One year of Arbury Road
A look back on a dream that is becoming reality
When together with a group of friends and colleagues we decided to start Arbury Road it was probably the worst moment to begin such an undertaking. The pandemic had just hit and the world was closed. We were all in lockdown and the vaccines seemed a distant hope. We could not hold an in-person meeting, nor a launch event, or organise fundraising. Even worse, our European dream seemed more distant than ever. The European Union seemed incapable of dealing with the situation, with every country adopting different measures independently and at their own pace. Even Schengen, the agreement which allowed free circulation among European countries and probably the most significant achievement of the EU so far, had been suspended. No worse time to start a pro-European progressive think-tank with European integration as one of its cornerstones.
And yet, we decided to start nonetheless, because sometimes the worst time is also the time when something is needed most. As I wrote in Arbury Road’s first article ever, it seemed like the virus was destroying Europe, but our response also has the potential to make Europe radically better. Every crisis presents great opportunities for change. I look to the words of one of my personal heroes, Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was an Italian communist intellectual arrested by the fascists when, unlike many of his political allies, he did not leave the country after Mussolini came to power. In his prison, which would become his place of death, Gramsci wrote:
Even when everything is or seems lost, one must calmly get back to work, starting from the beginning... The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old dies and the new cannot be born.
And thanks to this mentality Gramsci was able to give birth to his prison notebooks, a series of writings that are among the most studied treatises of the 20th century. His concept of cultural hegemony is in my opinion key to understanding today’s political discourse.
Now of course I will not compare the pain suffered by Gramsci in a fascist prison with the pain that we suffered during the lockdown. And yet, in a way we were all in our personal prison. Our lives seemed suspended, abruptly interrupted and the certainties of each day evaporated. It was one of the most difficult years of our lives and probably one of the most difficult for humankind in the postwar period. But, in a way, the virus only revealed a crisis that had been brewing since at least the mid-2000s. In Gramsci’s terms, the old system, that neoliberal world that was built after the 1970s, is not available anymore. If, indeed, it had ever delivered on its promises. In the ark of 50 years, the climate crisis exploded, inequality grew in all Western countries, social tensions and extremism increased dramatically, and even real economic growth, one of the paradigms of this system, remained a mirage.
Within Europe, the situation was not much better. The European Union showed, in the first phases of the pandemic, its utter unpreparedness to act. But this was not the first time. Already during the 2008 economic crisis, the EU had been unprepared and unwilling to lead the continent through the other side. If, like me, you were born in the 1980s into a progressive family, the European Union seemed like the most advanced point of human evolution, at least in political terms. Its model seemed to guarantee both political and social rights, and both freedom and protection. And yet, years of neoliberal administration and austerity policies would compromise that model. The way Greek people were treated during the economic crisis shows how the European Union failed in its own core values, of protecting human and social rights on the continent.
A revolutionary time
It is time to quote another of my heroes, William Beveridge. Beveridge was a rather obscure bureaucrat who suddenly became known worldwide as the author of the first comprehensive proposal for a universal welfare system during World War II. His proposal became so famous that it was used as a propaganda weapon by the Allies, even distributed among opposing soldiers and behind enemy lines to convince everyone that the world that the Allies were planning to build would be a better one. A world in which the state took care of its citizens. Beveridge was one of the few nice guys to make it through history. His goal was genuinely to help people to live in a better world, and to put his technical skills and his studies at the service of the community. His work and that mission inspires all of us at Arbury Road. Reflecting on the war while he was writing his welfare plan, Beveridge wrote:
‘a revolutionary moment in the world's history is a time for revolutions, not for patching’.
At Arbury Road, we believe that we are in a similar moment. While posing enormous challenges, present times also bear the possibility of a revolutionary change at the global level. ‘The new’ is hopefully, finally coming, Gramsci. We could be at the edge of the evolution towards a post-capitalist system that is able to protect first the environment, to create societies that live more ecologically and with balanced emissions, in harmony with nature. Societies where economic growth is no longer the only imperative, and social and human needs are put at the centre. Societies where digital technology is used not to cheat people into buying things they don’t need, but to give good, reliable information to everyone and to create groups of people who contribute to changing the world. This is at the core of Arbury Road’s project, of what set out to do and will continue doing.
One year of Arbury Road
Looking back on the past year I am really proud of what we have built. And that is not a catchphrase. There were moments that were really difficult. The pandemic was extremely stressful for all of us, as we all worried for our families, for our future, and for the future of humankind. And yet, we managed to keep fighting, to focus our energies on producing something positive, as we hope that Arbury Road is. Of course, the pandemic is not over, and even greater emergencies like the climate crisis remain. Arbury Road is still in its infancy, and we will need to learn and grow a lot more to become better at what we do.
But we need to celebrate what we have already achieved in such a difficult year. I was joined as co-founder and Editor-in-Chief by Katren Rogers, who will enrich our magazine with her perspective, skills and talents. Together with her, Giorgia Cazzola, Arturo Bjørklund Winter and Manuel Checchin joined as co-founders and, altogether, we are working on the development of this think-tank. Thanks to their amazing work, and to the work of all of our volunteers, our team has grown a lot and we can now count members in many European countries.
📝 We managed to publish a little less than 100 articles in different languages, discussing European politics and important themes like the climate emergency, the pandemic, gender equality, science & innovation, art & culture, immigration and foreign policy. And many more great articles are coming!
🎙 We recorded more than 40 podcasts in 4 different languages - English, German, Italian and Spanish - and we will have our first podcast in French in November. We hope to expand to many other European languages as the team continues to grow. We have hosted some very distinguished guests, experts, politicians and activists, which have taught me a lot:
❤️ Some of my favourites were the podcast on refugees in Europe with the guys from the international theatre company, Psychedelight, and on Refugee Week, with Jennine Walker from Safe Passage; the one with Iwona Reichardt on abortion in Poland, and on Citizenship with the Italian philosopher Lorenzo Marsili.
✊ We were lucky to have podcasts with important political actors like the former Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D’Alema, the MEPs Maria Noichl, Alessandra Moretti, Pietro Bartolo, Gaby Bischoff, and Alex Agius Saliba, and Member of the Berlin Parliament, Christian Hochgrebe.
👩💻 We had important European experts deepen our understanding in various fields, like Prof. Boris Vormann, Patrick Trancu, Filippo Curtale and Patrick Lagadec, Simon Gergely Császár, Mariana Mendes, Tiago Moreira Ramalho, Daniel Yanev, Bernhard Knierim, and many others.
Overall, I am really proud of the year that we have had, and of all the connections that we have made. I believe that we acted with passion, trying to make the world a better place. And if we only changed a few people’s opinions, or we made them reflect, discuss, or get one piece of new information, then I think it was really worth all the work we put in.
The last call
In this year of Arbury Road, we saw some encouraging signs at the European and international level. First of all, the European Union undertook the first brave political choice in its history: the Recovery Plan and Next Generation EU. For the first time, the EU acted as one, using bonds guaranteed by the entire EU to finance recovery from the coronavirus crisis. New resources were finally provided to fight climate change and improve sustainability, and to decrease youth unemployment. These initiatives represent the first major departure from austerity. In parallel, we hope that the recent initiatives of COP26 will help move the world forward in its biggest battle.
But beware. This time, it is the last call. Beveridge, Gramsci and countless others who fought to change society did not see the realisation of their hopes within their lifetime. Sure, things improved in many sectors of society, also thanks to their contributions. But two decades of the new century have passed, and we live in a world order which is more unequal than twenty years ago, and far more polluted. Capitalism is more aggressive now than ever. This time we need real change. It is a time for revolutions, not for patching. In the words of Greta Thunberg, a new hero of mine in our time, the time for excuses is over.
Arbury Road is here to fight, to help make all of this possible. We don’t have it all figured out, and we can’t change society alone. We created Arbury Road as a structure that helps us discuss, to pool our intelligence, and make connections with readers and collaborators that will help us contribute to the change that is happening, and to do all that we can to make sure it is as positive and fair as possible.
In our first article, where I presented Arbury Road, I quoted an aphorism attributed to John Lenon that is also the meaning behind imagine. I will copy the same words here, as I feel them in the same way now as I did one year ago: ‘A dream you dream alone is only a dream, while a dream you dream together is reality’. At Arbury Road, we are ready to put our passion and talents at the service of this dream, and we will not stop fighting. Because we think that this fight is not only the moral thing to do, but also necessary to add meaning to our lives. And we hope you will join us.