cities, making Italian towns look the same. We want to stop this kind of globalization.’ The Slow City programme involves enlarging parks and squares and making them greener, outlawing car alarms and other noise that disturbs the peace, and eliminating ugly TV aerials, advertising posters, neon signs.

Other priorities include the use of recycling, alternative energy sources and ecological transportation systems. The movement rejects the notion that it is anti-progress and holds that technologies can be employed to improve the quality of life and the natural urban environment.

To qualify, a city must be vetted and regularly checked by inspectors to make sure they are living up to the Slow City standard of conduct.

The movement hopes eventually to build a worldwide membership inspired by the notion of ‘civilized harmony and activity grounded in the serenity of everyday life by bringing together communities which share this ideal. The focus is on appreciation of the seasons and cycles of nature, cultivation of local produce and growing through slow, reflective living.’

For more on the movement, including their charter of principles,
see: http://www.matogmer.no/slow_cities__citta_slow.htm

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The Long Now Foundation
[image, unknown] This organization is rallying around the notion of building an eight-foot-tall, state-of-the-art clock that will keep time for 10,000 years. It uses no electricity (all done with Bronze Age technology) and will be placed in a dry highland area. It harks back to the era of the big town clock between the 16th and 18th centuries in towns like Venice and Prague.

The idea of the clock is to provoke thinking about the earthly environment as a single thing, stretching from 10,000 years back to 10,000 years in the future. Stewart Brand, past editor of the Whole Earth Journal and a Long Now board member describes it as: ‘The idea that you move in the now and feel a responsibility for what happens in the now; if you can push the now out past your own lifetime in a couple of directions, that’s good. If you can push it way out, that’s better.’

The emphasis of the project is to get people away from thinking in the hurried immediacy of their everyday lives and look at the long-term process of change that we are engaged in.

Contact:
Long Now Foundation,
PO Box 29462, San Francisco, Ca. 94129-0462;
tel: +1 415 561 6582;
fax: +1 415 561 6297;
e-mail: services@longnow.org
website: www.longnow.org

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The Society for the Deceleration of Time
[image, unknown] An eclectic group of some 700 members drawn from the German-speaking world and headquartered in Austria. ‘The Society does quality research on the phenomena of time, organizes symposia, publishes regularly. Occasionally we go activist ourselves in the hope of drawing attention to unnecessary hustle and bustle that shapes so much of our lives.’ The society encourages members to prolong the time taken whenever it makes sense to do so, regardless of the kind of activity they engage in. They should stand for the right to pause for reflection in situations where mindless activism and vested interests produce solutions that are expedient rather than genuine.

Excerpts from the reasons for establishing the Society:
‘Despite shorter working hours, more and more people have less and less time for the things they really want to do... The wheel of history is turning at ever-greater speed, and it is more and more difficult to take a contemplative view... Speed is the yardstick through which we measure the value of our activities. “A time for everything and everything in its own time” and “all in good time” are sayings that seem to have died out. For a pig to be “profitable” it has to be ripe for the slaughterhouse at age six months. Agricultural engineering does its bit to subject nature and living creatures to timetables and schedules. Natural products have to obey the iron law of the economic clock... In our democratic lives politicians rush from place to place, frankly admitting that they have no time to read or think. Who is going to do their thinking for them?... Celerity is all. If we say someone is “slow”, it is tantamount to saying that he or she is handicapped in some way. Having to wait for someone or something is felt to be a personal insult.’

Verein zur Verzögerung der Zeit, Interdisziplinäres Institut für Forschung und
Fortbildung der Universität Klagenfurt, Sterneckstraße 15 A-9020 Klagenfurt
e-mail: zeitverein@uni-klu.ac.at
http://zeitverein.uni-klu.ac.at
http://www.members.eunet.at/ro.neunteufel/time.htm
tel: +43 463 2700-8730
fax: +43 463 2700-6199

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Reduce Work
[image, unknown] Reducing working hours has long been an important theme of the labour movement. Once the eight-hour day was thought to be an outrageously radical demand. Today a range of organizations is pushing for anything from a 32-hour week to a four-hour day. Some effects of this would necessarily slow down our overheated economy and improve our quality of life. According to the Four Hour Day Foundation: ‘Modern life remains a headlong rush into long commutes, two-income families, late nights at work and exhausting recreation. How could this be? What is it about our collective personality that drives us over this cliff of endless rat race?’

This movement has made most headway in Europe, where the 32-hour-week has been officially legislated in France. Similar moves are afoot in Germany, Denmark and Italy. There are, however, organizations advocating a reduction in compulsory work across the industrial world. One of the possible advantages of reduced work time is the effect of economic activity on the environment – reductions in both the material inputs of production and the wastes of both the production process and the throwaway consumer goods that fuel our current economic growth. Another advantage is that with more free time there is the potential of greater volunteer and political energy going into the public sphere.

Organizations involved in the reduced work-time movement:

Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand
There are Shorter Work Week Action Committees in Sydney, Melbourne, Wollongong, Newcastle and Auckland; tel: +61 2 9758 4497 or +61 2 9326 9229; website: www.geocities.com/shorterworkweek

Canada
There have been several initiatives, especially by the Canadian Auto Workers Union. Their pamphlet More Time for Ourselves, Our Children and Our Community can be accessed at their website www.caw.ca/ptime.html

France
The French Democratic Labour Federation (CFDT) is a major supporter. Website: www.cfdt.fr/index3

United States
Shorter Worktime Group,
c/o Barbara Brandt,
69 Dover St., #1, Sommerville, Ma. 02144;
tel: +1 617 628 5558.

Society for the Reduction of Human Labour,
c/o Benjamin Hunnicutt,
1610 East College St., Iowa City, 52245;
e-mail: Hunnicut@blue.uiowa.edu

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Anti-consumerism

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[image, unknown] A BI-monthly magazine produced by the Adbusters Media Foundation in Vancouver, Canada. Adbusters groups together form a creative band of activists who are at the center of anti-corporate culture jamming. It was they who initiated both Buy Nothing Day and No TV Week. They have produced a series of leaflets and posters and pioneered the notion of ‘subvertising’ – the creation of clever anti-ads that subvert the creation of artificial needs on which runaway consumption is based. Adbusters has pulled together a culture-jammers network, mostly from North America but also from other parts of the world. The organization ‘believes culture jamming can be for our era what civil rights was to the 1960s, what feminism was to the 1970s and what environmental activism was to the 1980s.’ Adbusters is a rich vein of anti-consumerist ideas and images just waiting to be tapped.

Contact:
1243 W 7th Ave, Vancouver, BC, V6H 1B7;
tel: +1 604 736 9401;
fax: +1 604 737 6021;
worldwide toll free 800-663-1243;
e-mail: info@adbusters.org
website: www.adbusters.org

And for something completely different check out www.standardtime.com to hook up with the campaign to eliminate daylight savings time.

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[image, unknown] Enough!
The UK-based anti-consumerist movement. It provides campaigning materials and propaganda around a wide range of anti-consumerist initiatives. They bill themselves as a group that takes ‘A critical look at consumerism, poverty and the planet’. They have produced a number of leaflets and are a fruitful source of campaign ideas and actions. Their website is adorned with excellent anti-consumerist cartoons produced by the Manchester-based cartoonist Polyp. They are one of the UK-organizers of Buy Nothing Day.

Contact:
Enough!, One World Centre,
6 Mount St, Manchester M2 5N5;
e-mail: enough@good.co.uk
website: www.enough.enviroweb.org

The website for the Buy Nothing Day campaign in the UK, www.Buynothingday.co.uk also has links with the Buy Nothing Campaign throughout Europe.

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