“Today I saw a revolution”
These words were uttered by an evaluator from the United Nations Democracy Fund as he stood in a village in Bangladesh. Like me, he had witnessed a grassroots empowerment movement rise and spread. These words caused my very being to quiver. “Today I saw a revolution’.
The word revolution is often associated with the violence and chaos of insurrections. This is not what UNDEF saw, nor what I mean here. The revolution I’m referring to is a type of social change Eleanor Finley in The Ecologist identified as a “new social order that enhances our humanity alongside the well-being of the natural world.” Rather than it being a bubble of violence, the revolution we saw in Bangladesh echoed what Finley called “an ongoing, cumulative process.”
And I am HERE for that, as I think so many of us are. There is a real hunger for new thinking and orientation that gets us off the mindless/thoughtless treadmill of regurgitated feelings and rhetoric, and onto a path of creation.
When we are in the grip of huge issues, it can be hard to see a way out (and I’m writing this as Australia faces an ecological catastrophe with these fires, and war in Iran looks possible.) It’s understandable to get stuck in resignation, despair and cynicism, but this is not a place we can linger in for too long. Anguish and hopelessness are very real human states. Whilst this can lay the groundwork for transformation, it cannot create the conscious impetus for change we need.
The future we seek happens when we activate our leadership – and awaken to our own potential to impact an area that’s meaningful to us.
Everyone has this ability. Even if lying dormant, leadership and participation can be activated. This is the work that is there for us to do now – to animate our own and each other’s leadership to arise and bring about the world we want to see.
Anisur Rahman’s seminal book “People’s Self-Development” studied movements around the world where people had activated their own leadership to create society wide change. All within a backdrop of entrenched corruption, injustice, deep poverty and gender discrimination – ie really tough stuff people were trying to change.
Rahman identified 3 important factors in mobilising people for a better future, and I think they are useful for us too.
1. We must internalise the understanding that the ownership for change is in our hands. This is a biggie for us all – with events seemingly spiralling out from under us, and the magnitude for resolution seems impossible, stepping into ownership takes courage. It asks us to move beyond blame and victim, and into claiming our space, voice and activity to impact.
2. We must have purpose in exercising ownership and decision making
This is about being clear on what we want, and how this will look with our efforts. It is our vision for the future not mired in the circumstances of the present or past. It requires thought and consciousness – being aware of what we are choosing, and why. It demands we be responsible in how we wield power. For this we must give up complacency, and stop handing power to others to decide for us.
3. Everything must be grounded in Self Reliance.
At its heart is self respect – only do that which enhances and does not diminish dignity. Don’t be dependent on others for you to take the steps in the direction of your own choosing.
‘Development is the liberation of the creative energy of people. The (leaders) task is to open the door on which the spirit of humanity is knocking. Let the spirit burst in, lift it high so it can see its perspective, and then let it surge forward.’
MD Anisur Rahman
There is no proof any of this will work out the way we hope. That is the risk of every dreamer and activist. But I draw huge strength and inspiration from people who have shown me how to live in the struggle. The way they show up with grace, love and determination is my guiding light. Let’s be that light for each other.