“Décroissance!, Décroissance!” This was a slogan that could be heard and seen on the streets of protesting Europe about two decades ago in reaction to the G8 Summit – an intergovernmental forum of the leaders from the most powerful countries. Known in English as Degrowth, it is now one of the major development alternative projects. What once started as a mere activist verse turned into a powerful global movement enjoying significant social, political, and academic attention today.
Degrowth is not the only case of its kind. One may think of similar movements such as Buen Vivir, or “living well”, which is a Latin American view on co-existing with nature, Prakritik Swaraj – an approach originating in India that means natural self-rule, or Ubuntu – a Sub-Saharan concept meaning humanness (see: Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary). While they may vary ideologically and in other aspects, they all have the same pre-requisite: activism.
Indeed, activism is what has often been at their origin as shown, but also proved critical in their further development and advancement. Without the drive of activism, it is hard to imagine how such ideas could make it through. One may find it naïve to expect governments or any of their emanations to take lead on initiatives like this in the currently dominating neo-liberal capitalist setting. Or more so for the profit-driven private interests. It is therefore really the realm of genuine grassroots actors, thanks to which the concept of Buen Vivir, for example, has been ultimately recognized in the Constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador.
Certainly, not all proposed alternatives have been enjoying a similar breakthrough. But sustained grassroots activism was able to keep them afloat long enough and build their case compellingly over time. Take for example Prakritik Swaraj or Ubuntu which are ancient indigenous ideas of a more latent character but which continue to inspire social, political and ecological movements in their respective regions and beyond.
In the end, one may want to appreciate the words of Gustavo Duch – Catalonian writer and activist – when commenting on a recently published dictionary of development alternatives: “A verse is needed to express a wish, to push for change, to eradicate injustices”. Just as all it takes to start a development alternative movement is a slogan.