“Your profit – Our trauma” – a slogan that sums up the violent effects of gentrification through “Creative City” strategies – featured right at the start of a great conference in Glasgow on February 10-11.

Glasgow University professor Heather MacLean exposed the ugly realities underlying the jargon, in a eye-opening exposé about the impact of gentrification on the people of Toronto.

Working-class and poor areas were being degraded, while authorities sought to attract professionals to “designer hubs” and live-work spaces, she said. Curfews were imposed on sex workers and others living in the city while coffee shops were placed at strategic locations so that the “creative” industry could feel comfortable.

Campaigners came together in response to a call from the Solidarity Against Neoliberal Extremism (SANE) collective.

Over two days around 70 participants shared visions and strategies for creating a democracy movement as an alternative to the devastation wreaked by the capitalist system on people in Scotland and around the world.

In-depth discussions centred on the economy, democracy, the environment, health, the arts. The lives of ordinary people, refugees and Roma people were put centre stage. Experiences like Barcelona en Comú, the municipal movement in Spain, were debated.

Proposals for ideas and principles that could bring people together in a movement to challenge neoliberalism and fight for democratic future were brought together in a final session.

A key issue was the need for a movement for democracy and what form it could take  and how could it keep going in between street actions and other events. How could notions of collective power be defined?

Day two opened with a presentation from Professor Johnny Rodger, of Glasgow School of Art, who looked at the design of spaces to reinforce hierarchy, for example court buildings. He highlighted the reality that neo-liberal policies adopted by the city council have made the battle over who owns the city harder to pin down.

Next steps

Suggested next steps included creating a film channel, a media collective, organising assemblies, working towards a new constitution, encouraging young people to come on board through social media, holding more events and finding ways for mothers and carers to participate. War on Want organised A Pint and Politics, a role-play pub conversation to help avoid boring people stiff.

The conference was supported by the Centre for Contemporary Arts, whose Forms of Action show is exploring international developments in socially engaged art practices. The idea is to express a shift from a more traditional understanding of art and its usual environment, to art as part of the cut and thrust of ordinary life. Glasgow is a global centre for this approach.

The CCA also kindly offered space for a book launch for Democracy Unchained.  Authors answered questions about the book and made the case for founding the Real Democracy Movement in response to dangers and opportunities posed by Brexit, Trump and rise of right-wing populism.

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