Image credit: Positive TV
From the beginning, alternative currencies have been central to the Transition Movement. But just as the Transition Movement itself has to stay relevant - so too local currencies need to find wide circulation and broad community acceptance to have any real impact on how money is spent. So the turnout at the launch of the Brixton Pound - the UK's first complementary currency specific to an urban neighbourhood - is an awesome sign of how important these initiatives are in tough times. Their choice of design, however, may leave some people feeling left out. The Brixton Pound is billed as a currency that "sticks to Brixton" with the usual arguments of facilitating the local economy, building community, and supporting independent businesses. So far, so good.
But no matter the cultural or political leanings of the folks starting the project, it seems to me that the pound should encourage participation from everyone. (It's only in preaching beyond the choir that it'll have any lasting effect at all.) Yet the choice of figures for the notes leans heavily on local radicals, activists and ecological thinkers - and as shown in the video, ideology seems to play a key role in the selection. Former Prime Minister John Major, for example, himself a Brixton lad, is rejected by one organizer for being a Conservative. Yet to me, Transition Towns have done such a marvelous job of transcending party lines - it would be a shame if symbolism were now to become a divisive force.
Admittedly this is Brixton - home of The Clash, and the scene of major rioting in the eighties - so political radicalism is undoubtedly part of Brixton's heritage. But wouldn't it make some sense to include more mainstream figures too? The Southampton Pound includes the likenesses of famous footballers, and even comedian Benny HIll. On a similar note, there was at one time a campaign to get David Bowie on the Brixton Pound - but that clearly lost out. (Some were fearful they would become souvenirs for tourists and soon leave the area.)
Whatever my quibble over the designs (and I'm not a Brixtonian, so I shouldn't really have much of a say), it is awesome to see such a huge turn out for The Brixton Pound. Good luck and happy spending! And Brixtonians - feel free to let me know if these designs reflect the true Brixton. And if you're interested in trying something like this yourself - check out Matthew's guide on how to print your own money (and not get arrested).