Set in 2029, Assembly for the Future – part of Bleed festival – invites thinkers and artists to address an Australian audience in 2020 to let them know what the future holds. These futures may be realistic, idealistic or utterly fanciful; for Scott Ludlam, it is one filled with hope, collaboration and a post-capitalist global uprising, as he imagines a time when ecological catastrophe has been averted, Australia is a renewable continent, and the oldest living culture on earth is the foundation for a movement of justice and peace.
I’m speaking to you from the Sovereign Yuin nation on the south coast of what you’d have called New South Wales. Since the treaty handbacks started we don’t use that name much any more, and I can’t say anyone misses it.
So you’ve been shifted nine years forward; it’s July 2029; which is not such a huge traverse when you think about it; 3,285 days and nights. And the reason each of you have been brought here will become clearer as we go, but for me it’s really simple: it’s so I can say thank you, deeply, for all of the things you did during those 3,000 days and nights.
Because we’re not so far down the timeline, a lot about 2029 will seem very familiar to you. The NBN is still absolutely shit, Fremantle still haven’t won a flag and the weather is a real mess. But you already know that the 2020s are going to be an impossibly turbulent decade so there’s a lot for us to cover.
To get the big-picture stuff out of the way early, I want you to know; we did it. It looks like we turned the ship. I know it’s hard to believe. But here we are: the last coal burner got turned off three years ago; this is a renewable continent now; we’re even exporting clean energy to the north. Emissions are back to where they were in about 1994 and trending slowly down thanks to a global replanting program that I believe some people here today had a bit to do with.
So the collapse scenarios that the doomers insisted were inevitable; turns out they weren’t, because nothing is. We’re not living in some rosy utopia here obviously, but something much more messy and interesting between these imaginary extremes.
Now in the timezone you’ve just arrived from, I know it feels like you have more urgent problems than gas balances in the atmosphere. A world in the grip of the most dangerous pandemic in a century, the United States descending into fascism, and a locust economy going into cardiac arrest. In our own colonial corner of the world the white supremacist mask is slipping. It’s a big time. What I want to say is: hold on to each other. It gets weirder and harder yet, but you have to hold on; on the other side of the white water there’s the possibility of a more even flow.
That thing of history coming in lurches and lulls and stops and starts; that’s an old pattern, maybe one of the oldest there is. It never repeats, because nothing is ever the same, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t rhythms and symmetries that show up over and over. That’s one of the things the pandemic taught us; tiny causes can have massive consequences if they line up with stress fractures and larger weaknesses in structures that seem outwardly solid.
So how’s this for a tiny cause: a virus particle 0.1 micron in diameter is about to wipe $25tn off the expected profits of the most powerful fossil fuel companies in the world; they’re going to fall like dominos, taking down exposed banks and insurance companies until finally the whole structure caves in. The corona depression breaks the spine of capitalism and opens a fleeting moment of space for something new.
A friend of mine used to say that in a crisis, the first person with a plan on the table wins. For the first time in memory, the first people with a plan didn’t look or sound anything like the people whose plans we’d been following since colonisation. This was something different; a post-capitalist uprising, leaderless and somehow everywhere, bigger and richer than our brittle nationalisms could contain. A global grassroots network called the Progressive International serving as a mediator, clearinghouse and organising lattice for social movements all over the world to link arms in common cause. This new freedom is not given willingly, it is ceded reluctantly, with spite and violence, and because we are organised for the first time, we are equal to it.
Try to imagine what happens when the media oligarchs that drenched us in race hate, disinformation and division for our whole lives hit the wall and are placed in the hands of receivers, some of them in the hands of prosecutors. You don’t realise how loud the consumerist shriek is inside your head until it’s suddenly gone and now we can hear ourselves think for the first time. The quiet is delicious. We can hear each other’s common humanity. We can hear music and voices raised from parts of the world we’d been drowning out.
It gets weirder and harder yet, but you have to hold on; on the other side of the white water there’s the possibility of a more even flow
I know it sounds like a small thing but when it happens it changes everything: seamless online translation of voice and text between the world’s languages. One of the most enduring barriers to the arising of a truly global civil society is gracefully transformed into a strength almost overnight; the mass extinction of language and song is brought back from the brink at the same time as our hands in the soil are holding back the other mass extinction. Finally we can hear each other, and that, in combination with the sudden absence of amplified hate speech swamping the airwaves, breaks the white supremacist spell. We close the internment camps. Not by asking nicely; in a few places we show up and physically push the fences down with borrowed earthmoving equipment, but they are closed and staying closed.
It’s kind of weird that this is all unfolding almost exactly a hundred years after the 20th century great depression, but some form of deeply embedded collective memory held us back from making the same mistakes twice. Instead of using the tools of central planning and socialism to save capitalism and unleash it in an even stronger form, we’re using them to dismantle its predatory architectures and provide a dignified life for everyone. All the ideas that had been subsisting at the margins – universal income support alongside universal healthcare, education and housing – those were the first plans on the table in a crisis, and so they prevailed. Not by asking nicely; this takes hundreds of millions of us; by far the largest civil society mobilisations in history, globally networked and with a blissful absence of white saviour leader figures to attack and co-opt, it’s unstoppable.
I don’t know if anything I’m telling you sounds implausible or unlikely; but if you don’t believe me there are a couple of things I’d ask you to look for when you get home to 2020.
First thing is, notice emboldened voices from the margins; people the mainstream has been stepping on and silencing since forever; notice how they’ve been finding their voices and linking arms and not taking shit; it’s not that they haven’t been doing that all along, but that widening cracks in the neoliberal armour mean others can hear them more clearly. These voices are in the process of moving from the periphery to the centre, needing only that moment of historical slippage.
Second – this one’s an easy one – a mass movement of children organising their way toward a global strike. I mean it’s kind of obvious when you think about it; the movement leaders of the 2020s and 2030s had already brought six million people out onto the streets before they’d left high school. They weren’t on holiday during the pandemic, it turns out they were studying movement theory, strategy and history. They have learned a thing or two from organised labour about the power of the strike, and my favourite thing is what happens when organised labour learns it back from these kids and rolls it out in every timezone at once.
Notice emboldened voices from the margins; people the mainstream has been stepping on and silencing since forever; notice how they’ve been finding their voices
Third thing is, try to imagine the power you get when the world’s largest, youngest and newest social movement joins its strength with some of the world’s oldest and most storied; the original rebels against extinction who have been resisting dispossession and genocide in some places for 500 years. When you get back to 2020, look for signs that middle class environmental and social justice organisers are hearing the Sovereignty message clearly for the first time. That’s a clue that what’s about to unfold is going to be deeper and more enduring than what’s come before it, because it’s going to be carrying the generational memory of our whole species with it this time.
When it starts to unfold that’s how you’ll know it’s the real thing; because it will wear this lineage so proudly. A movement for justice and peace, ecology and democracy, grounded in the oldest living cultures on earth. Hundreds of years in the making, carried forward now by a generation of children determined to seize their own century.
Whatever it is, whatever crazy project or collaboration, whatever is that thing that scares you in just the right way, when you get home, do it. You have to do it. You’ll find the others making their own way, and make common cause with them. It’s 2029. Our human family is eight decades into the anthropocene. It feels like the centre is holding.
This is an edited version of Scott Ludlum’s speech. To see the other Dispatches from the Future go to the Bleed festival website here.