Meet Jo (or Joe) the active citizen

Racing for life: picture by Nick Gardner

What is an active citizen?  If I was being very flippant I would say it is the kind of person who comes out on a Saturday morning to talk about the big news stories of the day.  No, not just talk.  Active citizenship in the ACTive Inquiry sense means moving, listening, looking, feeling and doing.  At one point I found myself crouching on the floor connecting with the lives – and deaths – of people thousands of miles away. 

Don’t let that image put you off.  The Newsgroup – the inspiration of Gavin Crichton of ACTive Inquiry – is an extraordinary experience, by turns moving, humbling and liberating. I must admit on that particular Saturday morning I had second thoughts as I rushed through breakfast to get to Pilmeny Youth Centre on time.  By lunchtime I couldn’t believe three hours had raced by.

The workshop combines drama techniques with open space process.  So this morning’s group – aged 16 to 60 and representing people from Japan to Joppa – begin by choosing the most pressing news story of the moment and end by discussing what active citizens can do about it. In the process we begin to build a picture of Jo (or Joe) the active citizen. (see Ben Stollery’s notes below).

We choose Haiti (other topics on the list were bankers, Murdoch’s media domination, surveillance by satellite, and the Iraq inquiry). Although at times I feel uncomfortable – what right have I to imagine how it feels to live or die through that devastating earthquake – it is much more than a dramatic exercise. I am left with a lasting connection which makes each news story  more real, more relevant, more personal (though of course writing this some weeks later, Haiti has already dropped from the headlines). [See Mercy Corps for latest]

Perhaps everyone should join a Newsgroup, not least  every politician and every policy maker – anyone whose decisions shape other people’s lives. It is a wonderfully stimulating,  liberating and humanising way of looking at the world.

If the idea appeals to you, why not come to the next Newsgroup workshop on Saturday 6 March at Pilmeny Youth Centre on the corner of Buchanan Street and Dalmeny Street.

We’ll come back to the subject of active citizenship in future blogs.  Right now, here’s Ben Stollery’s notes from the January workshop.


We considered the situation in Haiti after the recent devastating earthquake, particularly in regard of the impact of the country’s international debt. What could Jo/e do?

  • Learn about the country
  • Not to feel guilty about not knowing very much about the country’s situation already
  • Learn about any involvement our own country has had in creating the context for Haiti’s situation (foreign policies, holiday industry etc)
  • Examine what our on-going stake in this situation is; ie what are the long-term/institutional policies (such as aid, trade, exploitation of raw materials) that have influenced Haiti’s situation. Learn the difference between ‘emergency’ and other types of aid
  • Learn what other organisations are already doing to address the debt issue eg. Jubilee Scotland
  • Improve our communication (with one another)
  • Be wary of rushing to intervene before reflecting on all of the above

It’s not just an exercise.  Ben adds “I thought you might be interested in this update on Haiti’s debt situation (good news!) on the Jubilee Scotland

This is an ‘Open View’ from Fay Young, co-ordinator Leith Open Space website and Opening Doors Shadow Scheme. Your views are welcome.

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