• The Story Behind Bridgedale360


    I just had to leave…


    I had been walking aimlessly, as if my body just carried me along, for what seemed like forever. I still didn't know where I was heading or what was propelling me forwards. Except the reverb of that thought - I had to leave - and a name. Bridgedale360. My fist tightened around the scrap of paper on which it was written. I didn't have to open it, again, to see it. By now the name and the X that marked it on the spidery map was already etched into my mind. Instead, I looked up and wondered whether the turn in the road was starting to look - not exactly, but still - like the curve of one of the lines on the map. Like one of the spider´s legs. All roads lead to Bridgedale360? I first heard about it from a friend a few months ago and then later, overheard it in a bar. Just people talking over loud and dull pop - but I heard it for sure - and then I found this map, or it found me. I had to leave, my heart needed to believe, I had to believe.


    I picked up the pace, my heart beating out a rhythm for my legs to follow, and my right side stung. Exhaustion and fear tugged at me, and perhaps it was regret that made me look back every now and again, but this time I wasn't going to let it get the better of me. Not this time. I threw some of what was left over from my bag of dried fruits into my mouth, hoping it would hush my hunger. My feet yelled out in pain; my new boots had still not been broken in. Instead, the boots seemed bent on breaking me in. Blisters and all. My insides screamed at me in revolt.


    Suddenly I heard voices. I got cautious, a bit afraid, but my curiosity brought me closer. My ears twitched like antennae, trying to figure out where the voices came from. I stood still. There. “Bridgedale360”, I heard it. My heart rattled my ribcage. “Over there, not so far anymore.” I had to get to them. “Wait!” I think I said and cut through the row of trees, hesitantly at first, but then found myself pushing and shoving shrubs aside, until I saw them and they saw me. “Hi,” said the woman, smilingly. I gasped and smiled back and my insides kept quiet, for once.


    We were walking for days, mostly quietly. But there was a sense of unity that I had never felt before. We were all following our dreams somehow, but without really knowing what it was. Layla showed me some pictures of her family, and said that she didn’t know any longer where they were, if they were alive. Could we blame the “system crisis”? But I also felt conscience-stricken, because I saw how privileged I was. Yet, I was unhappy. But happiness does not come with abundance, I learnt it the hard way. I could not imagine myself continuing like before. I desperately needed Bridgedale360 to be more than a silly fairy tale…


    Once we started off together, everything fell into step so to speak. We moved as if we were one, people from the west, people from the east, just people...fleeing the old system and searching for that unknown place. Conversations bubbled up here and there, naturally without any haste, but then we would retreat into a silence again, as we mulled over things we had just heard, and I imagined how life was for them before in the countries where they were coming from, and how much it sounded like my own in some ways; while in others, mine was completely foreign to theirs. I remembered the things I used to enjoy, but that was in the past, I told myself, as I shook off an all too familiar sense of heaviness. Excess does that to you, somehow. But, here on this dirt road to Bridgedale360, I was just like them. Bridgedale360 was and will be the great equalizer for us all.   


    Arriving happened by surprise. We came to a stream and a little further up a girl was playing in the water, singing for herself. We came closer and when she saw us she smiled. “Ahoy there, comrades!”, she said. And she smiled and waved at us. I was surprised by the openness with which she was greeting a bunch of strangers. In the middle of nowhere! But it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, we soon found out. Further up the stream we saw a mill and some mechanism pumping water. And then it all just opened up. Without waiting for us, the girl skipped ahead and we followed, not skipping like her, but feeling a slight hop in our own step. We exchanged glances and before we knew it, buildings and gardens and people working appeared from behind the trees. Everybody stopped to greet if only briefly, and smiled before they got back to doing what they were doing. Cows grazed past us. Even they seemed to smile.


    Our little guide, we could see, had come to a stop before the most impressive of all the buildings that we had passed. A man stood there rubbing his hands and then approached us, as if he couldn´t wait for us to get to where he stood. “Welcome,” he said, while his hands rubbed and patted our weary shoulders, ”first some rest and then I´ll show you around Bridgedale360, ok?”

    • The Town Square

      SOCIAL ACTIVISM, CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, YOUTH EMPOWERMENT

      "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything."

      -Albert Einstein


      If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.”

      -Albert Einstein


      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

      -Margaret Mead



      Introduction

      Linnea, civil society activist


      Even though our lovely Bridgedale360 might seem like our own little heaven - we are far from being isolated. Of course we know that we’re not alone on this planet.  That there’s a whole big world out there that is struggling and deeply wounded, that there is a lot of injustice and if we remain silent and just avert our gaze - we would be nothing short of accomplices in perpetrating this injustice. If we don’t help change the world around us - the world will eventually change us, in ways that we don’t agree with. We are all deeply interconnected, with people in far-flung places of the world, with our environment. We are part of the world, or the world is part of us and therefore the world concerns us. This is why we have the Town Square, where public debates and social/political protest normally take place.  


      It’s quite big as you see and right in the centre of the town. Not that there was a need for social protest at this time, our views were in line on most things, but we use it mostly to discuss/organise political action as to what is happening in the outer world. It is also a symbolic act, a reminder. We had all seen how power had been abused and corrupted in our past and we knew that our new society, like every society, was in risk of the same abuse. I encouraged everyone to read Orwell’s “Animal farm”, so in the end we all got quite paranoid! But it’s so true, power can easily corrupt people, so we try to to do away with big power structures and have self-organised groups mostly. Of course, there are remnants of the old system and we are still experimenting with what the most adequate system is. So we must allow for critique, or not just allow, but to really encourage it! Of our institutions, our system, our collective decisions. The Town Square is sacred in that way. This is the place where we make it a point that the (horizontal) power lies within the hands of people - not institutions.


      Our town is of course an act of protest in itself. We’re here because the old ways weren’t working. We’ve created something that we think is better, and we’ve done it because we care. But of course, we try to spread the ideas as much as possible in the old society. For example, in Bridgedale360, it’s like we have almost done away with the class system, there are only minor class differences among people. But in the beginning it was difficult as we had homeless people sleeping on the streets and begging for food in the old society (to be fair, some of the inhabitants here were also homeless in the old society). So we tried to come up with sustainable solutions for poverty alleviation, we retook abandoned buildings and old buses and turned them into housing, we created pay-as-you-feel zero-waste restaurants etc. However, there are still many homeless people in the old society, so we try to spread ideas like these outside Bridgedale360. We organise courses and workshops here and outside as well, we even initiate discussions with and make proposals to the authorities (just yesterday we had a meeting with the local authorities and surprisingly, they loved our idea about transforming the abandoned post office into a social centre, where volunteers would offer courses for the unemployed!) Of course, we make it a point that none of this is charity, but solidarity-focused - we are all one, and as such, oppressed by the same system that we are trying to reform.That is why it is important that we don’t just give food to beggars and feed the old capitalist system, but rather, that we actually empower people and aim for structural changes (now it is actually a previously homeless friend managing a zero-waste restaurant here - talk about empowerment!). Oftentimes, our social commentary can get more radical, if we are trying to draw attention to a cause, especially with politicians or the police. For instance, last month we made a fountain in a nearby city sprinkle red-coloured water, wanting to place emphasis on all the refugees and migrants that lost their life at sea. One time, several of us literally stripped naked and we had others pouring black colour onto us in protest at the oil industry!


      However, what we have grown to understand is that it is never Us against Them - for the very simple reason that we are all One. Have you ever tried to smile to a policeman at a protest? I have, and guess what - they smiled back! So today our protest might be against something (the system) but it’s never against someone. We believe that deep down inside everyone is bleeding. And everyone dreams, everyone wants a different world. That everyone has something inherently good in their hearts. No one really wants hunger, war or injustice. It’s just that some of us may have forgotten that the suffering of the world is also a part of us, and therefore our concern. But I know, that if we speak to people as fellow human beings, with love and empathy authentically in our heart, there is a chance that they will remember that we are all universal sisters and brothers, not enemies. And since we don’t have any enemies, the prospects of succeeding in changing the world do seem much more promising.


      Learning outcomes

      • To learn how to interact with the local authorities in alternative ways

      • To initiate positive change in society

      • To learn how to connect with grassroots social & environmental movements and initiatives locally

    The SchoolThe Fire Circle