The first thing everyone can do is to talk about these issues as much as possible. We urgently need to get the limits analysis of our situation and the desirability of The Simpler Way onto the agenda of public attention.

But the most effective contribution will be to initiate in our localities some of the new ways and systems. Again as consumer society crumbles nothing will be more effective than people being able to see around them examples of alternative social arrangements which make more sense.

Following are brief notes on the first steps that could be taken in a dying country town and in normal city suburbs, towards their eventual conversion to the new kinds of economies.

The focal institution is the Community Development Collective (hereafter referred to as CDC.) Ideally the CDC will eventually develop into a mechanism for the participatory self-government of the town or suburb, but at first it might involve only a handful of people seeking to do a few quite humble things.

Their best initial goal might be to set up a community garden and workshop which will enable some of the locality’s unused productive resources of skill, energy, expe­rience and good will to begin to be applied by local people to meeting some of their own needs. Especially important is involving low income receivers in the production of food and other items for their own use. This enterprise might best be approached as a cooperative “firm” in which participants contribute ideas, time and labour, and share in the produce.

The CDC could then look for areas in which additional cooperative production could be organised to meet local needs. A promising early possibility would be bread baking. Once or twice a week a cooperative working bee might use the community earth oven to produce most of the bread etc. the group needs, selling some to outsiders.

Other early possibilities would be the repair of furniture, bicycles and appliances. The workshop could become a shop where surpluses are sold. Scavenging from the locality, especially on council waste collection days, will provide furniture, appli­ances, bicycle parts and toys to be repaired and materials for use in the workshop. Other possible areas of activity would be cooperative house repair and maintenance, nursery production, herbs, car repair, poultry, honey, preserving and bottling fruits and vegetables, toy making, slippers and sandals, hats, bags and baskets, and the “gleaning” of local surplus fruit from private back yards.

Later the CDC could explore somewhat more complicated fields in which it could organise productive activity, such as planting orchards, fast growing trees for fuel wood, aquaculture, earth house building, insulation, recycling and planting “edible landscapes” on public land. The most successful of these activities could become separate small cooperative or private firms.

These activities would also provide important intangible benefits, such as the experience of community empowerment and worthwhile activity. The involvement of local people other than those who are low-income receivers would be important, especially gardeners, handymen and retired people. Ideally the garden and workshop would become a lively community centre with information, recycling, leisure and celebratory functions. Specific times in the week should be set when all would try to gather at the site for the working bees, followed by a meal, discussions, entertain­ment and social activities.

What we would have done at this point is establish a radically new economy, one geared to need not profit, cooperative, independent of market forces, and under par­ticipatory social control. The longer-term goal is to expand this out into the locality.

One early step must be to enable people in this new sector to trade with the firms that have been operating within the locality before the CDC began. It must find out what things our new sector can start providing to some of these older firms. For instance in the case of restaurants the answer is likely to be vegetables from the CDC’s cooperative garden.

We would not set up firms that compete with the existing firms in the town. There is no net benefit in us setting up a bakery that wins all the scarce bread sales oppor­tunities and therefore just puts people in the old bakeries out of work. Our focus must be on creating sales and jobs in a new economy, putting to work those people previously excluded from economic activity.

It is in the interests of the old firms to join in enthusiastically, because this will enable them to increase their sales and their real incomes. They will be able to start selling to that group of people previously not involved in much economic activity.

The development of the gardens and workshops would have been carried out through cooperative working bees. Before long the CDC should organise voluntary neighbourhood or town working bees, perhaps occasional at first but eventually occurring at set times aimed at developing the locality in desirable ways, e. g., plant­ing fruit and nut trees in local parks, or building simple premises for new coopera­tives or family businesses. This might be the beginning of the development of productive commons throughout the region.

A market day could be organised mainly to sell CDC produce and products, and so that many people who do not operate firms or work full time for wages can gain income by selling items they produce in small volume through home gardens, craft activity or family produce.

At a later stage it is important to explore how many imports to the town can be replaced by local production. The proportion of the town or suburb’s consumption that is met by imported goods is typically very high. When goods are produced somewhere else and imported, this means that the jobs that were involved in their production are not located in the town, and it means that money is flowing out of the town. The CDC should explore what items the town could begin producing to replace imports. Food is the first such item. Other possibilities are fire wood, and insulation, as replacements for imported energy, and timber from woodlots and earth for building, and some services, including entertainment.

The CDC must constantly focus attention on the importance of reducing the need for money in the first place, i. e., of living simply, making things yourself, home gardening, repairing, preserving fruit, sharing and re-using. The fewer goods people consume, the less that the town will have to import or provide. The more simple its demands are the more likely that these can be met from local resources. The more we do without or make for ourselves the less money we need to earn in order to buy things. Every dollar we can cut from our expenditure the less produce or labour the town needs to export.

The CDC could develop craft groups to increase home production. It might organise classes, skill sharing and display days for gardening, pottery, basket making, cooking, woodwork, sewing, preserving, sandal making, weaving, leatherwork, blacksmithing, etc. It could list skilled people willing to give advice or run classes. It could also list sources of materials, especially from the commons such as bamboo clumps, reeds, vines, herbs and clay pits. The CDC could develop recipes for nutritious but cheap meals mainly using plants that grow well locally or grow wild.

One of the committees within the CDC should focus on the possibilities for providing local entertainment, including regular concerts, dances, visiting artists, drama groups, craft and produce shows, art galleries, picnic days, celebrations, rituals and festivals.

Eventually a town bank (or credit union) and business incubator should be formed, creating the power to set up the kinds of firms the town needs.

The most important functions for the CDC are to do with research and education. After all, the main point of the exercise is to help local people to understand the need for and the rewards offered by the new ways. All the CDC’s activities provide oppor­tunities for increasing awareness within the surrounding region.

If we do make it to a sustainable and just world order, then the transition will have been begun by tiny groups of people who at some point in time have taken on this task of working out how they could start to move their towns and suburbs towards eventually being highly self-sufficient and cooperative local economies. The goal must be to work patiently at this process of gradually extending the functions of the CDC so that in time we have transformed the locality.

At present it is likely that initiatives of this kind will find it difficult to attract participants. But as the problems consumer-capitalist society is running into become more intense and people increasingly realize that the old system will not solve their problems, and if people can see groups in their neighbourhoods living in much more satisfactory ways, they will be more likely to come and join us. A serious petroleum crunch, or collapse of the global financial house of cards, will do wonders for our cause.

The approach outlined is positive and immediate. It is not about destroying before we can start to build. It enables living in and enjoying the new ways, to some extent, here and now, long before the old system has been transcended. There is nothing to stop us starting this work immediately. Above all, given our global situation, what other action strategy makes as much sense? Is any other more likely to get us to The Simpler Way?

The question to ask when we are recruiting co-workers is –

“What shape would you want your locality to be in when petrol becomes very scarce and the renewables can’t substitute for it?”

Updated: October 27, 2015 — 12:08 pm