Athens is Burning

Athens is burning. We are here, safe, but witnessing the shift hitting the fan, so to speak.

The birthplace of democracy is holding a vote in its parliament tonight on the next level of austerity measures. The schism between national and trans-national officials and their constituencies is too wide. There are massive protests. Some parliamentarians are resigning while others are refusing to vote because it is just impossible to put a country through such measures. The situation is completely unsustainable, so the cracks are widening.

“Today, many things indicate that we are going thorough a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying, and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble,” wrote poet and world leader, Vaclav Havel before his death.

He was right. I am watching a live stream of the protests in Syntagma Square. The reporter is shouting, “Come out, come out on the streets! Especially the legal people, the economists, the security offices, city halls and people who give speeches...” as he witnesses the chemical-bombings by both Greek and European police who have been called in to the centre of Athens. There is now fire all throughout the beautiful old centre of Athens. I hope a phoenix will rise from it –  this is full of paradox and potential, but right now it is just awful to watch…

“This is what outrage looks like. When people burn their own cities to be heard, then democracy is on life support,” says our friend Charlotte, with whom we worked on the Finance Innovation Lab, our work in the UK. We have to ask the audacious questions – how do we create systems that sustain and serve both people and planet? And then be brave enough to act on them.

So we are here in Greece to carve new pathways forward, in particular with young people, innovators and those holding the DNA of the fundamentally new systems.  While there is still a big focus on “fixing” a problem, and not yet civil-society led transformative alternatives, there are many citizen-led initiatives and complementary currencies popping up here in Greece.

We are starting an initiative here called the Social Innovation Zone Athens, and a SIZ-Atelier for collaborative innovators to gather, learn, connect, experiment and just get on with it. Our experience and partnership in creating the practice ground of the Finance Innovation Lab, an open lab to bring people together to create the new financial systems, is a great foundation for this initiative. But it is a very different context here in Greece. This is not a LAB. It’s life. Pretty much everything is at stake.

What is the connection between social innovation and democracy? With the cracks opening in places like Greece, where citizens are refusing to be punished for the actions of elites and abstracted global systems that are damaging both people and planet, it is time to entreprendre the new systems of governance, education, economy etc in new ways. Entreprendre, as in undertaking something with our own two hands, not outsourcing to experts but as Gandhi said, to “hand-craft our lives.”

It is time!


by Vanessa Reid


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