Experiencing Alt Shift for the first time

How is it to arrive in the Alt Shift community for the first time? Elena shares her impressions of the festival and her critical thoughts in its aftermath.


In mid-August when I crawled up the hill to reach the Alt Shift Festival in 30-degree weather, I thought to myself that just three days prior I would have never thought I’d be heading to a Degrowth festival in the Austrian countryside. Just days before, a friend had asked me to join and as I had the space and time I said yes.

I arrived around lunch time, I was out of breath, sweaty, with my entire life strapped on my back. I remember thinking in that moment of arrival that this space was such a utopia, like a parallel world everyone participating in the festival was constructing for some days. When I think of Alt Shift now, I think of warmth, living in community and practicing what I’d been preaching for months before entering this space. Practicing solidarity, communal living, accountability processes, collectivity, sharing care work etc.

(Remembering Alt Shift now is of course also tainted with my current life reality. It’s dark and raining in Northern Europe where I live, so remembering this summer will inevitably be layered with filters of warmth, sunshine, and nostalgia)

I remember feeling like a sponge, wanting to absorb all the different knowledges, experiences and reflections everyone had at the festival. Wanting to meet everyone, talk about their life experiences and how degrowth had found them.

But I also remember overwhelm and how confronting this festival was (in the best possible way). It confronted me with how I live now, much less connected to the land and to the people around me than I’d like. It confronted me with the fact that a lot of us are very used to the capitalist and otherwise exploitative systems we live in, an ontology that is not rooted in community.

It was overwhelm because I wanted this other world so much, this world we all so desperately need to escape and deconstruct the tales of individualism, capitalism and isolation we grew up with. And because I began to understand that creating this other world will demand a collective effort and it was going to be hard work.

But then, I think this is also what Alt Shift intends to do, no? This week of living together presented us with opportunities and ideas of what life could be like and invite us to rethink our own ways of living, being and feeling, our ways of interacting and relating with each other. I like to think of this festival as a space to plant seeds, seeds that need to be nurtured and tended long after the festival is over.

It takes time to confront and deconstruct the status quo and its oppressive structures, unlearning that is then followed by reconstruction and re-learning of new worlds.

Of course, Alt Shift is also not perfect. It is one attempt among many to build a more communal world, and during the festival I kept thinking to myself, if we don’t engage with anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist and queer practice, then degrowth will not succeed. There is work to do.

I have a note on my phone that I scribbled down during the festival, reflecting on the space and what it represented for me, that I would like to share here. I wrote: “what if we imagine capitalism like a wall that has cracks, and in the cracks live the spirits of solidarity, mutual aid and reciprocity, that get bigger and bigger with our collective actions until they break the wall”. I would like to leave you with this thought, and hopefully we’ll see each other next July at Alt Shift in Lower Austria, constructing new worlds together.